Wednesday, March 28, 2012

April Schedule of Reviews, Revised Edition

Hi, this is the Eclectic Dude.

Well, I have decided to change slightly my schedule of reviews for next month. As in no review on Black Rock Shooter but I'll be posting something different.

So, here it is, the schedule
4/1: April Fools Day's Special-Tenamonya Voyagers
4/7: Hanamaru Kindergarten Episode 1/First Impressions
4/14: Editorial-Anime Longrunners
4/21: S.S. Astro (manga oneshot)

Once again, I will be on break between April 22 and May 2 due to end of term work and finals. A post on May 2nd will have details on what I'm reviewing for May.

Laterz ^_^

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Anime Review No. 26, Part III

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

Well, Kujibiki Unbalance got 4 more episodes. Well it end on a good note, or be mired by cliched mediocrity? Let's find out. 

Episode 9 at first seems a bit directionless. First, there's Chihiro and Tokino being awkward after the sudden confession at the end of the last episode. Then, Yamada (who is an actual girl, not a robot as it turns out) is shocked to see Renko building male robots for some reason other than to have tension. There's also some aliens in the woods for some reason. In no way, connected to this episode I'm sure.

Well, Chihiro's group is given a new task: Deal with VIP guests at a fireworks event later that day. Unfortunately, Yamada has gone a little cuckoo and ran off. They have to find her, then seek out Renko as she mysteriously disappeared. A massive search effort begins, since they need her to assist with their task later. It turns out Renko got abducted by the aliens in order to repair their ship. Oh, these are the same aliens from Episode 6 (love that odd note of continuity). So, they use Renko's new robots to help launch the ship out into space. 

Chihiro and the gang do manage to get back to the fireworks in time. All seems right with the world, when the alien ship gets blown out of the sky by fireworks. This was quite a LOL moment for me, and quite unexpected. This episode is well OK, a decent mix of drama and comedy that works well. It also marks the shift in tone for the series, as the last 3 episodes are much more serious and dramatic.

Episode 10 is more centered on Koyuki and Komaki. Their older brother returns to do something unexplained, at first. It turns out that their father died while on mission for the Student Council, so the brother didn't take it well. He is also mad at the fact his sisters are working with the Student Council. So, he exacts revenge by using Koyuki's psychic powers for some aim not really unexplained. However, his plan is thwarted by Chihiro and Co. (against the Student Council's orders). Only thing of merit is Chihiro's speech to the villain after which they save Koyuki from a mind control device.  In true villain fashion, though, he ends up killing himself.

This episode I don't really like a lot. Much like Ep 3, it really has no staying power. The plot doesn't make much sense. This episode has perhaps the most deliberately cliched episode plot of the entire series. Worst thing, this comes in and out of nowhere, never mentioned again.   

Episodes 11 and 12 cap off the series very well. It ties up most of the plot lines and characters, bringing up the Ritsuko, Tokino and Chihiro "love triangle", developing it to its fullest, and then ending in a rather unexpected ending for this. Of course, the final scene goes full circle back to episode 1, except this time it is Chihiro and Co. becoming Student Council. No more then that, check it out for yourself. 

So, that was Kujibiki Unbalance. Final verdict?
Well, it is a unevenly mixed bag of a school slice of life series. In terms of every aspect of it, from story to animation to VA. 
First, the story has an interesting premise behind it. But, the execution of it is hit and miss to say the least. With the exception of 2 episodes (3 and 10) the rest of the episodes are decently done story wise and fit in quite well. It does come across a deliberate spoof of school slice of life genre, but done with enough talent and work behind it. In fact, one can make the argument that this is a precursor to other student council anime series made later, like Best Student Council, Seitokai no Ichizon and Student Council's Discretion. 

Animation is well, good yet odd. The backgrounds look really good. But, the character designs are quite odd, looking a bit "off". Good backgrounds + odd character designs = mismatch, to say the least. 
The English dub voice acting is well consistently decent, but unremarkable. Only four are of note, Angora Deb as Renko, Rachel Lillis as Vice President Kasumi, Veronica Taylor as Tokino and Lisa Ortiz as Yamada. They a do a good job for a series that really doesn't need it, but I'm thrilled for them being in this dub. The rest are people who never heard of, though they do a consistent but unremarkable job.  

This pretty much sums Kujibiki Unbalance: mostly consistent but ultimately unremarkable. Most of it is ideas taken from better series in the genre. Though, to be fair, it lacks any pretense in being an actual series, it is clear from the get-go that this is a joke. A funny, silly. OTT joke, but a joke. 
If you like parody shows, this will be a treat. If not, well then search out better stuff, which shouldn't be hard. 

