Azumanga Daioh (Complete Series)

November 9, 2008

azumanga_daioh_002Azumanga Daioh is one of those quintessential animes that have the unfortunate distinction of being written about all the time. Anything I write here will doubtlessly be at best second rate, or at worst just another johnny-come-lately. Still, it would be derelict to my duty to ignore such a show on this site.

Whatever the reason, it seems to be the duty of anime producers to crank out as much anime as possible with a school setting. Reasons could be as innocent as wanting to capture the sweet wistfulness of high school–something people tend to feel an iconic amount of nostalgia for. Then again, it could boil down to playing on the all-too-common school girl uniform, umm, interest. Which even phrased in such a euphemistic-ladden way feels really creepy. I will admit readily to admitting that the four years of high school were some of the best of my life. And Azumanga Daioh can stand quite well on its feet without resorting to any objectionable fanservice, which is a fantastic relief.

The show has a fairly large cast of characters to play with, although the picture above depicts the six girls the show rotates around. Notable is Chiyo, the child genius who skipped right over middle school and landed in the teenage wonderland of high school. Her character is ingeniously crafted to embrace both innocence yet knowledge, being friendly yet sometimes naieve, a leader and a follower. That she can have so many dichotomies in her personality, yet still come off feeling real and natural is amazing. While she gets along with everybody, especially those in her friend-group, she and Osaka have a special affinity. Osaka is the Southern girl that starts at school wanting to change everyone’s stereotypes regarding people from the South. Unfortunately, it is hard to change a mind when you are stare into space, get lost in conversations, speak with a lazy accent, and don’t cross the street at the proper times. Despite being such a spot-on embodiment of the Southern stereotype, she feels like a character that is more than just a stock stereotype character. It is obvious that care and thought went into crafting these characters so that they feel more like people than just tools for storytelling.

Of course, using the phrase “tools for storytelling” would imply that there is actually a story to be found throughout the series. Not in the slightest. While the series follows them through high school, that is merely a guideline for the setting and not any kind of real plot device. It is rather a slice-of-life type show, where the everyday becomes interesting through the eyes of the characters. They mix in a sketch comedy feel, allowing them to add in elements of the absurd without making it out of place.

There are a ton of side characters or situations I could highlight about Azumanga Daioh, but as with Chiyo or Osaka above I wouldn’t be able to do them justice. All I can do is say that Azumanga Daioh is one of those stunning examples of anime that shows off what can be done with the proper mix of characters and humor. Won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, especially those who run screaming from anything with “cute” aspects, but for everone else this is a treat.

Title: Azumanga Daioh
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 26
Availability: Very available in a new thinpack. In fact, ADV is re-releasing the thinpack set in the next month or so, so this show will stick around for a long time. Can be found used, although expect the savings to be kind of disappointing. I’d recommend waiting for a RightStuf sale or going to dvdpacific.com.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 95

Spring and Chaos (Movie)

November 7, 2008

springandchaosThere is something vaguely rejuvinating about searching for older and forgotten anime titles. Even though a title has been around for twelve years, it is still new to someone who hasn’t seen it before. Age can only deteriorate animation quality as modern times springs new advantages upon animators. But storytelling and characters are still either good or bad and any anime with good plot and characters can still survive even when the animation might be shady by today’s standards. Despite being twelve years old, Spring and Chaos doesn’t look like an anime that ancient. Sure, some of the CGI rather primitive, resulting in some flat visuals, but the vision of the movie brings out great scenes regardless. The visuals are varied and scenic, resulting in a film that looks much more recent than the 1996 vintage would dictate. Indeed, the visuals carry what otherwise would fail to be an engaging film.

The movie is autobiographical–based around author Kenji Miyazawa. However, most people (myself included) will probably not pay the slightest attention to the autobiographical elements. Distancing it from the realm of reality is how all of the characters are animals. Mostly cats, but a random bear or dog thrown in for good measure. Completing this disconnect from reality is how the whole film looks like what a good acid trip would feel. It is scattered, non-sensical, and beautiful. Truth and reality for Kenji blurs, let alone whatever “real” really would be to the audience.

