Last look

Here’s the first batch of this season’s rejects.


Lala, clothed

Against my better judgement, I watched the first episode of To Love-Ru. It starts off as an action-in-space thriller, but that’s deceptive. As the opening makes abundantly clear, the show is actually a fanservice vehicle with occasional laughs and perhaps a bit of a story. Lala has run away from her home planet to avoid an arranged marriage. She’s an inventor, albeit a ditzy one who doesn’t always remember how to turn off her contraptions. She’s pleasantly curvaceous, and she is not the least bit self-conscious about materializing naked in someone else’s bathtub. When she does get dressed, she wears her “costume robot,” undergoing a quasi-mahou shoujo transformation in the process.

The bathtub she arrives in was occupied at the time by the luckless Rito, who spends most of the episode blushing. By the end he has managed to accidentally propose to the alien Lala (she doesn’t have horns, but she does have a tail), who is enthusiastic about the prospect. Sound familiar? At least Rito isn’t a jerk like Ataru, but his dithering and overreactions make him just as annoying.

The premise of To Love-Ru does have some possibilites, but so did that of Rosario + Pantsu. Never mind.

By the way, why the skittishness about showing nipples? We see almost every inch of Lala, but there’s always something — strands of hair, Rito’s hands — hiding the nipples. (Wolf and Spice is downright weird: Horo’s breasts are smooth and featureless.) Urusei Yatsura and Ranma 1/2 were far less concerned with fanservice, and they weren’t coy about showing the entire breast.


If you would like to earn the Kawaii Menace Award for Service to Humanity, devise a player for matroska on Macintosh that really works, or a utility to convert soft-subbed MKVs to hard-subbed AVIs. VLC will kinda play MKVs, but it handles soft subtitles poorly. The majority of the MKVs I’ve downloaded require more processing power than my aging mac and its video card are capable of. (I had hoped to do some upgrading this year, but medical and dental bills take priority in the budget. Bleah.) Sometimes these will play on my machine at the office, and I spent lunch yesterday watching the first episodes of a couple of new shows, Kurenai and Zettai Karen Children.

The opening of Kurenai is bright and cheerful, showing simplified versions of the characters dancing. The show itself, however, is a rather dark action drama so far. In the first episode high school student Shintaro accepts the job of guarding Murasaki, a very young ojou. Beyond that, I really can’t say what it’s about. There are a lot of characters introduced, including several women with Red Garden noses, and hints of complicated backstories. Spying is a frequent motif, with characters observing other characters from a distance or listening at the door.There might be an intricate story developing here, or it could just be poorly-thought-out drivel.

I have serious problems with the premise. Shintaro accepted the bodyguard job even though he knew that he would leave Murasaki alone in his room during the day while he’s at school. Uh-huh. His employer offered him the job knowing that this would be the case. Sure. Shintaro doesn’t think to ask why Murasaki needs a bodyguard. Perhaps all will be satisfactorily explained in later episodes, but I have better uses for my lunch hour


Zettai Karen Children features Aya Hirano, and that’s its only salient feature. Her performance is noteworthy because there’s nothing noteworthy about it; it’s a competent portrayal of an annoying ten-year-old girl and nothing more. Her character, Kaoru, is one of three little girls with paranormal abilities, the “Absolutely Lovely Children.” This dirty trio (there’s likely to be considerable collateral damage when they’re involved) are deployed in the first episode to deal with a jerk who turns bystanders to stone while wreaking havoc. It may sound like a kid’s show, but it’s intended for an older audience: the jerk is stereotypically gay, and Kaoru is obsessed with breast sizes and the like — a peculiar trait in a prepubescent girl. It’s not a bad show; it’s just not very good, and not worth my lunch hour.


The above are the weakest of the recent releases I’ve seen. Fortunately, there are better shows. While nothing yet has grabbed me the way the first episode of Denno Coil did a year ago, Allison and Lillia and Special A both started off well, and Chii’s Sweet Home has the virture of brevity. My favorite thus far is Soul Eater, not so much for the story as for the art and especially the animation. ((I just noticed that one of the characters listed is “Sid Barett.” Does somebody on the staff listen to early Pink Floyd?)) I’m also waiting impatiently for the fansubs of Library Wars and Kaiba.

