Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Special Announcement

Hello there fellow readers

Well I figure that I would make an announcement about this. Well around the start of the year, I parted ways with Animation Revelation after being involved there for a year and a half, due to creative differences between me and one of the writers there. I won't go into details but what this person did in response to a comment I made and current things they have said.....well I don't want to talk about it further and to be perfectly honest I'm over it anyway.

Fortunately, around that time, fellow aniblogger and Caribbean pen pal of yours truly Ramo Zemog, of YuriNation and OG's Anime Island, came to me with a proposal, to be a co-writer for his blogs. At first I thought 'ehhh....' but after thinking about it, I was like 'ok sign me up sir'. Of course, I had to make an account with WordPress, as that is what Ramo's blogs are built on.

So that lead to me to a decision-to move over my blogging to WordPress. For one thing it looks nicer and most anime reviewers seem to use it or custom sites.

So on May 3rd I will posting up the link for the new Wordpress site on the social media along with an introduction post on the new site. This site will remain as an archive of sorts. I will be following up on my reviews for the month then on my May 3rd post on the new site.

See you all there, dear readers!

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Review No. 100

So, yeah back around in 2003-04, when I was first watching the first few episodes of Evangelion from the local Blockbuster (remember those?) I had come across another anime that was in the same section. This section being ‘Foreign Language’ because they didn’t have a separate section for anime itself but that’s besides the point. Anyway, near where the Evangelion VHSs were, there was a movie that looking back, caught my initial attention I got from Eva and seized upon that for me in cementing my love for anime. That movie is…
Princess Mononoke (1997 film)
Studio: Ghibli
Director and Script: Hayao Miyazaki

Prince Ashitaka is the noble hero of a small village of the remnants of an ancient tribe. When trying to save his village from a cursed boar, he ends up with a curse infecting one of his arms and has to leave his village because tradition is a bitch sometimes. But he takes it all in stride and undergoes a grueling and harrowing journey through Medieval Japan but with giant creatures and mythical mysteries.In the process meeting up with a cunning monk, Lady Eboshi and her Iron Town and a mysterious girl who lives with giants foxes, and get embroiled in a battle between mankind and the natural world.

Now this is my favorite Ghibli movie, probably the best of that entire studio’s catalog and I have seen about most of them, exceptions being Pom Poko and most of their movies post-Howl’s Moving Castle. The Ghibli catalog is essential viewing for any enthusiast (yours truly included) of Japanese animation, even if you only seen one or a couple thats fine. But here’s why I consider Princess Mononoke to be one of if not the best out of the whole catalog.

For one thing, this is a grand fantasy epic in the traditional Joseph Campbell core and a lot of my favorite anime are in this vein (Magic Knight Rayearth, El Hazard, FMA, etc). If you read my review on Campione, I expound upon that in detail. Though here is perhaps the most straightforward iteration of it in an anime that I have seen. Granted, it is much more than that.

Princess Mononoke couches within this familiar framework a man vs. nature conflict. Although it is a bit nuanced here in that there’s not a clear good vs evil and the morality spectrum waivers around more than well any politician but it fits in with the movie’s core message: There is never a right answer to your problems much less a solution that will satisfy everyone without some shortcomings or compromise. I have to say that it is a very powerful message to have. Of course it is applied to a strong environmental stance that Miyazaki has built upon in previous works (Nausicaa and Laputa for instance).

Princess Mononoke-pivotal moment

Princess Mononoke is also surprisingly more dark and violent even more so than some of their films. Explosions, heads rolling and lots of blood abound so young ones should watch this with a parent. It is so also quite mature and by that I mean in the way I reference in my Madoka review, mature as in it treats the audience as adults and allows us to make our own minds/opinions about what we are watching. That alone makes watching this movie a very visceral but moving experience.

This is complemented by an amazing production, as expected from Studio Ghibli for the most part. Miyazaki shows with this and all his other films, that this is the work of a true master. It is beautifully shot hand-drawn animation (with some few instances of integrated CG work). This has some of the best direction and cinematography in an animated feature I have ever seen, even if on only a budget of roughly 23$ million.

The music is done by Joe Hisashi the main composer for Studio Ghibli. It’s a great OST with lots of great music and the theme tune for the movie easily one of the most recognizable and great tunes in anime music ever.

Princess Mononoke Main Theme

Now for the English dub, it is easily one of the better for Ghibli movies, if not one of the best dub efforts for anime out there. Now while this was picked up by Disney, it was released by one of their affiliates Miramax. They decided to tap ADR Director:Jack Fletcher who worked on Animaze (90s LA dubbing company) dubs back in the day along with an adapted screenplay by Neil Gaiman (yes that one). What that ends up with is a great dub filled a cast of very good and solid character actors. Billy Crudup and Claire Danes are a bit rough in bits but they hold well enough. The standouts for me has to be Minnie Driver playing the ambitious Lady Eboshi to a tee and Billy Bob Thornton as the cunning monk is a hoot given the slight comedic bent for that character. Well-known VO actors John DiMaggio and Keith David are also in this and some Animaze actors can be heard in additional voices if you hear close enough.

Overall Princess Mononoke is a very great movie and a masterpiece of anime cinema in my book at least. It is essential viewing because of how great it is, in terms of story, setting, production, music and a great english dub for the ages. I wholeheartedly recommend this movie.

