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2010 Awards, Part 3: Genre and Medium

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Nameless, Rakuen, Raphael, awards, lvlln | Friday 21 January 2011 11:00 am

Well, it’s the final day of our awards, and after covering the music and characters awards, then the special interest ones, we come the actual meat of them, the genre and medium awards. Here are the shows we considered to be the very best in their respective genres or mediums. The ones that we could point to and say, “This is what other anime should strive to be like.” The ones that we fell in love with. The ones that left us wanting more or overwhelmingly satisfied. In short, these were the best anime of 2010.

Note: due to a dearth of good OVAs this year, we have decided to omit that category and to create a new one, Best TV Show With An OVA-like Release Format. (I’ll give you 12 guesses as to which show won that one).

Best Action: Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance

It’s cliche to say, but Evangelion 2.22 was a jaw dropping tour de force of high octane action with eye popping visuals that kept you on the edge of your seat. Feel free to quote me on any part of that. From Mari’s delightful romp to begin the movie to the desperate last stand to protect NERV by 3 Evas against Zeruel, Evangelion 2.22 was chock full of the most intense, beautiful, and exciting action scenes in any anime, not just last year, but ever. For that reason, it receives Borderline Hikikomori’s Best Action of 2010 award.

Dissenting Opinion: Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt
Episodes 1b and 6. Seriously, that’s all the explanation you need. Starting from the introduction of the demon sisters, episode 6 was just a nonstop roller coaster ride, a perfect blend of CG and cartoony action with a nice mix of vehicular chases and crude gun-kata. And all of it had simply perfect cinematic timing. Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt was yet another affirmation that, more than anything, action is Gainax’s main thing, and they’re really, really good at it.
 

Best Comedy: Seitokai Yakuindomo

While I’m not really a fan of shows adapted from 4 komas, this show was an exception in my book. Did a lot of the jokes fall flat? Yeah. Did I understand all of the cultural references? No. But it didn’t matter. Seitokai Yakuindomo was an express train full of jokes, one after the other, and there was bound to be more than enough jokes each episode for anyone over the age of 14 to enjoy. Plus, it’s blatantly perverted, and you can never go wrong with that.

Dissenting Opinion: Working!!
Milder and warmer than Seitokai Yakuindomo, Working!! really hit its stride later on in its run (with the appearances of Yamada and Kotori). Like the winner of this award, the series knew its characters well, using their established quirks to good effect. It was a real treat to watch the staff members of Wagnaria interact, fall in love, wreak havoc and have fun. Here’s hoping for a second season!
 

Best Drama: Rainbow

Drama is what Rainbow does. It starts by following seven young men in a detention facility. This is not just a crash course in survival, not just the fast track to growing up, but also an eye opening example of corruption in those who profess to uphold the law. It continues to follow them afterwards as they struggle to make headway in the world. They seek out their dreams even amidst heartbreaking failures at every turn. Sometimes it does overplay the drama, especially towards the beginning, but overall it tells a very strong story set in 1950s Japan.

Dissenting Opinion: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
Disappearance is a work that succeeds in many genres, such as science fiction or mystery, but what defined the movie was, as expected, the relationship between Kyon and Haruhi. After all, the purpose of the entire premise was to set up Kyon’s quest to find Haruhi after her mysterious disappearance. Though Haruhi was indeed missing for most of the movie, the effects of her relationship with Kyon could be felt throughout. The powerful climax did not concern Yuki or the mystery, but rather came when Kyon finally worked past all the layers of his internal denial and accepted his own feelings with regards to Haruhi. The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya was not only a magnificent piece of entertainment, it was also an exceptional work of human drama.
 

Best Thriller: Shiki

Shiki began slowly and fairly quietly, with a tremendously menacing atmosphere and lots of general eeriness. As the weeks went by, these elements were gradually built upon, and things became more and more tense. This all led up to a nerve-fraying, horrifying, relentless, and truly memorable final act. At times brutal and heartbreaking, and often chilling, Shiki‘s strength lay in its exploration of the courses of action its characters took when times turned dark. It sits comfortably among the best works of 2010.

Dissenting Opinion: Durarara!! First Half
The first half of Durarara!! was an impressive accomplishment in narrative, taking us through the maze of the players of Ikebukuro as well as their conflicts, weaving a complicated and multifaceted tale that kept us hooked the whole time. We fell in love with Celty’s unending search for her head, learned to respect Izaya’s detestable sociopathic tendencies, were creeped out by the unhealthy obsessions of the Yagiri siblings. All the while, a remarkable tale about the power of today’s social networks unfolded around these characters, leading to an unforgettable climax as the Dollars finally made their move. Though the second half of this show left plenty to be desired, the first half was an excellent tale on its own that displayed the best of how an anime can tell a thrilling, complex, modern tale.
 

Best Movie: Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance

Come on, it’s Evangelion, in movie form, with less moping, plus it goes in a completely new direction. Sure there is the stellar animation, music, and story, but if you’re reading a site like this, do you really need me to say anything you haven’t already heard about Eva?

Dissenting Opinion: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya
For a more complete explanation, you can read my full review of this astounding movie. See, Evangelion 2.22 was a fine movie. But it was building upon a franchise that was already on a roll. Disappearance had the challenge of resurrecting what once used to be a great franchise – possibly the biggest of the decade – from a disastrous 2nd season that had taken it straight from the top all the way to the bottom. And somehow, it did it. It made Haruhi good again. Not only good, it reached levels of greatness that equaled that of 2006′s Melancholy, the one that had started it all. And it used no gimmicks, no tricks, no smoke and mirrors. It just did all the traditional stuff: narrative, pacing, writing, humor, art design, cinematography, music, and did them all exceptionally well, easily up to the standards of any movie, anime or no.
 

Best TV Show With An OVA-Like Release Format: Katanagatari

Over twelve months, Katanagatari presented us with an epic journey driven in equal measure by its plot, its characters, and its dialogue. Banter between Togame and Shichika shed light on their personalities, their thoughts and their feelings, and discussions between them and the antagonists shed light on insecurities, mental states and more. The story itself was also a success; the format would have become dull had it not been for variation between months, but Katanagatari delivered a tremendous amount of that. Indeed, things were consistently made interesting thanks to the colourful cast and storytelling and thanks to author Nisio Isin’s desire to both subvert and embrace all sorts of tropes. Admittedly, though, it was the finale that ended up making the series; it capped off the quest and the personal growth of the characters in a manner that was grand, memorable, and terrifically fitting. It was perfect for the show, and was a wonderful way to finish a wonderful series.

Dissenting Opinion: Katanagatari
Katanagatari has gotten a lot of recognition in this post because it’s done a lot of things right. It tells a story of anti-heroes and anti-villains, all with their unique and memorable characteristics. Few are truly evil are truly good. Instead, everyone is firmly planted in a moral grayness that makes you question who, if anyone, is truly right. Even the ending doesn’t answer the question; it only tempers it. It has a very nice art direction going for it, filled with vibrant and full color pallets and fluid animation. Actually, the style of the series is what first drew me into the series. Much of Katanagatri is fought with a war of words, with excellent voice acting. However, when it finally comes to blows, the short battle sequences are still quite impressive. Even the broadcasting style is a bit unique. It easily tops my list of series watched in 2010, and I wish someone would pick it up for release in the overseas markets.
 

Best TV Show (Traditional): The Tatami Galaxy

With its narrative, The Tatami Galaxy succeeds in doing what most anime don’t even attempt, but which is required for any work of fiction truly to be great: it tells us something meaningful about the human condition. There are many messages that it successfully delivers, most of them banal, about taking personal responsibility, the complexity of humans, appreciating what you have. But the most powerful message of this show ties perfectly with the show’s central Groundhog Day concept, regarding second chances: in real life, there are none, but there is nothing wrong with that, because it is never too late to reach for happiness. In ending the show with the protagonist starting a new life after his wasted 2 years, this is the message that it leaves us with. Of course, The Tatami Galaxy succeeds in all the more typical things as well. It has a wonderfully distinct and expressive art style. The stories it tells with its cast of characters are consistently interesting and entertaining. The writing is funny, aided by the lightning quick delivery of the protagonist. In combining this endlessly fun product with a set of powerful and relevant messages about humanity, life, and the pursuit of happiness, The Tatami Galaxy is deservedly Borderline Hikikomori’s Best TV Show (Traditional) of 2010.

Dissenting Opinion: Angel Beats!
I laughed, I cried, it was better than Cats. Seriously, this show had everything you could have ever possibly wanted in an anime (and if it didn’t, you’re dead inside). From Yui’s antics to Kanade’s quest for Mapo Tofu to GirlsDeMo, it was almost as if the creators used a checklist to make sure that every anime trope was present and accounted for. Was it perfect? No. But then again, isn’t it life’s imperfections that remind you of how great life really is? Sure, there were a lot of things that seemed random and out of place in the show, but I assure you that this was no accident.
In a way, Angel Beats took a path that was remarkably similar to its characters. Perhaps the randomness of it all, the checking off of the standard character types and situations, the confusion, the loudness, and yes, even the infamous love scene, were meant to convey to us what exactly was going on in these character’s minds. And then, it all came to an end rather quickly, much like a lot of things in life.
Alas, I wasn’t able to convince my comrades here at Borderline Hikikomori that Angel Beats deserved to be the best show of the year. In fact, they all seemed to all have some level of contempt for it. But I know better, and now, you do to.
 
 

Well, there you have it. That’s it for our 2010 awards. If you’re keeping score at home, Katanagatari was the big winner, with 4 wins in some of the most important categories: Best Female Character, Best Characters Overall, Best Ending, and Best TV Show (its own category). It also garnered a dissenting opinion, for Best Concept, which it lost to The Tatami Galaxy, which won the Best TV Show (Traditional) category. The Tatami Galaxy also got the nod for its Best Concept and Best ED, while playing second fiddle Best Characters Overall and Best Male Character, which it lost to Durarara!!‘s deserving villain/anti-hero Orihara Izaya. Durarara!! also impressed us with its Best OP, while its impressive 1st half was enough to earn a dissenting opinion for Best Thriller.

Among movies, the two big guns, Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance and The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya were the story. Besides taking the spots in the Best Movie award, they managed to impress with their Art (Disappearance), Action (Eva 2.22), Drama (Disappearance, dissenting), and Music (Eva 2.22). Perhaps overshadowed was Angel Beats! which, despite not winning anything, managed to get a dissenting opinion both for its Music and Best TV Show (Traditional).

Anyway, I write again, 2010 is in the books, and it was a good year for anime, we like to think. Here’s to hoping that this year will be even better!


2010 Awards, Part 2: Special Interest

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Nameless, Rakuen, Raphael, awards, lvlln | Thursday 20 January 2011 11:00 am

Yesterday, we kicked off our 2010 awards with the Music and Characters section. We continue today with the special interest awards. This is for all the niche categories, for works that we enjoyed or suffered through in some notable and specific manner. As promised, Biggest Letdown is among them, but to complement it, we also have the Biggest Pleasant Surprise, as well as a bunch of others. But why don’t we start off with what is surely the most obvious of the special interest categories…

Best Fanservice: Highschool of the Dead


For the inventive use of machine guns, aprons, and “I’m Wet,” if nothing else.

Dissenting Opinion: Yosuga no Sora
I admit that Highschool of the Dead had some epic and innovative fanservice. But, come on, Yosuga no Sora had straight-up, on-TV sex. Twin sister servicing you under the table sex. Glasses wearing “onee-sama” having her way with you when you’re 12 sex. It was dirty, crass, blunt, and shameless. And in the end, isn’t that what fanservice is all about?
 

Most Fabulous: Star Driver

It’s overflowing with camp, filled with symbolism and faux-symbolism and an abundance of fanservice of the (mostly) non-sexual kind. The characters interest and amuse, and there are shipteases of the yaoibait, yuribait and hetbait(?) varieties. There’s an immense amount of fun to be had theorising, mulling over, laughing at and laughing with. And there’s fabulousness. So much fabulousness. Even though it’s barely into its second half, surely Star Driver deserves some recognition for that.
 

Best Concept: The Tatami Galaxy

Of course, the concept of a character repeating the same time period over and over again is not a new one. It even has a label: “Groundhog Day,” named after the well known and excellent Bill Murray movie from 1993. But what makes the concept of The Tatami Galaxy so powerful is its own twist that it puts on this well worn formula. At first, each universe is distinct, a separate “what if” story starring the same set of characters with no continuity in between. It’s only when you’ve gotten comfortable with that formula that it pulls the rug out from under you, connecting all these stories together into a strong, cohesive narrative. It was a supremely clever twist to an already great formula, allowing the show to have as much philosophical and emotional impact as it had.

Dissenting Opinion: Katanagatari
12 episodes. 12 months. 12 swords. 12 owners. 12 lands. 12 Maniwanis. The number 12 gets thrown around a lot in Katanagatari. This show really isn’t about the battles, it’s about the journey: a quality played up by the seas of dialogue in every episode. That might push some people away, but it also gives everyone a chance to shine, even the villain of the week. It’s worth noting that 12 signifies organizational completeness. The series doesn’t disappoint in that department, as it’s a complete and sweeping epic in the traditional sense of the word.
 

Best Art: The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya

While not everything that was wrong with the second season of Haruhi was fixed in Disappearance, the art sure took a big step up. Most importantly, the animators did a good job of setting a mood with the animation that helped us feel more drawn into the story. Plus, the long haired version of Haruhi is just awesome.

Dissenting Opinion: Bungaku Shoujo
Bungaku Shoujo could look absolutely breathtaking at times. Clean character designs stood out against phenomenally beautiful backgrounds, while the use of colour and light was top-notch. Particularly impressive, too, was the amazing attention to detail. All this made for an immersive movie-watching experience… albeit one we felt the need to pause quite a few times (to take in the art, of course).
 