Monet meets Roger Dean


Here’s a curiosity: Iblard Jikan. It’s a Studio Ghibli project based on the paintings of Naohisa Inoue of the imaginary world Iblard. There’s no story; instead, it’s thirty minutes of looking at surrealistic paintings. It’s not as dull as it sounds. The paintings are enhanced with discreet animation: rivers sparkle, waves roll up beaches, trams glide on tracks, girls fly. There’s no dialogue, just instrumental music (mostly bland, but a few of the pieces are listenable). If you pay attention to the backgrounds when you watch animated features, you might find Iblard Jikan worthwhile. There are more screen captures below the fold.

Those who enjoy jigsaw puzzles will want to visit this page.

Continue reading “Monet meets Roger Dean”

Briefly interrupting the silence

Yeah, it’s been quiet around here. I haven’t seen much anime lately, and what I have watched have been mostly old favorites, such as the first disc of Haibane Renmei last night. None of the current series have caught my interest the way Denno Coil and Oh! Edo Rocket did last year. (Shigofumi might have, but it’s out of reach now.) The only one I’m following at this time is Hakaba Kitaro.

I did order the first discs of a few older series I’m curious about, which should arrive in a week or two. Once I’ve figured out how I’m going to manage all my medical bills, I’ll probably finally purchase some of the series that have long been on my list. These include Fantastic Children, Witch Hunter Robin, The Twelve Kingdoms, PlanetES and the rest of Revolutionary Girl Utena.

What I’m most looking forward to is not anime, however, but books. The first volume of The Twelve Kingdoms is very good (better than the anime, I suspect), and the second is due out later this month. The second volume of Kino no Tabi is due out anytime, though none of the sources I’ve checked have listed a publication date, grrr. There are also two more installments of Crest of the Stars available.

Recently viewed

The Waragecha Five are back, and they have new uniforms:


Nice, but I prefer the old style.

A year after their first release, Epic Fansubs have reached episode six of Master of Epic. As a reward for my patience, the Waragecha Five, who were entirely missing from the previous installment, dominate the show this time, with a two-part skit that occupies half the episode. It’s a bit out of character for the show, since it introduces a giant robot into the fantasy universe, but the girls in the sentai team are still very much themselves, even with their science-fiction helmets. The rest of the show is mostly forgettable.



Shigeru Mizuki’s Gegege no Kitaro has been the basis of a major franchise in Japan for fifty years. There have been numerous TV shows and movies based on the manga. I’ve seen the first episodes of both the 1968 and 2007 series (the former in black and white), and was not impressed. Like his ’60’s American counterparts in The Addams Family and The Munsters, Kitaro was fundamentally good-hearted in these versions, and the resulting shows were rather bland, despite the graveyards and the monsters.

Hakaba Kitaro, the most recent adaptation, apparently makes an effort to be true to the source. This Kitaro is genuinely creepy, and humans who meet him don’t necessarily benefit from the encounter. Unlike the Gegege no Kitaros, this is not suitable for kids. Although there is some humor, this is primarily a horror story, occasionally quite grotesque.

Visually, it’s one of the more distinctive shows I’ve seen. It looks more like an artsy graphic novel than a typical anime. I was not surprised to learn that some of the crew responsible for Mononoke worked on the opening, in which the artists recreated Mizuki’s style. It’s worth attention in its own right (you might want to turn the sound down unless you like monotonous dance music).


I’m four episodes into Magic Knight Rayearth. A lot of stuff happens; there sure is plenty of plot. Unfortunately, it comes largely at the expense of character development. None of the characters have much depth yet. After watching a few episodes of Cardcaptor Sakura, I felt like I’d known the characters for years and would recognize them anywhere. The most I can say for the characters in Rayearth is that some are quirky.

This is not to say that Rayearth is a bad series. It isn’t. I probably just came to it with my expectations too high. The story is potentially good, particularly since CLAMP will likely twist the formulae in unpredictable ways. But it does look like it will be one of the lesser CLAMP anime, despite its length.