So that’s my 100th review. I do appreciate that have come this far with me or join in my writings along the way. Here's to another 100 reviews, perhaps. I will be posting a special announcement this coming week that its a very important move for me.

Til next time dear readers…..

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Anime Review No. 99 (From the New World)

‘A Bloody History’
From the New World (2012-13 TV Series)
Studio: A-1 Pictures
Director: Masashi Ishihama
Script: Masashi Sogo

So the core of speculative fiction, of which science fiction rests in, is centered around a rather simple question: What if? Of course, if one takes a look at any story in sci-fi or fantasy it is never simply What if but includes more information certainly, be it Star Wars, Star Trek, Lord of the Rings, etc. That is part of the appeal, to make us wonder about other worlds and places that reside in the imagination. Today I will discuss From the New World, an amazing anime piece of speculative fiction.
These poor children.....
From the New World, or Shin Sekai Yori, is an anime based on a novel of the same name by Yusuke Kishi released back in 2008. It tells the story of Saki and her friends that reside in a quiet village Kamisu 66 about 1000 years in the future. Oh but that’s not all, for she and her friends (Satoru, Maria, Shun and Mamoru) and in fact the whole village have psychic (PK) powers, of sorts. But that’s the least of their problems, besides dealing with that they also have to deal with enemies both out in the wider world and within their own secluded communal village.
Given the context this shot is very striking
I won’t go any further than that, because I am of the opinion that this is a show that must be seen and experienced first hand. That is the best way to describe SSY, as an experiential story. The speculative question at the core for this story is this: “What if human society as we know it went backwards?’ Part of the show is exploring the why and how of this question and a lot of the implications that stem from that. It is the future as reflected from the distant past and informed by the present. The future presented is so compelling in part due to how very possible it could be, and that is a scary and terrifying fact. It also dwells on the iterative nature of history and make approaches to the conceptual notion of infinity, but doesn’t quite get there due to the inherent limitations of humanity.

The opening scene is in fact one of the most striking and sudden moment in anime history ever. Slowly and surely this future Earth is presented to us and also the deep and dark secrets of humanity of this future. I like the slow burn pacing and the nice use of gradual world building. Small events have big ripples, as things that occur in first few episodes end up being very important down the road. Now there is a reason I am not talking about the characters and that’s aside from really two characters that have a story arc (Saki and Squealer) over of the course of the 25 episodes, the rest of the cast is developed just enough for the story itself but nothing beyond that, which does make them come across as slightly under-developed. But at the end of the day it is all about the experience, which is helped by a great sense of mood and atmosphere, which definitely enhances the experience.

Ohhh...pretty background 
Of course, what doesn’t help this story is the animation production, which is spotty at best and inconsistent at the worst. A-1 Pictures handled the production and they clearly only gave the minimum of budget for the show and it shows painfully at points: off-model moments, obvious CG, sketchy art, etc. This isn’t helped by the fact that A-1 Pictures was working on SAO at around the same time and that show has slightly better production values despite it being not too good. Granted at times, it works well but the show is barely functional given the somewhat low production values. There are also times when it does become visually impressive.

Wow, Saki, u be having some fecked up dreams 
That being said, the soundtrack is quite great, one of the best I have listened to. It is full of ambient sounds and noises which enhances the mood and atmosphere of the piece. Most of it is soft strings and woodwinds mixed with ancient tribal chanting-like music and musical silence. The titular theme is something familiar to me even before I heard of this show. It is the opening bars and initial theme from the Largo (second movement) of Antonin Dvorak’s Ninth Symphony, which subtitle has the same name as the novel. This theme has a special place for me as that symphony was the first one I purchased back in my youth and introduced to other symphonic classical music. It fits the themes, mood and feel of the show to a tee and becomes more poignant with every repetition. On a side-note, the sound design is quite exceptional.

Now onto the english dub. Now I did watch this initially subbed back in summer of 2013 and the acting in the original Japanese is well done. But then I heard that Sentai Filmworks had picked up the show for release and were giving it a dub, which I was excited about. Christopher Ayres helms this dub, and its my second favorite dub of his that I like right behind the Ef series, if not greater than that dub. He assembles a great main cast consisting of Emily Neves, Monica Rial, Greg Ayres, Clint Bickham and Blake Shepard. Bickham also wrote the dub script and proves that he is capable of writing both comedic and serious shows, complementing the nice and well-done direction by C. Ayres. The dub is good to great overall in terms of performances, but there are 2 standouts in my mind. First is Emily Neves as Saki, who gives a full sincere performance throughout and does a good job on the narration as well. The other is John Kaiser as Squealer, the other main character of sorts. He is a little known character actor who has popped up here and there in a few ADV and Sentai Filmworks dubs. Here he gives one of the more interesting character acting I have seen in a dub in a while. There are some highlights in the dub that are exceptional, be it the near theatrical duo between Neves and Bickham in one episode or a particular moving monologue by Rial in one of the more heartbreaking episodes in the series. There are some amazing supporting cast performances by David Wald, Carli Mosier, John Swasey, David Matranga, Allison Sumrall, to name a few. In fact the last 8 episodes offer some of the best dub work out here and makes this an exceptional dub.