Biggest Letdown: Black Rock Shooter

The pre-release hype surrounding this was overwhelming. Perhaps too overwhelming for an OVA that took its inspiration from the illustrations accompanying a Vocaloid song and one that was animated by a studio producing their debut solo work. But the previews showcased gorgeous art, fluid animation and fantastic action scenes. Fans were preparing for something epic. Instead, we got something much more bland and laid-back, something disjointed and messy. The art was still gorgeous, the animation was still fluid, yes, but Black Rock Shooter was distinctly lacking. One gets the feeling that, even if expectations had been lower all around, it still would have felt that way.

Dissenting Opinion: Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu
I’m probably generating some anger for this, but the more I think about it, the more Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu disappointed me. It started off exactly how I wanted. I was really looking forward to the battles, and it delivered. Then they put the battles on a bus to hell and took a right turn on romantic comedy. It degenerated into generic territory. Episode 8 was a ray of brilliance, but it only reminded me of what the show could have been. Then there was the ending, which made me want to punch a baby. It had a fantastic gimmick to exploit. Instead, it completely lacked direction and never rose out of mediocrity. So disappointing.
 

Biggest Pleasant Surprise: Working!!

We really didn’t expect much beyond your typical 4koma fare out of Working!!. Of course, we figured some restaurant related comedy would be a bit amusing. It went beyond our expectations. It utilized all the character’s personalities well and managed to keep the running gags fairly fresh through the entire run. Yes, even Mahiru’s kneejerk reaction to men. It even delivered a coherent and highly relevant romantic subplot that developed naturally. This is one we’re glad we didn’t miss during the Spring season.

Dissenting Opinion: Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu
I had no expectations for this series going into it, and I suppose that is where my vote comes from. Some might say that a lot of the jokes were repetitive and that you could see them coming from a mile away, but the show offered something new every week in terms of settings, characters, and well placed references that always got a belly laugh or two out of me.
 

Worst Ending: Black Rock Shooter

Just when Black Rock Shooter looked like it was taking a turn for the better, just when it looked like the various threads of the story were going to be pulled together, just when it looked like we were going to get some pay-off out of all that build-up, things fell short and crumbled. Instead of a powerful conclusion, we got a miserable failure of a denouement, “I am… Black Rock Shooter,” unanswered questions and unaddressed emotions. Thanks, Ordet. (And with this, Black Rock Shooter sweeps the “worst” awards!)

Dissenting Opinion: Amagami SS
Amagami SS didn’t have any one ending as spectacularly bad as Black Rock Shooter‘s. But what it didn’t have in quality, it more than made up for in quantity, with no fewer than SEVEN endings that ranged from downright offensive (Haruka) to just plain bad (Rihoko). Sex Hair‘s and Ai‘s endings could hardly even be called endings, but rather just lazy stops with no conclusion, no climax, no denouement. The only one that could be excused was Sae‘s, and only because her entire arc was a joke. And as for the whole show, Risa’s episode served as an ending to the series that showed off everything about why it sucked.
 

Best Ending: Katanagatari

“[Shichika Yasuri] may have died by the roadside in the middle of his journey, or he may have completed the map of Japan, then sailed to a foreign country and continued his journey. But even after everything was over, after the historical plan connecting man and swords failed, be it for a long or a short period, he certainly lived. That was something everyone surely wanted.

“The ones who failed at revenge, the ones who failed at their goals, the ones who fell before achieving their aspirations, the ones who didn’t succeed, the ones who lost, the ones who stumbled, the ones who rotted, the ones who fought with all their might, sacrificed everything, just to have their work be for naught, yielding fruitless results, who died unfairly, or perhaps illogically, tragically, without face, full of regrets; the story which offers a happy future for them, filled with hopes and dreams, ‘Katanagatari,’ quietly lowers its curtains here.”

-Narrator, closing lines of Katanagatari

There are several reasons to like Katanagatari’s ending. Some people liked listening to Togame’s speech, and some liked to see Shichika finally cut loose without any limitations. To appreciate it, though, takes a bit more time and effort. An incredibly intricate plan is unfolding throughout the series, and all the pieces fall into place starting in episode 10. Even after the finale’s end, it’ll take a while to absorb everything. When you finally do though, you’re not just rewarded with a sense of accomplishment, but a much better understanding of the journey. Few endings have made us think as much as this one. And the beauty of it all made us settle on it as the best.

Dissenting Opinion: Bakemonogatari

“I may meet more oddities in the future. But that’s okay. Now I know. There are dark places in this world, as well as things that inhabit them. For example, even within my own shadow. The culture festival finally starts tomorrow. Our class’s project is… a haunted house.”

-Koyomi Araragi, closing lines of Bakemonogatari

I already wrote a bit on this during our 12 Days of Christmas last year. The 15th episode of Bakemonogatari had the impossible task of providing a worthy ending to 2009′s most popular series nearly a year after the 1st episode had aired on TV. The difficulty was compounded by episode 12, which had provided a stunning and memorable finale to the show’s TV run, as well as by the way the different arcs of the show were separate from each other. Well, it somehow managed to do it. It tied together the different arcs with the central theme of human cynicism and provided closure with a beautiful montage of the show’s high schoolers celebrating Meme Oshino’s memory after his departure. At the same time, Bakemonogatari forgave the cynicism, making its final message one of moving on with hope in life regardless of what troubles might lie ahead. The final scene of Koyomi and Hitagi going on their second date is beautiful and served as a fitting finish to one of the most significant anime of the past 2 years.
 
 
Well, that’s it for all our special interest awards. As you can tell, Black Rock Shooter came out quite the winner (loser) last year, while Nisio Isin showed the anime world how stories should be wrapped up with his double whammy of Katanagatari and Bakemonogatari. Working!! really caught us by surprise, while Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu failed at winning the top spot for either being unexpectedly great or unexpectedly bad.

Come back tomorrow for our Genre and Medium awards, where we’ll list and talk about what really were the best of anime in 2010.


2010 Awards, Part 1: Music and Characters

Posted by Author | Anime Review, Manga Review, Nameless, Rakuen, Raphael, awards, lvlln | Wednesday 19 January 2011 10:00 am

So 2010 is in the books and has been for almost 3 weeks now. And just like last year, we here at Borderline Hikikomori have come together to decide on which works of anime released last year we liked the most – and sometimes the least – and in what ways (Because this is an English language blog run and read primarily by English speakers, we considered works that only became widely available to the English speaking public in 2010 as well, even if they had been released earlier).

In order to properly reflect the variety of opinions of the 4 different bloggers here, each category also has a “dissenting opinion” portion in which one of us who might disagree strongly with our selection makes his case for another one that he deems more or just as worthy (It also helped to prevent us from wanting to tear each other’s eyes out during our discussion).

Unlike last year, due to the sheer number of awards, we’ve decided to split this up into 3 parts. We’re starting today with Music & Character awards, while we’ll present the more niche Special Interest awards tomorrow, and finally finish up with the more classic best-in-class Genre and Medium awards the day after.

So, without further ado, let’s look at our Music and Character category winners for 2010.

Best OP: Uragiri no Yuyake (Theatre Brook, Durarara!!)


You’d expect a good OP from the same people who brought you Baccano!, and Durarara!! did not disappoint. It does an excellent job, not just establishing the boatload of characters you’re going to see throughout the series, but also the world in which they live. In addition, the short summary of the previous episode fit well into the opening. The kicking rock beats of Theatre Brook’s Uragiri no Yuyake back the animation. The title can translate to Sunset of Betrayal, which is apt considering the content of the series.
Dissenting Opinion: God Only Knows (Ontario, The World God Only Knows)

Don’t get me wrong, Durarara!!‘s first opening is good, but I liked it better the first time when I watched Baccano!. I need more than well done transitions between characters. Instead, I vote for The World God only Knows as I think that it had the better song, and the way Keima’s environment shifted was far more appealing.
 

Best ED: Kami-sama no Iutoori (Etsuko Yakushimaru, The Tatami Galaxy)


This ED has the whole package. Etsuko Yakushimaru’s voice is gorgeous and clear, and the synths that act as her backing are precise and strangely lovely. These components of the song merge brilliantly together, with neither overwhelming the other and both sounding fantastic. The accompanying animation, too, is simple but elegant, and it fits the show perfectly.
Dissenting Opinion: Maids Sanjou! (Chiaki Omigawa, Aoi Yuuki, Rieka Yazawa, Ryouko Shiraishi, Yet the Town Keeps Going)

The ED from Yet the Town Keeps Going isn’t very flashy on the visuals, but it really works for the series. I loved how the characters personalities are brought out in the lyrics each one contributes to the song. It’s got a rather unorthodox rock arrangement. The violin is increasingly appearing in this genre, but certainly not the accordion. In addition, this is Rieka Yazawa’s (Futaba Kon) first contribution to an ED, and I feel like she, as the lead vocalist, knocked it out of the park. I’m definitely looking for more from her in the future.
 

Best Music Overall: Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance

On its own, Eva’s music is good, but it isn’t genuinely mind blowing. However, when you combine the music with the stunning visuals and awesome story, you get something amazing. While I could speak to how awesome Today is the Time for Goodbye (played during the dummy plug scene) was or how relaxing the water treatment’s plant theme music was, I am only going to tell you to YouTube the final scene in the movie with the song Give Me Wings (Tsubasa Wo Kudasai), as that will make my point for me. Assuming you have already watched it of course.
Dissenting Opinion: Angel Beats!
The whole premise behind Girls Dead Monster was flimsy at best, and the music isn’t going to rewrite the book on how music should be made. Still, songs like Little Braver, Rain Song, Thousand Enemies, My Soul, Your Beats!, and Crow Song are all good songs that I haven’t even thought about deleting from my YouTube playlist.
 

Best Male Character: Izaya Orihara (Durarara!!)

Izaya garnered love, hate, and everything in between from all corners of the fandom. A manipulative bastard with humour, energy and intelligence, his personality was complemented by a sharp character design by Suzuhito Yasuda. Importantly, Izaya continues to be very memorable over a year after his anime debut; this is perhaps owed to the fact that he seemed near omnipresent around the ‘sphere during Durarara!!‘s run and beyond. In any case, we found every scene he was in to be a joy to watch, and we know many others did as well.
Dissenting Opinion: Ozu (The Tatami Galaxy)
One of the main themes of The Tatami Galaxy was the complexity of humans, and though it had plenty of good candidates, no one exemplified that as well as Ozu. He was depicted for the vast majority of the show as an evil force meant to keep the protagonist from achieving his goal of the “rose-colored” campus life. But during the protagonist’s epiphany, he – and we – learn to appreciate him for who he really is, just another lovestruck fool who was trying his best to enjoy his own life.
 

Best Female Character: Togame (Katanagatari)

As far as Katanagatari goes, some people loved her, and some loved to hate her. We fell into the first camp. She talks big by labeling herself as a “strategian,” and she actually has the skills to back it up. Shichika slowly changes her character over the course of the series, but in the end, she simply can’t shake the shadows of her past. Her speech in episode 12 caps off a very complex and conflicted woman. We’re still not entirely sure where she really stood. Oh, and her constant “Cheerios” were pretty endearing.
Dissenting Opinion: Hotori Arashiyama (Yet the Town Keeps Going)
No other female character had as much character as our favorite blowfish cheeked maid. She was not particularly perceptive, downright dumb at times, and always a whiner, but in everything she did, she gave it her all. And that made watching her really really fun. Her best moments came when she didn’t let logic or rules stand in her way, such as calling out the Egyptian god for his unfair technique of judging humans or giving her math teacher a lateral thinking puzzle as a challenge. Her strong personality built up to the powerful ending, when, as we watched her family and friends mourn that they would never see her again, we realized that we felt the same way. Hotori Arashiyama, you and your thousand reaction faces will be missed.
 

Best Hideyoshi Character: Hideyoshi Kinoshita (Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu)

Perhaps one of the most forced characters in some time. Still, it was responsible for a lot of funny jokes on the show, and a bunch more less funny memes online.
 

Best Characters Overall: Katanagatari

Katanagatari wins this award more for how it used its characters than for its characters themselves (though they were wonderful as well). Throughout the series’ twelve months, we were introduced to a multitude of people, all of whom were made fascinating; characterisation was both strong and memorable. The development of Shichika in particular was a constant, important thread throughout the show, and it culminated in a glorious finale. As well, expectations were subverted and challenged with regards to all those who appeared, making for an excellent watch.

Dissenting Opinion: The Tatami Galaxy
I state again, the complexity of humans was one of the core messages of The Tatami Galaxy, and it couldn’t have delivered it effectively without its strong cast of characters. They at first appeared as mere caricatures, but the show revealed their complex, human sides slowly through various exposures. All this was aided by the unique character designs, showing the ugly and beautiful sides to each person with highly flexible artwork. The protagonist, Ozu, Akashi, Higuchi, even Hanuki and Jougasaki, all were unique, flawed but likable in their own way and served their roles perfectly for the larger narrative. Plus, this show had Johnny as the protagonist’s sex drive, along with the best depiction of masturbation in anime.
 
 

Well, that’s it for all the awards for today. Come back tomorrow for part 2, Special Interest, where we’ll give out the rather niche and quirky awards, including some not so good ones such as Biggest Letdown!


