Posts Tagged ‘section 23’
Angel Beats Complete Collection
When Suzuru Otanashi wakes up he finds himself in a strange new world. Apparently he has died and is now living in an eternal high school setting made up of others like himself; without a sense of peace in the way that they died or how they lived. Living the normal high school lives they never got to have on their own, this is where people go to come to peace with what they lived before being reborn into their new lives. All of which happens under the watchful eye of the student body president.
Right away, Otanashi meets the leader of a group that is taking a slightly different approach to the whole situation. Led by a girl named Yuri, the battlefront is a group of students who are taking the fight to the afterlife. In their new lives, they are heavily armed and do battle against the student council president, Angel, in an attempt to get a message to god: we’re pissed with how you screwed with our lives. The students will draw blood and die many times each in order to take over the school and get revenge for their tragic lives which were cut short.
Good and the Bad
Forgive the past and look forward to the future. That is the overall theme and lesson that I took away from Angel Beats as I watched every episode and thought about the harsh realities that each of these characters dealt with. It’s a hard theme to do well but this is a series that does.
Written by Jun Maeda, directed by Seiji Kishi and produced by visual novel studio Key, Angel Beats is a series that is flawed but forgivable. The animation quality from PA Works is never quite perfect and is dogged by Yuri’s character design being another Haruhi Suzumiya rip off but you look past this because of the fluid battle sequences and the touching moments that such as during a late embrace in the final episode that do look good.
Then there’s the constant location labeling with every scene telling the audience exactly where each scene was taking place. If the series were any more detailed about this you could use them to draw a map of the school. It made the series feel more like a visual novel than it needed to and were even downright distracting at times.
However, Angel Beats manages to tell a soft heartfelt series of adventures all about the members of the battlefront, teenagers who now inhabit an endless high school setting as they wait to come to peace with the lives they once led. The group is composed of a large variety of characters that never seen to overlap with each other. While not everyone will be able to serve a real purpose to the series (Sorry TK), the ones that do serve a real purpose though stand out against each other quite well. The cast of characters even does it’s best to avoid being overly moe (naturally there are exceptions like Yui and Kanade but for the record my favorite was the ever cynical Shiina).
As the group does battle, where the series truly shines is in the introduction of the character’s histories. While not everyone’s past is revealed, there are still a number of them which will tug at your heartstrings. Slowly revealing these stories, the series does it’s best work when it is trying to make you sympathize with a character. Where the series falls apart however is in the overall narrative which never really finds a complete feeling.
Relying more on episodic stories, the series never feels very well put together with its story telling. Once the series breaks away from the characters, the rest of the series generally relies on the missions of the battlefront which mostly follow similar veins for most of the series: an endless arsenal of weapons made from dirt, an endless stream of jokes based on characters getting ‘killed’ (they’re already dead so it’s not like they can truly die again in this world) and storytelling that feels forced for most it’s run time. Fortunately things come together reasonably well in the final act.
Mostly made up of piano scores, the background music in Angel Beats is another strong selling point that makes this series worth picking up. What really sells the music in this series however are the powerful pop songs sung by the band within the series, Girls Dead Monster. Made up of a quartet of characters, the powerful songs contain strong melodies and lyrics which make them a treat to listen to whenever they appear and even play well out of context away from the series.
Dub vs. Sub
Listening to this series entirely in English, I was pleased to hear a strong variety in voices that matched the characters well. No one felt out of place in this cast and the performances matched the emotion well. What killed me constantly throughout this release however were so many bizarre or inconsistent pronunciations. At some points the accent on Yui’s name would be changed from scene to scene and at one point characters can be heard practicing a SUPlex instead of a SUplex.
Once upon a time, I wrote this series off because it didn’t grab me right away. Now that I’ve seen the entire series, I regret writing it off so quickly. It takes awhile for this series to get going but once you get to the ending, you’re going to be glad that you made the trip. Sentimental and bloody, Angel Beats does the job despite it’s flaws. The overall message of this series is one of the things that makes it something worth watching. This is a series that tells us all that it’s ok to forgive the past and look towards the future. We all need that reminder once in awhile and this series hits that message out of the park. Very recommended!
|Maid Sama Collection 1
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Up until recently, Seika High was an all boys school with a reputation for being a little rough around the edges. With times growing harder and the population shrinking, the school eventually opened its doors to females but retained it’s rough around the edges reputation creating a not incredibly welcoming environment for the female population.
