Posts Tagged ‘review’
Available from Amazon
|11Eyes Complete Collection
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
After losing his older sister, Kakeru grew up as an orphan alongside his best friend Yuka and, even after leaving the orphanage, remain close even attending the same school. Born with a useless, discolored eye, Kakeru was always the target of scorn from classmates which continued all throughout his life. One day, Kakeru and Yuka begin to see a strange black moon in the sky which eventually breaks into a red night.
After barely escaping with their lives from a swarm of monsters, Kakeru and Yuka meet others at their school who are also forced into the red night to fight for their lives. As they work together, the group encounters a group of mysterious black knights who wish to see them dead. Luckily, they have all been given a new power with which to fight back.
Good and the Bad
This is an average series and to be honest, that’s being generous in some places. And while you may think that that’s all you need to know and can move on, you’d be wrong. What makes this series different is that everyone involved with this series had to have known that it was an average series. Between the staff at Dogakobo and the audience, no one is being fooled into thinking this is going to be of epic proportions. What this does is gives the series a new sense of freedom to do as it wants in its quest to bring the audience in. With this power it can actually strive to be better and after clawing its way through plot twist after plot twist, 11Eyes manages to do the impossible: it gets a little better… but not by much.
Initially, it’s pretty easy to see where the roots of this series lie. Based on an eroge by Lass, 11Eyes tries hard to create a dark atmosphere that always leaves the audience guessing. However in the beginning, a story is introduced that just fails to hook the audience in right away. You know how sometimes when you’re playing an RPG, the beginning can be kind of a slog because of all the time you have to spend leveling up? That’s what this series and its hero is. As a lead character, Kakeru is easily one of the more annoying to appear recently with constant whines about how he isn’t strong enough. Believe me Kakeru, we can SEE how weak you are and watching it is ten times worse than what you’re going through.
While the supporting cast helps a little, what 11Eyes is constantly trying to thrive on is its dark intrigue. Unfortunately with a third of the series spent just trying to get one character into fight shape, by the end of the first disc the series is just managing to hit its still very slow stride. Towards the end, things start to take a turn for the better as characters start to show real depth and growth from who they were. Even if this series isn’t particularly amazing, you’ll have to admit that 11Eyes always manages to keep fans guessing. The problem is that no matter what is happening, no matter how horrific the death or how yandere Yuka gets, it’s just hard to care.
Throughout the series, 11Eyes wants badly to be taken seriously as a dark mystery which makes it all the more annoying when those eroge roots decide to show up at the most inconvenient times. Generally taking the form of quick fan service or sex scene, the good point is that when the series does try to go sexual with its story, the general feeling is of eroticism instead of just fan service. The slow motions and dark lighting that surrounds Misuzu as she conducts her naked ritual, for example, or gives herself to another character always aims for erotic but usually misses just barely. Naked rituals and sexually shared powers? Leave it in the eroge.
What I did love about this series however are the absolutely gorgeous piano scores that constantly filled the scenery and gave it life where the writing was giving none. While I could never find who actually composed the music, the score for this series is just filled with wonderful, soft piano themes which are a primary reason for the series having such a heavy feeling. Ranging from organs to harpsichords, the gothic motif of the music played a huge role in 11Eyes never getting too fast paced. Always keeping things calm and heavy, it makes me wonder if this series could have picked up had the score been lightened just a little.
If you’re willing to put in the time to see all of the twists that this series will try to throw at you in a desperate attempt to keep you around, this could be a dark adventure that would be up your alley. When you have to put that much effort into keeping an audience that is rightly already bored, it’s hard to give a series much of a pass. Don’t invest any money into this one, this is a mostly average series that is worth a rental at best.
Super Gals Complete Collection
In Shibuya, the town may have a government and police in place. If you were to ask someone though they’d tell you that the streets are really protected by a high school girl named Ran Kotobuki. Ran is the #1 gal in the area with her only concerns being the latest fashions and having a good time. Of course that’s only in between having adventures in town and fights with her rivals, Mami and Kusumi, teachers and anyone else interested in causing problems in her town.
Good and the Bad
So I haven’t posted a DVD review in awhile and that would be because I have a certain rule that if I start a review DVD set I have to finish it before I can review it. Sometimes this rule can be a major pain in the ass when you have a series that’s not quite good but not so bad that it can be dropped. Such as with the case of Super Gals. At its heart, this isn’t actually a really terrible series. Once you start getting used to the characters, the jokes can be fun and worth an occasionally laugh. But that sentence right there should cause alarm; why on Earth should I have to get used to the characters? Once you realize that, it’s only a matter of time before you realize this is going to be a struggle.
This is the closest example to a Saturday morning American cartoon in anime form that I’ve seen since Heroman (though this series premiered years before). In every episode, there is a new story to get through with some elements continuing as running themes throughout. Over two seasons, the entire series is one of the most shallow to be released in the last few years. Sometimes this can be a strong point when you need mindless entertainment but it has to be willing to make certain sacrifices and still find a way to be good. In this case, the sacrifices comes in the form of flat writing to match its equally flat characters that have one set of personality traits and sticks with them the whole way… and then it forgets to be good.
In the first few episodes, the series establishes things very cleanly. If you had enough free time, you could literally count the number of times that a character acts in a way that is out of the norm. Which if you’re telling simple stories that rarely last for longer than a single episode makes them perfect for stories and situations that are never going to be particularly deep. The series is all about Ran avoiding all of the inconvenient things in life in order to have the most amount of fun and that’s a story that is presented very well.
However as much as much as I’d love to praise Ran for having such an amazing attitude towards life, the characters are the biggest hurdle to climb over while watching. As every character has their own template that is rarely broken, the series rarely allows anyone any real growth. There are exceptions to this but oddly its all regulated to the supporting cast. As with other elements though these moments are way too few and far between with many of them marred by poor writing. This just becomes another joining the list of tragic victims left in the Super Gals wake. To be entirely fair, there are times when the sadder of these moments could almost be touching in the right circumstance. It’s just that using these characters does not constitute the ‘right circumstances’.