12 Days of Christmas – Day 5 – Side Character Fascination

I’ll start this post off with a confession: I have a thing for side characters. You know, the ones who don’t get as much of a turn in the spotlight as the lucky main few; the ones who aren’t the stars of their series. Maybe they’re the ones who should be or could be, though, and at the very least, they help the stars shine brighter. I love these characters. I’m not sure why, either. Perhaps it’s that the lack of character development allows me to theorise endlessly about potential hidden depths. Or perhaps it’s just the fact that if a character has less screen-time, there’s less potential for them to be irritating. Regardless, this side character fascination is certainly there. Throughout 2010, we were presented with a wealth of delicious flat characters – ‘flat’ in the sense of a lack of character depth, of course – in anime, and I want to take a look at some of them here.

I suppose the girl featuring in my current avatar is as good a place to start as any, eh? Aoi Yamada of Working!! is largely a mystery. What we do know about her is as follows: she’s a klutzy, incredibly blunt, drama-mongering, supposedly sixteen-year-old girl who fancies herself a ‘super waitress’, has a huge collection of disguises and is inexplicably good at bugging people. Aoi is also a fantastic comedic side character. She’s entertaining and charming, and she also brings out the funniest in everyone around her, whether they’re members of the main cast or not. To quote what I said in my final post on Working!!, “I honestly think that her addition [to the cast] directly or indirectly led to each character’s funniest moment of the series”. One more Working!! character who definitely deserves mention is Maya Matsumoto, who only had her first real lines in the last episode of the series. Her obsession with normality was what set her apart from her bizarrely-behaved coworkers… and it was also what makes her fit perfectly among them, as it caused her to act as strangely as the best of them.

Another creator of hilarity and easily one of my favourite side characters of the year was Railgun‘s Mitsuko Kongou. Mitsuko toed both the fanservice character and gag character lines, but got a bit of development as well and a crowning moment of awesome (or two, arguably) to boot. She’s essentially presented as the ojou-sama with the giant ego. She’s confident to the point of boastfulness, and self-assured to the point of narcissism, and I loved her for it. We got hints, though, too, of her private persona being quite different to this – she seemed a lot milder and kinder to her friends, albeit not less boastful, telling them stories about how she single-handedly brought down one of Railgun‘s primary antagonists with ease. I think she’s fantastic, but I don’t at all think she could have carried Railgun. (For the most part, it was too laid-back for all Mitsuko all the time.) She was, however, both an excellent rival to Kuroko and an excellent unknown rival/self-proclaimed friend to Mikoto.

Sometimes, side characters don’t have terribly much to say or do. If we’re lucky, though, whatever they do end up saying or doing is hilarious. Angel Beats! had TK with his nonsensical English backed up by an array of dance moves, Seitokai Yakuindomo had Satomi Arai playing another schoolgirl lesbian in the snarky and slightly depraved Ranko Hata, and B Gata H Kei had the permanently cheerful and cheerfully frank Mami Misato. But perhaps the ultimate scene-stealer of the year was Milky Holmes‘ unforgettable Twenty. Milky Holmes actually had a few characters like this – another notable example being Arsene/Henriette’s chest, which seemed to have a mind of its own - but even in a show full of people with little tethering them to reality, Twenty managed to stand out the most. Whether he was stripping at an alarming pace, showing off his incredibly pointy nipples to the camera, moaning and screaming in Engrish about how beautiful he was, or going on a date with a hug pillow of himself, he demanded attention.

There were the usual side character duos, too. Occult Academy‘s sardonic janitor Smile and cheerful goth JK begged many questions. Why were the two of them always together? How was JK able to consume so much pudding? Why was Smile permanently wearing a smiley face badge, and what the hell was up with his giant spanner? Even more mysterious were Durarara!!‘s Erika Karisawa and Walker Yumasaki. Prone to fast-paced banter and off-the-wall conversations on topics ranging from fandom to philosophy, the two also displayed a wide variety of skills and prominent sadistic streaks. In addition, they made an excellent couple.

Lastly, we had – or should that be ‘have’, given she’s in a still-ongoing show? – Ruri Makina of Star Driver. … Yeah, she’s kind of only here because she reminds me of Utena‘s Wakaba, somehow. I’d love for her to get even comparable character development to Wakaba; I really want there to be more to her than “Her specialty is meat and potatoes!”. Star Driver, I have faith that you’ll deliver. Don’t let me down!

Okay, that concludes day five of Borderline Hikikomori’s twelve days of Christmas. Who were your favourite anime side characters of 2010?


12 Days of Christmas – Day 1 – Saki

Posted by Author | 12 Days of Christmas, Anime Review, Manga Review, Raphael, Saki, mahjong, manga, moe, ritz kobayashi, yuri | Tuesday 14 December 2010 2:00 pm

For the fourth year in a row, the authors of Borderline Hikikomori will write a series of twelve posts for the “Twelve Days of Anime” project. Each day, from today up until Christmas, one of us will share an anime- or manga-related moment or event from 2010 that we found special. Today, I’ll be kicking things off with a post on the Saki manga reaching its national tournament arc. Fair warning: excessive fanboying is involved. Enjoy this, and enjoy the rest of the posts in the series!

In September last year, the anime adaptation of Saki ended on a cliffhanger; we essentially got an extended preview of the series’ national tournament. We saw new characters, new special moves, and, of course, the same Yu-Gi-Oh!-esque tile effects. And then we received an on-screen message that said ‘we’re just getting started, yay~’ and things finished. The wait for the nationals was frustrating. It was made more frustrating by the fact that the Saki anime had gone far ahead of the manga by the time it finished. There were delays to the manga, too, before a series of set-up chapters. The wait stretched out further. And then, finally, earlier this year, the nationals began.

Before that, though, the characters introduced in the first part of the manga – the members of the teams Kiyosumi fought against in the qualifiers – were fleshed out further. The relationships between the various schools’ team members were some of what made the series so much fun (the yuri undertones helped as well, of course), and it was great to see them looked at in greater depth. Particularly lovely were the more subtle friendships that’d developed between characters; you got a sense that the girls had found a sense of belonging outside of their school groups, and that they’d really built solid friendships. It was especially nice to see Koromo, one of the series’ foremost woobies, come into her own and find her place. I also really loved how this was carried over into the nationals, with all the other teams going together to Tokyo to support Kiyosumi High and then Yuuki vowing to do the rest of the girls from Nagano proud when their prefecture was openly called weak.

Speaking of Yuuki, I can confidently say that she irritated me to no end for the vast majority of the qualifiers arc. Sure, she was funny, but her constant hyperactivity was tiring. More than that, the fact that she would melt into a babbling mess whenever things went awry in her matches (and they often did) was facepalm-worthy. It really didn’t help that she was voiced by Rie Kugimiya in the adaptation, either. But, lo and behold, character development happened! The boundless energy was still there come nationals time, but she was able to control it. When things didn’t go to plan, too, Yuuki didn’t break down. She gathered herself and moved on, and continued playing in a style that could definitely be called badass (though it remains to be seen how she’ll deal with the latest thing that’s been thrown at her). And I’ll admit, her turning up to her match wearing a cape and a serious expression was both hilarious and awesome.

The Monster from Kagoshima

No post about Saki would be complete without talk of the ridiculous/ridiculously cheesy/ridiculously entertaining mahjong-related special abilities, and the nationals has offered up a host of new characters and powers. We’re only really one match in, and we’ve already met another of the series’ “monsters”, Eisui Girls’ Komaki Jindai, who is largely a mediocre player… until she goes to sleep during her games and becomes ridiculously strong. Playing against her and Yuuki are the stoic Shiromi from Miyamori High – whose bizarre ability is becoming immensely and very noticeably worried when she has a good hand and then playing better because of her nerves - and Himematsu High’s poor Suzu, who has all the information she needs on her competitors but is struggling nonetheless. Earlier on, we were also treated to a demonstration the skills of Himematsu’s team captain, Hiroe; a match between her and Kiyosumi captain Hisa promises to be a treat. As well as this, we had some fantastic moments pre-nationals with unwittingly goofy ojou-sama Touka finally getting the chance to reveal her talents.

The ‘we’re just getting started, yay~’ note seems like an even more pertinent way to finish off Saki for 2010, with the national tournament in full swing at last. I can’t wait to get to know the new crop of characters better in the coming year – one thing I love about Ritz Kobayashi is her ability to manage an extremely large cast extremely well – and, of course, I can’t wait for more weirdly engrossing games of mahjong to be played.


Winter 2011 Season Preview

So the final TV anime season of 2010 is beginning to come to a close, which means we’re all looking forward to what’s ahead next year. Have a look at what we here at Borderline Hikikomori are (and aren’t) looking forward to for the coming winter season.

Based on these early looks, it looks like we have high expectations for the Noitamina shows – Fractale and Wandering Son. They are following up some amazing shows from this year in that time slot, after all, including my personal pick of 2010, The Tatami Galaxy. We’ve also caught on to the hype for Shaft’s original work Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica, as well as Gosick and Freezing which were adapted from a light novel series and a manga series respectively. For those who liked the first series, there are also sequels Kimi ni Todoke and Mitsudomoe to look forward to.


Fractale

Preview
So new I can’t find anything on it beyond the synopsis. Anyway, it looks like it’ll be an interesting adventure style series. It’s also in the Noitamina block, which means it at least warrants a look. I’ll be checking it out when it airs.
As Rakuen said, a mystery, but after this year’s The Tatami Galaxy and Jellyfish Princess, I’m paying more attention to Noitamina shows. That Ordet, the same studio behind the horrible Black Rock Shooter certainly doesn’t breed confidence.
Obviously this show’s animation looks awesome, and the concept isn’t that bad either. I am a bit worried that the whole rescue a girl storyline isn’t going to come off too well, and that the possibility for a whole lot of Meta posts exists for this show, but those are really minor concerns at this point. Plus, the Noitamina slots rarely let me down.
I have extremely high hopes for this. The staff are all top-notch, the concept sounds both fresh and interesting, the character designs are great, and the art in what little footage was shown in the preview was stunning. I’m heavily anticipating this, and I’m sure many others are as well.

Gosick

Preview
I’d say this is the series I’m looking forward to the most. Milky Holmes really didn’t do it for me as far as detective mysteries go. So now we’ve got the mysterious gothic lolita girl… who has a Holmes pipe? It’s got a nice setting too, taking place in 1920’s Europe. It looks like a take on Holmes and Watson, and I’m hoping this one goes places.
The setting is what draws me most to this show. I like that classical, rosy colored vision of rural 20s Europe. The plot sounds like pretty standard fare, but execution is always the key, of course. I’ll probably check out the first couple episodes, at least.
Nothing about this show really seems that bad. The animation looks nice, and it seems like there could be a good story ever week. But, they made that really bad pun, joke, or whatever you call it with the title, so for that reason alone, I’ve decided not to watch this. Plus, I’ll need the extra time next semester to study for my professional license.
I was extremely excited when I heard the news earlier this year that this was being animated. I then heard Bones was going to be animating, and I was practically jumping for joy. I’m a big fan of mystery series, and I’ve enjoyed what bits I’ve read of both the light novel of Gosick and the manga spun off from it. The cases involved are pretty classic whodunits, and the characters are interesting and have good potential for development. I know a few were disappointed with the trailer – the main criticism levied at it was that it felt “boring” – but I was anything but let down. The character designs have translated very well, I feel, to animation, and things look quite beautiful. The staff, too, is good. The director hasn’t done much aside from Heroman, which had a mixed reception, but the series composition, art director and animation director are strong. I’m really looking forward to this.

Hourou Musuko (Wandering Son)

Preview
Wow, the art style is quite something. It gives everything a very innocent, nostalgic feel. I’m drawn to this show based on the looks alone, but the promise of a mature take on the controversial subject matter of 5th grade transsexuals and that it’s in a Noitamina show makes this pretty much a must watch for me.
I really like the whole questioning your gender concept of this show and the preview made it seem like things were going to get pretty real. The only thing that really worries me is that having 5th graders dealing with these types of issues is going to seem a bit unrealistic. I watch this for sure, but there is no way I would try to blog this.
I’ve heard wonderful things about the manga, and I think Noitamina is the perfect time slot for this to air in. Even better, the very well-regarded Mari Okada is doing both series comp and the scripts. The director, Ei Aoki, is more of a mixed bag, helming Ga-Rei: Zero and the first Kara no Kyoukai movie, but also Girls Bravo. All three have very different feels to Hourou Musuko, too. In any case, I’m cautiously optimistic and very much looking forward to this. It will be wonderful to see gender identity presented as a main theme in an anime series, especially in one created by a manga-ka noted for her sensitivity and intelligence. As a side note, this is definitely a departure for AIC – the only series they produced this year that didn’t rely heavily on fanservice or moe was Ookami Kakushi.

Mahou Shoujo Madoka Magica

Official Site
We’ve got Shaft and we’ve got Yuki Kajiura working together on an original anime project about a magical girl. What could possibly go wrong? Well, we’ve got bows and swords in the character artwork, so I imagine there’ll be action involved. I’ve just never been into magical girl anime though. I’ll see what other people think.
This has been getting a lot of hype recently. Given who’s working on it, I can see why. As a fan of Shaft and Shinbo, and as someone who loves the Hidamari Sketch series, I’m also pretty excited, but I’ve also never seen a magical girl anime I’ve liked. Just because of my skepticism of it despite my liking most of the big names associated with this show, I think this would be a fun show to blog. Plus, I’ve blogged some Shaft show for every season possible since I’ve been writing for Borderline Hikikomori.
Shaft has really been letting me down lately. Since it’s Shaft, I’d imagine that there would be some sort of special twist to this show, and that it won’t end up being some trumped up magic version of Hidamari Sketch, but you never know. How long now until the Bakemonogatari prequel?
There’s been a lot of hype surrounding this, and understandably so: Akiyuki Shinbo is directing a Shaft-produced original magical girl anime. Yuki Kajiura is doing the music, Ume Aoki is behind the original character designs, and the cast – Aoi Yuuki, Chiwa Saito, Eri Kitamura and Kaori Mizuhashi are the leads, and the mascot character is being played by Emiri Kato – is positively star studded. Promo material has been released at a steady rate, but we’ve yet to see a trailer with any actual footage. And given that this is original (and that Shinbo is directing), this could go absolutely anywhere. I’m not a big fan of Shaft, but this has certainly piqued my interest and Shinbo can be fantastic. Mostly, though, I’m immensely curious as to what this will be like, so I’ll jump in and give the series a go.

