Archive for December, 2011
Well, with 2012 not too far off, I’ve decided to reveal my anime plans for 2012. Most of this isn’t definite, but they will all be watched and/or revealed through the year.
Romeo X Juliet (starting 1/14)
The World God Only Knows (both seasons)
Gundam 00 (rewatching)
Saiyuki (original series–rewatching)
Princess Mononoke (rewatching)
Spirited Away (rewatching)
Howl’s Moving Castle (rewatching)
Grave of the Fireflies (rewatching)
Last Exile: Fam the Silver Sky
Robotech (yes, that Robotech)
Ghost in the Shell 2.0
Now and Then Here and There
That’s it so far. See you in 2012!
Title: Azumanga Daioh
Genre: Comedy/Slice of Life
Studio/Creator: J.C. Staff/Kiyohiko Azuma
Age Rating: 13+
My Rating: 10/10
Summary: Azumanga Daioh focuses on the lives of seven ordinary Japanese high-school girls: Chiyo, Tomo, Yomi, Ayumi (aka “Osaka”), Sakaki, Kaorin, and Kagura.
Review: Azumanga Daioh is one of the funniest comedies I have ever watched. It has a cheerful feel to the backdrops and colors, as if celebrating the joy, wonder, and insecurities of adolescence. Let’s meet the cast:
- Chiyo: (“Chiyo-chan”) a precociously cute ten-year-old prodigy. Despite her smarts and uber-rich status, Chiyo is humble, cheerful, and kind. I was never annoyed by her.
- Tomo: is the poster child for Ritalin. She also has an occasional mischief streak. Let me put it this way: that line about “with friends like you, I’d never need an enemy”? It fits Tomo to a T.
- Yomi: One of the tallest characters and the only one who wears glasses. She and Tomo have been friends for years and they make an excellent comedy team, with Yomi playing the “straight woman”. She’s also somewhat concerned about her weight.
- Sakaki: The tallest and quiet girl with extremely long hair (and very pretty to boot). All she wants is to pet a kitten, unfortunately every cat she meets has a tendency to bite her.
- Ayumi: (Osaka) In one word: weird. She will say some of the most random things and seems to have a bad case of ADD.
- Kagura: The resident jock. She’s a member of the swim team and has a competitive spirit, particularly toward Sakaki. Although she is introduced early on, she doesn’t become an important character until the class enters their second year. I think the show does an excellent job of giving us time to get to know her in spite of this.
- Kaorin: Shy little girl who obsesses over Sakaki (who wouldn’t?) almost to the point of lesbianism. She’s a rather weak character, but it’s not like she needs much depth.
- Yukari: the homeroom teacher. She has a hot temper and can speak English very well (in the dub, she’s just a language teacher). She seems to never have mentally matured past adolescence, judging by her temper, crass attitude, and her attempts to compete with Minamo’s popularity.
- Minamo (“Nyamo”) is the P.E. teacher and a former classmate of Yukari. She’s quite popular with the other students. Like Yomi, she plays straight woman to Yukari most of the time.
- Kimura is the only male teacher we meet. He has borderline pedophile tendencies toward female students, much to Kaorin’s chagrin. He’s pretty creepy and I found him very annoying.
It may seem hard to believe, but this show does have a plot. It does a great job of following the girls throughout their high school days. I noticed a few subtle changes in character design as the girls matured, which I thought was a nice touch. What I liked best was that I felt as though I knew them all personally–we’ve all met people like them in every high school.
All in all, this is an excellent comedy. There are some cultural references that you might not be able to get, but if you want to know what life is like for a typical Japanese student, this is a great series to pick up.
Music/Score: Addictive. The themes have never left my head, and I doubt they will leave yours. I’ve even found myself humming Chiyo’s cooking song when I use the microwave.
Sub/Dub: Although the dub isn’t that bad (I’ve heard quite a few complaints, particularly toward Kira Vincent Davis’s portrayal of Osaka), I feel the sub is better. The jokes really require them to be heard in their original context, which is lost in translation. Not only that, but Yukari actually does slip into English in the sub, and this is not as easily conveyed in the dub. To be fair, the dub’s standout voice would definitely be Christine Auten (Sakaki) and Mandy Clark (Tomo).
Language: (5/10) Both Yukari and Tomo are heavy on the bad language. While the official release doesn’t have F-bombs, I saw some fansubbed versions back in the days before legal anime streaming became more common that had lots of F-bombs. I’m not sure if all of these have been removed from Youtube, but it’s worth noting.
Violence: (2/10): Only the occasional slapstick.
Nudity: (2/10) There’s three beach episodes with a few of the characters wearing bikinis. Tomo, Yukari, and Kagura, tend to wear some pretty skimpy ones.
