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Secret Santa Project Review – Break Blade Movie 1

secret_santa_break_blade_03

With over 500 anime series and 200 other anime items watched, picking good anime that I haven’t seen for me for this Secret Santa Project is a tougher-then-average task if you’re not a super-completionist who’s gone back and watched everything or a longer term anime fan that can pick older titles that I’ve missed. (Especially given the restrictions on length of series.) So, it wasn’t a surprise when I received my Secret Santa recommendations back in November that I wasn’t floored by the three choices: Break Blade movie 1, Darker than Black S1, and Mondaiji-tachi ga Isekai kara Kuru Sou Desu yo?.

I had some passing familiarity with all three. Break Blade movie 1 was the first movie of a multi-movie project which probably meant I would need to watch all 7 for the story to be finished. Darker than Black came from Bones and, as I’ve said during my 12 Days of Christmas post, Bones and I have had rocky relationship. Without spoiling myself, which I didn’t want to do, I didn’t want to sink the time into something that would disappoint me at the end and I didn’t want to write a negative review for this project. The third choice, which must have some cute why to shorten the title, was a very recent show that did not interest me in the slightest when it aired and I didn’t remember reading anything that changed this opinion.

After giving it some thought I decided on Darker than Black with the other series as back-up if I had to bail on the first. Before I could implement this plan I had to go to the dentist to have a tooth pulled and 10 days later I had another tooth pulled. This meant November was filled with eating restrictions and pain and discomfort and, thanks to a certain duck, worrying about getting dry socket. I wasn’t in the right frame of mind to give any of these three picks a fair shot, which was a problem because I always watch and write-up my secret Santa reviews in November.

Decembers are busy so Christmas got nearer and nearer and I still hadn’t found the chance to get to Darker than Black. Finally, a week before Christmas, I realized that if I didn’t watch Break Blade, I might not get anything watched before Christmas.

So, here we are.

secret_santa_break_blade_01

Story

In a world without oil and the other fossil fuels, humanity learned how to manipulate quartz as if by magic and built an industrial civilization around quartz. Break Blade opens as one of the world’s major powers begins it’s invasion of a much smaller neighboring country. The king of the smaller nation is willing to capitulate, except the belligerent nation is demanding the death of the entire royal family and the king does not want to see his wife killed. So, he decides to fight; but, all hope looks lost until a strange weapon from an ancient era appears.

Thoughts and impressions

As I feared, the story for Break Blade doesn’t even get past the introductions before the first movie ends.

It’s difficult to review something this quickly; instead, this feels like I should be writing a first impressions post because that better fits my thoughts.

My first impression of the Break Blade is generally positive. The animation is pretty good, though some of the CG is lacking. The world building involves an unusual idea – the lack of fossil fuels – that could make this a very fascinating series. Having a mech’s ability to do something as simple as firing a gun and how far that bullet can go be based on the strength of the pilot’s ability to manipulate quartz was a pleasant change of pace to see. The characters pass the initial scrutiny for depth and potential interest. The inter-character dynamics seem compelling enough that a good story could be built around them. Will it, is a question the later movies can answer.

secret_santa_break_blade_04Like I said, generally positive first impression. There were a few flags thrown-up that temper my expectations of the future movies. The first is the one female soldier who was told the only extraordinary thing about her is the large size of her chest at only 12 years of age. WTF?!? There are so many things wrong with that. I dearly hope the creators explain why there has to be a 12 year old female soldier who’s best quality seems to be the ability to grow a large chest at such an early age. The second  is the very questionable lack of rifled barrels for the guns used by the mechs in Break Blade. The series makes a specific point to show the limited range and accuracy that guns have as a problem armies face. Why have rifled barrels not been hit upon as a result? Once again, I hope they explain this because, right now, it seems more like ignorance on the part of the creators then anything. A third thing that potentially worries me is how they will explain the power source behind the ancient mech that was recovered.

I also understand that the creators want to do something different by creating the world they did but they also have to take into account that they’re straining credibility by leaving a number of things out. There’s gunpowder, it’s not a fossil fuel, and steam power, the ancient Greeks and Egyptians were playing around with it, and seige engines like trebuchets, all they need is rope and wood and muscle power – to name three things off the top of my head. I’m willing, for now, to give the creators the benefit of the doubt in the interests of seeing something different but I don’t have much more spare credibility that I can give this anime before it’s too much.

On that less then positive note, I’ll close this review by saying that I do intend to continue watching the rest of the Break Blade movies. I hope they knock my socks off but I have the feeling that Break Blade will fail to raise to the same level of greatness that I’ve seen in my other Secret Santa Project series from years past. Oh, I almost forgot to mention, I still plan on getting to Darker then Black but it won’t be for awhile.

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Final  Score: 9/12 A-
Rewatchablity: N/A
Ending: N/A
Animation: 3/5 – Good
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This review was part of Reverse Thieves’ 2013 Secret Santa Project.


Filed under: anime, series review

Top Eight Anime of the Spring 2010 Season, #4 to #1

I love doing these seasonal awards but I have to admit to feeling a weight falling off my shoulders now that I’m about to finish. But let’s not terry, it’s time to countdown anime.


4 – Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood


At the beginning of FMA:B there was no mention of it animating the whole manga (or that the manga was ending) so I kept wondering how Bones would finish the show without repeating the debacle that was the first Full Metal Alchemist. I figured there was a good chance at another poor ending since so many of their otherwise great shows end so terribly. Prior to the Spring season this wondering became worrying and started to intrude upon how much I enjoyed the show. I was relieved when it became known that the manga was ending and Bones was on-track to animate the ending.

I breathed a big sigh of relief; not only did I not have to worry about the ending, getting the manga ending promised to see Full Metal Alchemist go out with a bang.

Which ended up happening, gloriously so. And I even loved how they managed to make the ending completely satisfying while leaving themselves with an angle for a sequel (which I really, really hope they do).

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3 – The Tatami Galaxy


When I found out about The Tatami Galaxy, I was giddy because it was being directed by Masaaki Yuasa who’s last series was Kaiba, my pick for the top anime of 2008. I tried to keep the giddiness in check since sky high expectations often only result in disappointment but I was only partially successfully. Good thing for me that The Tatami Galaxy was able to beat my high expectations. It had the interesting animation style that hid how well-animated it was animation that I expected. It had the intellectually interesting premise while not forgetting to have good characters, solid character development and an entertaining story that I expected as well. It had that unique quality to it that set it apart from everything else even while reminding me of so many other books and shows vibe that I expected from an accomplished master of storytelling like Masaaki Yuasa.

I also expected that The Tatami Galaxy would be largely unwatched by people like Kaiba was but that turned out not to be the case. It was shown (as many people know) on the TV block Noitamina in Japan which has earned a fan following around the globe for it’s consist high-quality anime programing. This pushed many people to give the show a shot and, in a not very shocking to me turn-of-events, they liked it. Now, I hope the popularity of The Tatami Galaxy will spill over to Masaaki Yuasa’s other works and get people watching them as well (hint, hint go watch Kaiba :) ).

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2 – Rainbow – Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin


In the rush of trying to catch all the new shows at the start of a new season, invariably, there’s a few that I miss. During the spring season one of those shows that I intended to catch was Rainbow because Madhouse was animating but it somehow slipped through the cracks. Several weeks later, after the dust had settled some, I looked around at the various blogs to see which shows I missed and if t
hey were worth sampling. There wasn’t much coverage of Rainbow and most of what there was considered the show way too melodramatic to be any good. Star-Crossed had a more positive outlook about the show so I decided to give it a shot.

And I’m glad I did, Rainbow is an awesome show.

I had a moment of cognitive dissonance when I started watching Rainbow; I kept waiting for the absurd, over-the-top drama and waiting and thinking that surely I was watching some other show then everyone else. The moment passed and I realized that I was watching the same show but I got it. Granted, I was maybe more ready to watch Rainbow then some. I had just finished reading Samurai! and it touched on the brutal hardships faced by many after the war and how the war disrupted the basic fabric of Japanese society. Which fit well with what I learned of the time period from reading and from anime like Millennium Actress, Magical Arcade Abenobashi and Natsu no Arashi. I think the portrayal of the time period is accurate and anything less would be a fanciful fantasy that would paint over the despair and grittiness of the time period.

If I had to pick an anime to compare Rainbow to, I’d pick Gurren Lagann. The two share many of the same qualities that made Gurren Lagann more then just a dumb movie with giant robots. For starters there’s the single-mindedness of our main characters to overcome the perceived wrongs of their world with hard work and self-determination and the help of their friends. And let’s not forget that society is often a poor judge of people as both anime remind us as well as the hardships of trying to be a hero. Rainbow and Gurren Lagann also show the power, beauty, and majesty of a courageous person which always warms my heart to see.

