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 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.