Posts Tagged ‘john burgmeier’
Save Me! Lollipop
Yet another series that I went into with low expectations only to be very pleasantly surprised!
In this romantic comedy from Sunshine Corporation, the heroine is a twelve year old girl named Nina. While out eating cake with her friends, a mysterious pearl appears on her plate out of nowhere. Thinking that its hard candy she eats it only to have two mysterious boys appear in front of her moments later. Soon she finds out that the pearl she ate wasn’t hard candy at all and instead was a magical pearl being used for a special test in another world.
In this other world, a group of training sorcerers are taking their final exam which involves tracking down the pearl and holding onto it until Christmas. With the pearl now firmly implanted in her, the two boys named Zero and Ichi decide that they must protect Nina until the exam is over in a couple of months. They will have their work cut out for them though as there are a number of other sorcerer trainees who will do whatever it takes to obtain it including Forte and San, Gou and Rokka (who believes Ichi to be her fiancé) and Yakumo (who has a crush on Nina) and Nanase.
Good and the Bad
Wasting absolutely no time, ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ sets up its story within the first ten minutes. Moving at a very steady pace throughout all thirteen episodes, ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ will constantly keeps audiences paying attention for the sheer fact that turning your eyes away will cause you to miss something. Even if this is a series aimed at a younger audience, it’s still not something that can be just watched casually if you expect to see everything you need to.
For the most part, this works in favor of the series. With the characters always doing something fun and interesting, it’s hard not to pay attention as the series continues to play out the story. Other times however, this incredible pacing can work against ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ in a lot of different ways. The most obvious of these ways are that fans are forced to take in the writing and dialogue of the series with little time to digest everything before having to move onto the next plot point.
With so much constantly being revealed about the characters or what is happening within the series, it can be very hard to keep up at times. Ironically, it’s not always the pacing that makes the audience lose their place within the series but just plain bad writing. It doesn’t happen often but there are those moments when fans will just have to stop for a second. This isn’t an old series; it originally hit television airwaves in 2006. So why the dub script called for Nina to say a dated expression like ‘Gee whiz!’ is absolutely beyond me.
The biggest issue that ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ faces with its writing is how often they rehash the plot for the audience. Naturally the staff is using this as a means of keeping the audience up to speed but they never rehash recent story points with the intro, it’s always the basic story which the audience always knows. Add onto the fact that the series is only thirteen episodes long and yet keeps going all the way up to episode twelve and you have audience members with their finger firmly planted on the skip forward button.
As a comedy, ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ works hard to appeal to audiences of various age groups and again, they manage to succeed on most attempts. Almost right away the series really works hard at setting up slapstick comedy as its ‘go to’ source of laughs. Characters are constantly going to be engaging in magic battles but no one ever really gets hurt, they are just blown miles away by huge explosions ready to come back another day for another battle.
What surprised me as I watched this series however was how much the series also decided to use more adult humor to appeal to the older audience members who may be tuning in. As a twelve year old, you don’t really expect Nina to be particularly stacked in the breast department. This doesn’t seem to enter the mind of any of the other characters however as her breasts become fair game for jokes throughout most of the episodes (naturally the hot springs and beach episodes are just filled with almost nonstop boob jokes). Breasts aren’t the only adult humor thrown in though as another early running gag will involve San constantly trying to dress her male partner Forte in various dresses.
The comedy in ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ wouldn’t even come close to successful however if there weren’t a strong cast of characters to deliver them. While Zero and Ichi will have their moments of annoyance (i.e. Ichi is just TOO nice sometimes, Zero isn’t the greatest rebel character), they provide a strong balance for the sometimes ditzy and easily flustered Nina. Behind them though is a wonderful cast of supporting characters that pick up all the slack.
San and Forte are the first supporting sorcerer characters into the series. While none of the supporting cast ever really comes across as truly villainous, these two come the closest early on and really show how far the other trainees will go to get the pearl away from Nina. What is really nice about ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ and these characters however is how much attention are given throughout the series. Episode five, for instance, is entirely dedicated to the childhoods of both San and Forte giving the audience a glimpse into the tragic childhood San was forced to deal with. This episode is one of the best in the series and it’s hard not to be touched by the wonderful relationship between these two characters.
