Saturday, November 26, 2011

Nostalgia-Dragonball Z

Lately, having been swept by a wave of nostalgia, I became curious in shows that I liked as a kid. Were they really as good as I remembered them, or as bad as I remembered them? I decided to rewatch some of these shows to see if my opinion of them has changed since I was a kid.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

No Reviews this Season

There will be no First Impressions or Episode reviews this season. I apologize.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

News: New Lauren Faust Series

Watching professional creators on deviantArt has its advantages, like finding out what they're working on at the moment. Which is how I found out that Lauren Faust is working on a series of shorts for DC, titled Super Best Friends Forever, starring Batgirl, Supergirl, and Wonder Woman.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Episode Reviews Fate/Zero 1

Before viewing: Let's get one thing straight. I haven't seen Fate/Stay Night. Honestly, the series doesn't interest me in the slightest. It just looked so boring and bland. I'm hoping that this prequel doesn't require having seen the original first, and I don't get too confused. Depending on how much I like this series, I might start Fate/Stay Night. Honestly, I hope I don't like it, because frankly I'm behind on anime as it is.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Summer 2011: A Look Back

As a new season begins, I look back at the previous season. I did poorly at keeping up American cartoons this season, not even watching the ones I was honestly looking forward too. Honestly, I've been watching stuff online rather than on TV for so long that I can never remember what time shows come on, but I'll try to keep up this season. I also only watched one American animated film, Cars 2, and didn't see Winnie the Pooh or The Smurfs (thank god). I did keep up the anime schedule, and didn't see any of the movies, but none of them have been translated yet.
I watched a lot of stuff this season, a bunch of which I wouldn't have started if I hadn't decided to watch all of them, and I would like to continue to do so if time allows it.

Let's look back at the season and see how it fared:

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Anime/Manga Genres: Iyashikei

Iyashikei is Japanese for healing, which describes this extremely niche sub-genre very well. Iyashikei series are meant to be as soothing and calming as possible, taking place in worlds with very little conflict,with cute and likeable characters just going about their carefree mostly drama-free lives. 

The most important aspect of an iyashikei series is atmosphere; it is not meant to be watched, but experienced. For this reason, the technical side of this genre is outstanding. Backgrounds are filled with lush vegetation and aging buildings, the screen crammed with beautiful little details, from the solitary blades of grass sticking out of water so clear you can count the rocks on the bottom to the cracks in the walls of  an ancient city forgotten by time. Check out St Mark's Square in Aria, taking place in Neo-Venice (on Mars of all places):

Or how about the scenery in Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth, taking place in Paris, France here:
Freaking look at that architecture!

Not every series goes for the hyper realistic art style. Many series go for a more warm, watercolor look, giving the art a very human touch, such as Usagi Drop.

It also gives the appearance that the character exist inside the world of a painting, making the escapist nature of these types of series more apparent. This genre exists solely as escapism. It exists to leave the audience with an feeling of inner peace and a smile, and a sense of awe at a vision of true beauty. I think the unique experience of watching an iyashikei series is best described as a sigh of contentment, filling you with a sweet serenity as you contemplate the many beautiful things that exist in our world. Some may describe it as cotton candy for your soul, light and fluffy without much content, but I prefer to think of it as a hot shower on a cold day, or a cup of hot chocolate while you watch the snow flutter slowly from the sky. It's pure, condensed bliss.

In keeping with the "life is beautiful" theme that this genre has, the characters are mostly all charming, entertaining and loveable. Before I learned the name of this genre, I called it the "I'll do my best today" genre, due to the sheer number of times you hear this phrase in these types of series. In Aria for example, possibly the most popular of this genre, Akari's greatest desire is to become a Prima, the highest ranking of undines, or gondolier tour-guide, but she doesn't compete with the other girls to become the best, but slowly moves through the ranks, happy to enjoy the simple things in life and befriend the other undines.  This genre is full of these characters; girls with a goal that they intend to reach, and do so without competing, cat fighting or even getting jealous of other girls with the same goals and dreams. They may be somewhat Mary Sue characters, but they’re the kind that you wish you knew in real life, someone who can brighten up your day, will always be there to comfort you if you're unhappy and always manages to say the right thing at the right time.

It's also touching to see these characters and how they learn more about each other and become extremely close, all without getting so offended that they punch each other through walls and ceilings. Usagi Drop is a great example of this heart-warming character connection, as you see Rin and Daikichi's first meeting, how Rin initially becomes attached to him, and how they continually learn more about each other and take care of each other, both helping the other grow as a person. It's just a wonderful experience to watch them grow, and you hope that they will always be a happy family.

To those outside its niche audience, it can be a bewildering genre. The slow pacing and lack of any conflict is certainly off-putting to those unfamiliar, and many find it impossible to enjoy something where nothing really ever happens. It's a type of series that is very unique to Japan, and I believe that there are several reasons for this. One reason is that an appreciation of simple aesthetics and natural beauty is very deeply ingrained in Japanese culture. This is shown in the simple yet eloquent designs on traditional Japanese pottery, dishes and lacquerware, the simple and lovely linework in traditional paintings, even the subtle presentation of food in a restaurant echos this idea of simple beauty. Appreciation of nature is an important trait of Japanese culture, as the blooming of the cherry blossoms is an important event always looked forward to and celebrated with big parties, as people watch the blossoms fall from the branches and reflect on how short and insignificant the lives of those blossoms were, and yet so beautiful and awe-inspiring. For people with this idea as a big part of their culture, watching a series so drenched in this appreciation of simple beauty after a long and stressful day is a very comfortable experience, reminding them that no matter how hard and stressful life is, the world still is a beautiful place, and the simple pleasures are always there to comfort.