Enter Misaki Ayuzawa, the man hating, fire breathing girl who wants to see the school as a place where boys and girls can coexist. Working hard to get the role of student council president, Misaki manages to achieve her goal by working to comical lengths and earning the trust of the faculty along the way. That’s just one side of her life however.
On the other side, she’s working in a maid cafe while struggling to pay off the debt that her deadbeat father left her and her family with. As she is attempting to keep her double life a secret, she is discovered by the most popular, laidback boy in school named Usui. Seeing it as a chance to keep a fun secret, the series spends the next thirteen episodes exploring the always teasing, often Misaki infuriating relationship that grows between the two.
Good and the Bad
At the risk of spoiling the rest of the review, let me just say this now: I love this series. I have loved this series in the past and I will continue to love this series in the future. It is a deep unabashed love and I can make no secret about it.
What makes this series special is a clever mix of visual humor with sharp writing that keeps each episode fresh while slowly creeping things forward. From episode to episode, the series maintains a fresh new level of fun events occurring within the president’s life. In one episode she may be dealing with students from a richer school picking on her own students while in another she attracts a quintet of brothers who wish to emulate her incredible work ethic. In yet another her best friend falls in love with an underground rock star forcing them all to go on a lunch date together. No matter what is happening in the foreground however, Maid Sama is always delivering in the background.
It doesn’t matter what is happening right in front of you, what keeps this series intriguing are the ever changing movements being made in the background. Weaving an excellent and ever changing relationship between Usui and Misaki, each episode deals with these characters while always ending in an increasingly predictable ‘Usui saves Misaki from Situation A’. Despite this, the display of emotion from these characters as Misaki attempts to figure out how they feel about each other is always hilarious thanks to sharp verbal (and sometimes physical) jabs inserted along the way.
What makes this series frustrating at times however is that this relationship is really only half this set. Making up the other half of the series, Maid Sama stands apart from other series for really taking the time to develop its supporting cast. From their interests to their histories, everyone from Misaki’s best friend Sakura to the ones who are lovingly dubbed The Three Idiots get some time on screen to become real characters. Even the other girls working with Misaki in Maid Latte are given a little time to be more than just moving props.
While occasionally you’re going to hear a very status quo type of piano theme for background music, the main impression that one takes away from the music is the often ironically rich themes that fill the series. Inside Maid Latte there are very Victorian string themes that fills the room every time Misaki tries to be moe. However be warned that in every single episode you’re going to hear Misaki’s victory theme play at least once in one form or another which will either put a smile on your face or make you want to fast forward until it stops playing for the thousandth time.
With this release, Sentai Filmworks grabbed a winning series. Filled with heart and humor, this will be a favorite in my collection for years to come. This one can’t be recommended highly enough.
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.
This is a REPOST. The original article appeared at Ani.me
A press release went out earlier this week announcing the May release slate for Sentai Filmworks. As usual, this comes along with the low key announcement of new licenses. In this case, there are 3 new titles licensed by Sentai Filmworks including two shorts from Comix Wave and a 2008 fantasy series from Madhouse.
Being released as a 60 minute double feature, the first new license is for two 30 minutes shorts produced by Comix Wave, Coffee Samurai and Hoshizora Kiseki. For these two I have to plead ignorance so please press release, tell us what we should know about these titles.
CoMix Wave, the studio behind Voices of a Distant Star and the Place Promised in Our Early Days, returns to the twin themes of love and human relationships with a startling new pair of stories that could only be told through the medium of animation. In Hoshizora Kiseki (Starry-Sky Miracle) Kozue, a young girl who loves astronomy encounters Ginga, a boy with a mysterious ability to understand the stars that is being exploited by others. As her friendship with Ginga grows, Kozue realizes that she must help him learn to make his own decisions, but that do that, he must remove the protective suit he always wears. For Hemi, the heroine of Coffee Samurai, however, a boyfriend in a protective suit would be an easy thing to deal with compared to her own problem: she’s in love with a Coffee Vending machine! Of course, it all makes perfect sense once you realize that he’s actually an ancient Samurai who wished to be reborn into an indestructible steel body. But it certainly makes the dates uncomfortable and somewhat prone to scalding! Twin tales, twin couples, twin conundrums – it’s twice the magic in a single package in Coffee Samurai / Hoshizora Kiseki!
Well, those certainly sound interesting at least. The DVD for these two will be released on May 10th carrying a $19.98 MSRP.