Equally entertaining for different reasons are the pair of Gou and Rokka. Playing right into another running gag of a female being introduced from Ichi’s past which causes Nina to fly into a fit of jealousy, Rokka is another very fun character for audiences to enjoy. While the twist in her character does make her first few moments on screen seem almost creepy in hindsight, she and Gou remain a very fun pair to watch whenever they are on screen.
Even still though, a decent story and fun characters will mean nothing if the animation is lacking. Luckily the animation quality throughout ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ is nothing for anyone to complain about. Throughout all thirteen episodes of the series, the characters and backgrounds spend most of the time looking very good together. None of the designs ever really stand out as poor quality or difficult to look at which plays well throughout. Unfortunately the battle scenes do not get the same high praise that the rest of the series gets.
The attack sequences and battle magic always look very good throughout the series but it’s rare that the sequences really feel like they are blending in with the characters. Constantly looking over produced, it’s hard to be excited or overly impressed by the magical attacks being thrown back and forth when they never really look like they fit properly with the rest of the series. Episode one proves this right off the bat with Forte’s flute magic. While the snakes he conjures look very well done, once they start interacting with the characters (Nina specifically) they instantly start to look like they don’t belong and need to be toned down.
With few exceptions, the music throughout ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ is easily the weakest point of the series. Always very electronic sounding, it’s rare for the background music to ever sound like it belongs in the series instead of in an old school RPG video game. If you need examples all one needs to do is listen to the confrontation music in episode seven between Zero, Ichi, Yakumo and Nanase. Cheesy at best, it’s hard to take any of the characters in this scene seriously as long as that music keeps going in the background.
The vocal themes in ‘Save Me! Lollipop’ are luckily its big saving grace. Episode five in particular features an absolutely beautiful soft vocal theme for San that captures her character so wonderfully. Equally fun (and annoyingly catchy) is the opening theme sung by CLOVER which I guarantee will be stuck in your head sooner rather than later. I can attest to this because it only took about three episodes before I could distinctly hear my housemate singing along to the theme.
Dub vs. Sub
It’s rare that I get to sit down and actually say that the English cast is better than the original Japanese. Most of the voices in the Japanese cast sounded fine; unfortunately there are two voices throughout the cast that just absolutely grated on me. The first was Yukari Kokubun as Gou. In the Japanese cast, Gou is kept as a teenage character who is serving as the caretaker of Rocca while in the English cast John Burgmeier plays the role as a bit older, still young but certainly older than Rocca by a few years. While watching the series play out, I just found that performance so much easier to believe and get into. The second role that got me and wouldn’t let go is Ruby the crow late in the series. Just a grating voice that wouldn’t let go.
The highlight of the dub cast however is listening to Monica Rial and Greg Ayres play off each other as San and Forte. From their history together at ADV, these two have just learned to sync up with each other so well and listening to their dialogue is always just so fluid. These two together is always a treat for anime fans.
On disc two, a few extras find their way to fans including three interviews with Yui Shoji (Nina), Momoko Saito (San) and Sakura Nogawa (Rokka). Each interview is only five to ten minutes long or so and doesn’t go into anything particularly in depth. Mostly the actors all talk about their initial impressions of the series, their characters and what they think of the story in the series. While they aren’t the most interesting interviews, it can always be fun to learn some insights from the cast from their experiences. It’s also kind of fun that the staff decided to interview a couple of the supporting actors and not just the leads.
The last extra included with the series are pages from the US version of the manga (released by Del Ray Manga). Unfortunately this causes the usual problem that DVDs run into when this extra is included: unless you have a pretty big screen, the pages are going to be a little blurry and very difficult to actually read.