Another reason the iyashikei genre might exist is another very Japanese idea, the idea that it's about the journey, not the end. In American fiction, it's often about the resolution, and a bad ending could ruin the entire experience. Having an ending spoiled is even worse, as though there's no longer any point in seeing it now that you know what happens. In Japan however it's different. It's okay for a series to have little or no resolution, or a particularly awful ending, because in the end, it's how they get there that counts, and when it's all over, you can look back and contemplate the fun you've had watching and learning about these characters lives. Due to this interest in the journey rather than a resolution, it's okay for many to have a series with very little conflict because you're not all that interested in the resolution of the conflict in the first place.

Although the genre is basically rooted in Japanese ideas, and as a result many Westerners looking for conflict and resolution in their entertainment will be put off by these ideas, I would still recommend the genre as a whole to anyone. Watching an anime designed to heal your soul is a wonderful and delightful experience that I think everyone should be able to experience at least once, if only to remind them that the world truly is a lovely place, with wonderful kind people living in it, and little miracles always ready to be found.

Recommended and standout titles of the genre: Aria, Yotsuba, Chii's Sweet Home, Usagi Drop, Only Yesterday, My Neighbor Totoro, Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, The Girl Who Leapt Through Time, 5cm per Second, Haibane Renmei, Kiki's Delivery Service, Whisper of the Hear, Hanasaku Iroha

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Manga Genres

Something that really sets manga apart from American comics is the fact that manga was allowed to develop naturally, without much regulation, and greatly experimented with. While American comics were once very diverse, with the creation of the Comics Code Authority 1954, comics were sanitized and strictly controlled, allowing very little diversity. Genres that were once very popular, such as horror and crime comics, became non-existent, and were replaced by very inoffensive and often silly superhero comics. The CCA started losing its prominence in the late 1980s, and as of January 2011, no comics are being published any longer with the CCA seal of approval. As a result of its waning prominence, comics have become more diverse and mature, but the influence is still felt, to the newspaper strips that are so wholesome that they lack anything memorable, to the prominence that superhero comics still has in the industry.

In Japan, however, until recently with the Tokyo Youth Ordinance Act, there were very little regulations involved, plus different cultural views on what's okay in fiction allowed manga is progress in a more natural way. It also helps that Osamu Tezuka, the "god of manga" was determined to publish in every possible genre, and created a large body of work that encompassed a wide range of themes, genres and audiences. As a result, manga became very diverse and splintered into several different genres and sub-genres, many of which have become very specialized and are very unique to manga. It's fascinating to see how these genres came to be and how they developed into the series that they are today. So I'm taking a look at some of the more specialized, unique and bizarre sub-genres of manga and how they came to be the way they are. First, I'll be taking a look at the extremely specific sub-genre of moe known as iyashikei, or healing manga. Look forward to it!

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Webcomics: The Trenches

This isn't going to be a review, more of a news thing. It would be impossible to review a webcomic, for one, that's only got two strips out.

So recently Scott Kurtz, creator of PVP, started a new webcomic with Jerry and Mike, the guys behind Penny Arcade. It's called The Trenches, and it's about Issac, a video game tester, and his coworkers as they endure the hell that is video game testing.

There are several reasons I'm excited about the strip. Firstly, the dumb reason that I'm writing a character who is a video game tester, so it's interesting for me to see a comic strip about that subject matter.

Secondly, PVP is one of my all time favorite strips. It's a series that has significantly improved both art-wise and story-wise, and is often genuinely touching and funny. I prefer it over Penny Arcade, if only for the reason that I am simply not the target audience for Penny Arcade, and only every now and then do I get the jokes and video game references. PVP is a video game strip too, but it's also a character-driven one, so even I can "get it".

Another cool thing they're doing with the strip is that with every new strip comes a true story from a video game tester. Its really neat to see real people's experiences with the gaming industry, rather than just a fictional one.

However, like I said, only two strips have been released so far, and Issac hasn't even been hired yet.  I really like that it starts with Issac getting the job, rather than dropping us in the middle of the story. It gives the strip a more complete feeling, like there will be a beginning, a middle, and an ending of the story. And there really isn't enough strips out there with linear storytelling, so it's great to see the strips carry the story, rather than force a punchline in every third or fourth panel.

That being said, there are some things about the strip that I don't have a good first impression of. The main cast, from what I can gather from promotional images, appears to be extremely similar to the cast for PVP. We've got the Brent character, a sarcastic, snobby looking douche, the Jade, who is yet another single female character in a male dominated strip, and the Francis, the youngest member, who's the typical whiny rude teenager. It's just not a very unique looking cast, and it's going to take some big surprises from these characters or excellent writing to distract me from the "haven't I seen these guys before?" feeling.

