Archive for June, 2008

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.

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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

Midori Days (Complete Series)

June 11, 2008

Midori Days starts off with typical male angst: “I can’t get a girlfriend, gahh!” Seiji is known as a brawling fighter, yet even so his luck with the fairer gender is incalculably bad. He realizes with growing horror that he is facing the real possibility that his right hand may be his only girlfriend, ever. Until one day he wakes up and finds his right hand gone, replaced with a perky, bright-eyed female named Midori. A girl who happens to be madly in love with Seiji.

It, like many anime romance stories, has definite roots in pandering to common or not-as-common male fantasies. I mean, what lonely guy, resigned to a life of solitary singleness, wouldn’t want to wake up in a similar situation? It is a scenario that screams of a bunch of frustrated guys, at a bar drinking, saying, “Man, girls suck. They have no interest in me. If only I had a girl instead of a hand, then life would be about perfect!” Imagine the bawdy laughter that ensues. And yet what separates a show like Midori Days from some erotic internet fanfic is the noble constraint by not going where one automatically would think a show spawn from fantasies (as such) would go.

Indeed, the focus is largely on the characters, how they become friends, and the various struggles one would go through in such a situation. In this way Midori Days is like a situation sketch: oddball situation presented… and GO. No real explanation given (or needed), it just has to be taken at surface level. It is definitely not a show to think too hard about. For example, it is apparently assumed that Seiji doesn’t ever need to take a shower and that clothes magically appear on his body, two everyday occurrences that would immediately present awkward situations in such a scenario. But this never comes into play in Midori Days. Yet I would argue that it is good these aren’t shown, as it would transform Midori Days from a comedic situational romance into, well, a cheap erotica.

The animation style is neither good nor bad. It works for what it is going for without being distracting, while at the same time no one would accuse it of being ground breaking. But they switch things up now and then when need demands: there are several times in the series where an older look is needed. They avoid the awkward images of how Midori is actually attached to Seiji’s arm by simply never showing it: a good thing he likes wearing long-sleeved shirts, huh?

Ultimately, Midori Days is a highly flawed series. And yet there are too many fun elements that make it hard to dismiss. It is a series that would drive people who think too hard absolutely nuts. They’d reaction an “oooh, brain freeze!” fashion, like they just slurped on a slushee too quickly. But to those who can accept the logical leaps of faith, and who enjoy the romantic comedy genre, it is worth checking out Midori Days. There is a lot more heart present than one would initially suspect.

Title: Midori Days
US Distributor: Anime Works
Number of Episodes: 13
Availability: Quite, both used and new for pretty good prices.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 70

Nabari no Ou (Episodes 1-8)

June 8, 2008

Anime typically has both an opening and an ending theme song. As a big music fan I generally find these songs pretty mediocre and skip them. There has been a few random opening songs (generally referred to as the OP by the anime community) that I have enjoyed, namely a few of the Naruto ones. But even of the ones that I enjoy there has been only one that I view every single episode: “Crawl” by Veltpunch as featured in the opening credits of Nabari no Ou. It is a song that starts off like a standard guitar rock tune ala the Foo Fighters, except when the vocals come in they are really bad. LIke, bad emo bad. However, after the first awkward, horrible line a female voice kicks in and all of a sudden the song stabilizes. The lead male voice sounds good and the backing female voice? To die for.

Nabari just started airing in Japan this season (along with the previously reviewed Soul Eater) and sparked my interest due to a friend calling it a smoother, less silly Naruto. After viewing the first eight episodes I have to admit that there are a lot of ways in which Nabari is comparable to Naruto, but somehow it feels like a completely different show. The tones and settings are just so vastly different that it marks it for two different crowds. It is a lazy comparison, but I like lazy comparisons, so I will liberally use Naruto as a point of reference in this little write-up.

Rokujou (see picture, center) is a withdrawn, silent kid who leads a quiet, solitary life and he likes it that way. He is none too ecstatic when he finds out that hidden within him is a great power that would make him like a god to not just the hidden ninja community, but the world. A team forms around him to protect him from competing ninja clans. His teacher, Kumohira, leads the group with Kouichi (see picture, right) and Raimei (picture, left). Rokujou at first blush might seem to bring to mind Naruto himself (due to also having a great power sealed away within his body), except that Naruto’s personality is the polar opposite. The closer, more satisfying comparison is to Gaara, who’s quiet, detached demeanor, aligns quite a bit closer to Rokujou.

There are several really satisfying elements to Nabari no Ou. Unlike in Naruto, where many of the squad leaders/teachers feel just about invincible, Kumohira is portrayed as extremely flawed and weak. He is leader due to his position and age, not because he is a Kakashi-like genius.