Princesses and knights


I’ve been studying yet another treatise on father-daughter dynamics, Petite Princess Yucie. Steven liked it and it sounded promising, so I ordered it last week, along with Magic Knight Rayearth TV (which Jonathan Tappan reviewed positively). I’ve watched four of the five discs in the thinpak and will probably finish tonight or tomorrow evening. It is pretty good — it already has the distinction of being the first Gainax series that I watched more than the first disc of — and if it ends well, it will be a show I can recommend to almost everyone.

The primary pleasure is in the characters and their interactions, but there is much else to enjoy, such as the utterly terrifying Demon world.


Update: Finished it: thumbs up. I may write more later, but I’m going to be away from the computer for a few days.

Continue reading “Princesses and knights”

A few notes

I’m curious about Kunio Katou, the creator of Aru Tabibito no Nikki, or The Diary of Tortov Roddle, so I did a litle searching. Here are his web site — unfortunately, only in Japanese — and a brief curriculum vitae. I also found this note at AniPages Daily:

It’s easy to see why Kato’s films would have won so regularly at the festival, which Norstein presides over every year. Visually they’re incredibly refined and convincing works closer in their graphic richness and craftsmanship to Norstein than to the bulk of Japanese production. Although his Tabibito series was produced in Flash, you would hardly suppose so at first blush. His production method for the series was somewhat unique: he drew each drawing on paper, scanned it into the computer, and left the white space around the figure intact rather than cutting it off as one would normally expected him to have done, which accounts for the handmade look of the series.



I finally watched the second half of Moyashimon. Good grief. There is a distinct shortage of microbes. Instead, we get a rather grim school festival, girls bathing (but no real fanservice), girls in leather clothes, aphrodisiacs (which don’t work), alcohol (more effective), fermented herring, expensive people, same-sex kisses and Sawaki’s buddy as a gothic lolita. Oh, and the Aspergillus fungi have dirty little minds. It is still a fun watch and there’s nothing quite like it, but I can’t give it an unreserved recommendation.



I noticed that Shigofumi ~Stories of the Last Letter~ is directed by Tatsuo Sato. Sato’s directing credits range from Nadesico to Cat Soup, not to mention Shingu, which was his original creation and his script as well, so I figured I ought to check Shigofumi out. The premise — a mail carrier with a talkative staff delivers the last message of a recently deceased person — reminded me of Shinigami no Ballad, and I was afraid that Shigofumi would be mawkishly sentimental. I needn’t have worried. The first episode is grimly ironic; if Shinigami no Ballad is about life, Shigofumi is about death. I do have some problems with the first episode. In particular, I need more context for Ayase’s actions, and if the second episode isn’t a continuation of her story, I will be very annoyed.



I saw the doctor Wednesday. It’s going to be eleven more weeks and another operation before I can walk again. Bleah. It my be fun to zoom down the halls at the office in my wheelchair, but otherwise this is a blasted nuisance.

Traveler from Tortalia


Some time back Wabi Sabi mentioned The Diary of Tortov Roddle. I recently came across a torrent. It’s an odd little series, consisting of nine short episodes. Seven concern Tortov Roddle, an etiolated traveler with a stovepipe hat exploring the northern plains. These are brief, surrealistic stores told without dialogue. In the first episode, for instance, Roddle sees a town on a hill and hopes to find an inn there. However, it turns out that the town is on the back of a gigantic frog, which leaves the hill for a lake populated by other frogs with towns on their backs. The penultimate episode, “Fantasy,” is a collection of brief vignettes too slight to summarize. The last is “The Apple Incident,” in which giant apples fall from the sky.

Rather than try to explicate the imagery, I’ll just post some screen captures below the fold.

Continue reading “Traveler from Tortalia”

Wolves, foxes and vampires


I have to give Rosario to Vampire credit for one bit of realism: when you have skirts as short as Moka’s, you’ve going to see panties. ((Mireille’s outfits in Noir were just as short, but her underwear was never visible — the single most implausible element in that amazing show.)) The vampire inspired J. Greely to coin a new word. Ubu thinks I should be “all over” R+V. Moka is indeed a candidate to replace Pyun and Potaru in the header art above, but I’m not sold on the series yet. The premise has some promise: nebbish winds up at a school for monsters and acquires a vampire glompire girlfriend. The cast features Kikuko Inoue in what looks to be a purely comic, non-weepy role as the nekomimi meganekko teacher; Takehito Koyasu is also listed. I’ll give it another episode and see what I think.