It’s very rare for this to happen but there isn’t a single character in this series that I can’t name something about them that annoys me. Every character sits in their comfortable boxes over two entire seasons. Occasionally one (particularly Aya, Miyu and Mami) will peek their head out and make an attempt to break out of that box but that’s about as far as it ever goes. And after 52 episodes it just becomes so easy to pick them apart and find something to dislike about all of them. Yuya, just to pick a random example, is the number 2 male high school idol in Shibuya. He’s also so stereotypically whiny that he eventually ends up in an accidental relationship. All because he is too much of a wuss to simply clear up the wacky, romantic misunderstanding. It’s like a PSA against apathetic guys.
The one place that I have to praise Super Gals is in how wonderfully its aged over the last decade. Despite first premiering in 2001, the first season of this series looks clear and clean. There are few signs that the series is really that old until they drop a clue (‘Alright kids, now we’re going to learn about email’). As the series progressed into the second season though, it seems as though the staff at Studio Pierrot just stopped caring about how the series looked. Characters change hair color from episode to episode while single frame shots will suddenly lose their proportions eliminating any real charm that the series had earned in the first 26 episodes.
It’s hard to believe that the same man who composed the amazing CANAAN and Chrono Crusade scores, Hikaru Nanase, was behind this series as well. With the setting being a vibrate neighborhood like Shibuya, the music in this series really plays this up with many electronic para para themes (Ran’s an expert at it after all). Beyond these moments though, the music tends to stay in a much more typical cartoon department. There are even plenty of sound effects to accompany the cheesy themes to match the situation of the moment.
I will say this though… if I have to listen to that stupid Junior Detective theme song one more time I will scream.
Dub vs. Sub
With their release, Right Stuf is able to include the original ADV English dub with the first season while the second season remains subtitles only. Listening to the two casts really proved to be an interesting dynamic. As I switched back and forth between the two casts, I found that I much preferred the natural sound to the Japanese cast. There are a number of references and language jokes that rely on the Japanese that never allows the English cast to sound natural.
On every disc are liner notes for each episode to explain some of the harder references and jokes along the way. What I found frustrating about these notes though is that they were programmed as one long extra. This means that you either had to watch each episode and then go back to read the notes before continuing or read all the notes at the end of the volume and hope to remember what was happening in each episode. As a counter to this problem, the first season discs also contain the ‘Gals Explains It All’ segment. In these short segments (usually around 5 minutes), one of the English voice actresses gives the audience an abridged version of the liner notes with fewer details. I personally preferred the text notes which went into much better detail.
Had I seen this series when it was released as single volumes, I imagine I’d have enjoyed it much more than I did. As it is, I could only take this series in short bursts and even then it was becoming a chore to watch within 3 volumes. Lacking any sort of redeemable depth, the lazy writing, stories and characters gets this series off to a slow start that are never helped by the stale and sometimes reused humor. I’m not saying that I never laughed at this series but the moments of sheer boredom far outnumbered them. Perhaps I could see myself putting this on for my nieces but anyone who is looking for a genuinely fun anime viewing experience can just keep going.
Taking place in the Meiji era, Japan is entering a new time when influences from the west are becoming common. This is creating a divide between the humans and the magical younin who have lived there for centuries. In order to bridge the gap and create harmony, the military establishes the Spirit Affairs Division to help the two coexist in the new world. Made up of three young officers and four female half younin, the unit tackles cases of disturbances and attacks from restless younin in the area. Along the way, one of the half younin girls, Zakuro, will discover that what she possesses inside of her makes her a highly desired prize to a secret group interested in half spirits.
Good and the BadI have to admit that I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this series. In the early going there wasn’t always a lot that led me to think there was a larger point in mind. While the narrative may have suffered a little in the beginning, by the second half Otome Youkai Zakuro establishes a solid story that doesn’t even need to rely on many of the more common themes of the present.
Though it’s difficult not to get lost in this series when JC Staff has used so much effort to create a natural and appropriate world for the characters to live in. Working hard to establish the era, the artwork in this series consists of a soft palette of muted autumn colors. Constantly washed in faded off whites, browns and dark greens the animation in this series is perfect for sending the audience back to an older time and each episode is even introduced with a short flickering film strip title screen.
The setting and backgrounds here are so natural that the mood is almost ruined by the characters living in it. Generally, the setting and characters are mellow, reserved and calm. However, there are still enough reminders of the present with what feels like modern characters dressed up and dropped in a new time period. It’s not to imply that I didn’t enjoy these characters. The characters were easy to like and even made me giggle at their antics but the cute moe twins and ultra tsundere Zakuro can be a challenge to see as a natural fit within 19th century Japan. When placed against the larger story however, this is a trade off that will barely register by the time you’ve crossed the finish line.
There aren’t a lot of series that can wear the shoujo action badge. There are even fewer that can claim to have done it particularly well but this is an example of a series skillfully walking the line between two opposing genres. On its shoujo side, Otome Youkai Zakuro spends most of its run slowly developing the romantic relationships between the leads. These romantic moments and slowly growing feelings are some of the more memorable to pick out. With each relationship, the audience sees things progress in different ways which make the various paths fun to compare. On its action side, this series sets up battle sequences much better than anyone would ever think. Complete with a ritualistic song and dance, the moments that Zakuro draws her blade are really well put together. Watching her power grow as she fights is always some of the most interesting moments to watch unfold until they are surpassed by the tearful finale.
Staying far away from any electronic sounds, the score for this series is comprised entirely of orchestral pieces. Occasionally using brass for the tenser moments, most of the music is led by flute and piano melodies. Using simple one instrument melodies over what is usually a sea of string instruments, the music and story are natural companions to each other. Playing wonderfully to the emotion, the soft string and flute melodies mark the many moments of sadness within this series without fail.
Watching the series from episode to episode, I was pleased to find the translation and subtitles to be almost entirely clean of error. While occasionally I noticed a simple word reversal, there were never any moments of frustration due to mistimed dialogue or major spelling errors.
Otome Youkai Zakuro isn’t trying to break new ground with its story. The setting and story have been done before but the difference is that this series does it better. Sweet and quietly compelling, the soft artwork and flowery action sequences might tempt some into quitting early but it’s worth it to fight that urge. Otome Youkai Zakuro is a series you stick with simply for its likeable characters and capable storytelling. A nice period series that didn’t get much attention last year, this is a gentle yet sometimes dark story that leaves fans satisfied but with just enough questions to want more. This is worth your time!
