Slayers Tolerable

Naga, left, and the other fashion designer from the third episode.
Naga, left, and the other fashion designer from the third episode.

A friend found that he had two copies of Slayers Excellent, so he gave me one (thank you, Richard). It’s set earlier than the TV series, before Lina meets Gourry, Zelgadis et al. Instead of them, we have Naga the Serpent (approximately .8 Rushunas). How much you enjoy Slayers Excellent depends on how much of Naga you can stand. She’s every bit as stupid as Gourry, but unlike the dense but admirable swordsman, she’s a narcissist with no compensating virtues. It’s a good question whether she’s more dangerous as an enemy or an ally. She sorely tries the patience of Lina and the audience, and she might be a candidate for the next poll.

Naga aside, the three episodes of Slayers Excellent are mostly decent farces ((The ending of the second episode is a bit indecent.)) in which Lina faces a vampire, escorts a spoiled rich girl on a journey, and gets caught in a fashion feud that escalates faster than a flame war. The last episode is a showcase for Aya Hisakawa as the deranged defender of tradition.

I ran a few tests, and I can report that, contrary to rumor, Naga’s laugh will not peel paint. Possibly, if you play it repeatedly at a high volume on a good sound system, it might soften the surface layer of a painted object, but if you have furniture to refinish, a chemical stripper will work far more efficiently and present fewer health hazards.

Unified Defense Force

Mao-chan goes on too long. It’s based on a clever notion and is executed with considerable charm, but the writers weren’t inventive enough to keep it consistently interesting through 26 half-length episodes. The story meanders through many standard anime situations: the sports festival, the beach episode, the hot springs episode, the bunny suit, the maid uniform. They’re not complete wastes of time — the beach episode is one of the better ones, in fact, though not because of the beach — but they mainly serve to let us spend time with the girls rather than advance the story, and Mao and Misora aren’t particularly interesting characters. The series would have been better overall had it been shorter and more focused.

Continue reading “Unified Defense Force”

Not fun anymore


The tenth episode of Macademi Wasshoi is more of the same, with the students and faculty of the magical academy running amok while rescuing Takuto and the girls from a trio of formidable bandits. Then, about twenty-minutes into the episode, it suddenly gets very serious, and Anyone Can Die. The eleventh episode continues in the same grim vein, and there’s another death (or two, depending on how you count). It soon turns out that they’re Not Quite Dead, but now the story veers off in another unfunny direction, borrowing a motif from the final episode of Petite Princess Yucie and the forty-sixth episode of Cardcaptor Sakura. Hitherto, Macademi Wasshoi was a farce with occasional thoughtful moments. Now it’s a drama, with Sakuma and the girls as annoying comic relief.

The episode ends happily with a restoration of the status quo, but the fun has leaked out. The final episode, in which the girls try to get a Christmas present for Takuto, might have been enjoyable earlier in the series, but following the eleventh episode, it seems off-key.

So, do I recommend Macademi Wasshoi? Yes, with reservations. It’s funny and inventive overall, but it’s also frequently off-color with abundant fanservice. If it sounds like something you would like, I recommend watching the tenth and eleventh episodes last.

Update: Steven liked the eleventh episode a lot. There is a lot going on there and a lot more that’s hinted at, as Steven points out, but the shifts in tone are too jarring for me.

Status report

Astro Fighter Sunred

These past ten days or so I’ve spent most of my spare time digitizing old vinyl. ((Once you get a CD player, getting up every twenty minutes to turn an LP over seems unreasonably laborious. Even though I have one of the larger vinyl collections that I know of, I don’t often listen to records anymore.)) It’s been productive: I’ve got over ten CDs’ worth of newly-convenient music to listen to. I have a few more LPs I want to get into the computer before I move on to the next project. Watching videos is not high-priority right now.

Nevertheless, I have watched some anime — not a lot, but some. Here are a few very brief notes.

Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea — discussed below.

Macademi Wasshoi #5 — Just plain icky ….

… and #6 — More watchable than #5, but the show is still not back on track. I hope we don’t have another Kamichu! here, a wildly erratic series that starts strongly but goes nowhere.

Ghost Hound through #12 — My lunchtime project. With Ryutaro Nakamura and Chiaki J. Konaka involved, it ought to be good, but the plodding pace is frustrating. The eventual payoff had better be outstanding. My impression of the series the first time I tried watching it was that it was a taut twelve-episode show padded out to a draggy twenty-two, and I still think so.

Natsume Yuujinchou through #4 — A show from the summer that got relatively little attention in the otakusphere while it was airing. Another example of Shinto 101, it reminds me strongly of Mokke, both in its subject matter and in its tone. It occasionally gets dangerously sentimental, but it probably is one of the better series of the year.

