Thursday, December 12, 2013

Preview for 2014

Well well,

Yeah I am taking a break from the blog for the year 2013. I might be doing something for Animation Revelation, maybe or maybe not.

Not to worry, I shall be back for 2014, which is when Phase IV for this blog begins. For those not in the know, my blog has had 3 phases of development.

Phase 1 (August-December 2011): where I was just starting out, reviews were a bit rough.
Phase 2 (January-July 2012): noticeable improvements, a step in the right direction
Phase 3 (August 2012-December 2013): Switching to 2-3 reviews a month was a good move in my opinion, arguably contains some of my favorite reviews.

The next and fourth phase (January-May 2014) will contain more variety. Not just covering anime series, but also some anime movies and manga. It will be kicked off the first weekend of the new year (Jan 4-5th) with the completion of my Anime Favorites page. Also, that weekend I will post my first tip on my Anime/Manga Collecting 101 page. That page will be one tip and write up per month for the whole year of 2014.

Then its back to the reviews on January 11-12th. I won't say what it is over, but I will say that its Anime vs. Manga, which I will look at the anime and manga versions of the show and doing some compare/contrast.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Anime Review no. 70-Patlabor OVA

Patlabor OVA
1988-89, 7 episodes
Studio: DEEN/HEADGEAR, Director-Mamoru Oshii, Writer-Kazunori Ito

patlabor-miina-tominaga-dvd-cover-art81c cLV3yOL._AA_

Hello there, well it is time for the final review for the blog this year. In case you didn’t get it by the preview trailer posted at the end of the previous review, I am going over the Patlabor OVA, the other release I got from Maiden Japan this year. This review will be more of an episode guide as this show is old enough to warrant it. Therefore, spoilers warning.
Episode 1: Second Unit, Move Out!

Notice anything off here? 

It’s the near future in Japan, where giant robots have been developed for wide use in society. However, crime rose as a result and in response the police develop the Patlabor, which unsurprisingly look like the robot from Appleseed. This information is dispensed through the pre-opening intro at the start of every episode.  Then the opening song (link to OP), which I have to say is one of the best from the old school anime I have looked at. It’s energetic and fun, and gives you enough clues about what this is about, namely giant robots.


Essentially, Patlabor is the chronicles of the Second Unit of the Tokyo Metro Police Security Division. This series came out at a time when giant robot shows were rather simplistic: Macross, Gundam, etc while entertaining and successful money makers. Patlabor added some depth and philosophy to the mix-years before Anno did the same thing with Evangelion, except this works out a bit better. I believe that is due to the director, Mamoru Oshii. He also is behind Ghost in the Shell, another sci-fi which deals with similar themes and ideas to Patlabor. It is very cautious optimistic: robots have done some good things for society and that all our problems have been solved with technological progress, but still some of the societal ills exist nonetheless.
Anyway, the SV2 is headed by Captain Goto, a deadpan snarker boss. Shinobu is the female captain for the first unit and double acts against Goto quite often, providing some nice comedic moments here and there, in small doses. Of course, our main characters are the squad members: Noa Izumi-plucky genki redhead girl, names her Patlabor 'Alphonse'; Asuma Shinohara-down to earth guy who’s son of the president to the company that made the Labors possible; a gun otaku named Ohta, a scrawny newly married man Mikiyasu and the gentle giant Hiromi.  

One things I have to give this series is that it has quite solid animation, both in mecha design and backgrounds

Basically the first episode serves as a standard first episode: introducing the world, the characters, the main draw (the Patlabors), and setting up the situation. I have to say they do a very good job at this task. It does take a bit for it get interesting but luckily once it picks up, it does with great speed. What happens is that the SV2 grab their Patlabors and go to deal with some criminals who have gotten hold of a Labor and a police chase ensues The fight and chase scenes is well done, quick and kinetic animation. I also like to point out that the animation is rather solid and consistent, with some great backdrops thrown in for good measure. The episode ends with them capture the bad guys yet the Patlabors need repairs; overall a decent first episode.  

Episode 2: Long Shot (aka ‘Dat Face!!’)
It starts off with something completely out of left field: Izumi getting to test out a new Patlabor-which looks like a Gundam knockoff. However it fails, but then it turns out that it was all a dream.

Oh, mai waifu! (No seriously Kanuka rules, screw you guys)

Anyway, new character introduced: Kanuka Clancy, aka my favorite character in this show and potential waifu. No, seriously. Despite being an American transfer, she is the most Japanese looking of the entire cast, which is very funny. It also doesn't hurt that she is voiced by Angora Deb, one of my favorite voice actresses from CPM dubs (others being Veronica Taylor, Rachel Lillis, Megan Hollingshead, Jessica Calvello). She is here to oversee a goodwill trip by the NYC mayor; acting as temporary Security advisor.
It is in this episode that the Babel project is first brought out: basically turn Tokyo Bay into a mini-version of the Netherlands, to solve land issues. There is lots of talk about this, but it isn't explored too much in the OVA at least that I am aware of, acting as something in the background. Opposition in the form of terrorists and other anti-govt people that don’t much care for the Babel Project for very vague reasons.