Student Council’s Discretion
At Hekiyo Private High School, located in Hokkaido, the student body is represented by five… let’s say able students who are chosen almost entirely by popularity vote. Sitting as president is the child like loli Kurimu Sakuano and assisting her are the game and BL obsessed Mafuyu, her sporty tsundere sister Minatsu and the quiet but unexpectedly dangerous Chizuru. Sitting in the fifth chair is the only male member of the student council, H-game obsessed Ken Sugisaki, who earned his way in by raising his grades from the lowest in school to the highest and wants to make the student council into his harem. Parodying themselves, other series and other genres along the way, the series follows the daily meetings of the members which involve absolutely nothing accomplished.
Good and the BadI honestly never thought that anyone would pick this series up but Crunchyroll did. And while I hate to start my review off with a statement that sounds more like a closing argument: this is one of the best parody series of the last few years. Completely self aware and constantly challenging many of the conventions of modern anime that this series would normally be relying on, this is a comedy series for the fans who want to laugh at the absurd in anime.
For me, what makes a parody series work is when it’s able to take elements of other series and integrate it into its own story seamlessly. Student Council’s Discretion takes that idea, plays around with it a bit and then runs with it further than anything else I’ve seen. Covering the easy steps, it’s not afraid to throw out the odd and obscure references for the audience to recognize and laugh at along the way. No series is safe but Strike Witches, Hell Girl and Ashita no Joe are just a few of the references fans will see thrown into the story in ways that many will never see coming.
But SCD is a parody series that is more than throwing in a bunch of short references to other series. This is a series that takes the genre to its limits with inside jokes, a willingness to break the fourth wall and disprove the idea that characters have to look a certain way to act a certain way. Opening the series, the first episode begins with a table discussion featuring the characters trying to decide what type of anime they want to be. Starting the series with a meta discussion completely caught me off guard but seeing that right away set me up for exactly the type of smart humor that this series should be known for.
Throughout 12 episodes, SCD continues its bend towards the irreverent by continually creating stories within the plot putting its characters into new situations. One of the most memorable (and brilliant in my mind) moments came from an episode involving the student council trying to come up with a skit idea for the festival. Being that all they can agree upon is that it should be heartbreaking, the series takes a turn towards the serious and presents each heartbreaking idea. Suddenly the serious Chizuru looks the same but is a ditzy best friend, the perverted Sugisaki is a sweet guy who is being dumped (and then abused throughout various endings). Periodically, SCD changes things around and makes the audience see the characters in a whole new way before reverting back. This is the writing that challenges what the audience thinks it knows about these characters while still laughing at constantly seeing something new.
With these changes occurring seemingly at random, you would think that it would be hard to tell who the characters really are. Ironically though, that point is never an issue specifically because of how 2D these characters are and remain all the way through to the end. Yes, I am praising this series because its characters are flat and do not grow. Early on, SCD does a really good job of introducing the characters and their basic personalities. Everyone has their own characteristics which make them stand out from the others. But once you learn their personalities, the times when new wrinkles to their foundation are pretty far between.
That isn’t to indicate that these characters never change at all. As I mentioned, there are many times when the series takes a sudden, very serious road. Sometimes these are purely just for a fantasy joke but sometimes it’s a real chance for the audience to see hidden sides to the characters. They can heartfelt, emotional and yes, touching. Really though, even after you see these moments it’s not as though anyone will ever undergo a moment of incredible cathartic growth… and that’s a good thing. This is not a deep series and while these characters are sweet and funny, trying to squeeze in a meaningful lesson or moment of cathartic growth would have just been extraneous.
Sometimes though SCD can become a little too clever for its own good which is where it starts to show small cracks. While audiences in Japan may have been able to keep up with this series, this will not always be an easy series for English audiences to follow. At times the humor will be firmly rooted in Japanese culture, language and history and at those points many viewers will be lost at sea without a clue. When President Kirimu tries to prove that she’s smarter than the grade schooler who is visiting, there is a long list of questions about Japanese history that she is obviously getting wrong in some small, subtle way. I couldn’t tell you what exactly she was getting wrong but I know that a joke was being made! To watch this series is to realize that sometimes you’re going to hear something and it’s going to completely fly over your head.
The thing you have to be impressed with is that when Shuhei Kamimura sat down to work on this series, he wasn’t creating music for just a parody comedy. He was creating music for a comedy, a serious drama, a school romance, an action series, a super saiyan series and still more. Every single time this series went into a new genre, Kamimura had to follow with his score and did a great job in the process.
Composing strong themes to match the different genres, where I was most impressed were in the quiet moments when almost nothing was happening. The main theme of these times is a soft electronic jazz tune put over a walking techno beat (the same theme that plays during the second eye catch of each episode). Despite being such a simple piece with only a couple of layers to it, this one piece is a constantly integral part of scenes that conveys a feeling simple friendship and relaxation. Even when the series starts to get serious, Kamimura is there again with a range of soft piano melodies which support the girls (and sometimes Sugisaki) in their rare quiet and vulnerable moments.
Earlier I mentioned that sometimes this can be incredibly difficult to watch but this isn’t always the fault of the series. Throughout the episodes, there are a number of mistakes with the subtitles which could turn a really fun series into an annoyance very quickly. I noticed in multiple episodes typos throughout the subtitles and sometimes entire lines of dialogue which weren’t even subtitled at all. Other times the subtitles would appear on screen so quickly that multiple backtracks had to take place to make sure that nothing important was missed. Seriously, I’ve seen average quality fansubs which had higher subtitle consistency than this series.
As it is a parody series, there is a certain level of experience that one should have in order to get the most appreciation for the jokes and humor. If you are an anime fan who has been around the block a few times, this series is cleverly written and easily one of the most consistently funny titles of the last few years. If you want a smart parody comedy that is willing to go WAY outside of the box, you should really be setting aside time for this series. When it was first released I thought it would be forgotten forever, thank you Crunchyroll for giving it some new life!