Despite that,  I think it'll be worth your time to at least check it out at The Trenches. A comic strip can be read in a matter of seconds, and if you catch it now, you can see it before it gets really long, which is the problem I usually run into with strips.I just hope these guys can balance two different strips, otherwise their respective (and huge) fanbase will be disappointed.

Friday, July 22, 2011

First Impressions: The iDOLM@STER

Oh wow, is this the end of this season of First Impressions?

Plot Synopsis: Based on the XBOX 360 game The iDOLM@STER 2, The iDOLM@STER follows 13 aspiring idols aiming to reach their goals.

Before viewing: This looks like the gender-reversed version of Uta no Prince-sama, another harem series about people trying to make it into show biz. The character designs vaguely remind me of K-ON, which makes me suspect that this'll be a moe-rific series. It sounds a bit dull and flat. Also, I can tell that this series is going to suffer from character overload. It's probably not a good idea to have more main characters than there are episodes. Much like any other series with lots of of "important" characters introduced from the beginning, I suspect that none of them will get enough screen time for us to actually learn anything about them or grow to love them.

After viewing: Playing this game is exactly like watching someone else play a dating game. Everything about it screams it; from the set-up of the plot, to the way the characters are introduced, to how they interact with each other. The "main character" that the girls all talk to is a cameraman interviewing them, whose voice is never heard, but his dialogue appears on-screen, exactly like in a dating game. The way they talk, everything about them is like a girl in a dating game. All the different types of girls that always show up are there too, naturally. And just like watching someone else play a dating game, it's boring. It's even more boring than watching a dating game because there's not even the underlying sexual tension or the possibility of a relationship, it's just an interview with all the girls.  It's mind-numbingly dull. Hopefully the rest of the episodes aren't done in this same format, or because you can't possibly create an entire series through interviews with the cast.

And with that, the First Impressions of the Summer 2011 season are over! I'll be posting a summary of the season later, since I only did a first impression of half the series. The other series I'm going to do a review of.

First Impressions: Appleseed XIII

Plot Synopsis: (from MAL)It is the 22nd Century, the Third World War (2099-2126) has decimated a large part of Earth even though nuclear weapons have not been employed during the conflict. Old nations such as England, France and China have survived but have difficulty restoring their power. On the other hand, new nations and organizations such as the Sacred Republique of Mumna and the Poseidon Organization have been born on the ashes of the world resulting from the Third World War.

In this bleak future, we are introduced to ex-L.A. SWAT members Deunan Knute and Briareos Hecatonchires. Having survived the world conflict and living in a desolated city, they are found by a young woman called Hitomi who proposes them to follow her to the utopian city of Olympus which has become the world's most powerful organization and which registers the new relations in terms of politics, economics and military between new and old nations/organizations. In Olympus, they are integrated in the prestigious ESWAT (Extra Special Weapons And Tactics) organization, whose main mission is to protect Olympus from terrorist attacks and Olympus's interests in the world.

From here on, the two main protagonists encounter a great number of other characters and organizations who will be implicated in international plots that target Olympus.

Before viewing: Masamune Shirow is very renowned in the world of anime. Most well known for Ghost in the Shell, he is a prolific cyberpunk science fiction writer with an impressive record of work behind him. This particular series is an adaptation of his 1985 manga which has been adapted to anime several times. This series is CG animated, which is a bit of a turnoff. Japanese CG animation is usually pretty bad. The only time I've been happy with it was in the Final Fantasy VII film, which was a film I would prefer to watch mute; the animation is so lovely, while everything else is so convoluted and makes no sense. From what I've seen, this animation isn't nearly as up to par.

After viewing: The animation is pretty bad. It feels like watching cutscenes from an older video game, and a pretty badly made one at that. The scenery is nice enough, but the people sit on that line between anime and CG, and it just doesn't look good. Also, the way they move can be really awkward. It's not so bad in the fight scenes, but when they're standing around talking, the way they gesture, stand, blink, or how their lips move are all so fake looking, like marionettes. It's pretty distracting and makes it difficult to get yourself sucked into the series, because its distracting and doesn't flow together very well. Its constantly reminding you that you're watching something created in a computer, something lifeless.

Story-wise, there doesn't seem to be much at this point. It mostly seems to be about Deunan and Briareos and their missions in the ESWAT team. Deunan isn't a team player, and it astounds me that she managed to become a member when she consistently refuses to pay much mind to orders, trust any of her team members or work as a team. Don't they do team building exercises as a part of training? She is constantly being scolded for it by her partner, Briareos, but she shrugs it off or makes excuses, like how it was how she was raised, or it doesn't matter because everything turned out all right anyways. She never gets punished for her insubordination, so she just keeps doing it. She's a pretty Mary Sue-ish character, and it's pretty annoying.

A personal pet peeve of mine is when a character is half-"insert race/species/other" here and it's some throwaway fact about them, something that doesn't affect their character designs, abilities or character at all. Deunan is supposedly half-black, and she's as white as they come. Can they at least give her darker skin or hair, rather than be blond and pale? They use racism as a way to establish some angst in her life, (her mom was killed because she's black apparently), and it feels so forced.