Well, like I said earlier, my next review is an April Fools Day's Special. Til again, Laterz 

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Anime Review No. 26, Part II

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

Well, this is Part II of Kujibiki Unbalance, covering Episodes 5-8. Is it any better, or more of the same cliche but interesting quality? Let's find out.

Episode 5 picks up roughly after the last episode. The semester is over, so summer vacation time yay ^_^. Tokino wants to get the gang together for summer vacation, but Renko (being a lil tsundere) doesn't want to come with the others, for some unspecified reason. This results in Tokino slapping her upside the face, for no real reason other than to create tension. Seriously, I find that straining believability as Tokino is rather a nice girl, so seeing that was a bit much.

Anyway, Tokino, Chihiro and Koyuki decide to go to a seminar house (read summer home) owned by the school for their summer vacation. Now, at this point, I feel like this is going to turn into another beach episode, one you find any anime series. Well, color me surprised as this episode takes a few unique twists, to say the least. Turns out, Renko's summer villa is near the same beach as the others. Tokino tries to reconcile with Renko, but isn't very successful. In fact, she almost put them both in danger. But, Koyuki, for no reason at all, uses some mysterious powers to teleport the whole group to a deserted island.

Once there, the group tries to figure out what to do. I like this part a bit as Renko seems to be the only one willing to think realistically as opposed to the rest's optimism. Of course, when all hope seems lost, Yamada shows up as a plane then promptly crashes onto the deserted island. Fortunately, the gang teams up and remake Yamada into a boat (made out of plane parts, eh? Better hope it floats xD). Well, it does, thank goodness and they make it back to the mainland. There, they meet Renko's parents, who are a bit overbearting and protective, even suggesting that she no longer attend Rikkyouin and stay at home. While I can understand their intentions, this seems a bit of an overreaction. Still, Renko stands up for herself through help of her friends and tell her parents that she is sticking with doing the Student Council work. It is rather a good moment of character development for Renko. Well, after some time passes, school is back and more work to begin. All in all, a good episode, even if it does much of it seems like filler.

Episode 6 starts off on the first day of the fall term. This, of course, means more work for our interns. It is revealed that Koyuki, being a little kid, is treated in not the best way by her classmates as she is rather reserved, shy and keeps to herself, as well as having mysterious powers. She hasn't revealed these powers for fear of further isolation. What an understandable sentiment.

Anyway, the task of the episode for our gang of four interns involves saving the school newspaper get more subscriptions. See, it was once a great newspaper with prestige but due to advances in information technology has now made the newspaper obsolete in a sense. Thus, Chihiro and his group have to assist in finding 'the big scoop'.

The group then splits off for finding a 'big scoop'. Tokino goes to the local horse racing complex and bets on the right horses to win(due to her inherent good luck). Renko decides to take pictures of Yamada doing sexy poses, which is more silly then sexy. Chihiro and Koyuki take pictures of a famous idol singer doing a surprise concert. But none of these are 'the big scoop' that they are looking for.

Finally,Koyuki decides to reveal her powers and use them in order to get 'the big scoop'. So, one evening, she calls over Chihiro to do this. She uses her psychic powers to call up an alien UFO (really?!). Of course, Chihiro doesn't want this to be the big scoop as it wouldn't be good for Koyuki and that he accepts her for what she is. SO, they end using the UFO crash as the big scoop instead and the newspaper sales surged. Another good episode, all things considered. Oh and Koyuki's sister Komaki is the owner of the Umeya noddle shop that Chihiro and his group frequent. This leads into...

Episode 7 is a more serious story, dealing with school spies. Our interns are given a task of rooting out one spy and they have one week to do that. Tokino is put under pressure, as this kind of work rubs her the wrong way, given her kind and nice nature. To support their effort, an agent is assigned to them, who turns out to be a classmate of Tokino's who's a strong, silent type (not much characterization). They split off into three groups: Chihiro-Koyuki, Renko-Yamada and Tachibana-Tokino.

After some time, they set up a trap for the spy so as to capture him/her. Turns out, Tachibana was the renegade spy all along (what a twist! xD). Also, Komaki is a personal assistant for the Student Council and a ninja, apparently. Izumi takes Tokino, which is a dumb move as the Vice President shows up to rectify the situation, as she is a miko and swordmaster, quite hardcore. However, Tokino comes up with a solution, have Izumi be a double agent, which is quite clever. This episode is also really good, due in parts to its drama and tension, much like Ep. 4.

Episode 8, much like Ep.4, is a carefully controlled character piece. Chihiro and Tokino go to Ritsuko's for her birthday celebration. Once there, they hear that Ritsuko is to be engaged to a Mr. Oribe through an arranged marriage. They deliver their presents to Ritsuko, which is a chicken doll and some eggplants. Simple gifts, but its the though that counts.