Going into this series my initial expectations were very low but it really didn’t take much time at all to get attached to these characters. It’s not a great series by far, but it’s still a cute enjoyable series that’s easy to laugh with. While it’s not something that everyone will enjoy, I can at least say that in a couple of years I’d be happy to watch this again with my nieces as I think they would get a big kick out of it. If you’re looking for a cute series that you can spend some time with, this isn’t a bad way to do it.
Hajime and Tsugumi will continue to debate the issue of Hell Girl back and forth on this chilling installment.
In these four episodes, Hajime and Tsugumi will continue to encounter Hell Girl via Tsugumi’s visions. In episode nineteen, it is a woman named Inori who is being tortured by her future mother in law who wants her to be still and soulless like a doll. Before episode twenty which has Ai facing off against a psychic medium named Gilles de L’Enfer on television. After exposing a fraud on television, Gilles uses the man as bait to lure in Ai for a showdown.
The battle of wills between Tsugumi and Hajime reach a boiling point in episode twenty one when the one who seeks vengeance is Yuko, the daughter of Hajime’s old colleague. Her life in ruins, Yuko seeks vengeance against the one who caused the death of her father. Tsugumi argues that her friend deserves vengeance for what had been done to her leading to a clash.
In the final episode of the volume, while Ai is taking care of a woman who sees men as nothing but cash, it is the anniversary of Hajime’s ex wife and Tsugumi’s mother. In many flashbacks, the audience will finally learn the troubled family history of Hajime and Tsugumi including what caused the death.
Good and the Bad
In these four episodes, Hell Girl continues with the same format that it has established as its trademark since the beginning. Each episode on this volume will focus on one single individual who has a right to seek vengeance while Hajime and his daughter attempt to stop them. Already near the end of the first season, it has long since passed the time for Hell Girl to attempt to introduce a new kind of storytelling format and so sticking with what they know works.
A big reason why it works though is because while the format of the story telling has remained the same, the substance within each one is continually changing as well. In this volume, the staff behind this series decided to keep things interesting for the audience. Some episodes will end with an ironic twist and one has an open ending that will leave the audience guessing.
The only place where these episodes really deviate from this is in the flashback episode. While finding out the whole torrid history behind Hajime and his family, having the flashback episode so late within the season feels almost weird. While normally one might just assume that the series placed it in there to be filler but the impact of the flashbacks are quite incredible. The moving nature of the story and the present day reactions from Tsugumi and Hajime also make the audience believe that there is a reason for the staff to be bringing up this story at this moment. If there wasn’t a reason to watch the final volume before, there is now.
Beyond the primary story, the individual stories about the seekers of vengeance were presented very well in these episodes. Episode nineteen in particular hits one of the high notes in how creepy this series can really be. I rarely get startled by horror anime but even I jumped a little during some of Ai’s later scenes in this episode. Later in the volume Yuko will have a scene in episode twenty that again reaches new heights in how much tension Hell Girl is capable of creating in its audience members. To watch Yuko debate back and forth in her head over if she should pull the string or not is mesmerizing.
The episode where this series seems to take the biggest bump is with episode twenty with Ai and Gilles facing off. The buildup throughout this episode is very well written. Despite never making an appearance in the city before, the staff do a remarkable job of building him up throughout the entire episode as a credible threat to Ai. His arrogance is expertly written and his examples really sell him to the audience. The payoff is where Hell Girl takes a dive however.
Without revealing how the episode actually ends, suffice to say it is extremely disappointing. With the episode building up the encounter so heavily, the entire thing will come across as over much too quickly and easily. There are many things that happen in this episode to keep it relevant but overall it’s a letdown.
Getting ready for the final four episodes of the season, Hell Girl is already moving in new directions to form its final push. The encounter with Gilles will leave Ai changed in a way. Hajime and Tsugumi are also headed for more confusion and debate over the theme of revenge.
None of this would even be possible to begin with however if it weren’t for the strong characters that this series has created. Ai and her crew have been wonderful pillars to balance this series on. When the series needed a protagionist with a strong willed sidekick, Hajime and Tsugumi stepped up and filled the roles perfectly.