There's something interesting the series does, which is kinda cool but seems pointless. It is full of references to Greek mythology, and it's not very subtle about it. There's a terrorist group known as the Argonauts and some political entity known as Poseidon. The opening theme is basically just the constellations outlined in the stars, while statues of the figures in the constellations, like Orion and others appear on the screen. And most bizarre, Greek murals constantly pop up in the middle of dialogue, which is admittingly pretty interesting, and nicer looking than the characters talking awkwardly at one another. Deunan even has a dream sequence all done in mural, and it's pretty cool. But I'm not sure what the point is, or if there even is a point to it. It might simply be from the Evangelion "we did it because it looked cool" mindset behind their biblical references. I hope that later episodes will give the allusions a point because at this point it feels like they're trying to make the series look smarter than it actually is, and it comes off as super pretentious.

This is a seriously flawed series, with more bad points than good ones. There is much better science fiction of this ilk out there, with more likeable characters, better animation, and  more interesting futuristic settings than this series. I could only recommend this for Shirow completists.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

First Impressions: Cat God

Plot synopsis:Koyama Yuzu is running an antique shop. Mayu, a cat god (nekogami), is living off Yuzu and leads an idle life playing games. Lots of other gods visit Mayu and enjoy merrymaking.

Before Viewing: Do you remember those older harem series, like Oh My Goddess! and Tenchi Muyo, or even going back even further Urusei Yatsura? This sort of feels like one of those supernatural harem series that were crazy popular back then. Most harem series these days aren't like that, so a series like this is actually a little nostalgic. Remember when Tenchi Muyo was on Toonami? You couldn't do something like that nowadays! That being said, I was never crazy for those kinds of series, and it's rare that I find a harem series I like.

After viewing: So obviously I was wrong about this being a harem series. That's a pleasant surprise. The one male character is definitely not at the center of a love pentagon or anything. It's a fairly typical supernatural comedy, about gods living on Earth and the shenanigans they get up to. It's a cute, light and fluffy series, where not much happens, just some somewhat entertaining characters goofing off and being cute. It's pretty cute, and makes for a entertaining half hour. It's nothing special, but it certainly won't hurt to watch if there's nothing else to watch.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

First Impressions: Mawaru Penguindrum

Plot Synopsis:Three siblings, twins Kanba and Shouma, and the in-and-out-of-the-hospital Himari who's in poor health, live together at the Takakura home. One day, when the siblings are out on a trip to the aquarium, Himari collapses. The doctors state that nothing can be done for her anymore, but then, a miracle occurs...

Before Viewing: Revolutionary Girl Utena is one of the more highly acclaimed series out there. As a result, I have some pretty high expectations for this series, as it's by the same people behind Utena. Admittingly, I don't know much about this series, other than that it's a slice of life series and that it has a really weird title. What's a penguindrum anyways? I'm hoping this will be a great series.

After Viewing: What. The. Fuck. Did I just watch? How is this remotely a slice of life series? Posession, Revival from death, magical penguins all over the fucking place! The hat is magical, what? Robot bear, ripped out heart, WHAT'S A PENGUN DRUM, aleajwoifjalrihtaowirtjaoijnsaofiuwaer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

As you can probably guess, this is not your ordinary show. It's rather...strange if you will. I mean, I know that Utena is a bizarre show, and I probably should have seen it coming, but the beginning trolls you hard. For the first half, it's gentle, peaceful even, with a tragedy just around the corner. I assumed it was about the last days of a dying girl and her brothers. But from the moment her corpse sat up and screamed "Survival Strategy!" any form of sense slowly begins to fade, culminating in a complete explosion of insanity in the last five minutes, with absolutely no explanation, just the order to find the Penguin Drum and insane visuals being thrown at you constantly. Nobody has any clue what it going on. It's awesome!

I really don't know what to say about this episode. The ending is so incoherent that I can barely pull my thoughts together. I'm sure that later episodes will explain things in time, or maybe it'll just keeping throwing weird shit at us and expect us to understand what just happened. I do enjoy the surreality of it, and the confusion makes me want to see more so I can comprehend what I just saw.

I want to punch the person who labeled this as a slice of life and confused the ever living hell out of me. It's like they stopped watching the episode at the ten minute mark and decided that was good enough, but they were dead wrong.

By far the weirdest thing I've seen this season, and after Twin Angel, I never thought I'd say that.

First Impressions: YuruYuri

Plot Synopsis:Four fun-loving schoolgirls take over the former room of a tea ceremony club for their own "Gorakubu" (amusement club).

Before viewing: Sigh. I am tired of these K-ON clone series. I dunno, maybe K-ON is an amazing show, or maybe it's just complete and utter otaku bait that really hit the mark. I never actually saw the series myself. But these adorable girls sitting around being adorable series are getting old. I loved Soranowoto AKA Sound of the Sky, despite being described as being a military K-ON. However, the difference between a series like Soranowoto and a series like YuruYuri, is that Soranowoto took place in a beautiful enchanting world that drew me in, making it unique and stand out from other moe series. This takes place in a school, so there's nothing that makes it stand out from other moe series. This just looks like it'll be a retired formula being rehashed yet again.

After viewing: Well, it's cute.'s cute. It has about as much personality as the lead character Akari, which the episode is about trying to make her stand out more because she doesn't have enough presence. So don't expect anything unique about this series.