Ore no Imouto ga Konnani Kawaii Wake ga Nai
For most of his life, Kyousuke’s relationship with his beautiful, professional model, younger sister Kirino has been non existent. Other than to exchange occasional pleasantries or fight, they rarely even speak to each other. After accidently bumping into her one night, Kirino drops a moe DVD from her bag. That little bump is enough to change their relationship entirely as later she reveals herself to be a closeted otaku with a fetish for little sister eroge and magical girls.
With no one else to turn to, Kyousuke must now help his sister as their relationship continues to change and evolve into something entirely new. From taking a stand against their father for her sake, helping her make friends (named Saori and Kuroneko) to waiting in line at midnight sales, there is no length that he won’t (be forced to) go for his sister.Good and the Bad
Usually when a new season comes around, I can always count on there being at least one series that really catches my attention. Last season it was OreImo. For the last couple of months, this has been my ‘go to’ series every week. No matter how stressed I got in the middle of the week, I knew that the week was going to end on a high note because there would be a new episode of OreImo waiting. I can barely even remember the last time a series made me feel that excited (Code Geass if you’re curious).
One of the primary standouts of last season, for me, there was no better reason than just how many different levels it worked to create a story to pull in its audience. On the very shiny surface, this is a moe series with a skill level just below K-ON. From the cute, tsundere, little sister heroine through to the supporting cast, there were few characters in this series that couldn’t inspire some level of moe from those watching. Though, depending on who you ask, Kirino could be the exception to this.
Kirino is a tsundere lead in the very truest sense. Not content with writing her as a brash otaku, this is another truly violent tsundere. Just about every episode will include her being rude, abusive or arrogant towards someone (usually her brother) and she will never be apologetic about it. If you can’t find a way to be charmed by her, this can be a difficult heroine to like. Which raises the question on if she’s so irritating and violent, what’s the point in watching?
Once you get past the shiny layer, OreImo shows where it works as a parody comedy. Kirino may be violent and loud but she is a true otaku in every sense of the word. In the first episode, fans were shocked (eroge producers and government were shocked for other reasons) at the mountain of eroge, anime and figures that Kirino had managed to collect despite being in middle school. From there it is only a matter of time before Kirino comes completely out of the closet and we see just how hardcore she is.
Over the next few episodes, I watched Kirino display her otaku side and could not stop laughing for a second as I recognized and empathized with all of her troubles and habits: the impatient waiting for a package to arrive, desiring that one coveted fan item that no other person will get to have, collecting something for no other reason than just to have them, having a close friend who just doesn’t get it… the list goes on. And for many other people watching around the world, I can imagine that the feelings were largely the same. The otaku compulsions were a fun poke that never felt mean spirited and, for a certain target demographic, made her possibly the most relatable female character in years.
This does create a snag along the way for all of the people watching who aren’t otaku. Jabbing just a bit further, these people are represented by Kirino’s non-otaku best friend, Ayase. After being introduced to Kirino’s hobby, her reaction starts negatively before eventually winding into confusion and mild acceptance. For people who don’t regularly watch anime, play eroge or generally partake in otaku culture there will be many scenes and episodes which will leave you in a confused Ayase state. This isn’t a series that is going to wait for anyone to keep up.
More than just a simple parody comedy, viewers can dig deeper still and find the layer that works on an emotional level. At its core, OreImo is a story about siblings finding a connection after years of ignoring each other. Despite all of the punches, kicks and insults hurled between the two, there is a genuine subtext to read all the way to the end. The feelings that develop between these two aren’t of that nature (though the series will sneak a few jokes in about it) but rather are of two teenagers who feel alienated within their own home; Kirino can’t share her passion and Kyousuke can’t relate to anyone he lives with. Finally finding the smallest of threads to hold onto, both characters are giving each other something they’ve never had; a new level of support they didn’t know they wanted.
There were sad moments that had soft ballads in the background. I can remember this much but sadly this is another series where the music played a much more subdued role in the story. However, even if the primary background music didn’t particularly stand out, there was one place where Satoru Kousaki really stood out: this man can compose some very nicely done eroge themes. The audience will never have to wait long for Kirino to get into a new game but when she plays the games, there are some nice theme songs attached to them.
Where OreImo really shines musically however is in its theme songs. While I don’t usually talk about theme songs as much, the opening theme (Irony sung by ClariS) is easily one of the best of the year for me. A catchy pop tune (which would bother Kuroneko), the lyrics were some of the more fitting that I’ve seen recently that could even feel insightful at times.
I cannot hide it, I have loved this series with a very excited passion. There will even be quite a few people that I tell to drop everything so that they can also watch this series and love it as much as I do. Not everyone is going to love OreImo with this kind of excitement however. Almost feeling like one big inside joke, there are numerous moments that I can imagine leaving people with a confused Ayase face. Barring that, I consider this one of the best otaku comedies since Lucky Star. If you aren’t afraid to have some laughs at the expense of otaku culture and a not always easy to love tsundere, this is easily one of the best comedies of the year. I eagerly await the DVD only episodes! Very recommended!
Strike Witches Season 1 Collection
In an alternate 1939, the world is fighting against an entirely different enemy. Strange life forms called Neuroi have begun attacking earth leaving most of it in ruin. The only effective means that humans have developed to fight back is a team of teenage girls capable of using magic. Sent into the skies with propeller powered personal leg units, these girls fight the enemy in close range aerial combat. The name of this unit is the 501th Airborne, also known as the Strike Witches.
The series opens on a young girl named Yoshika who uses healing magic. When a brash military officer named Mio comes to recruit her into the war, Yoshika initially refuses but after learning that she might be able to learn more about her missing father she finally agrees to accompany Mio. Still completely oblivious to being manipulated into fighting the war, Yoshika arrives at the base and meets various other girls from around the world also recruited to fight with her and find her place amongst the unit.
Good and the Bad
I’ve had Strike Witches on my radar for months. I always knew I was going to watch it, I was just never in a hurry to get to it. Finally setting aside some time, I stuck it in and instantly found myself wanting more. This is a series that is not only better than I ever thought it would be, this is a series that is better than it has any right to be.