There seems to be two loose, somewhat coherent threads running through the movie: a girl and submitting to family as a career. The female interest floats in and out without ever bringing anything to fruition, yet she is obviously an important emotional key for Kenji. The bigger struggle comes with Kenji’s confusion at what kind of career to follow. He wants to write, he wants to collect, he wants to do something his father considers frivolous and detrimental to the family business. This drives Kenji out and into a position teaching, where he opens up new worlds for his students. Then, in a fit of family guilt, he goes back to his roots and tries his hand at farming, while still helping the students who want to learn under him.

Now, normally I don’t make mention of the subtitle versus English dub debate. Those who travel anime circles know that everyone has an opinion and will stick strongly to their side come hell or high water. However, as a subtitle fan, take note when I say try the English dub on these DVDs. I say that not because the dub is so great (I rather doubt it), but the subs on the DVD lag way behind the spoken word, making it confusing to follow. It is worse than some Asian bootlegs I’ve seen (not that I avocate buying those). Making the issue easier is how boring the Japanese dub is. The voice actors really seemed to mail this one in.

Spring and Chaos is a very interesting view, although I suspect each viewer’s milage will vary depending on how far varried, interesting visuals take them. Of course, those more interested in random, vague animes in general (Serial Experiments Lain, Boogiepop Phantom, Kino’s Journey, etc) will probably find this more interesting than most.

Title: Spring and Chaos
US Distributor: TokyoPop
Length: 53 Minutes
Availability: Out of print, used copies crop up on all the usual suspects (Amazon, ebay, half.com, and more besides). These days I usually see it go for between $9 and $15, however as more copies end up in collector’s collections I expect to see that price start spiking. I wouldn’t dally too long.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 66

Kino’s Journey (Complete Series)

October 30, 2008

What could possibly be better than an episodic show that features a girl with deep thoughts and deadly guns who rides a motorcycle? Try adding in a motorcycle that thinks and talks. It is a crazy, out-there idea that spells insta-win for just about everyone. In fact, it works so well you might almost think that every series would be greatly benefited by having a motorcycle with a personality.

It might be tempting to write off Kino’s Journey as a show that simply rides its intriguing concept for all that it is worth. But the series doesn’t really treat its motorcycle (named Hermes) any different from any other character. At the same time, it isn’t so disconnected from reality that it doesn’t throw other characters for a loop when he talks. It is a great mix and one that should be made note of by those who want to use non-human characters effectively.

Kino’s age is never really stated, nor is the gender made a point of until a sudden, surprising flashback episode. All we know initially is that Kino is on a journey with a talking motorcycle. More-or-less each episode takes place in a different locale, each country acting as an isolated area that seems like a different world from its surrounding areas. Thus Kino is able to visit a wide variety of places with different kinds of people. They go around talking to the people to find out what the country is about, enjoying the local color.

The interesting thing about the show is that it rarely tells the viewer what they should think about the way other countries do their thing. Instead, Kino asks questions and discovers, but unless the country directly affects their journey (like the one that takes all visitors and puts them in a Rome-esque Gladiator tournament), they tend to not pass judgement or let things prevent them from having a good time. That doesn’t mean they don’t ask tough questions of the inhabitents. While they could be constrewed as being indictive of a certain moral judgement on Kino’s part, they tend to come across as more logical curiosity–they let the countries make their decisions without interferring unless it is thrust upon them to do so.

A few clunker episodes during the first 1/3 of the series can make this a slow one to get into, but it is definitely worth it. Seems like the sort of series that would do better on a replay, too. Still, it is slower paced and a lot of viewers might get impatient with it. However, it is a work of art that is a must-have for anyone who likes ponderous anime series that asks some deep questions.

Title: Kino’s Journey
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 13
Availability: Quite available as both a reasonably priced thinkpack (especially when a RightStuf sale rolls around) and singles.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 83

Fullmetal Alchemist (Complete Series)

October 24, 2008

When a series at 51 episodes feels shorter than most series at 26 episodes you know you’ve got a treasure on your hands. Time melts away as episodes fly by and all of a sudden you realize that you failed to write that paper for English and it is already past midnight. That is what all-nighters are for, right?

Lets just get this out of the way right away. Fullmetal Alchemist is epic. It is so well put together that you can just watch a short clip and tell that the series has serious epic-potential. In fact, I should just end this review right now by saying “see this now.” Seriously. Just do it.

