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.