Wednesday, December 26, 2012

About AR 47-49

Hi, I'm the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.

Merry Christmas, Happy New Year and all that jazz and blues...

Due to it being Christmas week, I was unable to put together a review for Christmas. I ran into the same problem as last year, in that christmas episodes and anime don't work well at all. At best, soem of them are OK, but the rest is bland and boring.

However, for the next three reviews I'm doing, there is a common theme: All of them are sequels to other series I own. One I'm ambivalent about, One I'm surely OK with and there's one I don't really like. You can either guess which applies to each or watch 'til my review over these titles.

I will still post them on the dates indicated on my last update.

See ya'll then!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Anime Review 46-Dragon Half

A Great, Wonderful Joke: Dragon Half (1993 OVA)

Hi, I am the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.

Well, It’s Holiday Break and you know what time is it? Why, yes, to look at another wacky fantasy OVA from the 90s. Last December, I looked at Detatoko Princess, which involved the wacky adventures of a magical princess and her band of friends. This year, well, is Dragon Half.
DVD cover
Dragon Half is based off of a manga created by Ryusuke Mita, who has done other stuff but none of that ended up in the States, sad to say. The manga ran from 1988 to 1994, making this the second series that’s as old as I am. Good dear Haruhi, I am getting old. In 1993, a 2 episode OVA came out, quickly licensed in North America by once-old reliable ADV Films soon after. This review will have details of the plot in it, so if you don’t like spoilers, to put it bluntly: oh well.
Mink and her two friends, blonde elf Luffa and little girl Pia with her pet 
The first episode is titled “Mink’s Journey”. This serves as an introduction to Mink and the world she lives. Mink is a Halfling, result of a marriage by a once famous knight and a red dragon (the most dangerous kind it appears). She is terrifyingly obsessed with Dick Saucer (heh), the kingdom’s male idol singer and dragon hunter. Her titular journey is get to his recent concert in the big city, since she lives out in the boonies.  A subplot emerges as the king and his sorcerer scheme to kill Mink’s dad, then later Mink, so they can get the female red dragon. But it doesn’t amount to much, so nothing else will mention on that.

Anyway, Mink goes to the big city, which is a mix of medieval fantasy and some extraneous elements, like an airport and TV and other such things. There, she runs into Princess Vina, daughter to the king who also has a crush on Dick Saucer. A scuffle ensues, with Mink crashing into a window and kissing Dick Saucer by accident. OF course, then Vina points out that Mink would never get Dick Saucer’s affections since he is a dragon hunter and she is a half-dragon: “You would end up on his wall then in his bed” as Vina puts it. So, Mink goes on a journey with her two friends to get the famed ‘people potion’ when can turn the user into a full human. It turns out, through flashback, that Vina is a half-slime who learned dark magic to be human. However, Mink’s journey is sidelined until the next and last episode.

Mink during the low point of the tournament
The second episode is “The Brutal Killer Martial Arts Tournament”. Mink and her friends run into Dick Saucer (his mic is also a dagger as well-must make concerts where he would throw his mic into the crowd rather dicey affairs). A rather one-sided fight ensues and doesn’t really resolve. The rest of the episode turns into a tournament episode, much like how much one entire arc of YuYu Hakusho devoted to this. It features not just Mink, Dick Saucer, Princess Vina and some other monsters with bad-ass fighting skills. Though, Mink has to go through an initial Test-fight against Minotaurus, which is easy won despite Minotaurus looking like a scary dark RPG reject. There is one hilarious bit with the king’s sorcerer accidentally giving ex-lax to Dick Saucer and other failing schemes. The various matches are short and sweet, thank goodness. Though, I suppose if this show got full series, they could have stretched out each fight per episode. Mink, of course, ends up beating all of her enemies (totally pawning Princess Vina). Her final match is against the prince of a Warlock. Much wanton destruction ensues. But at the end, Mink wins the tournament. And there was much rejoicing (and fan service lol).  

Now, here are the good things about the Dragon Half. Like most fantasy OVAs of the decade, it shares many traits with those titles: Simple plotting, Humor aplenty, goofy monsters and characters, cheap looking yet charming. The plot is as simple as it gets. Much like Rune Explorers, simple is often best. There are plenty of humor, both in the visual imagery and in the script. Humorous images include Ye King’s Anger being a giant rock, the sorcerer carrying around bucket of ice, Princess Vina being really OTT, Damamaru the stupid knight of the king (any scene will do) the warlock prince timing out the match against Mink to watch the first episode on VHS (oh wow that makes this OVA show its age). The script is loaded with lots of funny lines. Here is just a sampling:
“Love has overcome my common sense”
“Well, I’m the product of very strange circumstances”
“A demon doesn’t consider story continuity”

The characters are goofy as are the monsters. Then again, medieval fantasy by necessity is inherently ridiculous anyway. But, that’s what I like about it. Again, the main cast of characters is just a step up from being caricatures. However, the humor more than makes up for the deficiencies in character or plot in this OVA.

One of many chibi moments (kawaii xD)
Finally, this OVA is cheap looking yet charming. Even on the DVD that I watched this on, it still looks cheap. The animation also has a tendency to shift from semi-competent animation to full-blown chibi/SD and then back again, even within seconds. Yet, it has a certain endearing charm to it. It’s like the production team was like ‘Well, we only got 2 episodes and the budget of next to Nil, but dang it we will make it fun and entertaining’. This applies to the ending song nicely. It is a wacky adaptation of Beethoven’s Ninth, written by Kohei Tanaka (really amusing), with completely nonsensical song lyrics of course.

On a final note, the dub is pretty fecking hilarious. Granted, it is another 90s ADV dub, featuring Jessica Calvello, Amanda Winn Lee, Aaron Krohn, etc. The English dub goes above and beyond with the humor that is in the original Japanese.

This leads into the only real downside: There are only the 2 episodes of this series animated. Originally, it was slated to be a 4 episode OVA but since the first 2 episodes bombed in Japan upon original release, the other 2 never got made. ADV Films bought the license and distributed it, where it has gained quite a cult following in the anime community. They were hoping of continuing the series, but that got dragged into production hell. Now, since ADV went under, I doubt that will ever happen.

That is quite frankly a shame. I once showed this OVA at the local anime club meeting a few months ago. The other members were laughing their pants off, as was I (and I’ve seen it before). Then the end of the second episode came, and some of them asked me “Is that it?” and I replied flatly, “Sadly yes.” Granted, there is still the manga which is lurking on the web somewhere I’m sure.

In short, Dragon Half is funny and hilarious, yet cheap looking and too short. If you got a hour to kill, then this is a suitable use of that time I’m sure. If you like wacky fantasy anime, then you’ll enjoy it a lot. Well worth the look.

