Saturday, April 21, 2012

Anime Review No. 29, "S.S. Astro"

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

Well, this is my first review of a manga and the last review for this season. I figure that since I review OVAs and other short series (for the most part), I’d do a review on a manga oneshot, that being titled “S.S. Astro”. The literal title is “Teach-Warship Astro”, though ASTRO is an anagram for Asahigo Sogo Teachers’ Room. 

Cover page with Izumi Maki (nice pose there) 
This manga oneshot, written by Negi Banno and released in 2007 (Japan) and 2008 (USA), deals with the lives of four teachers at Asahigo Sogo High school. It is essentially a school slice of life 4-koma series, much like Lucky Star and K-On!. I came across this title on Amazon for a cheap price.

Now, there are four main characters, all of them teachers at Asahigo Sogo High. First there’s Izumi Maki, a new PE teacher at the school which she went to herself years ago. She is dealing with the typical problems that came with being a new teacher. Second there’s Setsuna Arai, the Nursing Teacher (not an actual nurse as it turns out) who is a bit too enthused with her job of treating students (she gets dismayed when she doesn’t get to do that or when students come in feigning illness).  Third there’s Yuko Nagumo, the Japanese teacher who is rather a Yamamoto Nadeshiko (traditional, nice, genteel woman). Finally there’s Kaname Karasuma, the Foreign Language teacher who is Izumi’s advisor, willing to assist the new teacher as much as she can. She is also clearly a lesbian for Izumi, since a lot of their scenes involve Kaname nosebleeding/blushing a lot. Nice slice of yuri there eh? LOL. There are other characters, but they only show up in a few parts so not much to say on them.

Now, the positives are a few when it comes to SS Astro. Being a 4-koma, one would expect not much plot or character development (like Lucky Star or K-On!) due to the format. Quite to the contrary, there is a bit of plot and character development as individual 4-panel stories are rather linked by the main characters involved. Banno-san seems to have a good idea of how to write a 4-koma that is quick, snappy, and quite humorous at times as reading this did have me chuckling a lot. The author seems to have done his homework when it came to high school as this is a rather realistic look at Japanese High School. It is rather down-to-earth as it deals with real characters dealing with real problems, even if it’s a piece of fiction. That factor in of itself makes me relate to the characters more.  

Now, there is one downside: There is only one volume of this title. Granted, it is hinted at that there were plans for another volume but given how old this title is, I highly doubt it. Negi Banno only worked on this manga title, so not sure if he gave up or something else. I don’t know the details, but it is a somewhat of a shame as the first and only volume shows some promise. I recommend this, if only to take a look at it. It is short, sweet and to the point. It’s my favorite oneshot manga.  

Well, taking a break for the next 2 weeks. I will also go back to doing Sunday reviews starting May 6th
Laterz ^_^ 

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Anime Editorial-Anime Longrunners

Hi, I’m the Eclectic Dude and I will not reviewing for the lolz, at least not this weekend.

So, you, the casual blog viewer may be asking or thinking, why am I not doing any reviews on shows like InuYasha, Bleach, One Piece, and/or Naruto? Why dwell on titles that either goes unnoticed or ones that are plain, dull crap? Good questions, I will answer as best as I can.

First, I don’t much care for those series. I termed them as ‘longrunners’ as they well run long, as in more than 26 episodes. Now, I have stated in a few reviews that a lot of OVAs had a few episodes and that is it, many went unfinished. Longrunners have the opposite problem; in that they never end seem to end. Granted, for people who are into watching longrunners, they may not mind this. But, for me, at some point I just lost interest. For instance, I watched Bleach through to the early episodes of the Bount arc and then just gave up. Also, most of them are shonen action genre pieces which I don’t watch anymore. I have moved on from it to watching other, more interesting genres.

Second, I have to ask: What is the point? I mean, if you really think about the premises for longrunners, they should be able to work within 13-26 episodes. But since they don’t, we run into another problem: filler episodes. It is the bane of my existence, when it comes to anime. There are episodes where not much happens and plot is derided for reasons not explained. That is not to say all anime series have to be all plot/story/characters with no downtime. But the downtime has to be at least productive and works well with the plot of the story told.

Third, while they are popular and mainstream, they don’t best exemplify what anime is about. Let me ask a reflective question, are shows like Bleach or Naruto going to be remembered with same fondness as shows like FMA or Ghost in the Shell? I don’t think so, as those shows have much more substance than a series like Naruto or Bleach.