This was serialized in a yuri magazine, and after seeing it, I can definitely see why. I think everyone in this school might be gay, except for the main character, who can't tell the difference between friendship and romance yet. The other three main characters are already in love triangle with one another, and Akari's sister has a creepy obsession with her, covering her room with pictures of her, a body pillow with her picture on it, and even stealing her panties. Akari is of course clueless to all of this, and mostly just sits on the sidelines while everything happens around her. She can hardly be considered the main character.

This episode gets dangerously close to breaking the fourth wall. The other girls realize that Akari doesn't have much "presence" and tries to brainstorm ways to make her stand out more. It's mostly just them making fun of her, and nothing comes out of it in the end, although there is some funny parody of anime tropes, such as when they make a list of things that HAVE to happen to the main character, such as a girl falling out of the sky, waking up late on the first day, finding a legendary sword, and having powers that work at the most convenient time. It's actually a pretty funny sequence, but it's the only moment in the episode like it. The episode is mostly just dull.

It's a standard moe series, so if you enjoy sugary sweet stuff like this, it might be a nice way to kill time. Otherwise, it doesn't have enough to make it stand out from any other series of its ilk.

First Impressions: No. 6

Plot Synopsis: (from MAL)The story takes place in the ideal city "NO.6" in 2013. Shion was judged as having "highest-ranked intelligence" when he was two years old and was allowed to live in the luxurious area "Cronos".

On his twelfth birthday, he met a beautiful boy called "Nezumi," who had escaped from a reformatory. Shion protected him, but the Public Security Bureau deprived Shion of all his privileges and expelled him from Cronos to "Lost Town".

Four years after the banishment, a mysterious accident leads Shion to the secret of the city NO.6.

Before Viewing: Oh heck yeah. noitaminA is my favorite animation block.Every series I've seen from it has been a great one. The programming block was started because Fuji TV wanted to expand the target audience beyond the typical anime audience, and the series they show indicate that. NoitaminA series are usually more mature, better written, and more unique than most anime. The most typical anime they've released was Shiki, which I still enjoyed as a pretty typical horror series. So I expect great things from this series as well.
 Judging by the plot synopsis, it appears to be a dystopian series, which is a genre I'm rather fond of, so I'm pretty psyched.

After Viewing: This episode wasn't long enough. It ends before the Public Security Bureau finds out that Sion has helped Nezumi, so the plot synopsis has given away stuff that doesn't happen in the first episode. Which is annoying, but not the series fault. The series does however focus on a lot of things unrelated to the central plot, but it does help drive home how peaceful Sion's life was, which will make the big change even more impactful, so I guess it's alright.

In terms of settings, it's a fairly typical dystopia. The world seems very peaceful at first glance, a place where no one needs to worry about anything, because everything is taken care of for them. Everyone is given a house, enough food to live comfortably, can go to school, etc. But there is an undercurrent of darkness in the world, that not all is right in the world. There are certain details that are treated casually in the series, but often tend to be placed in a negative light in many science fiction novels, like the bracelets everyone wears that works as keys, credit cards, ID and trackers. The character Nezumi demonstrates this undercurrent in a less subtle way; despite being a child, he is being "hunted" by "those who hunt humans". The reasons why he was locked up are unknown, but he seems to have suffered a lot in his life, unlike Sion, who never seems to have experienced suffering in his life. It reminds me of the story about the village that has never suffered, except for one member who must bear the burden of every possible kind of suffering imaginable. The idea that for many to be happy, someone must suffer, and whether or not it's right, seems to be present in this series, and it usually makes a pretty good theme.In fact, it feels less like typical anime science fiction, and more like a Western science fiction novel. It seems pretty calm at this point, but the series is rated R, so it may become very dark and disturbed later, like many dystopian novels do.

Nezumi and Sion have great chemistry, and the way their personalities work off one another is excellently written. They haven't known each other very well at this point, but you can see that they will become very close, and there is a somewhat romantic feel to their interactions. Whether or not this will come to anything or not is unknown at this point, as it's not uncommon for close friends in anime to give off the feeling of being a couple, but both the opening and the ending still give off that feel. It makes it obvious that it's a shoujo series though.

This is a series that I'm definitely interested in. With its interesting dystopian world, sweet interaction between the two main characters and the possibility of being a very dark series, it's one of the more unique series this season. It's definitely something I would recommend.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

First Impressions: Mayo Chiki

Plot Synopsis: Konoe Subaru, 17, has been serving as the butler of Suzutsuki Kanade in school, a classmate of Sakamachi Kinjirou. Due to an accident, Sakamachi discovers Subaru's secret... that he's actually a girl!? Apparently she will be removed from her position if anyone at school finds out. What will unfold from this chain of events?

Before viewing: I think everyone has that one genre that's a guilty pleasure for them, one that they always enjoy even when they know it's stupid. For me, it's gender bender. I've always been a fan of gender bender, even when I can't defend the series as being good. They always entertain me, so it's very likely I'll enjoy this series.

After viewing: This is such a standard gender bender series that you can almost see every moment happen before it does. Pretty much the only difference between this and other gender benders is that unlike most shonen gender benders, it's a girl rather than a boy who's gender-bending. It's a cliche ridden series, and the logic is so ridiculous it's laughable. But if you enjoy these cliches as much as I do, it's just as entertaining as any other gender bender series, but it's certainly not the best, and definitely can't be considered good. It's just average.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

First Impressions: R-15

Plot Synopsis: (from MAL)Akutagawa Taketo is a teenage porn novel writer. He enters Hirameki Gakuen, which accepts only geniuses with outstanding talent. He leads his classmates with his porn skills to win the interclass competition.

