Steven has been impatiently waiting for my comments on Petite Princess Yucie. I’m afraid he’s going to be disappointed, because I don’t have anything particularly deep or insightful to say about the show. It was good, I enjoyed it, and I can recommend it for all but the youngest audiences. My main two worries — that the ending would stink, and that Kikuko Inoue would release a deluge of tears — were unfounded, though if the series had ended with the 25th episode, I would have dispatched Mireille and Kirika to Gainax HQ.
I have a few reservations. There are some heavy-handed moments, notably the visions of Elmina’s father in the nineteenth episode. Beth is excessively abrasive, to the point that I was tempted to hit fast-forward whenever she appeared. Some of the episodes approach dangerously close to sentimentality. Yucie’s dilemma in the penultimate episode seems contrived, not naturally arising from the premises — it almost did have a Gainax ending.
Still, the virtues outweigh the faults. The main characters are mostly attractive and sympathetic, even Elmina once she warms up to the others. The writing throughout is interesting and often clever, and there are a lot of little touches that enliven the story.
I suppose I could analyze the different models of fatherhood illustrated by the series (only Jubei-chan: The Secret of the Lovely Eyepatch goes into greater depth on father/daughter relationships), or compare and contrast the ending of Yucie with that of the first season of Sailor Moon, or discuss whether the princess candidates form a “five-man band,” but I have other things to do — as Steven guessed, I do in fact “have a life” of sorts.
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.
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
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.
Courtesy of “RonPaul2008,” I finished Denno Coil this evening. Although the final revelations, ingenious though they were, were perhaps a little too tidy — has there ever been a really good mystery for which the ultimate explanation wasn’t a bit disappointing? — the resolution of the story of Yasako and Isako was satisfying. The focus of the last episode was on Isako’s choice, where it belonged, and not on the technology and gimmicks. Although the comparisons to Miyazaki and Lain are valid, in the end Denno Coil reminded me most strongly of Haibane Renmei in its concern with grief, guilt, despair and pain, and friendship.
Before I watched the end of Denno Coil, I viewed the conclusion of the utterly different Oh! Edo Rocket. The final episodes are of a piece with the rest of the show, as off-the-wall as ever, with cat-people and references to Gurren-Lagann, and just enough drama to keep the story from dissoving into sheer silliness. There may have been a few better shows this year, but none were more fun. I posted on my video weblog a brief excerpt from the epilogue which reveals a fact that NASA has hitherto kept secret.
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.”
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.
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.
What does it mean to be a Lolita? According to Momoko Ryugasaki, it’s not just a matter of frilly clothes:
I have no strength, no stamina. I run really slow, and I can’t even swim. I’m hopeless at sports or anything physical. but I am quite happy with these failings of mine. After all, there’s nothing charming at all about a Lolita who can run a full marathon and clock a pretty good time doing it, is there? If a Lolita is assaulted by a hulking thug and uses judo to throw him over her shoulder, that’s just bad for her image. The weaker a girl is, the better. For a maiden, being frail and high-strung confers status. Once in a while at morning assembly there will be a girl who faints from anemia, and every time I see that I gnash my teeth with envy. Exasperating though it may be for those around her, a girl is decidedly cuter if she cannot do a single thing for herself — if she doesn’t even know how to tie her own shoelaces, I do not want to become the kind of woman who competently balances work and play, and is physically and emotionally robust, and is more suited to protecting than to being protected. I have no wish of becoming a woman of the world who has tasted both the sweet and the bitter things life has to offer. I don’t ever want to eat anything bitter — I plan on living my life by filling myself up with only the sweet. And if that gives me cavities, I’ll cry. If treatment is required, I’ll ask to go under general anesthesia because I hate pain. Call me a sissy and laugh if you will, but this is how a girl ought to be. She should just avert her eyes from the harsh realities and life and, without ever lifting a finger, dreamily devote herself to fantasies that will never come true. If she believes that one day those fantasies will miraculously come to pass, that’s all that matters.