It’s comes juuusst a bit short of the top spot but if it can continue on this same level over the summer season, it might just be snagging the top spot. Before moving on there’s another similarity the two anime shared that I want to mention. It was how both far surpassed what I imagined the end point of the anime to be. For Gurren Lagann, I thought it was going to end with the defeat of the Spiral King and for Rainbow, I thought it was going to end with the kids getting out of prison. I know I wasn’t the only person who thought this of Rainbow and it sounded like it might have kept some from giving Rainbow a chance which is why I wanted to mention it.

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1 – Arakawa Under the Bridge

Inching ever so slightly ahead of everyone else this season is Arakawa Under the Bridge. When Shinbou and Shaft get it right, they really get it right; not only was this my top show of the season, it was the one I would most look forward to between episodes.

It’s perfect. That’s the only word that feels right when describing why this show deserves to place in front of so many other fine shows but it’s not terribly descriptive. It’s perfect in the same way that the perfect way to end the day is eating your favorite ice-cream, on the beach, listening to the waves lap at your feet, as you watch a spectacular sunset with family and friends. Which is still not very descriptive but will have to do. :)

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So there it is. I finished the spring awards just in time to start considering the summer seasonal awards :) . I’d like to thank all the people that read my 5000+ word review of the Spring 2010 season; I hope you enjoyed it and maybe discovered an anime or two that you want to watch now.

Spring 2010 Awards Part 1: Cast and Character Awards
Spring 2010 Awards Part 2: Genre and Misfit Awards
Spring 2010 Awards Part 3: VMA Awards
Spring 2010 Awards: Top 8 Anime – #8 – #5


Filed under: anime, awards

Top Eight Anime of the Spring 2010 Season, #8 to #5

Posted by Author | 2010, Anime, Anime Review, B Gata H Kei, Durarara!!, K-On, Manga Review, Mugilicious, award picks, awards, katanagatari, spring 2010 | Tuesday 7 September 2010 8:00 am

With only a few weeks until the start of the fall season, it’s probably a good idea to finish up my look at the spring season. :)

I’m always surprised how every anime season develops a distinct feeling to it that separates itself from those seasons that came before it and the seasons that will come in the future. The difference between the Summer 2010 season and the Spring 2010 season have been huge. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, I like to change things up but I wish there were more seasons like this Spring season.

In deciding the number of shows to include in my seasonal countdown I have two criteria; the first is to include only those shows that deserve the recognition and the second is to limit the number of shows to no more then half of the shows watched. This time the second criteria was the limiting factor and not the first criteria. I could have run the countdown up to 12 spots and still feel those extra shows deserved the attention.

And with that, let’s head to the countdown.

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8 K-On!!


In the same vein as those Microsoft commercials where people say they made the new Windows, I can say I made the new season of K-On!.

The first season of K-ON! left me in the small minority of people who didn’t think it was the second coming or reviled it as the spawn of Satan. I thought it was decent but had a couple glaring problems that held it back. The first was the pacing – it covers 2 years of high school life in a single cour – which made it a relaxing type show that was always rushing to the next thing. It felt wrong. The second was the sub-optimal characters that dragged  the series down. Yui was the best main character and the only one that pulled her weight on the show.

For the new season of K-On! I wanted both of those issues fixed and that’s what we got. And it was just what K-On! needed. We went from covering 2 years of high school over 13 episodes to 24 episodes to cover 1 year of school. This gave/gives the characters the time to do what they’re supposed to do and it’s not becoming the next great band. With that problem fixed now some of the other characters needed to step up and Mugi and Azunyan (I can’t even remember her real name anymore) did. They, along with Yui formed a triumvirate of main characters that was able to raise the quality of the show and keep it there. And let’s not forget the addition of Jun and creating a secondary triumvirate of Ui, Azunyan, and Jun. This group creates a completely different feeling dynamic that’s fun to watch by itself and also by adding some variety to the show.

Since I’m so late doing this, instead of hoping the second cour could match the first cour in quality, I can say the second cour – currently running over the Summer season – is on track to finish very, very high in the countdown. Which makes me glad KyoAni decided to do another season of K-On! and didn’t waste their time on Angel Beats.

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7Durarara


What I think hampered many from liking this show more was that we all wanted Baccano! season 2 and tried to fit Durarara into that mold. I know it got to me; I watched Baccano! for the first time just before the start of Durarara because I wanted to get a feel for the work of Ryohgo Narita and spent most of the first cour trying to look at the two works as separate. It didn’t help that the two shared many similarities, as you’d imagine coming from the same author and animated by the same people.

For the most part, I worked this impulse out of my system by the time the second half of Durarara aired (during the Spring season) and was able to appreciate the show for what it was, not what I initially wanted it to be. It still wasn’t perfect, the ending was really telegraphed and lacked the dramatic tension to wow the viewers, but there was plenty to like about it like: the characters, animation quality, setting, and characters (the characters were cool enough that they deserve two mentions). In a different season, Durarara would have easily placed in the top 5 and maybe even in the top 3.

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6 – Katanagatari


Katanagatari has shown that sometimes less is more.

To see Katanagatari ranked this season would have surprised me back in January, when the series first started. I wasn’t that impressed with the opening episode and even if I was, there was only going to be 3 episodes shown per season (one ~50 minute episode per month for 12 months) which would make it very difficult for it go head-to-head against the excellent shows that run the full 11-13 episodes per season. However, as I’ve seen so often with anime, the first episode isn’t the best indicator of the overall quality of the show. It took a little time to develop the main characters and the relationship between them and to introduce the real villains of the series. It also took awhile before I noticed that the format worked in the show’s favor. The only thing that carried over between episodes was the character development and overarching plot so an exact memory of what has happened the previous month isn’t required. And the month-long wait between episodes correspond to the downtime of the characters experience as they journey to where the next sword is which rids the animators from the need to throw in some fluffy episodes to connect the sword hunt stories together.

That’s not to say I wouldn’t enjoy more Katanagatari episodes per season or that more episodes wouldn’t make it easier to compete against the likes of Full Metal Alchemist:Brotherhood but there are some positives to how the show is being done. The three episodes that ran this season (4-6) saw Katanagatari really hit it’s stride in terms of character development, plot, and general all-around awesomeness. And because it’s so late into the Summer season I can say, much like I did with K-On!, that Katanagatari has continued it’s run of excellent episodes and is well-situated to place higher when I’m doing the summer awards.

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5 – B Gata H Kei


The story of one girl’s quest to sleep with 100 men before high school does not sound like a show that you’d attach words like “smart”, “clever”, “heartwarming” or “a tender love story” to but I’m attaching those and plenty others including “highly entertaining” , “hilarious” , and “one of this season’s best”. The one thing I won’t say is that I was surprised at liking B Gata H Kei because I remembered 2 AIC shows from 2009 - Asu no Yoichi and Sora No Otoshimono. Both were “fan-service” shows that performed much better then the typical “fan-service” show so I figured there was a pretty good chance that AIC would do it again and I was right.

I’ve mentioned before that I watch anime with my one younger sister. There’s some anime that we watch together as it comes out (the spring season included Arakawa, FMA:B, Katanagatari, Durarara, and K-On!!) and some that I finish myself and decide afterwords that she’d like and rewatch it with her. Picking a show to rewatch with her is one of the best ways to show that I love that anime since I hate picking a show she’ll hate to watch. Rewatching a show with her  also allows me to get her feedback and to see if my thoughts about the show hold up the second time through. For B Gata H Kei, as one might guess at this point, I decided to rewatch it with her and have already, in fact, finished a second viewing of it. I loved it just as much the second time and she liked it quite a lot too.

Therefore, I won’t be swayed from putting B Gata H Kei so high and kinda wish I could rank it higher.

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I decided to split this list up because I ended up writing much more then I thought would about each entry. Don’t worry, I’ve already written the other half so there’ll be no month long wait. :)

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Spring 2010 Awards Part 1: Cast and Character Awards
Spring 2010 Awards Part 2: Genre and Misfit Awards
Spring 2010 Awards Part 3: VMA Awards
Spring 2010 Awards: Top 8 Anime – #4 – #1


Filed under: anime, awards

Top Picks – Spring 2010 Anime, Part 3: VMA Awards

It’s that time again – the voice, music, and animation awards – or as I like to think of them: the set of awards that are completely subjective and some of the most difficult awards to pick as a result. And this season was no different.

Best Male Seiyuu


Winner: Hiroshi Kamiya as Izaya Orihara from  Durarara!!, Hiroomi Souma from Working!!, Otonashi Yuzuru from Angel Beats, Kou Ichinomiya from Arakawa Under the Bridge and I think I missed some

The Overall 2008 Best Male Seiyuu and Summer 2009 Seasonal Best Male Seiyuu makes it a hat trick. Then again, it was essentially impossible for any other guy to win this time since so many shows featured Hiroshi Kamiya in leading roles and he continues to do a great job.