Freezing

Preview (Official Site)
The bleedin’ promotional materials give you panty shots and wrecked clothing. Watching the trailer really didn’t dissuade me from this position. If you want to watch buxom women beat the tar out of each other, this is the series for you this season. At least Infinite Stratos has really cool mecha…
Seems like yet another fairly generic scifi/fantasy show. The fanservice in the previews certainly doesn’t impress. I’ll pass.
While this show seems really similar to Infinite Stratos in concept and the amount of fan service, I’m going to give this one a shot for two reasons. First, the concept reminds me of Simoun, minus the yuri-ness, in that it is using the two people must work together to be successful theme. But more importantly, I want to see the pink haired, pig tailed girl with almost no clothes on.
I’m kind of a fan of the source material, but I’ll be the first to admit this is not for everyone: the fanservice is heavy and a large part of the series is busty girls beating each other up. (I think it says a lot that the series’ website features a series of minigames in which the aim is to knock clothes off various heroines) Nonetheless, I am a fan, and I am awaiting this with glee.
A couple of points to note about this adaptation. Firstly, the director is Takashi Watanabe, of Boogiepop Phantom, Slayers, and Full Metal Panic! fame, and Shana, Ikki Tousen, and Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou infamy. The screen composition guy is behind Ikki Tousen and both seasons of Index, while the screenplay guy did Queen’s Blade, Daimaou and Sekirei. Make of this what you will. Secondly, a plot in the manga only eventuates about thirty chapters in, and this is when things become really enjoyable and the early character development stuff becomes important. Anyway, a certain character is important in the turns the plot takes; she is not listed in the cast or character lists. Further, there seem to be some anime original characters (either that or they’re background characters who’ve been given names). I don’t know if this means a) we won’t get to the meat of the story, b) that this’ll be two cours long (and that said character will appear then), or c) that it means things will go in a completely different direction to manga. I don’t know what any of this means for the series, but I’m hoping for the best.

Beelzebub

Preview
Okay, so this series is on my radar as well. I like the delinquent character archetype, because it leaves so much room for character development. That he’s a delinquent who has to raise a child just puts more icing on the cake. This screams action comedy, which is perfect for me.
Hmm, tough high school guy is forced to raise a kid. Haven’t I seen this before? To be fair, this is a very common trope in all media, not just anime. The promotional material makes it look like it’ll be a wacky comedy. Nothing too compelling as far as I can see.
Too many shows have focused on some sort of devil king recently. Too many shows have focused on delinquents recently. Too many shows have focused on maids recently. So no, I’m not watching this.
The latest Shounen Jump series to get a Pierrot anime adaptation. I’ve known about the manga for a while, but have never really felt the desire to get into it. It sounds vaguely interesting, so I may feel a yen to give it the anime a try, but a couple of things are stacked against it. Firstly, I have a pretty bad record with Shounen Jump series, in both manga and anime form. Secondly, the two previous works of director Nobuhiro Takamoto’s I’ve checked out in the past – Ookami Kakushi and 07-Ghost – completely and utterly failed to captivate me, much as I wanted to like them. A probable miss for me, I think.

Yumekui Merry (Merry Dream Eater)

Preview
I know the magical girl falls on top of the protagonist trope has been played to death. Shoot, I’ve complained about it in the past. This just looks fun though. Merry Nightmare looks like she’d be right at home in a Disgaea game. And really, how can I say no to a war with cats? I’ll give it a shot.
Another girl-falls-in-boy’s-lap fantasy show by JC Staff? You’ll have to excuse me if I’m skeptical. I feel like JC Staff has gotten very good at pumping out these types of shows over the years, but they’ve yet to produce a good one. And the massive success of the Index franchise has only encouraged them to keep going, methinks. I’ll stay away.
Bar the usual cliches, the premise is interesting and the director of Casshern Sins is at the helm of the project. I also thought the trailer was very impressive; the art and animation looked gorgeous. If there’s good action and characterization here, I’ll definitely be on board. Checking this out.

Level E

Preview
The synopsis… I have no idea where this is going. However, it looks like the people who have read the source material are pretty vocal about liking it. A comedy with an amusing asshole of a prince… maybe.
Preview and synopsis don’t capture me. Looks like a generic scifi thriller. I’ll pass.
The concept doesn’t sound like my thing at all, and the trailer was unimpressive. Not interested in this.

Infinite Stratos

Preview
In just the first few seconds of the trailer you can tell this is already going to become a harem anime. However, I really like the design of their mecha suits, and if they can offer me some entertaining battles, I’ll probably tune in just for that. I suppose the obligatory TnA is extra.
This just seems like a whole lot of fan service that won’t let its characters get into any sort of drama that can’t just be fixed by some sort of reset ending. I suppose I could be wrong, and in that case I would likely go back and watch this at some point in the future, but this show just doesn’t seem to be breaking any new ground.
The PVs showed off an interesting visual style – a mix of very flat, angular looking characters and polished, CG-heavy mechs/armour, which actually worked quite fantastically – and some sleek action scenes. The staff and studio here are really interesting, too. We have studio 8-Bit making their debut, the director who did Macross Frontier, and the series composer who worked on the Key/KyoAni trilogy of Kanon, Clannad and Air. The school life/mecha action combination can be really enjoyable when done well, too, so I’ll give this a go.

Haiyoru Nyaruani: Remember My Love(craft-Sensei)

Official Site
Holy long title Batman! So we have a Cthulu deity who happens to enjoy the form of a pretty girl who ends up with, you guessed it, an ordinary high school student. I wonder, is “Did You Just Kiss Cthulu” a trope?
Seems all the cool legendary or fantastical characters are getting little girl representations. There’s the obvious (and surprisingly excellent) Strike Witches series, this season’s Squid Girl, and wasn’t there a show about Lubu from the Three Kingdoms a few years back? I couldn’t get into Squid Girl, and I’ll pass on this.
I watched the first episode of this, even though I wasn’t planning to, because it was only four minutes long. Essentially, it’s entirely mediocre. There’s nothing particularly good here, but nothing terrible either. Anyway, this is a gag show. Nothing is going to change, the characters won’t develop, the plot will be non-existent, etc. The character dynamics are good enough, though, and I think that’s the single most important thing in a show like this. But I doubt I’ll follow along.

Houkago no Pleiades

Official Site
My first reaction was to once again yell, “What the hell, Gainax?” My second reaction, upon seeing the staff list, could be summed up as “…huh.” We’ve got an episode director from FLCL, a concept artist from TTGL, and the designer of Hanamaru Kindergarten. Who knows, this might actually pull through somehow.
Gainax making a promotional anime for Subaru, the car company… well, Gainax certainly is a company that knows how to monetize its products. I haven’t been able to find any details on this show, but given Gainax’s history, unless it involves mechs in some form, it’s probably not gonna be very good.

Wolverine

Official Site
Last time I checked, Iron Man wasn’t doing too well, so I’ll pretty much pass on all of these Marvel shows.
I was hugely underwhelmed by Iron Man, so much so that I’ll proceed with much caution if end up trying any of the other Madhouse/Marvel collaborations. Anyway, I found that most of the community tended to share my views on that first project so, while I don’t intend to check out Wolverine, there’s a small chance I might be tempted to change my mind if reviews of it are glowing.

Kore wa Zombie Desu Ka? (Is this a Zombie?)

Preview
This looks like it’s trying to capitalize on the current zombie craze without actually using any of the things that makes zombies cool. Just another generic fantasy magical-girl-falls-into-boy’s-lap show from, as far as I can see. I’ll pass.
I can’t help but feel I’ve seen this “fight in my place against an evil organization” plot line before. Plus, do I want to watch something about zombies again? No?
The concept sounds like a lot of mindless fun to me, honestly. I mean, vampire ninjas, necromancers, zombies, magical girls and an “anti-magical girl system?” The art was displayed in the trailer was great, aside from the character art, which looked unpolished and strangely ugly. Staff-wise, the director has only previously helmed Macademi Wasshoi!, which I didn’t get into, while the series composition guy has done a truckload of ecchi series… but also Katanagatari, which was brilliant. Anyway, as I said before, this looks like it could be enjoyable, so I’ll check it out.

Rio -Rainbow Gate!-

Preview
This show really doesn’t have anything going for it, but I do like cards, so maybe?
Nothing in the promo material I’ve seen for this has really grabbed my attention, though series comp is good here. The tournament/quest-ish aspects that seem to be a part of the show could be interesting, but it looks as though this aspires to be more of a fanservice comedy. I doubt I’ll be watching.

Dragon Crisis

Official Site
The premise here is pretty cliche. The tweaks that have been made to the usual formula, however, were novel enough for me to consider checking this out. Then I heard Rie Kugimiya in the trailer, with her voice seemingly more irritating than ever before (I know! I didn’t think it was possible either!). I don’t know if there’s enough good here to counterbalance the cliches and Teh Rie, despite the fact that Hideyuki Kurata is doing series comp. I think he’s excellent, but, naturally, how good his adaptation work is depends on the source. I suppose he might be enough to get me to try to brave through a little of the series, though.

I Don’t Like You At All, Big Brother!

Official Site
Looks like it’s trying to cash in on the siscon fetish which, while very old, has seemingly exploded in popularity in mainstream anime in the past few years. Probably gonna be worthless.
The brocon trend continues. This really isn’t my thing. No thanks.

Starry Sky

Official Site
It seems as though all there is to this otome game adaptation is a reverse harem of bishies and a fantastic cast. Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be much beyond that. Perhaps with a good director I’d be more inclined to give the series a try, but Nobuhiro Takamoto is helming this (see Beelzebub). I don’t think I’ll be watching.

Kimi ni Todoke (Season 2)

Official Site
The first season started out as good, wholesome fun, but got frustrating toward the end as nothing kept happening. Maybe the 2nd season can provide more of that innocent entertainment while having the relationship actually advance. But the real question is, will Aya Hirano return to voice her character?
I loved the first season, except for five or six episodes that focused on Kurumi. Hopefully that doesn’t happen again. Aside from that, I am hoping for a little quicker pace this time around, but then again, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it. A must watch for sure.

Mitsudomoe (Season 2)

Official Site
Despite the first season being really crude at some points and that it recycled a lot of jokes, I laughed harder at this show than anything I’ve watched recently. Since it’s only 8 episodes, I’ll probably wait until it’s finished and marathon it.


Summer Season 2010 Post Mortem

The fall season of anime has already started, which means that the summer season has come to a close. Of course, most of us watch more shows than we could – or care to – write about, and here are our brief thoughts about what we watched this past season.

High School of the Dead

Things started strong, with an engaging set-up, good action and a great sense of fun. Later, the series showed that while it could definitely be dark at times, it also revelled in the ridiculous; what went on wasn’t always to my taste but kept me laughing and coming back to see what would happen next. The downsides? I didn’t feel as though I connected much with any of the characters. More than that, the series felt directionless and incomplete, and, in the end, unsatisfying.
It was a fun ride, but man, was the ending bad. I know, story hardly matters to this show, but I did get invested in these characters and hoped things would go somewhere. Some crazy action and most Jello-like boobs ever, but overall left me with a bad taste in my mouth.
Saeko wearing an apron, and only an apron, was the only noteworthy moment of this show.

Seikimatsu Occult Academy (End of the Century Occult Academy)

I wanted so much for this series to turn what seemed like an obvious conclusion right on its head.  It didn’t do that, but I still thoroughly enjoyed the series.  Great characters, and shoot, great facial expressions.  It used the character art style really well to assist the comedy.  Then we’ve got Smile and his wrench, who need one of those 3-5 minute anime shorts time slots.
The last few episodes aside, I felt this series continually put me to sleep. While Maya’s begrudging acceptance of the occult provided for some interesting moments with Fumiaki and her friends, it seemed as if these character developments had no connection to the three episodes that actually focused on the main plot.
Anime no Chikara finally delivers! It started off hilarious but got mired in side stories in the middle, before the main story returned with a bang. The last 3 episodes were just wild, good fun. The ending came as a genuine surprise and delivered a powerful, heartfelt message.
To say the least, this was a wild, crazy ride. The series was continually hilarious, though, and it generally struck an excellent balance of silliness and seriousness. The main leads were also developed very well, and, while the first and last few episodes of the series were filled with much more energy than the middle ones were, I was always engaged and looked forward to the new installment each week. The ending, too, was probably the most satisfying of the season.

Giant Killing

The one show I consistently looked forward to week after week.  It might not be the best anime to ever air, or even the best sports anime, but it kept me consistently entertained.  I don’t think I’ve sat on the edge of my seat so much for a game where I knew how it had to end.  It had a lot of really good characters too, even the minor characters on the opposing teams.  I want a second season of this, and I want it soon.  I need to see them go all the way. (Editor’s note: Rakuen blogged/is blogging the entirety of this show)

Seitokai Yakuindomo (Student Council Officers)

Good raunchy fun. The hectic, ADD style of filling each episode with short gags worked very well, in the tradition of other 4-koma adaptations like Azumanga Daioh. The story heavy episodes were nice asides as well, connecting the random gags with a common theme. Suzu and Yokoshima-sensei are awesome, and Kotomi is the best imouto ever.
I really wasn’t keen on this at first, but I’m so glad I stuck with it. A week rarely went by without a few good laughs out of the series; its rapid-fire jokes weren’t always hits, but there were always at least a couple or so that were fantastic. It took a little while to get used to the show’s sense of humour but I’ll really miss it and its characters, who had awesome chemistry with one another. This was a lot of fun.