…Are you still here? Well, ok. I applaud your desire for a more in-depth review. So lets have at it, ok?

I have long been of the opinion (and have probably stated as much in at least half of my reviews) that characters are the most important part of a series for me. I can handle crappy plot, mediocre animation, derivative concepts, and just about anything else that can go wrong with an anime… as long as I find interest in the characters. Everything else an anime does right is a bonus in my book. Fullmetal Alchemist does characters very well and builds up relationships in such a way that they feel genuine and urgent.

At the same time, the plot is top-notch. Random things that happen in the first few awkward episodes wrap around and become important in the later 1/3 of the series. Almost everything seems to happen for a reason so that it can be recalled later for use. So not only does the series engage on a character level, but also from a plot standpoint.

Brothers Edward and Alphonse Elric discoverer early on in their life that they have the skill of alchemy that their long-gone father had. Their mother encourages them, savoring the memories of her absent husband. When she dies, however, the brothers use their skills to perform dark, restricted alchemy. Their transgression transforms their life forever as, in Alchemy’s equivalent exchange law, Al loses his body (Ed quickly rescuing his soul by attaching it to an empty suit of armor) and Ed loses his right arm and left leg. And thus the stage is set as Ed is driven by one goal- restoring them (particularly Al) to the way they were. The solution Ed sees as most viable is the quest for the ever-elusive Philosopher’s Stone. With the stone the law of equivalent exchange would become moot and such an exchange should be possible.

I could spend all day summarizing this show and failing to do it justice. But that little set-up should suffice. Still, the show goes heavy places that most anime–or any other form of media–don’t go. These areas left me shouting noiselessly at my screen, shocked at what the writer(s) did. Do not be decieved… this is not a children’s anime. There are dark issues and unspoken taboos crossed. Then they take the taboos and cross them again. They left me (me!) feeling queasy (and I didn’t even know I could feel that way anymore). And that, in my mind, is awesome.

Of course, as with any series 51 episodes in length, there are some flaws. However, they cannot dampen my enthusiasm for this show. Everything else is done so well that the show rises way above any flaws and becomes a work of art near unequaled by anything else anime has to offer.

Title: Fullmetal Alchemist
US Distributor: FUNimation
Number of Episodes: 51
Availability: In print in both singles and Naruto-style sets of 3 discs each. Though rumor has it that early next year there will be a reasonably priced complete box set releasing.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 98

Haibane-Renmei (Complete Series)

October 22, 2008

Haibane-Renmei is a show that has haunted me since I first found out about it by browsing the used anime at my local CD Warehouse. The cover art was highly attractive and caught my eye. They only had two volumes, so I refrained from making the purchase, but read up about the show and decided it a must-see. RightStuf still had copies of the box set, however I wasn’t about to put down $100 for a series. Still, when RightStuf had one of their patented 40% off sales I decided the time was ripe and struck. (A good thing too, considering the title is out of print and RightStuf sold out.) A week and a half later I get the package in the mail and I excitedly sat down.

I watched the whole first volume (episodes 1-4) in one sitting without even thinking about it. Never before has the first four episodes of a series gone by as quickly as those four episodes did. In fact, the only other time four episodes have been so easy to watch is last year when I marathoned Naruto– some of those canon arcs fly by. Haibane-Renmei was, from the opening sequence to the ending credits, one of the greatest things I had seen. I tried to space out the remaining discs in an appropriate manner (forced more by my busy schedule than a desire to save the experience), but only found the series more and more engaging as it went on.

Imagine, for a moment, that you wake up with nothing more than a vague sense of a past life and a dream. You are in a world different from anything your hazy sense of the past can pinpoint as normal, however, a group takes you under their wings and guides you. Such is the scenario Rakka is presented with: a rebirth, a strange land, and the need to relearn what it means to exist.

The series starts off feeling very comfortable in the slice-of-life genre (with the assumed fantasy twist) before suddenly spiraling into something darker–a change both blessed and cursed. On the one hand, 13 episodes that were as happy-go-lucky as the first four would continue to go down as smooth as the first four did. Still, the sudden turmoil brings about necessary change in the characters which gives the series depth.

