March 2009 Archives
Number of episodes: 13
Sony Pictures Entertainment Japan
Fansub Release Viewed: Anime-Media
Likelihood of US Release: Medium
In the future, over 35 percent of the Earth’s land is submerged, and raised highways have become the life lines that connect cities to each other.
Fresh Pretty Cure
Number of episodes: TBA
Production Studio: Toei Animation
Fansub Release Viewed: Cure Com
Likelihood of US Release: Low
The popular magical girl series returns with an entirely new cast, as Cure Peach, Cure Berry, and Cure Pineapple burst onto the scene to battle nightmares.
After a busy couple of weeks, I'm back to wrap this stuff up. Here I have some less "serious business" awards and some gag prizes for the real stinkers.
Best Protagonist/Main Character:
Tokuchi Toua - One Outs
You have to love a man who acts completely disinterested but yet has the ability to jerk everyone around to turn the tables in his favor. The fact that he seems to be Akagi reincarnated helps, too.
Vamp-sama - Astro Fighter Sunred
Though he's completely ineffective in committing evil deeds, who wouldn't want the polite, courteous Vamp-sama as an arch enemy? He'll help you move into a new apartment, cook you lunch (even though he might be holding you for ransom), and even teach you a recipe or two.
Nodame and Chiaki - Nodame Cantabile: Paris
Though the two of them often seem to be at odds with each-other, even when they're having an epic throwdown lovers' quarrel in the middle of a Parisian street, you still know they love each other.
Runners Up: Kaiba and Neiro - Kaiba, Yuudai and Chizuru - Tokyo Marble Chocolate, Kasahara and Dojo - Toshokan Sensou
Pleasant Surprise Award
My last experience with this universe was the dismal Casshan: Robot Hunter OVA (and no, that's not a misspelling - that's how it was released stateside). So imagine my surprise when I watched Casshern SINS and found myself *gasp* enjoying it? With one episode left to go I've found that it's one of the most anticipated series that I'm currently watching, and I'll be sad to see it end.
Biggest Disappointment Award
I had hoped that Kannagi would turn out to be a higher quality take on the "magical girlfriend" genre that's always popular in anime. And while the first couple episodes and the last few have interesting plot development, the middle portion of the series devolves into pointless humor and filler. Don't get me wrong, a lot of the comedy is absolutely hilarious, it's just too much and cancels out the promise that the story might have had at the outset. Perhaps a second season will help continue the unresolved plot elements from season one.
Nodame Cantabile: Paris Chapter
In a year which contained numerous middling-to-terrible sequels (Rosario to Vampire Capu 2 and Minami-Ke Okawari being some examples), it's easy to select Nodame as the best. Still keeping with a mix of comedy, character development, and heartwarming moments, the series mostly stays away from useless injections of false angst and uses Nodame and Chiaki's frequent separation from each-other as opportunities for both of them to grow into better people. I can't wait for the next installment this Fall.
I'd like to add a special recommendation for Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto: Natsu no Sora, sequel to Someday's Dreamers. While I haven't seen the previous series (though I'm seeking it out at the moment), this sequel portrayed an excellent sense of realism through its use of background art, music, and characterization, which I find is rare in anime.
Best Guilty Pleasure
I actually created this category because this series has been getting a lot of very intense flak from some people I know, and I have to just come out and say it - I watched the whole thing and enjoyed it. Before I go any further I will definitely admit to its corniness and the fact that the plot setup is silly (all the angst the main character has over his kidnapping as a child borders on goofy a lot of the time), but I also watched very few series last year that seemed to have so much joy in its characters' successes. I know a lot of people who like the show do so because of the light BL content, but for me I was just happy to see the four leads succeed in what they were doing, learn a bit about themselves and, in the process, grow into better people. I don't see anything wrong with that.
Best Show You're Not Watching
Tie: Mouryou no Hako and Eve no Jikan
While Mouryou no Hako (lovingly subtitled "Head-in-a-Box" by some people I know) started off on a very surreal note, it blossomed quickly into a murder mystery story tinged with some supernatural elements. I have eagerly anticipated every episode to come out, and I'm very curious to see how the mystery will be resolved (unfortunately subs have been hard to come by and slow to show themselves, so I might have a lengthy wait). This is one of the few shows that I'll ask people to pass judgment on after watching more than one episode, because, while I thought episode one was fascinating and beautiful, it tends to turn a lot of viewers away from what is a very good show.
