December 29, 2000

Top Gundam

A "name" (label) involves for a given individual a whole constellation or configuration of labeling, defining, evaluating, etc., unique for each individual, according to his socio-cultural, linguistic environment and his heredity, connected with his wishes, interests, needs, etc.

The Role of Language in the Perceptual Processes - Alfred Korzybski

When I first heard about Megami Kouhosei (The Candidate for Goddess), it was just a name, amongst a list of several anime coming out in the recent anime season. Some of the titles had capsule descriptions, others just a date and airtime. I don't really remember whether this series had a description or not, I only know that I made a note to try to see it in the future.

Time passed, and I forgot about it. Then Tom and Dan asked me if there were any anime I wanted to see (they each trade heavily in fansubs). The title The Candidate for Goddess sprang from my lips. But the image in my head was a cross between Card Captor Sakura and Ah, My Goddess.

You have to understand that I have a five-year old daughter, and much of my anime diet at home is of that genre lovingly nicknamed 'magical girl'. So the title took on a rather literal interpretation for me, and I had fuzzy notions of a young girl being given magical powers which made her a goddess.

Nothing, as it turns out, could be further from the truth...

Welcome to GOA, the Goddess Operator Academy. In the next three years, you and your four classmates will train in simulators (Cuarvals) and limited Automated Humanoid Weapons (AHW) known as PRO-INGs, to master the skills you will need if you are to become Pilots. Each cluster of students numbers five, which is the number of Ingrids fielded against the enemy. Each Ingrid is a full-capability battle robot, or AHW, piloted by one of the graduates of GOA.

Each Candidate Pilot is paired with a Candidate Repairer. Your success or failure depends on the success or failure of your Repairer, and vice versa. This pairing has been made for you. It is not negotiable. Life is not fair. This is war. Deal...

GOA orbits Zion, the last human-occupied planet (no Matrix jokes, please). It is the backdrop of this coming-of-age drama, and yet it remains an anonymous symbol throughout the series. We never see it's people, though it's possible we see the surface itself in some visionary dreams. This is the golden paradise for which the young men and women of GOA strive. So it is fit that they can only see it as a jewel suspended against the backdrop of stars.

Each Candidate is admitted because at a minimum they have the rare bloodtype EO, which sometimes indicates latent paranormal powers known as EX. Because of the demanding conditions of piloting the Goddesses against the enemy hordes, and the spiritual link which seems to exist between Pilot and Goddess, EX is a requirement. [As an aside, I find this EO-blood-factor especially amusing due to the Japanese propensity for treating blood type in the same league as eye color and zodiac sign (see Megumi Hayashibara's entry on Hitoshi Doi's Seiyuu pages for an example)]

Candidates are drawn from the slowly dwindling numbers of Colonies, space habitats preserving the terrain and lifeforms of old Earth. From one of these colonies comes Zero Enna, determined to become a Pilot at all costs. At a young age, his colony was nearly destroyed by the enemy, and anyone not in the shelters when the dome was shattered was sucked into space. Zero was one of these unfortunates, but he was saved by the White Goddess, Ernn Laties, and lived to see his colony dismantled, beyond repair. It is the sight of the noble Goddesses saving even a few which launches him on his quest to become Pilot.

So now he is at GOA, partnered with his Repairer, Kizna Towryk, a young woman with, inexplicably, cat ears! Given the discomfort she shows when they are mentioned, I at first assumed that they were some sort of genetic mutation. But Kizna also inexplicably wears dungarees with one leg cut off high on her thigh, while the other reaches regulation sneaker-top. So I guess she deserves to be taken about as seriously as anyone who wears one glove, or changes their name to an unpronounceable symbol.

Seeing his colony destroyed, witnessing the deaths of hundreds of people, have done nothing to dampen Zero's enthusiasm, or improve his tact. Within hours of entering GOA he has managed to send Kizna away in tears (quite unintentionally), make an enemy of his classmate Hiead Gnr, and nearly earn himself a demerit at the hands of his instructor, Azuma Hijikata.

Did I say this was a coming-of-age drama? Sorry, not for Zero. He is good-natured, but really shows no signs of maturing in the course of the series. I could fall back on Kizna, but she seemed quite mature from the start.

So humanity is at war, a war of survival, and it's best hope (as has always been the case when war beckons) is the cream of it's youth, a collection of emotionally immature, hyperactive, scheming hormone cases who, left to their own devices, would be hanging out the windows of their podracers shouting suggestively at young women as they buzz down the strip, flinging empty psychotropic beverage bulbs behind them while... Sorry. But it is a bit like Zion Hills: 90210.

Who is the enemy seemingly driving mankind to the edge of extinction? They are a mysterious assortment of CGI space creatures, owing their greatest resemblance to stingrays, jellyfish and squid, but of course spiffed up, armored and equipped with electron beam weapons. Nothing in the series suggests that they actually target human colonies, but if you are in the way, look out! To save the day, GOA quickly dispatches the Goddesses, and much splatting ensues.

For reasons not explained in the series, the alien enemy is called Victim (control panels in the show sometimes display the characters VKDM). For the longest time I thought this was intentional foreshadowing, and that by the end of the series it would be revealed that humankind had located most of its habitats on the migratory paths of Space Salmon, Space Geese, and dare I say, the venerable Space Moose?

So instead of being caught up in a war of extermination, it would turn out that we were a bunch of clueless nobblies building our stick hovels on those nice level patches of ground leading up to the watering hole, and we kept getting trampled by those damned evil pachyderms! Alas, it was not to be. At least not by the end of the series.

But shouldn't the end of the series be the definitive point when all is settled, once and for all? Of course not, you touchingly naive soul! This is anime! And the fact that The Candidate for Goddess was based on a manga which had not yet run it's course leaves this twelve-part series feeling more unfinished than some others I could name. Perhaps once Sugizaki Yukiru has finished her manga, they can get writer Okeya Akira to render another twelve episodes, and director Hongo Mitsuru will take the cast through another series of pimply angst and misplaced enthusiasm.

In the meantime, Victims are not the only strangely named participants in this drama. GOA's populace is divided into three classes, the 'cadets', the Pilots and the Staff. Among the cadets and their partners we have such shimmering monickers as Clay Cliff Fortran, Ikhny Allecto and (amonst the upperclassmen, next in line for Pilot) Force Wartlliam, Sure La Card, Erts Virny Cocteau, Una Kleik -- stop me if you're getting dizzy.

Let's skip the Pilots and go right to their vehicles, the Goddesses. We have the White Goddess, Ernn Laties, then Eeva Leena, Luhma Klein, Tellia Kalisto and Agui Keamiea. Is it just me, or does this begin to explain Kia and Corolla? As you can guess, it doesn't pay to watch this series without a character list. But does it pay at all? After twelve episodes and no strong resolution, do you just want to fling that tape against the wall?

I can only speak for myself. I'm not a big mecha-head. I actually enjoy the 'magical girl' shows I watch with my daughter. But when I discipline myself to sit down and watch a show like this, start to finish, I have to admit that the mecha are just window dressing, a substrate on which the body of the story is built.

This is really why Gundam works, though I've never been sucked into that 'endless waltz'. Another mecha show, Votoms, is heavier on the mecha eye-candy than Candidate, and in the Armor Hunter Mellowlink side-story, the repetitive deathblow kinda lowered the bar. But real stories do happen in mecha shows.

