Briefly

Cat Soup is a surrealistic, dream-like quest story that almost seems to Mean Something. It’s worth watching despite the grotesquerie and violence for its sheer strangeness.

In addition to Cat Soup, the activities of Nyako and Nyatta were the basis for a series of short animations, Nekojiru Gekijou. I tracked them down, and I wish I hadn’t. If Nekojiru Gekijou means anything, I’d rather not know what. It consists of twenty-seven cartoons, each a minute or two long. Some can barely be described as black humor. Others are just plain sick. For instance, in one episode, the kitten’s alcoholic father seizes one of the young pigs the kittens play with and bloodily butchers him. “That was awesome,” Nyako says. During the cats’ dinner, Nyako gives a piece of breaded pork to the surviving, drooling piglet. The final tableau shows the kittens at the dinner table, their father with his booze, and the piglet eating his pork while his parents copulate behind him.

*****

A quick trip to the shopping center


One of these is not like the others.

The twenty-fifth DVD in my last Right Stuf order was the first disk of Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi. The reviews I’ve read suggested that it could be funny or it could be puerile, and I wanted to sample it before ordering the entire set.

Well, it is funny once it gets started. It’s Gainax’s counterpart of Excel Saga, in which each episode is a parody of a particular genre. Instead of lunatics running amuck in an unsuspecting world, however, in Abenobashi the protagonists are ordinary Osaka youngsters who are trapped in various silly universes.

And it is puerile. The third episode is based on SF movies and mecha shows and alludes to everything from 2001 to Captain Harlock. However, the show’s writers are as interested in Arumi’s stolen panties as they are in lampooning giant mecha. There’s also regurgitation and micturation for little boys to snigger at.

Other attractions include big, jiggly Mune Mune, played by Aya Hisakawa. However, there’s also Ms. Aki, played the same guy who did Kimura.

And I don’t know. When it’s good, it’s very good. When it’s bad, I want to wash my hands after handling the disc. Thus far, the good outweighs the bad. Maybe I’ll pick up the rest sometime. Or maybe not.

*****

I’ve watched four episodes of Nodame Cantabile, and that’s probably as much as I’m going to bother with. The story of arrogant Chiaki and slovenly Noda has potential, but writers added a jerk, a flake and a creep to the dramatis personae. I don’t really want to see what kind of nincompoop turns up next. Something I don’t understand: the characters are all classical musicians and every episode features some Beethoven or Mozart or Mahler, yet the opening and closing themes are pop pap.

*****

I watched Sky Girls, and while it has its charms, it doesn’t stand comparison to Strike Witches. The latter achieves a sort of perfection in its utter preposterousness. It doesn’t bother trying to rationalize the flying mecha catgirls; it just shows you them in action. Strike Witches is not so much science-fiction as heroic poetry (or doggerel). Sky Girls, on the other hand, does pretend to be sf. The details don’t withstand analysis, though, and probably weren’t intended to. The purpose of the half-hour OVA is to show girls in leotards piloting — wearing? — mecha, and at that it succeeds.

*****

By the end of the second episode of Ghost Hunt, I thought I had everything figured out. Then I watched the third episode only to find that I was right on nearly every point. Yawn.

*****

The katana-and-sorcery story Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto may be the best series currently being broadcast. Maybe. The problem is, as Ubu noted, that the writers assume the audience has more knowledge of 19th-century Japanese history than most Americans do. That, and the complicated motives of many of the characters make this tale of ancient evil, eternal assassins, Gatling guns and a third-rate theatrical troupe hard to follow. Thus far, it’s managed to hold my attention through eight episodes. Whether it ultimately makes sense or falls into incoherence before the twenty-sixth episode remains to be seen.

The person with four weblogs has one devoted to BKI. It might be a useful resource after I’ve seen a few more episodes, but for now I’m trying to avoid spoilers.

*****

Series that I followed for a while, then abandoned:

Karin, the Blood-Giving Vampire — A major disappointment from the series composition person and director of Sugar, a Tiny Snow Fairy. There are some funny bits, but mostly it’s dull. The opening is a blatant bait-and-switch, by the way. It promises lots of fan service and ecchi, but in fact there’s virtually none in as much of the show as I watched.