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Best Female Seiyuu


Winner: Maaya Sakamoto as Nino from Arakawa Under the Bridge and Akashi from The Tatami Galaxy

Runner-up: Yukari Tamura as Yamada from B Gata H Kei and Togame from Katanagatari, Aki Toyosaki as Yui from K-ON!! and Kena Soga from Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou and Satsuki Hyoudou from Kaichou wa Maid-sama!

Picking the best female seiyuu was a much different experience with a bevy of strong performances from many different women. In the end I had to decide on a tie-breaking criteria so I chose to pick the seiyuu with the best characters to win. And that was, Maaya Sakamoto, for voicing two female characters that came off as slightly odd at times but were really deep, interesting characters.

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Best OP


Winner: Working!!

Runner-up: Rainbow, House of Five Leaves, Durarara, B Gata H Kei, Arakawa Under the Bridge

There were a lot of openings I liked this season but no one single opening was able to break from the pack to be the easy pick, at least initially, because I remembered the old argument about picking the MVP in a sport. Do you pick the best player in the league or the person that contributed the most to a team even if the team didn’t do well? In this case, I’m picking the opening to Working!! because I loved it and it was the sole reason that I didn’t drop the show. Working!! eventually got watchable, barely, in the last 3-4 episodes but before then, it was the desire to see the opening one more time that kept me watching.

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Best ED


Winner: B Gata H Kei

Runner-up: The Tatami Galaxy, Arakawa Under the Bridge, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou

And I’m picking the ending to B Gata H Kei because it was by-far-and-away the best ending and it was always like the cherry that one leaves to eat last from a piece of awesome cake.

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Best Background Music


Winner: K-On!!

This award is one of the awards that I almost never feel real comfortable picking the winner because I often don’t remember the background music to most of the shows I watch. There are exceptions, in the case of K-On, the BGM is light and airy and it perfectly compliments the show which is what the BGM is supposed to do.

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Best Dressed Characters


Winner: K-On!!

Much like the award for best action going to Full Metal Alchemist:Brotherhood was completely apparent and needed no justification, this award going to K-On is also completely apparent and needs no justification.

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Best Animation Style


Winner: The Tatami Galaxy

Runner-up: House of Five Leaves, Katanagatari

I fell in love with the animation style of Masaaki Yuasa in Kaiba so it shouldn’t be a big surprise that I’m picking The Tatami Galaxy with it’s similar style to Kaiba. What kinda surprised me was the number shows that were more stylized in nature this season. When I see animators willing to experiment and these shows actually given air time, I relax when thinking about the future of anime.

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Best Animation


Winner: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Runner-up: Angel Beats, K-On!!, Durarara

There were several very well animated shows this season but Full Metal had this award in-the-bag when it took it’s already great animation and bumped it up even higher this season for the final arc of episodes. Durarara was it’s closest competitor and might have pulled it out if there had been more cool action scenes.

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Top Animation Studio


Winner: Madhouse

The Fall 2008 Seasonal Top Animation Studio and Overall 2008 Top Animation Studio makes it a hat trick this season as well by producing two of the best anime of the season – The Tatami Galaxy and Rainbow. Both were very original works that showcased the best anime has to offer viewers. Both works also turned out to be, surprisingly, heart-warming series that always left me impatiently waiting for the next episode. And it’s possible that Madhouse could win this award again in the summer season because Rainbow continues on which puts them in a strong position.

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That’s it for part 3 of my spring 2010 anime awards. Stay tuned for my top overall picks of the season. :)

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Spring 2010 Awards Part 1: Cast and Character Awards
Spring 2010 Awards Part 2: Genre and Misfit Awards
Spring 2010 Awards: Top 8 Anime – #8 – #5
Spring 2010 Awards: Top 8 Anime – #4 – #1


Filed under: anime, awards

Top Picks – Spring 2010 Anime, Part 2: Genre and Misfit Awards

Before we get to part 2, I wanted to mention that I’m going on vacation in a couple of days but I plan on getting all sections of my picks for the spring season written and queued up before leaving. If you know me, it’ll take only one guess to figure out where I’m going. :) Which was what I wrote assuming I’d get this up before leaving on vacation but I couldn’t finish enough of the parts so it had to wait till after the vacation. :)

This time around I’m adding two categories that probably should have been included earlier in my seasonal awards and the inaugural winners are very well deserving.

Best Action

Winner: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Easiest.Decision.This.Season.

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Best Fight


Winner: Shichika vs Kanara from ep.5 of Katanagatari

And yet when I started thinking about specific fights, I kept going back to this fight and not one from Full Metal (an example of not being able to see a single tree in a forest). The fight in Katanagatari wasn’t the most flashy, complex, or intricate fight but it was unique, unexpected and felt very important in terms of developing the main characters and the story.

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Best Comedy


Winner: B Gata H Kei

Like many awards I give out, this one is very subjective. For example, some people thought Working!! was funny; whereas, I found it to be probably the least funniest show of the season – the awesome yet very serious anime Rainbow made me laugh more often. And some people disliked B Gata H Kei when I thought it to be, easily, the funniest show of the season.

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Most Entertaining


Winner: Arakawa Under the Bridge

Runner-up: B Gata H Kei, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou

A comedy entertains but not all entertaining shows are comedies; thus, the need for two separate awards. And once again, a different show wins each category. Arakawa Under the Bridge wins for it’s superior ability to mix it’s comedic side with it’s heartwarming and surprisingly poignant side while always maintaining it’s high entertainment level.

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Most Interesting Setting


Winner: The Tatami Galaxy

Runner-up: Durarara

Durarara gave The Tatami Galaxy a strong run but it’s near impossible to beat a show that involves dozens (if not many more) parallel worlds connected by a 4.5 tatami mat dorm room with the only constants being a castella cake, a hidden 100 yen bill and a stress toy.

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Best Plot


Winner: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

Runner-up: Rainbow – Nisha Rokubou no Shichinin

Full Metal has been working for a year to build up to this final climax and boy was it an awesome ride, topped only by events of this season. Those that followed the manga probably had a good idea about where the story was going but, after the debacle that was the first Full Metal series, I stopped following the manga and got to be surprised as a result. (The type of surprises that I like. :) )

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Best Story


Winner: The Tatami Galaxy

Runner-up: Durarara, Arakawa Under the Bridge

The story of Watashi’s quest to find his rose-colored college life and subsequent enlightenment in The Tatami Galaxy could have been a SF story I read. That probably sounds like weak-sounding praise but, being a life-long fan of print SF, I’ve come to accept that in America (at least) television or movie SF will, 99.9% of the time, lack the depth found in print SF. Which is fine, sometimes, but I love it when somebody makes a TV series that equals the quality of the best print SF. Incidentally, if you liked The Tatami Galaxy, I’d suggest reading The Walls of the Universe from Paul Melko; it lacks the cool animation style (obviously) but it was a good read and the theme was similar to The Tatami Galaxy.

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Best Villain


Winner: Izaya from Durarara

Runner-up: Father from FMA: Brotherhood

Izaya falls into the conniving, intelligent villain category. It doesn’t seem like he’s out to cause the same level of villainy that Father from FMA:B was planning to do but, on the smaller scale, Izaya’s ability to manipulate everyone around him to his messed-up whims earns a great deal of respect from me, even if I’d wish he got more of a comeuppance at the end of the series.

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Best Final Episode


Winner: The Tatami Galaxy

I wasn’t sure The Tatami Galaxy was going to be able to pull itself together by the end but I shouldn’t have worried. The final episode showed exactly how in control of the story the director was even when each episode felt completely disjointed and the final episode was also just plain epic. If I could, I’d lock the people behind Angel Beats into a room and force them to watch this show a few dozen times and hope they learn the right way to do a final episode.

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Best Ending


Winner: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

The ending to FMA:B took up the entire spring season so for the same reasons why it won Best Plot, it’s also winning Best Ending.

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Most in Need of a Sequel

Winner: B Gata H Kei

Runner-up: Durarara

I liked Durarara a lot and it would have won this award easily (since it seems like there is so much more that could be done) but I’m not convinced that the sequel could surpass the first season in “awesomeness” and I want a Durarara that was just a bit more “awesome” then the first season. (If that makes sense :) .) Therefore, my desire to see a second season of B Gata H Kei was able to pull ahead to win this award. In the case of B Gata H Kei, I think the next season has to include Yamada finally getting what she and Kosuda desires to be a successful show. (Which then kinda ends the point of the series but the creators could then go off in a new direction and have the luckless couple make a mistake and Yamada get pregnant. They’d probably never do something like that but it would be hilarious and completely different.)

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That’s it for part 2, the next part is the VMA awards.