Astro Fighter Sunred #1 — A very silly gag series, featuring short, absurd skits and very minimal animation. You probably need to be drinking with friends to properly enjoy the show.

I may write more about these later. Or maybe not.

Fish story

Someone smuggled a video camera into a showing of Ponyo on the Cliff by the Sea, and thus I was able to take a look at it last night. It’s not first-rate Miyazaki, but it is much better than Howl’s Moving Castle. ((The book, Howl’s Moving Castle, by Diana Wynne Jones, is excellent. Give copies to all the youngsters on your Christmas present list, and grab one for yourself. But don’t waste your time on the movie, Miyazaki’s worst.)) It will be worth seeing on the big screen when it’s released in the USA.

The good news: the core story, about the fish who wants to be a human, is something Miyazaki is good at. Ponyo, the magic goldfish, Sosuke, the boy who finds her, and Lisa (or Risa), Sosuke’s mother, are believeable, sympathetic characters. Some of the scenes reminded me of Totoro ((There is a significant parallel to Totoro in that Sosuke’s other parent is absent and, in the latter half of the movie, at risk.)) and Kiki. Ponyo’s first evening as a human in Sosuke’s home is as charming a sequence as Miyazaki’s ever done.

The bad new: the outer story is a mess. It’s a mixture of fairy tale, science fiction, paleontology, celestial mechanics, fantasy and deep ecology that doesn’t immediately add up to anything coherent. (I suppose I should be grateful that there isn’t a war going on.) Perhaps the symbolism will click after several more viewings and all will be clear and logical, but I doubt it.

Ponyo is not prime Miyazaki, but half of it is very good, and all of it is pleasing to the eyes, if not to the mind.

Incidentally, I was surprised by the quality of the video, both image and sound. There were very few clues that this was a surreptitious recording.

Screen captures below the fold.

Continue reading “Fish story”

A cure for insomnia

I watched the first episode of Tales of the Abyss to see if there was a good reason for eight different groups to subtitle it.

It starts off with some mythology, introducing a planet made of the seven “fonons.” After the opener, which features a whole bunch of people (you’ll probably need a scorecard to keep them all straight as the series progresses), there’s some more mythology, some history, and prophecies involving a boy with red hair. It’s all very portentous but not particularly memorable.

Then we meet a kid with red hair. He’s a prince named Luke who doesn’t remember anything before he was six. He evidently doesn’t remember much else, either, providing the writers opportunities to dump yet more lumps of exposition into the story in the form of lectures and flashbacks. I suspect that the viewer is supposed to see him as a spirited youth frustrated at not being permitted to leave the palace grounds, but he comes across more as an insensitive lout. He apparently has two belly-buttons.

There are other people, of course: the old gardener he thoughtlessly insults, his servant and keeper, his swordsmanship teacher, his parents, his fiancée — none of whom show much promise of being more than clichés. And then there is Tear, whom I wish would visit me late at night. I am a chronic insomniac, and she can sing people and monsters instantly to sleep. Tear magically arrives at the palace, where she attacks Luke’s teacher. Luke intervenes, and when their blades meet, some kind of supernatural resonance builds up and sends the pair flying out into the hinterlands. It seems that Luke and Tear are both “seventh fons” (is Luke the seventh fon of a seventh fon?). There are monsters out there, which they easily and bloodlessly dispatch, and —

The hell with it. What we have here is another fantasy RPG adaptation of no particular distinction. It’s not terrible, but there’s nothing of interest in it. I can see one or two groups subbing the series for the fans of the game, but eight? It’s squandered effort.


A bit of good news: the second episode of Macademi Wasshoi has finally been translated. It’s as frenetically silly as the first episode, albeit raunchier.

A shounen action series …

… about baking bread?


Serious baking is not for the faint-hearted.

Azuma Kazuma, the protagonist of Yakitate!! Japan, is a sixteen-year-old with an immense talent for baking. He’s bumptious, naive and not terribly bright, but he is extremely dedicated to his craft. He has a special gift, “solar hands” that make dough rise unusually fast, and he has a quest, creating the bread that will allow Japan to take its place among the great bread-making countries of the world. The first episode relates Azuma’s introduction to baking; the second concerns his come-from-behind victory in his first competition at the major dojo bakery he hopes to join.


Azuma is the one with the brown shirt. It’s not clearly visible in this screen capture, but he’s wearing a pink hairband. There’s a good reason for it.

The premise sounds ridiculous, but it works. Kazuma is a typical shounen hero, but not to an obnoxious degree, and the other characters introduced so far have possibilties. The show is energetic and done with a light touch. Whether there is 69 episodes’ worth of story there is another matter, though, and I’m not sure that I want to invest that much time in it.

If what I’ve seen is representative, this is a good show for all ages.

