Off the bandwagon


I just took a second look at the first two episodes of Potemayo to see if I had missed something. Let’s add up the score:

Guchuko: +20
Very sharp ax: +5
Energy beams: +5
Potemayo: +5
Sunao: +3
Kyo: +1
Bird: +1
Bird crap: -1
Mikan: -5
Nosebleeds: -5
Girls with nosebleeds: -10
Boys in skirts: -15
Bro-something Mountain: -20

Final score: -16. Much as I like Guchuko, there’s not enough of her to warrant enduring the rest of the show.

Post script: I forgot about Guchuko’s roll of tape, which is certainly worth at least a +5. That still only brings the total up to -11.

That contraptious shooting star


How high the moon? (Ginjiro, Seikichi, Sora)

I’m tempted to say that Oh! Edo Rocket is an anime unlike other anime, but in fact I am reminded of several other shows. Like Jubei-Chan I, it oscillates between farce and drama; like Excel Saga, it’s wildly off-the-wall; like Noir, there’s potentially a complex story behind the story (as of episode ten — there are sixteen more to go, plenty of time for the writers to make a hash of things). Nevertheless, there really is nothing quite like Oh! Edo Rocket‘s combination of broad comedy, science fiction, history, horror, romance, parody and nonsense.

The premise is that in early 1840’s Edo, where all “luxuries” are outlawed, the strange girl Sora asks the fireworks maker Seikichi to make her fireworks that will reach the moon. By a curious coincidence, the residents of the row house where Seikichi lives include an expert carpenter, a tile-maker, the best mechanic in Edo and two mathematicians, among other eccentrics, all of whom are fascinated by the idea of a rocket to the moon. Meanwhile, “sky beasts” appear in the area, some of which have a taste for the blood of young women.


Overall, silliness dominates, from the character designs to the blatant anachronisms. The writers will do anything for a laugh. ((They do draw the line at offensive and gross-out humor.)) Ginjiro the locksmith goes fishing and catches a teevee set. Shunpei the proto-nerd keeps a pocket calculator in his room. There’s a henshin sequence involving a sort of sentai team; however, instead of cute magical girls, the transformees are homely adult men. At one point four of the characters are turned into cats, who perform a jazzy musical number. And then there is the crazed fireworks maker Tetsuju the Fuse, who drinks at a bar staffed by tanuki. And a flaky magistrate. And a girl with Tenchi Muyo-esque hair. And so on. (I’ve uploaded clips of Tetsuju’s first appearance and the singing cats to the video weblog.)

Despite all the absurdities, the story moves steadily forward. It’s not all foolishness. Some parts of Oh! Edo Rocket are nightmarish. Although the opening animation focuses on Seikichi and Sora, the central character is actually Ginjiro, who early on declares that he only does what is fun. As his past is revealed, it becomes clear that his attitude is inspired by bitterness, not frivolity. He is involved in nearly all the sub-plots, and he will likely face the most complex decisions of any of the characters as the series reaches its climax.


The art and the music deserve mention. The backgrounds (and occasionally foregrounds) look like paintings and contrast with the crisp lines of the character art. The effect is that Ginjiro et al seem like actors on a stage. The opening and closing themes may be listenable J-pop, but the background music is mostly big-band jazz.

Pink Supervisor


In Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, or So Long, Mr. Despair, the pessimistic teacher Nozomu Itoshiki, who begins each episode with a suicide attempt, discovers the implacably optimistic girl Fuura Kafuka (does that name sound familiar?) in his class. Her classmates through the second episode include a hikikomori, an obsessive-compulsive perfectionist, a girl who communicates only through text messaging, and a stalker; undoubtedly there will be many other healthy-minded young people to meet in the remaining ten episodes of this grim farce.

The opening is the cheapest I’ve seen, just text with do-it-yourself music. Overall, I would describe the production as economical, if occasionally elegant in its low-budget way. It suits the one-dimensional characters and absurd stories well. The show is noteworthy for its graffiti: the chalkboard features comments and wisecracks from Koji Kumeta, the artist responsible for the manga on which the anime is based. There are also jokes for otaku, though the show doesn’t depend on them the way Lucky Star and Hayate do.

Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei is obviously not for everyone. I’ve uploaded the first eight seconds of the first episode to my video weblog. If you find it amusing, you might want to check out the series.


Update: Astro is also watching Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and he has many more screen captures. (I would guess that the guy whose face turns up in all the odd places is Kumeta.)

Update II: It occurs to me that SZS is anime as Edward Gorey would have done it.