Although Momoko, the narrator of Novala Takemoto‘s novel Kamikaze Girls, ((The Japanese title is Shimotsuma monogatari, or “Shimotsuma Story,” which is more accurate but less intriguing than the English-language one.)) calls herself a “Lolita,” there is no mention of Dolores Haze and Humbert Humbert in the book. Instead, the novel begins with a smart-alecky disquisisiton on the Rococo aesthetic — “… hey, round is cuter than square” — connecting it to punk and anarchism. Eventually Momoko gets around to talking about herself. She’s the high-school-age daughter of a Yakuza reject, whom she uncharitably but accurately calls “the Loser.” She lives out in the boonies near but not convenient to Tokyo, attempting to lead a Rococo life while surrounded by rice paddies in every direction. To raise money for more frills, she places an ad offering the counterfeit Versace clothing her father used to sell. Finally, on page fifty-two, Ichigo Shirayuri arrives on her elaborately tricked-out 50cc scooter to buy a jacket and begin the story:
The person had straight bleached-blonde hair down to her shoulders, wore blue eye shadow and bright red lipstick, and had on a navy-blue school uniform comprised of a short jacket and a very long skirt with a prodigious number of pleats, which dragged on the ground. On her feet were — well, it would sound good to call them “mules,” but actually they were cheap purple slip-on sandals of the type moms wear when going out to the neighborhood supermarket, and their sparkles glinted in the sun. Wow, asukeban, and a super old-school one … Who knew bad girls wearing outfits like this still existed?
Although they represent mutually alien cultures, frilly-ass Momoko fascinates the hicktown Yanki. Ichigo frequently visits Momoko, and gradually a friendship develops, despite their having virtually nothing in common beyond outsider status. In the course of the novel Ichigo introduces Momoko to pachinko, the two search for a legendary embroiderer, Momoko gets more deeply involved with Lolita fashion, and Ichigo gets involved, too. The story culminates in a girls’ biker gang showdown, in which Momoko, to her credit, fails to live up to her ideal of the useless, helpless Lolita.
Takemoto didn’t worry much about plausibility when he wrote the novel. Although Momoko’s skill at embroidery is believable given her attitudes and history, what happens at her favorite clothing store is pure wish-fulfillment. What happens when she plays pachinko machines is plain fantasy. Ichigo’s unsuspected resource is just a little too convenient, if nicely ironic. And so on.
What salvages the book is Momoko’s voice. Sometimes playful, sometimes sarcastic, usually ironic and detached, the narration undercuts any latent sentimentalism. Momoko tries not to take anything seriously, and it’s not until the final pages that she lets her mask slip.
Kamikaze Girls was made into a movie, and apparently a pretty good one. I might track it down someday, though I expect that I’ll find it as disappointing as any other movie based on a book I like.
After a four-month hiatus, the fifth episode of Master of Epic has finally been translated. This time, the topic is “skill.” In first skit, a young woman learns to sew to impress her crush, and overdoes it. It’s mildly humorous. There’s also a housewife at a flea market, another brief bit with Chuu and Bukotsu in which Chuu does something uncharacterstically cute, an illustration of good and bad luck involving a cannon, and another lengthy installment of the intermittently amusing Diaros Island saga. And that’s it. Yawn. There seems to be something missing — five things, actually, one blue, one yellow, one pink, one green and one black.
In other words, skip this installment and hope that it takes less than six months for the next to be subtitled. The previews promise that the Waragecha Five will have two skits then.
Just wondering: does “larufa kuina vashiina” mean anything?
I watched the most recently subbed episodes of Moyashimon, Sketchbook and Minami-ke, and there isn’t much to say about them that I haven’t already said. All three remain on my watch list. The first continues weird, the second weightless and the third funny. My only problem with the last this time was that there was too much of Kana and not enough of Chiaki.
For the heck of it, I made a few avatars. These are all 80 pixels square, suitable for gravatars, which are now part of the WordPress armory. Right-click to save to your disc — you know the drill.
Both Wonderduck and Astro have declared their love for Sketchbook full color’S, so I watched the first few episodes. Initially I was put off by the main character. In the first episode Sora seems not just painfully but pathologically shy and sensitive. However, the subsequent episodes emphasize her otherworldliness, and she seems less like a mental case and more like Osaka’s artistic cousin. Also, however strange she is, she not the only eccentric around:
I doubt that I’ll ever like Sketchbook as much as Mr. Duck does, but it is on my watch list. Slight though the series is, it’s appealingly whimsical, and it’s refreshing after noisier, busier shows.
Sketchbook earns bonus points for being 100% fanservice-free. It’s an anime in which high school girls wear knee-length skirts. (But it loses a point for the pointless apostrophe-capital “S” in the title.)
Kana achieves a certain measure of self-knowledge
I’m ambivalent about Minami-ke. It does feature potentially the best comic character since Osaka, and the first two episodes are funnier than Lucky Star and Hayate no Gotoku combined. Chiaki is a very bright, very deadpan grade-school student. She steals the show as Ruri did Nadesico. She has a mischievous streak, and her hyper high school sister Kana is an easy target. The two live with their older sister, apparently without parents or other guardians.