Using a child as a sidekick doesn’t always work. If the character is written too much like a kid they’ll never be credible, too serious and it’s the same thing. Tsugumi isn’t written as incredibly smart though. She’s a normal kid in that regard but with her history and her maturity, she is able to be strong willed and opinionated while remaining credible. Since she was introduced into the series, audiences have been wondering where her story with Ai will end.
The music in this series remains as one of the strongest selling points this series has. Episode twenty one is filled with remarkable string compositions that add to the tension of the series. When Yuko is in the attic of her home remembering her father, the sad string melody that plays with it is tragically fitting. Later in the episode when Yuko has the straw doll in front of her and she is making her decision, the driving music adds to an already chilling atmosphere.
Dub vs. Sub
One of the reasons why episode twenty fails is due to some poor dialogue writing. In one particular scene, Gilles is alone and utters a curse to Ai, “By the time I’m done with you you’ll be nothing but a Wikipedia footnote.” The line comes across as a terribly trendy thing to say and doesn’t even begin to sound threatening. This ruined a lot of credibility with Gilles that the dub cast had to earn back quickly.
Other than that blip on the radar though, both casts do a remarkably good job. Luci Christian as Tsugumi and John Burgmeier as Hajime continue to steal the show with their debates and monologues. While Mamiko Noto continues to a brilliant job with Ai in the Japanese cast.
Besides clean animations, the other extra included on this volume is labeled ‘Top Secret Hell Conference’. Like the previous volume, this feature has Mamiko Noto watching a ‘top secret’ meeting between heads of the series such as the producer, director, script writer talking about season two. The feature comes in at about eleven minutes and will drop tons of hints about what audiences can expect from the second season.
The topics included within this meeting involve the Three Straws and their future roles, Hell Girl’s past and future and much more. If you are interested in hearing more about the second season, this will be a great feature for you to watch as there is tons of information to learn. If you don’t want to know anything about what happens in season two you might want to skip this extra. The information given really isn’t fleshed out enough to be spoilers at least.
A gem of the genre, Hell Girl has done a remarkable job thus far. Besides a short stumble with the introduction of the character Gilles, this series has continued to tell an incredibly complex and compelling story. Pushed forward by a cast of believable characters and leaving the audience asking questions, the ending of this series is easily one of my most anticipated. Very highly recommended.
Final Grade: A-
In the volume that will complete the first half of the series and start in on the second, the focus remains firmly on Ai and the reporter who is tracking her down. In the first episode, Shibata is contacted by his former boss to track down a politician and create some dirt on him so that the magazine can print a scandalous report that will blow the whistle on his illegal activities. While there though he also meets a man named Kataoka whose family was torn apart by the same magazines dirty journalism and finds out that he has contacted Ai to get his revenge.
The second episode of the volume mostly takes the series back to its original formula and introduces a girl named Sawai who has become socially withdrawn, skipping school every day. The only person she speaks to is an online friend that she communicates with daily. Her teacher comes to visit everyday though and tries to convince her to come back to school so Sawai seeks out Ai to get revenge against him so that he’ll leave her alone.
The third episode ends the first half of the series focusing completely on Shibata. While Ai’s companions continue to worry about what to do with Shibata, Tsugumi has another vision. Shibata pieces together the clues and learns even more about Ai by visiting a man who used Hell Link in the 1950’s to get revenge on his best friend.
In the final episode of the volume and first episode of the second half, Shibata is led to a small town by his daughter’s visions once again. This time the one who wants revenge is a girl named Saki Kirino against the mayor of the town. The last night that she saw her father, he was carrying incriminating photos of the mayor out with him to a meeting. After he is later found dead in the park via suicide, Saki becomes convinced that he was murdered. As with another story on this volume though, this one isn’t as black and white as it seems.