Gah, what a face >.< 

It turns out some mad scientist has set up a bomb right near the hotel building where the NYC mayor will be at; the episode turns into a ticking clock type situation-real tense. She pretty much saves the day as she is like the expert on explosives and helps Shinohara with 'which wire is cut?' scenario then ends up cutting the wire herself just in the nick of time. 

Bwahahahahahaha Dat Face (twice in the same scene)

Shinohara wants to quit, yet stays when its announced that Kanuka Clancy is staying for a year with SV2. Possibly due to him gaining a crush on Kanuka, I don’t know it isn’t explained clearly at this point. Despite that, I quite like this episode: great action and suspense, and an introduction to one of my favorite female characters in anime.  

Episode 3: The 450 Million Year Old Trap
Ok, right off the bat, this whole episode is practically a dead straight parody of the 1954 Godzilla film. I say dead straight parody because as ridiculous as the premise is, it is played completely serious. It has all the elements of a monster flick: Mysterious sea creature, mad scientist who created it, various schemes to deal with the creature (ranging to scientific to practical to just plain silly), scientific psychobabble (panspermia theory and ruminations on evolution).

Oh you knew I had include another Kanuka screencap in here somewhere

The scene in Hirata's lab is really the one highlight: the writing, animation, lighting, direction-its all impeccable.Kanuka Clancy is really the sane one of the group but then is quickly involved, but more in the ‘oh let’s just kill the sucker’ which is rather disheartening. Unfortunately, it is very anti-climatic. 

Yeah, this makes even less sense in context. 

I see why most people don't like this episode, as it is rather unlike anything else in the OVA series. It turns the show from a police procedural with giant robots and blending in elements from B-movie monster flicks. On the other hand, I can also see shy Mamoru Oshii says that this is his favorite. He seems to be very much a Godzilla fan and wanted to pay homage to it in this project. Personally, I find this episode to be more an interesting experiment that fails in execution rather than planning. Sure, the plot is nearly beat for beat Godzilla, the fact that they play it straight makes its more entertaining, at least in my eyes.

Episode 4: The Tragedy of L
It opens with the SV2 squad brought into deal with a hostage situation at a VHS store. Yet, they manage to botch that up and Capt. Goto decides that they need some retraining. So, they go back to their former training school. They still get some R&R (nice bath scenes with a bit of male and female fanservice, at least by late 80s standards).

Dat Face strikes again 

But, some strange things occur: Someone put red paint in the bath, Ohta finds hair in the sink and spots a ghostly girl, A mossy overgrown Patlabor emerges from the mist with a skeleton inside, and some other coincidental events relating to a tragic past incident at the training school. Shinohara and the others are piecing together the puzzle in order to solve the mystery. Shinohara comes in and basically shows that all isn't what it seems.

However, he is upstaged by Kanuka who very much steals the scene and goes further than Shinohara could: its takes more to put the pieces together-one must analyze and synthesize the whole situation and all the information presented to you must be taken into consideration: to sift out the truth from the lies.  
The only thing I really like about this episode is that it offers some interesting commentary on the structure of mystery tale. Otherwise, an OK episode.  

Episode 5/6: The SV2's Longest Day, Parts I-II Pinnacle of the whole OVA series
In Winter (February to be precise), Shinohara finds out that his father's company is developing a new Labor for military use. It is also around Holiday season, and so the SV2 squad are all off on vacation. Meanwhile, a widespread criminal conspiracy is afoot with a past friend of Capt. Goto's, named Kai, at its helm-mysterious men in black scouting out the SV2….for nefarious purposes mwahahaha.  

And another Kanuka screencap added in (also, the action scene she's in is fantastic)

Quick paced action and drama rolled in one; great character moments-everyone in the main cast have their moment to shine (Shinobu's defiance against the authorities who'd prefer to turn tail and run, Goto dealing with stopping Kai's plan, Kanuka and her crazy driving scene, Shinohara and Noa's buddy comedy scene as they make their way to help). Another thing I like about this show is that any sort of romance is rather subdued: Goto x Shinobu, Shinohara x Kanuka is more implicit in nature, and that it doesn’t detract at all from the main story.

Yeah, this is how the 2 parter ends....on a still frame for reasons that forever baffle me

Some other things of note: real nice cliffhanger between the parts as the squad gets together to do battle. Part I is all establishment and build-up, then Part II is big bang action and quick payoff. It is a nail-biting, down to the wire scenario. Finally, if properly edited, this could have been a good standalone movie for the series (oh wait...).  

Episode 7: SV2 to the North!
We sort of go full circle with the seventh and final episode, as the SV2 squad deal with a stolen prototype Labor, which got stolen twice. The unfortunate thing is that it isn't connected to anyway to the events of the last 2 episodes which were great-no sense of any time lapse or skip, even a basic mention.  

