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11 Oct 2006

Kashimashi – Girl Meets Girl

Anime

A short – but quite sweet – series. Yet another “yuri based on a silly premise because we can’t really have girls liking girls, can we?” shōjo anime. About as silly a concept as Simoun – but as a comedy it doesn’t need to take its excuses seriously.

A somewhat effeminate (but straight) boy, Hazumu, is wandering in the woods after being spurned by a girl he’s been in love with for a long time. While there, he’s smacked by a wayward spaceship, and the alien on board – who just happens to be studying earth love – repairs him and returns him. But incidentally turns him into a girl, for reasons never explained. That’s silly plot twist #1.

Silly plot twist #2 is that the girl he confessed his love to – she can’t see boys. Not that she doesn’t like them, she can’t see them – anyone male is a grey blur to her. Hazumu was the one exception, because he always seemed so feminine – but since he was a boy, she was afraid he’d fade, too, which is why she turned him down. Now that she’s a girl, however…

With Hazumu’s closest female companion deciding she’s also been in love Hazuku from early childhood, and her best (male) friend also attracted to her, the series becomes a very odd harem anime. Add in the annoying sister in the form of the alien’s companion to get a complete set.

Given such a silly and purely comedic background, the series is surprisingly tender as well as funny. The harem really is more for form than substance – the real romantic ties are between Hazumu and her two girlfriends. She is an admitted coward, and painfully indecisive, and hurts them both with her inability to commit. The final episode (there are only twelve) is very touching, and has a wonderfully ambiguous ending.

One thing that’s not funny or touching – something I find quite disturbing, personally – is the reaction of Hazuma’s father to her. Incest fantasies are not something I thing belong in a light / comedic show.

The series is already licensed. I hope the distributor does as good a job with it as it deserves.

Current obsessions: (anime)Simoun

10 Oct 2006

Trust and Betrayal

Anime

I finally finished watching Samurai X – Trust and Betrayal. I’ve had the DVD in the queue for a while, but I haven’t done anything with it – mainly because I knew it would take a lot of attention, and I was too busy playing WoW or EQ2.

It’s a brutal movie (created from a set of OVAs), and somewhat predictable (or at least I’d expected most of the turns), but it’s still very good. The level of gore compares to that in Kill Bill, but here it serves a purpose, and there’s a real plot.

Trust an Betrayal is a prequel to all of the Rurouni Kenshin works: movie(s), manga and TV anime. It tells of how and why Kenshin becomes a manslayer, and why he vows to turn his back on killing and make amends. Beautifully tragic, though some of the impact there is lost by it being predictable – and by knowing something about Kenshin’s later journeys.

It does make me interested in seeing the series, although not as a high priority. It’s very unlikely that the series can compare to this movie.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun

09 Oct 2006

One down…

Anime

The fine folks at Doremi have released Episode 26 of Strawberry Panic!, and all is right with the world.

That was a good, and quite unexpected, ending. I like being surprised like that; doubly so when much of the series has been so derivative. [spoiler /Ending spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] Disappointing, of course, for the wallflower, but there’s nothing like a nice, positive aishiteru to round out a romance. And my two questions going into this episode resolved into one.[/spoiler]

Still waiting for the next batch of Simoun episodes.

Update to Ergo Proxy: I’ve read that the US DVD releases are going to begin next month.

Current obsessions: (anime) Simoun
Reading: The Narrows (Michael Connelly)

08 Oct 2006

Ergo Proxy

Anime

First 14 episodes subbed by Shinsen-Subs. Epsiodes 15-23 (final) by pino-no-usagi. (Pino’s rabbit.)

Ergo Proxy never made it to my “current obsessions.” That’s probably partly because I didn’t start watching it in earnest until the series was complete. Mostly, though, it’s because it didn’t hook me. Which isn’t to say that I was disappointed with it; that would be far from the truth.

In fact, it has been one of the most intriguing animes I’ve ever seen. Very well done, far more imaginative than most, excellent presentation. I didn’t feel much of an attachment to the characters, which is probably why I never had the same drive to see the next episode that I still do with Strawberry Panic! (I think less than 24 hours now…) or Simoun. But it wasn’t necessary for the story.

I’ve heard that it wasn’t a very popular series, and I think I know at least part of the reason why. It took itself far too seriously. In trying to center on philosophy it became very pretentious. Episodes 15 and 19 in particular were just… not exactly dumb, but far too contrived. So many episodes were entirely set in one character’s illusory world. It had the feel at times of a late night university drinking session, full of fake profundity. Or of a 1970s science-fiction novel, using metaphor to imply that reality is impossible to describe.

(One day I need to write about metaphor in cyberspace. Done well, it’s excellent. Done badly, it lacks credibility. Not directly relevant here, but related.)

Good music, both incidental and opening / closing sequences. The opening sequence was especially well-animated, but the closing sequence has the edge musically, being Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android.”

If I had any problems with the style it was just how dark everything was. Not a problem indoors in low light, but hard to watch in some situations. Effective, but it could have done with just a touch more light. Great character design. Real is gorgeous, yet moody. Pino the child android with a soul is fun without ever being overly cute Рand is certainly the character that I found most sympathetic. No clich̩d anime schoolkids; Real and Vincent are working professionals.

I do hope this series is licensed. It will definitely be one I’ll buy.

Shinsen-Subs has put a lot of effort into exposing the philosophical references in the series. Each episode ends with a number of panels explaining what’s going on. Valuable and interesting, though it adds to the series’ apparent pretentiousness. pino-no-usagi, who have continued the series after Shinsen took an extended vacation, don’t have these, but I prefer their translations. As always, I have no idea of absolute accuracy, but pino-no-usagi’s English idiom is better, and seems to have the clarity that comes with accuracy. “Mosque” in Shinsen becomes “Moscow” in pino-no-usagi; whether this corresponds to modern Moscow is not clear.