Good and the Bad
With the four episodes on this volume, ‘Hell Girl’ completes its shift from its original form of storytelling for the new that focuses on Shibata and his quest for more information on how to stop Ai. The shift in storytelling has been a very subtle shift that gradually moved the audience towards the new characters but somehow still manages to feel halted. While the series has done a great job so far of introducing Shibata into the series and making his story an intricate aspect of the overall story, the disappearance of Ai’s torture scenes is done so suddenly audiences won’t be able to help but to notice.
The trade off for this however is one that audience members really can’t complain about as now the series has become so much more psychological. The initial episodes of the series really did a great job of getting the audience’s attention because the torture that Ai put the victims through was all quite intense. In these episodes however, the series has begun to challenge the audience in new ways by presenting victims whose crimes may or may not be truly evil and deserving of punishment.
Even the stories themselves on this volume are all quite complicated in their own way with their own unique twists. Episode 12, for example, is very well presented due to the antagionist having such unique intentions behind his actions. Follow this up with an ironic twist and you have an audience that fans of this series will not see coming complete with emotional impact.
To cite another prime example of the shift that this series is taking, episode 13 was put together in a pretty risky measure. Closing out the first half of the series with an episode that almost entirely removes the title character from the episode will always carry a huge chance at backfiring and turning off the audience. Shibata comes across as such a strong supporting character though that the story involving him will keep the audience entranced as he pieces together the clues.
The staff behind this volume however also does a great job with some of the smaller details. In the middle of episode 13, while Fukumoto tells his story, the animation takes on a grainy black and white appearance while Ai is seen in bright luminescent color. The contrast between the two animation styles together is a brilliantly pieced together scene that takes the audience into the past while also reminding them of Ai being beyond time in her role as the ‘Hell Girl’.
While there weren’t many scenes that contained particularly strong music, there were a couple of scenes that managed to stand out. The soft traditional music playing during the first few scenes of episode 14 is wonderful and paints a fantastic soft mood. The mood of the scene is highlighted even more in the early scene where Tsugumi is walking home from school.
The audio quality on this volume remained strong throughout. Both the dub and sub tracks came through clearly on my speakers with no noticeable distortion or drop outs.
Dub vs. Sub
Neither language track carried any issues for me on this volume. While the Japanese actors, Mamiko Noto in particular as Ai, do a wonderful job of bringing out the scarier aspects of the dialogue I also found that the English cast did an equally wonderful job of bringing out the drama of the series. Perhaps this is just an odd idiosyncrasy that I’m picking up the dialogue or stories never came across as creepy as when I listened to them in the Japanese track.
In terms of standout performances however, three actors in the dub cast continue to come across the strongest: Brina Palencia as Ai, John Burgmeier as Shibata and Luci Christian as Tsugumi.
Besides clean opening animation, the other extra included with this volume is labeled as ‘Emergency Round-Table Talk’. In this feature; Mamiko Noto (Ai), Masaya Matsukaze (Ichimokuren), Takako Honda (Hone Onna) and Takayuki Sugou (Wanyuudou) sit down with the host Masumi Takanushi in the Aniplex conference room. In the twelve minute feature, the actors discuss a couple aspects of this series that they enjoyed and what they look forward to learning more about in the second season.
The interview itself comes across well and I was particularly grateful that the series didn’t include any major spoilers despite being recorded after the first season had ended. Another nice treat about this extra is that the actors were given notes about the episodes and so when they give opinions about episodes, we can actually see them going through the notes to make sure their information is correct while they’re giving their answers. It’s a very small thing to notice but it really does make the cast come across as being a bit more into the series.
Even though it’s started to move in very interesting new directions, this series continues to be a highly enjoyable view. With the second half of the first season now underway, I’m finding myself filled with questions about what will be coming down the line. Shibata is coming closer to Ai but will her servants allow him to get any closer? Why does Tsugumi get these visions? Every time I watch this volume, I hit stop and instantly I’m thinking about the future of the series. While it’s not quite the horror series that it was in the beginning, the new story has added some great psychological depth to it that I haven’t seen in far too long. Very recommended.
Final Grade: A-