The Patlabor rolling out and the ensuing robot fight is really the only highlight of this episode

Gosh I love Kanuka Clancy-only one not arguing/bickering and just wanting to get the job done. Noa’s and her team-up with the prototype Labor against the company’s own Labors which turn on them near end of the episode is the highlight. It ends on a definite high note: Promise of good stuff to come….
That being said, it is a good episode overall, but it feels like the ending for this particular OVA, and not for a series: Not surprising, as by the time this episode was released in Japan a TV Series and Movie was being made.  

Misc observations:
I love how this series explores the impact that the advancement of technology has on society. It offers an interesting look into society of the future, that even with the giant robots, the police will still have to deal with criminal activity regardless.

The English dub: quite good, certainly one of the better NY/CPM dubs I've listened. For all the flack i give CPM when it comes to their releases, they did do quite a number of good dubs: this one, Slayers, Utena, etc. Dan Green is in this dub, and yes kiddies before Yu-Gi-Oh! He was in quite a lot of these CPM dubs. Everyone else is rather good, though a few slip-ups and hammy acting occur as well. Once again, Angora Deb is another standout performer as Kanuka, and certainly some of the others (Michael Schwartz as Capt. Goto) give some really great performances.

Overall, Patlabor OVA is a very good old school giant robot show. It is certainly one of the best old school (80s and 90s) anime that I have looked at. And I am glad that Maiden Japan has taken an interest in licensing and releasing this as it had been out of print for at least a decade. If you’re a fan of old school anime or giant robots, then I definitely recommend checking this out. Also, Maiden Japan has been releasing the TV Series which is based off of this OVA (4 sets in total) primarily because they did a license rescue of the stuff that US Manga Corps released back in the day. The movies in this franchise are still in the hands of Bandai, though been out of print for some time but can be found if you're willing to do some digging. I hope to get my hands on at least the first movie and go from there. This OVA, more than anything, has served as a great introduction for the Patlabor universe.

Well, that covers 2013 for me. I will be posting an update on the Anime Favorites page on my blog Sunday with Entries #4 and #3 for that list.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Anime Review No. 69-Momo The God Girl of Death

"It's the end but the moment has been prepared for."
Momo the God Girl of Death: Shinigami no Ballad
2006 OVA, 6 episodes
Studio-Group TAC, Director-Tomomi Mochizuki, Writer-Reiko Yoshida


Hello, I am the Eclectic Dude.....and I rock the plaid. But in all seriousness, this entry is touching on a subject that is heady, that being death. Its a subject that over the centuries has been dealt in various ways and methods, from the Mahler’s Ninth Symphony, to the Divine Comedy of Dante, to Picasso's Guernica, to Monty Python's Dead Parrot sketch, to images from the past century of death and destruction (pick one there's aplenty).

Thus, anime certainly is not exempt from dwelling on the topic of death. Though it is mostly focused on character deaths, which can range from emotionally impactful (a certain death scene in Madoka) to dull and vacuous (I'm looking at you SAO!). Yet, there aren't that many shows in the anime genre that deal with death in any particular and constructive way. However, Momo the God Girl of Death is one of those series.

Momo the Girl God of Death is basically a short anthology series involving the titular Momo and her lively cat-bat assistant Daniel as they help people out with death, either by avoiding death or dealing with the wishes/regrets of people in relation to their lost loved ones. But, she does it with a gentle and kind heart, seeming more like an angel then a grim reaper (scythe notwithstanding).

So, what about this makes it special? Well, it being a loose anthology, you can easily just watch the episodes in any real order, as there is not much continuity. As such, this feels like a patchwork of vignettes stitched together with really the only connection being Momo and Daniel. Only episodes 3 and 6 are really any good standout in those terms. Episode 3 deals with a young man Kantaro going out on a treasure hunt based off a map left by game-loving grandfather, involving his female classmate Tomato (no seriously that's her name) to come with. What he finds there is not quite the kind of treasure one would expect. Episode 6 deals with Momo and Daniel consoling a recently dead spirit of schoolgirl Sakura. Watching Momo pointing out to Sakura how her family and friends are while at times moving forward with their lives, still take time to remember her. Of course, the twist at the end is quite a surprise at least to me. The messages presented here are not that different from the obvious ones brought out in other works on death. All told, they are rather simplistic in terms of story and characters, but is it attached to stunning visuals, right?

Well, unfortunately, the presentation is rather bland and dull. Then again, the show on the whole is mellow and calm for the most part, so it fits. The animation is done by the now defunct Group TAC, which went out of business in 2010 and as such it looks utterly generic. Heck, even the music is generic, light music with scarcely a memorable tune in it at all.  It is at least barely competent, but it doesn't stand too much, even from 2006. Which leads into my next question: Why did this get released?

The answer is Maiden Japan, a label linked with Switchblade Pictures, which in turn falls under the umbrella of Section 23 Films. Maiden Japan was founded by former ADV co-founder Matt Greenfield back in 2010 and their express purpose seems to be releasing really niche anime titles. I mean seriously, look at their catalog (Maiden Japan Catalog). I haven't heard of any of these, though Papillon Rose looks particularly interesting....anyway.

So yeah, and not only does this release come over here, but also with an English dub track. Niche titles, at least in this day and age, often don’t get a dub or if they do, it tends to be a re-release done several years later (Punie-chan as an example). So, what about the English dub?