To put it out there, if you’ve heard anything about this series already it’s probably true. It is a military loli series about girls with guns and no pants. It’s also a series capable completely disarming even the most cynical members of the audience with its capable and moving stories of friendship and loss. At first, watching Strike Witches can be almost disconcerting. The panty shots are quite random but impossible to miss as many come in the form of close ups or flybys. It’s never hidden from the audience and animation studio Gonzo never attempts to be coy with how often they appear. If you don’t believe me, watch the breezy episode in the second half.
Generally when a series gets that kind of description, you’ve pretty much hit the limit for finding any real depth. What makes Strike Witches special is that once you get past the shiny loli surface, there are deeper layers. Layers that pull the audience in with an emotional story about girls fighting together and finding new families after losing their own in the war that they’re trying to end.
As the girls bond closer and Yoshika finds her place among the witches, it becomes easy to forget about everything else. Amongst the girls, there are a variety of characters all featuring their own unique looks and personalities. No matter what character type you might like, there will be someone amongst the witches to catch your attention. For the record, Mina, Charlotte, Francesca and, to some extent, Lynne ended up being my moe switches. Even if there are some amongst the troop that irritate you to no end (looking at you Yoshika and Perrine), there will always be someone else to make up for it.
What hits me as the most impressive fact about Strike Witches is the amazing amount of detail put in by the staff. Even if you wanted to just pass this off as ‘just another moe’ series, no one can deny the fact that it is at least ‘just another moe’ series that has done some serious homework. While it is never directly talked about all of the various names used are references to real life counterparts (i.e. the Akagi was a real ship used in the Japanese navy in this era). Even the various strike units the girls use are modeled after real planes of the era while the girls themselves are all named after real pilots (some of which are still living; wonder if any of them have watched this?).Music
Before catching this series, I had no idea that the same man who composed the scores for two series I consider beloved, El Hazard and Petite Princess Yucie, did this one as well. But after 12 episodes, I should’ve figured it out. Another category with completely unexpected quality, the score composed by Hagaoka does a wonderful job of adding an extra layer of emotional weight behind the scenes. In the brighter and darker moments, soft melodies are always present to support all of the characters in their moments of happiness, sadness and fear. Constantly using soft duets, heavier moments are captured by a soft harp and string melody. When Mina looks out the window at night in a moment of weakness (which she likes to do because she’s deliciously angsty), this theme shares her burden and carries an emotional weight of its own.
Dub vs. Sub
While switching between the Japanese and English tracks, I noticed that in some cases that were like night and day with both casts containing performances that made me wish I were listening to the other track. In the English track, for instance, Kira Vincent-Davis delivers a completely flat performance for Mio. Every word is delivered in the same low tone and that rarely has inflection beyond ‘loud’ and ‘louder’. But then again, in the Japanese cast Kaori Nazuka performs Lynne in a constantly high pitched, annoying whine that is the mirror opposite to Kate Bristol’s gentle, sweet and quiet voice that fits the character much more naturally. No matter how many episodes I watched however, I always found myself happier when I was listening to the Japanese track. While not every voice was dazzling, the performances always sounded much clearer and more natural to the ear.
Cast commentary featuring ADR Director Scott Sager, Kate Bristol (Lynne) and Cherami Leigh (Yoshika) and clean animations on disc 2.
I cannot emphasize enough just how much Strike Witches caught me off guard just by being good. In 12 episodes, this series tells a solid stories at a pace that makes hours just completely fly by. Not everyone is going to sit down and see this series as a sweetly told emotional story about girls coming together as a unit but if that’s what you’re looking for I really believe that most anime fans won’t be steered wrong with this one. If you enjoy moe or girls with guns, you owe it to yourself to give this one a chance. This is easily one of the best DVDs of the year and I’m kicking myself for waiting so long.
|Hell Girl Three Vessels Set 2
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
After losing her best friend, Yuzuki is on a new mission to stop people from using Hell Link. Along the way she’ll meet many different people who all have their own reasons for wanting to banish someone: a stepson who wants his stepmother to act like she did before she was pregnant, kids who are bullied and a girl with a ruined reputation just to name a few. Ai Enma has her own plan in mind; now that she has been given a new body it is time to start grooming someone to take her place and there are a couple of people who are prime candidates for the job.
Good and the Bad
As I came to the conclusion of Hell Girl, I made some realizations such as just how predictable certain things were going to become. In the first half I paid attention to Yuzuki enough to learn her name and keep tabs on what was happening to her. However I knew that beyond certain episodes, her real role would truly be explained in the final episodes and I was right. As you watch Hell Girl, it’s good to know that you’ll be traveling down two very distinct paths. On the first path, the audience is with Yuzuki. After a tragic first half, the second half will focus on her trying to stop people from using Hell Link and fight off her destiny. If you are truly, truly only interested in seeing what happens to her you can get by with watching only a handful of episodes and still have all the information you need to understand the finale.
Where the audience spends most of their time though is on the second branch which explores the various people who access Hell Link. In these final episodes, the creative staff seek to continue their quest to make each episodic story leaves the audience with some kind of thought or question. As has been the case, the episodes in this half contain a healthy dose of horror and, like the first half, isn’t afraid to go meta when needed. The most chilling episode in this half comes late in the series when identical twins begin to argue over leading the glamorous life that the younger one has. In the end, one will go to hell and the other will get that life but which one? I have my own guesses but this is surely a question that will leave fans debating for years to come.
In a way you could consider these two branches two entirely separate stories. While the episodic stories continue to leave the series in a perpetually dark atmosphere; operating parallel to these stories is Yuzuki and her growing connection to Ai and Hell Link. The connection is strong enough to send her into an emotional downward spiral… that goes on and on. Every episode, Yuzuki may seem to be slightly worse but her progression towards the end almost stands still which made it difficult to empathize with her in the long run.