My reaction face when finishing this up. No joke I just about choked up at the finale
Overall From the New World is an unique, visceral and thought provoking experience of speculative fiction. Its a show that grips you from the first moment and never lets up until the very end. The answer that the story poses to the initial speculative fiction question is an interesting one, that despite all adversity (from within and with-out) and struggles humanity will endure, as we have in the past, as we do now and as we will in the future. As part of my own experience as an anime enthusiast, this is the anime that helped me reignited my interest in more new and recent anime, without it I might not have seen Kill la Kill or Yuki Yuna among others. For that I am eternally grateful.

So remember when I’ve said that Evangelion and Read or Die were the anime that solidify myself as an enthusiast? Well the 100th review is for another anime feature that I saw around that time as well, and that will be Review No. 100, it’ll be really special.

Til next time dear readers

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Anime Review No. 98 (Maria Holic)

Maria Holic (Winter 2009) and Maria Holic Alive (Spring 2011)
Directors-Akiyuki Shinbou (with Yukihiro Miyamoto and Tomokazu Tokoro)
Writers: Masahiro Yokotani and Miku Ooshima

Well, here we are, something that I am sure most people would not expect me to cover. I was not entirely sure that I would get around to covering this show, but circumstances brought it back to my attention and so here it is. This is Maria Holic.

Maria Holic the anime is based off a manga series written by Minari Endo between 2006 and 2014. It is about Kanako Miyamae, a new transfer student to a private all-girls school. She is secretly a closeted lesbian hoping to find her first true love and a bit of a misandrist, well more in that respect due to her condition where she breaks out in hives when men touch her. She gains a new roommate in Mariya Shidou a nice and gentle ojou-sama but turns out to be a male sadist who is forced to crossdress due to the wishes of his dead grandmother who was also a former headmistress of the school. Thus Kanako is blackmailed into keeping Mariya’s secret. In the process she ends up in a series of unfortunate but comical misadventures at school.

What I like about Maria Holic is how twisted the whole thing is. The whole breadth of creative decisions for this story are made in the opposite way that they would normally trend. Be it Kanako who is basically a girl with a male pervert mindset, Mariya the sadist disguised as the nice and kind ojou-sama and her maid Matsurika who turns out to be a deadpan snarker. The rest of the supporting cast are like that and all fit a basic stereotype (tomboy, megane babe, genki girl, etc) and then taking them to a rather unexpected places.

This is quite fitting as Maria Holic is a rather black comedy at its core. The humor is prevalently dark and its funny mainly due to that. Granted there are some laugh out loud hard moments, but most of the time the comedy is met with a nice dry chuckle from yours truly..There is the semblance of a story/plot but Maria Holic relies a lot on gags and sketch comedy segments. What story is there is an interesting parody. This is very related to my previous review, OtoBoku. Whereas that was a gentle soothing parody, Maria Holic is a bitterly tinged parody and a satire of not only yuri but school slice of life and otokonoko sub-genres as well. Of course, at times it openly embraces the conventions it is joking about. The second season is more of the same, except it seems to double down on everything from the first season and it is even more strange and ridiculous.
The animation production certainly helps this out in spades. If you can’t tell from the first episode alone, this is a pure Studio Shaft/Shinbou directed show. All his trademarks are here and in spades, and it is oddly fitting for such a surreal and dark satire show. This includes the various off-point references, use of text in scene, head tilt, art shift (this show has 3 main art styles). The 2 non-consecutive seasons came out during what I consider the peak of Studio Shaft/Shinbou productions (same era as the Zetsubou Sensei, Hidamari and Arakawa series). There are the seeds of other Shaft productions lashed in the people involved in the production of this series: Yukihiro Miyamoto, future co-director for Madoka and ED for Season 1 done by the future production designer for Madoka and the OP was done by the guy who helmed the Bakemonogatari series. The main thing to take away is that it suits the story and characters, supplementing it as opposed to recent Studio Shaft productions where those same tricks are employed only the story and characters aren’t as engaging-cough cough Monogatari, Sasami-san, Meh-kaku cough cough, but moving on.
S1 OP S2 OP2
S1 ED             S2 ED

Now, onto the english dub, which is a treat especially for those of us waiting for it. The series had its 2 seasons released by Sentai Filmworks (S1 in 2010, S2 in 2012) but sub-only bare-bones releases. But then in late 2013, they announced that they were doing dub re-releases of some of the shows they had done sub-only treatment earlier. I was a bit concerned but then the dub cast came out and I did a sigh of relief. I bought both seasons with the dub in early 2014 and it was worth it. Thankfully Christopher Ayres helms the dub and as usual he doesn’t disappoint. He assembles a great cast with some of his regulars sure but he topped it out with 2 great if not perfect casting choices: Jessica Calvello and Monica Rial. I feel that Jessica Calvello’s career doing more dubs again has its origin point with this dub. She is in true comedic form asa Kanako and I have to say this is her funniest performance since Excel Saga and I can’t imagine anyone else in that role now. Of course she is complemented by Monica Rial who plays Mariya and its the surprise in the dub, always fantastic. The rest of the cast is very spot-on if littered with Ayres’ regulars (Carli Mosier, Brittney Karbowski, Meg McDonald, Shannon Emerick, etc). Another honorable mention has to go to George Manley who does the narration (old ADV fans might know him as the narrator for the ADV redub of Gatchaman a decade prior). The dub script, written by Clint Bickham (who plays a minor role in S2), is nicely done adding in some stuff to punch the already comedic material. Overall a great dub that is highly recommended by yours truly.

