Sunday, August 31, 2014

September 2014 Review Schedule

Here is what I will be doing for the month of September

7th: Blip No. 9 for the Tip Jar page

14th: Mardock Scramble the Second Combustion

28th: Dead Leaves OVA

Anime Review No. 85 (Problem Children)

Problem Children are coming from Another World, Aren’t They?

Director: Yasutaka Yamamoto
Script: Noboru Kimura, Hideki Shirane and Yasutomo Yamada
Studio: Diomedea

Well, August closes out with a show that I picked up on a whim around my birthday when Rightstuf was doing a sale on Sentai Filmworks releases. I got this along with two other shows I will be covering in good time, but since the August schedule had an open slot, I decided to place it here. The show in question, is Problem Children Are Coming from Another World, Aren’t They?

Problem Children or Mondaiji Long Freaking Title, is based on a light novel series by Taro Tatsunoko and illustrated by Yu Amano. It tells the story of 3 young individuals: Izayoi, Asuka and Yuu who are pulled from different times of human history by a mysterious force to another realm, “Little Garden”. However, this turns out to be done by Black Rabbit, a rabbit eared hostess that wears a skimpy outfit, acting as an attendant for the ‘Problem Children’ as they engage in Gift Games and helping the No Names (a community consisting mostly of young children) regain their proper place in the Little Garden.

The story is a basically a ‘Alice in Wonderland’ but done in a fantasy RPG/video game-esque setting. You got 3 MCs that become rather OP as time progresses, and have an aide NPC (Black Rabbit). Little Garden is a world governed by games, The Gift Games, various competitions similar to what one does. Heck the first episode plays out exactly like the tutorial and first level of a video game, mostly set up and establishment. But once it starts moving past that, its a fun and fantastic ride. But that’s all it got going for it. Now why’s that? Let me explain.

For one thing, the characters are mostly broad stroke stereotypes that, outside of external appearance and aesthetic design, are similar to other characters that have been in anime for a long time. Izayoi is practically every brash and clever MMC, Asuka is a dignified rich girl and Yuu is a bandage patch away from being Rei. Black Rabbit is basically the fanservice factor taken to its logical extreme and outside of the villains, everyone else has little to no personality of their own. The villains, as in most video games, are either morally repugnant scumbags or genocidal maniacs that are evil because well they just are. This show operates on ‘Video Game Logic’ quite a lot, where stuff happens because it looks cool as opposed to making sense. Aside from that, the only different thing that Problem Children brings to the table is references to myth and legend, especially in the final episodes.

What doesn’t help this is that the show is only 10 episodes long, as opposed to the usual 12-13 episode run most anime shows get in a season. Though that’s not such a bad thing as it cuts out any excessive padding or filler that tend to pop in 12-13 episode anime shows It also means that this show, like a lot of LN adaptations, ends on a freaking cliffhanger/setup for a possible sequel. Granted this show does have an additional OVA episode, but it is akin to the mini games section of a video game, all fluff and no substance, as well as provide plenty of fanservice. Of course, there is a chance a continuation can occur since it has been about a year and a half.

The presentation, in terms of animation production provided by studio Diomedea, is a nice and solid effort, but a few shades away from unremarkable. So rather like Campione, the previous show I looked at from this studio. There are a few impressive shots and action sequences, particularly the Gift Games. The music is done by Shiroh Hamaguchi and its quite impressive and nice, sounding like an OST of a Fantasy VG/MMORPG. Considering the guy wrote music for Final Fantasy that’s no surprise there. The OP is nice often, though the ED is a funny lil cute chibi dance of the main quartet which is a bit chuckle worthy.