While I didn't review it for the site (it being a web animation broadcast on an extremely irregular schedule might have something to do with me completely missing it at first), I would also like to recommend Even no Jikan as something most people might have missed and that's definitely worthy of a look. In the future, household androids become commonplace. A boy finds unusual entries on his android's tracking log, and retraces her steps to a mysterious cafe where androids and humans can interact without prejudice. The premise is an intriguing one, and the first three episodes have revealed more and more about what's going on. You can watch the three episodes that are out now at Crunchyroll.
Best Mascot Character
Nyanko-Sensei - Natsume Yuujinchou/Zoku Natsume Yuujinchou
I tend to dislike mascot characters, but Nyanko-Sensei is both a) a kitty and b) not particularly annoying. He's a curmudgeon with a heart of gold, who pretends to hang around Natsume just to wait for him to die and give up the Book of Friends, but we all know that he's probably a little attached, too.
Unexpected Musical Interlude Award
Kurenai and Casshern SINS
In Kurenai halfway through the series, the characters find themselves in the position of performing a play for their local festival. Their creativity gets the best of them and their play becomes a musical number in spite of the inability of certain people to sing properly. The episode serves as a good counterbalance to the seriousness of what happens in later episodes.
Casshern SINS has an episode featuring a robot singer who wants to perform one last concert, and her song is used as the backdrop for Casshern's unending battle with robots who wish to destroy him.
Most Painful Moment
Tonegawa Apologizes - Kaiji
When Kaiji finally comes out ahead in the E-card game, one condition he has is that Tonegawa, who has cheated numerous unfortunate men out of money and health, must apologize for his actions. Of course, the apology entails much more than a few meaningless words or even a payout of cash. The actual apology is so gruesome that it's one of the few times I've found myself crying while watching an anime.
If you're more curious, you can see the entire episode for free on Joost here.
The Golden Panties Award
Rosario to Vampire Capu 2
I've seen anime with much more grotesque and gratuitous fanservice than this stupid but relatively tame series. What sets this show apart is its sheer number of panty shots. Each camera angle seems lovingly tweaked in order to feature as many pairs of underwear as possible, and none of the female characters (not even the bit players and background characters) seem to be immune. When your opening episode contains no fewer than 80 distinct panty shots, you know you deserve the Golden Panties award.
The Sexual Harassment Award
Tie: Kanokon and Kamen no Maid Guy
In Kanokon you have both a lusty female fox spirit and a wolf spirit with similar feelings who aim to become the beloved of a "high school" boy who looks like he's about five years old. Of course they try to accomplish this in the most forceful ways possible, often involving nudity.
In Kamen no Maid Guy, you get a gigantic man in a dress who watches over his charge by sticking a hose down her pajamas and sneaking into the locker room to switch out her dirty underwear. Brilliant. It seems neither males or females are safe from sexual harassment in anime.
Unfortunately Gonzo's bestselling recent production has to be a series that features underage girls with no pants on flying at the camera ass-first. If that doesn't excite your inappropriate sexual proclivities, the fact that they have animal ears and tails in addition to their lack of clothing should get your blood boiling. And now to go bleach my eyes.
Epic Crack Award
You always feel like you've seen it all, until you watch an anime theme song that parodies Jesus being whipped by the Romans, and an ending theme that ends with a glowing light projecting from a stumpy robotic mecha's vaginal area. Toss in some childhood friend moe and some alien invaders and you've got some epic crack on your hands.
Most Obvious Ripoff
They Are My Noble Masters
A young man, down on his luck and without a place to live, lucks out and find a rich family to take him in. They make him their butler, but that involves things like fighting and dealing with unusual co-workers, in addition to the normal butler tasks. Hayate no Gotoku, right? WRONG, I'm talking about They Are My Noble Masters, a shameless ecchi ripoff that takes many things that made Hayate funny and does them poorly. Seriously, are original ideas that difficult to come by?
And that's about it. Wow, what a bother to have to go back to all those terrible shows and try to find screencaps! Stay tuned for next year's awards, which should hopefully happen a bit sooner than this year's.
Since Boris' computer is in the shop and I'm here at work with nothing to do (including updating my anime awards since the master list is at home), here's some original blog content to keep you readers happy for a day or two.