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Spring 2010 Awards Part 1: Cast and Character Awards
Spring 2010 Awards Part 3: VMA Awards
Spring 2010 Awards: Top 8 Anime – #8 – #5
Spring 2010 Awards: Top 8 Anime – #4 – #1


Filed under: anime, awards

Top Picks – Spring 2010 Anime, Part 1: Cast and Character Awards

After one of the weakest anime seasons in recent memory (Winter 2010) and the accompanying apathy nixing it last time, the seasonal top anime awards returns to The Null Set for one of the most diverse and interesting season of anime in a very long time. We had alchemy, parallel worlds, demon kings, train wrecks, socially-inept samurai, pretty boy samurai, surprisingly deep commentary on what’s truly important in life disguised as a comedy about homeless people living under a bridge, a cute and sweet love story disguised as a comedy about one girl’s quest to bed 100 boys before graduating high school, an uplifting story of heroism set in post-war Japan, a neighborhood full of bizarre people in Japan, and a high school band known as much for the cake they serve in their clubroom as for their music, to name just a few anime.

Before starting, below is a listing of the shows that I watched this season and are the pool from which the picks for all the awards are coming from. Also a reminder, I’ll try to keep spoilers to a minimum but there’ll be some because of how they’ll relate to specific awards and for the continuing shows, only the part of the series that ran during this season is under consideration for this season’s awards.

Carry-over shows watched this season (3): Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Katanagatari, Durarara

New shows watched this season (12): B Gata H Kei, Arakawa Under the Bridge, Angel Beats, K-On!! Season 2, The Tatami Galaxy, Kaichou wa Maid-sama, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaou, House of Five Leaves, Working!!, Mayoi Neko Overrun, Rainbow – Nisha Rokubou no Shichijin, Hakuouki – Shinsengumi Kitan

Shows that got dropped (1): Heroman

Best Female Main Character


Winner: Nino from Arakawa Under the Bridge

Runner-up: Yamada from B Gata H Kei, Yui from K-On!!

There was tough competition in this category but the self-proclaimed Venusian won out by being awesome enough that Ko still looks like he hit the jackpot by becoming her boyfriend even if it meant having to live under a bridge with a bunch of very weird people.

-

Best Male Main Character


Winner: Sakuragi Rokurouta aka Bro from Rainbow

Runner-up: Kosuda from B Gata H Kei

I love heroes with their ability to act contrary to self-interest for a greater good so I was unsurprised when I developed such a quick liking of Sakuragi from Rainbow. Alphone Elric almost made runner-up for the same reason but the large cast to Full Metal lessened his time onscreen too much. Sakuragi, much like Kamina from Gurren Lagann, also oozed awesomeness and had the gravitas to make being a hero look really cool.

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Best Supporting Character(s)


Winner: Celty from Durarara

Runner-up: Ozu from The Tatami Galaxy

A headless mythical creature from Ireland, Celty rides a black motorcycle, wields a scythe, communicates by writing messages on a cellphone and somehow isn’t the oddest person inhabiting the Japanese neighborhood where Durarara takes place. She’s loyal and handy to have around in a fight and the only thing that really scares her is a tough-as-nails traffic cop. She was one of my favorites from Durarara (obviously) and pretty much had this award locked early on.

-

Best Screen-grabber


Winner: TK from Angel Beats

Runner-up: Misato from B Gata H Kei, Shizuo from Durarara

Screen-grabbers are characters that don’t have much screen time but make the little time they are onscreen very memorable. This season seemed to have an abundance of great screen-grabbers but TK from Angel Beats won this one pretty easily. Just goes to show you how far speaking nonsensical English phrases in a Japanese anime and just randomly dancing can take a character.

-

Best Couple


Winner: Ko and Nino from Arakawa Under the Bridge

Runner-up: Kosuda and Yamada from B Gata H Kei

This was a super tough pick and I debated it back and forth for a long time. One could argue that Kosuda and Yamada should have won because they’ve done more couply things together but there’s just something about how Recruit and Nino interact with each other that’s so nice to see.

-

Best Character Ability/Power


Winner: Fortune Teller’s ability to send people to parallel worlds from The Tatami Galaxy

The animators never come right out and say it specifically but they show her living inside the clock that always runs backwards when Watashi jumps universes and she is aware of his parallel world jumping so I’m pretty sure she does have this ability. And it’s a very cool power, useful in gaining enlightenment or making a fortune by taking a popular invention from one world to another that never invented it.

-

Best Cast of Characters


Winner: Durarara

Runner-up: Rainbow, Arakawa Under the Bridge, B Gata H Kei

There was a plethora of shows with great casts this season but Durarara pulled ahead by having a large cast of very eclectic characters that somehow meshed well together and were truly awesome by themselves as well. At times I thought Durarara wasn’t trying it’s hardest but it was always the fault of the plot and not the characters.

-

Best Character Development for Cast


Winner: Rainbow

Runner-up: Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood

I did not expect Rainbow would be as strongly character driven and focused on character development as it turned out to be though I should realize, by this point, that it’s often the most unexpected show that turns out to be. Just look at the past winners of this award – Railgun, Umi Monogatari, Cross Game, Asu no Yoichi, Toradora, Bamboo Blade. And I can’t wait to see where the characters go as Rainbow continues into the summer season.

-

Best Character Development of a Single Character


Winner: Watashi from The Tatami Galaxy

A look at the past winners of this award – Kemono no Souja Erin, Phantom, Toradora, Clannad ~After Story~, Natsume Yuujinchou, Ga-Rei: Zero – showcase some of the best anime that have aired in the past 2 years and The Tatami Galaxy is no exception. A common thread connecting these shows is the director and animation company excelled at telling a story that focused on a few main characters and allowing the characters to grow naturally. In the middle of The Tatami Galaxy, I was a little worried that all the reboots were not doing anything to help the show along but I should have had more faith in Masaaki Yuasa and Madhouse because the final episodes show just how in control of the story they really were.

-

That’s the end of part 1; I hope to have the second part up within a day. Comments and feedback are always appreciated – I’d love to see what others would pick.

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Spring 2010 Awards Part 2: Genre and Misfit Awards
Spring 2010 Awards Part 3: VMA Awards
Spring 2010 Awards: Top 8 Anime – #8 – #5
Spring 2010 Awards: Top 8 Anime – #4 – #1


Filed under: anime, awards

Spring 2010 Anime Impressions – Mayoi Neko Overrun

Posted by Author | AIC, Anime, Anime Review, Manga Review, Mayoi Neko Overrun!, first impressions, spring 2010 | Tuesday 25 May 2010 7:54 am

AIC is one of those animation studios that really puzzle me. Most larger animation studios have multiple animation teams that can work concurrently but AIC seems like the only animation studio that so formerly breaks it down; there’s AIC, AIC Plus+, AIC Spirits, and AIC A.S.T.A.. Each sub-studio has done good work, for example, AIC A.S.T.A. was responsible for the excellent comedies Tenshi Senshi Sunred, Sora no Otoshimono (which is getting a second season and was just licensed :) ) and Bamboo Blade. AIC Plus+ with the slice-of-life/comedy G.A. Art Design Class and AIC Spirits with Ga-Rei: Zero. Of these studios AIC A.S.T.A. has been the most consistently good studio and the most inconsistent has been AIC. They did very well with Sasameki Koto, Asu no Yoichi!, but only  slightly good work with Nyan Koi and yawn-inducing work with Ookami Kakushi. With Mayoi Neko Overrun being produced by AIC, this makes prognosticating the quality extremely difficult but it was worth a look.

Rating for episodes 1 to 7 – 5/12  C+
Anticipation Level:
1.5/5  Below Average – Low


The Story


The owner of a rundown bakery known as the Stray Cats likes to take in strays, be them orphans, cat-girls, or an occasional rich girl with a lack of friends. She also likes to travel the world, helping those less fortunate then herself, leaving the strays to struggle together to keep the bakery open (the bakery’s main selling point is the beauty of the owner which only brings in so much money).

The Fine Print


Perhaps the strangest thing about Mayoi Neko Overrun is the lack of an overall director; each episode is directed by a different person. The results of this production decision – being wildly uneven (genuinely good/hilarious one episode and a real snoozer the next) and the story feeling very disjointed – seem obvious to me and leaves me scratching my head, trying to figure out why an animation studio would want two completely unnecessary strikes against it’s own show.

Another problem with a setup such as this is the tone of the show is off. It is possible for a show to be both comedic and emotional/drama-esque, Key shows for example, but it takes a fair degree of talent and mastery to do it right. And, apparently, it takes a single overseeing director that can weave the various threads together and get them to work because Mayoi Neko Overrun has failed to successfully pull this off. When the show is in comedic mode it’s to the detriment of developing the characters and story and when it’s in serious mode it’s to the detriment of the comedy and keeping the show entertaining. An overloaded semi-tractor trailer has more agility then Mayoi Neko Overrun.