Saiunkoku Monogatari — Pluses: interesting background music (I may order the soundtrack sometime), elaborate costumes, Houko Kuwashima. Minuses: a reverse harem, court politics, a male lead who may or may not be gay. Never mind.

Utawarerumono — I lasted five episodes, and got that far only because Eruruu is cute.

Honey and Clover — This is a shocker, I know. I made it about two-thirds the way through mainly out of a sense of duty. Some people whose judgement I take seriously think highly of this show, but I can’t share their enthusiasm. I got tired of Takemoto’s interior monologues. Morita is fun, but when he’s not around the series becomes a soap opera. Someday I may marathon the remaining episodes, but it won’t be any time soon.

*****

The Indigestion Chronicles

More first episodes:

Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion begins as a psychotic fantasy — in the near future, the Britannic Empire conquers Japan and renames it “Area 11” — and ends in Death Note territory. In between there are mechas, and a lot of people get killed. This is said to be a CLAMP series, but as far as I can tell, they’re merely guilty of the original character designs. It might be tolerable if I can ignore the anglophobia and if the writers don’t try to fold any more genres into the mix, but I’m in no hurry to watch the second episode. I do like the ending theme by the Ali Project.

It looks like this fall is an unusually good season for lousy anime, and there are several strong contenders for the title of “worst.” One of them is Mamoru-kun ni Megami no Shukufuku wo. Let’s see: the female lead has immense quasi-magical talent and equally immense physical strength. Although she’s apparently high-school age, she’s one of the most powerful people in the world. She’s contemptuous of nearly everyone except the male lead, with whom she falls in love at first sight. He’s half her size and looks six years old. Lots of stuff happens; none of it makes much sense. My guess is that the people responsible for this mess were hoping to create another Suzumiya Haruhi. They failed.

In Otome wa Boku ni Koishiteru, through circumstances that only happen in anime, a boy attends a girls’ boarding school disguised as a girl. Fortunately, there’s not a molecule of testosterone in his body. OtoBoku may be the prettiest of this fall’s trashy series, but it’s still trash.

Another contender for the “worst” title is Yamato Nadeshiko Shichi Henge. Three androgynous young men and a fourth who looks downright feminine attempt to make a proper young lady of a creepy girl in exchange for free rent. Shinichi Watanabe directs. It sounds like a great idea: the cult of the bishounen fully deserves to be sent up Excel Saga-style. Unfortunately, although Nabeshin and his writer try hard, it’s not very funny. Sunako is more pathetic than scary, and while there’s plenty of super-deformed nonsense (anime’s substitute for canned laughter) and other gimmicks, there’s little actual humor.

*****

Play ball

I gather there is a good chance that tonight’s game in the World Series will be rained out. If so, you still catch the Cemetery Series in Gegege no Kitaro. Kitaro lives in a graveyard with his father, a talking eyeball, in this 1968 series. In the first episode, a player from a mediocre baseball team stumbles over a bat in the graveyard that invariably hits home runs. The bat belongs to the youkai who reside there, and they want it back. Ultimately the humans and youkai play a game. If the humans win, they keep the bat; if they lose, they forfeit the bat and their lives.

Gegege no Kitaro is okay but not outstanding. It’s the anime equivalent of The Munsters, but without Fred Gwynne’s charm. Compared to 1967’s Ribon no Kishi, it seems clumsy and dull, and not just because it’s in black and white. Still, I’ve seen a lot worse. It’s worth watching by anyone interested in the history of anime. It apparently was popular in its day, judging from the number of sequels and movies listed in its ANN entry.

More baseball: the second episode of Muteki Kanban Musume and the fourth (broadcast order) of Suzumiya Haruhi both feature remarkable games.


*****

Damn, damn, damn

I just watched the first installment of Galaxy Angel II and liked absolutely nothing about it (and I enjoyed GA A and Z, too). Don’t waste your time on it. Instead, watch Muteki Kanban Musume.

A few specifics:
— The episode was based on a masochism joke.
— There was a strong hint of yuri.
— A male who is probably going to be a regular character wears a maid outfit and a perpetual five-o’clock shadow.
— The new crew looks about five years younger than their counterparts in the earlier series.

In other words, what had been a pleasantly silly show suitable for all ages is now a puerile mess, too off-color for children and too sophomoric for adults.