Sitting in this august company, The Candidate for Goddess is a typical ensemble piece, drawing strength from the interaction of the characters, while the focus centers on Zero Enna. So even though few of the characters can be said to grow, I wouldn't mind seeing them butt heads a few more times.

copyright (c) 2001 Donald P. Wakefield

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:24 AM

October 25, 2000

Peter the Great

"Alexander"

There are rare moments in a person's lifetime when he or she discovers a
hidden talent, one which represents the path not taken. Say one has
dedicated one's career to software development. In the evolution of his
self, the software wonk might try his hand at writing. And then that
rare magic moment would manifest itself, revealing that he is actually a
gifted writer, skilled in conveying the kernel of a topic with
effortless ease. This is not one of those rare moments.

I won't even go into all my faults as a writer. I leave that to the
reader who bothers to plow through my turgid prose. But I've come to
recognize one very clear shortcoming. I can't for the life of me
clearly describe why I like a particular anime. If you've suffered along
with me through any of my previous reviews, you've seen me puzzle over
such gems as Tenshi ni Narumon, knowing I liked it but at a loss
as to why. Well get used to it. Confused I came into this world, and
confused I shall ever be.

Now that I've done with that unburdening, let's take a look at
this month's puzzle. The name of the show is Alexander, and it is based
on the life of Alexander the Great, in much the same way that
U-571 is based on the capture of the Enigma cypher machine in
WWII, and the manner in which Gladiator is based on the reign of
Commodus over the Roman Empire. This is to say, very, very
loosely.

Real history tells us that the British captured the Enigma machine,
before America even entered the war. The best historical accounts of
Emperor Commodus' life suggest that he either died of an illness, or
poisoning at the hands of his advisors. And oh, yes, he never had a
general named Maximus. I won't go into any such myth-puncturing when
looking at Alexander, but just keep it in mind as we proceed. Oh,
alright, there were no -- to the best of our knowledge -- flying
sorceror-assassins of the cult of Pythagoras in ancient Greece. But it
wouldn't be an anime if they were missing.

I don't even need to give a synopsis of the story background, since that
at least is relatively accurate, and recorded for anyone willing to do a
little reading. So instead I'd like to spend what remains of this column
considering the style of the show, which I'm told will last 13 'acts'.

Alexander is the product of numerous fertile minds. It is based
on an original novel by Hiroshi Aramata. According to the official site
for Alexander, he "combined his life-long interest in the subject
with over 5 years of painstaking research to present his own unique
interpretation." And he certainly didn't let that painstaking research
sully his unique interpretation.

While I'm sure that the director contributed to the vision, I don't know
how much influence over the look and atmosphere of the show he had. For
the record, note that he was Yoshinori Kanemori, and that he has also
directed Galaxy Express 999, Final Fantasy and others. Feh
on the producers. Who knows what they are thinking, on any given day?

Of course the jewel in this creative crown, the pearl of this video
oyster, the prize in this Crackerjack (tm) drama, is none other than
Peter Chung. If you haven't heard of him, shame on you. He is my
personal hero of the animation world, responsible for inflicting on the
world that marvel of originality and tribute fused together, Aeon
Flux
. If only for this one work I will worship at this altar for
many years to come.

Far more of his work has been in the realm of character design than in
actual writing and story development. In 1994, starved for more Peter
Chung, I sank so low as to watch Phantom 2040 religiously on
Saturday mornings, despite the fact that his only involvement was to
contribute the character designs (actually the writing for the show was
not too bad and a cut above many of the made-for-USA kids' shows of the
time). Fortunately the very next year marked the launch of the Aeon
Flux
television series, an encore brought about by the unquestioned
popularity of the original sequences found on MTV's Liquid
Television
.

Imagine my surprise to hear that the creator of so many angular,
anatomically questionable heros was going to turn his talents to
Alexander the Great. I was certainly excited to hear it, even if he once
again was constrained to merely designing the characters, rather than
contributing to the story.

Now years later (his character designs were completed in 1996), the
grand design has come together. The multifarious minds behind
Alexander have delivered up their child. Alexander is a
sprawling epic told in several episodes of a more personal scope, as
Alexander wins the respect of his people, and then falls prey to
overweening pride. Amongst the characters we have Alexander
himself, Roxanne, the daughter of a powerful Persian clan leader and
eventually his wife, Alexander's friend Hephaestion and a cast of
thousands.

I viewed the first two episodes in the original Japanese, without
subtitles, so perhaps I can be forgiven my bemusement when Alexander is
attacked by the utterly spooky Pythagorean assassins, who are convinced
that he will be the agency of the end of the world. Olympias,
Alexander's mother, is also a trip. We are treated to a flashback of her
giving birth to Alexander while entwined with giant serpents. She's
apparently all for her son becoming the world-destroyer.

None of this is made any easier by the set and costume design which has
about as much to do with ancient Greece and Persia as General Relativity
has to do with Dr. Who. Colors are bright, buildings are postmodern,
everything is very jumbled. But lest we rush to blame Peter Chung,
consider this quote from an interview with him: "First, I started by
doing research, before the director, Mr. Kanemori, told me to quit the
research and only use my imagination... if [the director and writer]
didn't like something, they said so, and I'd change it."

And change it they did. Alexander's tutor and mentor, Aristotle (yes,
that Aristotle) ends up looking like a fugitive from a Cockatoo
farm. In a major battle fought in the second episode, where Alexander
disobeys direct orders to brilliantly win the day, I found myself
reminded of a Civil War Battle re-enactment as presented by Cirque du
Soleil
. Colorful, yes, but also distracting, if you know more than a
little about the period.

The parlor pieces also have that jarring quality, like watching Imago or
Burmese shadow puppets presenting Hedda Gabbler. While I could go
on with the jarring images and obscure references to other culturally
puzzling phenomena, I hope you get the gist. It's fun to poke fun, but
enough is enough.

I've deliberately stayed away from the details of the story in this
column, not because it is hard to tell what is going on (the official
website
has some excellent information, synopses and character
descriptions) but because I think the substance of the show
should be experienced by each of you. It is certainly worth the
investment of an hour or two to watch the first two episodes. Personally
I intend to watch more, since I am interested in the evolution of
the relationships among the characters, invented and historical, who
have been introduced thus far.

But I felt it was only fair to prepare the path, as it were, on this
journey, by letting you know what was discordant about the show. If you
approach it as a purely fantastic creation in the typical anime vein (I
found myself thinking of Yotoden more than once while watching),
or if you are woefully ignorant of history (and there is no reason why
you shouldn't be, where ancient Greece and Persia are concerned), then
Alexander will seem a peculiar and rich brew.

Posted by dpwakefield at 04:54 PM | Comments (3)

The Wild, Wild East

Two summers ago, at Anime Expo 1998, I was privileged to witness a new
anime show which was to become quite hot in Japan: Trigun.
Trigun does something fresh with a respected genre, paying
tribute to Sergio
Leone
and the spaghetti westerns which have since become
classics.

I admit I'm not too plugged in to the licensing announcements of
American anime companies, or the American arms of Japanese ones, but
I've heard that Trigun is supposedly coming to the
U.S. soon. So now might be a good time to revisit my viewing of this
intriguing series.