Well, the English dub for this show is the second title Maiden Japan has released with a dub, the another being Tokyo Magnitude 8.0 this past spring. Unfortunately, it turned out to be a rather patchy and uneven Sentai Filmworks dub (mix of veteran ADV actors and newer talent that they got). Whether or not that has to do with the 2 ADR Directors working on it (Joey Goubeaud/Jason Grundy), large but multitasking cast, or some questionable issues in pronunciation or vocal performances ("shinigomi in lieu of shinigami"/use of reaper in text) is a point for debate certainly. Personally, I just think any problem with the dub is in relation to the rather lackluster source material. When it works, it is very mellow and slow, much like the show itself. There are some highlights to be fair: Jessica Boone as Momo and Nancy Novotny as Daniel deliver great performances overall. In fact, the overall quality improves a bit over the course of the 6 episodes, but not by much. Episode 3 has in my humble opinion the best performances of the dub: Brittney Karbowski, Chris Patton and John Swasey putting in some great performances, at least in comparison to the rest of the dub.

So, why did I choose to review this series? Well, I had have my brushes with death in the past, one in particular from 5 years ago. I ended up in hospital for a weekend after having a week of excessive lethargy and other things. Well, it turned out I had developed diabetes, type I to be precise (so yes, my pancreas is on strike). My blood sugar was so high at that point that the nurse told me any higher, and I would be dead from coma. I was like ‘wow, that’s scary’. In fact, I would dare say that was my ultimate turning point in my life, whereupon I no longer took stuff for granted and strive to live life to the fullest, which of course is one of the primary messages of Momo the God Girl of Death. In the end, it’s a reassuring comfort when I watch it. Not too great, but not too bad: it is just there, decent and competent show that touches on the heady subject of death.

Info on Releases:
Released by Maiden Japan in June 2013
3 novels published by Seven Seas Entertainment back in 2008
So, what’s next for me? Well, the last review for this year is over another release by Maiden Japan, luckily its much more memorable and what I’m sure will be a treat for old school anime fans:

Trailer for Next Time's Review
Thanks to wiifermadness for uploading this.

Later, good readers….

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Anime Review No. 68-Ah My Goddess, Season 1 Episodes 25-26 (OVA tied to 2005 TV Series)

AH My Goddess Season 1, OVA Episodes
Released December 23, 2005
Studio: AIC, Director-Hiroki Goda, Writers: Takashi Aoshima (E25) and Jukki Hanada (E26)
Now, I am only covering this OVA 2 parter related to the Ah My Goddess TV Series for two reasons. One, I like this show quite a lot but don't quite have the time to cover the series as a whole. Second, the remainder of my reviews for this year will be over OVAs, so it fits within the format. If you want to press me for another reason, I need something to fill in an empty slot and figure that this would be easy filler.

For those reading not in the know for Ah My Goddess, check out my reviews covering the 90s OVA (OMG OVA Part 1, OMG OVA Part 2) and the Movie (Ah My Goddess Movie Review). Also, be sure to watch this two episodes before reading the review as it is spoiler-heavy.
Here are the links to the episodes in question, courtesy of Media Blasters:
AMG Ep 25
AMG Ep 26

Ok, you done now? Let us begin...

Episode 25: Ah! Urd's Small Love Story?
Sake-please drink responsibly

After the incident with the Lord of Terror (final arc of Season 1), Keiichi and Belldandy's life has returned to normal it seems. However, Yggdrasil is running into some problems as it is still recovering, much like a computer recovering from a massive DOS attack or virus. For one thing, Urd has turned into a child and Belldandy has fallen asleep, though she has a nice and cute chibi avatar. After getting some proper clothes for kid-Urd, she decides to go out and just loiter about, with her booze in tow.

I smell a future ufo doll here....

In the course of her loitering, she runs into a young bespectacled boy named Shohei Yoshida, who look likes me back in the day. They bond over some videogames, as you do in these modern times. The poor boy is smitten by her, of course, and they plan to meet again the next day in the park.
Notice that it is POP, not you know, that other mobile gaming device...

Of course, Keiichi and Belldandy are off on a search for moon rocks, which can serve as an alternative power source. But Urd tells them not to worry about, as she is enjoying herself as a kid. One of the things that I like Urd and make her an interesting is her hidden sadness and regret masked by her bold in-your-face exterior attitude. For me , I can see why she is hesitant  to return to normal, as her childhood was, shall we say, less than pleasant. You know, being a half goddess, half demon hybrid; it is explained and explored further in the series proper. 

Words of Wisdom....from Urd?!

So, fun times with Shohei and kid-Urd 'til she ends up rescuing him for falling off a tree. After figuring out that Shohei is a bit of dorky coward, she decides to help him build confidence and get rid of his taking up to the top of a construction site. She means well, but her methods are a tad extreme to say the least. Nonetheless, Shohei mans up and overcomes his fear. It is quite nice and touching watching the two develop a relationship, only with Urd regretting it later.