Lastly, it is the fans of series like Naruto, Bleach and/or One Piece. One may called ‘Narutards’ or other unsavory names, I prefer to called them ‘misguided’. As I stated, since most longrunners are shonen action genre pieces, fans of these shows seem to think themselves better than others because they watch Naruto, Bleach and/or One Piece. They also seem too deluded to the point that any flawing/errors in series like that as a personal offense. Personally, I have reached a point in being an anime fan; I have developed some basic expectations for my anime. That is:
1.       Be entertaining
2.       Have a Point to it
3.       Hold my interest
4.       Tell a good story with interesting characters so that points 1-3 are satisfied
5.       Be weird, quirky, strange in some form or shape (personal and optional for me)
When it comes to longrunners, the first 4 points are not fulfilled at all, at least when it comes to me personally. Even some of the titles I own/seen over the years I can say with a straight face both the flaws and strengths of a series. I have demonstrated this through my reviews since August of last year. Does this make the authority of all when it comes to anime? Nah, there are plenty of people who probably know more about anime then myself. I just wish to impart my thoughts on the odd and the stranger titles in anime, which I have established as my ‘comfort zone’ when it comes to anime
Well, next week, I will do my first manga (graphic novel) review on SS Astro. Laterz
Questions/Comments-send to (working on getting comments enabled for reviews)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Anime Review No. 28, "Hanamaru Kindergarten"

I’m the Eclectic Dude, and I review it for the lolz.
Well, after a fun scifi adventure that is Tenamonya Voyagers, I follow it up with….Hanamaru Kindergarten?! Wut?!
Koume, Hiiragi, and Anzu in foreground, with Tsuchida and Yamamoto in the background  
Yes, seriously. This 2010 slice of life series of 12 episodes is something not within what I normally review, which is obscure OVAs/series from the 90s. But I will try nonetheless. The director is Seiji Mizushima and produced by Studio Gainax. Gainax is better known for titles like Neon Genesis Evangelion and Gurren Lagann. Indeed, this is the company that later in 2010 put out Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt (P&S w/G), one of the raunchiest anime I’ve ever seen in recent memory. Though to be fair, P&S w/G is far more memorable than this title, as I didn’t heard much of this series since it came out.

So, let’s see what’s up with this series by looking at the first episode. The first episode is actually two short stories mashed into one episode. After a short opening music sting, the first of two main characters is introduced, Tsuchida-sensei. He is a new kindergarten teacher going to his first day of work. This is a bit unusual as being a male kindergarten teacher must be a rarity even in Japan.

He meets up with Anzu, a kindergartener. She instantly becomes infatuated with Tsuchida-sensei, which is a little odd. The first part of the episode deals with the first day of school. Ah, what fond memories of that, let me tell you. It did bring some nostalgia to me. Anyway, Tsuchida ends up falling for Yamamoto-sensei, another teacher working at the same small elementary school he works at. Uh-oh, I smell a love triangle (maybe).  

Anzu also meets some new friends, as you do at first day of school. Hiiragi is a blue-haired girl who is stoic and overly serious. Koume is a brown-haired girl who is shy, timid, and reserved. Anzu is a rather cheerful little girl who is happy, talkative and makes friends easily. She is also very brave, as she goes up a tree to get Koume’s ribbon back after a wind blew it up there.

The second part deals with mainly Tsuchida-sensei. It turns out Anzu’s mom was his senpai (senior) back in high school. She was already married to the art teacher at the school. I like how casually this information is revealed, when such a thing would be a big deal here in the USA. Oh, well.

The rest of it contains scenes of domestic life of the characters introduced in the first part. Then, the next day, Anzu confesses her love to Tsuchida. He is expectedly surprised at this, even more so when Anzu’s mom gives her blessing. Oh noes….hijinks are to insure….I guess.

Final thoughts: I thought it was OK. The fact that Gainax put out a slice of life series so mundane and ordinary when they have also done series like Gurren Lagann, FLCL, Evangelion, Abenobashi is quite a surprise. They seem to be their best when they are loud and bombastic, not quiet, calm and peaceful. Granted, some of the humor is on par with their other stuff, but that’s about it.

I am not sure if I will watch this further, as it seems like every typical slice of life story. The only difference being is that it deals with kindergarteners. That’s about it. It is average, at best. If you like slice of life stories or a Gainax fan, then I recommend checking it out. If not, well then pass it up. To be fair, kids can watch this with not much trouble at all, if that's a consolation.


The Eclectic Dude 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

Anime Review No. 27, “Tenamonya Voyagers” (April Fool’s Day Special Review)

Hello, I’m the Eclectic Dude I review it for the lols.