Overall, Maria Holic is an interesting high concept comedy show that excels in being fun and entertaining. Granted the flavor of comedy might not suit everyone’s taste but that’s ok. I like it quite a lot and its certainly up there on my list of funniest anime I have ever seen.

So that closes out March 2015 aka Guilty Pleasures Month 2.0. Will I do another series of review like this? Hmm maybe next year, but it will be under a different title for sure. April 2015 marks the release of my 99th and 100th reviews. I am keeping the subject of those 2 reviews a secret but in due time you will all find out. Review No. 99 due out on April 12th.

Til next time dear readers…..

Sunday, March 15, 2015

Anime Review No. 97 (OtoBoku)

OtoBoku: The Maidens are Falling for Me! (2006 TV Series)
Director-Munenori Nawa
Writer: Katsumi Hasegawa, Masaharu Amiya, Masashi Suzuki and Tomoyoshi Nagai

Some guilty pleasures are so due to just trashy and full of fanservice. Agent Aika from last time is like that. Yet others are so due to being far out and weird/surreal they are and that you are surprised that anyone would like this, much less give it the time of day. The other 2 entries this month are like that. Let’s talk about OtoBoku.

It is an original story by Caramel Box, based on an eroge visual novel that came out in 2005. The anime adaptation came out about a year after that as OtoBoku came out at a time when visual novel adaptations were king (the Key VN adaptations). The story is a simple setup. Mizuho is a young man who gets roped into going to an all girls school by his grandfather’s last will. Lucky for him he is so androgynous that a simple makeover by confidant/childhood friend Mariya and bears a resemblance to his late mother. With only his teacher knows and headmaster knowing who he really is, he strives to do the best he can at the new situation he has gotten into. He meets various other girls at the school, be it the redhead tsundere Kaichou and her Vice Prez megane babe Kimie-san, the mysterious dark haired beauty Shion and 2 kouhai, the genki Yukari and the cutie Kana among others.
Yesh thats a boy (FFWL i guess xD)
Essentially OtoBoku is a rather gentle, soothing and laidback slice of life school story but with a gender bender twist. Yes this is a sub genre of anime called Otokonoko which is basically pretty pretty boys ending up in situations where they must dress up as girls for some reason or other. Yeah a very high concept idea I know. Of course Mizuho takes it in stride and use the opportunity to become a better person and improve the lives of the other students as best as he can. There are also elements of yuri anime as well here, like the senpai-kouhai pairing and emphasis on female on female relationships as per Strawberry Panic. At times certain elements of the show downright copy Strawberry Panic, not surprising considering this came out right after Strawberry Panic-Elder election is pretty much a ripoff of the Etolie plot line from Strawberry Panic except not as drawn out.
It-its not because I like you or anything gosh -blush-
In fact OtoBoku starts out a bit like Strawberry Panic in that it does little story arcs for the first half with Mizuho coming into his own given his weird situation and real light and fluff. Whether it’s dealing with the rivalry between Takako and Mariya, winning over the student body by becoming Elder or helping Ichiko, a ghost girl, come to terms with her untimely death. Then episode 6 brings in a more coherent storyline that extends to the end, giving the show more a dramatic and serious edge. Granted its more situational stories but there is more cohesion between the episodes. An interesting love triangle develops between Mizuho, Takako (Kaichou-san) and Mariya, though it is mostly due to misunderstanding and lack of proper communication. Yet, the Takako route is the prominent one in the anime series which reveals the the VN origin of this show but I find it works very well. Takako, next to Mizuho, is my favorite character of the show. That comes to mainly how well she is written, though she does start off as a tsundere and rigid authority figure but as the show goes on she softens up to and develop feelings for Mizuho. I feel that the series has a predictable yet satisfactory conclusion. There is an episode 13 that is just a silly chibifest rendition of Cinderella that is really hilarious and full of laughs.

We are soooo blitzed right now xD
Animation is mostly solid if a little unimpressive. Like Strawberry Panic, it has a look not too different from the source material it is based on and goes its intended job without derping or excelling at it. It does have an unique chibi design which I termed ‘fugly chibi’ which whenever it shifts from the more straightforward character design art to this I burst out laughing but given that this was intended for the more LOL moments that is to be expected. The music feels like leftovers from Ouran and the voice acting (in japanese, no dub) is rather solid if predictable in terms of casting and performance, except for one. Mizuho is voiced by renowned seiyuu Yui Horie who isn’t quite adept at sounding more like a boy then as a very girly girl at times. As I mentioned, this is was released by Media Blasters around the same time as Strawberry Panic when they just churn bare-bones releases without a dub. Its so bad in fact that the edition I have contain discs with no artwork on the discs themselves.

Now there is Futari no Elder, a 3 episode OVA made in 2012 with a different director and studio, based on a spinoff manga of the original story. It is a somewhat more somber and serious story granted and has a slightly similar initial incident to OtoBoku but feels enough like a natural sequel and separate story and not a mere copy/paste job of the original series. It is also a nice, short and self-contained story which proves to be a bit more emotionally resonant with me at least then the TV series. It also looks a bit better than the 2006 series, naturally. It gets a recommendation from yours truly though good luck finding it as this hasn’t gotten an official release and I doubt it will but hey a guy can dream.