*****


Asatte no Houkou

I’ve watched the first episodes of several new series.

Asatte no Houkou — Potentially very good. A little girl wishes she were older and a young woman wishes she could start over. What happens if their wishes are granted? It could be comic, it could be angsty, or it could be insightful, depending on where the writers take the story. Jeff Lawson notes that the art director, Kobayashi Shichiro, also worked on Simoun, YKK, Windy Tales and Sugar, which is sufficient reason in itself to watch at least one more episode.

Ghost Hunt — Featuring a multitude of contentious spiritualists, most probably bogus, including a blonde Australian exorcist with a Kansai accent. Potentially a good spooky comedy, but the central characters are annoying. I’ll watch another episode and see where it goes.

Happiness — Magical girls — scads of ’em — and high school romance/angst. There’s also an aggressively affectionate girl with lavender hair who’s actually a guy. Bleah.

Kanon — I’ll watch another episode, but it will be mainly out of a sense of duty. I never saw the original version, which may be why I don’t find this expanded remake compelling. It doesn’t help that I hear Kyon but see some other guy.

Pumpkin Scissors — A tank, chemical weapons and a guy with a scarred face who becomes a sort of superhuman warrior when he shines a blue lantern. At least there aren’t any mechas — yet — in this post-war tale. I’ll probably watch at least one more episode.

Red Garden — Noteworthy for the girls’ noses — as long as mine, though not as massive. I’m more interested in an explanation of the premise than in any of the characters. I’ll watch the second episode, but unless it’s better than the first, that’s as much time as I’ll spend on the show.

Sasami Magical Girl Club — Painful. The Tenchi Muyo! franchise comes to an ignominious end* with a spinoff of a spinoff. Teacher Mihoshi, arriving late for class: “What? Oh! I forgot my skirt!” (I’ll spare you the screen grab.) Misao is here, as depressive as ever, but Pixy Misa is missing. Not even Washu can salvage this mess; I think I’ll watch Magical Project S again instead.

* I hope this really is the end. Tenchi had a long run, and some of it was good, but enough is enough.

*****

Episode thirteen and beyond

This week is going to be insanely busy. I’m not going to have much time to watch anything or write, so here are a few quick notes before I disappear.

Paranoia Agent overall is excellent, simultaneously grim and playful. Kon uses surrealistic gimmicks to tell his story, but it’s ultimately about the characters, not the stunts. I’ll write a formal review when I have more time. However, I do have a problem with the ending.

Spoiler

The final episodes of Paranoia Agent remind me of the case of Ruth Finley and the Poet here in Wichita. Beginning in 1977, the middle-aged Finley was harassed by a man dubbed “the Poet” for the doggerel he wrote. The abuse began with phone calls and letters and escalated to vandalism, kidnapping and stabbing. After a long investigation, the police concluded that Finley herself was the Poet. In the years of psychotherapy that followed, she recovered memories of severe abuse when she was three.

Like the Poet (if you can trust recovered memories), Shounen Bat was the product of childhood trauma. However, Tsukiko was considerably older at the time of her traumatic episode, and it was far less horrifying than what Finley went through. It isn’t enough to account for the origin of Shounen Bat.

Even so, the explanation almost works, and if you grant it, it largely makes sense of the bizarre events. While the solution isn’t quite worthy of the mystery, the series nevertheless is well worth watching.

[collapse]

*****

I haven’t yet seen all the new offerings that look interesting, but it appears that the current batch of anime falls neatly into two categories: Death Note, and everything else. (It’s a good thing I don’t have that notebook; the temptation to write Dear Leader’s name — and others — in it would be overwhelming.) It may eventually turn schlocky or cheesy, but if the rest of the 37 episodes are as good as the first, it could be a classic.

*****

Death Note brings to mind a song from The Mikado. This morning I found that there were 150 new comments on my two weblogs. Some spammer has found a way to bypass both the Turing-word test and the new-comment email notification, so there is no quick, easy way to seek and destroy the new crap. Yes, I do indeed have a little list, and spammers should be very careful not to let their names and pictures come to Light.

*****

Fun with your new friends

I’ve now watched three of the four discs of Paranoia Agent. What I didn’t expect is how blackly humorous it is. The eighth episode, in which a trio of internet acquaintances set out to commit suicide, is as funny as any episode of Ouran. (I tweaked the curves on the screen capture for visibility; the scene is set very late in the evening and is much darker in the anime.)