This is likely my last substantive post for a while. I picked up Harry Potter #7 yesterday (I want to see for myself what happens before anyone spoils it for me), which will probably take care of the rest of today. Tomorrow my New Toy is scheduled to arrive, and that will occupy all my free time for a week or two or three. I’ll be back eventually, and perhaps by then there will be fresh episodes of Denno Coil, Oh! Edo Rocket and maybe even Master of Epic waiting for me.



In the summer of 1842, anything that’s fun is illegal in Edo. This includes all forms of entertainment, technological innovations and, in particular, fireworks. The policeman Akai assiduously enforces the law with a particular emphasis on the Furai terrace house, whose inhabitants include the fireworks artisan Seikichi and his mathematician brother Shunpei. One day, after an unpleasant encounter with Akai, Seikichi returns to his room to find a strange, pretty young woman with stars in her eyes (literally) and blue hair who tells him to call her “Sora.” She has a modest request for him: can he make a rocket that will go to the moon?

Oh! Edo Rocket is a collection of disparate elements, starting with the character art. There are at least three distinct styles represented. Seikichi, Shunpei and Sora have classic anime big eyes and small (but definite) noses. (Their mouths are larger than is standard nowadays, though. Seikichi’s is downright big.) Akai, the locksmith Ginjiro and other older characters have normal-sized eyes and relatively realistic faces, and they are considerably taller than Seikichi. Finally, there’s a collection of cartoony grotesques who could have stepped out of a Jay Ward production. These all are as short as Boris Badenov, barely reaching Ginjiro’s knee, with oversized heads. (I posted a portrait gallery earlier.)


In addition to these, there are strange creatures lurking about. One of these is a pale “sky beast,” apparently intelligent, and capable of zapping its enemies with electrical discharges. The magistrate Torii and his secret police pursue the creature, but as of episode two they have yet to capture it.


Other elements include a jazz soundtrack, frequent anachronisms and breaks in the fourth wall. There’s a self-pitying effeminate bishounen whom nobody notices. There aren’t any meganekko or nekomimi so far, but there is Onui, the “watchdog for public morality,” who is distinctly puppyish. There are giant rabbits on the moon.


Oh! Edo Rocket is mostly farce, but there’s menace under the comedy. The inventor Shinsa is hauled off to jail at the end of the first episode. He returns in the second, covered from head to toe with bandages because he refused to inform on Seikichi. The heavily armored secret police are absurd — one travels by turning cartwheels so quickly that he is a blur — but they are also scary. The regular police seem as competent as the Keystone Cops, but Akai is observant enough to be dangerous.

Whether the show’s creators can pull all these heterogenous elements into a unified whole remains to be seen. A stage play, a novel and an earlier television series preceeded the anime, so presumably the writers have some idea of where they’re going with the story. There’s nothing else much like it, so I’ll probably continue to follow it.



Recently Astro counted down his picks for the best anime openings. Yesterday Steven discussed what an opening needs to do and surveys a number of examples, good and bad. Shingu may indeed have the worst opening ever, but I can think of a couple of alternative picks. NieA_7‘s isn’t bad — if you have the sound off. (In compensation, the ending is charming.) Mushishi‘s is nowhere near as obnoxious, but it’s dull, with an annoying song ((This may be excessively harsh, but I’ve heard far too many singer/guitarists with thin voices over the years.)) and abstract, yet bland, imagery, and it tells you nothing about the show.

The eighth life


I’m down to three fansubs: two substantial stories, Denno Coil and Seirei no Moribito, and a cheesy entertainment, Murder Princess. ((I might add Oh! Edo Rocket to the list, depending on how good the second episode is. I hope to see more of the Waragetcha 5, but the translation of Master of Epic proceeds very slowly. I may resume watching Darker Than Black, Claymore and El Cazador, depending on what I read about further episodes.)) At this point, I think that DC and SnM are the two best shows of the year and better than anything from last year. ((I count Mushishi as a 2005 series.)) (I reserve the right to change my mind if either turns stupid, but I doubt that will happen.) I hesitate to write any more about the former lest I oversell it, ((Here’s the Denno Coil opening and trailer combined, which hints at the quality of the production and the tone.)) but latter deserves some comment.


Seirei no Moribito, or Guardian of the Sacred Spirit, is set in a mythical Asian land. Balsa, an expert spearwoman, rescues the prince Chagum from drowning when the oxcart he is traveling in falls off a bridge. His mother subsequently asks Balsa to be his bodyguard. Chagum needs one; he contains within himself the egg of a water spirit, and for reasons connected with that, his father the emperor wants him dead. Thus far, Balsa and Chagum have evaded the assassins, and eleven-year-old Chagum is learning about life outside the palace.