If only …

… or, “What the hell were they thinking?” List #2:

1. Azumanga Daioh: There’s Chiyo, Osaka, Sakaki and Yomi — four memorable characters. (Five, according to those who can tolerate Yukari.) There’s one of the finest soundtracks ever recorded. It could have been a classic. Unfortunately, there’s also Mr. Kimura.

2. Divergence Eve and Divergence Eve: Misaki Chronicles: An excellent science-fiction story with interesting, sympathetic characters and a haunting ending that reminds me of Lain. However, it looks like pornography.

3. Kamichu! Hideyuki Kurata is a maddeningly erratic writer. He can be inspired, and he can be dumb. Kamichu! showcases both extremes of his range. The first two episodes are very good indeed and the third is a small classic. The fourth belongs to some other, lesser show, the fifth is dull, and I’m not going to discuss the sixth. The better episodes are good enough to warrant purchasing the boxed set if you can find a good price, but I recommend watching only the first three episodes, the seventh, the ninth and perhaps the twelfth.

4. Bottle Fairy: The first eleven and a half episodes are a great deal of fun for children and their parents as the four tiny fairies try to understand humans and their culture. However, the ending goes off-key and inspires depressing interpretations. By all means, get it for your kids, but stop after the eleventh episode.

5. The World of Narue: A pleasant, lightweight science-fiction story. It would be good fare for junior high students, except that it is rife with pointless panty shots.

A world without skirts, etc.

I’ve been doing my bit to support legal anime downloads by keeping up with Strike Witches at BOST. I’m still not convinced that the series really needed to be made. Conceptually, it’s delicately balanced on the borderline between absurd and dumb, but, as Steven says, you’ve got to embrace the stupid. If you can overlook the manifold impossibilities and a few other problems, it’s fun.

It’s not great art. I don’t have much of an apetite for fan service, and the constant panty shots quickly become annoying. However, I’m more irritated by the protagonist, Miyafuji. In the first episode she’s an idiot pacifist who refuses to fight even the aliens attacking the Earth. In the second episode, she shows her quality by disobeying orders and getting in the way during battle. ((Miyafuji hadn’t enlisted yet, so it’s not actually insubordination, but it was still inexcusable. In a more realistic setting, it could have been disastrous.)) Of course, the battle is won with Miyafuji’s help and Sakamoto tells her that she did well, but it’s hard to enjoy a show when I’m constantly muttering “idiot.” It doesn’t help that the token meganekko is a snotty French twit.

On the other hand, the flying scenes are exhilarating and the battle in the second episode is genuinely exciting. Also, there’s no Rachmaninoff. I still prefer the original OVA, though. (Speaking of the OVA, here’s yet another example of why I don’t take most reviewers seriously.)


I also watched the first episode of Birdy the Mighty: Decode. I don’t think I panned the earlier OVA as severely as Steven remembers. It actually isn’t too bad; the main problem is that it ends just as the story gets interesting, and for that reason I can’t recommend it. Decode is slated to run thirteen episodes. That might be long enough to tell a complete story about the high school boy and the interplantary policewoman sharing the same body.

The new version makes a lot of changes, which are not necessarily improvements. For instance, Birdy’s uniform is now symmetrical:



Death the Kid might approve the new design, but I prefer the earlier version.

Birdy maintains a low profile on earth by disguising herself as a model whose image appears in magazines and on billboards. ((It makes as much sense as the Sailor Starlights’ disguises as members of a boy band.)) Tsutomu’s parents leave town for several months in the first episode, and his annoying sister has her own place, leaving Tsutomu alone at home. This is convenient for a young man apt to change into a woman at awkward times, but it sacrifices opportunities for both developing Tsutomu’s character in the context of his family and for embarrassing moments. The new Birdy is played by Saeko Chiba, who tries hard but isn’t Kotono Mitsuishi.

It’s not awful, but it doesn’t look to be an outstanding series. Perhaps I’ll watch more; perhaps not.

Update: Ubu has a fairly positive take on what he’s seen so far of Birdy.


When Geneon abandoned region one, not only did we lose a lot of anime, but we also lost the principal source of anime OSTs. I just scanned through the musical offerings at that other dealer and spotted no new soundtracks, unless you count the Suzumiya Haruhi spinoffs. This is a pity. Often the soundtrack is the best part of the show, e.g., Cowboy Bebop, Azumanga Daioh, Spice and Wolf. The remaining Geneon titles are cheaply priced. If you still don’t have a copy of the Haibane Renmei soundtrack, grab one while you can.