The show is further hindered by it’s characters, or, more exactly, the lack of development of the characters beyond their initial stereotypical character-types. At the start of the show we had the clueless, kinda loserish, male main character; the violent, easily angered female childhood friend to the male main character that harbors deeper feelings for him but doesn’t realize she has these feeling but for some reason gets angry when other girls pay attention to him; the mean and haughty rich girl who’s unconsciously unhappy with life and just needs a friend; the perverted male sidekick who’s just interested in 2-D girls and being an otaku. And seven episodes in we still have these stock characters.

If Mayoi Neko Overrun was a full-tilt comedy then developing the characters would not have been so important but it’s not and so developing these 1-D characters into at least 2-D characters would be much appreciated.

I can almost hear the voices that will be out there reading this post and thinking – this show sounds bad, how did it get a C+ and not something lower? I’d respond by saying that it’s amazing how a smallish percentage of a show being legitimately good brings it’s overall score up when the rest of it is doesn’t out-right stink. Two episodes have stood out so far, eps. 4 and 6; if the whole series could have been as good as episode 4, Mayoi Neko Overrun would be a solid B show and if the whole series could have been as good as episode 6 then Mayoi Neko Overrun would have been a solid A show. What made these two episodes good was the show pushed itself into 100% full-tilt comedy mode with a heaping helping of absurdity. It was deliciously good; much better then the slice-of-life/drama/comedy show Mayoi Neko Overrun is trying to be and not succeeding at.

At this point, I can’t recommend this show to anyone; even the most devoted cat ears fans would be wasting their time with Mayoi Neko Overrun. Part of me wishes I could just drop this show but the occasional flashes of competence makes another part of me worry that I might miss something good and, since the latter takes precedence, I’m left watching this mediocre title.  The upside to this is that I will be able to definitely say if Mayoi Neko Overrun is worth a watch or not – keeping others away from it, if it’s not and getting people to watch it, if it is.


Filed under: anime, first impressions

Spring 2010 Anime Impressions – Kaichou wa Maid-sama

I’ve really been digging the recent string of hits from J.C. Staff so I was a little disappointed that neither of their new offerings for the spring 2010 season looked interesting to me. I was hoping for more Shana or Hayate or something serious like Aoi Hana or something funny like First Love, Limited but it wasn’t to be. The thought of going a whole season without watching one of their shows depressed me so I decided to give the better sounding one a try and that one was Kaichou wa Maid-sama.

Rating for episodes 1 to 7 – 9/12  A-
Anticipation Level:
3/5  Average to Medium


The Story


Misaki Ayuzawa is pretty, smart, strong, and her school’s student council president. On the surface it looks like the perfect life for this high school student but scratch the surface a bit and it becomes apparent that she has plenty of trials and tribulations. Her, apparently fatherless, family is poor and they struggle to make ends meet; the sickly mom paints knick-knacks, Misaki’s younger sister knows how to stretch every yen to the absolute maximum, and Misaki works at a maid café in the next town because of the high hourly rate allows her to work a few less hours so she can do her homework and be the student council president. The high school she attends recently went from being an all-boys school to a coed school and it was cheap for her to go but the huge disparity between boys and girls means that Misaki spends much of her school time protecting the girls from the smelly, lecherous boys that abound in this school. She lives in fear that someone from her school will find out that she’s working as a maid because it’ll destroy her commanding persona that she’s built up to allow her to be an effective student council president. This day of reckoning finally seems to be here when Takumi Usui, the coolest guy in school, discovers her secret.

The Fine Print


The genre of Kaichou wa Maid-sama initially kept me away because I’m very hit’n’miss with shoujo shows (being very far from the target demography could have something to do about that ;) ). For every good one like Kobato there’s a dozen others that I can’t get more then a few episodes in. So, with not very high hopes, I started watching Kaichou-wa Maid-sama and wasn’t surprised to be immediately inundated by it’s obvious shoujo-ness. As I ticked off the clichés in the first couple episodes, my desire to continue watching waned but it didn’t quite fall to zero so I continued watching. This was, after all, a J.C. Staff production so it had the typical high quality animation and I liked some of the side characters and there’s tons of great seiyuu performances. Ayumi Fujimura and Nobuhiko Okamoto have great chemistry together as the main characters and Misaki’s friends need more screen time because Yu Kobayashi and Kana Hanazawa do their voices.

A funny thing happened as I watched more episodes. I discovered that, in spite of the clichés, I was starting to like the characters. Takumi’s perfect awesomeness wasn’t annoying like I first thought it was going to be and Misaki’s earnest, hard-working effort to better herself and help those around her won me over. Characters alone wouldn’t save this show, though. Kimi no Todoke was a shoujo anime that had the production values and the great characters but the story was so artificially drawn out and devoid of interest that I couldn’t stand watching it.

To adequately judge the story I had to wait a few more episodes and struck pay dirt after episodes 6 and 7. One of the problems I had with the story to Kimi no Todoke was both the guy and girl liked each other and there was never a real reason why they couldn’t end the show after a few episodes with the “And they lived happily ever after. The End” ending. This is not the case with Kaichou wa Maid-sama. While it’s obvious to us, the viewers, that Takumi likes Misaki, he goes the route of annoying her to show his affection and Misaki is so overworked that I can easily understand why she’s never entertained the idea that Takumi likes her or even thought about finding a boyfriend. The plausible, more believable set-up makes the clichés, when they pop-up, less annoying and makes the inevitable ending more palatable because the journey there is interesting.

I normally don’t like to reveal major plot points but I reference episode 6 and 7 above because something happened at the end of episode 6 that they way it was resolved in episode 7 really illustrates the point and might convince some people to give this show a shot. If you don’t want spoiled stop here and head to after the next picture. … What happened at the end of episode 6, quite unexpectantly, Takumi proclaimed his love for Misaki and kissed her on the lips. This should have been game-over, queue the montage of them falling love as the credits roll. Obviously there’s still plenty of show left so I wanted to see what they were going to next. I wasn’t surprised to see that Takumi, essentially, took the kiss back but he did it in a very plausible manner that fit with the story and didn’t feel artificial. Takumi, being very observant, realizes that the kiss bothers Misaki because she doesn’t know what it means (he’s only ever acted as her tormentor) and she just doesn’t have the time to think about it. Worse, the kiss messes with her concentration and she’s barely able to keep her life together under the best of circumstances so he takes one for the team and kisses a boy in front of her (hilariously mosaiced to the viewers) to make her think that him kissing her didn’t mean anything. This tells me, among other things, that the people behind this show know how to tell a story and I can rest easy about the rest of series.

And he can cook as well :)

Another good thing that waiting these few extra episodes before writing this accomplished is that I can say that the creators have done a great job with keeping the show feeling fresh and unrepetitive. One episode might focus on Misaki’s attempt to create a little sister persona for Little Sister Day at the maid café that she works at and the next might focus on defending her school’s reputation and pride against some punks from a rich and snobbish private school. And whatever the situation, the creators let the characters act in a way that’s realistic for that character. Just the other day, I was remembering how I stopped watching Heroes because I got fed up with the creators making the characters act stupidly and against their characters to advance the story and plot of the show. That’s not the case with Kaichou wa Maid-sama.

Love that J.C. Staff watercolor look

With characters and a story that succeed at raising above mere cliché into being genuinely good and very good production values, Kaichou wa Maid-sama has done what it needs to do to  succeed, not just as a shoujo anime but as a general anime series. As long as it keeps doing what it’s doing now (which I think it will), I predict that I’ll end up liking this series even more then I do at this point.

If you’re a fan of shoujo series, I think this is a much watch series. If you’re not really a fan of shoujo but enjoy good characters and a story that raises above the cliché then I’d suggest giving this a 3-4 episode test, you might be surprised how well you like it. If, however, you’re just looking for a brainless fan-service show then don’t bother; yes there is a maid café involved and they show plenty of maids and the different events there like Little Sister Day and Glasses Day but this is still a shoujo series we’re talking about.


Filed under: anime, first impressions

Spring 2010 Anime Impressions – Heroman

Stan Lee has been responsible for a bevy of awesome superheroes and growing up I watched and liked the cartoon adaptations of his X-Men and Spiderman franchises. So, the fact that this anime is based on a comic that Stan Lee started serializing in the Japanese manga magazine Monthly Shounen Gangan was enough to make me interested and then I heard that Bones was doing the adaptation. This made it even more interesting to me because they’re one of the top animation studios in terms of quality animation and they are well acquainted with making an action anime series with Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood being but the latest example. Did this fusion of trans-pacific talent yield a shining new hero, as I hope, or will Heroman turn out to be just a Loserman?

Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 3/12  D
Anticipation Level:
0.5/5  Very Low


The Story


Set in a smog-free copy of Los Angeles, dubbed Center City, our protagonist is Joey Jones – an androgynous, back-boneless middle school boy – who gets picked on by an All-American beefcake of a guy, Will, because Will’s younger sister is a cheerleader who’s into weak, androgynous, back-boneless boys. Luckily for Joey’s health his best friend, Psy, can protect him from Will. Watching the first episode it was obvious that something about Psy unnerved Will; though, I’m not sure if it’s the crazy hairdo or because Psy was obviously picked to be the token minority character or because Psy was also picked to be the token handicapped character or all three.