Before viewing: Oh man...I am not looking forward to this one. Just look at that synopsis. Porn skills? Really? What school would possibly allow someone in their school on the basis alone of being a porn writer? Nobody considers writing porn a work of genius! What kind of school is this anyways? And how is writing porn going to help his class win the interclass competition? And what does the title mean anyways? I'm expecting that none of these questions will be answered adequately.

After viewing:Well...yeah. It's exactly what you'd think it would be. And yes, none of my questions were answered in this episode. It's utterly ludicrous that this character is so infamous as a porn writer that he ended up in a school for "geniuses", (which is really just a school for people that have some talent in a field, how talented is hard to say), even though he writes under a pen name. How does everyone know already?

The main character Taketo is a very deluded one. He's a little smug about the fact that he writes porn novels, scoffing at people who are offended by them and considers himself to be a true visionary, an avante-garde writer for writing about "taboo" topics. He's hardly the first person to write pornography, and the exerts from his porn novels the series randomly throws in shows that he's not a very creative person; his scenarios are so generic, they're hardly worth being made into a porno, let alone ending up in history books and winning literary awards as he imagines himself doing. In other words, there is no reason for him to be at this school, because he's can't be considered a "porn genius".

There are several characters introduced, some with only a screencard telling us some information about them before disappearing immediately. The only characters besides the main one that gets any screentime are a photographer named Raika, Ritsu, a gay math genius, Fukune, a shy clarinet player that the opening makes clear is the love interest, and The Newspaper Chief, AKA Walking Cleavage Dominatrix character. There are way too many characters to keep track of, and not enough screentime for anyone to really get to know any of them. Taketo's homoerotic relationship with his gay friend is pretty cute though, and Ritsu quickly comes to his defense if he's being insulted. In fact, with Taketo getting flustered when Ritsu's face is really close to his, and his out of nowhere "I like you", I'm pretty convinced that Taketo is bisexual. I also find interesting that the only girl in the series Taketo doesn't sexualize is the girl he actually likes.

The biggest problem with the series is that it should be an actual porno. It's constant censorship of sex scenes ends up with the screen being almost completely covered with the censor. The series is halfway between being a fanservice series and an actual porno, and as a result, it's not really a series for anyone. If you're looking for something erotic, this series will just frustrate you because it's so censored. Otherwise, it has way too pornographic scenes to appeal to anyone else.

A ridiculous premise, with a main character with no reason to be in this school, and too much censorship to make this series appeal to the kind of people that like this type of show, makes this series a bit of a dud.

Friday, July 8, 2011

First Impressions BLOOD-C

Plot Synopsis:(from MAL)Ukishima Shrine is located in an old, picturesque lakeside town. Shrine maiden Kisaragi Saya lives there along with her father, Tadayoshi. By day, she lives the life of a normal high school student at Sanbara Academy. By night, she hunts the Old Ones. Possessing supernatural physical prowess, the Old Ones prey on humans, and only Saya has the ability to defeat them.

Thoughts after viewing: What exactly the connection between this series and the Blood+ series or the movie is I'm not entirely sure, but I haven't seen either of those, so I'm seeing this series without any knowledge of the related series.

This was a pretty slow episode. Nothing particularly interesting happens until the last ten minutes of the episode, and the first fourteen minutes is spent introducing the characters and rather lazily giving exposition (Why don't Saya's friends already know this information about her?) The imagery from the opening and what little I did know of the Blood series suggested to me that this would be a fairly dark series, so I spent this part of the episode anxiously waiting for something interesting to happen.

Once you do get to the end of the episode, it becomes worth it though. The last ten minutes of the episode is a fight scene, and it's pretty awesome. The coolest part of this fight scene is how Saya responds to combat. She is a complete badass, which is unexpected because she spent the rest of the episode being so cute, sweet and klutzy. Okay yeah, it makes no sense for her to be clumsy except when she fights, but it's still cool.

There is absolutely no dialogue in the fight scene, just ten minutes of kicking ass. Saya doesn't whine or say annoying catchphrases to the audience, no unnecessary explanation of everything she is going to do. She's known that this would happen her entire life, so she's prepared and knows what she has to do. She just silently stares off with the monster and kills it as quickly and efficiently as possible. It's seriously cool.  

The character designs are by CLAMP, and the series is visually similar to xxxHolic. As expected, the character designs are very attractive, while managing not to make everyone look exactly the same. Saya's hair does bother me a little bit, it doesn't seem to move naturally, but I'm just nitpicking. The animation itself is fluid, and pretty well done. The opening theme is a fairly generic J rock song, and the background music is pretty good, but oddly creepy at unnecessary parts, like when Saya is walking down the stairs and this creepy piano music is playing. I thought something was going to jump out at her, but the next scene is her going ga-ga over a puppy she found.