Post script: At this point, it reminds me strongly of Jules Feiffer’s Little Murders in its combination of farce, satire, drama and violence.

*****

Mistakes

I watched the first episode of Bokura ga Ita. As I feared, it’s an angsty/comedic high school story with angst likely to dominate. Never mind.

I also watched the first two episodes of a series from 2004, Gakuen Alice, which looked like it might be suitable for youngsters. Mikan and Hotaru are classmates and best friends with opposite personalities. One day Hotaru leaves their school to take up residence at at a special school. Mikan misses her and tracks her down to the Alice Academy, a school for youngsters with paranormal abilities. These abilities are called “alices” in a dubious tribute to Lewis Carroll, and Mikan turns out to have an alice, too.

The premise has possibilites, and Gakuen Alice could have been worth watching. Unfortunately, Mikan is a pathologically extroverted, hyperactive proto-ditz. Watching her, I wanted to say, “Shut up. Calm down. Take a deep breath and think.” I think I’ll spare my nephews and nieces.

*****

I haven’t yet watched anything from the most recent round of fansubbed series. Most don’t look all that interesting; there doesn’t seem to be another Suzumiya Haruhi or Ouran in the batch. I might download a few episodes of Sagebrush Polka, or Mustang Reggae, or whatever it is, which Ubu declares is “… a damn fun show to watch.” and which Alex calls “… the best anime ever.” Or Boot Hill Doo-Wop. Bokura ga Ita is another possibility. It sounds like yet another blasted high school comedy/angstfest, but Akitaro Daichi is involved, so there might be surprises.

One I won’t be downloading is Flag. Here’s the synopsis:

‘.In 20xx, a civil war broke out in a small country in Asia is getting hard in spite of dispatch of UN forces. But a picture taken by accident in the battle field accelerates the peace process. It is a picture of a flag. Although they are enemies, they cooperate together to fly it in a sanctuary, and the flag becomes the symbol of the peace. However, just before the peace agreement is achieved, the flag is robbed by an armed extremist group in order to obstruct the truce. UN decides to send SDC (Special Development Command) and a cameraman to record their activities. The cameraman is Shirasu Saeko. She is the cameraman who took the picture of the flag. At first they think the mission is easy because they wear latest armed suits, HAVWC(High Agility Versatile Weapon Carrier), but they gets in trouble by unexpected attacks. .’

Mention of the United Nations doesn’t exactly warm the cockles of my chilly heart, and I’m incorrigibly cynical about any “peace process.” Mechas are strike three.

*****

Tomorrow is Father’s Day …

… or so the spambots inform me. Who are the most noteworthy anime fathers? Looking over my collection, I don’t see many series with male parents, and when there is one, as likely as not he’s an ineffectual nonentity (Urusei Yatsura), a voyeur (Tenchi Muyo!) or thoroughly corrupt (B-ko’s father in the Project A-Ko OVAs). I could only find two who have significant roles in their animes and are estimable men, Fujitaka Kinomoto from Cardcaptor Sakura and Sai Nanohana from Jubei-Chan: Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch.* The latter is my pick for the Outstanding Anime Dad, and Jubei-Chan is appropriate viewing for Father’s Day. It may be a spoof of samurai and mahou shoujo shows, but underneath the farce is a serious meditation on what it means to be a father. Jubei-Chan is as much about Sai as it is about Jiyu, and it’s ultimately Sai’s actions that save Jiyu.

There’s a lot of anime I haven’t seen. What other noteworthy fathers are there?

*It’s marketed in America as Jubei-Chan, the Ninja Girl, but that’s wrong. Jubei is not ninja trash.

*****

Progress report

Where I am with various series on DVD:

World of Narue — Finished. Human boy meets alien girl. The beginning and end feature some significant violence, but the rest of the thirteen episodes are mostly lightweight entertainment. I won’t be writing a formal review of it because Steven has already said what needs to be said about it. Because of the mild but frequent fan service and a couple of other details, I can’t recommend it for youngsters — which is a shame, because the story is otherwise suitable for older grade-school kids.

Update: Shamus finished watching it, too. He found the ending particularly noteworthy.