And this brings us around to the biggest problem this season runs into; as twisted as the stories are and as tragic as Yuzuki’s story is, the amount of time spent on each one felt crazily disproportionate. If there is anyone in the audience waiting for more to happen to Yuzuki I can see the episodic stories getting tedious at some point. While these stories are done with the same chilling turn, after awhile they do start to become predictable once you notice certain trends (i.e. being nice to someone is usually a death sentence). I understand that after a few dozen episodes certain ideas become easier to form stories around but just how many times does the audience have to sit through someone being bullied who wants vengeance?To its credit, Studio Deen has never slouched when it comes to producing this series and that trend is not broken here. No matter what is happening on screen, there will always be completely mesmerizing animation to go with it. One of the trademarks of this series has always been its unique artwork. While the character designs from Mariko Oka (who has worked on the series since season 1) contain a look of peaceful death, the world that they live in continues to be the most remarkable design feature. In every episode, the characters and backgrounds are always designed using very drab colors and tones. To bring them out, the artwork is constantly given a bright sheen that creates a constant otherworldly glow.
Much like the first half, the themes composed by Kenji Fujisawa, Hiromi Mizutami and Yashuharu Takanashi do an amazing job of keeping this series in a dark emotional place at all times. No matter what might be happening, there are no happy times for anyone in this series and music reflects that. No matter which character might be smiling, the string and acoustic guitar themes used throughout the set will never let anyone believe that these characters will be happy. This is particularly true for the character tracks such as Tsugumi’s sad piano theme.
Clean animations on disc 2.
The overall message that I’ve taken away from this season is that the world is evil, will always be evil, nothing anyone does will change that and there is no reason to think it will ever be different. With that pleasant theme in mind, the final half of Hell Girl Three Vessels continues its morbid streak and accomplishes what it wants to do: tell creepy stories of vengeance. Anyone who is coming into this set with hopes or expectations of a huge payoff or conclusion are going to walk away disappointed. Go into this set with only the desire to be entertained by the creepy, darker sides of human nature and you won’t be able to turn away. The lack of a huge send off might disappoint some fans but there’s enough here that makes this series worth seeing through to the end.
|Canaan – Complete Series
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Taking place two years after a terrorist organization called Snake launched a viral attack in Shibuya, Canaan starts in Shanghai where a freelance reporter, Minoru Minorikawa, and his photographer, Maria Osawa (who was a victim in the Shibuya attack), have arrived to cover local festivities and a meeting between world leaders to discuss terrorism. Behind the scenes, tSnake is in the process of freeing their leader, Alphard, and launching a new plan to spread the deadly Ua virus in the city.
Luckily for everyone, there is someone else in the city named Canaan. A mercenary with her own connections to Snake and the Ua virus, she has the power of synesthesia which allows her to use all of her senses at once. As Canaan, Maria and Alphard cross paths with each other , they’ll also run into others in the city with ties to their shared past. Once together, they will all dig into the past to reveal secrets and resume their personal quests for vengeance.
Good and the Bad
Serving as a sequel to the Type-Moon visual novel 428: Fusa Sareta Shibuya de (428: In a Blockaded Shibuya), Canaan is a series that I tried once but put down knowing that I’d come back to it again. After exploring this series all the way through, I can remember precisely what drew me into its dark story almost right away. Between the action sequences and animation produced by PA Works, this is a series that you know right away is going somewhere.
As you watch Canaan, it’s hard not to notice the series constantly outdoing itself from episode to episode. Pulling the audience in with a constantly growing web of intrigue, this is a series that isn’t afraid to challenge its viewers to pay attention and see what is coming next. Just keep in mind that for the first half of the series, the main emphasis of that sentence is ‘challenge’. For the first 7 episodes or so, the series does a good job of introducing an interesting story and reveal various levels of deception and betrayal. As things progress, all of the elements within the first half became much harder to keep track of thanks to very hazy entrances for certain characters. It’s impossible to know who is really working for who (which is part of the fun) but if you’re the type to forget character names easily it will be in your best interest to take notes or forget about it until late in the series when roles are much clearer.
This doesn’t stop Canaan from being a thrill ride that thrives on its action and gunfights. Produced by PA Works in 2009, what lifts this series beyond the ‘just another action series’ label is the cinematic aspect to its storytelling and animation. Throughout the 13 episode run, anything that could be called a ‘wasted moment’ are few and far between. Every episode is timed to keep the pace fast and moving forward while still revealing new sides or vague foreshadowing.
It’s in these scenes that viewers will meet the characters that are all twisting in the same web. All sharing some kind of connection to the deadly virus attack, the characters may share a history and yet are all dynamically different. Each character fills a role completely. Every character that is introduced has a purpose that keeps them from being extraneous or overlapping. Everyone has a purpose and a unique personality to deliver it with.
All of these smaller elements are brought together by the amazing fight sequences produced for this series however. Moving fluidly, the animation in the gun fights are frantically paced. Often seen from Canaan’s point of view, the series will jump from point to point giving viewers an idea of just how easily these fights are being processed in her mind. Later in the series, the animation employs constant steady shots allowing the audience to watch complete actions before moving right back into its break neck speed.
The one thing that bothered me about this presentation were just how clearly cut Canaan delivered its story and characters. While it is a little more difficult to see in the first half, the story and characters follow a very linear path throughout the series. The series is entertaining and I am not taking that away from it. As the series slows down in the second half however, it becomes a little more obvious how the series is jumping from one point so something can happen to next point so character can cleanly exit the series. No mess, no fuss.
When a scene calls for an intense battle theme the score composed by Hikaru Nanase (Chrno Crusade) delivers strong beats to match Canaan’s leaps from building to building. When the bullets are flying, there will always be a strong driving bass driven theme to match it. When the series starts to call for more subtle drama (particularly early in the series) the gentle string melodies are usually a soft match for the emotion that is constantly written on the face of Maria.
Dub vs. Sub
As I switched between the English and Japanese tracks, it wasn’t long before I found myself choosing the English track as my primary viewing choice. For the most part though, my decision wasn’t based so much on the performances as the story itself having too many small details to keep up with via subtitles. Once I did start listening to the performances more, I was greeted by Hilary Haag as Maria. It has been a very long time since I’ve heard her in a role and honestly this took some getting used to again. While her performance is enthusiastic, the tone of her voice was somehow jarring to hear at first.
The one spot in the dub track that became a constant irk was a lack of continuity in name pronunciation. In particular it seemed as though no one could decide how to pronounce the name Liang-Chi. Sometimes it was Lang-Chi, sometimes it was Li-ang Chi and sometimes a single character would go back and forth between the two from episode to episode. A small complaint but still one that eventually stuck out like a sore in every episode.