So, she turns back to normal and sees Shohei as he had followed her back to the temple home. Of course, he only came back to give back the sake bottle, a nice gesture. She, as the above picture shows, gives him a nice gift in return. It is interesting to see how restraint she is in that scene-the usually boisterous and bodacious Urd.
The episode ends on a cliffhanger as now is Skuld who has become an adult.... Oh noes!!
Yeah, being an adult is too cool..... /sarc

Episode 26: Ah! Being an Adult is Heart-Throbbing?
So, Skuld is now an adult woman, much to the confusion of Keiichi. It is actually another side effect of Yggdrasil being in repair. Of course, the reason for this is quite interesting: The three goddesses govern the three time dimensions, much like the Norns of Nordic mythology: Urd, the past; Belldandy, the present; Skuld, the future. I have to say that is an interesting concept, that unfortunately isn't explored outside of this OVA too much. Perhaps it brought up more in the manga, but it has been so long since I last read it that I can’t properly remember.

Potential shipping ahoy?

Thus, Skuld and Keiichi have some bonding time. Whereas Urd represents the 'what could have been' and the associated regret and sadness, Skuld represents 'what is to come' and the associated anxiety and fear. She has even a run-in with the local play-boy, but thankfully she evades him. In the end, it amounts to the two going out on a date as Keiichi rescues her from that plight.

GAHHH!!!! >.<

Keiichi is a real trooper, I got to say, taking this all in stride. The two of them go out on the town, trying out makeup, shoes, clothes and other things one does with a girlfriend. There is a touching moment where Skuld, Belldandy and Keiichi are on a road, yet when Skuld stops for a bit, Keiichi and Belldandy continue on the path. It is a very poignant moment, with virtually no dialogue, just imagery. This of course leads to some awkwardness between Keiichi and Skuld as it seems that Skuld has developed some feelings for Keiichi. But, once again, this isn’t explored too much in the series proper, thankfully.

Luckily, the system has been restored as Belldandy has woken up. So, in time, Skuld will change back to normal. But before, Keiichi and Skuld share quite a nice, emotional scene. Skuld realizing that she shouldn't rush things and enjoy the present moment, for it is fleeting and the future is always around the corner.
Final scene is well this:

A return to normalcy, at least a certain sense of it.

So, final thoughts: These 2 episodes are a nice diversion between the two seasons of the TV Series. They offer some insight into some secondary characters, particularly Urd and Skuld. It has a few neat and interesting concepts that I wish were more fleshed in the anime proper, but hey that’s life.

The animation is a top notch effort for AIC, in fact its probably the last series AIC has done with this good of animation quality. This leads into something that I must admit slipped my mind: the character design shift. You know, that detail that changed from the 90s OVA to the Movie and carries through to this series. Well, that wasn’t entirely the work of Fujishima-sensei. No, that honor goes to Hidenori Matsubara as well, who also is character designer on Sakura Wars, another project Fujishima worked on and whose career stretches back all the way to Otaku no Video of all things (yay a full circle moment once again). Sorry for not bringing it up before, but it has bugged me ever since my earlier reviews of the franchise.

So, this begs the nagging question: Will I do more on this franchise? Hmm, perhaps. There is material aplenty to talk about, to be sure. Maybe, in the future, I shall see.

So, what’s next on the platter? Well, it’s the story of a shinigami, and no its not Bleach…


Later, dear readers

Thursday, October 31, 2013

Anime Review No. 67-Dusk Maiden of Amnesia

"Ghostbusting, silly!"
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia
2012 TV Series
Studio: Silver Link, Director: Shin Oonuma, Writers: Katsuhiko Takayama and Ayumi Sekine

Well, its Halloween once more, so you all know what to expect-a Halloween themed anime review. In 2011, it was Master of Mosquiton, a quirky fantasy tale with vampires. Last year, I covered Vampire Princess Miyu, a straight laced horror story involving encounters of the supernatural. So, what am I looking at this year? Well, in case you couldn't tell from the title,
Dusk Maiden of Amnesia.... (also spoilers)

Most Awkward Phone Convo Evah...
Teiichi Niiya is a student at Seikyou Academy, leading what might seem to be a normal life. Well, it would be normal except for one thing: His girlfriend is a ghost, that only he can see. Yuuko, as she is called, is the spirit of a girl who died of mysterious circumstances several decades ago and has no memories of her past. Together, they formed the Paranormal Investigations Club, with the mission of solving not just Yuuko's mysterious death but also several other strange happenings at the school. They are joined by blond ditz Okonogi and tomboy Kirie, who may have an unexpected connection with Yuuko.

Fantasy  vs. Reality? 
So, what makes this series so good? Well, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia does an excellent job blending the genres of romantic comedy/drama, school slice of life and horror mystery. The nice thing is that this series is more than capable of maintaining interest even when it shifts in tone or mood. An example of this is from the screencaps above, from when Yuuko is chasing Kirie down a hallway. On the left is how Kirie views Yuuko-a terrifying ghost who is out for blood. However, on the right is how Teiichi (and by extension the audience/viewer) sees Yuuko-a friendly and kind ghost whose spirit masks a hidden loneliness and sadness. Yuuko in many ways serves as a representative of the ambivalent nature of the series-at times its funny and light-hearted, at other times its depressing and dark.