One day Joey finds a broken Heybo robot, the hot new toy from Japan, and decides to fix it up because he really wanted one but is too poor to even think about buying one. After he gets it repaired something very unexpected happens, it gets hit by lightning and the toy robot can now transform into a life-sized robot with superpowers and only Joey can control him. This is pretty cool and Joey thinks so too but, before Joey can start contemplating what he should do with this robot, aliens show up to take over the world and it quickly apparent that the world needs Heroman to save it.

The Fine Print


I really, really wanted to like this but no level of wanting is enough to plaster over it’s many faults. If it was a total failure, I wouldn’t feel so disappointed but there are parts to the show I do like. There’s the animation; it’s your typical high-quality Bones effort. I love the design of Heroman, it makes him look so cool and his red-white-blue paint job tickles the patriotic part of my brain. I also love the setting for the show; Center City is obviously an American city and it feels refreshingly different from the standard Japanese city setting that’s the default in anime. (I’m not saying I expect Japanese anime to be set in America but the difference is a nice change of pace.) Not all the characters are annoying; strangely, I like Will the bully and find little fault in him trying to keep Joey away from his younger sister. There’s also the Professor, Psy (who would have made a better main character), and my favorite, Joey’s grandma.

As I see it, there are two big problems with this show that combined sink any chance of this show succeeding. The first problem is the choice of enemies for Heroman to fight. An alien invasion is just too vast of a enemy for a single super-powered hero to fight so the aliens have to be unbelievably gimped to give Heroman a chance. There can’t be too many aliens to fight, especially since Heroman isn’t that super-powered compared to the aliens, so the aliens only bring one lousy ship to invade an entire planet with. If this is the summit of alien war planning, they’d’ve been wiped out by other aliens long before coming to bother Earth. Nor can the aliens be too effective in their destruction of Center City and presumably the world, so after shocking us with their amazing disintegrating rays they follow up with … wait for it – giant marbles. Seriously. The only way to make this a winnable contest for Heroman is to let the aliens fight with maybe 5% of their capability and that’s no fun to watch. The obvious answer to this was to pick a smaller threat for Heroman and Joey to fight.

The other major problem to Heroman is the complexity of the show. It’s very, very simple and shallow and the characters are so brain-numbingly one dimensional. If this was the first time I saw something by Stan Lee, I’d think he was a second rate hack that must of blackmailed someone important to get this anime made. Luckily for me, it’s not and I’m well aware of his earlier and much better work. It’s so below the typical quality of anime, especially for a Bones show, that I’d be tempted to say it was made as if it was for the American market but I’ve watched plenty of quality superhero series over here so I know it’s seriously under-performing even for an American market show.

And saying it’s a kids show so it’s supposed to be simple is not a valid excuse. The makers of Gurren Lagann said it was meant for kids and it’s one of my favorite anime of all-time. There’s also Kemono no Souja Erin, it’s also a kid’s show and it displayed no lack of depth and complexity and is one of my top titles of 2009. There’s also Studio Ghibli movies like Miyazaki’s My Neighbor Totoro, meant for kids but is every bit as good from an adult standpoint. Looking closer to home, Pixar films are kids shows that adults love and cherish as well; I seriously thought UP deserved to win best picture last year and I’m so excited about seeing Toy Story 3 when it comes out this June. And a look at comics, even if one just restricts themselves to other Stan Lee comics, shows that Heroman fails to even come close to the depth and complexity that’s pretty standard in comics.

I could go on but this show really isn’t worth wasting any more of my time. Heroman becomes the first and, so far, only spring anime that I’m dropping.

It does seem like someone was thinking about Gainax shows while working on Heroman.

Ditto

Ditto


Filed under: anime, first impressions

Spring 2010 Anime Impressions – Arakawa Under the Bridge

The next anime in the spotlight comes from one of the hardest working directors in anime today, Akiyuki Shinbou, and his cohorts-in-crime, Shaft animation studio. Since coming off last summer’s monster hit, Bakemonogatari, anime fans have been eagerly waiting for the next big thing from the Shinbou/Shaft team. Which leads us to the $64,000 dollar question; is Arakawa Under the Bridge the next hit or the next miss from Shinbou/Shaft?

Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 11/12  A+
Anticipation Level:
4/5  Medium to High


The Story


Kou Ichinomiya is the heir and chairmen-in-training to his father’s vast fortune and ginormous multi-national conglomerate company. Ichinomiya has been the eager sponge and is all set to step into this wonderful life when something unexpected happens; a woman saves his life and, when asked what she would like in return, she asks for him to live with her under the bridge as her lover. She didn’t want the offered money, car, or mansion and as crazy as the it sounds, Ichinomiya can’t simply blow her desire off. Every fiber of his being has been imprinted with his father’s creed to live wholly independent of everyone which includes paying off any debts incurred to other people; if he doesn’t follow this creed then he’ll get violently ill and will probably die. The debt of one’s life is so large that Ichinomiya can’t do anything else but accept her wish and his life, as they say, will never be the same.

The Fine Print


I think I got Shinbou pegged now. He’s normally weakest when doing a plot-driven show like Dance in the Vampire Bund and normally strongest when doing a character-driven show like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei or Hidamari Sketch. There are exceptions, Maria+holic should have been awesome but never quite made it and Natsu no Arashi was strongest when he focused on the plot, but it’s a useful generalization and Arakawa Under the Bridge fits the pattern: character-driven = awesome.

The most important thing for a character-driven show is it’s characters and it turns out setting the show under a bridge full of homeless people is a stroke of genius because you can populate the show with very interesting and very odd characters and it doesn’t stretch believability since these are the supposed rejects of society. If they were normal they wouldn’t be here. There’s the mayor of this community, he is a guy that dresses up as a kappa and wants everyone to treat him as if he really was one of those mystical Japanese creatures. And pointing out the zippers on his suit doesn’t do any good since he acts as if they’re supposed to be there. Nino, the woman that takes Ichinomiya (now named Recruit) as her lover, proclaims that she’s from Venus and seems unaware of many societal norms so we’re left wondering if somehow she’s really an alien or just “crazy” like the rest of the inhabitants. Either way she has a heart of gold and a sweet personality so I can’t help but think that Ichinomiya aka Recruit is giving up very little by leaving his former lifestyle and gaining so much. My favorite character, though, is the seven foot tall gun-toting ex-mercenary that goes by the name of Sister since he’s dresses as a nun and is responsible for the spiritual welfare of the community.

One of the important things to figure out for a Shinbou anime is will the “Shaft being Shaft” moments help or hinder the show. In the right amount and used correctly, these Shaft moments help make a show memorably and so far it seems that Arakawa Under the Bridge is hitting it about perfect. The animation is stylized  but not overly so, if I’d have to describe it I’d call it Bakemonogatari lite. There’s been no abstract backgrounds and no real objects inserted into the anime that I remember, which I think fits the show well since it allows the characters and story to take center stage.

Speaking of the story, one of the parts of Arakawa Under the Bridge that has pleasantly surprised me is that underneath the crazy characters and silly comedy, there’s a couple messages it’s trying to convey and this lends a depth to the show that I really like. The one message is about how the truly important things in life are free and a lot more satisfying then the stuff money can buy. Corny, I know, but that doesn’t lessen the truth behind it. The second message is about the intrinsic worth and goodness all people have, even those people that society tries to forget about. Some part of me enjoys seeing Recruit humbled by life under the bridge where he meets truly happy people and discovers how much of a loser he is.

And I’d be loser if I didn’t mention the other good stuff about Arakawa Under the Bridge before finishing. I already praised Nino’s voice actress in my Tatami Galaxy impression post and she’s really good as Nino here. I also love that Chiaki Omigawa is doing the voice of P-Ko, she hasn’t done much work but enjoyed her as Maka in Soul Eater and Jun from Natsu no Arashi. Sister’s voice is perfect and so is Maria’s and Stella’s; in fact, the entire cast is a great cast. The only slightly sour note is Recruit’s voice, not because it’s a bad performance, but because Hiroshi Kamiya is everywhere this season and this performance really sounds like he’s doing Goodbye, Mr. Despair season 4. There has to be some equally capable male voice actors out there that could have done this role. Also a plus, it appears that Shinbou/Shaft is going the route they did with Bakemonogatari and are having multiple opening songs. I’ve liked the two done so far a lot and hope the others will be as well done.

I should explicitly mention, since I might have made the impression that this was a slice-of-life type show, that this show is full of comedy and it’s really good comedy. The merry band of misfits is the cause of much of the humor but there’s also the fish-out-of-water comedy from Recruit learning to live under the bridge and there’s the gag contest at the end of some of the episodes.