As I continued though I found eventually that watching this series all the way through in Japanese is impossible anyway. While early episodes appeared to be free of major errors, the subtitles on episode 8 are absolutely terrible. Mistimed and in sometimes completely random order, it only took a couple of minutes before I switched back to the English track. I noticed some similar issues on the subtitles for episode 9.
On disc 1, an extra is included titled ‘Mino’s Report’. Narrated by Mino’s voice actor, Kenji Hamada, the 12 minute feature goes over the story and characters from Mino’s perspective in explanation format. After getting through the first half, I actually found myself pretty grateful to have this as a quick reference wrap up before moving into the second half. It’s not particularly entertaining but anyone who finds themselves confused by people or events in the first few episodes will find this extra invaluable.
This is a strong action series because it’s not out to reinvent the genre. Sometimes Canaan is so action packed it’s to the point of being over the top. Sometimes so wordy that you wish characters would just shut up and fight (Canaan and Alphard in particular like to run their mouths while fighting), this is still an enjoyable action series to pick up. A tight story that ends with no loose strings or even much room for interpretation, Canaan just wants to be an action series and accomplishes that. If you enjoyed any of the Bee Train ‘girls with guns’ series (Noir, Madlax, El Cazador de la Bruja), this will be right up your alley. For everyone else, this is action worth your time.
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Ichika is about to have her last summer in Japan and wants to make it memorable before she has to move for her father’s new job. As the school year comes to a close, Ichika meets a girl who comes through a mirror named Manatsu. She is a cheerful girl who says that she needs Ichika to do her a favor; use the power of 12 djinn (powerful spirits/genies) and write a little about how she feels. If you think that sounds suspiciously like homework you’d be right. Eventually Ichika accepts and at first things are wonderful. As she continues to use the power of the djinn however, her body and mind begin to show the darker effects that she didn’t know. Soon after that Ichika will find herself in a fight to survive till the end of the summer or at least until she’s used the power of the last djinn, whichever comes first. What she doesn’t realize is that there are more than a couple of people, both known and unknown to her, who have a very active interest in what happens to Ichika as the powers begin to eat away at her.
Good and the Bad
Coming from the same person who created Kiddy Grade; before starting Utakata, all I really knew was that it was a magical girl series that claimed to eventually take a dark twist. What I didn’t realize at the time was that it is also completely engrossing, captivating and compelling all the way to its final moments. At first Utakata paints what seems to be a very basic picture: Girl A meets Girl B, Girl B gives Girl A magic powers, Girl A learns valuable life lessons along the way and we’re all better for it in the end. And for awhile that is exactly what you are getting with this series. Even with its eerie foreshadowing it’s hard to notice the looming darkness on the horizon thanks to being much too captured in the present to even worry about what’s coming next.
Through the eyes of Ichika and the djinn that she invites into her body, Utakata ultimately tells a story about dying innocence and how the way that we view people changes as we grow older and mature. To tell this story, Utakata uses the relationship between Ichika, Manatsu and the djinn to take audiences on an emotional tour over the course of Ichika’s final summer in Japan. Wasting no time, the audience will be completely clued into what is happening by the end of the first episode and from the momentum never stops pushing everyone forward.
Early on, what’s important to remember is that even though this is a magical girl series it’s not adventure. Usually when someone says the phrase ‘magical girl’, it brings to mind big transformation sequences that eat up 30 seconds per episode and young best friends fighting against evil. In this case, all you have to do is watch the first episode to know that this is not that kind of series. While Ichika does turn into a magical girl of sorts, this isn’t about a girl who uses her power to fight evil. It may feature a heroine who obtains fantastic powers but Ichikia is much quieter and prefers to use her abilities for much more practical reasons. Usually it doesn’t even involve much more than finding a missing item or person that would take too long to search for in a normal fashion.
Not so surprisingly, it’s during these moments that seeds of drama are spread. As Ichika begins to see things involving her friends that she wish she didn’t, Utakata gradually builds towards a strong conclusion. Looking back, these moments should have pointed towards a very obvious change of tone just around the corner. Instead, it’s around the halfway mark that the audience begins to learn that the sweetness of the first half was only to lure you in, once you realize just how much darker things about to become the second half is already well underway.
If there are any places where this series manages to trip over itself however it would be in its final episodes. As episodes pass, the story will go out of its way to create painful drama for Ichika to experience. Harsh experiences with her friends, stress from what is waiting for her once the summer ends… the list goes on but you get the idea. Naturally with only 13 episodes, there is only so much time to wrap up all these loose ends and the heroine’s story always have to take top billing. For the audience, this is going to lead to a satisfying breath as the series draws to a close giving a solid conclusion that ends on a real step rather than floating in the air. Looking just beyond the pretty bow that the main story has been tied into however reveals all the loose ends and threads that are left over from various supporting characters that didn’t have enough time to tell their stories. While not every side story is meant to have a definitive conclusion, the final djinn is left very frustratingly vague.Even though it was produced in the first half of this decade, one of the biggest reasons why it is so easy to get lost in this is thanks to animation produced by Hal Film Maker along with character designs by Megumi Kodonosono (Kiddy Grade). As I watched each episode, one of the things that left the biggest lasting impression were each scene that featured Ichika using the power of a djinn. While these were never big transformation scenes, care was taken into giving her a completely new look in each episode. Each power that Ichika uses a different kind of spirit which gives her an entirely new look to represent that. Away from the more lavish scenes, even the designs of the characters in their everyday lives were memorable thanks to the characters looking much more real than usual. All too often we’ve all seen character designs (particularly females) that feature them with on static style and outfit that will rarely change from episode to episode. In Utakata, care is taken to make sure that these girls look like they are living real lives. Occasionally their hair will be styled up or down while outfits change from day to day whenever they are outside of their house.