One of the cute Endcards of (L-R) Kirie, Yuuko and Okonogi ^_^
The story at its essential core is a mystery story: Who is Yuuko and what circumstances led to her death? In addition, what dark secret haunts Yuuko that is in connection with her death, and does that have anything to do with her amnesia? These questions are thankfully answered and then some. The running theme of Yuuko’s story seems to be regret and redemption. Motifs abound like the Stone of Curses, the shadowy figure of ‘Akahito’ and a mysterious epidemic that plague the town long ago. At times, it gets really dark and at the end of the day rather depressing. Yuuko’s death scene, for instance, is perhaps one of the most harrowing and heart-rendering moments in anime that I have seen recently. Of course, the core is peppered with elements from school slice of life and romantic drama/comedy so as to keep things lively as well as couch the core story into a setting/situations that are familiar to people that watch anime. Heck, even the 13th episode/OVA is a bit of good-natured fun, however superfluous it may be.

A rather touching moment, in context
The characters are quite nice and likeable. Teiichi and Yuuko, I must admit, make a good couple and work well together. Their journey in maintaining their relationship is another storyline that follows along with the core mystery plot. Of course, there are two other main characters: Okonogi, who is very much comic relief genki girl and Kirie, who while serves as a potential haremette and slight tsundere, is also interesting in that she forms up somewhat of a love triangle.

Oh, pretty backdrop....
Of course, a story isn’t much with the animation, music and the voice acting. Luckily, the animation is rather solid. Though, as I was watching this, it seem to be rather familiar. Well, it turns out that Silver Link is made of mostly former Studio Shaft members; heck, even director Shin Oonuma was a director there as well, helming Pani Poni Dash and the Ef series. As such, the animation is very art-house and experimental in terms of execution. Certainly not as crazy as Shinbou (no head tilts) but certainly ventures into that territory. Good thing we are dealing with a horror mystery story, so plenty of shadows and darkness so that fits the mood as well as save money on the production side, I’m sure. Not to say that Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is cheap looking; it has a decently consistent look and feel.

Something about this looks familiar... but I can't put my finger on it
Sound is very crucial in this sort of horror mystery series, as it helps to build mood and atmosphere. Of course, not only just natural sounds that permeate the background, the BGM is suitable to the occasion. The music is especially haunting with use of melancholic cellos, piano and percussion combined with soft lilting pieces of flute and woodwinds. The DVD set for this series also came with 2 OST CDs, which are quite a treat to listen to.

Another Good EndCard
Lastly, the voice acting of the English dub is perhaps one of my favorite efforts by Sentai Filmworks. The dub is helmed by Chris Ayres, who also helmed Bodacious Space Pirates and the Ef series, among others. He has to be one of my favorite recent directors of English dub anime currently. He seems to be rather good in terms of getting a good vocal performance out of the actors alongside strong writing that’s adaptive enough that it feels natural to the ear. It is noteworthy in that the entire dub cast consists of just our main four characters-Teiichi, Yuuko, Kirie and Okonogi. Luckily, each one is expertly casted. Clint Bickham and Emily Neves as Teiichi and Yuuko respectively deliver strong compelling performances. Jessica Boone and Brittney Karbowski (as Kirie and Okonogi) do a good job as well, though they are not as great.

So, overall, Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is a wonderful series with a neat blending of genres, touching and emotional story, engaging characters, decent animation, and a fantastic English dub. If you need something spooky yet heartwarming show this Halloween, you can do no wrong by watching this.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is available from Sentai Filmworks, on both Blu-ray and DVD.

On Sunday (November 3rd), I should have the next three entries (#7, #6, #5) in the Anime Favorites page on my blog. Then I will post up #4 and #3 the following month. Then, 3 more reviews this year (two in November, one in December) before I take a brief break until January.

See you laterz, gals and gents…

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Anime Review No. 66-Iria Zeiram the Animation

Iria Zeiram the Animation

1994 OVA, 6 episodes

Studio: Ashi Productions, Director: Tetsuro Amino
Writers: Tetsuro Amino, Naruhisa Arakawa, Yoshihisa Arakawa and Hajime Matsumoto

DVD Cover
Ok, so once again back to the well-90s anime OVAs most people are less than aware of. That is, of course, lucky for me as this is an OVA that doesn't really suck that much. That OVA is Iria: Zeiram the Animation. A show that about a year ago I wasn't aware of, until I saw on the anime shelf at my local MovieStop. Said price for the boxset was about 4$, and it came in a neat little tin box container. Quite a bargain, I must say.
Anyway, what is this show about? Well, Iria: Zeiram the Animation (IZA) tells the story of Iria, a female bounty hunter in training on the planet Myce in the far future. One day, she and her brother Gren, also a bounty hunter, are sent on a mission to retrieve some cargo and rescue some survivors from a decrepit space station. Once there, however, it turns out the space station was housing an experimental killing machine-the Zeiram. And it has gone on a killing spree on the space station and must be stopped, for the sake of all humanity. Of course, the only thing standing in its way is Iria herself-and her associates-as the fate of mankind hangs in the balance.