The other impressive element is how the sides aren’t shown as being black and white, good vs evil the way just about every other show of this sort is. The side of the protagonist has obvious ulterior motives and one of the leaders they consult even admits as much. The side of the antagonist has one of the most sympathetic, interesting characters of the series. The lines blur and you root for people, some on different sides, more than the sides themselves. No side is morally superior than the other.

The setting is much more modern than Naruto. While Naruto occasionally makes use of modern technology, as a whole it feels like a different world. Nabari feels set in the current era, with cities and phones and computers and such. As such, the artistic style takes on a more modern feel. It uses a more muted palette as opposed to the flashier Naruto. It is a thoroughly moody, industrial ninja world.

Through eight episodes, a fairly remarkable amount of stuff has happened. This is no slow developing show. A show like Naruto or Bleach would have burned through 15 – 20 episodes to reach this point. This speed serves it well as it keeps entire episodes from being battle-oriented. Fights are fluid and happen in a more realistic speed, without pausing for testosterone-fueled shouting matches.

Without a doubt, Nabari no Ou is one of the highlights of the current season. Its modern setting and fluid flow serve it well. Hopefully it can keep up the pace.

Title: Nabari No Ou
US Distributor: none yet
Number of Episodes: 26
Availability: Fansubs, and a whole mess of groups do it.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 80 (this rating, since it was applied after this review, is probably more indicative of my overall feeling of the episodes that I’ve seen. However, as I don’t plan on doing another review of this until a complete US release, I have no qualms with that.)

ef – a tale of memories (Complete Series)

June 7, 2008

ef – a tale of memories (yes, it is capitalized like that–or more accurately, not capitalized) is an intertwining tale of romance. There are two main romances involved coming from two different sets of characters and which largely do not intersect. These two stories are the emotional tug to drive the series.

The first character is Hirono Hiro (pictured), a manga artist who skips way too much school to try and meet deadlines. No one but his best friend, Shindou Kei, knows about his job and he wants to keep it that way. His life suddenly goes topsy-turvy when his bicycle is stolen by Miyamura Miyako, a feisty girl who goes to his school. Somehow she manages to skip more school than Hiro, and this common element (plus Miyako’s outgoing personality) turn them into friends. Kei sees this increasing attention to Miyako as an unwelcome intrusion, and thus the triangle is formed.

The other sphere of characters centers around Asou Renji, a quiet spoken boy who lives with his mother. He encounters a girl, Shindou Chihiro, sitting on the platform of an abandoned train station. They strike up a conversation and enjoys it, asking if she will be back the next day. However, a warning comes to Renji from Chihiro’s caretaker telling him not to pursue the friendship. Failing to heed the advice, Renji is flung into a whirlwind that he can’t quite define or grasp. By the time he figures out what the caretaker’s warning signified, he is too emotionally attached to back out.

The two story lines, by themselves, are too common and simplistic to be of interest by themselves. But they are interwoven in such a way that keep things moving nicely through the twelve episode series. The lion’s share of the attention goes to Renji and Chihiro, probably due to the more romantic, less definable obstacle. But what really drives the series is the stunning visuals that are crafted for the viewer.

The first three or four episodes are jaw-dropping as the viewer becomes accustomed to the artistic style presented. It is a style that refuses to remain static, switching from a full palette of colors to black and white. From watercolor skies to complete silhouette. Each scene in the series is a treat as lines go from wavy to angled. Furthermore, and perhaps more impressive, is that this show in flexibility doesn’t distract from the story, which makes it all the more beautiful. Definitely one of the most impressively animated series I have seen.

In the end, though, the story is merely adequate and will probably only be of interest to those who already enjoy romantically-themed animes. However, everyone should check out at least one episode to get a taste of the visual delights which are presented. As a romantic anime there is enough going for ef – a tale of memories to make it quite memorable and pleasing.

Title: ef – a tale of memories
US Distributor: none yet
Number of Episodes: 12
Availability: fansubs (if I remember right, conclave-mendoi did a pretty bang-up job)
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 90

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi (Complete Series)

June 6, 2008

Sasshi and Arumi (pictured to the right, except flipped) are childhood friends living in a fading business district. Shops are closing, buildings being demolished, and business is slow. To top it all off, Arumi’s family is moving away to start a restaurant in a more affluent area. Yet after an accident involving Arumi’s grandfather, strange things are afoot. Sasshi sees dragons flying around at night, people turn into bouncing mushrooms, and buildings are paper-thin. All of a sudden Sasshi and Arumi are in a place that is definitely not home, experiencing things that do not happen in reality, with no way in sight to get home.

During the first two-thirds of the series each episode takes place in a different kind of world: one episode takes place in a world based around the concept of RPGs (roll-playing games), another is a pre-historic land, yet another a crazy war zone. Sasshi and Arumi have to discover what is going on in each and figure out how to find the creature that can transport them back to their world.