I’ll give Spice and Wolf another episde also to see what kind of story it’s going to be. The premise again has promise: wolf-girl and former agricultural deity in Medieval Europe hitches a ride with a travelling merchant intending to return to her homeland in the north. It could be an interesting travel story, or it could be nasty Christians oppressing nice pagans. The first episode suggests both possibilities. If it turns out to be the latter, the hell with it. Even if I decide to abandon the series, though, I will keep an eye out for the quasi-Renaissance soundtrack.

The second episode of Kaiketsu Zorori was on the same level as the first. Zorori and his boar sidekicks enter a haunted castle to rescue a sleeping princess. This time Zorori actually suceeds in his quest, but he is betrayed by his own impatience. It looks like Kaiketsu Zorori will be a good kid’s show that adults can also enjoy.

What I most enjoyed (re-)watching recently was the first disc of Kamichu! It’s a maddeningly erratic series, but the good episodes are very good indeed. I wish it was as easy to compile a custom video DVD as it is a custom music CD. A collection containing the first three episodes, the seventh and probably the ninth (I haven’t see it yet, but Steven says it’s excellent) would be a fine way to spend two hours.



In the recent Kino no Tabi movie, The Land of Sickness — For You, Kino visits a country that seems mostly deserted. The traveler and motoradd eventually find a hermetically sealed city, where they are treated quite well. Kino is invited to tell travel stories to the ailing daughter of a hotelier. There is a disease in the land. The inhabitants desperately search for a cure and hope someday to reclaim the rest of the country outside the city, and they’ve made some progress. However, there’s a dark secret for Kino to discover.

I’m relieved to say that this movie (if you can call a 28-minute show a “movie”) is a vast improvement over the earlier movie, Life Goes On (recommended only for Kino completists). Ryutaro Nakamura is back at the helm and Chiaki J. Konaka wrote the script. It seems like an slightly extended version of a television episode, but that’s not such a bad thing when the show is Kino’s Journey.



It looks like Kaiketsu Zorori may finally be fansubbed. The series concerns the adventures of the scapegrace fox Zorori, whose ambition is to be the king of mischief. In the first episode he plots to win the hand of a princess using a mechanical dragon, but things don’t go according to plan. If the first episode is representative, this could be a good series for children and tolerable for adults.


I’ve now watched all of Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, and I dunno. It started off well, but it peaked at the second episode by my reckoning. Once all the girls were introduced, it became hit-or-miss. Sometimes it was pleasantly absurd, but just as often it seemed the creators had only one joke and were mechanically working out every possible permutation to fill the time. It’s probably the year’s best black comedy, but I’m not really looking forward to the second season.


For the heck of it, here’s my top ten for 2007 as it currently stands.

1. Denno Coil
2. Oh! Edo Rocket
3. Seirei no Moribito
4. Mononoke
5. Baccano!
6. Mokke

Yes, that’s only six. I haven’t seen everything and I’ve probably missed a few of the best. Perhaps I’ll eventually fit ef and Gurren-Lagann somewhere on the list, but I have to watch them first. Ditto Bokurano and Manabi Straight. Perhaps also Moyashimon. Or perhaps not, if the eighth episode is as horrifying as rumored.


When I was at the hospital last week, I acquired not only a cast but also a virus of some sort. While I’m not quite sick enough to stay home from work (darn), I’m usually dead tired when I get home. Posting will continue to be spasmodic until I feel better.


I’ve finally had time to catch up with Denno Coil. As of this evening, I’ve watched through episode 22. Episode 23 is a recap, so this is a good moment to catch my breath and maunder a bit.

The question is not whether Denno Coil is the best show of the year — I haven’t seen a better series in long time — but whether it will rank among the classics of the form. I hesitate to label anything a “classic” until it has aged at least ten years, so check back in 2017 for my verdict. Unless Mitsuo Iso completely blows the ending, though, I expect my judgement will be positive.