Next Up:
Christmas Special (TBA), released on Wednesday December 26 2012


Thursday, December 6, 2012

Review Schedule for December 2012/January 2013

Very Self-Explanatory 

Wednesday December 12th: AR 46-Dragon Half

Wednesday December 26th: Christmas Special Review TBA (It'll be a surprise!) 

Sunday December 30th: AR 47-Nadesico the Movie: The Prince of Darkness

Saturday January 5th: AR 48-El Hazard The Magnificent World 2

Saturday January 19th: AR 49-Sakura Wars, Ecole de Paris 

See you laters

The Eclectic Dude 

Friday, November 30, 2012

Important Notice for Review No. 46


Due to a crunch in time due to finals and project work, the review on Dragon Half will be postponed until December 12th (Wednesday).

See you then

The Eclectic Dude

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Anime Review No 45-Gunsmith Cats

Hi, this the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz. 
Cover of the manga Volume 1, with Rally Vincent (nice, thumbs up)
I went out to MovieStop one time last summer, it being the only the store that sells anime in the entire county, a sad reality of economic times to be sure. It was there, sitting on the shelf for $3.99. I thought, what a bargain, compared to the prices online for this OVA.  I had heard of it before, rather good things about it. I am talking, of course, about Gunsmith Cats.

Gunsmith Cats is a Japanese seinen manga series by Kenichi Sonoda, well known for this and Bubblegum Crisis. The first series came out from 1991-97, which was then followed up by a sequel in 2004-08. A 3 episode OVA came out in 1995 done by Kodansha/VAP/Tokyo Broadcasting, with a stateside released a year later by ADV Films.  

The basis of this is the adventures of young female bounty hunters in Chicago, Illinois, a double act as it were: Rally Vincent (the gun bunny) and Minnie May (the gal with the bombs, literally). Teamed up with Becky and ATF Agent Bill Collins, they deal with gun runners and in the process stumble onto a plot involving political intrigue, a Russian psychopath assassin and lots of action. It’s a wild ride in the Windy City.

Heh-that almost looks like Diet Pepsi Minnie May is drinking ^_^
Now, I absolutely love this OVA. Everything about this is a like a well-oiled machine, firing out on all cylinders. The animation here is quite good and holds up even to today. Granted, the anime-style characters seldom look out of place within the realistic back-drops, but it’s hardly noticeable. Speaking of backdrops, the background art looks amazing; it feels like you’re actually watching something that’s taking place in Chicago. This is due to the fact that some of the production crew actually went to Chicago and did some location scouting, details of that are in a special ‘making of’ documentary included in the DVD. In addition, the production crew learned about guns and such while in Chicago, something uncommon in Japan. This translates to the OVA where the guns and weapons look also fairly realistic. Kudos to you, production crew.
Car Chase Ahoy!

Now, the plot of Gunsmith Cats is much like a fast paced action packed movie, just divided into three episodes and borrows quite a lot of tropes of that genre. In fact, I’m surprised by two things. First, why hasn’t this gotten a re-release by Sentai as a full length film feature? I mean, seriously, this deserves it. I don’t mind listening to the OP thrice (cus it’s awesome), but really this needs a re-release. Come on, Sentai, you re-release Burn Up for fudge’s sake. Second, why hasn’t this gotten a live action adaptation? I mean, this yearns for it. It takes place in Chicago (an actual locale) and features hot babes and explosions. It would have a far better chance than something like Cowboy Bebop or Evangelion for fudge’s sake.

Finally, the dub is quite possibly one of the best ADV put out ever. It’s got some excellent voice work by Amanda Winn Lee, Kim Yates and Tiffany Grant and most of the cast do a pretty good job. But by far, Robert Mungle as Agent Bob Collins nearly steal the show with his performance. Seriously, his one-liner ‘I’m a real Eliot Ness, pussycat!’ is just a sample of what his dialogue is, wonderful.

There is, however, one minor downside to Gunmsith Cats OVA: I wish there was more of it! Granted, the three episodes by themselves constitute a complete story, so no worry on that end. But, seriously, why isn’t there more of this anime? Yes, I’m aware there’s the manga but still I wish they were more episodes of Gunsmith Cats. But, I can be sated with just these 3 episodes. 

Still, well worth the look and then some. Gunsmith Cats is awesome, and as any kind of anime fan you should check it out.

Next Review is Dragon Half. See you then. 

Sunday, November 4, 2012

10 Favorite Anime Theme Songs

10 Personal Favorite Anime Theme Songs

Hi, I'm The Eclectic Dude 
One of the things I like in anime are the opening songs. They are an excellent precursor to watching the actual series, giving you a glimpse into what the show is about. Or, at least, that what the good ones do anyway. So, here is my list for the 10 Personal Favorite Anime Theme Songs. 

El Hazard the Magnificent World
As stated in my review of this OVA, this opening song rocks. I love the mix of instrumental and synthesizer music to make something really grand. Watching this, I feel pumped up to watch El Hazard. It also complements this with pretty good looking visuals of the characters and some of the locales.  

GA Art Design Class
This is another OP that fits with the show it goes with. It's quick, preppy, energetic, bright and chipper. Kudos for use of fiddle/violin and kazoo, as strange orchestration goes.  

I Dream of Mimi
All I can say about this-it's the best earworm song for an anime I've heard.  

Magical Witch Punie-chan
This OVA is insane, as is its Opening Song. Seeing Punie-chan dancing while random places burn is both bewildering and amusing at the same time. It also show how jarring this show is-essentially a superviolent magical girls show. 

Tenamonya Voyagers
I love this song and this OVA quite a lot. It reminds me of a marching band by Sousa from back in the days, set to odd anime imagery. The characters spinning around in laundromats is a nice touch. 

Ah My Goddess Season 1 OP
"Open your mind...", indeed. This has to be the most beautiful opening song for an anime I've seen. Its got a nice blend of vocals with light music (flute, strings and guitar) to make a quite lovely song.  

Magic Knight Rayearth OP (both seasons) 
Both Opening songs for this magnificent series goes on my list for one reason-its probably one of the few OPs that are as good in English as in Japanese. Sandy Fox has quite a nice singing voice, and comes to close to duplicating the sound of the singer for the original Japanese. This too has quite beautiful visuals as well. 

Sakura Wars TV Series
It's quick, fast, full of energy and gets you pumped up to watch it! It's bombastic and grips you right in!

FLCL (ending song)
Fooly Cooly doesn't have an opening song, but they make up for it with the ending song, which is awesome. Be the excellent music by the Pillows, or the nonsensical lyrics (no seriously look them up xD), this song totally rules.   

Now, the final entry goes to.... 
Gunsmith Cats, which is my next anime review. I will leave you with the OP-soak it in and see you in 2 weeks!Gunsmith Cats OP

See ya! ^_^

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Anime Review No. 44/Halloween Special: Vampire Princess Miyu OVA

Happy and Spooky Halloween, I'm the Eclectic Dude!