Well, Happy April Fool’s Day everyone! This special day calls for a special review, because why the heck not. I know the perfect thing to review-Tenamonya Voyagers!!!!!

DVD Cover with the main characters (L-R: Wakana, Ayako, and  Space Trash Paraila) with Inspector Yokoyama near top
Never heard of it? I don’t blame you. Tenamonya Voyagers, a Sci-Fi 1999 OVA done by Studio Pierrot is in that category of ‘rare, obscure” in anime. It also has the distinction for being one of the early titles of anime released exclusively on DVD back in the late 90s/early 00s. But being one of the first, does that make it good?

The story behind Tenamonya Voyagers involves the adventures of 3 young women in space, at some point far in the future. Two of them are humans-Ayako, a new teacher and Wakana, a student athlete. Both ended up at a school on a far off planet of Meldonia, Ayako having a teacher job and Wakana getting there via an athletic scholarship.  However, once they get to Meldonia, the school got shutted down (valid since it took them light years to get there). Anyway, without much to do, the two decides to return back to Earth, despite their limited resources to do so.

Fortunately, a solution comes from above, literally. A giant mecha falls onto the planet, demolishing the school. Out of it comes Paraila, a mysterious young girl who seems more than she appears. Together, they are determined to get back to Earth, the home in a vast universe so to speak. But, it turns out Paraila is a former boss of the Space Mafia who is hoping to get back to Earth for her own selfish reasons. Turns out, some past space treaty left Earth as ‘neutral territory’ wherein any criminal that lands there has ALL their criminal charges wiped clean. In addition to be pursuing by the Mafia, the Space Police have someone on her trail as well-an obsessive policewoman from Hiroshima, Yokoyama.

Sounds pretty good, eh? Well, unfortunately, not only it is rare/obscure it is also unfinished. Only 4 episodes got made. Yeah, spoiler alert, they don’t make it back to Earth and the final episode ends on a cliffhanger. However, unlike Legend of the Last Labyrinth, which suffered from cutbacks it seems, this title suffered from probably low sales. A sad fact of life for OVA collectors, in that a lot of them were released by video every few weeks or months and the continuation of many titles depended on sales of the videos. If sales were good, then OVAs got more episodes and vice versa.

Which is a shame, as Tenamonya Voyagers is a very good OVA. The animation is quite excellent, for its time. Upon first watching it, I did a double take when the fact that this was made back in 1999. It looks good enough to be something made from the early to mid 00s. Characters are extremely expressive and back grounds are well done in every scene of the 4 episodes.

The direction is also something of note as well. Akiyuki Shinbou directed this OVA, yes the same guy who was involved in Galaxy Fraulien Yuna OVAs and Detatoko Princess (both I have reviewed previously). Here, in my opinion, is the best OVA/series he did pre-Studio Shaft. His trademarks are on full display here, be it use of texts on screen, interesting camera angles and wacky/tippy lighting and color effects. He gives it some pacing and quality that one should view the OVA as all 4 episodes at once, as it feels like a movie at times.

The story and characters are well a mixed bag.  It is essential a ‘girls on the run in space’ story, but with a few unique twists thrown in for good measure. The writing is filled with lots of humor, both sophomoric and more subtle. The characters are overall fun and enjoyable to watch. Ayako is a distressed young teacher who is in way over her head at times, but gives enough laughs at times so the audience is totally annoyed at her. Wakana and Paraila basically serves as bouncing boards off each other, Wakana wondering why go through the hassle of going to Earth with a known criminal and Paraila just not giving a crud about what anyone thinks or says. And Yokoyama, the policewoman on the trail of Paraila is basically a crazy badass who probably joined the police just so she could capture/kill people, making her a passable antagonist.

Finally, the music is also worthy of note. In particular, the opening, which it is basically a marching band tune set to well weird imagery. The rest of the soundtrack is very much like the OVA-space epic and all that. Granted, they do recycle some soundtrack parts a few times but thankfully it’s not too annoyingly overused.

Not that to say it’s all good. The story is rather unfinished and this fact is no more evident than in the fourth and last episode, where the production team just threw their arms up in the air and said “Feck the plot, we’ll just do something ridiculously awesome”, apparently. Now, there has to be the best way to end an OVA that probably had no chance: Just end on a note of ridiculously awesomeness. Check it out for yourself, I am not spoiling here.

This gets a good recommendation, if you are a sci-fi fan or like parody series as well. It is not that hard to find it, as has it for dirt cheap. It is well worth it, as Tenamonya Voyagers is a joke; a huge, entertaining joke, to be fair, but a joke nonetheless

‘Til next time ^_^