Revoke that library card


Truth in advertising

I finally watched the first episode of Toshokan Sensou, a.k.a. Library War. It looks like my spring viewing will be Kaiba, Allison and Lillia, Real Drive and maybe Kurenai, ((I had some problems with the first episode of Kurenai, but so many people have declared it to be one of the best this season that I probably will give it a second chance.)) with Soul Eater and perhaps Wagaya no Oinari-sama for essential fluff.
But not Toshokan Sensou. I could tolerate the absurd premise — the brain police (i.e., “committees of Media Improvement Act”) raid bookstores and confiscate such dangerous literature as books of fairy tales, while a branch of the military defends libraries — if the anime has compensating virtues. And it is a Production I.G. series broadcast in the Noitanima timeslot, so I would expect the show to be better than average. However, the protagonist is a hot-headed fool, too thoughtless to be sympathetic. Toward the end of the episode she rashly attempts to halt a bookstore raid by invoking her authority as a “Private First Class Librarian,” unaware that she needs to be at least a lieutenant to do so. At that point I quit watching. Toshokan Sensou may be intended to be part comedy, but Kasahara is too dumb and annoying to be funny.

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.

Shinigami #A-100100


The typical shinigami, according to K-Ske Hasegawa in Ballad of a Shinigami: Momo, the Girl God of Death, Volume 1, atones for the crime of taking his own life by delivering death and collecting souls. He remembers only his suicide and one memory of his past life. His grim nature is reflected in his black color.

Momo, however, remembers nothing at all about her past life. She may carry a scythe, but she wears white, her hair is white and her complexion is like snow. She wears shiny red shoes. Only her eyes are dark. Unlike other shinigami, who conduct their tasks in a business-like manner, Momo takes an interest in the humans whom she encounters. This exasperates her servant demon, the winged cat Daniel.

Continue reading “Shinigami #A-100100”

The real Ai no Senshi


Angel Lily, Wedding Peach and Angel Daisy

When the world needs saving, Americans turn to superheroes: neurotic, grandstanding, steroid-abusing macho jerks. The Japanese rely on mahou shoujo: pretty girls in short skirts. Advantage: Japan. (The Japanese also call upon giant mecha, for which there is no specifically American equivalent. Advantage: America.)

Different magical girls have different specialties. School girl Momoko Hanasaki, along with her friends Yuri and Hinagiku, is a “love angel.” When agents from the demon world possess humans in attempts to destroy the happiness of those in love, Momoko transforms into “Wedding Peach” and tells the demons that she is extremely displeased. Then she exorcises them with attacks powered by her Love Wave.

I first read about Wedding Peach at T.H.E.M. Anime, where it was invariably mentioned with scorn. As I recall, the review there said it was stupid enough to cause brain damage in children. (That review has since been replaced by a more temperate, but still snide, assessment.) I figured that this was a series I could skip. However, I noticed that reviews elsewhere were more positive. The comments on this thread at Steven’s piqued my curiousity, and when I noticed that the discs were on sale for $4 each, I figured that it might be worthwhile to watch the first and see just how bad it is.

Actually, the first six episodes are quite watchable. Wedding Peach is plainly modeled closely on Sailor Moon (not that surprising, given that the character designer and one of the writers are alumni of the earlier show). However, thus far it seems to be not so much a cheap ripoff of Sailor Moon as Sailor Moon done right. Momoko is not a stupid ditz like Usagi. When she and her friends invoke their superpowers and battle the forces of evil, they’re competent. They don’t have to be rescued every episode by a mysterious yet dorky guy wearing a mask. It’s clear early on that the guy with whom Momoko regularly quarrels is destined to be her romantic interest, and it’s clear to them as well, though they won’t admit it.

It’s also ridiculous. Each of the three girls undergoes a double transformation in becoming a love angel, First she magically dons a wedding gown, which she then changes to a much-abbreviated combat dress. I’ve posted Momoko’s transformation on my video weblog. The long-term story apparently involves finding the evocatively-named “Saint Something Four.” Tongues were in cheeks when this show was made.

I haven’t decided if I’m going to watch the rest of it. It’s not exactly great art. There are any number of better shows available, and unless you have a special interest in magical girls, I don’t recommend it. It’s probably not even that good a substitute for Sailor Moon. Part of the appeal of the latter is the intricacy of the universe developed over the course of five seasons of anime, eighteen tankoubon of manga, three movies, a live-action show and a series of musicals. Wedding Peach offers only a mere 51 episodes plus four OVA episodes.


I’ve been following the “March madness” at Derailed by Darry. It’s depressing; it demonstrates yet again that popular taste is a lousy guide to quality. In search of further bad news, I took a close look at the list of the “Top 50 best rated” animes at ANN. ((There are two different lists of the “best,” each calculated differently, but both essentially the same. This one is the “bayesian estimate.”)) Here it is, with my comments:

Continue reading “Foolishness”

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.