Trigun is a 26-part anime series, somewhat episodic, but
constructing an overall story arc. The setting is Old West in flavor,
though the Old West of The
Good, The Bad and The Ugly
, or Wild, Wild West.
Technological anachronisms abound, as do trick guns and bizarre
characters. After a brief period it becomes clear that this society is
the remnant of an interstellar colonization effort. What went wrong in
the colonization is the main thread of the story arc.


Trigun the anime is based on Trigun the manga, authored
by Yasuhiro Nightow in 1995. A new manga, Trigun Maximum, is
still running in the magazine Young King Ours
today.

The cast of characters includes the Good Guys, such as Vash the
Stampede (early in the series identified as being responsible for much
mayhem, with a bounty of $$60,000,000,000 [the '$$' is not a typo]),
and the Bad Guys, who are so bad, they even get a Team Name: the Gung
Ho Guns. I've said that Vash is a Good Guy, potentially giving away a
story point, but it's pretty clear to the viewer, if not to the other
characters, that he is good, noble and crazy, in the best Lupin/City
Hunter tradition. It is true that mayhem happens around Vash, but
Vash is usually trying to stop it.

I could go into the details of the driving story arc, but that *would*
be giving too much away. Suffice it to say that Vash has enemies,
powerful enemies, who want to destroy him. The chief Bad Guy directs
his lieutenant, Legato Bluesummers, to harry and humiliate Vash, and
Legato generally does just that, commanding the Gung Ho Guns, a
rogue's gallery of characters the likes of which always populated the
old Wild, Wild West television shows. Just a sampling of these
rogues:

The tone of the series ranges from whimsical, hilarious and goofy to
downright depressing. Characters enter our awareness, show their
humanity, and all too often die. Vash is the Fool, traveling from town
to town on a journey of discovery. Sometimes he is able to help
people, other times he has to watch them slip through his fingers.

Joining him on his journey are two insurance agents, sent to find the
source of all the claims their company has been flooded with recently.
One is Merril Stryfe, diminutive but tough, and the other is Milly
Thompson, tall, cheerful, and not the brains of the team. But she
does carry a big gun. Most of the main characters
carry a gun of one sort or another, usually a trick gun (i.e. a gun
concealed in an unexpected way, or a gun with flashy performance
features).

Does all this hang together? Remarkably well. Even viewed in raw
Japanese, which I don't speak, I found the stories engaging and fun. I
was a bit taken aback by the dark turn of later episodes, but they do
eventually resolve into a--sort of--happy ending. I once was told that
the Japanese have a word which describes moments which are both happy
and sad. Here Nightow and the anime creators bring that word alive. If
you can handle an anime where not all the Good Guys live, and the
happy ending doesn't include a wedding and a castle, Trigun is
definitely worth your time.

Posted by dpwakefield at 03:37 PM

October 20, 2000

FLCL S LTS F FN

Welcome back my friends, to the show that never ends! About a month late, but not a dollar short, I promise you. This here review has taken so long to write because FLCL (pronounced "Furi Kuri" after the four kana which go into it's name) is hard to quantify without introducing masses of plot spoilers. Nevertheless I shall endeavor to do so.

First, Furi Kuri is a six-part OVA series brought to you by Gainax. I believe there is also a movie. If that's not enough for you, there are three volumes of manga serializations, and a CD. Since almost all of the staff previously worked on Kareshi Kanojo no Jijou or Neon Genesis Evangelion, there is a strong artistic influence from each of these series.

Furi Kuri takes place, as do so many anime, in a world very like our own, but not quite so. As is often the case, the laws of physics are violated with cartoon impunity, and characters display a certain...robustness...which any of us could only dream of. Folks are flung through space in beauteous arcs, limbs flailing majestically, to perform graceful one-point landings on their faces, heels rapping smartly on their skulls. Do these poor creatures feel pain? Surely, but they pick themselves up and--well, they don't march back into danger, they run away like any sane person, but the point is that they can run.

Another staple of Japanese OVAs is the domination of the cast by high school (or younger) characters. FLCL is squarely in this camp. The "hero" of our story is hard to pick out in the three episodes I've been privileged to watch, but there are a few candidates to choose from:

Haruko's picture graces the top of this review. Maybe not her most flattering picture, but it does capture some of her tendency to vogue disgracefully. Along with this cast of characters we are introduced to the 'adults' in the series, such as Naota's father Kamon, and his grandfather Shigekuni. Amongst the non-human cast we have Miyu-Miyu, a rather disturbing cat, and Kanchi, a robot, pictured here behind Mamimi and Naota. It is one of those difficulties of plot spoiling which prevent me from explaining how Kanchi first arrives on the scene, though I will go so far as to note that he was given his name by Mamimi, after a destroying angel character in a video game she played.

So what's it about? It's partly about the 'ordinary' life of two kids in the city of Mabase, growing up in the shadow of the mysterious Medical Mechanica plant. That the plant looks like a giant steam iron, and in fact billows forth gouts of steam or smoke at irregular intervals is certainly a source of curiousity for these kids, but it doesn't obscure their more ordinary concerns of alienation and confusion.

All that changes in an instant when Haruko literally races onto the scene, gunning her Vespa toward an unsuspecting Mamimi and Naota. This meeting is a lot like the first meeting between Ataru and Lum, or Tenchi and Ryoko. In other words, it is disastrous, and totally turns Naota's life upside-down. All right, I think I'm entitled to at least one spoiler: Haruko smacks Naota in the head with her guitar! Why does she do it? Well, that's part and parcel of the story, but it is a truly precious scene, as Haruko shifts about the unconscious Naota on her knees, not actually moving her limbs but scooting from spot to spot in some spooky yet hilarious telekinetic dance.

After this painful first encounter, Naota is shocked to find that Haruko has moved into his house, invited there by his father as a live-in maid. It seems that Haruko is not yet done with Naota. Indeed, she is in his face, on his case and pawing other places in a most unseemly manner. Haruko is, in short, every otaku's dream. But Naota is not an otaku.

Furi Kuri is by turns moody and hyperkinetic. Mamimi broods, vamps and may be an arsonist. Haruko has a mission, plainly, and is given to outlandish claims, such as being an alien. Naota probably just wants them all to go away. Kanchi has some of the best scenes in the first three episodes, between battles, heroic posture and angelic tableaux. So I return to the question. What's it about?

In part it is about the mystery of the Medical Mechanica building, and certain phenomena associated with it (at least by some of the characters), such as the appearance of Kanchi. It is also about the growth of the relationships of the characters: Naota and Mamimi, Naota and Haruko, Kanchi and Mamimi. Oh, it's all very complicated. Anybody who tells you they understand this series has either had an advanced preview of the entire thing, read the whole run of manga, or is lying.

On a scale of one to five Shamanic Princesses, I'd have to give this one a three for inscrutability. In the realm of Kare Kano, it is a peer, both for character development and interaction, and for humor and style. The music, by The Pillows is somewhat repetitive on the CD, but is eminently satisfying in the context of the series. I especially like "Little Busters", which makes it's debut during Kanchi's second fight scene.

So without giving away more plot details, that sums it up. Is it worth watching? Yes, if you thought Kare Kano was worth watching, or Mahou Tsukai Tai, or Shamanic Princess. Not because it is like any of those series, though occasionally it holds some kindred relationship. Rather because it tries to do something a little different, and have fun with it. And like Haruko on her Vespa, Furi Kuri tears up the landscape.