It’s not perfect. Denno Coil shifts gears at the midpoint and becomes a darker story. My initial impression of the series was Serial Experiments Lain as retold by Hayao Miyazaki. The first half evokes Miyazaki, with bright, lively girls and myriad little imaginative touches. The second half tends more toward Lain. There’s menace in the virtual worlds, and the stakes are high. It’s as if Iso decided to stop playing with his imaginary worlds and focus on the plot. It’s a good story — a very good story; I’m impatient for Ureshii to finish the last two episodes — but I miss the fun of the early episodes. AniPages Daily notes that Iso wrote the scripts for the first fourteen episodes by himself but shared the writing credits on the later ones, and that probably has a lot to do with the shift in tone.

Still, it’s as good as anything I’ve seen since Haibane Renmei. I particularly like the soundtrack by Tsuneyoshi Saito. A friend commented that she could easily imagine it adapted for use as a ballet score, and I recommend it to any chamber music ensemble or small orchestra looking for new repertoire.


Update: I’ve watched Denno Coil through episode 24 now. The build-up to the climax reminds me strongly of the last episode of Haibane Renmei. I’ll find out soon enough how far the parallels go between the two Yukos and Rakka and Reki, so no spoilers in the comments, please.

I posted a couple of excerpts from the OST earlier, here (the last in the first set) and here. Here’s one more, “Nazo.”


Just a game


Is there any mecha show worth watching? Until recently, my answer would have been “no.” None of the Gundams look the least bit interesting. I quit Evangelion after five episodes. I did make it all the way through RahXephon, though it gradually became clear that the creators had not thought their story through before they started. There are some shows with mechas that are worth watching, e.g. Nadesico, but in these the mechas are not central to the story. So, when I first read the synopsis of Bokurano, I figured it was something I could skip.

Bokurano got relatively little attention in the otakusphere during its run. I did notice, however, that the writers who followed it to its conclusion were ones whose opinions I take seriously, e.g., Owen and Concrete Badger, so I figured that perhaps I ought to check it out. I just watched the first four episodes, and, yes, it is something out of the ordinary.

Fifteen kids on a summer school field trip discover a cave filled with computers and other technology. There they meet a man who calls himself “Kokopelli.” He invites them to beta-test a new game, in which a giant robot they pilot defends the Earth from alien invaders. It sounds like fun, but they learn that the robot is for real, and so are the invaders. After demonstrating the robot’s use by fighting a giant mechanical insect, Kokopelli vanishes, saying “I’m sorry.” Perhaps it really is ultimately a game, but the damage wrought by the robot and invaders is immense, and there is a cost to piloting the robot. If someone dies during the game, there’s no resurrection.


The premise is rather dodgy — there had better be a damned good explanation before the series ends — but the characters are well-developed and distinctive. Each of the fifteen kids is different. Few of them represent any of the standard anime types. Some are good kids; others are jerks. I have no trouble keeping them all straight. Each of the kids has a family, and the families matter. The second and fourth episodes are more about fathers and sons than giant robots, and I expect that most of the remaining episodes will focus on exploring the character of each kid as he takes his turn directing the robot.

I probably will watch the rest of the series when I have time. Even if the show does turn out to be as good as the first four episodes promise, though, I hesitate to recommend it. It’s a cruel story in which anyone can die, and the main characters are all youngsters.

Things I learned from Baccano!

• It’s okay to be an idiot if you’re extroverted and enthusiastic.

• There is a lot of blood in the human body.

• Corporeal immortality isn’t necessarily a blessing.

• For every psychopath, there is an equal and opposite counter-psychopath.

• Don’t overlook the timid milquetoast.

• Befriend any homunculus you meet.

• There are ways of dealing with immortal thugs.

• Share your windfalls.

• If you want a conductor’s uniform, buy your own.

Notes in lieu of an actual post

It looks I’ll have to watch more of ef — a tale of memories. The visual novelties in the first episode were entertaining, but none of the characters seemed particularly interesting. However, several of the more thoughtful writers on anime are impressed with the series, and Author declares it the top pick of the fall, so perhaps I missed something.

I probably am a little too quick to dismiss the shows I sample. There are good reasons for being picky: there’s a lot out there, most of it is of average quality or worse, and I don’t have unlimited time. In general, the sooner I drop a show, the better. The danger is that I’ll dismiss something genuinely good because it doesn’t make a strong first impression. This may well be the case with ef. Shugo Chara might be another instance; I only made it through half of the first episode, but those who like it, like it a lot.