To review, Arakawa Under the Bridge follows a pattern that I think I see with Shinbou/Shaft shows which is plot driven shows = meh and character-driven shows = win and Arakawa Under the Bridge is definitely win. It has great characters and an abundance of comedy but it’s the subtly done deeper messages that really make me adore this anime. I highly recommend giving this show a chance, if you haven’t already done so.


Filed under: anime, first impressions

Spring 2010 Anime Impressions – The Tatami Galaxy (Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei)

The anime Kaiba was the closest point I every got to turning The null set into an episodic blog, every episode left me positively brimming with stuff to think about and talk about. It ended up being my top show of 2008 and since that spring 2008 season, I’ve been silently (and anxiously) waiting for the next work from Masaaki Yuasa.

The wait is over and it’s all the sweeter with Madhouse reprising their role as the animators for Masaaki Yuasa.

Rating for episodes 1 to 2 – 11.5/12  Near Perfect

Anticipation Level: 4/5  Medium to High

The Story

Our nameless male protagonist (“Watashi” is a form of saying “I” but since I feel weird writing Nameless every time, I’m going with Watashi) started college with the desire to have a wonderful time meeting people and falling in love with a raven-haired maiden. To this end he picked a club that he thinks will most increase his chances of this rose-colored future but that choice just leads him into meeting Ozu, a sinister demon-looking fellow, and all hope in discovering that wonderful college life is lost. Watashi is now in his third year of college and can’t shake the feeling that if had only picked another club to join, his life would have turned out so much better. Ozu disagrees with him by saying that basically it’s the character flaws of Watashi that have caused him to be alone. Watashi disagrees but it’s a moot point since someone/thing gives him the opportunity to rewind these college years and try out another college club. Will he find that rose-color college life with the raven-haired maidens? Or will he discover that he actually doesn’t know what would make him the most happy?

The Fine Print


I’ve been trying for the last two days to find some other way to start this section without first discussing the furious pace at which Watashi narrates the story. No other topic seemed to quite work; not even the interesting geography lesson at the start of episode 1. I was all set to quip that I’d never be able to visit Point State Park in Pittsburgh with a straight face ever again and then go on to talk about the animation but nothing I wrote down looked right or lasted more then a couple minutes before I erased it.

I wanted to pass on talking about the narration speed because I honestly didn’t think it was that difficult and after reading several other reviews that complained about this speed, I didn’t want to further discourage people from possibly watching Tatami Galaxy. It’s a great looking anime that I’m sure will entertain but Watashi’s machine gun style narration style kept coming to mind first when I think about Tatami Galaxy. Finally, I asked myself, why is that so?

That was the correct question to ask because I realized that for all the potentially odd elements to Tatami Galaxy, it was the narration speed that I thought was the most strange thing about the show. Not the animation style, not the rebooting story, not the declaration of one of the characters that he is a god, not the inhuman appearance of Ozu with his impish nature, and not the fortune-teller that Watashi meets who’s fortunes seem just a little too on-target. And I think it’s done on purpose as a subtle means to convince us that Watashi is not a normal person (would a normal person narrate at such a speed) and he is not as blameless as he’d like to make us believe about why he only has one friend and little chance of ever having a girlfriend. He almost acts like he’s trying to pull one over on the viewers because we’re functioning as the conscience in his brain.

Moving on; I was impressed to see how many of my buttons this anime was able to press, it was like Masaaki Yuasa was reading my mind. For starters, maybe it was watching It’s a Wonderful Life so often at Christmas time while I was a youngster, but I’ve always liked when a story involves a time loop and/or a reboot with different conditions aspect to them. A recent example would be the infamous Endless Eight, which I enjoyed entirely more then I know I should have, or Higurashi no Naku Koro ni or Umineko no Naku Koro ni. Deciphering what’s different, what’s exactly the same, and what’s remains important gives these stories an added dimension of entertainment and thought. In the case of Tatami Galaxy, I’ve noticed something that’s similar in both stories but not exactly the same (Watashi has promised Akashi something and hasn’t fulfilled that promise) which I think will turn out to be a very important fact and can’t wait to see if this is born out in later loops.

The next button he hit was with the unique animation style and quality of Tatami Galaxy. I was expecting it but that didn’t make my enjoyment of the any less. It’s style is similar to that of Kaiba but evolved a bit; the character designs are a bit more realistic, a little more rigid and I noted the inclusion of the occasional photo-realistic element. (I’d be tempted to say it was Shinbou-like but it didn’t feel the same and it’s probably just ignorance on my part since Shinbou is the only animator I know that likes to include real objects into his animation with regular frequency.) If I had to compare it to something else because hardily anyone watched Kaiba, I’d have to say the animation style to Tatami Galaxy reminded me of the style that Birdy: The Mighty Decode used in the second season during many of it’s fights. More specially, a lower detail to the character designs which allows for an increased fluidity and speed to characters and their movements. It made for amazing fights in Birdy and awe-inspiring scenes in Kaiba so I’m excited to see how it’s used here.

Another button hit was my liking of a good romance/love story. First Love Limited, Clannad, Toradora, Sasameki Koto, Bakemonogatari, and Spice and Wolf being anime examples and let’s throw in The Princess Bride and Pride and Prejudice as non-anime examples of a good romance/love story. Which is what my gut is telling me Tatami Galaxy really is if you strip the show down to it’s most basic elements. Stranger things have happened, just look at Kaiba; underneath the awesome high tech SF world and thought-provoking plot, it turned out to be really just a love story. (Of course, there’s nothing wrong with that, I just wanted to point out a misconception many people have about what type of stories are found in SF.)

I can’t finish without praising both the opening and closing songs and to say that I’ve particularly liked the closing animation sequence that accompanied the song. The music has been more muted then what I remember in Kaiba but still good. I’ve also enjoyed the voice work, especially Maaya Sakamoto as Akashi who’s also doing Nino’s voice in Arakawa Under the Bridge.

In conclusion, I know not every show is for everybody but I hope every anime fan gives Tatami Galaxy a try. And as long as I’m asking for stuff from the readers out there let me put in a good word for Kaiba, Makaaki Yuasa’s last anime, and ask those that like Tatami Galaxy but haven’t seen Kaiba to give it a chance. You can check out Kitsune’s site for more screenshots and a second opinion.

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As an aside with my entry into the aniblog tournament, I’ve gotten some very good constructive criticism about my blog and I thought I’d give something different a try after reading Josh’s comments about how I use pictures. I originally had a much narrower layout and using full width pictures didn’t seem as visually disruptive as they did with this theme but I thought it was just me and left it alone. Now that I know that there’s at least one other person that thinks the same way, I’ll use this opportunity to try this type of picture using.  Any feedback would be appreciated.

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Filed under: anime, first impressions

Spring 2010 Anime Impressions – Angel Beats

I couldn’t have been the only one that felt having someone other Kyoto Animation doing a Key work was vaguely wrong; like some sort of cosmic law had been broken. Silly, I know but I still made sure I coached myself to remember to not fault P.A. Works for simply not being Kyoto Animation. (And by having P.A. Works do Angel Beats it probably cleared KyoAni’s schedule so they could do the Haruhi movie. Which I hear is great but will wait for a proper release before watching it.)

Rating for episodes 1 to 5 – 10/12  A
Anticipation Level:
3.5/5 – Medium

The Story

Otonashi wakes up in a strange world of a sprawling high school campus, apparently dead, though he does not remember his previous life. He meets Yuri, the head of a rebel organization that seeks to find the answers behind this world and why they are there from God’s representative in this world – Angel (who acts as the school’s student council president). He initially doesn’t believe he’s dead but after suffering fatal injuries twice, he decides to accept Yuri’s offer and joins her group as the seek to find answers and do battle against the seemingly invincible Angel.

The Fine Print

I’ll hardily be original, at this point, if I point out the apparent similarities to Haibane Renmei or the Melancholy of Haruhi or other Key works. Many people have been covering this show already and even in my limited reading all these similarities have been brought up and I have to agree that I do see these similarities but I’m not sure if this is the most productive way of talking about this show.

If I had jumped early and written this impression post after the first or second episode I would have complained that Angel Beats felt completely derivative of other works but I didn’t and I’m glad. Five episodes in and I’ve come to conclusion that the most accurate way to relate Angel Beats to these other works is to compare Angel Beats to a Quentin Tarantino film such as Kill Bill. It’s possible to pick out the influences that Tarantino had bouncing around in his mind while he created Kill Bill but the film is just too creative and good to cheapen it by saying he just ripped off those earlier works.