Recently I was sitting in the car with some friends coming back from a movie, and of course the conversation turned towards anime as it inevitably does when we're together. They hold a small anime club at their house every week (much like the larger college one I attend the same day - they used to be members and I think it's become a routine for all of us to watch anime on Thursday nights). At their club they're watching Real Drive, which is a sci-fi series from Spring of 2008 which deals with a future incarnation of cyberspace and how it factors into aspects of future society. And they're loathing it. Rather than get into a discussion about it at the time (both of their feelings were so intense that to try and argue for the series would be like trudging up a very steep incline covered in mud), I lied and said that I'd only seen a few episodes of the series a long time ago and that I didn't really remember it.
The truth is that I've seen all but maybe 8 or 9 episodes of it and intend to finish it soon.
Why bring this up, though? Well, if you're not familiar with the series either through seeing it or reading my review of it, it might be helpful to know that the series is born from the creativity of Shirow Masamune, the mind behind Ghost in the Shell, and animated by Production I.G., responsible for the same series of movies and TV animation. I think part of the downfall of Real Drive (and I do only mean part; it has its flaws as well) is that it has huge shoes to fill. Based on a cursory look at the show's visual style and the fact that it's from the same genre as Ghost in the Shell, I think a lot of people began viewing it believing that it would be some sort of "second coming" of GitS:SAC, with the same focus on action, when in truth Real Drive focuses more on its subject matter in the way that it affects the Aoi family and Haru Masamichi, the central characters.
As I've watched more and more anime the past few years and learned more about the various animation companies, programming blocks, and anime auteurs, I've found myself falling victim more and more to the urge to judge new anime on the merits of its predecessors. The problem is, of course, this develops unrealistic expectations of series and it's difficult to then judge a show on its own merits. To be clear, I don't think it's altogether wrong for myself to say "well, I liked this person's other work so I'll definitely be checking their new show out," but to hold onto the idea that the new show should somehow hit all the same beats and demonstrate its strengths in all the same areas is a recipe for disappointment.
Of course, there's another side to this idea as well. If an original series was agreed to be pretty terrible, I think that this might hurt chances of success of an offshoot or sequel even if it's good. Case in point: years ago we watched the Casshan: Robot Hunter OVA at our anime club for the express purpose of making fun of it. It's a pretty terrible movie. This past Fall, when Casshern SINS was released, I know at least a couple of people who avoided it, or refused to register its good points simply because it was based on the same thing (despite the fact that the story has been completely overhauled and most online ratings seem to be positive).
It's been a difficult road for me to begin to try and get over my own prejudices so that I can judge a series on its own merits. I still anticipate every Noitamina series (and truthfully I haven't been burned yet - I even enjoyed Antique Bakery despite its cheesiness) and certain people's names attached to new productions might make me take notice, but for the most part I think I'm doing an okay job.
Oh, and to be clear, my thoughts on Real Drive are actually mostly positive. The pacing is a bit uneven and I get the feeling that the introduction about the burning ocean in episode one might have been kind of a fake-out (it might be addressed in the last couple of episodes, but I'm not there yet), but I think that it's an interesting (if more passive) look at how our use of cyberspace now might evolve into the future with the advent of more immersive technology. And that suits me fine.
So here we come to the music and technical awards, once again based entirely on my own subjective opinion :) But I know you wouldn't have it any other way.
Best Opening Theme
Mononoke Dance by Denki Groove (Hakaba Kitaro)
Just as the series itself is a little bit offbeat, so is the theme song. Rather than go with something creepy or yet another version of the Ge Ge Ge no Kitaro theme song, we have an up tempo dance tune that's catchier than just about anything else and makes you want to get up and dance with all the creatures of the netherworld.
This catchy opener by R&B band Chemistry, coupled with the show's unique and fun opening animation, make it worth a listen, even if you aren't particularly fond of the show itself.
This opener introduces the characters while providing an intense musical backdrop for the action-packed animation featured during the song.
The song itself has a very classic feel to it, which is appropriate since Casshern is itself a remake of a classic 1970's series. The still frames feature glimpses of the unique stylization the rest of the show has adopted. Unfortunately, a lot of fans don't seem to "get it" and dislike the opening for its lack of animation.
Best Ending Theme:
Carry Me Away by Seira Kagami (Kaiba)
While lacking in flashy intensity like many anime openings and endings, "Carry Me Away" is a beautiful melody with hints of a futuristic sound (more apparent in the full version of the song). It briefly features all the characters, as well as the kaiba plant, something which doesn't become important until later in the series.