Production values are high, but the appeal of Seirei no Moribito is in the characters and story. Balsa and Chagum are fully-realized three-dimensional, sympathetic characters. Chagum in particular is appealing, combining a deep sense of responsibiility with childish naiveté. It is easy to imagine him growing up to be emperor someday.

Seirei no Moribito is based on a series of novels by Nahoko Uehashi. The makers of the anime have enough confidence in the story that they don’t feel any need to make every episode action-packed. When there is fighting, it’s spectacular (here are excerpts from the third episode ((This is mildly spoilerish, but you don’t really expect the central characters to be killed off that early, do you?)) ), but it’s sparse. The eighth episode is particularly suspenseful, and it’s mostly just characters talking and telling stories.


One element worth noting is that, although Balsa and Chagum don’t lack enemies, none of the characters thus far are evil, not even the emperor who orders his son’s death. The imperial diviners have discovered ominous signs that may be connected with the water spirit, or demon, within the prince, and the emperor’s decision, tragically wrong though it may be, is understandable. (My hunch is that there is indeed a connection, but it’s not what they think, and Chagum’s death would be disastrous.)

I’m violating my usual policy in watching Seirei no Moribito. Hitherto, I have never downloaded a fansub of a show once a license was announced (it’s going to be a long time before I know how Death Note ends). My feeble excuse is that this is one of the best series I’ve seen in a long time, I’m impatient to see the rest, and there is as yet no mention of it under either title on the Geneon website. If you have the self-control, the ideal course of action is to emulate Wabi Sabi: wait until the entire series is available, and then marathon the show. Here in region 1, that could quite possibly involve a two-year wait.

How to enjoy Rocket Girls

A: Pay close attention to every detail. Note the impossibilities, e.g., the helicopter flight in the first episode, and the implausibilities, e.g., damn near everything else. Chuckle at the absurdities.

B: Turn off your critical faculties and enjoy the series for what is: a bit of unpretentious low-budget science-fantasy fluff.


Ultimately, it comes down to whether the engineering fanservice and skintight spacesuits compensate for the ugly computer animation. I enjoyed the show. YMMV.

Update: See also the anonymous Author’s commentary.

Mojo! Mojo! Mojo! Mojo!


The second episode of Denno Coil introduces the adult members of Yuko/Yasako’s ((Yuko asks her friends to call her “Yasako.”)) family and adds another layer of complexity to the story. We meet her parents, but it’s Mega-baa, her grandmother, who dominates the episode. The crafty old woman runs the combination sweets store and cybershop where Fumie buys her kuro bug spray and other toys. Mega-baa can cure Yasako’s cyberpet of its virus, but there’s a price.

The connections between the real and virtual worlds become increasingly complicated. “Satchii,” a powerful but stupid antivirus program, cannot enter homes, schools or Shinto shrines. By slapping the appropriate “metatag” on the traffic light post, Fumie can change them to red — useful when Satchii is chasing the girls. By slapping a different metatag on Yasako’s forehead, Fumie enables her to fire beams from her glasses. (The beams looks like bolts of energy, but they seem seem to act by disrupting data, causing flickering gaps where they strike.)


There is evidence that the humans in Daikoku City are themselves at least partly cybernetic. There’s also the puzzle that, although Yasako can pick up and hold Densuke, implying that there is some tactile feedback, she can’t tell if he is as soft and fluffy as he looks.


Besides the cybernetic paradoxes, Yasako also discovers that she may have forgotten important details of an earlier visit to Daikoku City when she was quite young. As she investigates the mysteries of the city, Yasako will likely discover much about herself and her family.

It’s too early to be sure, but I think that Denno Coil is probably the outstanding show of the spring. ((The other contenders are Seirei no Moribito, about which I’ll try to write something coherent soon, and Darker Than Black, the first two episodes of which are excellent, though it’s not what I enjoy. Astro discusses the latter here.)) These two episodes are as re-watchable as the first three of Kamichu! Everything is done well. The colors are muted, suggesting water colors, and the character designs are simple but expressive. There’s no cloying KyoAni prettiness here; instead, this highly artificial world seems natural and believeable. Yasako is an attractive character, and Mega-baa is quite formidable and interesting.


Thus far, Mitsuo Iso and company have been introducing the characters and setting up the rules of their world. What the story will ultimately be is not clear yet. Iso’s theme, according to one writer, is “the distance that separates everyone.” It’s not much in evidence yet, but there are twenty-four episodes to go. If Denno Coil ends as well as it begins, it might be a classic. (Of course, it could degenerate into an illogical mess, but given how sure-footed these two episodes are, I think we can reasonably hope for the best.)

