Archive for November, 2008

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

Advertisements

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