A fun, upbeat song about France, Japan, and music, very fitting for the series. It's a bit unusual in that all the lyrics are in French, but at the very least it's relevant whereas most opening and ending songs have nothing to do with the series to which they're attached.
A melancholy end theme for a show that often conveys a very depressing mood. Kaiji is certainly not a winner, and this song for the underdogs fits him well.
Kaiba - Kiyoshi Yoshida
For a science fiction series that goes a bit outside the box in other areas of design and execution, it's only fitting that the soundtrack for the series should be a bit unusual and convey the otherworldly mood the visuals do. Much of the series is synthesized, and yet with this artificial sound even true, heartbreaking emotions can be conveyed. It's difficult to describe beyond that, other than that it just fits and seems completely natural to the show.
Kurenai - Ken Muramatsu
The soundtrack for this series blends traditional Japanese instruments like the koto with the sounds of the piano to create something that sounds quiet and contemplative while remaining true to the emotion of the show. It's definitely a subtle, grown up sound for an anime that walks the same path.
Michiko to Hatchin - Kassin
The Brazilian band Kassin+2 performs the music for this series, and their sound is a blend of samba and funk. A bit unusual for an anime, but then again, it's fitting to the locale of the show.
Casshern SINS - Kaoru Wada
The soundtrack to Casshern SINS helps to highlight the bleak, uncertain future central to the series. Additionally it contains a few insert songs that help to highlight the emotion of the story.
Studio Bones - Soul Eater
Some may get on my case for choosing this series over Xam'd, but the truth is that I've seen about half of this series and one episode of Xam'd, so I have to base it more on what I've watched. And what I've seen is that Soul Eater maintains a consistently high quality of animation throughout its run. For a series that bases a lot of its content on impressive battles with characters that have various special powers, action animation is extremely important, and this show delivers. From episode 1, where we first see Maka dispatch an opponent, to episode 23, where Asura is revived (and how I wish I could have found a youtube clip of that to include here), there is some startlingly good, natural-looking animation to be found. Some other shounen series could take a cue from this one.
Studio Bones - Xam'd Lost Memories
As I stated before, I haven't seen enough of this series to judge the consistency of the animation, but the first episode is definitely impressive. Almost cinematic at times, with a touch of Miyazaki, the world of the show is brought to vivid life. It's definitely worth checking out in high definition if you can get it.
Brain's Base - Kurenai
For a series that relies more on dialogue than action to tell much of its story, it seems to expend great efforts to animate what action there is in an extremely naturalistic manner. Even more surprising is how well it's done considering the detail in the character designs. Some of the fighting in the final two episodes is just incredible.
Studio Madhouse - Kaiba
An unusual choice considering the simplified look of all the characters, but the animation in Kaiba manages to combine Masaaki Yuasa's penchant for free-form movement with a consistent visual style.
Studio Madhouse - Casshern SINS
The animation in Casshern SINS is most notably great during action scenes, where the fighting is often punctuated by brief transitions into an odd, sketchy Casshern rage-mode view. The various characters are all animated with their own unique fighting styles, and the outlines have kind of an interesting color bloom around them.
Best Character Designs:
Kaiba (Nobutaka Ito)
When I think about great character designs, I try to think of series that go against the norm. I can watch just about any series and see big-eyed moe characters, and that doesn't excite me much. Kaiba, on the other hand, goes against the grain with character designs that appear to harken back to the days of Tezuka. For a series that deals with so many grown-up ideas, the cartoony character designs might seem a bit incongruous, but in the words of creator Masaaki Yuasa, the character designs were meant to help the viewer avoid any prejudices about the characters and develop ideas about them based only on their actions within the story. A lofty ideal in a time when many characters can be boiled down to what moe traits they possess.
Casshern SINS (Yoshihiko Umakoshi)
While not quite as striking as Kaiba, the characters in Casshern SINS exhibit a striking pseudo-seventies design that pays homage to the show's origins while bringing its look into the twenty-first century.
Astro Fighter Sunred (Kazuaki Morita)
This series doesn't require much to accomplish what it's setting out to do, but the character designs are a little detail that makes it even more enjoyable to watch. The enemy characters in the Florsheim organization get that sentai villain look perfect, almost appearing as if there's some poor stunt man inside a suit rather than just some funny-looking creature on screen.
*Next time there'll be some fun categories to go through, so stay tuned for part 3!