Credits:

Director: Tsurumaki Kazuya

Character Designer: Sadamoto Yoshiyuki

Script: Enomoto Yooji

Manga: Ueda Hajime

Music: The Pillows

Posted by dpwakefield at 05:21 PM | Comments (2)

October 05, 2000

Phantom Plot

It's time once again for . . .

Unfair Anime Reviews (echo! echo! echo!)

In case you're a new reader, let's review the rules:

  1. The reviewer must not be fluent in Japanese. In fact, he may only know a smattering of phrases, preferably lewd.

  2. The anime under review must be unsubbed, undubbed, in the original
    language, what I like to call 'raw Japanese'.

  3. The show must be relatively new, so that there are few episodes
    available to review (in this case the first two), and there is
    limited information on the Internet about it (this reviewer's
    primary research tool).

  4. [extra credit] To take advantage of the reviewer's ignorance, the
    show should be heavy on dialogue, only lightly interspersed with
    any sort of action. If it makes 'The Seventh Seal' seem like
    'The French Connection' we are well on our way.

I really, really shouldn't do this sort of thing. But the shows I like
to review most are the ones which haven't yet reached our shores, and
I've always had a fatal attraction for the odd. So I end up drawn to
shows such as Shamanic Princess like a moth to the flames. And if I say
"what the hell was that??!!??" more often than the next otaku, so be
it.

So here I am again, to share my impressions of a show I have little hope
of understanding. Moreover, a show which makes Serial Experiments Lain
actually break a sweat in the race to be the least-animated animated
series. What's the show, already! It's Boogiepop Phantom. There, I said
it. What are you going to do about it?

If you like scenes which linger lovingly on street lamps, transit
trains, and the by-now-obligatory immobile street crowd, then you
probably have the complete Serial Experiments Lain in your DVD
library. You should start saving for Boogiepop Phantom too. The series
is only twelve episodes long, so it shouldn't be too hard to do.

Seriously, though. This seems to be a part of a growing genre of anime
in Japan. This genre has existed from the start, but is really
flourishing now on the late-night satellite channels like
Wow-Wow. Boogiepop is on at 2a.m. on TV Tokyo. What sort of audience you
get at that time I can only guess, insomniac for one. But somebody
watching television at 2a.m. is more than likely a little bit more
patient than the average prime time viewer. So shows like these take
their time. The story evolves through dialogue, imagery, flashbacks,
visions, and the internal monologues of the characters.

For the non-native viewer, a consequence is that the show is more than a
little bit hard to follow. But I'm guessing that even a Tokyo resident
will scratch her head a bit over this show. It is classified as horror,
and has a bit of the Clive Barker leaky-reality feel to it. In the first
episode Tonomura Moto is introduced. She is apparently obsessed by
germs, as she opens doors with tissues and is constantly washing her
hands. Not particularly good at making friends, she lives in a bubble of
her own making.

As if her life isn't bad enough she was in love with a boy, Saotome, who
has disappeared, and being painfully shy she never even approached
him. But fear not, in the dark of night Moto is walking home from the
karaoke bar, alone, when Saotome manifests in a cloud of light. Moto is
understandably disturbed, but soon overcomes her discomfort and talks
with him. After a short conversation, Saotome reveals his true colors,
grabbing Moto and spewing ectoplasmic tentacles from his mouth. But
before he can do the nasty to Moto, he is 'killed'. Boogiepop Phantom
has made her first appearance.

So who is Boogiepop Phantom? The info out there is sketchy, but I did
glean this bit from EX Remote:

BOOGIEPOP WA WARAWANAI (BOOGIEPOP PHANTOM)

TV Tokyo Overview: A secret organization that
Wed/Thu protects the world from danger, Boogie
1:45-2:15am Pop. Based on the grand prize winner of
the 4th Dengeki Game Novel contest.

So presumably Boogiepop Phantom is an agent of that organization. But
like so many secret organizations, Boogie Pop won't hire you unless
you're stylin'. The graphic included with this article should give you
an idea.

With her first and second appearances (in the second episode) Boogipop
Phantom is enigmatic, and despite the capsule review above, her motives
are not at all clear. She at least seems to object to what I think
are good acts, too. I don't know, does grabbing weird invisible
fist-sized spiders off of people and eating them qualify as a bad act?

When I was but a wee sociopath, attending college (or more often, not,
as I seem to recall through the fog), there were two magazines which
were favorite pastimes, in lieu of studying. One was the National
Lampoon, which though sophomoric in it's humor, was actually very clever
in it's early years.

The other was Heavy Metal. Years later, I chanced to look into an issue
and was disappointed with the total dreck I was confronted with. Could
this be the magazine I had so enjoyed when only a few years younger? I
theorize that it went downhill, that the creative juices of the editors,
writers and artists had run their course. Or it just wasn't as cool
after all the drugs were purged from my system. Whatever.

In any case, in its heyday, Heavy Metal was the magazine. Based on the
French magazine Metal Hurlant, it contained a wide variety of art
styles, though always of the most exciting and beautiful quality. The
stories were, how shall I put it, obscure. I don't know if this was a
French thing, avant garde and all that, or if it was an Art thing, but
there you are. The magazine was full of stories that didn't go anywhere,
but boy was the journey fun.

One of my favorites was 'The Airtight Garage of Jerry Cornelius' by
Moebius (now known by his real name, Jean Giraud, and working in the
movie industry -- he was a primary art designer for Alien). Moebius is a
fantastic draftsman, but not the best storyteller, and the Airtight
Garage wandered all over the place. But I didn't care. The line art was
so careful, so idiosyncratic, and the vistas so far-reaching and
beautiful, that the characters could have been discussing their grocery
lists (actually I think that was Chapter Five) and I still would have
come along for the ride.

What has this got to do with Boogiepop Phantom? Well, like Serial
Experiments Lain, Shamanic Princess and other plot-challenged series
(okay they have plots, but let's face it, plot takes a back seat to cool
in these shows) the journey is ultimately more important than the
resolution. So while I might get a few blisters along the way, I'm
willing to walk a few more miles with Boogiepop Phantom.

Directed by Watanabe Takashi Character Designs by Suga Shigeyuki Original Character Designs by Ogata Kouji Produced at Mad House Copyright 2000 Kadono Kouhei / Mediaworks / Project Boogiepop

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:35 AM

Big Robo

Cast your mind back over the last couple of years and ask yourself what has been
the coolest series to come out of anime? Admittedly there are several candidates,
but I think hands down, one series rates head and shoulders above all others for
cool factor in those last two years. With clever retro graphics, archtypal cool
cats and an eclectic musical mix from all over the map, supplied courtesy of Yoko
Kanno, that series would be Cowboy Bebop. It's soooo cool that my television
screen often frosts over when I watch it. Trigun comes in a respectable second,
and there are several ties for third, but Bebop reigns.

Now I'm going to say this just once. Will the person in the back of the room who
shouted 'Outlaw Star' slink out quietly before I kick his ass?

So now that you're all primed for a review of Cowboy Bebop, which everybody's had
a chance to see by now, let me put your mind at ease. This ain't about Bebop.
It's about a new show airing on WowWow, 'The Big O'. My fixation with coolness
comes from watching the first episode of this series (unsubbed) at the behest of
Tom Jansen, resident mech-head. The show places both feet firmly in the cool camp
with its choice of music (jazzy, symphonic, again eclectic), characters (James
Bond via Pierce Brosnan, rather cute android girl) and yes, Big O! Does it
measure up? Not to the benchmark, of course, but it is pretty cool.