Before Hellsing and Vampire Knight, Before Master of Mosquiton, there was this: Vampire Princess Miyu. Based off horror manga series Narumi Kakinouchi and Toshiki Hirano, I got it this summer as part of a gift from my younger brother. This four episode OVA done by studio AIC back in 1988 and released by AnimEigo in the States, making this the only anime I have reviewed that's about as old as I am. Goodness, I feel old. 

So, what is it about? Well, it is a series of four tales involving a vampire girl Miyu and her companion Larva as they seek to deal with stray Shinma, or demons from the dark world who have come into our world. They are trailed by Himiko Se, a female spiritualist who wants to uncover the truth about Miyu and the Shinma she hunts. In the OVA, they deal with creepy dolls, possessed armor, and finally confronting the darkness within. 
Miyu-ain't she the cutest vampire princess?
ANN (Anime News Network) once quoted this show as being a “Dark, surreal tour of the [Japanese] occult”. I added in Japanese in that the horror presented here is much in the vein of Silent Hill, The Ring, etc. By that I mean, there's a slow creeping dread prevalent throughout the four episodes. Some of the themes explored here are: Fear of the Unknown, Mystery of the Darkness, and The Search for Eternal Life. Fear is one thing I felt while watching this, as there are several moments that just jump at you. I was genuinely scared at certain parts. The darkness is presented as a mystery, full of fear and dread yes, but also of wonder and awe. Miyu at times seem to revel in the fact that's she part of the darkness, and it is both terrifying and awe-inspiring. That's the mark of true horror anime, in my opinion. Lastly, the search for eternal life is something common in vampire stories, and Vampire Princess Miyu is no exception. This show postulates that while eternal life might be desirable, it is totally not worth it. This makes Miyu an inherently tragic heroine, as she can live forever, but her sorrow at not being able to live normally is tremendous. 

Unfortunately, Miyu is placed at the forefront, at the expense of the other characters. Larva, Miyu's Shinma lackey, is nothing more than a silent brooding partner who only gets a brief glance of his past which is not enough. Himiko Se seems interesting at first, but she turns out to be nothing more than an observer.   

Now onto other stuff. First, the animation is dated to say the least. Thankfully, there is lots of shadow and dark colors in this production to hide this fact rather well. It still looks OK, but this old school anime much like Birth: A War of Two Worlds is. Music contains dark moody music combined with natural sounds (cicadas chirping, wood knocks, etc) to make Vampire Princess Miyu a very atmospheric piece. However, the dub leaves much to be desired. It is a bit dull and wooden, with Pamela Weidner as Miyu being the only notable VA  Keep in mind, AnimEigo did dubs for Oh My Goddess OVA and You’re Under Arrest OVA, both were decent and serviceable. This isn't, sadly. Dialogue a tad stilted and plodding and writing is nearly note for note translated straight from Japanese. 

Final note: Despite its flaws, Vampire Princess Miyu is still very good. It's worth a look if you are into horror and supernatural anime, especially for Halloween. If you want to check out similar titles, check out Master of Mosquiton, Hellsing, Elfen Lied, etc. 

See you on Sunday! 

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Update-Halloween Special/November/December Reviews

Hello again, this is the Eclectic Dude.

Once again, another update: We Shadows review is put off indefinitely, if ever. I will still be doing a Halloween special review posted on Wednesday, over Vampire Princess Miyu.

November Reviews
4th: 10 Favorite Anime Theme Songs

18th: Anime Review 45-Gunsmith Cats

December Reviews (so far, details TBC)
2nd: Anime Review 46-Dragon Half

The Eclectic Dude

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Anime Review No. 43-The Sacred Blacksmith

The Sacred Blacksmith
12 episode TV series, October-December 2009
Studio: Manglobe, Director: Masamitsu Hidaka, Writers: Masashi Suzuki and Rie Koshika
Licensed by Funimation

Well, Fantasy has gone to the Now portion, where I cover two titles I own that are more recent. This is only to prove that I do own anime titles from not just the 90s but also from more current years.

Now, onto The Sacred Blacksmith: a title I’ve owned for a few years. I got it at a Best Buy while I was living at out-of-state college. It was something I had never heard, but was intrigued by the cover art and the fact that it was the complete collection for about $25. This was back in the day when anime distribution companies (like Funimation who released this) began to sell anime in complete collection sets, as opposed to single DVDs with only 3-4 episodes per disc for a good chunk of money.

Anyway, The Sacred Blacksmith concerns the tale of Cecily Cambell, a female knight and head of a noble house within the city of Housman. She wants to be well-known like her father and grandfather, but never gets the chance. One day, during a battle when it seems things are going wrong for her, she is saved by Luke Ainsworth, a mysterious and brooding blacksmith with a strange sword (a katana as it turns out). She wants a katana for herself so as to prove she can help to protect the city, so she asks Luke to make one for her. In the process, Cecily gets dragged into an unexpected adventure, one involving mystical swords and the mystery regarding Luke and his cute elfin assistant.

First off, onto the difficult part: I want to like this show, and on the face of it, the premise (a coming of age story with a strong female lead) of this series is pretty interesting. For the first few episodes, it seems that way. But then, it veers off into another story dealing with a princess in exile. They spend 3 episodes on a separate story that really feels out of place. It feels out of place in part due to a different writer for those episodes. Even when it tries to tie itself it with the main story, it feels a bit forced. And after it’s finished up and the main story continues in episode 8 with only 4 more episodes, it smells of filler quite fairly.

Ok apart from that, the rest of this series in quite good. The setting is very much High Medieval/Early Renaissance European, in terms of architecture and clothing. This looks and feels like a period piece. There is a glimmer of a larger world, but for the most part, the story takes place within the area surrounding the city of Housman, part of democratic federation of trade cities, independent from any kingdom.
Luke, Cecily, Lucy and Aria: the main cast
 The cast of characters are very interesting. Cecily is a nice, strong, likable female lead, which is surprising given the setting. She throughout the series is the one I root for as she grows and develops. Luke, a t first, seems like a brooding angst-ridden guy who doesn’t give much of a crap about others. But, he too develops though in a different way than Cecily. Lisa, the cute elfin assistant to Luke, is a mystery left unchecked until the final episodes, which threw me for a quite a surprise.

Now, the prime concept behind this show is the demon swords, mystical weapons from a past conflict. One of them is unique in that it can take human form, and that is Aria, demon sword of the wind.  Her interactions with Cecily, akin to most sisterly relationship, elevate her to main cast status in my eyes at least. There are other demon swords, but none of them have much impact on the plot as Aria does.
Example of the good quality animation here
 The animation is also very top-notch. Manglobe, the studio responsible for Samurai Champloo prior to this, do a fantastic job here as well. It looks quite impressive, given the show is 3 years old by this point. It is consistent throughout, with little to no moments of off-model shots or anything. The opening song is also very nice, being full of energy and gets you pumped up for this show (oh yeah!).