The series is chock full of great characters, from those who are in Rakka’s immediate group to those whom they interact with. The storyline is engaging and well written (albeit with a few a few minor plot holes). Just about everything about this series says “win.” The only people who might be put off by the series are those who overload easily on cute–but if they stuck around beyond the first handful of episodes even their minds might be changed. Definitely a landmark series in the annals of anime history and a must-see.

Title: Haibane-Renmei
US Distributor
: Geneon
Number of Episodes
: 13
Availability: Out of print, although the singles are still available off RightStuf for a pretty good price. Used are readily available, too, though be prepared to pay an arm and a leg for any edition with an art box.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 95

A few words on my new review layout…

October 21, 2008

What I was doing before was good. Nice write-ups on anime. Hard to go wrong. But you know what is even better? That’s right… Rankings! Distributor Info! Links galore! Oodalaly! I will still write (albiet ridiculously spordically… amazing how Univeristy manages to suck my time into the netherworld….), so view this not as a change, but an improvement. More info for the same price of admission. Can’t go wrong! Here is what the format will look like:

Title: Bleach or Azumanga Daioh, for example
US Distributor: Like, Viz or ADV, or if not yet in US I’ll put something like fansub (group: dattebayo). No links to downloads, but I’ll give the fansub group- just for the record.
Number of Episodes: Because it is good to know, you know? For series that are still going on, I’ll put whatever is planned (assuming it is listed on ANN). For movies I’ll just list the time.
Links: Whatever I feel like linking to… usually something like this or this.
Availability: US availability should be answered by the US distributor part, but this will answer whether the series is complete or on-going, or if it is out of print (and if so, how hard is it to get). So, to continue with the Bleach/Azumanga Daioh theme… “The first two “seasons” are available on DVD as sets, although VIZ also releases individual DVDs which are farther along than the sets. The sets are Uncut, which gives them the edge.” and “The thinpack is in print and easily obtained.”
Rating: 85 and ? (Bleach gets an 85 and I have only seen one episode of Azumanga Daioh so far, so can’t comment there… although it is in the mail via RightStuf so soon… soon!

At this point I am unsure whether I’ll put that kind of information at the beginning… or at the end. So when I write up the first entry with this format I’ll see what looks best.

Sorry about the long delay

September 6, 2008

…not that anyone actually reads this. Anyway, the long delay was largely due to having nothing new to review. That has changed and I’ve got a nice little backlog to work with for a little while. Posts may still be somewhat sporatic as I’m in the middle of a crazy semester at school where I’m in two writing classes. But be that as it is, at least I have some things I can say again.

Dear AbbyDejaVu Volume 1

June 21, 2008

South Park Dear AbbyThis seems like a good time to start a new segment of the blog. Up to this point I have simply reviewed stuff that I have seen. However, there was no way I could maintain the pace I was writing at: it takes much longer to watch a series than it does to write about it. Hence this new feature of the site: A trustworthy “Dear Abby” for anime! Complete with bonafide Dear Abby South Park icon, created by yours truly. So without further ado: the questions.

Dear AnimeDejaVu,

Why haven’t there been any updates for a while? I can’t get my beauty sleep when this much time has passed since a new post!

-kimblebrew

I know. That is why there have been no updates. I am quite concerned with you not getting beauty sleep. Seriouly though, I am in the process of working 7 straight days… I’ve had enough time to work and crash and that is about it. Everything else is merely secondary. As a bit of a teaser for next week, I am in the middle of working on a write-up of the Tekkon Kinkreet movie. I started writing it early this past week but haven’t had time to finish writing it.

If you like the idea of a Dear Abby for anime, please email any questions you might have to animedejavu@gmail.com and they may just end up being answered here. In fact, there is a very GOOD chance they will, considering the pathetic amount of traffic this blog gets.

Magical Play (Complete Series)

June 16, 2008

Magical Play (also called Magical Witchland on ANN) is a queer little series that is an amusing mix of magical girls, sketch comedy, slice of life, and fanservice. It is technically 22 (really short) episodes long, however for the DVD release they smashed them into four (fairly long) episodes. It is unfortunate that they did that, as the four long episodes wear on too long, although they do distinguish between the various segments by displaying the title of each new one before it plays. The series originally aired on the internet before migrating to the television (and eventually the States in the form of the DVD).