I know, I know, it's hella unfair to rate a show on the strength of a single
episode, and it's way hella unfair to compare it to Cowboy Bebop. But when you
walk in the Crips' neighborhood, wearing Crips' colors, you better be a Crip. And
Big O isn't content to walk in Crip neighborhoods. It also traipses over to the
Bloods' block as well, borrowing style and imagery and hardware from 'Giant
Robo', the Roger Maris of anime cool to Bebop's Mark McGwire. So the Big O team
is obviously itchin' for a fight!

But enough of that. I am certainly willing to look at another episode, and Tom
can be my supplier for at least a few more after that. Thereafter, we'll just
have to see (says smartass Don). In the meantime, what's it about (so far)? In
the first episode, we are informed (fleshed out by the magic of Internet-supplied
synopses) that the series takes place in Paradigm City. This is a reasonably
modern-looking burg, sorta like a well-lit Gotham City. It's got that little
extra flair, though, with partially collapsed skyscrapers, looking like a cross
between the leaning tower of Pisa, and the Empire State Building. Has Godzilla
been here?

As a backdrop, we know that forty years ago a mysterious event left everyone with
no memory. In the aftermath, folks are left with no education, no knowledge how
to work all them newfangled devices that make life so sweet. Somehow, in the
intervening years, folks figured out how to work a refrigerator and open a beer,
and things are back to more or less normal. But as a side-effect, technology is a
premium good, and those who can procure it, or work it, can write their own
ticket.

Into this ragout rides Roger Smith, 'the Negotiator', complete with upper-case
'N' and quotes. He's the cat that won't cop out when there's danger all about,
Roger! Oops, that's Shaft. Roger is a rather cool, debonair fellow who
negotiates for a variety of things, among them technology and poor kidnapped
souls. On one of these negotiations, he becomes attached to R. Dorothy
Wayneright, who turns out to be an android, and has a certain charm of her own.

Clearly there are multiple parties after all the riches that technology can
bring, but I'm afraid that I lost track of all the threads about the time that
the first villain robot showed up to steal a buncha cash out of a bank with
seemingly endless snake arm vacuum cleaner attachments, extruded from it's
lobster-claw hands. This was the cue for Roger to summon forth his neatest
technology toy, The Big O. Yes, it's a giant robot, and yes, it's rather
steam-punkish. At least Roger rides inside of it, instead of perching on it's
shoulder in short pants while it slugs it out with the current Bad Bot.

This serves to explain why there are tilt-a-whirl skyscrapers in Paradigm City (I
was kinda hoping they were the result of Donald Trump suffering an aneurism and
trying out new architectures as a result). It's a little harder to understand why
Roger the Profiteer hasn't sold the damn thing and retired to the South of
France. At least until you see him sitting in the cockpit in his double-breasted
suit throwing roundhouse punches without actually soiling his immaculate outfit.
Of course a stylin' guy like Roger would prefer to beat the crap out of his
opponents without incurring the heartbreak of sweat stains!

Anyway, a lot happens in the first episode, and I'll eat my Ginrei Fanclub
Membership Card if there isn't a Bigass Robot Stomp at least every other episode.
I'd also like to see the relationship between Dorothy and Roger evolve. This
alone could raise the series out of the blood and organ bits of failed coolness.
So now that I've hammered you with spoilers, it will come as no surprise that
Dorothy appears to be smushed at the end of the first episode, ironically by the
villain-o-the-week robot just Smacked Down by Stone Cold Roger Smith (and Big O).
Wonder how she gets outta that there jam (robot sandwich with android jam)?

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:29 AM

The Legacy of the Sailor Scouts

Anime has always had it's share of Magical Girls. In fact, that is one
of the strengths of Japanese animation, and one of the weaknesses of
American animation (at least when I was growing up, during the Fifties
and Sixties). While there was the occasional animation with a strong
female character, she was nearly always aided and protected by a
stronger male. In anime, the male presence in the M.G. show was just as
likely there for comic relief, or more often, to inject a little
romance.

Magical Girls have ranged from the sachharine (Minky Momo, whom I like,
by the way) to the comical (Akazukin Cha-Cha). In between we've had
Hime-chan no Ribbon and Miracle Girls. But it was with the arrival of
Sailor Moon that an entire sub-genre gelled. Now we can all recite the
prerequisites:

  1. An ordinary schoolgirl, just like you!...

  2. Is chosen by the gods, God, the Fates...

  3. To protect the Earth from Evil, Demons, Satan, beings from an
    evil dimension...

  4. By (often coincidentally) being in the presence of threatened
    innocents...

  5. And transforming herself into a costumed Magical Girl (with the
    most lovingly detailed animation in the show, to be repeated ad
    nauseum)...

  6. And using her gift of Magical Powers to neutralize the evil
    foe...

  7. Whereupon she transforms back into meek, mild-mannered Clark
    Kent--err! Yusagi!

  8. (7a?) Don't forget the mysterious male interloper who occasionally
    helps her and--rarely--rescues her, with generous doses of
    romantic dialog.

This formula (and yes, I know I've missed your favorite numbered step,
insert it where you please) has been so successful that we have been
subjected to a whole raft of clones, some not too bad, and some truly
horrible. We've had super-nurses, super-brides, super-gameshow-hostesses
(just kidding, but I wouldn't be surprised to hear this one is for
real).

Over time, there has been a gradual shift, an imperceptible transition.
The successful show has become the copy-cat has become the well-worn
genre. Within this repetition, there have actually been some original
moments. The trouble is that with a well-worn formula, you can get away
with a lot of just-don't-care storytelling. The viewer is comfortable
with the rhythms of the genre, and fills in the blanks. So I find it
hard myself to say when a M.G. show really is good.

One measuring stick I apply now is to see how my daughter likes it.
She's four years and seven months old, and has consumed every episode of
Card Captor Sakura ravenously. She's watched the eleven episodes we have
several times, sometimes with me reading the subtitles, sometimes with
no narration at all. As a result, I've enjoyed the show a lot more
myself than I might have if I'd watched it alone.

But this is not a foolproof yardstick, and at last we arrive at the
topic of this review. The series in question, launched in February of
last year, ran for 44 episodes. It's title is "Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne".
Here is the premise:

  1. An ordinary schoolgirl, just like you!...
Oops, let me start again. Kusakabe Maron is a high school girl with ordinary school friends, including her friend Toudaiji Miyako, daughter of a police detective. Miyako's family seems to take care of Maron a lot, and early in the series we are led to believe that Maron's parents aren't around at all.

Maron is a direct descendent of Joan of Arc. It is because of this
connection with the young female crusader (an historical Magical Girl!)
that Maron has been selected to fight the minions of the Devil. These
minions inhabit objects of beauty, often paintings, and beguile
innocents to capture their souls. Maron, with the help of her apprentice
angel Fin (a diminutive winged sprite) becomes Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne
(divine thief Jeanne), and 'steals' these demon-inhabited objets d'art.

There is a lot of repetitive formula, declarative phrases such as 'Game
Start!' 'Checkmate!' and 'Collection Completed!' when she has collected
the demon with a pin which transforms into a chess piece. She has a
small array of gadgets which aid her in her tasks as well, such as the
Rebound Ball, a ball on the end of a cord attached to her wrist, which
can grab any object she throws it at.