The English dub is quite fine and serviceable. Once again, you might be better off to watch in English given the medieval setting and characters. This came out during the period when Funimation started to dominate the anime scene here in the States. As such, the dub is really good, with consistent performances from most of the cast.  Of note is Monica Rial as Lucy, she has always been a favorite of mine in dubs, both ADV and Funimation titles.  

Overall, The Sacred Blacksmith is a decent and entertaining fantasy series. It has a few issues with the tacked-on story in the middle, but other than that, it works well. It is very well done in most aspects, from animation, setting, dub, etc. I would definitely recommend this.

See y’all in 2 weeks!

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Update-October 2012 Schedule

Due to me being a tad busy this week, I've decided to push my reviews forward a week.

New Schedule for October 2012
October 14 or 15th-The Sacred Blacksmith

October 28 or 29th-We Shadows (manga)

October 31st-Vampire Princess Miyu

Until next weekend, laterz

The Eclectic Dude

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Anime Review 42-El Hazard the Magnificent World

Fantasy: Then and Now continues with El Hazard: The Magnificent World OVA from 1995-96.
DVD Cover 
El Hazard is directed by Hiroki Hayashi (Tenchi Muyo, Battle Athletes) and written by Ryoe Tsukimura (Moldiver, Tenamonya Voyagers, Tenchi Muyo). Production was done by Studio AIC, who also did Tenchi Muyo, Battle Athletes, and whole lot of stuff in the 90s and early-mid 00s.If they did an anime I reviewed, I mentioned it at least. It is considered the ‘sister series’ of Tenchi Muyo, as the same people worked on both.   

El Hazard concerns the tale of one, Makoto Mizuhara, an average Japanese high school student. One day, when dealing with a self-proclaimed rival Jinnai, he stumbles upon an ancient ruin beneath his school. There, he meets Ifurita, who supposedly met him before and then waited in hibernation for a long time. With the last of her power, she sends him along with Jinnai, Fujisawa-sensei and Jinnai’s sister Nanami to the world of El Hazard, a mystical land. Makoto and Fujisawa-sensei ended up working with the Princess Rune Venus and her kingdom in an effort to stop an invasion by the Bugrom Empire, a race of insect warriors, led by Queen Diva and Jinnai himself. But an even more deadly threat lurks in the shadows, without letting either side know it. In addition, Makoto meets elemental goddesses, Ifurita (again!) and the Eye of God (a mystery). What a thrilling adventure!

What a stunning landscape, brought by stunning visuals
Now, what makes El Hazard such a classic to me lies first in the pure scope and depth this story delves into. This OVA spans 7 episodes, and clocks it at around 4 hours. The first and last are 50 minutes long, with the episodes between last 30 minutes. As such, there’s a lot of time devoted to world building, even if boils down to simple terms: The world is divided by a river, with Rushtaria and its alliance on one side and the Bugrom Empire on the other.  But there’s more to it, with vast forests and deserts seen throughout and even more that we don’t see. The stunning visuals, example above, help to reinforce this. 

L-R: Queen Diva, Rune Venus, Fatora and Aielle, Nanami, Makoto and the three goddesses
The story and characters are also well-done. Granted, the cast consists of Makoto (single male hero) and group of female characters (the goddesses, Ifurita, Nanami, etc.) and their interactions with each other. Sounds familiar, eh? Well, that’s the same setup as Tenchi Muyo except for the initial premise. Whereas Tenchi had a harem of women vying for his affections, Makoto is set on only one of the girls, something not used a lot in harem series. Sure, some of them vie for his affections, but he seems too oblivious to it. Granted, the story doesn’t focus on this too much. Instead, it deals with Makoto and his friends trying to find a way back to the real world, which seems linked to the mystery of “The Eye of God”. It is an ancient weapon long dormant since ancient times and is essential to how the story develops.

The characters are very engaging. Makoto is a bit like Tenchi, above average male hero who ends up being the key to the story. He seems a bit more developed, as he got some brains behind his meek and nice demeanor making him quite relatable. Jinnai, on the other hand, is a perfect foil and quite possibly the best ‘joke villain’ in anime ever. Any scene with him is quite an interesting gem.

Most of the other cast is very typical for anime: Fujisawa is drunk but reliable adult role model and Nanami is a love interest in denial with a slight obsession with money. Even the three goddesses, with their impressive elemental powers, have expected personalities (Shayla Shayla-fiery, hotheaded, confident; Afura Mann-cool, calm and collected; Miz-volatile and moody). Rune Venus is the typical damsel-in-distress who doesn’t do much in the story anyway.

Heh-part of the reason why I'm reviewing this.
The exceptions lay with Princess Fatora and Aielle, who are the lesbian couple in the show. Granted, Fatora doesn’t have an active role until the last episode, but when she does she is quite a surprise. Aielle shows up near the end of the first episode and stays on as the token lolita of Makoto’s group, constantly hitting on some of the other female characters, leading to much hilarity.  They may seem a bit superfluous, but they are entertaining anyway, so I welcome their casual addition.

The English dub is pretty good as well. Been done by Pioneer/Geneon back in the day, it has a cast that includes mainstays for quite a number of their dubs: Eddie Frierson, Lia Sargent, Michael Sorich, R Martin Klein, Melissa Fahn, Dorothy Elias-Fahn, Bridget Hoffman, etc. They all do a pretty good job given the material. There are a few others (like Ifurita) where the performance is a tad wooden. I definitely recommend watching this dubbed, though the subbed version is decent.

Now, there are a few weaknesses to this OVA. First, the music is rather forgettable, barring the opening and ending songs. I love the opening song, with its rich mix of instrumental and electronic music creating an opening that grips and hooks you in. For the first six episodes, the ending song is a jumpy and energetic tune. The last episode, however, has a quite lovely and nice song to cap off the ending.

This leads to another weakness: The OVA is centered on a time loop paradox surrounding Makoto and Ifurita. Now, while this OVA has it built in such a way to ensure it has a definite ending, there is the possibility for sequels. This is similar to Tenchi Muyo, which had spinoffs/sequels due to parallel universes with the same characters. And considering how successful that was, AIC rightfully though it would work again with the EL Hazard series. To put simply, however, it didn’t. But that’s the subject for another review down the road

At the end of the day, El Hazard The Magnificent World as a standalone OVA is a fantastic piece of other worldly fantasy epic. It is well-done in nearly all aspects of the production, with a few exceptions. It stands its ground with other similar fantasy anime, like Magic Knight Rayearth and Escaflowne, both also very well-done fantasy series. I definitely recommend it. El Hazard is available on DVD quite easily on Amazon. 