This episode still carries some aspects from Ep. 4. Ritsuko is still a cold and distant 'ice queen', though she shows signs of opening up to others, including having some 'girl talk' with Tokino. The love triangle introduced in Ep. 4 continues here in full force. Though, Tokino seems to slipping into romantic sadness as she grows concern for Chihiro. The end of the episode has Tokino confess her love to Chihiro on the way home from the party. This takes him by surprise of course.

Well, one good filler episode (can't believe I'm saying that) and three rather solid episodes. Things are looking up for this series. Hopefully the last 4 episodes will continue this trend, we'll see.

Til Next Week,
The Eclectic Dude

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Anime Review No. 26, 'Kujibiki Unbalance" Part I (Episodes 1-4)

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

Well, here it begins: Kujibiki Unbalance. A re-imagining of a "show within a show" used in Genshiken, which is a rather dull and straight look at anime otakus in college, the subject of last week's review. Apparently some one liked the idea of that show and wanted to make it an actual anime. So, 2 years later, in 2006, Kujibiki Unbalance was broadcasted on TV in Japan. It was directed by Tsutomo Mizushima with work done by Ajia-do Animation Works. So yeah different people were doing this then the people behind Genshiken. Will that make or break this? Let's find out.

Now, the concept of this show is simple and interesting: The use of a lottery to determine who gets on a student council at a upper class academy in Japan. So, essentially a school slice of life story this will turn out to be. And for the first four episodes, it seems to be just that.

Episode 1 starts us off with a good opening song, just a Jpop song over character montages, which seems rather standard and not particularly interesting. We are introduced to the main cast of characters in this first episode. First there's Chihiro, your standard male lead character whose had a streak of bad luck followed around by his childhood female friend Tokino, who conversely has good luck. Both are new students at Rikkyouin Academy, the usual "school where the rich kids go to" place. Once they get to school, they are given lots for the Kujibiki, the lottery used to determine who gets on the Student Council. And surprise, both Chihiro and Tokino are selected, each assigned to President and Vice President respectively. Sent to the Student Council room, they meet Renko the candidate for secretary. Renko can be best described as loud, smart, and short stature (source of some jokes). She also has an android assistant named Kaoru, whose function is comic relief. Watching the two banter off each other is very humorous.
Then, the current Student Council (best of the best at Rikkyouin), led by a mysterious blond girl wearing a strange helmet, come in. They explain that Renko, Tokino and Chihiro will act as interns for the current Student Council for one year, then take over and do the actual work the following year. However, any failure at any task will results in expulsion. Wow, what high stakes! Of course, their treasurer is missing. So, their first task is to find that person within the next 12 hours or be expelled.
Well, their efforts seem in vain, until they find out that their treasurer is Koyuki, a female grade schooler at Rikkyouin. After an elaborate chase scene, they track her down and convince her to join up, since she was a bit uncertain about the whole Student Council. They almost don't make it in time, but the President allows them to stay on. Of course, the President is revealed to be "Rit-chan?", someone Chihiro knows apparently.
Overall, a pretty good start.

Episode 2 continues on the story. Chihiro and his pals go through some more tasks for the Student Council. These include working for the student store, cleaning out a dorm with some rodent damage, even defusing a plot to kill the President from a malignant chess club. It's all nicely done, striking a good balance of humor and drama while still being engaging and interesting. However, there is one thing I didn't like about it-introduction to Shinbou, Chihiro's older sister and math teacher at his school. Now, she has "affection" for Chihiro that is quite frankly is a tad unhealthy and also unnecessary in this story. Which leads into...

Episode 3, in which the focus is on Shinbou, unfortunately. It turns out she was a former drag racer, trying hard to be straight-laced, as such a past is socially unacceptable for a teacher at a prestigious school. Anyway, she wants Chihiro to notices her affections (which is just strange) so she has the science teacher Mr. Kaburagi (total nerd xD) to make a love potion. He does, but a mishap causes it to be applied onto Shinbou, resulting in everyone (male and female) falling for her and chasing her down.
Now, as if that was not enough, that is Plot B. Plot A involves Chihiro and his friends tracking down a missing panda from the school zoo, because apparently Rikkyouin has one (yeah i know weird rite?). Both plots do collide in a way I saw coming a mile away. The panda gets returned and Shinbou fails to gain any ground.
Problem with this episode is that it has 2 plots that could be worth an episode by themselves but they crammed the two in just because, and as a result both suffer for it. It is a half-baked mess of terrible.