While the fall offerings may be disappointing, overall this has been a decent year for anime. Five series so far are on my “buy” list should they be licensed: Denno Coil, Seirei no Moribito, Oh! Edo Rocket, Baccano! and Mononoke. In comparison, only three from last year made my list (Suzumiya Haruhi, Ouran and Muteki Kanban Musume). I’ll probably add Moyashimon unless the quality drops, though I don’t plan to buy the Aspergillus oryzae plushie.


Update: Jonathan Tappan has been posting pictures from his vacation in Japan.

The damnedest show on Earth


E. coli O-157

Poor Sawaki. In the third episode of Moyashimon he learns that there are things with stronger fragrances than kiviak; in the fourth, he is publicly humiliated, he learns more about animal husbandry than he really wanted to know, and his stomach hurts. He ends up in the hospital, a particularly nightmarish place for him since he can see all the interesting microbes (including viruses) in the air there. Moyashimon is probably the most interesting new series of the fall — that I’ve seen, ((I haven’t yet seen Kaiji and I’ve only watched the first episode of Shion no Ou so far.)) anyway. It’s certainly the most unpredictable. I have no idea what’s going to happen next, except that Sawaki won’t enjoy it.


Addendum: the animators got careless early in the third episode and gave Professor Itsuki a mouth:



Three episodes in, Ghost Hound looks to be a thirteen-episode series inflated to twenty-six. The story may yet astonish me, but the pace is glacial, and I’m losing patience. I’ll stick it out for a few more episodes, but it threatens to be a major disappointment.

When Chiaki is the focus in Minami-ke, it’s fun. Kana, however, is nearly as annoying as Tomo Takino, and Haruka is just plain dull. The principal motif in the fourth episode is tugging on skirts, which does not improve matters. I think I’ll pass on the rest. If I want to see a Ruri, I might as well wait until Nadesico is available again next year and enjoy the real thing.

Sketchbook explores the boundary between laid-back and comatose. It makes Aria seem like an action/suspense thriller. Sometimes that’s just what I need, but usually it isn’t. The fourth episode — or was it the fifth? They all blur together — is devoted to the cats that fascinate Sora. The bear-like top feline (I’d call him the alpha male, but like all the other characters in Sketchbook, the cats are too mellow to even consider fighting) wants to wear a collar. It’s a mildly entertaining story, like every other episode, and I don’t regret spending a half-hour on it, but there is very little substance there. If you’re in the mood for something serenely weightless, this is your show.


The show that l am enjoying most this fall is also the oldest, Alfred J. Kwak from 1989. There may be a political subtext to the story, and the subtitlers find plenty of occasion for historical notes, but the emphasis is on entertainment, not polemics. Although this is a children’s show with a straightforward narrative and uncomplicated characters, adults can enjoy it, too, particularly adults disappointed with the fall anime season.

Incidentally, it’s worthwhile to listen to the Dutch dub as well as the Japanese. I like the Dutch opening song better, even if the other is sung by Megumi Hayashibara.


Absolute destiny apocalypse

I haven’t had much time for anime or anything else recently, but I did manage to watch the first disc of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Good grief. I think I’ll watch Cat Soup again; that’s a model of clarity in comparison. I suppose everything will make sense in the end, but seven episodes into Utena, it’s absurdity upon absurdity, combined with swordfights, silliness, pointed chins and a minimal animation budget. Surrealistic though it is, it remains mostly on the right side of the line between silly and stupid, and I am curious to see if the writers do make ultimately something coherent out of the nonsense.


Here are a few odd links. Click at your own risk.

A term I didn’t need to learn.

So kawaii.

I didn’t really need to see this. (Found it here.)

This is worth looking at.

Hij vliegt, hij waggelt en hij zwemt


Is Ahiru no Quack, or Alfred J. Kwak, the greatest anime of all time? Wonderduck thinks so, but he might not be entirely unbiased. This Dutch/Japanese production from 1989 looks like it could be suitable for children and tolerable for adults. Those who are disappointed by this fall’s offerings might want to check it out; if nothing else, it’s a different style of art and animation than is usual these days, and it features Megumi Hayashibara.


My worry is that it will become an agenda-driven show in which the messages overshadow the characters. I also wonder if the translators are reading too much into the story.