Sexuality: (4/10): There’s quite a few scenes where jokes are made about breast sizes, particularly the fact that Sakaki’s are noticeably bigger than the others (I would hesitate to classify it as fanservice because I remember in my high school days, quite a few girls were “early bloomers”. In one “beach episode”, Minamo gets drunk and gives the girls an implied “lecture” on sex, but we only get vague ideas about what was said. Kimura’s obsession with schoolgirls is intended for laughs, but to be honest, I was not amused. It’s also pretty obvious that Kaorin has a slightly homosexual attraction toward Sakaki, but we never see it go above platonic and it’s certainly not meant to be offensive. I actually wasn’t even bothered by it.
Religion: (1/10): Just two episodes where the girls visit a local shrine for New Years. (the second visit is more elaborate) There’s also a Christmas episode.
Related Media: This is based on the manga Azumanga Daioh. Kiyohiko Azuma also created Yotsuba&!
Review Queue for January 2012
(Note: I will not be posting a blog next week because I will be unable to use the computer as I will be out of town for Christmas)
1/1: New Feature! Anime Battle: Azumanga Daioh vs. Lucky Star
1/8: Ouran High School Host Club
1/15: Gunslinger Girl
1/22: Mobile Suit Gundam Wing
1/29: Gunslinger Girl Il Teatrino (second season)
Also, special announcement: Beginning 1/8, I will be bi-weekly posting chapters for a new novel I am working on called New Kid in Town. They will be on a completely different blog, but still at this address.
Studio/Creator: Pierrot/Takafumi Takada
Running Time: 1 hour, 38 minutes
Age Rating: 13+ (MPAA rating: PG-13)
My Rating: 9/10
Summary: (from back of DVD)A spectacular journey of an unwilling hero thrust into a mysterious past full of monsters, dragons, and strange hidden powers. Through a series of out of this world adventures, Jun, a shy middle school boy is transformed into a hero destined to battle evil and ensure harmony and tranquility to the world.
Review: This has some pretty nice artwork. I actually found out that a good portion of this is hand-drawn, which I find very impressive. It makes me wonder why Studio Pierrot doesn’t do stuff this good all the time (for those who don’t know, this is the same studio that makes Naruto and Bleach). The animation was really cool at times, particularly on the white dragon Jun befriends. The story is kind of formulaic, with Jun pulling the ”chosen one” cliche early on. I did like the people he was protecting from the nobles who were oppressing them and how the story tried some twists here and there. Jun was a great reluctant hero and was a great character all around. However, I really felt the story was too formulaic to earn the full ten points. But if you overlook that, the movie is actually very good. It’s the best I’ve seen from the studio since Saiyuki. I actually found out that a good portion of this is hand-drawn, which I find very impressive.
Sub/Dub: The dub is pretty good. I think I heard Liam O’Brien, who played Dr. Tenma in Monster. Actually, both versions sounded great.
Music/Score: The music’s pretty good and has an epic feel. I couldn’t really find a good video for the music, so I can’t provide it here.
Violence: 6/10–I saw some mildly bloody moments. Definitely not something I’d recommend to young children. It’s probably on par with Princess Mononoke.
Language: 1/10: Only one curse word.
Sexuality: 0/10: none
Nudity: 0/10: none
Religion: 5/10 There’s both good and evil people controlling monsters. The village people use magical mask to appear as “oni”, a Japanese word for demon. One villain believes he will acquire godhood through power. Jun also develops a bond with a magical dragon early in the movie.
Related Media: none
If you were to ask me which anime had the best soundtrack, I’d probably tell you Cowboy Bebop. It has the most unique and eclectic sound I’ve ever heard in an anime. So many genres are represented: rock, blues, even jazz, a genre I didn’t even know the Japanese knew about! And yet, it mixes very well. Heck, they even work in “Ave Maria”! So, I thought a great way to illustrate this would be to count down my favorite songs from both the series and the movie.
I think it’s time to blow this scene. Get everybody their stuff together. OK!
3, 2, 1–LET’S JAM!
10. “Pushing the Sky” (from the movie)
This is the song that plays for a good portion of the movie’s finale. It has a great rocking riff at the beginning and it just has a great fast pace. It’s the kind of song you play air guitar to.
9. “Too Good Too Bad” (Session 4. “Gateway Shuffle”)
One of several jazz tracks, this is the bouncy tune that plays while Spike and Faye try to stop the Sea Rats from unleashing a virus. The trumpets and percussion are really good here.
8. “The Real Folk Blues” (closing theme for most sessions, except Sessions 13 and 26)
I almost have to put the closing theme in here somewhere. I feel a great closing theme is one that seems to say “Thanks for watching, here’s something to remember the show by.” It’s a perfect closing song, and a really good blues song to boot. I’m honestly not someone who follows blues music, but I’ve heard some great blues songs and this is one of the best. In a way, I think it also foreshadows the climax.
7. “Cosmic Dare (Pretty With a Pistol)” (the movie)
This is the song that plays while Faye is tracking down Lee near the beginning of the movie. The song has a great beat that you just want to dance to. And the vocalist has a very sultry, sexy voice.