For reasons which escape me, she is compelled to announce the time and
location of each theft, leading to large batallions of police waiting
for her at each crime scene (they of course don't know the true purpose
of her thefts). Almost always, Maron's best friend Miyako is there with
her police detective father, vowing to capture the vile thief Jeanne.
She cannot recognize Maron, because as Jeanne, Maron has blonde hair. I
imagine it is the same astigmatism which afflicts Lois Lane.

The romantic interest and the competition comes in the form of Nagoya
Chiaki, a fellow high school student by day, and the mysterious thief
Sindbad (yes, Sin-d-bad) by night. From the first few episodes, it is
not clear what his allegiance is, but he has similar equipment, his own
angel, Dark Access, and a fine nose for locating those demon-infested
artworks which Jeanne is trying to neutralize. What does he want? Who
does he serve?

On the whole, with the normal creative variations, Kamikaze Kaitou
Jeanne conforms to the genre admirably. But it has a low-budget feel to
it that I don't notice so much in Card Captor Sakura. For instance,
there are scenes, such as one from an episode where Jeanne is surrounded
by police, where the figures who menace her slide left and right like
ducks at a shooting gallery. When Miyako runs towards the foreground,
her image becomes courser, the lines of her dress thicker, as if the
artists simply blew up the cel for successive frames without even trying
to touch them up.

The writing and character development feel a little too peremptory to me
as well. It somehow reminds me of Devil Hunter Yohko, a second-string
series if ever there was one, and Zenki, of which--though it was one of
my guilty pleasures--I at least had the sense to feel guilty about it!
Kelly (my 4.5833333... year old) pronounces this a show worth watching,
saving and seeking out. But this feels like a B-grade filler series to
me. It's worth catching a couple of episodes to see if it somehow speaks
to you, but I doubt it will become one of your fondest memories.

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:23 AM

Jasmine Jello

"Yeah, jasmine jello melts in your mouth, and it's tangy, and slides down your throat, and is minty and sweet, and smells good, and... I wanted to tell you about it, Yuusuke. I thought that it would make you feel better."

Thus says Noelle, speaking to Yuusuke, her 'husband', who is recovering
from a cold in the fourth episode of 'Tenshi ni Narumon'. The reason I
quote it is that I think it somehow says something about my feelings
toward the series, like a poem. And like a poem, I don't really know
what the hell that is.

I know for a fact that some members have already had a sampling of this
series, having inflicted it on them myself. So maybe I should find
something else to review, but I feel compelled to write about this
series anyway. Call it therapy.

Let me kind of set the stage here. When hordes of NOVA members were
watching Marmalade Boy, I was right there with them. The light humor and
unorthodox relationships tickled my funnybone. But when Child's Toy was
making the rounds, I managed to miss the whole thing. For some reason
the peculiar elements of the series just didn't resonate with me.

Now I find myself fascinated with a new series which has elements of
both. The romantic cross-currents of Marmalade Boy are there, and the
goofy non-sequitur humor of Child's Toy is mixed in as well. But the
creator has a hyperactive imagination, and an overdeveloped sweet tooth,
resulting in a series where C-ko has joined the Munsters in an extended
reinterpretation of Urusei Yatsura.

Maybe that's the key here. I was a faithful subscriber and charter
member of AnimEigo's Urusei Yatsura club, and I just couldn't get
enough. Lum was probably the first anime female I fell in love with. And
the premise of the series, an Earthly loser trapped into a marriage
alliance with an alien demon who seems oblivious to his failings and a
powerful family which threatens him with anihilation (albeit usually
subtly) seems to be an unwritten cultural subtext. One that just grabs
me in the gut and then shoots me with a million volt lightning bolt.

How's that for creepy fixation talk? Well, it gets worse folks. I'm here
to assure all you secret double agents infiltrating the club for Pat
Robertson that I have no lustful feelings for Noelle. Who could really
feel lust in their heart for C-ko? I mean really! No, what is charming
about this series is the premise--which in many ways mirrors that of
Urusei Yatsura--and the neverending panoply of goofball visual
enchantments. Where else but in Tennimon (the playful nickname bestowed
on the series by it's fans) can you encounter a rubber WWF-style
wrestler, a bishonen villain straight out of the heyday of Heavy Metal
magazine, giant robots that seem to come from a Hello Kitty
catalog--hey, stop me if your head begins to spin. Dr. Slump never had
it this weird!

Without committing the sin of spoiling the entire series by giving
blow-by-blow descriptions of the episodes I've seen so far, let me
briefly review the setup. Yuusuke is a high school student who one day
accidentally stumbles upon Noelle, literally. When he further
accidentally kisses her, she declares that he is her husband. From there
on Lum, excuse me, Noelle, is the albatross around Yuusuke's neck,
pursuing him and invading his space regardless of his love-from-afar for
a talented high school girl. Into this nascent triangle insert
Dispell-sama, the baroque bishonen villain who collects 'beautiful
things'. And guess what beautiful thing is on his mind now? Correct!
Noelle. So she is targetted nearly every episode with some scheme or
other of Dispell-sama's. Mmmm, nutty goodness!

The visuals of the series are delightful, having at the same time the
simplicity of series like Urusei Yatsura (there he goes again) and the
peculiar complexity of Dr. Slump. The quality of the artwork is
first-rate, and while there are the usual anime shortcuts, they are
woven into the motion and art of the series, and don't grate on the
senses as in a show like Kamikaze Kaitou Jeanne. Of course, much of the
visual gimmickry is cute to the extreme, but it fits here, it fits.

Most of the characters are rather two-dimensional, played for laughs,
but still fun to watch. Noelle's father looks like Herman Munster with
tusks, and is looking for honest work in the human dimension. Sara,
Noelle's older sister, is invisible, literally, for the first few
episodes, but as she begins to show her face, I suspect she will also
take on more weight as a character. The grandmother is a witch, the
brother a vampire. The mother seems perfectly normal, if her ears are a
bit pointy (trivia point: the mother's voice is done by the same actress
to bring us Tendo Akane). Anyway you get the idea.

Before I shuffle off to watch more episodes, let me make one more
observation: I love the opening theme song. It is cute, quirky, and
sets the tone for the series very well. When I show this series to my
daughter, I insist on showing it from the beginning every time, just so
I can enjoy the theme again. Moreover, I've gotten an MP3 of it, which I
play now and then on my desktop computer in my den. So if you listen to
this tune as you watch your first episode and it makes you sick to your
stomach, you know what to think of the rest of this review, and you are
excused from the room.

One word of warning, and this is perhaps some of what confuses me so
about this series. I insist that it is a very innocent, child-like show,
and harmless for even the youngest viewer (so I tell my wife when Kelly,
my 4 1/2 year-old and I sit down to watch it). However, it seems that
every third adult female and some of the magical younger ones (like
Ruriri, the catgirl demon) are remarkably well-endowed, and rather
in-your-face, if you'll pardon the expression. They are, as some have
expressed it, 'Gainaxed'. So if the occasional inexplicable
bounce-factor would put you off then steer clear.

I've had a tendency to make these reviews longer and longer of late, so
let me restrain myself here and wrap things up. I've mostly talked about
my own feelings about this show, which is strange since I'm still not
sure how much I like it. I've always had a reputation for liking the odd
stuff, and this will only serve to cement that reputation, but I think
anyone interested in shoujo comedy, romantic comedy or just plain
bizarre stuff should consider giving this series a few episodes to grow
(or rot) in their hearts.