Galaxy Angel Z — Watched the first disk, Back for Seconds, and enjoyed it. It reminded me why Saturday mornings were my favorite part of the week when I was very young. The last of the six short episodes is rather creepy, but the rest are fine for kids, even though Ranpha’s dress is slit up to the waist. On order: The Galaxy Angel A boxed set.

Magical Project S — Finished the first half, Pretty Sammy Debut!. This mahou shoujo spoof is delicately balanced on the border between ridiculous and stupid. I’m enjoying it overall, but it may be too silly for some people. I would have appreciated some notes; I sensed that there were many allusions that I was missing. It’s fine for kids, with one reservation. At one point in the fifth episode, Sasami declares that she was a fool to believe in God. In context it’s not as offensive as it sounds, but I could have done without the sequence. Religious parents will want to preview and perhaps skip that episode. On order: Pixy Misa Finale.

Hare + Guu — Watched the first three episodes. I may have been expecting the wrong things, but I’m having a hard time getting into this. There’s one more episode on the disk; after that I’ll see what I think.

Recently acquired, not yet viewed: The Animatrix, the Cardcaptor Sakura movies. Additional DVDs on order: Ah! My Goddess TV #1, Bottle Fairy #2.

To buy: the rest of Kamichu! as it becomes available; Princess Tutu #2; Kodocha #1; probably the rest of Ah! My Goddess TV.

Recommended to me: Twelve Kingdoms, Witch Hunter Robin, Revolutionary Girl Utena, Gunslinger Girl. Most of these will have to wait until bargain editions are available.

Other possibilities: Planetes, Divergence Eve/Misaki Chronicles, Gunsmith Cats, Jubei-Chan II, Whisper of the Heart, the rest of NieA_7, the rest of Galaxy Angel. I probably should add Evangelion, Grave of the Fireflies and Escaflowne, but I expect that I’d hate the first two and get impatient with the third. Maybe I’ll just hunt for some of the Escaflowne soundtracks.

*****

This afternoon I made the mistake of stopping by a DVD store on the penultimate day of its going-out-of-business sale. I went home with a stack of new DVDs, including the first volumes of several animes on my to-investigate list. Here are some first impressions, based on the opening episodes.

Galaxy Angel Z — Silly, silly, silly. In the first half-length episode, misapplied “lost technology” turns most of the five or six team members invisible. They then investigate a haunted house and spook the fraudulent spooks. The next epsisode brings the team to a professional wrestling event, at which the frighteningly genki Ranpha handily subdues opponents ten time her mass. As far as I can tell, this is the second season of the Galaxy Angel franchise, but I doubt that it would make much more sense if I had seen the first season. Thus far, it’s fun and featherweight, and I expect that kids would enjoy it.

Hare & Guu — Bizarre. Insane. Hare lives with Weda, his somewhat irresponsible mother, in a jungle with peculiar wildlife. One day Weda brings home the pink-haired orphan girl Guu to live with them. Guu can look cute, but Hare soon learns that she is Something Else. Forget LSD; just take a trip to Guu’s stomach. Not for kids, and not for the sensible.


Sai and Hikaru heading toward the go salon for Sai’s first game in 140 years

Hikaru no Go — Potentially first-rate. Sixth-grader Hikaru comes across an old go board with blood stains that only he can see, and he soon finds himself sharing his consciousness with Sai, the spirit of a Heian-era go master. Both Hikaru and Sai are engaging characters, and their relationship promises to be interesting. The writers don’t wimp out: they present an actual game of go in the second half, and they make it suspenseful. If the rest of the series is at the level of the first episode, it will be an excellent choice for school-age youngsters.

There is one minor, but exceedingly annoying, problem with the Viz release. If I watch it with my usual DVD-viewing program, not only can I not skip the usual piracy warning and other drivel, but I am also forced to endure a damned Naruto preview. I’ve never seen Naruto, but I loathe it beyond description now. Idiots. (Fortunately for my stomach, I can skip the crap if I view the DVD with VLC.)

*****

Utawarerumono has a formulaic plot and stereotypical characters: mysterious man leads oppressed villagers in struggle against evil overlord. There’s nothing there that you haven’t seen before, except possibly for the tails on the women. So why am I watching it? Because Eruruu is cute when she pricks up her ears.