The Eclectic Dude

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Anime Review No 41-Ruin Explorers

Hi, I'm The Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz. 

Ok, time to start off Fantasy: Then and Now. I will look 2 anime titles from the 90s (Then) and the 00s (Now) for September and October. I have reviewed other fantasy anime titles before, like Princess Minerva and Detatoko Princess (check those reviews out by the way). This time, I hope to present some titles I own that are better then those I just mentioned. Let's get started with Ruin Explorers.  

DVD Cover
Ruin Explorers is directed and written by Takeshi Mori, who also directed Stratos 4 and Vandread.
Based on the 1992 manga by Kunihiko Tanaka, its production was done by ANIMATE and Asia-do. 
It was licensed in the USA by ADV Films, with VHS in 1999 then DVD in 2004. I own it under the "Essential Anime Collection" line, same for "Golden Boy" OVA. 

Ihrie and Fam 
Ruin Explorers tells the tale of 2 Ruin Explorers (Treasure Hunters) Fam and Ihrie in a European Medieval setting. Ihrie is a female warrior-tomboyish, headstrong, and confident. Fam is a squirrel Wiccan, despite looking more like a catgirl. She is the mage of the duo, timid, soft-spoken and cute. They are on a quest to get the “Ultimate Power”, key to the survival or destruction of the world. It requires 3 items to activate, because that's how that works in these fantasy stories. 

Migel, Galuff with his dog and Rasha
Fortunately, they are joined up by several travelers in this quest. They include: Rasha, another female mage; Miguel, a big brute of a swordsman; Galuff, a sneaky and conniving merchant (sidekick dog); Lyle, prince of a fallen kingdom. All the while, they must contend with the villain Ruguduroll, a priest from Lyle's kingdom who went insane and wants the "Ultimate Power" for himself.  

Now, onto the strengths/weaknesses of this OVA, which are quite a few. First, It tells a complete story in 4 episodes, a rarity in the 90s OVA market. As I have demonstrated, lots of 90s OVA went unfinished due to money running out of production or low video sales or etc. Granted, the ending seems a bit rushed, with a few unanswered questions which leaves you wanting more. There is potential for more, but as it stands what we got is pretty good. 

The story, while not exactly original, has a nice mix of comedy, drama, and adventure. Takeshi Mori comes across as being competent with telling this fantasy tale, but that's about it. It has an interesting cast of characters, even if there are just fantasy archetypes (Ihrie-female warrior, Fam and Rasha-mage, Miguel-big brute warrior, Lyle-prince of a lost kingdom, Ruguduroll-powerful villain) Nonetheless, the interactions and relationships between these characters keep the audience's interest up with little/no problem. 

Second, the music is very great, all orchestral  and performed by the Versailles Chamber Orchestra. It is very Wagnerian/Fantasy RPG Video Game in terms of music, with the use of leitmotifs, rich harmonies, long sweeping melodies, etc. It is not on the level of LOTR music, but fittingly epic. I would love the CD for the OST, but sadly that might never happen. 

Third, the animation is pretty good for something that came out 15+ years ago. Granted, it looks quite similar to stuff from the mid-90s, but the background visuals are very good looking and show that a lot of effort went into it. 

Lastly, the english dub is probably the best way to enjoy this OVA. It seems fitting given the European Medieval Fantasy setting. The cast includes people from 90s ADV dubs, including Tamara Lo, Jessica Calvello, Guil Lunde, Brett Weaver, Kelly Manison, Jason Douglas, and Tristan MacAvery. Now, T. Lo and Calvello a little rough when it comes to screaming/yelling, but serviceable in the rest. Kelly Manison and Brett Weaver are very good (one extra on the DVD is a commentary on episode 2 from both of them, which is very entertaining). Guil Lunde is pretty funny, spouting out some more comedic dialogue of this short series. Tristan MacAvery (Gendo from NGE) turns in a particularly nasty performance as the villain. Lastly, Jason Douglas is OK, even with the not so good British accent (really? why?)

Final Thoughts: 
Ruin Explorers is a very simple yet good fantasy tale. It borrows quite a lot from other better fantasy tales, but its decent and entertaining anyway in its own right, which is due to how 'straight' they play it. I like it for this, as my previous titles I've reviewed (Detatoko Princess and Princess Minerva) they do it silly, dumb yet funny. With Ruin Explorers, its more simple tale with the right mix of serious and funny moments. 
If you got a friend who wants to get into fantasy anime, then this is a decent OVA to start off with. I can attest to this, as a friend of mine wanted to get into fantasy anime and I said to him "Oh, here's Ruin Explorers-Enjoy!" 

Other Recommendations include "Detatoko Princess", "Princess Minerva" (previously reviewed), along with "Those Who Hunt Elves", "Eden’s Bowy", "Spice and Wolf", "Slayers", and "Escaflowne".


Monday, September 3, 2012

Announcement-September/October 2012 Schedule

Hi, I'm the Eclectic Dude

Happy Labor Day to you all in the States. I am enjoying my two days off from classes (today and tomorrow), well technically three days off since no class on Wednesday either.

Anyway, the next two months I am going over Fantasy: Then and Now. I'll cover two titles each from then (90s) and now (the 2000s). More details on my Sept 9th review. I am also doing another Halloween Special.

Here it is, the schedule (all release on Sunday except the Halloween Special which release on Wednesday):

September 9th Ruin Explorers (1995 OVA)

September 23rd El Hazard The Magnificent World (1995-96 OVA)

October 7th The Sacred Blacksmith (2009 TV Series)

October 21st We Shadows (manga)

October 31st Vampire Princess Miyu (1988-89 OVA)

See you next Sunday yet I leave you with this:
You are Welcome :)
The Eclectic Dude

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Anime Review No 40-GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class Episode 1/First Impressions

Yo, I'm the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz. 

I have fond memories of high school, unlike most people I know of and/or of my own generation. One of the things I liked about high school was the electives outside of the standard classes taken. One of them was when I spent two semesters doing Basic Art. Now, I don't have the best art skills but I tried, and that's all that counts. I had some fun with it at the very least. 

What was the point of that? Well, it ties in nicely with this review: GA Geijutsuka Art Design Class. It was originally a Seinen yonkoma(4 panel) manga series, still running since 2004. Then, it got an Animated series in Summer 2009, directed by Hiroaki Sakurai and produced by Studio AIC, whose work I've covered in the past.  

The basic idea of GA Art Design Class is a Slice of life series involving a group of female students at a special art group at a school in Japan. 

Episode 1, titled Drawing Fun, serves as an introduction of the main characters. Kisaragi is our main character of the series. She is a meganekko (glasses girl) with brown hair. She is a bit clumsy but good natured. She is also unhealthily obsessed with cute cats. She is dealing with the first day of school, like most slice of life shows these days. 
Then, the Opening Song plays and I quite like it, It is very energetic and cheerful, setting up the tone of the show nicely. On a side note, the use of a fiddle/violin in the OP is a nice touch. It also shows the look of the show, which is a pastel and light color palate.  