Episode 4, is an improvement, thank goodness. It deals mainly with Ritsuko, Chihiro and Tokino. Chihrio and Tokino have to go over to the school on a Sunday to get a textbook she left behind. But, a rainstorm happens, and they end up stuck at school. Fortunately, Ritsuko happened to be at the school, working on a Sunday. The two then decide to help her out with work. What I really like about this episode is that it is relatively quiet character piece. It turns out that Ritsuko went away some time ago, then returned without letting Chihiro and Tokino know about it. She is now strict, unapproachable, almost like an 'ice queen'. In the past, she was meek, shy, easy to cry, like most kids I think. Whereas it seems she has changed, in more subtle ways she really hasn't, as the episode shows.
This episode also starts off the love triangle between the three characters. I think this will play out in the end, I hope and not meander off like episode 3.

So, two good yet cliched episodes, one bad episode, one good episode-not much of a good start. Hope things improve with episode 5.

Until next week,
The Eclectic Dude

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Anime Review No. 25, "Genshiken" Episode 1/First Impressions

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

Well, to start off, let me make something perfectly clear. I hear from the various groups of anime fans I've been in that many of them profess to be "Otaku" and be proud of it. However, it is not a term of endearment. It roughly translates to meaning someone who is obsessed with something, in other words, geeks and nerds. What I am trying to say is that no respectable fan of anime would or should call themselves 'Otaku', in my opinion. I prefer to use the term 'anime fan' or 'anime enthusiast'.

Now, with that out of the way, this weekend's review is over Genshiken episode 1. This 2004 TV Series was directed by Takashi Ikehata and produced by Palm Studio and Genco, the series follows a club of anime enthusiasts and their adventures in college. Episode 1 was broadcasted on October 10 2004, which prompted 2 full 13-episode series after this. It is based off of a manga series that ran from 2002 to 2006, with a sequel series running from December 2010. AnimeWorks/Media Blasters licensed and distributed this title. So, what is in the first episode that helped to lift this series? Let's find out.

Episode 1-Study of the Modern Visually-Oriented Culture 
The episode opens quite oddly, as it is showing a scene from an entirely different series (opening scene, Opening song) which leads to some initial confusion. However, it is just TV viewing of Kujibiki Unbalance (the show within the show) from the POV of Sasahara,  the main character of the series. He is a freshman student at Suioh University (made-up i assume) and is seeking clubs to join. He comes across as a 'greenhorn' when it comes to anime. He comes across one group called 'Genshiken' or The Society for the Study of Modern Visual Culture.

At the same time, we are also introduced to Kohsaka and Saki, the first 'couple' in the series. I say 'couple' because it is terribly one-sided, on Saki's side that is. Saki is a snarky, abrasive, yet normal college girl. Kohsaka, on the other hand, is a hard-core 'otaku' so to speak. But, of course, they are childhood friends, so a relationship between the two can't be ruled out.

Anyway, Sasahara decides to join Genshiken. He goes to their club room, off in a secluded building on campus. Now, I like this part, as it reminds of my times going to anime club back at university. The anime club would meet up at one of more older and secluded buildings on the campus. The scenes where Sasahara  is in the club room, and watching anime with the other club members, with the other members offering commentary on the episode, is a very nice touch. Sarahara also meets up with Kohsaka, who is also a freshman. Kudos to the creators for it.

Well, all of a sudden, the club members start to leave, one by one. Before long, Sasahara is left all by himself. So, being curious, he starts to wander around the club room. He notices all the consoles, shelves and shelves of manga and figurines. His mind wanders, however, to why the erotic stuff is, which is in a closed cabinet in the room. He then gets caught peeking into this by the other members, who then coerces him into joining the club. After some more stuff, Sasahara settles in with his new group of friends.

So, what are my thoughts? Well, I have to say it is an average start. Not too great, but not terrible. A pretty standard introduction to a show that is essentially about the culture it is a product of, a la "Otaku No Video".  Of course, they are a bit more subtle in terms of the references in this than in "Otaku no Video". It also has a postmodern feel with the inclusion of Kuji-Un, which adds in some 'meta' humor quite well done. The English dub voice acting is much like the show, dry and dull while still being decent (i.e. listenable). Only one of note, for me, is Carol Jacobanis as Saki, who does probably a bit more effort than need be, but yeah having one character who is loud and lively in a cast of rather dull and dry geeks isn't too bad of a thing.

But one thing I get out of the episode is how it portrayed: rather average and ordinary. Which isn't a bad thing, I must say. I get the feeling that the show will be rather average. Not sure if I will do a full review of the series, since I don't have the full series yet.

So, why bring up Genshiken? Well, it is a good lead into the review I will be doing the rest of the month: Kujibiki Unbalance. Yes, that show within a show became its own series in Fall of 2006, done by a different director and studio. The reason why Kuji-Un was used by the Genshiken series was due to copyright issues. See, using clips from an actual show would cost money, which is a legitimate concern to be fair.

So, the next three weeks will be over the 12 episode series. Four episodes per part, with me doing some analysis and commentary as best as I can given the written format. That and the review in 3 parts will be released on Saturdays for this month.

Eclectic Dude