So yeah Otoboku is a guilty pleasure that fortunately has enough charm and amusement to it to be somewhat enjoyable, even given the weird and off-putting premise. Next time, won’t be such the case.

Til next time dear readers

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Anime Review No. 96 (Agent Aika)

Agent Aika (1997 OVA, 7 episodes)
Studio Fantasia
Director: Katsuhiko Nishijima
Writers: Katsuhiko Nishijima, Kenichi Kanemaki, Katsumi Terahigashi and Noriyasu Yamauchi

Ok, so Guilty Pleasures Month 2.0 kicks off with an infamous classic of the vaulted halls of ‘90s schlocky anime, Agent Aika. Or as I would like to call it, Crotch Shot the Anime. This brilliant ‘masterpiece’ is from the mind of Katsuhito Nishijima, who is also behind Najica Blitz Tactics, Kirameki Project, Labyrinth of Flames and oddly enough Project A-Ko. Also, the lack of screenshots in this review is due to the fact that no one wants 6-12 pictures of nothing but crotch shots because who really wants that? Yeah that’s what I thought. Also spoilers because I don’t care.
Anyway, Agent Aika takes place in the far future where Earth turned into WaterWorld basically. The world is mostly underwater with small pockets of land here and there. Underwater salvaging is a prime business. Aika is one such salvager, working for some guy named ‘Boss’ and his annoying daughter Rion. She is hot 90s anime babe who is both hot, attractive and can kick ass by using a special underwear that turns her into a dark skin Amazon that can kick more ass. Anyway, Aika and Rion run afoul of a madman villain Dr. Hargen and his legion of miniskirt hottie minions and a plan involving wiping out mankind with a super weapon or something like that.

One of the big problems with Agent Aika is that there is not really much to it, not even enough for a redemptive reading. There are two stories if you can call them that: episodes 1-4 and then episodes 5-7. The first four episodes feel like their own self-contained story while the last 3 episodes feel more like a series of loosely connected one-off stories as some sort of follow up to the main story from the first four. This is seriously just plots constructed by action pieces, some pseudo-science BS and background sets glued together by fanservice and some rather troubling and bizarre content. Like did the incest really have to be here?, for instance. Like Amazing Nurse Nanako, there are a few interesting, even good ideas (a waterlogged future) but the people behind the production aren’t interested in that, but in the fanservice. However, the fanservice in Aika is so pervasive to the point where it becomes dull and tedious. I would have done a drinking game with how many fecking crotch shots the director inserts into every single fecking scene, but I would wound up in a coma. Add to that Nishijima’s tendency to linger on every crotch shot FAR longer than need be, and the show becomes so ludicrous its funny. It is also so bad its good quality in the visual presentation. Plenty of corners cut in the production just so the ‘money shots’ are extremely well-done. The OP, ED and the BG music is so 90s it hurts.

Finally, the English dub is not very good but that’s par for the course when it comes to US Manga Corps dubs for the most part. Angora Deb, who plays Aika, is the only one manages to do a consistent job in the dub and I feel that even in the bad/mediocre stuff she starred in, she does a better job than required which should be commended. However, the rest of the cast is wildly inconsistent-ranging from ok/decent to downright cringingly terrible. At times the dub manages a very OTT style with one scene in episode 3 pretty much is so terribad I couldn't help but laugh at the incompetence on display with this dub.

So yeah not really worth your time, not even for the fanservice. Which makes the second part of this review that more inexplicable…..

Aika R-16 Virgin Mission (2007 OVA, 3 episodes)
Studio Fantasia
Director: Katsuhiko Nishijima
Writer: Kenichi Kanemaki

So yeah, this exists. It is a prequel in ‘celebration’ of the original OVA’s 10th anniversary, because that seems like a good idea. I will give it this, it is a nice look into Aika as a teenage girl and salvager in training. So she apparently joins an Adventure Club run by rich girl Eri Shingai and meets a mysterious quiet cutie Karen with a butterfly on her bosom. Anyway, they go on cruise to a treasure spot for some reason that actually has a (stupid) point. But their advisor (hottie Ms Risako) turns out to be EVIL (what a twist) and has some plot involving Karen. The treasure spot site is a site tied to Karen’s past and then it gets WTF weird, even more WTF weird than the original.  

There are still a lot of crotch shots and fanservice. except its more amusing and hilarious here than in the original OVA. Luckily there is some sort of a story that is going on that actually incorporates the fanservice a bit better. Granted much of the story still is riddled with cliches and contrivances but it is there rather than not as is the case with the original OVA. It also has an awkward habit of reincorporating character elements/details that appear in the original OVA.

The production values look a lot more slick and digital, i’ll give it that. Of course the true mark of quality comes when the ED contains footage of the episode itself, yes really. Granted the whole OVA feels like a sad artifact of the 90s just looks a bit better in the visual department slightly. It is full of the same shortcuts (speed lines, obvious CG, etc) just so the Nishijima-san can focus on the ‘money shots’.