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:15 AM

Assemble Insert

Imagine if you will, a city not unlike your own, with all the familiar
trappings: freeways, Quickie-Marts, police stations, criminals in
oversized, powered-armor suits...

Okay, maybe not a lot like your city, but at least a lot like your
city seen through the eyes of Yuhki Masami.

In this city much like yours, Professor Kyozaburou Demon and his gang of
high-tech criminals, the Demon Seed Gang, wreak havoc with utter
impugnity. They have grown so confident that they announce each crime
well in advance. This way, the police can turn out fully equipped--the
better to be properly humiliated (depending on the weather--the Demon
Seed gang has been known to cancel a crime on account of rain).

So how to combat this menace? The city fathers have a plan--founding a
special task force, the Anti Demon Seed Section, will bring down the
Demon Seed Gang. The fact that the task force doesn't even have enough
of a budget to run their air conditioners doesn't phase Chief Hattori,
the leader of the task force, for he has a plan. A plan conceived with
great cunning one night while getting disgustingly drunk in a bar, true,
but having bragged out loud, he now has to implement his plan, or face
demotion.

Thus is launched the two-part OVA 'Assemble Insert', released in 1989
and 1990, and based on a long-running manga by Yuhki Masami, the
creator of Patlabor. This OVA sets out to parody many of the shows from
the preceding decade, including the Dynaman genre which Masami had
already parodied in Ultimate Superman R. Also targetted are the numerous
idol shows then common. The secret plan hatched by Hattori, to recruit
and train an Idol Singer with a secret superpower, and equip him or her
with a powered suit of their own, is an ideal vehicle for this.

Maron Namikaze is the 8th grader with superhuman strength who gets the
'part', and she is bound for success. Without giving away key plot
points (and really, can anyone be surprised at the direction of the plot
in a show like this?), suffice it to say that she gets her power-suited
man.

The show has many good lines, typically delivered with the sheer bravado
of the hopless underdog. In support of his plan, Chief Hattori explains:

"Think about it. Some filthy-looking middle-aged riot police running around, damaging the town, and letting the Demon Seed get away, or some cute girl like Maron. Sure she might spread the damage around, but she'll also inflict serious damage to the Demon Seed. Which would be welcomed better? It's obvious, right?"

The terminal losers of the Demon Seed Task Force want to give Maron a
shot at a normal life (normal for an Idol Singer, anyway), stating that
"She's more fit for happiness: gentle and cute, rather than going up
against dangerous armed robbers! Because Maron-chan is just a girl,
in spite of her superhuman power!"

One more quote, an exchange between several officers in the squad room
in response to Chief Hattori's insistence that Maron may have to give up
her shot at the Idol Singer Newcomer's Award Ceremony to fight crime:

3: What're you talking about! She only has one chance to win the Newcomer's Award! 1: The first step toward the domination of the entertainment world! 2: The Newcomer's Award in autumn...Ko-Haku at the end of the year. Next year, recording in America. An engagement with a big star by the year after next. Live TV broadcast of the reception party, and after having a child, she'll go into diaper commercials. The schedule is filled up completely!

Anyway this sort of thing always tickles my funnybone. However, as you
may have guessed by now, this isn't a predecessor of 'Project A-ko'.
While the action in that series is pretty much non-stop, and the humor
is almost agressive, 'Assemble Insert' generally moves at a slower pace,
delivering humor by lampooning the glorious rants of the madmen and
heroes who litter the anime landscape, with a straight face and upraised
fist.

So if you want your humor in killer doses, or leavened with a
powered-suit battles every five minutes, or sprinkled with liberal
helpings of fan service, move on. If on the other hand you want to
follow a cute, silly and fond parody of the shows of the '80s, you might
want to check this out. If I were rating it against a scale of five
magical girls, I'd give it a 3 1/2.

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:10 AM

Princess Nine

I know it's hard to believe, but there are times when I feel quite
humble. I have been taking classes in Japanese, and I know that I am not
studying nearly as much as I should. Still, I've been quite pleased with
the results so far, rather like when I convince myself that I'm getting
trimmer by doing twenty situps a day.

Case in point. I've been buying a series on laserdisc (from Japan, with
no subtitles), called Trigun. I was quite excited recently when I was
watching it and I realized that I was truly recognizing sentence
structure. Not understanding it mind you, but recognizing it. I could
tell when a character was asking a question, when another was
complaining about the first character's behavior, that sort of thing. I
know you get a lot of that non-verbally as well, but I could tell from
the sentence structure. It was thrilling. And oh yeah, I was able to
pick out at least one word in twenty!

In my class, our teacher has been taking it easy on us, mostly because
she knows we're all night students with real lives. So I got a cold dash
of water in my face when she gave us a listening comprehension homework
that consisted of maybe ten minutes of dialogue, and it took me over two
hours to do. Yow.

As if that's not enough, I recently read in EX about one of the current
series in Japan, Princess Nine. I put out the call to NOVA members to
see if anyone has it, and Dmitri came to my rescue. I recently cleared a
slot of time to watch the first four episodes, and once again I got a
dose of humility.

Let me start by observing that Japanese doesnt require rolling r's as
some dialects of Spanish do. Technically, it doesn't even have r's in
the strict sense. But five minutes into the first episode, I'm hearing
what sounds like rolling r's. The characters are rattling off so many
syllables in a single breath that it sounds like an exhibition by the
winner of the Morse code speed championship at the international Ham
Radio Festival. Double Yow.

Despite this handicap, I'm here to tell you today that this series
deserves watching. Even though the spoken dialogue of a series about a
high school girl and her talent for softball for-gods-sake, is harder
to comprehend than Trigun, a sci-fi, anime-flavor spaghetti western, the
basic story still shines through with charm and warmth.

Hayakawa Ryou is the girl who has the talent, and dreams of one day
becoming a pitcher in the big leagues like her father (Hidehiko). Though
she seems not to know about the scandal her father was implicated in
that got him thrown out of the league, it won't change her mind when she
finally finds out.

The first four episodes build her character, and introduce a variety of
other cast members, many of whom are destined to form the team that
Hayakawa-san will join. I don't want to give a blow-by-blow description
of the series, since you can go to EX for a review:

http://www.ex.org/3.7/19-anime_princessnine.html

or search the Web for other info (I found the bit about the league
scandal at an online site for MixxZine). But I will try to capture one
scene that tickled me. The principals are as follows:

In the scene in question, Takasugi has dragged Ryou to the tennis courts
to witness Izumi's prowess on the courts. Izumi is systematically
tromping two male players who are clearly there to supply enough
volleys to let Izumi break a sweat. After her tough play, she is
introduced to Ryou by Takasugi (yes, I'm being sloppy about using
surnames and first names, tough). It is clear that there is an instant
dislike (at least on Izumi's part), amplified by the fact that Izumi
feels somewhat territorial about Takasugi, who is clearly friendly
towards Ryou.

What follows is a duel of sorts. Izumi gets Ryou onto the court, racket
in hand, with the clear intention of humiliating her. Ryou misses the
first two volleys, badly. But with the third, a light seems to go off in
her head, and she seems to transform the racket into a baseball bat.
Crack! She connects, and the ball flies across the court, past Izumi,
and hits the baseline.