Finally, the English Dub….is some very good stuff from the great people working in Houston. First off no honorifics and no sight of Greg Ayres at all, like really. Its a Christopher Ayres-Josh Grelle team-up (director-writer respectively); Josh Grelle also plays Izayoi and is one of the best things about this. This isn’t the first time Ayres and Grelle collabed on a dub-previous efforts included Magikano back in the late ADV era and the dubs for Majikoi Samurai Girls and Bodacious Space Pirates in the current Sentai Filmworks era. The dub has essentially C. Ayres great casting and well-performed direction combined with Grelle’s much loose Funi-esque writing, Grelle having written for both Funi and Sentai dubbed titles. Emily Neves, an actress whose voice acting career spans back to Clannad, is credited as assistant director and she has gone onto be ADR director for some upcoming/recent dubs like Watamote, Rozen Maiden 2013 and Chuunibyo. I’m sure to talk about her as dub director at a later date. Another best thing of the dub is Jessica Calvello who has experienced a recent renaissance of sorts. Her role as Saori in the Girls und Panzer dub was the gateway of sorts to her getting more work recently, playing roles in Maria Holic, Attack on Titan, Gatchaman Crowds, and this. She does pretty great as Black Rabbit, though your enjoyment of the dub may entirely whether or not you like her particular performance style. It does for me so I find the dub quite good. The rest of the cast consists of nice blend of veteran and new talent that Ayres cast in his dubs (Brittney Karbowski, Nancy Novotny, David Wald, Cynthia Martinez, Carli Mosier, Hilary Haag, Andrew Love, etc) and everyone here does a great job here in the dub.

So, what’s the bottom line on this show? Well, Problem Children is an entertaining little diversion. As one reviewer on ANN stated, “Problem Children is probably the best saved for a lazy afternoon when you’ve got nothing else to do.” And you know what, I got to agree with ANN on that. Its a good entertaining show but probably only from time to time. Granted, when I first watched it, I was partly enthralled but after watching it a few more times, my critical mind started piping up and saying ‘Yeah, I dunno how that happened… eh just go with it” but I still enjoyed watching the show. And if that was their aim, well mission accomplished.

September Blog Schedule to be posted tomorrow.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Anime Review No. 84 (Sound of the Sky)

Sound of the Sky

Director: Mamoru Kanbe
Script: Hiroyuki Yoshino
Studio: A-1 Pictures

Now onto a show that isn’t only great, but I consider it an underrated gem of the decade thus far. That show is Sound of the Sky, or Sora no Woto. In some time fan in the future, private Kanata Sorami, a new recruit for the Helvetian army is being sent to her first military assignment. That being at the Clocktower Fortress, a far off fort on the edge of the frontier, near the frontier town Seize. Kanata is also a bugler, though her instrument playing needs a bit of work but she has the urge to improve. She was inspired by an encounter as a child by a mysterious blond bugler, whose identity is a mystery plot point throughout the show’s run. Although, the fortress is home of the 1121st platoon, though it is more like a squad given the small size of it. It has a varied cast of characters that get their own stories and time to develop/grow, be it the stern mentor Rio, the kind motherly Fillica, the bratty Kureha and the sleepy but stoic Noel.

Kanata is bliss (and also reminds me of some other character hmm)
Airing in January-March 2010, Sound of the Sky was the debut project of Anime no Chikara. This project, translated roughly to ‘The Power of Anime’, was a collaboration between TV Tokyo and Aniplex put together in 2009 as an effort to do original anime productions, free of ties to other works like manga, visual novels and video games. So, Aniplex tapped A-1 Pictures (their own animation studio) with the task of making these productions. The project unfortunately only did 3 shows in 2010, in back-to-back seasons: this, Night Raid 1931 and Occult Academy. No further word on this project, which is a bummer but then again A-1 Pictures is too busy making SAO because it is really necessary for the world.

Yeah Kanata, I don't know why A-1 has some done more SAO then more of this or Zvezda Plot
What is interesting in Sound of the Sky is the unique mash-up of genres. It is basically a Girls Club SoL show in a war zone setting. I like the intricate world building present here. Granted, much of it is based on early 20th century European style (buildings, uniform/clothing, culture, partially names etc). It has a local story focus with glimpses of a wider world. The story has a nice blend of soft light hearted SoL vignettes and serious war drama. In addition, there is quite a lot of legend and lore dispensed within this 13 episode show, the legend of the Flame Maidens and also how that ties into a past catastrophe that is hinted at, but never fully revealed. But that’s ok, since the mystery of the catastrophe is more interesting than the thing itself. This is also a quite solid series from start to finish, never dragging down or going too fast.