Sekirei ~Pure Engagement~

This season of the series focused on developing relationships between Sekirei and their Ashikabi. This was done well. Otherwise, there wasn’t much going for the show, with things seeming geared almost solely towards setting up a third season. There was a serious lack of forward momentum and, in addition, pretty much all of the characters lacked depth. I was hoping for a larger focus on battles (what few took place were excellently choreographed and animated) but they rarely eventuated, and antagonists tended to run away instead of finishing fights. Frustrating.

Strike Witches 2

Best show of the season! I write that without a hint of irony – for me, it was either this one or Seitokai Yakuindomo. I actually watched both seasons of the show this past summer, and couldn’t be happier that I did. It successfully told a heartwarming story of personal triumph and friendship, and the second season had some of the best directed action scenes I’ve seen in non movie anime in recent years.
This was actually a pretty good show. I was a bit upset that they pretty much went away from the plot of the first season, of which there was little, from the get go, but that is a minor complaint. I am hoping for a season three.

Shiki

Frankly, there are a lot of reasons why this show should really suck. From the stubbornness of the villagers, most notably Ozaki, who seems incapable of asking for outside assistance to the ridiculousness of practically every character’s hair style, though I admit I have a thing for Ritsuko. However, the last few episodes have provided an ever increasing level of tension which has made this my favorite show of the summer season.
The highlight of the season. There’s a fascinating and constantly shifting cast of characters, a tension-filled storyline that keeps you wondering, and some utterly amazing atmosphere. Not much is black and white, and things are constantly kept interesting. I was initially concerned about the unusual art style, but Daume have shown that they know how to make it work. I can’t wait for the show’s hiatus to end, and I’m very curious to see how things continue. (Editor’s note: Raph blogged the first 3 episodes of this series)

Rainbow

This whole series has been a love hate relationship for me.  I know a lot of people thought the first half of the season was far stronger than the second half.  I disagree.  I always had the feeling the characters were constantly getting hit in the head by the idiot ball while in the detention center.  The camaraderie was good, but some of the decisions just left me scratching my head.  I liked it a lot better once they got out and tried to find their own place in the world.  I’d say they matured up nicely.  Well, maybe not Cabbage, but he’s the lovable big guy, what can you do? (Editor’s note: Rakuen blogged the first 4 episodes of this show when it started in Spring)

Ookami-san and Seven Companions

Mediocre is the word. The show had a lot of potential, and when it had fun with its flexible premise, I had fun too. Unfortunately, it consistently disappointed at big moments, almost always managing to squander build-up or suspense – the ending in particular was a massive anticlimax. Similarly, the characters could have been the series’s saving grace, but most remained undeveloped. All that said, though, the show shone in its less serious moments, held my attention for the right reasons, and was a mostly enjoyable addition to my week.
The biggest issue I had with this series is that it never knew what it wanted to be. Almost from the get go, it seemed as though every episode attempted to form a weak, half assed link to a fairy tale for its plot to its detriment. In my opinion, if the show continually employed a lighter tone that focused on character development and helping people via the bank, things may have gone better.
As much as I enjoyed watching the series, I have to agree it was pretty mediocre.  It never pushed itself far enough in any one direction.  It seemed like it could do one thing well for an episode, but it would fall flat in other areas.  It leads to this roulette situation where you never quite know what you’re going to get, and that’s bad.  I think the cast could have used a little more work too.  Really, I think a lot of things, and I’m not terribly sure which would improve it because it’s just so middle of the road.
This is the one show I blogged every week, if you’ll recall. The word that I keep turning to is “disappointing.” It started off with promise, introduced some interesting ideas, then squandered everything it had. You can read my final thoughts on my last post.

Legend of the Legendary Heroes

You would think that after blogging this show for almost three months I would have formed some sort of a definite opinion, but I haven’t. For a non comedy (though it does have some comedic portions), this show does have the somewhat surprising ability to keep me fully entertained for 22 minutes and it has enough of a story for me to blog about. On the flip side, I feel as though this show spends a lot of time going nowhere and there are some animation cincerns. That said, all signs point to the pace picking up in the second half.

Sengoku Basara 2

Yeah, I started off covering this series… and it kind of fell off for me.  I loved the first season for the consistently over the top characters and battles. The second season had more of that, but it also attempted to tell more of a story to go with it.  I thought it might be something I wanted.  After all, strong characters with a strong(er) story must be a win-win, right?  I don’t think it was.  I guess sometimes all you want is to see a bunch of larger than life characters beating the tar out of each other.

Amagami SS

I dropped this show after the second episode of Sae’s arc. While I understand that many people need to exercise their knee kissing, feet sucking, or furry fetishes satisfied, I have better things to with my life.
Comeback story of the season; you can read my full thoughts in my posts. In short, started off hilariously bad, then got painfully bad before turning it all around at Sae’s arc. Ai’s arc looks to be a return to normalcy and complacency, unfortunately. There’s news of a possible imouto arc, too.

Asobi ni Iku yo! (Let’s Go Play!)

Probably one of the biggest surprises of the season, this really didn’t take itself seriously and managed to deliver something fun, humorous and self-aware. The series seemed to really enjoy both making fun of and embracing the cliches that come with harem/magical girlfriend comedies. It also knew exactly what it wanted to do, and it did that well. Things were bizarre and entertaining, and my low expectations were very much exceeded.

Mitsudomoe

In my opinion, this show just keeps getting better and I am looking forward to season 2. Though the comedy is by no means high brow, funny is funny. The only problem is that a few of the jokes fail to hit the mark. The show’s success, as many have pointed out is due to its misunderstandings, which why some of the scenes that dealt with bodily fluids seemed out of place and unneeded.

Digimon Xros Wars

Ah, my childhood.  Yes, I watched both Pokemon and Digimon, and I liked them for different reasons.  Pokemon had that constant adventure, while Digimon had an actual storyline week over week.  Watching Xros Wars is like going back to those days, in a way.  Yeah, it’s definitely nothing to write home about, but it just has that ridiculous (and stupid) fun factor.  I do kind of wish they could come up with something more creative for their digivolutions, besides tacking on a new number after Shoutmon’s name…

 

Phew! That’s quite a lot of shows we watched these past 3 months. And we even had time to write each week about some of them! We’re still deciding on our fall lineups, but I’m currently committed to Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru – Yet the Town Keeps Going (Shaft show starring Chiaki Omigawa with music by Round Table and OP by Maaya Sakamoto? Yes please!), so look for that next week.


The Bungaku Shoujo Movie: Miu, Touko, and Konoha

This post contains vague spoilers for the Bungaku Shoujo movie.

As lolikitsune and Ryan have said in their excellent posts about the Bungaku Shoujo movie, this is a film about Konoha Inoue. Despite being the lead, though, Konoha is not a character who drives events. It feels more as though things are happening around him, and he is merely reacting to them; while these events centre on him – they push him to both act and look inside himself – he does not force them to happen. (Perhaps this reflects his mostly passive personality.) Instead, the drivers of the film’s plot are Miu Asakura, and, more subtly, Touko Amano.

[ナツ]

The first of the two girls, Miu, is aggressive, possessive and divisive. She is content to lie to and manipulate others, and is also willing to risk extreme harm to herself to get what she wishes. With her comes a mess of emotions and drama and, of course, forward momentum for the film. She is behind almost all of the events that push the plot along, and her cryptic messages and strange behaviour are what force Konoha to go on something akin to a quest. In the middle of this all, she attempts to pull Konoha closer to her while simultaneously pushing others away from him. Miu is a bit of an enigmatic character in the sense that, despite the degree of calculation she employs, her reasons for doing the things that she does are largely immature. She’s clearly intelligent, but throughout the film she’s frequently presented as little more than a child.

Now we turn to Touko, the literature girl herself. Touko is often not aggressive in an explicit way, and yet she drives the plot almost as much as Miu does. Because of her, Konoha joined the Literature Club, and the story began. He wrote for her, and their relationship blossomed. She helps, supports and guides Konoha on his journey throughout the film, proving to be both a constant in his life and a true friend to him. And yet Touko is also at least partly responsible for the drastic actions Miu takes; seeing Konoha and Touko together stirred immense feeling in her, causing her to set some of her more drastic schemes in motion. It’s almost strange how someone as wonderful as Touko is able to (in part) provoke something so horrible in Miu. But, then again, it’s also Touko who is able to heal Miu so much. I think this is incredibly fitting; Touko has a phenomenal ability to soothe, through her presence and her words. She is otherworldly.

[ウルエ]

Touko is full of warmth, compassion and beauty, and she has an extraordinary capability to make things right. On the other hand, it could be argued that Miu represents the darkness people face. She displays jealousy, rage, sadness, greed. All of these emotions, too, are responses to Konoha (or, rather, to her feelings for him). One could say that Miu is dark and (sometimes) immoral, but also juvenile. She is very able to hurt people. Touko, meanwhile, is light and pure, and remarkably wise. She is able to heal people. Miu creates drama, Touko resolves it. Miu is human, while Touko is not.

I love that the two people who drive the plot are so very different, and also that they’re two people who mould Konoha into who he is and who he becomes. At the end of the movie, I felt as though I had seen Konoha grow, change, and find himself, largely because of Touko and Miu. I felt as though I had seen Miu come to a revelation and begin to heal because of Touko, and I felt as though I had seen Touko having a truly positive impact on Miu’s and Konoha’s lives, with Konoha also leaving a lasting impression on her. In my eyes, it was this – how the trio of Konoha, Touko and Miu affected each other – that made Bungaku Shoujo special.


Fall 2010 Season Preview

Well, it’s that time where our intrepid team of bloggers adds our voices to the cacophony of season preview posts.  I myself only followed six shows during the summer season, but this season seems to have a lot more bulk to it.  I honestly don’t know what I’ll do with myself between school, work, and other obligations, as well as the series I’d like to watch.  The Fall season finally sees Madhouse and Marvel’s collaboration come to its first fruition with the Ironman franchise.  We also have another work directed by the man behind Durarara!! et al.  Then there’s Shaft proving to us they can manage an incredibly short second season turn around time with another Arakawa.  There’s a bunch of other things going on, but why read me talking here?  You can just click past the break and read me talking with everyone else!

Star Driver Radiant Takuto

Rakuen: Hello, original project!  Mecha is for sure, and while that’s not really my forte, I’m cool with it.  All the girls with the main protagonist in the middle is kind of worrisome though.  On the other other hand, the staff behind this is crazy awesome.  Let’s see where this one goes.

Raph: I’m really not much of a mecha fan, but the staff here are pretty phenomenal and the art is fantastic too. And it’s Bones. I’m definitely going to check out the first episode of this; I’m not sure if the show will be my cup of tea, but I’m hopeful (and don’t want to miss out on a potential hit).

Nameless: As much as I love everything BONES animates, this show seems a little out there. The mecha designs seem interesting enough, so I’ll give this show a shot.

Ironman

Rakuen: Marvel is giving Madhouse the opportunity to animate Iron Man. Apparently, there’ll be more Marvel adaptations in the seasons to come. I would pay out the nose for Deadpool to be in there somewhere, but it doesn’t look like that will happen. For now, I think Iron Man is cool and I want to see where this project goes.

Raph: I was very much impressed by the trailer, but I feel this could go either way in terms of plot development. Will we get an engaging, complex story or will things stick closer to a villain of the week format? I’m hoping for the former, and I’d like to think there’s a good chance we’ll get this, what with the creative license Madhouse have been given with the story. I’m definitely going to check out at least the first episode of this.

Nameless: Why Marvel feels the need to have all of their properties become anime is beyond me, but I’ll give this a shot.

Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt

Rakuen: Oh Gainax, you so crazy.  I’m sure this has been pointed out enough already, but these are the characters’ names.  I agree with Scamp, this seems a lot like the Powerpuff Girls to me.  However, since I like Gainax, it at least deserves a try from me.  I say this either works out crazy awesome, or so bad it’s good.  I’m banking on the latter.

Raph: This will either be spectacular or spectacularly awful, and with not much a lot of material to judge from at this stage, it’s hard to make a call. The premise sounds fun, though. I’m definitely going to see how this goes; I think I’ll end up deciding what I think about Panty and Stocking within five minutes of it beginning.

Lvlln: Well, it’s GAINAX, so I feel obliged to give it a shot. But it also looks a hell of a lot like Powerpuff Girls, and I don’t mean it in a good way. Who knows, I was highly skeptical of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann at the beginning, but it ended up as one of my all time favorites. Then there was Evangelion 2.22 that exceeded my expectations in every way. GAINAX has earned my faith.

Psychic Detective Yakumo

Rakuen: So Yakumo can see spirits and wants to release them.  Well that’s a pretty admirable goal.  Here’s the deal.  I like mysteries, but I don’t like horror mysteries, and that seems to be just about all Japan wants to turn out recently.  I’ll wait to see how this series pans out, perhaps watching it after the season has ended.

Raph: I’m a huge fan of both supernatural and mystery series, so this is yet another series I’m going to look out for. I’ve read a couple of chapters each of the two manga versions of this (one is complete at 9 chapters, one is ongoing); I quite liked both, and I think an anime version will do good things for this. I’ll check this out.

Nameless: While I’ll definitely watch this show, I can’t help but wonder why every super power these days manifests itself in the eyes. Where are the super smelling and hearing shows?

Kuragehime

Rakuen: Okay, so what we have here is a trap in the fujoshi world.  This premise sounds strangely intriguing to me.  Something about the art style reminds me of Tatami Galaxy.  It’s also on the Noitamina block.  You know what?  Let’s do this, why the hell not?