Most of the above is spoiler free. This is a spoiler, though the reason why may not be clear to the end. [spoiler /Mild spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] My main thought on Ergo Proxy, now that it’s over, is this: the series is the antibody to the plague which was Neon Genesis Evangelion.[/spoiler]

Current obsessions: (anime) Strawberry Panic!
Simoun
Reading: The Narrows (Michael Connelly)

03 Oct 2006

Strawberry Panic! – waiting for the final episode!

Anime

Strawberry Panic! fansub releases from Doremi Fansubs.

There are some themes running through the animes I most enjoy watching, but I’m not going to get into that now. Suffice it to say that Strawberry Panic! is a shōjo anime (i.e. designed for young girls) with a strong yuri content – more explicitly lesbian than most shows commonly categorized as yuri.

This may be about the most unoriginal anime I’ve seen. It does absolutely nothing that hasn’t already been done – and done better – by Marimite (Maria-sama ga miteru, the “classic” girls school shōjo anime, and the staple of shōjo and yuri fans alike). Nothing in Strawberry Panic! is especially moving – with the exception of the story of Kaori, which was somewhat predictable and calculated, but well done. And even that was better handled in Marimite.

But having said that, it has been a fun ride. Marimite’s melodrama could be hard to take at times, and there are some characters in Marimite’s cast who go well beyond credibly flawed into being truly annoying. Central character Fukuzawa Yumi’s lack of assertiveness and overwhelming angst is important to the story, but sometimes bordering on sickening. Strawberry Panic!’s girls are generally better-balanced, while still being varied; conniving or trusting, predatory or gentle. Lead Aoi Nagisa is clearly a copy of Yumi, but has flashes of strength when it matters.

I’ll have no trouble watching Strawberry Panic! again. Marimite, however, as much better as it is – there were episodes that I knew I’d have trouble with even before seeing them the first time. With such strong affections and sympathies that the show engenders, you know you’re going to be heartbroken when it’s time for the upperclassmen to graduate, and for partnerships to break up – which is stretched painfully over the course of half a season, not resolved in a single episode. I will watch Marimite again – it’s a wonderful series – but it won’t be any time soon.

Many of the relationships in Strawberry Panic! are quite explicitly sexual. Although Marimite is very romantic, there’s only one openly gay character (Sei), and her (tragic) relationship is in the past. Strawberry Panic! recreates Sei as Shizuma, complete with tragedy, but adds two more explicitly lesbian relationships, one touching and romantic, the other being a pair of stereotypical Evil Psychotic Lesbians (but who redeem themselves somewhat late in the series). Plus the hints of the old married couple (high schoolers who’ve been rooming together forever) across the hall, who have occasional huge fights, [spoiler /Mild spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] Nagisa’s roommate Suzumi Tamao’s interest in Nagisa (clear to the viewer, but not completely understood by Nagisa, at least up to episode 25)[/spoiler] and [spoiler /Moderate spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] Yaya’s unwanted advances that threaten to destroy her friendship with Hikari[/spoiler].

Too much to be believable, in fact. But at the same time, it’s refreshing to see the akogare / admiration common in shōjo to be resolved into love [spoiler /Spoiler – names/ /Hide spoiler/] (in at least the cases of Shizuma / Kaori and Amane / Hikari – and I’d claim, also EPL Kaname)[/spoiler] rather than left ambiguous. It makes for good romance.

So after 25 episodes, there are two outstanding questions: [spoiler /Spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] who will win the Étoile election? and have Shizuma and Nagisa finally given up on each other? The answer to the second has to be yes, disappointing though that is, and to the first – I have absolutely no idea[/spoiler]. An entire generation of Japanese teenage girls was no doubt unable to sleep until these questions were answered.

Or not…

But I do want to see that final episode, and refreshing the BitTorrent list at doremi-fansubs isn’t yielding anything.

I’m hoping to drop this series from my current obsessions within the next couple of days. Though I think I’ll rewatch it soon.

Added later: There’s one aspect of this show that I think is truly horrible. The ending theme is not animated. It’s two female singers performing a really cheesy duet. Actually, two, one for the first 13 episodes, the other for 14-25 (so far), but they’re equally cheesy. The performance is mock-yuri fan service. So fake it is painful to watch. I mean, seriously, I can’t watch it all the way through, it is so bad.

I discovered today at animenewsnetwork.com that the performers are Nagisa’s and Tamao’s voice actresses. Now I feel positively sickened that these two would do something so awful and so pandering to otaku. And… they’re even Mai and Mikoto in Mai HiME! Ewww, they need to stick to voice acting, or fire their agents.

Current obsessions: (anime) Strawberry Panic!
Simoun
Reading: The Narrows (Michael Connelly)

03 Oct 2006

Goodnight, Utena!

Anime

I’ve finally put Utena to bed… so to speak. 39 episodes of Revolutionary Girl Utena was a slog, but worth it – mostly. I don’t really see why it couldn’t have been 13, or at most 26.

Well beyond surreal into silly, a lot of the time, but within the limitations of what seems at times to be a parody of John Fowles, the story was quite good, and completely redeemed by the warped-but-powerful ending. Utena is a female lead with a lot of power, and very human without descending into a lot of angst.

[spoiler /Very mild ending spoiler/ /Hide spoiler/] Anthy’s transformation makes the ending work; it would be too ambiguous except that you know the new Anthy is going to succeed in her quest.[/spoiler]

Current obsessions: (anime) Strawberry Panic!
Simoun
Reading: The Narrows (Michael Connelly)