Funny though it is, Minami-ke makes me a bit uneasy. The first episode is largely about kissing, which Kana wants to demonstrate to Chiaki. The second concerns panties. What will the third feature, bra sizes? I’m not sure I want to find out. (Note that there isn’t any actual fanservice in the show, just the threat of it.)
Although I was not exactly enthralled by the first episode of Ghost Hound, as I noted below, I am still certainly going to follow the series. Nakamura et al may yet come through.
I’m no expert on swing, but the more I listened to the Oh! Edo Rocket soundtrack, the more familiar it seemed. “Matsuri,” for instance, may not have quite the same melody as “In the Mood,” but it sure reminded me of the earlier tune. It bothered me, so I posted a few of the tunes on my other weblog and asked if they sounded familiar. The consensus in the comments is that the pieces are pastiches of swing originals, not quite plagiarisms but damn near. So, if you like the music, instead of the OER soundtrack, you probably should look for recordings by Glenn Miller and his contemporaries.
Given the creators of Ghost Hound, I was afraid that the show might be pretentious, incoherent or incomprehensible. The first episode suggests a worse possiblity: it might be dull.
Tarou has a recurring dream, which he describes into a voice recorder when he wakes up. He falls asleep in class. Two other students are introduced who are probably going to be major characters. One is a smarmy newcomer, the other is a surly outsider. Also making appearances are Tarou’s parents, the school psychologist with a curl in the middle of his forehead, and a girl who appears both in Taro’s dream and on the road home from school.
So far, it’s been mostly introductions, a little backstory and a little strangeness. Nothing much happens, and none of the characters are particularly engaging. The liveliest part was the fly buzzing in Tarou’s dream. This is just the first episode, of course, and presumably Chiaki Konaka and Ryutaro Nakamura are setting the stage for serious weirdness. Still, I was underwhelmed.
Konaka and Nakamura earlier collaborated on Serial Experiments Lain, which will be ten years old next July. After viewing the first episode of Ghost Hound, I watched the first episode of Lain again. There they didn’t waste time on introductions but plunged straight into the strangeness. Perhaps they ought to study their old work to see how it’s done. (Or perhaps they should have drafted Yasuyuke Ueda and Yoshitoshi ABe.)
Sawaki, who has just begun his studies at an agricultural college in Tokyo, can see microbes with his naked eye and even pluck them out of the air. What he sees doesn’t much resemble the pictures in books. To him, bacteria and fungi have cute little faces. Nevertheless, he can accurately identify species.
The first episode of Moyashimon serves mainly to introduce the main characters. Besides Sawaki, there’s his friend Kei; Professor Itsuki, whose mouth is hidden by his mustache except when — well, you’ll see; and Hasegawa, who doesn’t dress like a student at an agricultural college and who refuses to believe in Sawaki’s ability. There’s also lots of friendly yeast floating around.
What kind of story Moyashimon is going to tell isn’t clear yet. The alternate title of the series, “Tales of Agriculture,” suggests that it’s likely to be a episodic microbe-of-the-week show. Whether it continues to be interesting once the concept’s novelty wears off remains to be seen. (I hope the writers don’t try to top kiviak. Ugh.) There was no indication of any romance (though Hasegawa’s outfit hints at something else), so one can hope that Moyashimon will be angst-free. I’ll definitely be watching more of it.
A pleasant surprise (for me; YMMV): the ending theme is by Polysics, the outstanding exponent of hypercaffeinated neo-Devonian rock ‘n’ roll. The lyrics have nothing to do with the show, or anything else, but I don’t mind.
Seven years ago, when Shion was very young, she witnessed her parents’ murder. She hasn’t spoken since then. Under her foster parents’ tutelage, she has become a prodigy at shogi, the Japanese version of chess. The first episode of Shion no Ou deals with events at a women’s shogi tournament. Poor traumatized Shion may be the least complicated character in the series. We’re only one episode in, and already it seems that everyone else has either a secret or an agenda. There are also strange men observing Shion’s every move.
It sounds ridiculously melodramatic, and the story might eventually collapse under its own weight, but the beginning of Shion no Ou is quite watchable. I’m curious to see how it develops.
The second episode of Rental Magica provides some background for the president and the Celtic magic specialist, and the hell with it. I’m sorry, but the story is not interesting and I don’t give a damn about any of the characters.