Raph: This is one of the series I’m most eagerly anticipating. Based on an award-winning josei manga with a genuinely interesting premise, animated by Brain’s Base, and airing in the noitaminA timeslot, this has so much potential to be brilliant. To top this all off, Takahiro Omori – who was behind Baccano!, Natsume Yuujinchou and Durarara!! – is directing. My expectations are high.

Nameless: While the cross dressing male in a female apartment complex certainly seems like an interesting premise, I’m not sure that it can carry a show for a whole season. Usually, shows seems to reserve these types of characters for supporting roles. I’ll watch it out of curiosity more than anything.

Bakuman

Rakuen: So this is the anime aiming to make writing AND art fun?  A series about drawing manga just sounds like it could be a lot of good fun.  Really, I feel like I need it right about now when school and work are beating the daylights out of me.  Then it has the school setting on top of it.  Definite watch for me.

Raph: I’ve read some of the manga and found it pretty absorbing – the storyline is good and the characters are strong. Kenichi Kasai, behind Honey and Clover and Kimikiss, is one of two directors and the very experienced Reiko Yoshida is doing series composition. With what seems to be a two-cour run, JC Staff will really have the opportunity to bring this to life. I’ll check this out.

Nameless: How a show about two guys trying to become manga artists is getting the most pre season buzz is beyond me. However, I have enjoyed other shows that have utilized this general premise as a part of its plot, so this seems like a good bet to me.

Togainu No Chi

Rakuen: Okay, so first of all this anime is based off an eroge, which in my opinion is a total crapshoot.  Then, it’s based off a yaoi eroge.  I’m not saying the series will suck, and the post-apocalyptic back drop might make a good setting for this series.  It’s just way out of my range.

Raph: The fact that this is based on an adult BL game will probably turn a lot of people off, but in all likelihood, the anime will stick much closer to the manga adaptation of the series (which has almost zero yaoi content, aside from some undertones). Expect Street Fighter but with bishies and – I hope – a plot. I read a couple of chapters of the manga and it didn’t really grab me, but hopefully this will do a better job of that. I’ll give this a shot.

Nameless: After reading the show’s description I have to admit I was at first pretty intrigued. But then, I found out it was shounen-ai, and my interest faded immediately.

Soredemo Machi wa Mawatteiru

Rakuen: I tried watching a maid comedy before in Kaichou wa Maid-sama, but after a few weeks I ended up losing interest.  But you know what?  Clumsy is a pretty good tool for funny, so long as you don’t end up relying on the same jokes over and over again.  The love triangle makes it a little more interesting too.  I need humor, so I want to give this a shot.

Raph: This could go so many ways, but I’m excited about this series revolving around a wannabe-detective-maid-cafe-staffer (hooray!). It’s a slice of life comedy with none other than Shinbo at the helm, so I’m expecting something engaging and offbeat. I expect Shaft’s signature style to rear its head, and I’m also looking forward to seeing what they can do with a bigger budget after the success of Bakemonogatari. I’m certainly going to take a look at this.

Lvlln: I know very little about the source material, but being the Shinbo fanboy that I am, I’ll definitely be watching this. The whole cafe thing seems to be in vogue lately, with The President is a Maid! and Working!! from last season, and Shaft’s own excellent Natsu no Arashi!! series.

I’m happy to see Chiaki Omigawa get a starring role again, really her first since playing Maka in Soul Eater. Shinbo definitely seems to like her; up until this season’s Seitokai Yakuindomo, the only roles she had besides in Maka were in his works. I’m a fan, and I think her sweet, innocent voice will go well with the character Hotori Arishiyama. Opposite her will be Yuuki Aoi as Toshiko Tatsuno.  Also, @wah__ posted something about the OP and soundtrack being done by Round Table featuring Nino (why Shaft chose them for THIS show when their other one would have made so much more sense, I’ll never know), a band of which I’m a moderate fan. I definitely want to blog one of the Shaft shows, and I’m leaning towards this one just because I already did the first season of Arakawa Under the Bridge.

Nameless: As much as I love almost everything that SHAFT does, I’m not really a fan of maids. While that wasn’t really a deal breaker, the old cross-dressing guy from the preview completely turned me off to this series. One SHAFT show is enough for me.

Shinryaku! Ika Musume

Rakuen: Again, things are getting silly in this season preview.  This time, Squid Girl wants to punish humanity for polluting the ocean.  There’s just one problem.  She’s stuck working at a beach-house!  This doesn’t sound like an anime, this sounds like the setup of a feel-good ABC comedy.  Potentially adorable and funny.

Raph: I like the manga – it’s light, mildly quirky, and fun – so I was really pleased when I saw this was getting an anime adaptation. And then I saw the studio. Diomedea, previously known as Studio Barcelona, are most famous for Kodomo no Jikan and Nogizaka Haruka, and that worries me a little. On the other hand, the director – who has previously worked on xxxHolic, Ookiku Furikabutte and Genshiken - gives me hope that this will turn out alright. I’m going to proceed with cautious optimism.

Nameless: This reminds me of a cross between Excel Saga and Al Gore, and as much as I love Excel Saga this just looks too generic.

Arakawa Under the Bridge x Bridge

Rakuen: I’m sorry guys, I just fell off the Arakawa wagon about halfway into the series.  I appreciated social commentary embedded in the humor.  It just didn’t quite jive with me, especially with other series to watch.  However, if there’s any sequel which might get me to watch the original material, it’s this one.

Lvlln: I blogged the first season to this in the spring. The last episode had been followed immediately by a season 2 announcement, but who would have known that it would come this soon?

I am very much looking forward to this one, because the first season felt incomplete. Though many people seem to have liked the off-the-wall comedy of this show, I always felt that that was the weaker portion it. Rather, I was interested in and impressed by the story of the growing romance between Nino and Riku, and that was left hanging at the final episode. I want to find out more about their future together. And more about Nino’s past. The first season did a beautiful job exploring Riku’s painful past. I hope that the second season does an equally good job doing Nino’s.

Plus, the addition of the Amazonian, played by Yuu Kobayashi at the end of the first season, yet another big name to an already star studded cast: Hiroshi Kamiya as Riku, Keiji Fujwara as the Chief, Sugita Tomokazu as Star, Takehito Koyasu as Sister, Miyuki Sawashiro as Maria, Chiwa Saito as Stella, Chiaki Omigawa as P-ko, all headed by the amazing Maaya Sakamoto as Nino. Not to mention the cameos by Rie Tanaka and Yuko Goto.

Nameless: I love Nino. I love SHAFT. I will be watching this.

Hyakka Ryouran Samurai Girls

Rakuen: Take Sengoku Basara, but replace the cast with girls.  Now, add in D’Artagnan from the Three Musketeers.  Season with a school setting and mix thoroughly.  You’ve got this series.  I have a lot of interest in the Sengoku period after watching Basara, but I can guarantee this is going to be more of a fanservice fest than a cool fighting series.  This one is doubtful.

Raph: From the people who brought you Queen’s Blade comes… the exact same thing, but set in a world far closer to feudal Japan than Europe in the Middle Ages.  I couldn’t get through more than three minutes of Queen’s Blade - no, really, the pre-OP milk-acid-spraying breasts were enough to get me to stop watching – and I don’t anticipate having much more luck here.

Lvlln: The first episode looked promising. Appropriately ridiculous, as I often say. It’s just something that can’t be taken seriously, in the same vein as High School of the Dead, which, incidentally, will continue through next season. Like that show, this has quite the cast, with Rie Kugimiya and Yuu Kobayashi being featured in the first episode. And the entrance of Yuuki Aoi’s character at the end was quite something.

I like the art style as well. There was an emphasis on thick lines on the character outlines, which gave it a distinctive look, very different from other anime. The elaborate backgrounds were pleasing to the eyes, and the animation impressed, though the first episode is never a good indicator of this for the rest of the show.

As a bonus, there’s the lesbian S & M relationship with the maid played by Saori Gouto, i.e. Apology-tan. Hope to see more of that type of fanservice in coming episodes and seeing if the show can keep up the pace of its pleasant craziness.

Nameless: I’ve been fooled too many times with shows like these thinking that they will exclusively focus on the fan service aspect of the show, when they end up spending too much time on the other aspects that no one cares about.

The World God Only Knows

Rakuen: Basically, we have the dating sim master having to apply his talents in the real world.  Considering the disjoint in reality many of these games have, it will probably do a lot for the comedy.  I’m usually not interested in harem shows, but I think I’ll keep my eye on this one.  Because, you know, I actually liked Seitokai no Ichizon…

Raph: The manga version of this is loaded with fantastic art, and it’s both fun and pleasantly self-aware. Manglobe is at the helm of the anime, so I expect that all to translate to screen. On the other hand, though, I haven’t gotten far into the manga (I’ve stopped until I see the anime) and I worry that things could get repetitive quite quickly. Many of my friends in the community are big fans, though, so I have hope – I’ll probably check this out.

Lvlln: The PV was pretty cool, but every description of the show seems to peg it as generic harem. I’ll pass unless I start hearing really good things about it.

Nameless: The whole plot premise seems a bit too convoluted to me for it to actually work. I’ve heard good things though, so I’ll give it a chance.

Otome Youkai Zakuro

Rakuen: I have interest in the Sengoku Period.  I have interest in the Three Kingdoms period, though that’s China.  Strangely, I don’t have must interest in the Meiji Era beyond Rurouni Kenshin, which I haven’t even finished.  If it could realistically talk about racial themes, it might be an interesting watch.  I don’t have much hope for it happening.  I’ll probably pass.

Raph: While I don’t normally go for historical series, the supernatural bent here has me interested. The premise is interesting and inventive, and is coupled with some lovely art, but the director is a mixed bag and I’m not particularly wowed by anything I’ve seen in previews or on the website. I’ll probably give this a go, though.

Nameless: If you are into forbidden furry relationship shows during times of conflict than I guess this show is for you. Personally, I’m not.

Yosuga No Sora

Rakuen: So I think I’ve got this straight.  This is an anime based off a manga based off an eroge.  What could possibly go wrong here?  If this is your kind of thing, it looks like the solid series of the season for you.  For everyone else, you’re probably better off watching Panty & Stocking or something.

Raph: The promo material for this has largely failed to grab me, but the promised mystery elements have piqued my interest somewhat. I may give the first episode a try on a whim, but otherwise I plan to wait and see what others think about this after a few episodes – this is one of those series where I don’t think I’ll mind jumping in later.

To Aru Majutsu No Index S2

Rakuen: I did eventually finish the first season, and I still enjoyed the experience.  A protagonist fighting with a luck score of 0 is entertaining.  Since I’ve actually watched this sequel’s source, I will probably pick it up.  Besides, I want to see if anything else happens with all those Misaka clones.

Raph: I’ll spare you the crazed fanboying and get right down to it: I absolutely cannot wait for this. I loved both Index‘s first season, Railgun – and also love the manga incarnations of both – and the franchise is one of the few that can turn me into a blob of deliriously happy fanboy goop. Anyway, my hopes were already sky-high for this, and the trailer, which showed off gorgeous art and animation, (somehow) made me even more excited.

Lvlln: I watched the first season when I was about halfway done with A Certain Scientific Railgun (which I watched during airing), and I found both shows to be pretty mediocre. Mainly, I couldn’t find anything compelling about the story or the characters (except maybe Harumi Kiyama, the bad gal from the first half of Railgun). A crying shame, because when I was introduced to the unique universe in which these shows were set, I fell in love immediately. There was so much potential to explore interesting science fiction themes, but the stories themselves were just… ordinary.

The exception was the Accelerator/Last Order arc from Index. Accelerator, despite being an asshole, is a far more interesting and compelling protagonist than Touma. Thus it is for his story and just to see more stories take place in this fascinating world that I’ll be watching this second season. I’m not a masochist (not much of one, anyway), so I have no interest in blogging it, but I hope that if I shut my higher functions off, I’ll get some entertainment out of it. And I want more Accelerator. Seriously, I’m gay for him.

Nameless: This show bored me to no end when I recently got around to watching it. At least the graphics in the preview look good.

Motto To-Love-Ru

Rakuen: I have heard of this series before.  I hear about doujins for this hitting at Comiket, and don’t hear much else.  That pretty much tells me all I need to know.

Lvlln: I got a few episodes Into the first season before dropping it. I just can’t stand generic harem shows any more, which is exactly what it sounds like the rest of the first season was.

Still, my one regret is that I missed out on hearing Kana Hanazawa as Mikan. After initially hearing her with the exact same voice for every role – Nadeko from Bakemonogatari, Mato Kuroi from Black Rock Shooter, Anri from Durarara!! and Tenshi from Angel Beats! – then getting to hear a bit more variety in her acting in Seikimatsu Occult Academy, I’m genuinely curious as to how she played Mikan. At the very least, Mikan’s character design doesn’t seem fitting for her usual soft voice. So maybe I’ll download some episodes just to listen to some clips with Mikan talking.

I’ll probably listen for Satomi Arai is Lala’s sarcastic, cynical suit as well.

My Little Sister Can’t Be This Cute

Rakuen: Because God knows this kind of little sister trope hasn’t been beaten to death, dragged around the square, and then lit into a massive bonfire.  I wouldn’t hold my breath on this one…

Raph - Whether I’ll enjoy this show or not depends largely on how the premise is handled. If it’s merely a springboard for brocon/siscon jokes and fanservice, I’ll avoid this. But if some genuinely good humour eventuates, I’m more than happy to give this a try. The trailer showed off nice character designs and art, so I’ll happily check this out if others enjoy it.