Now the English Dub is slightly better than the CPM dub for the original OVA but that’s not saying much. Its a 2008 Sam Regal-helmed Bang Zoom dub probably made on the cheap considering the quick turnaround between the initial airing of the OVA episodes in Japan and its subsequent Eng dub release and how small the cast is. Main stars include early-career Cristina Vee and Kira ‘Rina-chan’ Buckland among some other regulars of the LA scene at the time. The dub can be best described as competent, decently casted and acted but rather dull and procedural, which can best sum my feelings on modern day LA/California dubs anyway.
There is another prequel, Aika Zero, that came out in 2009 which is a mid-quel of sorts but since its not out officially I won’t talk about it. I imagine Bandai (who re-released the first OVA and then dubbed/released the prequel OVA) and hoped that it would make money so then they could then release the Aika Zero OVA here in the States. But that didn’t happen, and since Bandai is no longer in the game, I highly doubt this will get a Western release.

And what of Nishijima-san? Well he recently worked on an OVA titled Nozoki Ana, which someone on my Twitter feed was watching a few days back. Based on the screenshots it seems he is still up to his usual shtick. I suppose some old dogs can't learn new tricks. Though he has shown up working on another shows, notably as a key animator on an early episode of Kill la Kill, which is a quite interesting tie-back to the era of anime Nishijima-san was a part of.

So yeah this isn’t so much a guilty pleasure, because I don’t feel pleasure from watching it. If I want to watch something with just crotch shots, I’d just watch hentai or porn. I do feel a bit guilty in buying both of these though at a slight discount granted so I didn’t waste much money on this. Is the Aika series one of the worst? No, I have watched far worse anime that actually insult my intelligence. All that the Aika OVAs do is irk my sensibilities but only that as its not that deep or self-aware enough to read any further into it. Then again, that irking/shaking of sensibilities is what anime partly appeals to people I suppose.

Luckily, the other 2 entries this month are actual guilty pleasures and I will have more to talk about with those. Til next time dear readers.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

March 2015 Announcement

Hello there dear readers,

Hey remember that 'Guilty Pleasures' month I did back in May 2012? Yeah I barely do and I doubt most people do, goodness that has been quite some time ago. Well I am doing it again for next month's set of reviews, because surely that will work a second time. Here is the schedule for them:

March 1: Agent Aika and Aika R-16 Virgin Mission (2 OVAs)

March 15: OtoBoku: The Maidens are Falling!

March 29: Maria Holic and Maria Holic Alive

'Til next time, dear readers.....

Anime Review No. 95 (Strawberry Panic)

“Lesbians!, Lesbians! ~”
Strawberry Panic (2006 TV Series)
Studio: Madhouse
Director: Masayuki Sakoi
Writers: Kazuyuki Fudeyasu, Hideo Takayashiki and Tatsuhiko Urahata

Well February 2015 closes out with a personal favorite of mine, a seminal classic in a sub-genre that if you haven’t paying attention, I really love. The show in question is Strawberry Panic, also slight spoilers.

Strawberry Panic is the story of a new transfer student Nagisa Aoi as she comes to Astraea Hill, the site for 3 interconnected all-girls vaguely Christian schools: Le Rim, Spica and Miator. On her first day, she meets her interesting roommate Tamao Suzumi and the mysterious Etoile-sama, Shizuma who holds some deep and dark secrets. Together, Nagisa does the typical adventures at school-making friends and hanging out with them, and also lesbian relationships.

That is the very much the landmark of a yuri series, a focus on lesbian relationships or relationships between women with lesbian subtext. In Strawberry Panic, at least in the TV series, its the former where there are 2 main plots that are all about relationship dynamics. Shizuma and Aoi is the main (A) plot with Hikari and Amane being secondary (B) plot. Plot A is mainly internal conflict fueled by indecision and inner turmoil on the parts of Shizuma and Aoi. Plot B has more external conflict preventing Amane and Hikari getting together, with Kaname and Momomi (2 senpais who very obviously lesbians) serving as rough antagonists though they act more like cartoon villains in much of what they do in the course of the show. Plot A I find is the more compelling, especially when Shizuma’s backstory is revealed and we understand her a bit more and why she acts the way she does. Granted it does get a bit overdramatic and leans into melodrama/soap opera at times but it is still one of the strong elements in the show.

Goodness, Yaya you are way too good for Plot B's story
Plot B is the weak link of the show, mostly because I can’t really care about Hikari and Amane. Hikari is such a wallflower and Amane is an oblivious bifauxnen. The only interesting aspects of this plot is Yaya you do manage to feel something for because to see how much stuff she goes through in the series and a shame she doesn’t really get anyway by series’ end. Oh well, that’s what fanfiction is for. There is a rather valedictorian feel to the final episodes and the show ends on a satisfactory if a bit telegraphed conclusion.

Granted there are other characters, like Chikaru (student council president of the Le Rim school) and her band of classmates (megane Remon, genki Kizuna and the quiet cutie Kagome with her teddy bear Percival) who provide a lot of the levity to the more sombering drama of the main story. There are side adventure episodes, based on rather cliche situations, peppered throughout the series which do come across as filler at points, but are still enjoyable. Well these episodic plots are a just a bit fresher when the show came out in 2006.