*****

I’m up to episode 15 of Mushishi. It’s not a series to rush through. Although I’ve downloaded all that has been subtitled so far, it will be at least a week before I get to episode 20, the last one broadcast.* One episode a day is plenty to chew on.

The more I watch, the less I think of Lovecraft. Although there are a few moments of eldritch horror, usually the writers play subtler and stranger games. The fourteenth and fifteenth episodes both seem like fairy tales; in the latter I half-expected to see a witch or a fairy casting a spell to put the characters into their enchanted slumbers.

*There are six more that will be on the DVDs; as far as I know, they’re not yet available even in Japan. There will also be a live-action movie directed by Katsuhiro Otomo, according to ANN.

*****

Mushi are neither plants nor animals. They seem to belong to another order of existence. Sometimes they’re small enough to hide deep within an ear; other times they’re as large as whales, or billowing clouds. Some feed on sound or on silence; others, on dreams. Sometimes those dreams become real. The life cycles of some can take years; others, twenty-four hours. Their interactions with humans are unpredictable. Sometimes the human survives unscathed; other times, he is damaged, subject to strange compulsions, or killed. Sometimes he is transformed. Most people are oblivious to the mushi’s existence, but a few can see them.
Each episode of Mushishi involves a different kind of mushi and a different set of characters. Some stories end happily, others are bittersweet and a few are tragic or pathetic. The only constant is Ginko, the mushi-shi, who travels looking for mushi. He is nearly as odd as his subjects, with his white hair covering his left eye and a brown cigarette perpetually hanging from his lip.


This is one strange series. It reminds me a little of Kino’s Journey, though it’s spooky rather than ironic, and Ginko is not as detached as Kino. The art and character designs are generally realistic but simplified, and the colors are desaturated to the point that it occasionally seems to be sepia-toned. If you’re after eye candy, look elsewhere; the emphasis in Mushishi is on character and story. And strangeness.
It’s doubtful that Mushishi will be released on region 1 DVDs. Twenty-six episodes were originally planned, but the show apparently is not a hit in Japan, and the last six will not be broadcast. It’s devoid of the usual anime cliches and doesn’t fit any convenient marketing category. There’s no fan service and very little action. Ginko, who seems to be at least in his thirties, is unlikely to appeal to adolescents. I don’t see Mushishi ever having more than a cult following — which is a shame, because there’s nothing much like it in any medium.

Update (1/27/07): I’m pleased to note that I was wrong about Mushishi‘s chance of being licensed.

*****

Drawing and undrawing

The art of animation will be 100 years old in April. You can watch the first animated film, “Humorous Phases of Funny Faces,” here.

(Via Cartoon Brew.)

*****

I departed from my policy of never downloading fansubs this past week. I’ve very much wanted to see Mamoru Oshii’s 1985 Angel’s Egg ever since I first read about it. Although it was licensed in the West several years ago, it has never been released in the USA, and at this point it looks like it never will be. This is partly understandable: if anime has ever produced an art house movie, Angel’s Egg is it, and it will never appeal to a vast audience. But Oshii is an interesting filmmaker, sometimes as good as Miyazaki yet utterly different, and his movies deserve to find their audiences. So I overcame my scruples and downloaded it….
… Having watched it once, all I can say is that I’ll have to watch it again before I write about it.

*****

School’s out completely

A couple of high school animes worth skipping:

Peach Girl: Ugh. Treacherous friends, stupid misunderstandings, and angst, angst, angst. I saw the first two episodes courtesy of the local anime organization, and I am not the least bit grateful.

Sekushi Commando Gaiden: Sugoiyo! Masarusan: I’ve watched eight of the 48 nine-minute episodes, and that’s as much as I can stand. If you’ve ever wondered just how silly Akitaro Daichi can get, here’s the answer. It makes Elf Princess Rane seem like Ibsen. Masaru, bored with ordinary martial arts, learns the “sexy commando” technique and forms a club at Seaweed High School to promote it. The essence of sexy commando is causing your opponent to drop his guard by freaking him out, and Masaru is very, very good at freaking people out. The art is crude and the animation is minimal, but the cheap production suits the insane story. Possibly taken one episode at at time the series might have been enjoyable, but the fansubbers released the series in eight-episode blocks, and that is just too much concentrated weirdness.