If they make the fight scenes longer, and spend less time on boring scenes like Saya being late for school, this will be a pretty entertaining show. Hopefully it's just because this is the first episode and they wanted to give us as much backstory as possible before kicking things into high gear. There still is a lot of things that need to be explained, such as the creatures is fighting, and the nature of her and her father's powers, but I expect that in the next episode I'll get more explanation for the interesting details of the show and less about the more dull ones.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

First Impressions: Nyanpire the Animation

Plot Synopsis: It's about a cat, who's turned into a vampire and lives with a girl named Misaki.

Before viewing: I still think it's really weird that, out of any show Gonzo could make after disappearing for two years, they went with this one. A short (four minutes per episode) series about vampire cats. It's just so...meh. It doesn't look interesting at all. Let's see...

After viewing: That was... mildly annoying. What does it mean when the latest series you release is something so bland and inane?  In many cases, it usually spells the end of something. Will Gonzo be focusing on releasing series like this until they sputter out of existence? This comes from the company behind Afro Samurai, Full Metal Panic!, Gantz, fricking Hellsing! This series is so out of character for them, it would be like a Disney Channel Original series featuring constant blood, guts and sexuality!

On to the actual show, there isn't really a lot to talk about. It's four minutes of a cat whining about how much it wants blood. First of all, I am sick and tired of vampires constantly whining about how hungry they are. You're fucking immortal! You have powers beyond our wildest dreams! Surely you can be hungry for a little while, and surely you can keep your self control in check. It's seriously getting annoying. Secondly, it's just as annoying when the main character throws a temper tantrum because its owner hasn't made its dinner yet. No one's going to like a character who can't wait two freaking minutes to eat! It's not cute; it's just obnoxious. There's not much else to say, aside from the fact that the animation looks like Hot Topic vomited all over a cotton candy machine.

Oh yes...the ending theme. The ending theme is in live action, with a J-pop idol in gothic lolita lipsyncing to a song while maids and plushies of the characters prance around her. It's...weird. And extremely annoying

In short, bland show, annoying whiny main character, and annoying ending theme. Not much to enjoy, just that it's mercifully short.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisee

Plot Summary: It's a series taking place in the mid-1800s about a Japanese girl named Yune who moves in Paris and works as an attendant in an ironwork shop with a man named Oscar and his nephew Claude.

Before Viewing: So far this season I've been utterly bored by Double J and Ro Kyu Bu!, mildly entertained by Uta no Prince-sama, and loved Kamisama no Memochou. Here's another series that I was really looking forward to. First of all, I love historical series. I'm a bit of a history geek, so these types of series always peak my interest. Secondly, I'm very interested in culture, so series where the characters get to experience culture shock interest me as well. And finally, look at those beautiful costumes! I am such a sucker for lovely settings and costumes, and this series appears to have both. This series better be pretty great!

After viewing: With beautiful animation, scenery, music and a very adorable lead, this series hits all the right buttons for me. This is moe at its finest, the way it’s supposed to be. No panty shots or objectifying the adorable lead, just a sweet little girl trying her hardest to accomplish something. The series has a very classy feel, although the accordion music in the background is a little much. You’d think people just constantly walk around carrying accordions in France. Yune is almost unbearably cheerful, completely unfazed by moving halfway around the world, and is delighted rather than confused or upset by culture shock. She never whines, even through internal monologue, which is rather refreshing for these fish out of water series, even though it is a bit unrealistic. The only time she ever gets upset is when she accidently breaks something in the shop, to which she responds by selling her most precious possession, given to her by her mother that she’ll most likely never see again, without even a second thought.

This episode is more about atmosphere than story-telling, and it’s a very relaxing enjoyable one. It’s the kind of series that you would watch at the end of a stressful day and feel immediately calm and serene. It’s almost like sight-seeing in an era that you’ll never get a chance to see, so much detail is put into the sights, the art, the scenery. It’s just simply lovely in every way.

The series seem to revolve around Claude and Yune attempting to understand each other’s culture, which is a nice set up. Claude is a bit of a tsundere character, but he’s the type that’s nice to those he knows or intends to know well. At first, he’s irritated that his uncle brought home a little girl to work in their metalworking shop, and he’s a bit culturally insensitive, but by the end of the episode he acknowledges this and apologizes in a Japanese way to Yune, promising to learn more about her culture. He also swears to her that he’ll one day buy back her mother’s kimono, which is very expensive and precious to Yune and very sweet of him to do.

One problem the series does have is that it attempts to acknowledge the language barrier in a very confusing way. Most of the time, in television, books or movies, everyone speaks the language of the audience, and no language barrier is acknowledged, even between characters from different nationalities. This series attempts to acknowledge that the characters are speaking different languages, but they are all actually speaking Japanese. With characters that speak both French and Japanese, it’s impossible to tell if they’re supposedly speaking French or Japanese, and it’s confusing. Sometimes the characters supposedly don’t understand one another, but you can’t tell because they’re speaking the same language. And then the series retcons that and they can have a conversation with one another. Who can speak Japanese, and who speaks French in the series? It’s extremely confusing, and not very well explained or conveyed. This could work in written format, which the series was originally a light novel series, but it doesn’t work in an animated one.

Overall, despite unrealistic characters, a badly conveyed language barrier, and a little too much reliance on French stereotypes, it is a lovely piece of animation, and one that I was glad to have experienced and spent time on.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

First Impressions:Ro-Kyu-Bu!