Now, Strawberry Panic is one of the more definitive entries in the genre. In fact it is the show that got me interested in the yuri genre, and thus held in high regard by many yuri fans as their first exposure to the genre. It solidifies a lot of the tropes for the genre presently: The senpai-kouhai pairing and the complex relationship dynamics. There is the main theme like the notion of lesbian love: Forbidden, unconditional, unrequited and lost forever, tied to Shizuma’s past for instance. There is also the fleeting nature of youth and innocence and the regret and sadness that follows that, all of this couched in a cute and soothing slice of life atmosphere and environment, adding in tropes and notions from slice of life and high school stories. It is a tad romanticized, that hey that’s the nature of fiction.
Lesbian cuties hanging out.....and such xD
Strawberry Panic is a nice jack of all trades show. What I mean by that is that it is really good at balancing light-hearted comedy, soothing slice of life and serious drama but doesn’t quite excel at any of them, though it certainly tries. Focus episodes on side/supporting characters like the previously mentioned Chikaru and the Le Rim girls are a highlight for me (episodes 6 and 8 especially).
Chikaru you are best girl ^_^
Now the visual presentation is well-done, but not exactly the best work by Madhouse. It has a real somber and subdued look, with a light and pastel color palette. It derps and dips a bit, but thats nearly expected for a show that’s nearly a decade old. The orchestral music is warm and neo-classical in a chamber music style with woodwinds, strings, light brass and piano music abound. It does remind me a bit of the contemporarous Ouran’s equally flowery and melodramatic OST. The OP and ED songs are pleasant enough.


Now, this show was released sub only a few times by Media Blasters (singles in 2008, with complete set releases in 2009 and 2012)  just following the economic crash in the States. In fact, it was one of the first series that got this and set a precedence for sub-only releases that we in the States get in recent years. Fact is that dubbing became too costly for every anime acquired and just releasing with subtitles and a bare-bones release is cheaper and you got a better shot at getting your money back. The japanese language track is good and worth a listen, though a lot of the acting is archetypal and typical of how those tracks are done. One of the reason why I don’t usually talk about Japanese language tracks is because as an English speaking fan, I can’t really judge fairly the performance standards of japanese voice acting.

Cute yuri kiss scene ^_^

Overall Strawberry Panic is very good. It is a great exploration of blossoming romance between young women and an examination of an anime genre that recently has gotten some resurgence which I find very pleasing. Granted, its a bloated towards the middle as the story and plots drag in the middle third and does indulge in the melodrama a bit too much, but still worth a look at. And well, the moral of yuri is that indeed, girls can love girls.

Next month’s reviews will be in a post tomorrow- ‘Til next time dear readers.

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Anime Review No. 94 (Love, Chuunibyo and Other Delusions)

“The Power of Imagination”
Love, Chunibyo and Other Delusions (2012 TV Series)
Director: Tatsuya Ishihara
Writer: Jukki Hanada
Studio: Kyoto Animation

So, here’s a show that I have waited about a year to talk about and almost didn’t. This is a show that I find to be something truly special. This is based on a recommendation of my esteemed colleague Ramo Zemog, who covered the series last year, and I must say thank you good sir. It is certainly a worthwhile recommendation. The show in question, if you couldn’t tell, is Love Chuunibyo and Other Delusions.

Love, Chuunibyo and Other Delusions, based on the light novels by Torako, is quite an interesting story. The core of the story revolves around the notion of Chuunibyo also known as 8th grader syndrome, a disease of the adolescent mind. Linked to delusions of grandeur, it involves individuals with very active imaginations to the point where the line between fantasy and reality are blurred. Center of focus is on Yuta Togashi, a young man who is a former chuunibyo ‘patient’ who is entering high school. He tries to get a new lease on his social life in high school but is haunted by his own embarrassing antics of his youthful past as the Dark Flame Master. One night he meets a mysterious girl with an eyepatch. Rikka Takanashi is a current chuunibyo patient who holds power via the Eye of the Wicked Lord Shingan. As it turns out, she lives in the apartment above his family’s with her older sister Toka. The show takes some wonderfully funny and dramatic turns throughout the 12 episode run as they find new friends and learn quite a lot from each other, as well engage in fantastical fights from another dimension.

What I love about this show is how well it handles characters. This features a wide range of characters, all more or less integral to the overall story. Be it the comical straight man Yuta, the kooky double act of Rikka and her middle school twin-tailed shorty minion Dekomori, Nibutani the popular girl or the adorable sleepyhead senpai Kumin Tsuyuri. Granted the focus is on the development of the relationship between Yuta and Rikka, but the show does explore the other character dynamics of the main group of characters in a nice, fun and refreshing way. And yet like most of the cast, we aren’t meant to feel sorry for them, but more as a point of relation. I do relate a lot of Yuta, as I did some quite silly things in my youth.  My favorite character in the show is Kumin Tsuyuri, the sleepyhead senpai. She is so kind and nice it is almost like she is a pure innocent hnng. My second favorite is Nibutani, the popular girl who has some secrets of her own and that’s mainly due to having known girls like that in high school.

Another aspect this show nails is the combination of serious drama and light-hearted school comedy. I love the variety of humor and slapstick present in the show, from the deadpan to LOL jokes its all here in abundance. The physical slapstick comedy is also quite enjoyable as some compilation videos on Youtube can attest to. Yuta’s various reaction faces are a treat to behold.