I enjoyed the second episode of A Young Person’s Mushishi, a.k.a. Mokke, more than the first, partly because it wasn’t the horror story I was expecting. The spirit Mizuki encounters this time is friendly and helpful, but it doesn’t quite get the distinction between right and wrong. The story suffers slightly from preachiness, but not fatally. It looks like this will be a good show for kids.
In my notes earlier about Baccano!, I don’t think I sufficiently indicated that it’s often a very funny show. There’s plenty of bloodshed and fair amount of horror, but comedy is likely to strike at any time, particularly when Isaac and Miria are around. I’d like to put an excerpt or two on the video weblog, such as Isaac’s recounting of their criminal career in the sixth episode, but the fansubs are in Mac-hostile mkv format, grrr.
Update: I added the opening of Baccano! to the video weblog.
Nota bene: as a matter of policy, I do not approve anonymous comments with obviously phony email addresses, e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org.
While waiting for Ghost Hound and Moyashimon, I’ve been watching Baccano! Four episodes in I’m beginning to get some idea of the story. The series could be first-rate, or it could be a massive trainwreck (in more than one sense). We’ll see.
It’s set in Prohibition-era America. The characters cover a wide ethnic range — can you name any other anime featuring a Czeslaw? — though quasi-Italian names predominate. A lot of them are mobsters from the Mafia and the Camorra. Many, if not most of them, are immortal. You can shoot them full of bullets and cut them up, but in a little while the blood oozes back into the bodies, severed fingers and heads reattach themselves, and wounds magically heal without a trace. Some of them are pretty nasty — one is a outright psychopath who favors white suits because splatters of blood show up so brightly. Others seem nice enough.
The story focuses on the events on the train the Flying Pussyfoot ((Originally the Grand Punk Railroad, if I’m interpreting the book titles correctly.)) between Chicago and New York. Something is hidden on the train, perhaps a couple of bottles of immortality elixer, perhaps a bomb. The passengers include many mobsters and many immortals. There are also Isaac and Miria (the former played by Masaya Onosaka at his most clownish), a pair of enthusiastic nitwits to complicate the already complex proceedings. Bloody hijinks ensue.
Ordinarily a show this violent wouldn’t interest me, and if the narrative were presented in straightforward fashion I would have quit after the first episode. Baccano!‘s novelty is that the story is is told in bits and pieces, skipping backward and forward in the years from 1930 to 1932. Following the plot is like assembling a jigsaw puzzle. Even if the series is ultimately disappointing, there is still the pleasure of fitting the pieces together.
The story might be worthwhile. Baccano! is based on a series of light novels, and that is often a good sign. The main problem, aside from the level of violence, is that we never spend much time with any one character. Thus far, most are one-dimensional, though a few of the quieter ones hint at some complexity.
I doubt that Baccano! will ever have much of a following. It expects the viewer to pay close attention and remember what he sees, and some of it is brutal — when I rewatch the series, there are several sections I’ll skip. Still, on the basis of the first four episides, I’d rate it the second-best series from the summer that I’ve sampled, after Mononoke.
The Wikipedia page focuses more on the novels than the anime, but it does have a list of characters that might be helpful to keep on hand while watching. There are no serious spoilers there yet, though that might change.
I’m sitting on top of the parliament building, resisting tear-gas attacks from air force helicopters that circle above me like flies. I will soon enjoy my very last cigarette, my last show of resistance. My comrade, the painter Kusakabe, fell to his death just moments ago, leaving me alone as the last smoker remaining on earth. At this very moment, images of me — highlighted against the night sky by searchlights down below — are probably being relayed live across the country from TV cameras inside the helicopters.
I’ve got three packs left, and I refuse to die before I’ve finished them. So I’ve been chain-smoking two or three at a time. My head feels numb, my eyes are starting to spin. It’s only a matter of time before I, too, fall lifeless to the ground below.
It was only about fifteen or sixteen years ago that the anti-smoking movement started….
And so begins “The Last Smoker,” one of the stories in Yasutaka Tsutsui’s Salmonella Men on Planet Porno and Other Stories. The story chronicles the growth and ultimate triumph of the anti-smoking movement from the point of view of a chain-smoking writer. Desperate though his plight is in the opening paragraphs, an even more dire fate awaits him.