It is a simple little anime that centers around Padudu, a girl who wants to become a magical warrior by compiling a good record sheet. The land is scattered with various competitions and exercises with which to fill her record (which looks a lot like a bingo board where the goal is to get a sticker on every square). Padudu meanders around, encountering one-off and recurrent characters, none of whom become friends or foes. In most stories this set up wouldn’t really work, but with the sketch-like randomness of Magical Play, it works.

In Padudu’s home world the people gain an animal friend at an early age (a concept not too far removed from that of The Golden Compass movie/book), and her animal companion is a fish which she wears as a cloak. The fish, as an alive creature, is a constant food source with the unsettling idea that it can regrow its flesh: all Padudu has to do is scoop some flesh out from under her cloak and it will grow back. For those reasons, and others I won’t go into here, the fish is a character that the viewer feels sorry for if they view the show as anything more than a sketch-style comedy where the absurd is reveled in.

It wouldn’t be prudent to go over any other elements of plot: what little plot there is would be best discovered on your own. However, there is an evil witch queen, a crazy subordinate, a girl who wears two flat cats for clothes, and a road that never ends. Magical Play never really reaches a satisfying conclusion, however how many Monty Python shows or movies reach satisfying ends? If you find yourself understanding what I mean, give the show a try. It can be picked up on the cheap through the internet.

Title: Magical Play
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 4 (or 22)
Availability: Apparently out of print, but easy to find used… particularly via Amazon.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 65

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here (Complete Series)

June 12, 2008

Regular readers will notice that I have reviewed a number of romantic series before and actually liked them fairly well. In fact, I’m starting to think that romance might be the genre of anime to best submerse me into whatever world is being portrayed in any given show. Zaion, unfortunately, fails on almost any account with which to compare it.

The context surrounding the romance in Zaion is that of a futuristic society where a virus turns humans into vicious monsters. Our main characters are out to kill these monsters when they appear. This gives the show an Evangelion-esque feel as humans get in their suits and battle large monsters.

In the midst of all of that is Ai, a quiet girl who is, essentially, a research project who has the ability to defeat the monsters without the sacrifice of human lives. Yet her own humanity makes her less than controllable to the scientists in charge of her. Even so, her humanity is no longer seen by those in charge, except by the woman who works closest to her. Tamiya is one of the monster battlers. He is not too fond of his job, a feeling that intensifies when he is injured in combat. It is in the lab’s atrium that he meets Ai and his life is changed.

There are so many problems with the series it would be cruel to go over them all. But in lieu of any real positives, I do what I have to do. Zaion lacks any real character development. Tamiya is rather flat and uninteresting through the series. We don’t know anything about his past, or what makes him who he is. His decisions seem to come out of nowhere without any real guiding factor. Ai is a sympathetic character, but only because of her circumstances and not because the series goes into who she is. All of the characters are viewed as if from the other side of glass: impersonal and boring. As such the relational sparks between Tamiya and Ai only exist because the creator demanded they exist: there is no real chemistry between the two to cause the relationship to be at all believable.

The plot, beyond the relational possibilities, is paper-thin. There really isn’t anything more than what was described in the (short) second paragraph. The plot could have been expanded upon and become something vaguely satisfying, but as is the makers must have viewed the plot as nothing more than a vehicle to drive the relationship, since there is no real resolution to it. It is obvious that it is just a context for the relationship and nothing more. Yet, even with a conclusion, the plot would still need a fairly major overhaul to bring the anime up to a worthwhile level. What is there works as a bare outline, but you’re not supposed to just throw bare outlines onto the page as-is. They need to be fleshed out in their own right, which Zaion lacks completely.

Zaion: I Wish You Were Here is a blessedly short series. At only four episodes it feels like an OAV (original animation video, aka an anime series that went straight to DVD instead of showing on television), however it is labeled as a television series on ANN, so whatever. Four half-hour episodes, albeit short by most series standards, is really way too long. Then again, if you make the mistake (like me) of actually seeing this, then I guess you get what you deserve.

Title: Zaion: I Wish You Were Here
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 4
Availability: Readily available both used and new… both prices ridiculously low.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 30


Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.