But then around the halfway point, as the story takes a quite serious and dramatic turn.I kind of did expect it, but it makes the show more interesting when it changes up the formula a bit. Not to spoil too much, let’s just say that the fun daydreaming is the result of some truly heartbreaking stuff. Seriously, the loose 2 parter near around the halfway mark is some of the most heartbreaking and emotional family drama I have seen in anime in a while. This leads to complications and sulking surely, but it ends with the sublime episode 12 which in my mind offers a very summation of the show while allowing for a continuation to occur. The core message I feel for this show is this: Live for yourself, and do the best you can in life now what difficulties and hardships befall and that is perfectly fine to dream a bit every now and then. There exists a strong theme of love and acceptance permeate the show which flowers in the finale, but how well you will have to check it out yourself. As an extra note, the OVA Special is probably the best Christmas special I have seen in an anime since Read or Die TV.

In terms animation production, this show rocks. Kyoto Animation (or KyoAni) is a top notch Japanese animation studio and it shows up in this entire production, so fluid and full of life and energy. KyoAni is one of the few recent  studios that hit a gold mine early (with Haruhi and Lucky Star among others) and thus has oodles and oodles of money to spend on their productions and it certainly shows.in Chuunibyo in yards and spades. The fantasy fight scenes are amazing and a sight to behold. The show is beautifully shot overall with nary a bad or sloppy shot/frame anywhere.

For music, both OP and ED songs are nice and worth a listen to. The soundtrack music by Nijine is also a highlight as well, complementing the action be it serious dramatic or the light-hearted funny, making for some nice well-done orchestral music.I’m a sucker for that and wish more anime would do with that more often.

Now onto the English Dub and I have to say it is  easily one of the best I’ve listened to in recent memory. No really, this dub alone shows just how far Sentai Filmworks has come since Clannad over 4 years ago in terms of dubbing. First off, great narration work by David Wald to bookend the show, nice touch there. This english boasts a near perfect cast. Leraldo Anzaldua as Yuta does a great job in the leading guy role nailing the youthful tone and energy of the character. Meg McDonald as Rikka, now this has been a bit interesting, She goes for a slightly different take on the character but it works, where she goes slightly deep for chuuni mode but then high-pitched cutesy voice when not. It is certainly a bit more theatrical and over dramatic than cutesy moe but it fits the character. I do like Meg McDonald and I feel that she’s a voice actress whose career is really taking off and I wish her the best of luck and very encouraging to see people of my generation (like her and Caitlynn French) getting into anime voice acting. Keep up the good work you two and others!

Maggie Flecknoe as Nibutani is really good and fitting for the character, always nice to hear her in dubs. Brittney Karbowski as Sanae Dekomori: Yeah, this was a role Brittney was destined to play and wasn’t surprised at all she landed this part as it is right up her alley (her performance reminding me of some of her earlier dub work like Himeko in Pani Poni or Ayu in Kanon 2006). The rest of cast is well done in terms of vocal performance, including Greg Ayres, Carli Mosier, Genevieve Simmons, Monica Rial, etc. Chuunibyo is the the latest dub done by recent ADR Director Emily Neves. She is a voice actress who has been working in Houston dubs since Clannad. She picked up some training in directing from Christopher Ayres while working on the Problem Children dub, which I have previously reviewed and then announced last summer that she got the full time ADR Director position-reason for that I will talk about in an upcoming review. Emily Neves has gone onto direct dubs for shows like Watamote, Rozen Maiden 2013, Dog and Scissors and Maid-Sama!. She clearly is an actor’s director and seems to go for getting the best performance out of the actors. Neves is able to handle the comedic aspects of the show as well as nail the emotional scenes, particularly in the latter half. The dub script done by Lainee Hooks, script writer for Watamote, Prisma Illya and Sunday without God dubs, is a nice and well-done mix of transliteral and adaptative without going too far in either direction as most dubs from Sentai have done in the past. In fact with 2014 and this year so far, Sentai is actually employing script writers (most of them employed voice actors like Josh Grelle, Clint Bickham, George Manley, Nancy Novotny) for their dubs instead of just having their directors handle that. A step in the right direction for them in my book.

The funny thing is that this show was destined for a standard release. When Sentai Filmworks planned to release Chuunibyo Season 1, they planned for a May 2014 release sub-only, no dub on both separate DVD and Blu Ray sets. However the KyoAni fanboys threw such a fit over the show not getting a dub (when other KyoAni shows Sentai picked up got dubs), that Sentai Filmworks changed their minds on that. Still releasing the sub-only DVD set for May, they announced plans to release the first season on a Limited Edition DVD/Blu Ray box set. Now I preordered the day it was available back in late August 2014, for the expected December release date. But then it got pushed forward to February 2015 due to some issues Sentai had with the licensor but I find that the wait was worth it. Here;s the video they put out about the box set, which can be brought fairly easily on RightStuf.  I can’t wait to get Season 2 (Heart Throb) when that comes out.
Chuunibyo Box set video

Chuunibyo is a great show overall, with a wonderful tale of youth trying to find their place in the world. It is a great production throughout and has a truly great English dub. I wholeheartedly recommend this show and encourage others to check it out.

Next time is Strawberry Panic. Til next time dear readers.