Lvlln: I’ll have some fun watching this one. It hits somewhat close to home, because I have a little sister myself who is a bit of a weeaboo. Not as much as myself, of course, but enough of one that I can take her to a screening of Evangelion 1.11 and we can talk about it later. Though she’s more into yaoi than lolicon…

So not exactly like Kyousuke Kousaka’s little sister. This show has received a lot of hype, most likely due to the fact that it sounds like an otaku’s dream situation. The PV even makes it look like a harem. So I get the feeling that this show will just be more run of the mill stuff. Regardless, I’ll be checking it out for the hype alone. I’m guessing that I’ll drop it rather quickly.

Nameless: While I first thought this show would focus on incestuous relationships between brothers and sisters, reading the first volume of the manga has allayed me of those fears for now. Instead, this seems like a show focused on otaku sub culture and fitting in. That, along with the cute female lead, make this a must watch in my opinion.

MM!

Rakuen: Masochism?  Well, I guess I have to give it credit for not being entirely derivative.

Raph: My response to this was going to be a solid no, but then I noticed this line in the MAL synopsis  “… he finds Isurugi Mio, a girl who thinks she is a god…”. This may or may not get me to watch an episode or two on impulse. If I do so, I’ll proceed with caution.

Nameless: A lot of shows have used sex based themes to some success in the recent pass. Does this seem like one of them? Not really, but I’m still interested.

Fortune Arterial Red Promise

Rakuen: Harem with Vampires.  Oh boy… It’s kind of funny they already have an OVA planned as well.

Raph: A remote island boarding school. A bishoujo vampire. A hapless male lead (in all likelihood). feel and ZEXCS working together. And the director behind such gems as kiss x sis and Nogizaka Haruka. Suffice to say, I really don’t expect much out of this, but I suppose I’m open to being surprised. If this is lauded, though I doubt it will be, I’ll give it a try.

Tantei Opera Milky Holmes

Rakuen: WHY?  Why does the mystery series have to be a romance game adaptation?  Do you hate me Japan?  I thought we were cool.  I mean, you do the anime thing, and then I watch your stuff for… oh, right.  Maybe this is my punishment.  *sigh*  Whatever, maybe I’ll give it a try.

Raph: I’m nervous about this, and not just because of the title. The character designs are ridiculously saccharin, and the franchise seems to be more Shukufuku no Campanella than Sherlock Holmes (the latter of which I adore). And yet, the bizarre but lulzy and strangely mesmerising PV, and my love for mystery/detective series will most likely lead me to give this series a go. Hooray? (Also, something to note: the main seiyuu cast here are all newbies, with three of the five stars in their first roles and one doing her second, so those who keep a close eye on voice talent might want to give this a look.)


Female Characters and Subverted Expectations in Katanagatari

Given that Katanagatari is a story in the style of chanbara, samurai films which focus largely on “manly” men, it’s great to see it play with gender roles (and subvert our expectations with regard to them) as much as it does. Despite the fact that the central character, who is set to become the strongest in Japan, is male, many of the show’s most powerful characters are women and the plot is very much driven by female characters. Warning: this post and one of the images within it contain major spoilers for Katanagatari episodes one through seven. Events in episode eight are mentioned, but there are no spoilers for the episode.

[Aco] (NSFW)

The first female opponent Shichika fights is Meisai Tsuruga, in episode three. She heads a shrine which protects young girls who have been abused by men, and she has been training them in self-defence. She seems remarkably kind, so it’s a surprise when we learn of her past – she was the member, and then the head, of a notorious and powerful group of bandits, and would kill without hesitation. She is now trying to repent for her past. Meisai is the not only the first female Deviant Blade wielder we meet, but also the first who is not ‘poisoned’ by their sword. She fights Shichika not for the sake of keeping her blade but to be able to continue to help the girls she looks after. This is a woman who is physically and mentally strong, and one who has held leadership positions with considerable courage (in the past) and selflessness (in the present). Her dying request to Togame is the continued protection of the girls at the shrine.

[詩音@ついった]

One of the biggest surprises in the series to date comes in episode four. From the preview, we expect a fight between Shichika and Hakuhei Sabi, who holds the title of “Japan’s strongest”. Instead the focus turns to Shichika’s sickly sister Nanami, who has remained alone on the island, and the three Maniwa Corps ninja who are closing in on her. It’s now that even more subversions of expectations take place. We expect Nanami to be no match for any of the ninja, but then one of them doesn’t return to his team members. Later, the second appears in front of Nanami, and the stage is set for their fight. We expect her to attempt to use Kyotoryuu, but she then admits that she was never taught it by her father. Was it because of gender; did he believe her to be, as a woman, unworthy of the style? No. It was because he was afraid of what Nanami would become. This girl, who has been presented as weak and frail up until now, is actually something of a monster. Not only is she able to learn skills upon seeing them once, and master them upon seeing them twice (and is, as such, a phenomenal fighter), she also displays little emotion aside from the pleasure she takes from inflicting pain. After brutally torturing and killing the first ninja, she defeats the other two with frightening ease.

She reappears in episode seven possessing a Deviant Blade of her own. She has left the island, and rumours of her strength and cruelty have begun to spread. She has utterly destroyed two entire villages and wants to face Shichika next. By the end of the episode, she has been defeated and killed, not because Shichika is stronger than her but because her greatest wish is death. Katanagatari presents this all in such a way that we know that, despite her defeat at his hand, Nanami is stronger than Shichika and – without trying to jump the gun here – also the strongest character in the series. It’s fitting that her appearance in episode four takes the place of Shichika’s battle with Sabi, who was supposedly the strongest in Japan; before her death, she fits this role much better than he does.

[tom]

The last female Deviant Blade holder we’ve been introduced to so far is Konayuki Itezora, whose small frame and eleven years of age belie the fact that she is physically the strongest character in the series – aside from Nanami, who memorised the technique giving her such strength when destroying Konayuki’s village. Konayuki is another who is immune to the ‘poison’ of their blade and also the first character to defeat Shichika on his journey. Indeed, the two smallest characters in the series – Nanami and Konayuki – have been the only ones to defeat Shichika as of yet. Both seem disarmingly harmless at first glance.

Finally, the two other notable women in the series, Togame and Princess Hitei, are perhaps the most important characters of all. Female lead Togame is fiercely intelligent, a capable sword fighter, and her self-proclaimed “schemes” are what drive Katanagatari‘s plot; Hitei, a princess living in Owari, is responsible for the vast majority of twists and turns the story takes. Both women are in positions of power, and both control a male “sword”. The tremendously strong Shichika and Emonzaemon serve Togame and Hitei, respectively, with what at this stage seems like unquestioning loyalty. It also looks like the rivalry between them will drive the remainder of the series, as both race to collect the remaining Deviant Blades.

[水玉子]

Katanagatari takes great pleasure in subverting our expectations with regard to the roles women play in stories such as these. In a genre where men have traditionally held the spotlight, it’s fantastic to see a series set olden day Japan driven so much by its female characters. The 50 minute per episode format really allows for character development, and all the people we’ve met so far have been fascinating. If the series continues on like this, we’re in for a treat.

Links and Notes:

  • In the style of the great mefloraine, all images in this post were sourced from Pixiv.
  • Ghostlightning has been covering the series brilliantly, and his posts are definitely worth a read.
  • Nisioisin really seems to love his female characters. Zaregoto‘s first book was set on an island populated almost entirely by an exiled heiress and female geniuses, and Bakemonogatari featured a number of strong, smart girls, though I feel they were portrayed as more sexualised than the female characters were here or in Zaregoto.
  • Nanami is such a fascinating character, and there was so much I wanted to say about her that didn’t really fit in the context of this post. Suffice to say, I can see myself writing more about her soon.

4-koma Sex Comedies, Female Leads and “Perfect” Girls

Posted by Author | 4-koma, Anime, Anime Review, B Gata H Kei, Commentary, Manga Review, Raphael, manga, seitokai yakuindomo, yamato nadeshiko | Tuesday 3 August 2010 12:01 am

Until a while ago, I (naively) thought that all 4-koma manga series were sweet, clean, slice-of-life comedy affairs. You know, like Working!!, Hidamari Sketch and Azumanga Daioh; the medium just seems so well suited to this. But the past seasons of anime have featured two 4-koma adaptations that are a far cry from the cuteness of K-on!. B Gata H Kei (which I’ll abbreviate to B Gata here) aired from April until June earlier this year, and focuses on a 15 year old girl known only as Yamada, who aims to accumulate 100 casual sex partners. This season, we have Seitokai Yakuindomo (which I’ll abbreviate to SYD), which centres around an almost all-female student council. It’s a comedy propelled largely by sexual innuendo and even totally unveiled sexual references.

What’s interesting about these two shows is that the sex humour contained within them is driven pretty much entirely by the female characters. In SYD, the male lead acts almost exclusively as a straight man for the girls’ zaniness, and in B Gata, male lead Kosuda falls into a similar role, although he goes along with all the insanity much more willingly. Suffice to say, this isn’t exactly an unusual concept in anime – the guys being bland and the girls being stars. But these girls are in no way your typical female leads: they’re unashamedly perverted and sometimes crass, and they think about sex as much as society seems to only expect from boys their age.

In essence, these girls may be beautiful, but they in no way fit the ideal of the yamato nadeshiko: the traditional Japanese concept of the “perfect woman”. From Wikipedia: “known as an ideal Japanese woman per Confucianism, [the concept] revolves around acting for the benefit of the family and following instructions or acting in the best interest of patriarchal authority figures. Virtues include: loyalty, domestic ability, wisdom, and humility.” Although the yamato nadeshiko concept hasn’t entirely persisted into the modern day, the idea of a creating a perfect woman seems to pervade the anime world. Moe series star girls who aim to appeal to men with either their perceived perfection or their charming fallacies, and a trope for every possible kind of “perfect woman” has sprung up. Whether you believe the yamato nadeshiko, ojou-sama or even the tsundere or dojikko is ideal, anime and manga will cater to you.

So how do SYD and B Gata fit into this? The girls these series focus on are loved by their peers. In SYD, the trio of main girls – Shino, Aria and Suzu – are all presented as stunning and/or extremely intelligent, and they do their jobs excellently; in B Gata, Yamada is seen as gorgeous and desirable by her classmates, and her rival Kanejou is rich, talented and beautiful. But look even a tiny bit beyond the surface, and you find “perversions” (Shino, Aria and Yamada’s sex obsessions; Kanejou’s obsessive, romantic love for her older brother) or surprising personality traits (never, ever call Suzu a ‘little girl’). Even the leads’ younger sisters in the two series, who seem to fit the ‘cute little sister’ trope to a T, are remarkably sex-minded. Essentially, none of these girls have been created with perfection, or at least the traditional sort, in mind.

And I find that refreshing. Even though they’re only so sex-crazed for comedic purposes and arguably lack depth, these girls are independent and strong. While all of them have their fair share of moe traits – Yamada in particular – they aren’t ruled by them, and (it certainly seems like) they haven’t been created just to meet certain archetypes. In addition, it’s great to see girls at the helm of sex comedies. Indeed, if the leads’ genders in the shows were reversed – i.e. guy seeking 100 casual sex partners; single girl joins otherwise all-male school council and has innuendo thrown at her – the results would almost certainly be utterly, utterly awful.

Links and Notes:


Shiki 3 – Mysterious Shiny Outsiders

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Raphael, Shiki | Saturday 24 July 2010 9:23 am

Woah, that was a pretty intense half-an-hour. Things are still progressing slowly in this series but that doesn’t stop events from being genuinely creepy. One of the things Shiki is proving to be very good at is creating atmosphere, and the show has been using that to its advantage; the consistently eerie mood it’s been building since the premiere has not only been maintained but heightened. In this episode, we were introduced to several new characters, all of whom were sinister or intriguing or both, and the foreboding was really laid on thick.

Believe it or not, this is his happy face.

The first part of the episode focused on three very different teenage boys: Masao, Tohru, and Natsuno, the latter of whom we’ve already met. There’s instantly a sharp contrast between aloof, guarded Natsuno and his only friend in Sotoba, the pleasant Tohru. But it’s through Tohru that we see slivers of another side of Natsuno. Even with his friend, he retains his icy demeanour, but we almost get a sense of why. Natsuno not only doesn’t care about the village he’s living in – like Megumi, he wants to get out – but also seems to be attempting to control his emotions. His behaviour and desire to stay over at Tohru’s indicate that he’s been rattled by the past days’ events (or perhaps something else), but he still doesn’t show much fear whatsoever. Likewise, when Masao angrily confronts him about not accepting Megumi’s gift, he maintains his calm, although there’s clearly disdain in his words.

There’s a contrast between Masao and Natsuno as well. They both harbour (arguably) similar displeasure, but they express it in different ways. As we see from both his interactions with people in the past and the present, Masao isn’t slow to lash out and could even have an anger management problem. He also despises Natsuno and really lets it show. On the other hand, while Natsuno doesn’t exactly bottle things up, he never lets himself get overwhelmed by emotion. He remains cool, calm and collected at all times, but is occasionally distinctly unkind.

Honing his scary-skills since pre-pubescence.

Speaking of Masao, he’s a fairly unpleasant character. Aside from his aforementioned anger issues, he also has moments where his actions could make one’s skin crawl. I found his behaviour towards his sister-in-law disturbing, and his reaction upon telling Tohru of Nao’s death had a similar effect on me, as it was difficult to tell if it was excitement or fear he was expressing (but perhaps that was just me). His character design also serves to further the ‘unpleasant’ image. But despite all this, it was surprisingly easy for me to feel sympathetic towards him. Even though, as I said, he acted towards his sister-in-law in a way that made me feel uneasy, it seemed like he was only doing so because he was expecting to be hated by her so much. I feel as though that’s somewhat tragic: he’s expects to be hated so much that, in the process of expressing his anxiety, he makes himself just that.