There are great positives and disappointing negatives to Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. The most immediate area of enjoyment is the two lead characters, Sasshi and Arumi. Both individually and as a team they are fantastic. Arumi is more confident and carefree than Sasshi. She hides any sadness she might feel regarding their pending departure with the carefree phrase, “Bein’ human, havin’ your health… that’s the most important thing.” Everything else is simply details. On the other hand, Sasshi fails to construct a successful facade to hide his anxiety over Arumi’s move. He’s moodier and doesn’t like the changes encroaching upon his happy life. He is like a Peter Pan type character who prefers to rebuke the process of growing up.

About 2/3rds to 3/4ths of the way through the series the flow alters dramatically. The change is sudden and disorienting. Assumptions that you held about how the series was going are suddenly torn asunder. This could have been really good, but they fail to navigate the change in a way that properly leads the viewer. But at least they tried. It was a noble, albeit not exactly a success.

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi is a series that started off incredibly, then tailed off. But it is still a funny series that I rather appreciated. Some of the revelations were great, others seemed a bit anticlimactic. But take a gander, you might enjoy.

Title: Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi
US Distributor: ADV
Number of Episodes: 13
Availability: Both new and used, with used leaning toward the cheaper side.
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 80

Soul Eater (Episodes 1-8)

June 2, 2008

Soul Eater is a brand-spankin’ new anime for this season, hence the reason I can only comment through episode eight. Thanks to the joys and marvels of fansubs, we in America can keep up with the new series without too much lag from when they first show in Japan. By my calculation, Episode 8 was first shown last Monday and it was subbed and online last night, so that is about a week. Considering that someone had to translate the whole episode, sync the subtitles, and so forth, a week’s delay is really pretty good. The downside? Well, since the show is just starting in Japan, that bodes ill for seeing a stateside DVD release in the immediate future. Doubtlessly one will come, there is about no way a series like this doesn’t get localized.

Soul Eater might just be about the coolest looking series you will ever see. It seems to be what might happen if Tim Burton was the artistic director of Bleach. Except Bleach was never this exciting from the outset, and there seems to be fewer characters in Soul Eater to keep track of. The early reports are plans for a 51 episode run, which would fall 121 episodes short of the current number of the still on-going Bleach episodes.

At this point there seem to be four teams. Each team is made up of a technician and a weapon. The technician is technically the fighter and takes the role of, say, Ichigo (from Bleach). The weapon is a human who has the ability to transform into a weapon. What sounds like a rather cheesy idea turns out, in execution, to work rather well. It isn’t as though the weapon is just a weapon. They are still a human and can interact with the technician at any time. Thankfully they avoid the tempting trap to give a mouth to the weapons when they want to talk and find other ways to do it, usually by showing a reflection of the weapon’s human form on the blade. In addition, the weapon can go out of the weapon form at any point for any reason and we’ve seen weapons do their own combat from time to time.

It remains to be seen how the different teams are given screen time, and whether one team will be considered the “main” team (like in Naruto where Naruto’s team is the team, but there are a lot of other major teams involved), or if each will be considered fairly equal. At this point, though, things seem to lean towards one specific team being the team. Partly because they’ve had the most screen time and partly because the name of the series is named after them. Soul Eater is Maka Alban’s weapon. As a technician Maka is quite capable and they were one of the more accomplished teams before a grievous error causes their stock to drastically drop. (For a picture of Mika and Soul just take a gander at the banner up top. They are the ones on the far right.) Yet the other characters are just as interesting, if not more so. You’ve got Black Star, a character who is more talk than results, due mostly to his complete disinterest in actual mission success. There is the OCD-plagued Death the Kidd, whose two female weapons transform into guns. And then there is the mysterious Dr. Stein, teacher at their school, and technician for Maka’s father. Maka’s father is a disaster of a man who can’t keep his eyes or hands off women, who can’t understand why Maka despises him, and thus constantly grovels for her attention.

The series starts off with a three episode prologue, each episode dedicated to one of the kid teams. You see their abilities, where they are in life, how the technician and weapon work together, and what obstacles need to be overcome, in addition to some great action. After the third episode the series then launches more into the actual storyline. And yet, if I have one complaint about the series, it is that after the great prologues in the beginning of the “storyline” we are back to more introductory kind of crap. Sure, interesting and great things happen in episodes four through six, but it is just now in episodes seven and eight that the meat of the plot seems to be emerging. So did those prologues really save us any time? Oh well, in the end those first six episodes were entertaining and didn’t lack action, so no harm no foul.

Go and check out a fansub of at least the first episode. Due to its cockeyed visual style and great action everyone should at least give Soul Eater a try.

Title: Soul Eater
US Distribution: none yet
Number of Episodes: 51 planned
Availability: Readily available on fansub (tadashi recommended).
Links: ANN Encyclopedia
Rating: 90