The only bit of the omake episode I am showing you xD
My favorite episodes of the show were episode 7.5, 8 and 13. Now while the show is 13 episodes, its technically 12 with 2 DVD exclusive episodes, which thankfully Right Stuf (through their Nozomi Entertainment licensing/distribution label) included in the DVD collection. I got to say its for the best as episode 7.5 is one of the most funny omake/OVA style episode I have seen for an anime yet. Episode 8 is a fine bottle episode, focusing in on one location and letting the situational story that takes place to drive the episode. I won’t spoil what that is, you will have to see for yourself. Finally episode 13 is a quite sublime series finale, hinting at a possible and natural extension for the story to go and yet I feel the story is complete as it is. That, in my mind, is the mark of a great show.

It was at this moment, I knew that this was something special

Music is a bit of a theme and the power of it in shaping or even improving our lives. The song ‘Amazing Grace’ is the constant song played during the course of the show, and I like that ties into the other themes present in the show, rather than ‘Ode to Joy’ which is plastered on a lot of anime, regardless of whether or not it makes sense (looking at you Gunslinger Girl). Anyway,the animation is quite solid overall but then again its A-1 Pictures they tend to go a good job on certain shows.Music is quite great with some nice sweeping orchestral moments coupled with gentle guitar strumming and haunting strings . If the OP animation looks a little similar to Elfen Lied, then yeah that is because Mamoru Kanbe directed this and Elfen Lied, hence the rather Klimt-esque art style. The upbeat energetic standard and often a nice respite from some of the more darker episodes.

Nozomi Entertainment’s release of Sound of the Sky is rather bare bones, just some character profiles, clean OP/ED and trailers. There’s an alternate episode 1 but when I watched it the only difference I noticed was that it included the OP. It is also sub-only, so I can’t really speak on the voice acting, but it is quite good. Right Stuf used to, back in the boom (as KO Beast and Kare Kano can attest) they would pick up shows and then farmed out the dubbing to other studios (mostly in New York and LA) as the company is based out in Iowa

Sound of the Sky is available from Nozomi Entertainment (once in 2011, thinpak in 2013). Of course, if you just want to watch it without buying, then don’t fret: It’s up on Youtube (Sound of the Sky episode list) for mostly free of cost. You got literally no excuse to check this out and watch it.

SO yeah, next time, who wants to go down the rabbit hole?

Til next time, dear readers.

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Anime Review No. 83 (KO Beast)

KO Beast (OVA) aka KO Century Beast Warriors
Initial Home Video Release: 1992-93
Director: Hiroshi Negishi
Script: Satoru Akahori
Studio: Animate-Film/Project B4

Well, well, it’s been a while, folks. But I am now getting back into the groove of doing reviews on a regular basis. Also, its my 3rd year anniversary for the blog so this month will be full of special reviews. Now, as I posted before, first off the bat: KO Beast!
Our gang of heroes, everyone ^_^
In the far future or something, the earth has been split in half. By what force that is explained but it makes very little sense. Beastmen roam and have taken over and are in a war against Human technomages as the two vie for control of the planet. KO Beast follows the adventures of Wan, Bud Mint, Mei-Mar and Tuttle as they contend against the villainous V-Darn and V-Sion and their sadistic fairy Akumako, whose boss is Czar Master a mysterious but evil being who wants to, of course, take over the world. Luckily, Wan (a prototype of every shonen protagonist for the next 20+ years) and his band of warriors have some tricks beneath their sleeves. For one thing, they can transform into anthromorphic versions of themselves, being human-animal hybrids. Wan turns into a tiger upon sneezing, Bud turns into a chicken when he gets goosebumps, Mei-Mar and Tuttle turn into a mermaid and turtle respectively. They have Yuni, daughter of Dr. Password who holds a secret power that might be the key to an united future. Lastly, they got these I-Jinn statues which can turn into giant mecha that can combine… like nearly every Sentai in that respect. I am going this far because I feel that this is a show meant to see to be believed.