This episode isn't one whole plot, but rather a series of short skits (in style of a 4-koma that this anime is based on). This means that this series has a lot of situational comedy, similar to Azumanga Daioh and Nichijo. I won't dwell on the details, suffice to say it is all rather funny. We are also introduced to Kisaragi's classmates, including Noda-chan (loli), Tomokane (tomboy), Namiko-san (tall and well-endowned), Miyabi (soft-spoken and stoic girl). All of them don't have much in terms of characters, but the strength of the show lies in the comedy and jokes, mostly involving art. One thing in particular is the silly Sentai parody (Irodo Rangers) they do halfway through the episode. 

But it isn't all fun and games. No, this show is semi-educational, as it touches on topics in the visual arts (painting, sculpture, drawing, textiles). For instance, this episode deals with Pictograms, Drawing, Color Theory. I get the feeling that the author of the manga has very fond of art class back in the day. It also talks about the use of technology (computers) to do art and the application of art to daily life (pictograms for recycling and trash bins). This is very good, as it shows that animation can be educational without being overbearing (cough cough PBS cough cough). The ending song is just the main cast in chibi form, doing various things over music. It's slow and plodding a bit, in contrast to the energetic and cheerful OP. 

Final thoughts? I liked this quite a lot. I remember watching this episode when the series first came on, but then quickly put it aside as I was busy watching other anime shows. Now, looking back, I can say this: This is a great first episode, establishing the cast and tone/mood (comedic) for the whole series I figure. The education portion is wonderfully done and ties in nicely to the comedy. I will add this to my list of series to review in full at some point. 

Next review is September 9th.

The Eclectic Dude

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Anime Review No. 39-You're Under Arrest OVA

Hello, I'm the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.

Well, it's been a while. I got a bit busy, with projects and final exams for summer term to do in the later part of last month. Thankfully, it paid off. Hence why I changed my schedule for my blog around. I think this will be more manageable and easier for me.

Miyuki and Natsumi 
Anyway, this review is over You're Under Arrest OVA from 1994. It is the first manga series by Kosuke Fujishima, the creator of Ah My Goddess and Sakura Wars. As I stated before, I like this guy's work quite a lot. He writes character based pieces very well, and his visual style is distinct and engaging. Both of the previously mentioned titles are in my 10 favorite anime series. This series was first a manga 1987-1992, OVA 1994-95, TV Anime 1996-97, Movies/Shorts, with the most recent TV series 2007-08, and a Live-action drama as well. The OVA was done by Studio DEEN, released in US by AnimEigo (who also released the OMG OVA and Otaku no Video, both of which I have reviewed here). 

The OP is very nice, soft, light music, while the ED is more upbeat and energetic song (nice chibi dolls for one shot, I totally want one of them). 

4 episodes
1: “And So They Met”
The basic premise of this series is this: Slice of life/drama involving the cops at Bokuto station (Sumida Ward, in eastern Tokyo). We first meet Natsumi Tsujimoto (rookie new to the force) dealing with her first day. She rides a scooter with expert skill, free spirited, tomboyish, impulsive. Miyuki Kobayakawa (her assigned partner) meets up with her by chance, thinking she’s a speeder and catches up to her in little to no time. She is a mechanic (likes to fix things up) stickler for rules, dedicated to her job. 
Natsumi meets the police chief and gets assigned to Miyuki as part of the Traffic Division, handling the daily duty of upholding traffic safety. She also meets Ken Nakajima (motorcycle squad) and Yoriko (dispatcher). Ken has a thing for Miyuki, whereas Yoriko's a rumor mill meganekko. 
At first, Miyuki and Natsumi aren’t exactly friends, but shows potential for growth. This shows how Fujishima's works are all focused on: human relationships and drama/comedy/tragedy that brings. Anyway, the rest of the episode deals with a mysterious red car speeding around in the local area, leading the duo on a wild goose chase. It is a very well done car chase sequence, with lots of detailed backgrounds. Though, it's not really the focus hence why I'm not talking about it much. Nonetheless, that side plot is resolved and the episode ends with Miyuki and Natsumi deciding to room together. It nice and sweet end for the first episode and brings promise to the other episodes. 

2: “Tokyo Typhoon Rally”
A Typhoon is coming into Tokyo, and some insane dude decides to speed around during the storm, and that's the entire plot of the episode. Miyuki and Natsumi are out on patrol, meet some grade schoolers with a sick kitty (kudos to AnimEigo staff for using actual kids to voice the grade schoolers). They come across the mad speedster, but don’t do much on it as it is revealed that the sick kitty is actually pregnant, and that becomes the focus: deal with this before the typhoon hits. The heavy rain comes anyway. Miyuki set to   work on refitting Ken’s bike in order to catch the mad speedster in the wet weather. The problems keep mounting: flooded roads, the pregnant kitty, the mad speedster , power problems at the station, etc (Keep on mounting throughout the episode, creating lots of tension and dramatic buildup). The climax of the episode shows the final showdown against the mad speedster on a closed roadway, won by Ken and the girls make it just in time for Chibi, the cat, to have her kittens (touching moment). This episode is also pretty good. 

3: “Love’s Highway Stars”
Miyuki has got something going on for the weekend, the rumor mill starts up by Yoriko. Ken and Miyuki’s relationship can best described as co-workers, but it seems a bit more than that. Natsumi and Yoriko try to help the relationship out, but with little success. 
It turns out Miyuki goes off to a school reunion event, whereas Natsumi and Ken hang out with each other. She runs into old friends and admirers, lots of character development for Miyuki. She basically is devoted to her job, not having decided to get hitched soon after school. This is an oddity given how conservative Japanese society is with regards to marriage. Miyuki is a career woman, tied to her job as opposed to being a housewife. 
Natsumi and Ken go to visit Miyuki  as Ken gets concerned. However, the lapse in geographic thinking delays them-its a very comical moment. Miyuki comes back to town, runs into a misunderstanding (Natsumi driving with Ken) and assumes not the best outcome. Dealing with the misunderstanding equals very little success (not a very good track record thus far).  
Things get awkward at the office as a result. So Natsumi apologizes to Miyuki and she accepts the apology. All goes well, as the Captain basically orders Ken and Miyuki to go on a date (wait, what?!). Yerah like that would happen in any sort of reality. Of course, they are getting tracked by their fellow officers Natsumi and Yoriko. The date ends sooner due to getting back to work, ending the episode. This episode is ok, due to over-reliance on misunderstanding and rumor milling to drive the plot along. On the other hand, Miyuki gets some nice background and development from this episode, it sort of balances out in the end.     