On the plus side for him, though, his personality might just make him one of the least scary residents of Sotoba. While he is explicitly creepy, almost every other resident in the town seems to be hiding something. It seems that there’s something off about so many of them but it’s hard to pinpoint what it is, and that’s much spookier, to me at least.

S-so shiny. Hey, maybe if we push them out into the sun, they'll sparkle!

All three members of the Kirishiki family also had their first onscreen debuts in this episode (beyond cameos, at least), and they definitely delivered on the strangeness. Chizuru and Seishirou acted very oddly upon meeting Nao’s family, especially considering how soon she died afterwards. Their cryptic utterances, as well as their line upon leaving – “We’ll stop by to pay our respects. Soon, quite soon.”, according to umee’s subs – were also mysterious and disquieting. And yet, somehow, their daughter Sunako managed to steal the spotlight from them. She seemed far older than her thirteen years upon meeting Seishin, and she made her intelligence very clear. Like both her parents, she also added fuel to the intrigue-fire with several enigmatic lines, including one that was a clear reference to Seishin and the cut on his wrist.

The Kirishiki family are probably the most intriguing characters at this point. It helps that their reason for moving to Sotoba is suspicious, especially given the timing of said move. I can’t wait to see more of the three of them, and I’m very curious as to how their stories will unfold.

The bizarreness apple doesn't fall far from the tree.

Finally, this episode featured some very heavy foreshadowing of corpses rising from the grave. The title, Shiki, means ‘corpse demon’, so this wasn’t unexpected, but I was surprised by the amount of oblique and not-so-oblique references to that. First we had Seishin’s novel – which seems like it could become a major plot-point – alluding to it, and then we had Masao’s line about Megumi clawing her way out of her grave to get revenge on Natsuno. Hmm…

All in all, another enjoyable episode. Both the show’s horror and mystery elements are being very well set up, and I look forward to not only when things inevitably come to a head, but to the rest of the ride along the way.


Visual Symbolism in Occult Academy’s OP

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Commentary, Manga Review, Raphael | Wednesday 21 July 2010 1:09 am

One of this season’s new series, Occult Academy, has one of the most interesting OPs of the year so far. Shoko Nakagawa, also known for the Gurren Lagann opening, sings a j-rock song that’s hard to get out of your head (and that’s the reason I wrote this post: it’s such a massive earworm!), but what’s really fascinating is the animation accompanying the tune. It’s psychedelic, colourful and at times surreal, and alludes to several symbols or dates relating to the supernatural. I thought I’d take a look at some of them. I’m not anywhere close to an expert in the occult, though, so if I’ve missed something or you have something to add, please let me know! ETA: This post only discusses a few of the many symbols in the Occult Academy OP. For a much more complete list, check out Sapphire Pyro’s fantastic post over at Hyper Parfait. (Thanks for the tip, 2DT!)

On the 21st of December 2012, it was believed by the ancient Maya – something that is alluded to in the name of the main character, and the name of the first episode (“Maya’s prophecy”) – that massive, negative changes to the world will be brought about. This has been the inspiration for both some New Age beliefs (including that the world will, in fact, change for the better) and also for works of fiction, including Hollywood films I Am Legend and 2012. [For more, see 2012 phenomenon.] In the world of the show, this year also bears significance; it’s the year all of the Abe Minoru are sent back to 1999 from, and the world then is shown to be pretty dystopian. #6 is searching for Nostradamus’ key to prevent this.

The year 1999 doesn’t seem to hold much importance with regard to the occult – please correct me if I’m wrong – but during my research for this post, I came across something interesting: Prophecies of Nostradamus, a 1974 Japanese film that is set in 1999, the same year that Occult Academy is. Naturally, as in the show, Nostradamus’ prophecies play a large role. And, quoted from the Wikipedia article, “in the film, scientific advances cause an outbreak of giant slugs, oversized bats, children with genetic mutations enhancing their physical or mental abilities, and bizarre changes in weather, such as snow falling on the pyramids”. Oversized bats (the tengu in Occult Academy seems to resemble this)? Children with special abilities? Hmm…

Stonehenge is a pretty well-known monument, but it was built by a civilisation that left no written records. This is interesting because, as such, the function of Stonehenge remains unknown. Many theories have been sparked, and many are linked to the supernatural. Relatedly, early historians had absolutely no idea how it could be built, so several offered explanations that very much tended to the paranormal.

Moai are huge figures that can be found all over Eastern Island. It’s still a mystery how exactly they were transported – some Polynesian folklore says that people called upon divine power to force the statues to walk.

Spoon bending rose to prominence in the 1970s, after self-proclaimed psychic Uri Geller seemed to do this in his performances, claiming he had ESP. He garnered criticism and scepticism, with magicians saying the trick could be easily performed with the help of stage magic, but bent spoons remain symbols of psychic powers and the paranormal. (On the topic of Geller and Japan, he once attempted to sue Nintendo over the pokemon Kadabra, because it is shown carrying bent spoons. “Nintendo turned me into an evil, occult Pokémon character. Nintendo stole my identity by using my name [the Japanese name for Kadabra is similar to the Japanese form of Geller's name] and my signature image,” he said.)

The ouroboros, a dragon or snake biting its tail to create a circle, is a symbol with ties to alchemy, Gnosticism and Hermeticism. From Wikipedia:

The Ouroboros often represents self-reflexivity or cyclicality, especially in the sense of something constantly re-creating itself, the eternal return, and other things perceived as cycles that begin anew as soon as they end (compare with phoenix). It can also represent the idea of primordial unity related to something existing in or persisting from the beginning with such force or qualities it cannot be extinguished.

Zener cards, devised by psychologist Karl Zener, are a set of five cards, each with a symbol of them, which can be used in parapsychology experiments to test for clairvoyance. Interestingly, there is a sixth here: a triangle. Is this simply an error or might it be hinting at something more?

Finally, and this is purely hypothesis, the dual staircase in a double helix formation could signify that science – or, more specifically, genetics – will play a role in the series. From an image analysis standpoint, Maya and #6 are running towards each other but on separate paths; they cross paths but never collide. Perhaps this could symbolise a clash of ideas, or even unrequited feelings (or maybe feelings that cannot be).


Shiki 2 – Swine Flu, My Dear Watson

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Raphael, Shiki | Monday 19 July 2010 2:06 am

[NB: This is a post that is somewhere between an episodic and an editorial, and it goes off on a couple of tangents (swine flu, Sherlock Holmes). You've been warned. It's a departure, but I hope you enjoy it!]

In Shiki, a universal fear is played with: that of illness, or rather deathly illness. It’s a fear that can be so strong that it can cause a total frenzy – remember last year and the swine flu pandemic? For weeks, you couldn’t turn on the TV or pick up a newspaper without seeing something about H1N1. Suffice to say, the media was all over it, and there was a huge amount of hysteria surrounding it all. Looking back, perhaps what made people so (arguably unnecessarily) scared was that anyone, no matter how healthy, could contract the disease.

Sotoba Victim #001 - Megumi Shimizu. Draws attention to herself even in funeral photo.

Shiki was first published in 1998, so swine flu couldn’t have been any form of inspiration for the disease. Nevertheless, I can’t help but see similarities between the fear it created last year and the fear Shiki plays on now. They both seem, at first, to be similar to colds and flus, with Shiki‘s illness leaving people “drowsy and in a daze”. (Sotoba’s doctor even sees a case of it in its infancy and diagnoses it as a summer cold.) Both have the potential to spread quickly through families and towns. Both can also seemingly be caught by anyone, and that’s what interests me most. While the elderly make up a lot of the early victims in Shiki, a previously-healthy fifteen-year-old girl is also among the dead: Megumi Sotoba.

I’m stating the obvious here, but with one of the genre categories it falls into being horror, Shiki hopes to frighten us. At this point, the basic fear it’s using is an oft-employed one – that anyone can be struck down by, and die from, something unavoidable. Putting ourselves in the characters’ shoes, how would we react if this was our situation? How would we behave, knowing we could catch this deadly disease that presents as something so innocuous?

Drs Holmes and Watsons conduct an interrogation.

What makes things even more interesting is that another genre-layer is present, and that’s mystery. What is this disease, and what is it caused by? How is it contracted, and can it be avoided? Can the inhabitants of Sotoba be protected? Simply, in the words of one of the characters, “What on Earth is happening in this village?” Episode two served to further a classic mystery set-up by introducing two possible investigators: Toshio Ozaki, the aforementioned village doctor, and Seishin Muroi, the priest. Ozaki seems to be the driving force behind wanting to investigate, while Muroi assists him with a surprising amount of insight. The two of them have interesting, contrasting personalities – with Ozaki being gruff and somewhat emotional, and Muroi being calm and intelligent – and they could almost fall into a Holmes/Watson type of relationship. I realise this is a pretty big statement to make so early in the series (especially since we’ve been given no indication as to who will actually solve the mystery) so I’ll hold back from pigeonholing them as such for now. But I wanted to make mention of this because the two of them seemed to have much greater roles here and the dynamic between them was, to me, worth noting.

Unnamed old lady, I don't know who you are, but you are the heart and soul of this series.

To more specific thoughts on the episode, I enjoyed it a lot. I love how Shiki is not only building up its horror elements but also its mystery elements; the plot is gradually revealing itself, and it’s fun to speculate which characters will play which role in the story. This is both easy and enjoyable to do, because though some of them are difficult to like (Natsuno), all of Sotoba’s residents interesting and mysterious. I’m truly looking forward to seeing how they develop in the coming weeks. Finally, Sotoba is becoming a great little entity in and of itself. The constant chatter and gossip of the older residents adds flavour to the show and helps make the small town setting feel real.

Two episodes in, Shiki is progressing slowly but surely, and I believe that’s a great way for it to be going. If you’re looking for action, I’d advise you to search elsewhere – this is not the show for you. But if you’re after well-crafted suspense and a strong blend of psychological horror and mystery, give Shiki a try.


Shiki 1 – Sticking Out Like a Sore Thumb

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Raphael, Shiki | Monday 12 July 2010 10:33 am

The premiere episode of Shiki focuses on Megumi Shimizu, a tenth grader feeling totally out of place in the small town of Sotoba. While most residents of the village seem to favour a quiet, simple existence, Megumi is fashionable, vibrant and thinks that the big city is the only place for her. In her eyes, Sotoba is utterly boring. She’s only interested in two things there: her crush, Yuuki Natsuno, and the giant, Western-style mansion up on the hill. She’s a bit of a brat and I could imagine her having a lot of anti-fans in the anime community. Fortunately for them, she doesn’t last very long. By the end of the episode, she’s dead.

Meet Megumi Shimizu. She's fashionable.

The recurring theme in this episode for me was things that stand out. Sotoba – or at least how we see it from Megumi’s eyes – feels homogenous, peaceful and quiet. It’s the typical small town, but (aside from all the mystery, of course) two things seem very out of place: the first is Megumi, and the second is the mansion. Suffice to say, there was a sharp contrast between both of these and the rest of the village.

On a superficial level, things are simple. Megumi’s character design is noticeably brighter than the rest and the clothes she wears – she gets to show off a few designs during the episode – are dramatically different to what the other residents sport. Similarly, the mansion’s architecture instantly sets it apart from every other place in Sotoba. The villagers and Megumi are both fascinated and frightened by it (though she tends far more to the former), and intriguingly, before falling ill and dying, our one-episode-heroine seems to be literally enchanted by the house.

You can see her coming from a mile away.

I find it very interesting that the first victim in Sotoba stands out so much, and I can think of several reasons for Fuyumi Ono choosing her for this role. The first is straightforward: the villagers can’t help but notice that someone so flamboyant has died so mysteriously. The second is that homogeneity can make things more scary. When characters seem similar on the outside, the audience can’t help but wonder which of them are hiding dark secrets or true colours behind facades. My third, and final, theory is probably the closest to the truth. Having someone who seems like they’re going to be a large part of the series meet their end gives Shiki an ‘anyone can die‘ reputation. There’s a massive cast in the show, and the body count is only going to rise as things progress. The twist of Megumi’s death adds a great element of suspense – who will the next victim be? No-one is safe.

Whichever of these theories is fact – or even if none of them are – one thing’s for sure: part of me feels like Megumi’s death was a sort of poetic justice. She wanted to get out of the Podunk town she lived in so much that she did… through death.

She's totally not delusional at all.

To the technical side of things, I felt that the music was really strong, able to both be interesting and match a scene well, while still remaining unobtrusive. The direction, on the other hand, was a bit of a mixed bag. It was mostly solid, but at some points, I felt as though there were far too many things on screen. The use of CGI was also awkward.

Next, while I appreciate the art style’s difference to the anime norm, I’m not a huge fan of it. I felt the art was one of the weakest elements of (what I’ve read of) the manga, and the style present in the anime is almost a perfect copy. The character designs, too, have been very carefully transferred, and I’m iffy on those as well: they can look utterly brilliant or a bit silly. Despite my complaints, though, I do think that Shiki‘s art is very effective on the whole. It’s not exactly polished, but it adds another layer to an interesting story while never distracting from the meat of it. Also, the off-putting facial distortion that sometimes plagues the manga is almost nowhere to be found in this adaptation. Finally, like in the manga, the backgrounds are phenomenal.

And she even looks great on the verge of death.

All in all, I thought the first episode was largely successful. The atmosphere is extremely well done; this instalment did a great job of setting the scene; and there’s a fantastic combination of tension, horror and mystery, but not so much of these that the episode becomes hard to wade through. With multiple intriguing questions popping up so soon, it already feels as though things have been intricately plotted here. Knowing Ono, they have, and I can’t wait to see how things progress.


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