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