I like the mecha designs (done by Rei Nakahara who would go on to work for  Blue Seed and Angel Links ), very old school

Now, this is a very silly and ridiculous show, to be frank.I mean, the OP pretty much tells you that right off the bat. Especially when I first saw this, I was like ‘what the fudge is this?’ but then as I continued I warmed up to its insanity. That is probably because KO Beast is just so optimistic and full of fun and very earnest. It is a lovely combination of adventure, shonen action, fantasy/sci-fi ever encapsulated in 7 episodes. The 7 episode OVA is split into two different stories: Episodes 1-3 being a shonen style quest adventure while Episodes 4-7 transitioning from that to being a rescue mission story. There is promise of further adventures but thankfully this OVA is relatively self-contained, something not many of KO Beasts’ contemporaries did.

Our heroes have the right things in mind lolz
There is not a serious bone in this show’s body and it is certainly proud of and/or well aware of this fact. Even when it does get serious, it manages to do that and crack a grin in the midst. It had me laughing all the way through, which is most likely the result of the writer and director for this OVA. Hiroshi Negishi and Satoru Akahori, two guys big in the anime scene of the ‘90s, make their debut more or less here. The CV for these two (Negishi would go onto do Burn Up W, much of 90s Tenchi Muyo and Saber Marionette J while Akahori would write for such shows as Nadesico, Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi, Maze the Megaburst Space, Sakura Wars, etc) is quite a sight to behold, even Negishi was responsible for that trainwreck known as Amazing Nurse Nanako, but yeah we all can’t be perfect.
The OVA has some nice backdrops
Hmmm.,.....nah that couldn't be!
Of course, the writing and direction are complemented by an impressive art style and animation, even for the time. Sometimes it does get a bit cartoony and rubbery but hey it fits the tone and attitude of the show. Of course, consider when this first came out, its the early 1990s, as anime was coming out of the gritty, ultra-violent/sexed up OVAs of the 80s/early 90s. Sailor Moon was just out in 1992 on TV for instance and anime that came out in 1992 read like efforts to distance themselves from those kind of material. Anime studios began moving towards a broader eclecticism (at least in terms of the kind of shows/genres/stories they produced adaptations ). Essentially KO Beast came out at a time when more shows geared to genres like fantasy, sci-fi, slice of life, drama, etc which continues to this day. Not to say shows of those genres existed prior, but they were at the fringes of the anime fandom at the time when the only known shows from that era were space operas like Macross and Gundam or ultra-violent schlock like well, anything infamous from that era take your pick. Not to say that KO Beast was a pioneering series for the japanese animation field, but it stands as part of a vanguard of early to mid 90s anime.

Only in this anime does Lisa Ortiz voice a sadistic devil-Navi for the dub lolz 
The English dub, produced back in 2003, is a steady effort from NY Headline Studios, one of the better studio groups from that area. While certainly not their best effort (Kare Kano) but it is not that far off from that in terms of quality. It is somewhat notable for starring early career Liam O’Brien and Sam Riegel as well as NY dub mainstays like Angora Deb, Rachael Lillis, Lisa Ortiz, Jessica Calvello and J David Brimmer. Granted it gets a bit repetitive in terms of the additional/bit parts but otherwise a fine dub overall. Note this is one of a few shows that has both an American and British dubs. But, The British dub was only for the first 3 episodes and seems lost to history though a friend of mine has seen some of it and called it ‘legendary’. The best bonus for the US release is the english dub outtakes which are hands down the funniest I’ve heard. Granted, its mostly the actors flubbing their lines or inserting unneeded references into the scenes as one would expect from bloopers, but one can definitely tell that this was a riot to record, for sure.

So yeah I like this show, its got a special place in my heart when it comes to 90s OVAs, right along with Magic Users Club and El Hazard. It got some good stuff going for it and any sort of shortcoming are forgiven because it is just so darn funny and entertaining.

KO Beast is available by Right Stuf, though only as 3 DVD singles that are out of print but can be found easily on Amazon or eBay.

But you know, things can't all be fun and games all the time.....

Til next time, dear readers.....