The last new license revealed in the press release belongs to the 2008 series produced by Madhouse, Allison & Lillia. In this fantasy series, two countries have been at war for over a century. After they finally agree on a cease fire, a pilot named Alison will reunite with her childhood friend and venture into enemy grounds with him. Their quest is to find a fabled treasure which could bring an end to the war once and for all. The first set will be released on May 17th with an MSRP of $49.98.
Rounding out the rest of the month for Sentai Filmworks are the continuation of other series that have been gaining their own attention.
Wow, do you know what that sound is? It’s the sound of me being almost entirely caught up with the early impression posts that have been consuming the blog this month. That means I’ve gotten to spend an entire day catching up on news posts and that’s not a bad thing… it’s a good thing! So, what have I been missing lately?
Well first off, Sentai Filmworks has been busy this week. Earlier this week, a press release went out announcing their April lineup. For most of the month things looked pretty much like you would figure; Special A Complete Collection on 4/5 and Needless Collection 2 on DVD and Blu ray on 4/12. Getting into the second half of the month, things are a little more real with Clannad: After Story being released with a brand spanking new dub track released on 4/19 (head over to Right Stuf to learn how to participate in their trade in/upgrade program). Finally concluding the month, buried down at the bottom of the press release, is the brand new license of Asylum Session scheduled to be released on 4/26.
Produced by CoMix Wave Films and Brosta TV, the 60 minute, 3D movie was originally released in 2009. Following a runaway girl named Hiyoko (played by Aya Hirano), the series takes place in the abandoned stadium nicknamed ‘The Asylum’ which houses other homeless and runaway teens and adults. When plans are started to tear the stadium down, the community inside starts a street festival to fight back. For those who are wondering, the movie will be released to DVD in 2D.
You’d think that Sentai Filmworks would be content with that but last night another press release went out announcing the acquisition of this season’s average (from what I’ve seen) mech school romantic comedy, IS: Infinite Stratos. The series produced by 8-Bit has been getting middling reviews from fans but will be simulcast on The Anime Network starting on Sunday, January 23rd at 8:30pm Central (6:30 Pacific/9:30 Eastern) anyway. I’m also figuring that this means a DVD release at some point in the future which I imagine makes at least a few of you out there extremely happy. I also imagine that number is around 6.
Full press releases below the cut
|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!
Sentai Filmworks have released their information regarding how fans can upgrade their sub only editions of Tears to Tiara for the upcoming dual language release. As per usual, the process simply involves going to the Right Stuf website, printing out a form and sending it in along with the appropriate amount to cover the change and shipping. All of the fine details have been listed below courtesy of Right Stuf:
Tears to Tiara Upgrade
(1) Redeem the completed upgrade form, the sub-only Tears to Tiara Collections 1 and 2 (sftt100 and sftt200) — all (4) DVDs, sleeve art and plastic cases — plus $30 for the DVD upgrade (or $40 for the Blu-ray upgrade) and postage [$3 postage within the USA / $6 for Canada].
(2) Or if you purchased only one of the sub-only sets — Tears to Tiara Collection 1 (sftt100) or Tears to Tiara Collection 2 (sftt200) — redeem the completed upgrade form, plus the (2) DVDs, sleeve art and plastic case and $35 for the DVD upgrade (or $45 for the Blu-ray upgrade), plus postage [$3 postage within the USA / $6 for Canada].
The offer expires February 28, 2011.
So there you have it, get to mailing before it too late to hear what Rhiannon and Octavia sound when they’re not speaking Japanese in a mythical fantasy kingdom.
At Izumicon and on the Anime on DVD forums today, David Williams from Sentai Filmworks had some interesting things to say about fan favorite moe drama that I still don’t get Clannad. Thanks to the fan response and the many requests from those same fans, Clannad will be getting a couple of new spring releases. First off, the sequel series Clannad After Story will be getting a re-release in April with a full English dub track. Like previous releases, if you’ve already purchased the subtitle only version a trade in program will be announced in the near future so that you don’t miss out.
Oh but that’s not all! Also announced at the panel, Sentai Filmworks let fans know that they have acquired the Clannad movie and will be releasing it on DVD in March. As with the After Story news, this release will also have a full English dub.
This is pretty awesome news for those who liked Clannad. Not only have they gotten both seasons but now they will be getting the movie, all with full English dubs. In this era, it sure feels like that’s about as close to a jackpot that fans can get these days. Though the rest of us who weren’t as impressed with Clannad will patiently wait for other news to flitter past us, like maybe a Kaichou wa Maid sama DVD release date perhaps?