4: “On The Road, Again”
It starts off with Natsumi and Miyuki on patrol, chasing down a motorcyclist. Natsumi hanging out with the old monk at the local Buddhist Temple hears of a new opportunity-joining the Bike Troopers. They want Natsumi to join up, but she will have to transfer to HQ. The episode's focus is how Natsumi deals with her trying to make a decision on this and the effect this decision will have on her friends (Yoriko, Miyuki and Ken). Ken and Miyuki are taking it surprisingly well, while Yoriko isn’t. 
Natsumi off to do bike training, with Yoriko now working with Miyuki. She’s slated to be escort for a local half-marathon. It is the same event that the Bokuto station will be traffic control at (massive coincidence eh?). Miyuki isn’t taking the change well as it first appeared, leading into an emotionally gripping scene. 
An incident at the half-marathon (a bike catches fire and is causing havoc, a runaway gas truck). Oh noes!!! Natsumi decides to help out, even at the cost of leaving the Bike Troopers. Crisis is narrowly averted, thank goodness. Nice ending (at least until the TV Series that came out a year later).

Final thoughts: This OVA is very good. Granted, some of the trademarks Fujishima became well-known for are a bit rough around the edges, but it shows lots of promise. The animation is very well done, though it's on the same level as the Oh My Goddess OVA, contemporary to this one. The focus is on the characters, as the plots of the episodes are rather simple and rote, but the characters and their relationships are engaging enough to carry it. The english dub is not bad, but not too good. Then again, most dubs from the 90s weren't that good, but I can tell they were trying their hardest and that should be commended. If you like Ah My Goddess and/or Sakura Wars, then check this out. 

Next time is GA Gejijutsuka Art Design Class Episode 1/First Impressions

Questions and comments-contact me at

Saturday, August 4, 2012

New Schedule!!!

Hi, I'm the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.

Well, after some consideration, I have decided to make some changes. First, I will be doing written reviews every other week, starting next weekend on August 11-12th. That weekend I will post the long awaited review of the "You're Under Arrest" OVA. Sorry for the delays, again-I've been busy.

August 25-26th is the GA: Geijutsuka Art Design Class Episode 1/First Impressions. Past that, I haven't planned it out.  I got some ideas, but nothing concrete.

Questions or comments, email me at

Til next week!

Monday, July 23, 2012

Schedule Revision


Well, due to being real busy with schoolwork (finals and project wrapup), I won't be posting any more reviews until August 4. Sorry for the delay. 

The Eclectic Dude

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Anime Review No 38 "Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos" Episode 1/First Impressions

Hello, I'm the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.
Ok, from now on, my reviews will be released every weekend (be Friday, Saturday, or Sunday).
Anyway, onto this weekend's review: Haiyore! Nyaruko-san (Crawling Up! Nyarko-san) It is based on light novel and web animation short series from 2009-11. An animated TV series came out April 2012, done by Studio XEBEC (responsible for the anime series like Nadesico, Zoids, Love Hina, To Love Ru). 
This show can be considered a Comedy/parody series. It is a odd/quirky tale based off of the Cthulhu Mythos, except it has cute anime girls with magical powers/abilities instead of eldritch abominations. I personally don't know not much on this Mythos, except a basic gist of it-it deals with cosmic horror and wonders. Now, I watched this on Crunchyroll, a really good website that has legitimate anime streaming. 

Episode 1: Like a Close Encounter of the Third Kind (Spielberg called, he wants his title back dude!)
It was a dark and spooky night.  A Teenage boy chased by a demon that sprouts a mouth out of his head. Fortunately, he is saved by a girl with grey hair (Nyarlathotep) in a checker pattern dress outfit who slices the demon in half. I like this cold opening-its exciting and gripping, and gets your attention right off the bat. 
Then the opening song: It's energetic, rhythmic, goofy and silly. This helps establish the mood for the show quite well. 

After the break,  it is revealed the girl in question ends up staying at the boy's home, eating breakfast. I like Nyarko-san. She is energetic, perky, cheerful, if a little over the top in terms of acting. She is a lot of fun. She is, in reality, a Crawling Chaos: typically a monster form, but she takes on the form of a cute girl for no clear reason. The boy tries to get an explanation from her, and after some prodding, she does. She has come to Earth to defend it from alien invaders/meddlers as part of some galactic agency mission. 

The teenage boy is named Yasaka Mahiro, who acts as a bit of a jerk when it comes to Nyarla. It seems he more of the straight man (comedically), whereas Nyarla is the joker. This is key to establish this in the first episode of a comedy like this. Good on you, production team.

So, Nyarla runs off taking Mahiro-kun with her to a anime store (wait, what?!). Apparently, alien gods smuggle anime, manga and games from Earth and it is a very big deal. I'd question this, but my mind hurts too much to think on it. Moving on... It seems there's a relationship between Mahiro and Nyarla, sweet love at first sight but becomes slightly awkward if you stop and think about it. 

Once done there, they go outside where Nyarla punches Mahiro in the head. What?! Well, it turns out that's the way to get to the other realm, where the alien gods reside and prey on humankind in secrecy. They
encounter another alien and Nyarla demonstrates her 'Power of Space CQC' Which is.... Drop kick the fecker in the nuts, then proceed to bash the thing’s head in. Flawless Victory!!

It then cuts to a mysterious girl before the break before the commercial break, which has avery nice eyecatch. Nyarla ends up coming with Yasaka to his school as a transfer student, as you do in these sorts of comedy series. Some of Yasaka's friends are introduced, like his male friend Yoichi and  Kurei, a girl working with the school paper. Meanwhile, Nyarko-san causes antics for Yakasa (lunch, lighting up romantic tension, being generally silly) which annoys straight man Yasaka almost to the brink. 

Another unnamed demon is spotted by the pair. Another fight sequence commences in the other realm. Nyarko summons Shanta-kun, a dragon (much like a Pokemon) to combat the demon. When that fails, she defeats the demon with a magical crow bar. Later, when he is taking a shower, Nyarko interrupts. Hijink ensues. The ending song is lighter, sweeter, slower then the opening, providing a nice contrast.

Final Thoughts? I like this show, it got me interested in this show. The comedy is spot-on, the characters engaging, and the story weird and quirky. I will add this to my list of anime I will watch then do a more comprehensive review. 

Next Weekend is You're Under Arrest OVA. See ya laterz.  

Saturday, July 7, 2012

Anime Review No. 37, "UltraManiac" Episodes 1-3

Hi, I'm the Eclectic Dude and I review it for the lolz.