Iria, our heroine
So, what are the merits of this OVA? Well, for a start it has a rather good story. It's a nice and straightforward sci-fi adventure with plenty of action and character piece, particularly Iria the MC. She's very much the 80s/90s action girl archetype: Steadfast, strong, quite a shot with guns and weapons, yet a tad reckless and tends to lead with her emotions. Granted, the story does go into the bleak and grisly (plenty of bloody violence as requisite in nearly all 90s anime OVAs), but it is balanced out with a sense of cautious optimism; the feeling that in spite of all our problems, we will make it out OK in the end.

Of course, the story has to be bolstered up by good animation, and IZA certainly has it in spades, even for a series that is nearly 20 years old. It is very solid, from some very striking visuals and backgrounds at times to be sure. IZA actually shares a character designer with DNA2 and Video Girl Ai; just thought that'd be a fun trivia nugget. It looks a bit on the aged side, but that's just something to be expected with anime from the 90s nowadays.

Lastly, the English dub. Now, this was originally licensed by Central Park Media back in the days. It turns out that they did put it out on VHS, but it show up on the anime block on the Sci-Fi Channel in the '90s. They went defunct and thus lost the license. Luckily, Media Blasters rescued it and re-released it a few years ago. Now, the dub is not too bad, especially considering the quality of the majority of CPM dubs. It is a bit stiff in places but serviceable.

Overall, IZA is a rather enjoyable sci-fi adventure with some good animation and a serviceable English dub. It gets a recommendation, particularly if you are into science fiction.

And now for some end-of-post humor...
Now, the next review will be over Dusk Maiden of Amnesia, to be posted on October 31. In between, I shall post up the first three entries (#10, #9 and #8) on my Anime Favorites page for this blog. This will take place around the weekend of October 19 and 20.

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Anime Review No. 65-Madoka Magica

Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Well, it is here at long last. A review that I have long awaited for since I began just over 2 years ago, starting with that long-forgotten OVA. I view this blog as a historical catalogue of sorts, highlighting both the good, bad and in-between that I have covered, spanning from a few from the 80s right up to the present time, or at least close enough. Now, from time to time I have taken a look at some of my personal favorite anime series (my version of a Top 10 List). But here, I am talking about a show that in many ways is a magnum opus of not just the magical girl genre, but anime as a whole. That show is Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

Note: some rather subtle spoilers but nothing too revealing, except to those who have seen the series

The lens of the magnum opus

Magnum opus equals great work roughly from the Latin. Another applicable word  would be masterpiece, where all components of a work/piece function so well as a whole. For the purpose of this review I shall examine three aspects of the production: the animation studio, series director and main writer.

Studio: Shaft

One phrase can best describe Madoka Magica: Visual wonder. There is use of nearly every production trick in the book similar to what Gainax less then a year previously with Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, though digital cel animation is the mainstay. Each episode has gorgeous backgrounds, giving the production a rather seasoned creative flair. In addition, the use of gags and references are utilized with a greater purpose then just 'oh let's do random crap' like what Shaft did with early Shinbou directed works (Moon Phase and Pani Poni Dash for instance). Finally, the character design is similar to Hidamari Sketch and works in spite of itself: very moe, but works as a neat contrast to often dark and surreal nature of the show sometimes.

Director: Akiyuki Shinbou

This is Shinbou at the apogee in terms of his directing career in my opinion, especially considering he has been with Studio Shaft since 2004 as their chief director. I have covered quite a number of other shows he did back in the 90s (Detatoko Princess, Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko, Tenamonya Voyagers) and it is interesting to see how much difference there is between those past works and this. Besides, this is not the first time Shinbou has done work on a magical girl series: Galaxy Fraulein Yuna OVA (1995-6: done storyboard work on the first OVA and directing the second OVA) and Magical Lyrical Nanoha (2004, but Season 1 only) so he certainly knows what he is doing. Madoka Magica is replete with his tricks including but not limited to: Head tilts, wide range/palate of color and light, cinematic look and feel in battle scenes, atmospheric (dark and surreal at times), surreal imagery (the witch realms).

Writer: Gen Urobuchi

Otherwise as The Urobutcher (heh), I quite like his writing for the series, of which he did all of it, something that happens on occasion in most anime series. Strong writing exists both in the story, characters and setting. The story has a rather organic progression; nothing seems too incidential or un-needed. In fact, the handling multiple threaded story line within the span of 12 episodes is an incredible feat that frankly not too many shows quite get nowadays. The story can be broken down to the following structure-Main narrative : Episodes 1-9; Backstory: Episode 10; Finale: Episodes 11-12.