Before we know what is happening, Kido arrives with a bat, and Izumi is
presented with a chance to experience Ryou's pitching skills, using a
tennis ball! The results are almost identical, with the first two
pitches smoking past Izumi, followed by the command of the new tool (bat
becomes racket, I suppose), and Izumi drives one 'out of the park'. I
nearly split a gut over this scene, though I doubt it was intentionally
funny. It is clear that they are destined to be rivals, although EX says
they'll play on the same team.

The music is great, with a lot setting the 'Field of Dreams' tone which
makes Ryou the likeable winner she is. I just love the OP. In short, I
recommend that everybody check it out, even if you don't speak Japanese.
It didn't stop me ;^)~

Posted by dpwakefield at 11:04 AM

Probably My First Anime 'Review'

This 'review' was originally an email (from about three years ago) to Nat, a NOVA member who spoke Japanese. I was trying to con him into creating synopses for the OVA series I was watching, 'reviewed' below.

Note: I've since seen the series with subtitles, and it is every bit as good as I thought when watching it in raw Japanese! Now without further ado...

Mahou Tsukai Tai!

Those magnificent Japanese bastards! I don't know whether to kill 'em or kiss 'em! I just got through watching 'Mahou Tsukai Tai!', Vol. 4, and I just grow more and more enamored of this OVA series. I think I'll mourn deeply when the sixth and final LD comes out.

I don't speak a word of Japanese, and this is a dialogue-heavy series, but the visuals are so rewarding, the physical comedy so cute, and the voice-acting so rich, that I never lack for something to appreciate. There is a sequence in the middle of this episode which I interpret as a game of 'truth or consequences', which I'd kill to know the actual questions and answers to. And how it ties into the ending is also terrific. I don't think I need to know what was said, and nay-said, at the end.

And I love how the show always blends into the closing theme song. The ED is just too cute. I don't remember what it is, but the Japanese language has a word which expresses 'that sense of longing after a sweet nostalgic moment which is so acute that it causes heartache'. God are they good at that!

Can you tell that I like MTT! ;^)~

Posted by dpwakefield at 10:53 AM

Sailor Ninja

In some ways, this month's show is cut from old cloth, very threadbare indeed. We
have a hapless heroine, a magical talisman, intrepid enemies and an oft-repeated
transformation scene. Sailor Ninja, anyone? But all is not as bleak as it at
first seems.

Going into this show, you think you're either gonna love it or hate it. The
American release, for instance, has the cumbersome title, "Jubei-chan, the Ninja
Girl: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch", enough to subdue any asthmatic otaku. Then
try to recite that whole mess with the first episode name:

Jubei-chan, the Ninja Girl: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch, episode 1:

The Birth of Yagyu Jubei II

It begins to sound a bit like the old children's song: there's a frog on the bump
on the log in the hole on the bottom of the sea...

About five minutes into the first episode, I was fearing that I'd be in the 'hate
it' camp. But I toughed it out, and I watched the entire four-episode DVD. In
fact, I watched it in a rather unfair manner. My daughter wanted to watch the
first episode with me, so I gave her the choice of dubbed into English, or
subtitled in the original Japanese (where I usually read the subtitles, since at
five years old, she hasn't quite worked out how to read them herself). She chose
dubbed (the traitor). Well, Kelly enjoyed it, but I was squirming, and by the end
of the episode I wasn't sure I'd want to do another.

But Kelly went to bed, and after the bedtime story I went back to the chamber of
horrors and queued up episode two. But this time I did it my way. Japanese with
English subtitles. Suddenly the show was flowing, the telegraphic, hurky-jerky
feel of the first episode had vanished to be replaced by a smooth B-grade
storyline. I was puzzled.

Was the show really such a poor starter? I fumbled with the DVD remote control
until I discovered the button to toggle from Japanese to English and back.

English: the show began to creak, my eyelids started to drop.

Japanese: a flicker of interest returned to my eyes. The voices seemed lively,
natural, if obviously theatric.

English: Theatric voices turned into lampoons. A few of the actors managed to
capture some semblance of the drama and comedy of each moment, but most of the
others seemed either limp and lifeless, or so over the top as to seem in another
show entirely.

Eureka! Having made my discovery, I left the deck in Japanese mode for the second
and third episode, then went to bed to mull the phenomenon in my dreams. The
following morning I watched the last episode with my daughter, dubbed (sob).

I admit it, I am a subtitle bigot, a member of that elite two percent of the
American populace who would rather read text on the bottom of the screen and hear
the original actors, emoting at the behest of the original director, than have my
eyes freed to gaze on the scenery while American actors do their best to entrain
their voices to the prescored lip movements on the screen. But I'm not so
enslaved to this attitude that I cannot enjoy a competent dub job.

Mononoke Hime was not bad. I saw it first in raw Japanese, then with subtitles
from a generous fan group, and finally in the theaters with American brand-name
actors lending their talents. Did I think the latter sucked? No, it was very well
done. Did I prefer the subtitled version? You bet your genlock card!

So my conclusion: the dub job on Jubei-chan is just plain bad. Folks who only
listen to dubs are doing themselves a disservice with this show. Read the
subtitles, it's much better with this show.

There. Now that I have that off my chest, let's look at the show proper. For
purposes of space, I'll refer to the show simply as Jubei-chan. The show was
created by Daichi Akitaro, who is also one of the main writers. He is responsible
for much of the unique humor in shows such as Akazukin Chacha (Red Riding Hood
Cha-cha) and Kodomo no Omocha. Since I know a number of you are fans of Child's
Toy, I'll let that speak for itself.

Character designer Yoshimatsu Takahiro (Slayers) based his designs on originals
by Mucchiri Muunii, but I haven't seen the originals, so I'd be hard pressed to
say how faithful they are. In some instances the character designs are amusing,
such as the teaching team from the third episode, but most characters seem rather
flat and indistinguishable.

The background supplied in the first episode runs thusly. Jubei Yagyu was the
leader of a school of swordsmen three centuries ago. A rival school sent an
endless stream of swordsmen to defeat him, but he always prevailed. When he
finally dies, he makes his faithful retainer Koinosuke pledge to search the world
over for his successor. In order to bestow his martial skills upon his successor,
he gives Koinosuke a 'lovely eyepatch' in the shape of a pink heart. And there's
your transformation gimick.

Flashing forward to the present day, Koinosuke succeeds in his search, finding...
Jiyu Nanohana, a schoolgirl nicknamed Jubei by her dad. After Koinosuke gives her
the eyepatch and she predictably transforms into a stylin' ninja gal, the 300
year-old opposing dojo begins launching assassins at her. I don't want to give
away a bunch of plot details, even though this is a fairly predictable show.
Suffice it to say that there are plenty of assassins in a colorful rogue's
gallery, and not one but two pretty boys to tickle Jiyu's fancy.

So where does the show rate? If Maho Tsukai Tai is a 10, and Legend of the
Goose-Stepping Heroes is a 1, I'd have to rate this a solid 6. It's worth watching
at a NOVA meeting when all the solid crowd-pleasers are done, and the synergy of
a crowd of people will bring out the silly humor much better than sitting alone
in a tv room. But it really doesn't rate the thirty bucks a DVD for four episodes,
or worse, the twenty bucks a tape for four dubbed episodes (shudder).

And now if you'll excuse me, I'm going to dig through the closet and find a pile
of tapes in raw Japanese, to cleanse my soul.

Posted by dpwakefield at 09:37 AM