A young person’s guide to cyberspace


Yuko, newly arrived in Daikoku City with her impulsive little sister Kyoko, loses her dog Densuke when it chases an “illegal” — a sort of computer virus — through a hole in a fence into an “obsolete” cyberspace. Fumie’s business is retrieving lost cyberpets, and Yuko hires her to rescue Densuke. It’s a more difficult job than they anticipate.

Episode one of Denno Coil is the first episode of any of this season’s series that I watched a second time, which automatically makes it the coolest show currently being broadcast. In some respects, it really does seem like Serial Experiments Lain retold for youngsters. Virtual spaces are coincident with the everyday world, and one can open holes to the cyberspaces with “bug” spray. Children have cyberpets that look and behave like real dogs and cats but are visible only to those who wear special glasses. It is possible to pick up and hold these pets, and they can freely pass through the holes into cyberspaces. They don’t like it when you drop a backpack on/through them. Numerous small floating spheres constantly monitor Daikoku City for cybernetic breaches, blasting suspicious areas with a sort of ray.


The first episode is very promising. The characters have distinct, non-cliche personalities, and the Denno Coil universe is the most interesting I’ve come across recently. Whether Denno Coil remains cool depends in part in how carefully and consistently director and writer Mitsuo Iso works out the logic of the intersecting real and virtual worlds. It also depends on whether he has twenty-six episodes’ worth of story to tell. The character designs are simplified but serviceable (though the characters who wear visors instead of glasses look like they have pig noses), and the art and the animation are adequate. The background music sounds interesting when I’m aware of it.


Children’s theatre of the absurd


There’s a mysterious door in the floor of five-year-old Ami’s room in her family’s new home. It leads to Animal Yokocho, or AniYoko, a parallel universe inhabited by talking animals. Three of the animals pop out of the door every day to play with Ami: Kenta, the high-strung bear; Issa, the gentle panda; and, Iyo, the playful, deranged rabbit. They do things differently in AniYoko:

Continue reading “Children’s theatre of the absurd”



I could complain about the manifold implausibilites of Rocket Girls, but it would be pointless. How can you expect logic in a universe where a space agency drafts random high school girls to be astronauts merely because they’re lightweight? Instead, it’s better to focus on the incidental pleasures, such as classic calculators


or cigarette lighters


or girls wearing skin-tight space suits. (Never mind that the suits are basically three millimeters of silicone rubber, and the story is set in the tropics. Heatstroke doesn’t happen in anime.)


The story zips right along, and there’s no time for teen angst. Yukari, spending her vacation in the Solomon Islands looking for her father who disappeared seventeen years ago, is variously bewildered, shocked, appalled, outraged, exasperated, disgusted and just plain angry as she learns just what her “part-time job” entails and discovers a few things about her family. If Yukari really had sense, she would run away from all these crazy people as fast as she could, but then there would be no anime. She’s soon joined by Matsuri, a native islander, and one of Yukari’s classmates from Japan should arrive on the island shortly.


Despite all the nonsense and the bad computer animation, Rocket Girls is enjoyable. It’s partly because it doesn’t take itself terribly seriously, and partly because, although the show gets the details wrong, it gets the story right. The people who made Rocket Girls, I think, really do want to go into space.



Ludicrous though it is as Shakespeare, if you ignore the characters’ names, Romeo x Juliet becomes a generic fantasy action show, a bit slicker than most but otherwise of no particular distinction. If it’s something truly ridiculous you want, I recommend Sisters of Wellber. In the first episode we have swords, guns, sword-guns, plate armor, a fairy, cigarettes, facial markings, a guy named Galahad, artificial intelligence and a tank that talks too much. There’s also mention of a “Killer Bee Man.” This isn’t schizotech; this is just plain silly. I suppose it’s part of the writers’ strategy: if anything can happen, you don’t have to worry about consistency. What’s frustrating is that there might be a decent story about interesting characters here — the principals are a princess who may or may not have killed a prince from a different kingdom, and the thief who becomes her protector — but it’s lost under all the senseless gimmicks.

I’m back



I had planned to sneer at Koutetsu Sangokushi this evening, but it’s late and I’m tired. I’ll just note that it uses many of the same motifs as Bakumatsu Kikansetsu Irohanihoheto, from the red star to the mysterious, powerful talisman, and makes them stupid. Imagine BKI as a bad video game adaptation and you’ll be close. (I think it really was deliberately modeled on BKI; there are too many parallels to be coincidental.) Koutetsu Sangokushi‘s only virtue is that it illustrates by contrast just how well-done BKI is.


Yes, they’re both guys