Megumi Oohashi hadn’t composed many anime soundtracks before this one (or after to be honest) but you’d never know it by listening to this score. Refusing to stay in one comfort genre, Oohashi makes use of a variety of instruments, arrangements and influences in order to capture the moments that make up each scene. Taking on a life of their own, the expression of the background music is quick to become as important to the series as the character and story. Constantly changing the tone, the score makes use of a full orchestra to capture the more dramatic moments. In lighter moments, Oohashi keeps things gentle with a variety of flute and acoustic guitar melodies that keeps the series from ever betraying its darker side before its time. As mentioned earlier, the sequences involving Ichika and the djinn are some of the most memorable of the series thanks to each scene having such unique sounds that never step on the toes of the others. In particular one of the final djinns, Oceana, has an earthy tribal beat that may stick with you for hours afterward (it did for me at least).
On the first disc are two specials featuring Masumi Asano (Manatsu) and Youko Honda (Ichika). In each part, the pair take the audience on a tour of Kamakura and Enoshima respectively which served as settings for the series. As you might expect, each part is filled with interesting little facts about the regions and two voice actresses acting silly which amused me. Your mileage may vary greatly from that.
For the second disc, Sentai Filmworks includes the original Japanese copyright warnings, safety warnings and alternative episode previews. I appreciate that Sentai is trying to include the original extras along with their release here but is there really a demand for listening to Ichika and Manatsu warning us about violating copyright laws or sitting too close to the television?
By the time I reached to the conclusion of this series I was already having a nagging fear that way too many people were going to pass this one by. A dark drama that tells a strong story about young girls coming of age with the aid of best friends and magical powers, Utakata will stand out as one of the better releases of the year. Compelling and memorable, this is a series that anyone who appreciates dark drama can sit down and enjoy whether you enjoy stories about magical girls or not. This is a hidden gem from the past that you don’t want to miss!
|Eden of the East
Released By: Funimation
While on a school vacation to Washington DC, Saki runs into a mysterious naked man with no memories of who he is. All he has in his possession is a cell phone and a gun which makes for a strange start for what will become an even stranger relationship between the two. Taking on the name Akira Takizawa, he returns to Japan with Saki and begins his search for answers into who he is and what powers are contained within his phone.
What he learns is that he’s one of a dozen people in the country who have been given a fortune and the ability to do almost anything they can imagine in order to change the country for the better. Unfortunately with the answers he finds, Akira learns that not everyone who has been given this opportunity have had the same ideas on how to go about things. While learning of his past, Akira will also learn about his own low points which are as shadowy as the craters left behind from a mysterious missile attack on Japan which left no casualties and no one to blame some months earlier.
Good and the Bad
Of all the reviews I’ve written lately, Eden of the East is one that has given me the most trouble. Produced by Production IG and released in 2009, this series has sustained a constant buzz ever since its release. Now that I’ve finally watched it all I’m left with one nagging feeling: That’s it?
Before anyone gets the wrong idea, I’m not winding up to tear this one apart. Contrary to things that I might say later, I did mostly enjoy this series. When taken as a whole, Eden of the East has a solid story and manages to tell it while going down some interesting paths along the way. Sometimes those paths even lead to even more interesting conclusions. Exploring the theme of Japan returning as a renewed world power, it’s hard to think of another series that has even explored the concept as deeply as this one.
For the first half, Eden of the East creates a deep path for viewers to follow. A group of people are given almost limitless funds to change their country for the better. Certainly there are going to be differing ideas on how to go about it but there are also going to be successes and failures along the way. What kind of miserable failure would drive someone to completely erase their memories? For the first part of the series, questions like these are presented and very slowly brought into focus.
Once things start to hit the middle of the series things begin to slow down through half hearted searches down alternate paths. Within the first third of the series, two more people who are involved in the game are introduced to the audience who are polar opposites of each other. While one squanders his opportunity, another does amazing deeds that may not get him declared the winner but can at least keep his conscious clear. With this pattern established, the series is able to give answers to both the audience and its lead character simultaneously. Once the story travels down this path a third time though, the pace completely stalls and never really recovers.
Once the audience gets to the other side of the rescue story, the sense of urgency that was once apparent is nowhere to be found. What was once a race to find out the mysteries of Akira’s past becomes a race to push answers into the final episodes. In the closing episodes, Eden of the East manages to tie up the largest puzzle in a not entirely pretty bow. As for those alternate paths that the series half heartedly explored earlier? Apparently not important enough to worry about beyond the plot that Akira had to solve within an episode in order to give things a coincidental ending.
And finally in a flash I realized that was the answer I was looking for. This isn’t a terribly poor produced series. It actually has very typical, high standard Production IG animation and a story which breaks molds in the landscape. What it doesn’t do is give the audience any really consistent senses of urgency or tension. The story is always moving forward towards answers but eventually the series just runs out of steam hoping that fans will coast through the last third of the series and yet still have enough leftover momentum to carry them into the follow up movies. Instead, this lack of consistent tension serves to slowly take viewers out of a series that started with a lot of promise.
Composed by Kenji Kawai, the background score really flexes the muscle of the experienced composer. Using a full orchestra, the music uses strings to provide most of the melodies and does a great job of setting an air of tension that is constantly surrounding Akira. During Saki’s time on the screen, the melodies shift to piano themes and creates a sweet, almost homey atmosphere particularly when she is struggling with decisions.
Just to heap on some extra praise, Funimation really goes out for their fans with this release. In the original television broadcast, the opening theme was a song performed by British rock band Oasis with another song used for international broadcasts. As an extra treat, the theme song from Oasis is included with the first episode of the set before changing to the international theme.
Dub vs. Sub
Listening to this set entirely in English, I was really surprised at how easily quickly I felt comfortable with the performances. Throughout the set, I would try to listen carefully in places to spot inconsistencies but I always felt like the characters felt particularly natural and easy to listen to. Led by Leah Clark (Saki Morimi) and Jason Liebrecht (Akira Takizawa), I was particularly struck by the naturalness to their banter early in the series. When these two are first getting together and flirting, it’s hard to not be charmed by the sweet, casual sound in the voices.
I’ll give credit to Eden of the East for being innovative and well produced. In the end though, this is another good concept which fizzles out towards the end. I recognize this series for being another unique speck in the landscape worth giving attention to. But that’s really all it is and when the buzz dies so will this series. If you need a slowly unraveling story, you might give this one a chance but you’re not missing anything if you don’t stick it out.