6. “Don’t Bother None” (Session 6. “Sympathy For the Devil”)
This is just pure, unfiltered blues. It has a nice slide guitar, a great harmonica throughout to accent things, and the singer–man she can sing! When I heard the whole thing, I knew it belonged in the countdown.
5. “Rain” (Session 5. “Ballad of Fallen Angels”)
I have a confession. When I first watched Cowboy Bebop, I wasn’t really digging it. The animation was smooth, but I really felt the story was too episodic. Then came the fifth episode, introducing the main villain, Vicious (I mean, even the name tells you he’s bad news!) When I saw the first fight between Spike and Vicious in that church, I thought “All right, I’m sold! I’m going to buy this anime!” This song was what made me enjoy the whole episode. It captures the angst of the whole story.
4. “Ask DNA” (opening theme for the movie)
When I first heard the movie’s opening, I just wanted to get up and dance. You can’t just sit there and listen to it, you have to move to it. The beat is nice, (particularly the keyboards) and I love the guitar and horns. It makes you think it’s going to be a happy story. And then the movie starts up and you realize it’s not a happy story. I love how the song teases you.
3. “Call Me, Call Me” (Session 24. “Hard Luck Woman”)
When I got to episode 24, I could feel the end coming. Ed had been reunited with her father; Faye finally rediscovered her past. It looked like we’d be right where we started, with just Spike and Jet. I always felt Faye and Ed really brightened the mood. I mean, yeah, Spike’s awesome, but Faye and Ed are just so funny! “Call Me, Call Me” is the perfect farewell song.
2. “Tank” (opening theme for most sessions, except 13 and 26)
Oh come on! Did you really think I’d leave out one of the most awesome opening numbers? When I first heard this opening, I was really blown away. It was nothing like the openings for any of the other anime I watched, and it still isn’t. Oh sure, there’s some anime that have tried to imitate this song, like Gadguard, but they don’t hold a candle. The moment you hear the dude say “3, 2, 1, Let’s jam!” you know you’re in for something awesome.
1. “Gotta Knock a Little Harder” (closing theme for the movie)
“Gotta Knock a Little Harder” serves the same purpose as “The Real Folk Blues”–a great blues song to thank you for coming. I think it actually does a better job than “The Real Folk Blues”, and not because I can actually understand the lyrics (although that does help) To me, the song is about Spike himself. He kept all his emotions bottled up and refused to let anyone in, even the enigmatic Julia. He practically welcomes death in Session 20 (he says, “Maybe this is the one. The one I won’t come back from. Then he laughs and says to Faye “I’m just kidding. Would you come rescue me?”). That’s Spike in a nutshell. He’s seen it all, and just accepts life for what it is–whatever happens, happens. Spike is the true hero of the story, and an awesome one, too. That’s why it’s the best song.
Distributor: FUNimation, currently streaming on Hulu and FUNimation’s website.
No. of Episodes: 26
Age Rating: 13+
My Rating: 10/10
Summary: Claus and Lavie are orphaned vanship pilots who have a wish to cross the “Grand Stream”, the storm-filled region that claimed the lives of their fathers. One mission takes them to the airship known as the Silvana, captained by the enigmatic Alex Rowe. They bring him a girl named Alvis, who is the key to unlocking Exile, a device used by the aristocratic and despotic Guild to oppress the commonfolk and limit transportation.
Review: Last Exile is one of my all-time favorite titles. The animation is excellent, with a superb blend of CG and cel animation. I love the characterization, especially on Alex. Claus and Lavie have a great friendship. I love how even when they start to drift apart, Lavie still stays by him, even though, as she puts it he “sees a different sky.” Maestro Delphine is an excellent villainess. We see so little of her, but what we do see makes her an icy, classy villain. I’ve heard complaints about the pacing and the fact that so little is revealed to the viewer. My feeling is that is not a weakness. I like shows that reveal very little and leave things up to the viewer. (Rahxephon and Serial Experiments Lain come to mind). I think the pacing is fine because it allows the viewer to see how the events are affecting the cast.
Music/Score: Just beautiful. The string ensemble accents the scenes well. I love both the opening and closing themes.
Sub/Dub: The dub is great. Crispin Freeman is at his best as Alex Rowe. Johnny Yong Bosch shows his range as Claus, especially since I didn’t know it was him until I looked it up.
Violence: (6/10): Some pretty intense airplane battles throughout and mildly graphic violence toward the end.
Language: (2/10) Some mild swears.
Nudity: (1/10): Lavie’s outfit shows her midriff but that’s it.
Sexuality: (1/10): A few lewd comments are made in one episode over a misunderstanding. I’d be less vague about it, but I don’t really feel like spoiling this time.
Related Media: There is a currently airing sequel called Last Exile: Fam the Silver Sky. It is currently simulcasting on Hulu.