I also think there’s another reason why Angel Beats is reminding people of Haruhi and K-On! and it doesn’t have anything to do with source material. I think P.A. Works not only sees Angel Beats as the vehicle that will catapult them into the top-tier of animation studios like Haruhi did to KyoAni but it’s also the golden opportunity for the very young P.A. Works to gain a great deal of respect by outdoing KyoAni at their own game. There’s nothing with this because anytime an animation studio succeeds at pushing the bar higher, it prods the other animation studios to improve their game or go out of business.

And so far, I’ve been pretty impressed with the effort by P.A. Works – easily the best work they’ve done to this point – they might just be ready for the big leagues but I don’t think they quite unseat KyoAni yet.

Going into the show I was most worried about how well P.A. Works would handle the characterization. In their previous two works, True Tears and Canaan, I was disappointed by their inability to really make the characters come alive and the resulting disconnect this caused made it hard to really get into the show and care what happened. For Angel Beats, P.A. Works was working with the master of characterization, Jun Maeda (AIR, Kanon, Clannad) so it should be impossible to screw it up but if watching anime has taught me anything shows that should be impossible to screw up are just as likely to fail as other shows. Therefore, P.A. Works deserves the full credit for creating an interesting bunch of characters. If I was looking to pick a fight I’d congratulate them for doing a better job in a couple of episodes to convince me that Iwasawa was a real musician then KyoAni has been with convince me any of the girls in K-On are real musicians with 16+ episodes. But I’m not looking to pick a fight :) .

The other slight worry I had for Angel Beats was it’s story; specifically, how well would Jun Maeda do when he wasn’t writing the story for a visual novel. In this department I’ve been very happy as well. Every episode unravels a little more of the story and it appears to be deliciously more complex then it did at first look. I don’t want to spoil the story here so the only other thing I’ll say about the story is that for those that have grown to like the sad stories that characters in Key works often have, you won’t be disappointed here.

There is one area that when I compare Clannad to Angel Beats in broad generalities I notice that Angel Beats comes up short to Clannad. That area is how well the comedy is handled in Angel Beats and how easily the show shifts from comedy to drama and back to comedy. Some of the comedy feels tacked on with Angel Beats so far and sometimes the comedy fills ill-timed and a few of the jokes in Angel Beats really feel lifted from other Key works. It’s hardily a big problem and I wonder if I noticed it because I so liked Clannad; also, not to slight Angel Beats but I do find the comedy is heavily weighted to the “hits” side with very few “misses”.

In conclusion, Angel Beats follows in the footsteps of the past Key works and at the same time it offers something different than it’s anime predecessors. I was worried that P.A. Works didn’t have the capability to pull this off but they’ve been doing a great job. I’ve already mentioned the characters and the story but I can’t finish without mentioning the very high quality animation and great voice work as well. In a season stuffed with quality titles, Angel Beats has been able to find a place as one of this season’s must watch shows.

Possible spoilers so I’m sticking it here. At the end of episodes 2-5 the cast picture at the end of show changes depending on what’s happened in the episode and I figured I’d put them here.

Episode 2

Episode 3

Episode 4

Episode 5 - note the difference in Hinata's shadow


Filed under: anime, first impressions

Spring 2010 Anime Impressions – B Gata H Kei

Posted by Author | Anime, Anime Review, B Gata H Kei, Hal Film Maker, Manga Review, first impressions, spring 2010 | Monday 26 April 2010 7:54 am

Spring has sprung – as the saying goes – the tulips, azaleas, lilacs are in bloom and all plants, from the biggest oak tree to the smallest blade of grass work their green magic to make the snow and cold a distant memory. Is it a surprise, then, that this season of anime, like the season it’s named after, offers an abundance of good titles.

Rating for episodes 1 to 4 – 10.5/12  Strong A
Anticipation Level:
4.5/5 – High

The Story

Yamada is her school’s idol even though she’s only a freshman. She has flawless skin, beautiful hair, long legs and mesmerizing eyes so accomplishing her mind’s desire (to woohoo with 100 different guys before she graduates high school) should be a cinch. The problem is that even though that’s her desire, she’s pretty naive about such things, she over thinks things in a very similar manner as Minami-ke’s Hosaka, and she lacks many of the basic social abilities like holding a conversation with someone because her mind has stuck on the ecchi stuff and has never learned.

As a result, she hasn’t so much as held hands with a guy and that’s a problem because all the “cool” guys are very experienced (according to her) so she decides that before she can bag her 100 guys she needs to train on a loser “cherry boy” that won’t mind that she’s not experienced. She picks a really plain looking guy sitting next to her in class by the name of Kosuda and so starts one of the most hilarious, confusing courtships I’ve seen in anime.

The Fine Print

I have a stately old lilac bush in my backyard and that lilac reminds me of B Gata H Kei. There’s been some attempts to update lilacs but the type people still like the most is the tried and true bluish-purple lilac that their grandmother’s and probably their grandmothers grew. And as an ecchi comedy, B Gata H Kei, belongs to a very old genre within anime – lacking the bells and whistles that get people excited about the newer types of shows. Also like lilacs, most of the time people don’t expend much time and thought about shows like B Gata H Kei; no one grows lilacs for their interesting foliage or fall color or “winter interest” and no one watches an ecchi comedy for it’s well-drawn backgrounds or animation style or the cinematography.

So why does almost everyone love lilacs?

It’s their flowers that bloom over the course of a few short weeks in late April-May and the nostalgia. But let’s be honest, even if the lilac is incredibly old and can only muster a few flower spikes in a year that’s enough to keep people from digging it up and planting something newer and better in it’s place. It’s a rather short bar we ask the lilac to jump over and the same can be said for ecchi comedies – they have to be really lifeless for people to scorn them.

Sometimes, though, these stately old lilac bushes surprise you and, instead of a couple flower spikes, there’s dozens and dozens – putting on a show as memorable as the most sought after cherry trees or rose bushes. And sometimes an ecchi comedy like B Gata H Kei comes along and really surprises you.

As with any good show, several things have to be done right for the show to be good. One important element is the main characters and B Gata H Kei gets the ball rolling with Yamada and Kosuda. Introduced as a generic male character, Kosuda looks the part but is way more interesting the longer we get to know him. He’s an accomplished photographer, he’s kind and considerate, and he occasionally displays an actual backbone. Yamada’s character, for all it’s ecchi bluster, feels very similar to Minami-ke’s Hosaka though she’s been a little more successful in attracting her target. The side characters haven’t been given a lot of time but that’s okay since the animators have been using the time to focus on making the main characters work. From what I can see so far, the side characters are all decent characters with Yamada and Kosuda’s siblings being the standouts.

Another important element is for an anime to be entertaining. Different types of anime are entertaining in different ways and I’m very flexible in what I find entertaining which probably accounts for finding so many different types of anime entertaining. Comedy is one of the easy ways to make a show entertaining and I love the comedy found in B Gata H Kei – the miscommunications between Yamada and Kosuda, their inexperience in dealing with another person while in a relationship, their fears and expectations sabotaging everything they do. Another way to entertain is come up with something new and different (or at least something that’s different from what everyone else is doing) and B Gata H Kei can be given a thumbs up for creating Yamada from a pretty standard male archetype and letting her mess with everyone’s expectations and for making Kosuda with just enough backbone so he’s not a pain to watch but enough shyness to make him believable in the role he plays. And the final way a show can be entertaining that I’ll mention today is for that show to keep fresh and the viewer guessing what’ll happen in the next episode and that’s certainly true with B Gata H Kei. I have no doubt that the pair will end up together but the path to do so is really up in the air due, in part, to Yamada’s conflicting drives between the superficial confident idol that eats, drinks, and breathes ecchi stuff and the deeper feelings of inadequacy at not being good enough to attract the eye of “cool” guys and the fear from actually experiencing the events leading to what she desires.

Which leads me to probably the biggest surprise to B Gata H Kei, that underneath the superficial setup to the show, it’s really a sweet story of two shy losers falling in love and learning what it takes to have a real relationship. And before the voices speak up about the well-wornness of that story, let me remind those voices that put in the right hands even a well-worn story feels new (last summer’s Taishou Yakuu Musume was a great example of both an underdog story and a girls prove their equality to boys story) and so far B Gata H Kei has been in good hands.

The final thing that I wanted to bring up was that after a fair amount of fan service in the first episode, there hasn’t been too much since. As an aside, that’s why I decided not to call this a fan service show and use the better fitting term “ecchi”. I bring this up because I know some people gauge a show’s worth by how little or how much fan service is involved and however one feels about the subject, I wouldn’t be doing my duty as reviewer if I fail to mention this point.

Okay, one last final thing. Another reason I’ve been enjoying B Gata H Kei is that I like both the opening and closing songs. So, if you haven’t given B Gata H Kei a chance yet – maybe you read those horribly done ANN impression posts – watch a couple of episodes and I bet there’s a good chance that you’ll fall for B Gata H Kei like I have.

Is the TK in the background a reference to Angel Beats or just a coincidence?


Filed under: anime, first impressions



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