I first became aware of Tsutsui while reading about Satoshi Kon’s Paprika, which is based on one of Tsutsui’s novels. Paprika was ultimately disappointing — spectacular though much of it is, the whole is less than the sum of its parts — but the premise, more fully developed in a book, could be interesting. Toki wo Kakeru Shoujo, a better movie, is a sequel of sorts to another of Tsutsui’s novels. I was curious about him, so I checked Amazon.com to see what was available. Although he is called Japan’s Isaac Asimov, little has been translated into English. There’s a series of Telepathic Wanderer manga, an out-of-print collection of “psychic tales” and Salmonella Men. ((Checking Amazon.com just now, I discovered that there is a newly translated Tsutsui book out, Hell.))
Tsutsui’s stories aren’t much like Asimov’s. In “Rumors About Me,” the narrator finds that his daily activities are the subjects of newscasts and televised panel discussions and are written up in newspapers. In “Don’t Laugh,” an inventor devises a time machine and can’t stop laughing. In “Hello, Hello, Hello!” a self-apppointed financial advisor exhorts the inhabitants of a block of apartments to greater frugality, emerging without warning from the next room, the wardrobe or the toilet to confront the narrator before he wastes any more money. In general, there is little extrapolation and plenty of absurdity. Tsutsui is primarily a satirist in this collection.
The title story is the closest approach to conventional science fiction. Explorers journey at great personal risk through the unnatural hazards of Planet Porno, where “only indecent life forms are allowed to exist.” There is considerable discussion between the narrator and the prudish Dr. Mogamigawa about evolution and devolution. During the Second Green Revolution, we learn, the “obnoxious hippies” were herded onto spaceships and banished from Earth. Perhaps their descendents live in the settlement of Newdopia.
Some of the stories are better than others. The least interesting to me is “Bravo Herr Mozart!”, a nonsensical biography of the composer: “Mozart was born at the age of three. The reason for this is not known. He was born in his father’s house in Salzburg — probably because he didn’t have a mother.” Etc. YMMV. There are several others I’m not likely to revisit. Most, however, are quite readable.
It should be clear by now that Salmonella Men is not the least bit like TokiKake, and that however dark Paprika might be, Tsutsui’s writing is darker. It’s also funnier, with absurdities, slapstick and surprise endings. If you enjoy satire and black humor, Salmonella Men on Planet Porno might be worth your time.
I’m pleased see that The Kawaii Menace is now included at Anime Nano. I’m also a bit embarrassed that my first post listed there had nothing to do with anime, and that this one is only tangentially anime-related.
At the center of Mokke is a pair of sisters. The older one, Shizuru, sees “things a normal human can’t see,” and the younger one, Mizuki, is susceptible to possession by those things. For reasons that will probably be explained later in the series, they left their parents to start a new life with their grandparents in rural Japan. Their grandfather is knowlegeable about those things that Shizuru sees, and he sternly lectures her on what she needs to do to protect Mizuki.
Mokke is a show of modest virtues. It’s a rather cheap-looking production, but there’s otherwise nothing really wrong with it, and I expect that it will be a tolerable kid’s show. The characters are non-neurotic and likeable and the premise has possibilities. Although it looks to be a series of horror stories, it’s not so intense as to give children nightmares (if the first episode is representative).
Shizuru and her impulsive little sister remind me of Yasako and Kyoko from Denno Coil, and the monster in the first episode initially resembles the “illegal” from the first episodes of DC. Shizuru’s ability to see the unseen also suggests parallels to Mushishi. And that is the problem with Mokke. Denno Coil and Mushishi are possibly the two best series since Haibane Renmei. Mokke isn’t bad, but it withers in comparison.
One point in Mokke’s favor: the artists actually know something about botany. The flowers in the picture of Mizuki above are clearly fireweed (Epilobium). During the episode, Mizuki searches for the “seven flowers of autumn,” and they’re recognizably drawn (though I’d quibble with one of the identifications).
I’ll give Rental Magica another chance before I abandon it. It’s about the dog-eat-dog (or monster-eat-monster) world of the rent-a-mage business. This is anime, so most of the mages are high school students. The first half of the first episode introduces a large cast of characters, none of them memorable. There’s a lot of action, but nothing really interesting happens.
In the second half, however, there is a story worth telling about a girl whose grandfather disappeared. If subsequent episodes concentrate on storytelling rather than action and seifuku, this could be a good show.
Shinsen Subs deserves special recognition for annotations beyond the call of duty, or tact.
This is a proper flying broom:
Maybe Ghost Hound will be good. There’s also a show about kawaii bacteria. And that’s about all that looks intereresting this fall.