Ro Kyu Bu is the story of Hasegawa Subaru, a high schooler whose basketball club gets disbanded after the club president falls for the eleven year old daughter of the team advisor. He becomes the coach of a elementary girl basketball team. And...teaches them basketball.

Ro Kyu Bu is another anime that has absolutely nothing that stands out about it. The problem with seeing as everything that's coming out is that you get to see a lot of bland crap, and this is one of those shows. The only thing interesting about it is the confusion the creator obviously has about what elementary school girls do in the locker room to one another, and all I can say about that is that he needs some therapy or something.

The characters are such cardboard cutouts that there's no point in figuring out who's who. There's basketball girl, pigtailed pervert, big boobs girl, glasses girl, and tiny-mildy-eccentric girl. The lead is yet another cipher character, and his aunt, the advisor for the elementary girls basketball team, is another much older character who looks thirty years younger character. Nobody is interesting, and I can't tell who's who because they all look exactly the same except for hair color.

It's not a good sign when you're first introduced to the characters, they're in maid outfits. In an anime supposedly about basketball, they're dressed like maids. It's also not a good sign when while in the locker room, the sixth grader with DD boobs is felt up by the rest of the girls. Hey, at least she wears a sports bra while practicing, because her breasts are only noticeable outside of practice.

Yet another entry in the genre of "young girls being cute while doing _______ and behaving in sexual ways" that doesn't stand out in any way possible. I'll probably watch another new anime tomorrow, can it please be one that's actually interesting?

Cars 2

As far as animation companies go, Pixar is possibly the most highly acclaimed. Their films are unique, well written and true examples of films for all ages. At its best, Pixar is sublime and meaningful, with powerful messages, beautiful and inspiring animation, and great casts of characters. At its worst, it's still entertaining and fun, with great animation with likeable characters. If that's the worst you can do, it's still pretty impressive.

Admittingly, I was disappointed when I heard that they were making a new Cars film. Pixar has only made sequels to one film of theirs, while it seemed like every single other studio was milking their franchises for all they were worth. I didn't want to see Pixar join in. I'm sick to death of sequels and adaptations. I want to see original films. However, with a Monsters Inc sequel in the makings, and even a possible Toy Story 4, it appears that Pixar is joining in the parade of endless sequels. And it's a real shame. Pixar has made it clear that you don't need to constantly make sequels to make money.

Let's be honest here, Cars 2 is not the greatest film ever made by Pixar. Not even close. That doesn't mean it's a bad film though. The idea of a world entirely inhabited by cars and other vehicles is ridiculous, and raises some horrifying questions if you think too much about it, questions that are never addressed of course. Absolutely nothing would change if the characters were humans rather than cars. It’s made even more ridiculous when international politics and espionage is introduced into the mix. It is a good marketing ploy though, and it’s hard to deny that Cars has made a bunch of money through merchandising, possibly only topped by Toy Story. In terms of making money, Cars 2 was a good idea. Of course, if there’s anything reviewers and critics hate, its obvious ploys to make money. Because, you know, people shouldn’t try to make money out of movies, especially when they do it for a living. And that’s what Cars 2 feels like.

Out of all the obvious ploys to make money however, Cars 2 is probably one of the most enjoyable. Yeah, it’s not the most intelligent movie out there, but it knows that. It’s not trying to be. It’s an affectionate parody of spy films, and you really get the feel that everyone involved was having fun making the film. The villains are at their hammiest, overplaying the stereotypical villains, and the British agents are every secret agent stereotype imaginable, down to the ridiculous array of hidden weapons and technology decades ahead of its time. I can imagine how they came up with this movie:
“So let’s make a second Cars movie. It’ll make a lot of money. In fact, we already know it’ll be a box office hit, so let’s do whatever the hell we want. What do you guys wanna do?”
“Well, I loved James Bond when I was a kid, let’s make something like that.”
“Dude, James Bond is freaking rad! Do it!”
It really does feel like everyone involved is just having a blast, and when everyone involved is obviously having so much fun, it’s hard not to enjoy it along with them.

The greatest thing about this movie is definitely the animation. One of the greatest strengths of the original Cars was how beautifully they depicted the American Southwest, and this sequel takes it beyond that. The international setting allows the animators to pull out all the stops, and the backgrounds are lush and gorgeous, filled not only with famous landmarks, and lovely details. Porto Cosso is a beautiful depiction of the Italian countryside, with its crumbling buildings and their architectural details, and probably the loveliest setting of the film. Japan is a dizzyingly crowded and bright, full of neon lights, posters with big eyed cars, saturated in technology but with a tinge of the traditional, with the kabuki theater and geisha girls. Buckingham Palace is beautifully rendered, and the brief time spent in the Radiator Springs and France is lovely as well. The background is endlessly great to look at, beautiful and even breathtaking.

It may be one of the weakest of Pixar films, but it’s still a great film. The backgrounds are filled with eye candy for anyone who loves rural settings, ancient architecture, urban landmarks and futuristic modern architecture. It’s apparent that despite being a money making ploy, everyone involved really did put effort into it, and enjoyed every minute of working on the film. And that kind of obvious effort and enjoyment is hard not to respect or like. It’s a great ride, and a fun film that is worth the time.