Oh dear. Well, this is awkward. Based off of a suggestion from a friend of mine (JB), I decided to take a look at Ultra Maniac. I was told this was a pretty good show, and since I had heard of it only and never seen it, I figured 'what the feck' and watch the first 3 episodes and determine from there if I should continue with or not.
Ultra Maniac is a 26-episode series from 2003, originally based off of a manga of the same name. The anime adaptation is done by Ashi Production, the same studio that did Jewel BEM Hunter Lime. It was originally released by Geneon in 2005, before they went defunct. I ended up watching it on VizMedia's website since they hold the rights to the manga series, though it's subbed only. So, no comments on the acting for this review, as I am not a proper judge of Japanese voice acting. 

Episode 1: Ayu and Nina (oh how original)
Opening song is a stock standard J-pop over montage of all the characters, with a nice little piano bit at the start. Nothing too special about it. The two main characters are middle school girls Nina and Ayu. Nina is a witch in training who is a bit ditzy, cute and well-meaning but often becomes more of a nuisance then help. Her magical device is a handheld computer with a small treasure chest hooked up to it with a USB cable. Ayu is Nina's human friend who is a "Cool Beauty". Ayu has a crush on Kaji-kun, the nice looking boy in the school. Oh joy, boy troubles! So, Ayu's goal in this series is to confess her love to Kaji. Gee, I wonder how long they will stretch this concept over the next 25 episodes? 

So, Nina makes a ‘fall-in-love’ chocolate that was supposed to go to Kaji, but Tsuijai (Kaji's friend) ate it instead. Awkward hijinks ensue as Ayu runs away from him at all costs. Nina says the spell wear out in 4-5 hours, oh how very specific. Halfway through the episode, Nina does her requisite transformation sequence: it  is pretty freaking tame, but then again this is obviously meant for young girls, of which I am not. 

SO, Nina makes another spell to fix the problem she created in the first place, which is a ring of protection for Ayu. However, when Tsujiai comes into contact with Ayu, it electrocutes the poor dude under the spell, which cures him (thank good Haruhi). 

There is also some weird dude in glasses (who looks like me at that age and schooling) on Nina’s trail to expose her as a witch, but I figure he will be unsuccessful in every endeavor. Moving on...
But the ring won’t come off (oh noes) More hijinks ensue. Ayu leaves school early but runs into Kaji, falls and is rescued by him (oh god how trite). Both end up in the nurse’s office (Nina fawns over him some more-oh geez >.<)

Moral: Using magic to get what someone to love you should be more carefully planned
The ending song is a downbeat and sedated piano piece. Once again, not really remarkable.  

Episode 2: Boy meets Girl (again, how original-not!)
Picking where we last left off,  the main crux of the show is dealing with Ayu’s boy troubles. You know, because dealing with Nina’s magic isn’t enough for this show. Oh no, it's boy troubles! Then again, I'm not part of the target audience so this complaint is a bit overreaching, but still it has to be said: This is just a romantic comedy with magical beings tacked on for no good reason. In fact, it feels a lot like Harry Potter, sort of. 

Apparently, Nina on some homestay program, sort of an exchange student program (which more way too many questions) The mom is human and the dad is a magician. That's about it, as they are probably peripheral characters. Ayu also meets Rio, a pet mascot cat who turns into a young grade-school boy with grey hair. She also meets with Yuta, a male childhood friend of Nina who also has an eye for Ayu. He is more skilled and competent with his magic than Nina is. He is also very direct, as he just comes out with it: He wants to go out with Ayu but she will have none of it. Nina will try to interfere but probably won’t succeed at all, good lord this is very predictable. 

Ayu goes on a date with Yuta who is starting to annoy me with his bluntness, which should be a relief from the main cast and their indecisiveness. But, he is boastful and a bit full of himself as he just does magic at a whim, with no concern or worry if actual humans spot him doing so. This earns him a bitch-slap (well deserved) and a stern talking to by Ayu. Good for you, Ayu. You are fast becoming my favorite character in this series, despite her boy troubles. 

So, Yuta decides to not be a complete goof and have a good time with Ayu. Later he uses a magical camera to determine Ayu’s crush Kaji (slightly prickish move) which Ayu tries but fails to use it on Kaji himself (oh well, I could care less) But, it is revealed that Yuta likes Nina. Well, color me surprised. I’m gonna need a diagram to keep track of the relationships in this series.

Episode 3: Changeover (unexpected title, I’ll say)
Ayu is a tennis ace, in fitting with her character. Of course, this episode is the first to mention this fact about her, but yeah it helps to develop her as a person rather being a 'stock character'. Anyway, the main conflict is between the girl and boy teams of tennis at the school. They are fighting over how many courts each team should use. Ok, nice, a plot that isn't related to boy/relationship issues. 

They decide to hold a tennis match to decide how many courts each side will get: Ayu vs. Tsujiai-kun (Kaji’s friend). This is due to the fact that both of them are stars when it comes to tennis. Thus, Nina uses her magic to make a chocolate to help Ayu win, but it changes her to a boy (wah wah waaaa) Gender Bendering, while a neat concept, they don’t use it as well as they could have. 

Boy-Ayu (Ayuo) still goes through with the match anyway, runs into complications as the boy body is ill-suited for her tennis techniques. Of course, Kaji comes up during the match, which does throw Boy-Ayu off a bit. She loses the match nonetheless, but a compromise is reached on the tennis courts. All is well. So, what now?

Akiho, the baseball manager, who has a crush on Kaji (baseball player) is also introduced. She is a love rival of sorts to Ayu's efforts. She decides that Ayuo should come and hang out with some students involved with the baseball club. Fudge, it is going back to the relationship issues. 

So, the next day, Jin (Boy-Nina) and Ayuo hang out with Kaji, Tsujiai, Ahiko and some of their friends, all the while Ayuo keeping an eye on Kaji. They end up doing karaoke, which is something not surprising as most anime rom-com/slice of life shows have that one episode that takes place. Also, the Nerd from the first episode ends up following the two again to the karaoke place and meets Rio who proceeds to troll him hard. A bit fluffly, but funny asides nontheless. Things get complicated, ending with Akiho kissing Boy-Ayu. It is a bit awkward, for both involved, if you stop to think about it. 
The episode end with a truly WTF moment: Old Man Principal jamming out in the karaoke bar dressed like Elvis. Wow, what an ending!

Well then, should I continue? Well, the premise is interesting and has potential, but it doesn't really grip me in the first 3 episodes. Stated again, I am not part of the target audience (young girls) so most of my complaints might not figure into what the expectations of the shoujo audience want with this show. It is a bit trite, relying too much on tropes from magical girl and school romantic comedy genres, and does nothing one hasn't seen before in better shows. Heck, if i wanted to watch a school comedy with magic, I'd stick with Negima! At least that's funny and quirky, which Ultra Maniac is not.
The few positives are the music, which is pretty good and the decent voice acting for the Japanese version. 
So, I don't much care for it. Sorry. I shall move from this. 

Next week: Nyrako-san Another Crawling Chaos Episode 1/First Impressions