The backstory is particularly interesting in itself, if only to make Homura's story arc that more compelling. In fact, the story is equally about Homura as it is about Madoka; though that fact doesn't diminish the portions concerning the other magical girls (Kyoko, Sayaka and Mami). The story is akin to walking in a tunnel that gets darker and darker the farther you get along until finally a brightly shining light illuminates you upon exiting, in fact that's a very apt metaphor for this series. There are so much revelations and twists timed just right and make sense within the context of the plot, again something that a lot of modern anime don't really do or they fail at it in some way. Full of wham and surprise moments, the story isn't really so much dark, its mature (it treats the viewer as a mature and active participant of the story and it treats its audience like adults). It deals with issues of grief, loss, suffering but also balances it out with hope, love and power of friendship overcoming all obstacles. Pieces of dialogue that can take on multiple meaning upon rewatching (especially episode 1, which is more interesting to watch again than watch at first).

Only real questionable is the whole entropy stuff thrown in as some form of justification for Kyubey's actions, but it only plays a minor part for the ending only, so it can just be construed as manipulation on Kyubey's part. There does exist a hinting at a larger story: Kyubey's race and their effect on the history and destiny of mankind; Madoka as the embodiment of the eternal struggle of good against evil as examples to be sure. Though, essentially, the central message amounts to this: Hope and Unconditional Love can conquer all suffering and despair. Granted, there are other messages like self-sacrifice should not be in vain, miracles can and do happen, etc but the central message is lent more credibility in the story overall.

Characters: Some of the strongest I have seen in anime, let alone the mahou shoujo genre with the main cast going through the most emotional rollcoaster in recent times for anime. If you have seen the show, you know what I mean. But more than that, these are really deep characters, where their greatest strengths are often their undoings: Be it Mami's devotion, Sayaka's selflessness, Kyoko's righteousness or even Homura's unconditional and unwavering love. The shades of grey morality is in work fully in this piece; though are clear characters that are good and evil but most of them straddle along the grey line of morality. They struggle and suffer through a lot over the course of the show. Finally, Kyubey is a great example of taking a standard trope of the genre (pet mascot) and twisting it into something new and interesting though by the end you will hate its guts a lot trust me.

Setting: This show has a clearly established universe where the rules of magic it has set up are followed to the letter. It also has the right approach to world building: set up enough that the viewer can follow along yet leave in just enough speculation for the viewer to ponder about. In addition, there is some nice use of motifs and cues (wishes, the Soul Gem, Madoka's ribbons) that at first seem innocuous but at some point become vital to the story and take on different shades of meaning.

Overall, a very complete package of a series.

The term, used mainly in historical studies, means roughly "The writing of history". This is the part where I go into my personal history with the Madoka Magica series. I first came across this show while at university, where I was a member of the anime club. It was the spring semester of 2011, and I was in the process of finishing up there. Now, the first meeting for the anime club for every semester was a vote tape, and this little show called Madoka Magica ended up on the vote tape, in part due to it being a Studio Shaft production, and most of the club were fans of that studio at the time.

Now, prior to watching Madoka, I hadn't really watched much magical girl shows, aside from the stray episodes of Sailor Moon and Cardcaptor Sakura. This show blew me away right from the get-go. I was amazed at how fresh and new this series was, in comparison to the stuff I was watching at the time. Each episode had me on the edge of my seat, especially after episode 3.

But, after I watched episode 10, the Tohoku Earthquake hit Japan. The anime club did set aside some money to send over there but the question remain: Will Madoka be finished before end of term? Word soon that studio Shaft had been running late on production for the final two episodes, so maybe there was hope.

Luckily, the episodes came out and we watched them on the final meeting for that semester. Thank god for that extra time as the last two episodes are quite the best series finale in anime I have ever seen. I was literally in tears by end of the finale, it is that excellent.

So, when news came that Aniplex was bringing the show to the States in 2012, I was pumped. Then I heard that it was a staggered release with 3 separate volumes, 4 episodes each, Bummer. Oh, and each volume would cost an arm each, Double Bummer. So I decided to wait and see if the price went down or if somebody would send it to me as a gift.

Finally this summer, I broke down and bought all three volumes via RightStuf (good discount there too). This was in part due to watching SF Debris's reviews on the entire show, episode by episode. I recommend everyone who has seen the show watch this guy's reviews, as they are the best in covering this masterpiece.

Now, some other comments:

I like how the original Japanese voice cast is very archetypal, ie playing to type most of the time and it is probably one of the better casts for Japanese in an anime. Which leads me to contrast with the English Dub, which is rather 'rote'.  Alex von David is perhaps the most pedestrian director for English dubs ever, both here and in SAO. Granted, some of the English V.A.s do very well with the material, the fact is that its unambitious in terms of the voice direction in parts. This is essentially a great show that has a decent dub. Didn't help that Aniplex, the company that brought the series last year, put up what has to be the most reverse hype trailer ever: Madoka Magica US Trailer. I mean, seriously, what the flying fudge?! Anyway, both language tracks get a recommendation from me for sure.

The music is also fantastic. Yuki Kajiura is the composer for Madoka, as well as some other fine anime like Noir, .hack//Sign, and Sora no Woto (well the opening only). Her music is very good at being there to underpin the drama of the piece very aptly. I would love to get the OST for this anime.

And so, I end the review with this: A Thought, for the epilogue. What if Madoka Magica serves as an 'origin story' for the entire magical girl genre? Ponder that, dear readers....

See you next time

The Eclectic Dude