PenguinDust (Level 13)

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Decades of K-On!
Decades of K-On!

I was reading Kotaku this morning and an article about the evolution of anime styles caught my eye. The post featured an image of how K-On! would have looked had it been made in each of the previous decades dating back to the 1960’s with an tongue-in-cheek bonus ukiyo-e styled print added at the end. Many of us are familiar with the maturation of Belldandy’s look in the Ah My Goddess manga and it serves as a good example of design trends over a period of time.

In reading the comments regarding the article, one reply suggested that the 90’s look wasn’t all that prevalent during the decade. The comparison was made to Saber Marionette J (1997), and it was characterized as being unique. I didn’t find that to be true at all. In fact, like the K-On satirist, I identify that style specifically with the 1990’s. I see that character design influence in:

  1. Tenchi Muyo! Ryo-Ohki (1992)
  2. Magic Knight Rayearth (1994)
  3. Blue Seed (1994)
  4. Dirty Pair Flash (1994)
  5. The Slayers (1995)
  6. Burn Up W (1996)
  7. Martian Successor Nadesico (1996)
  8. Rurouni Kenshin (1996)
  9. Hyper Police (1997)
  10. Knights of Ramune (1997)
  11. Battle Athletes Victory (1997)
  12. Lost Universe (1998)

There are many shows from this same time period with different art styles than this; some subtly so (El Hazard the Magnificent World ~ 1995) while others more definitive (Serial Experiments Lain ~ 1998). I do not think that everything from the 90’s looks the same, but I do think there was a “look” to the decade.

That thought made me wonder what shows exemplify the look for the current generation of anime. Is it K-On? I remember remarks about Sora no Woto K-On-like appearance and I, myself thought that this summer’s Kokoro Connect was a spin-off or something.

I think it’s what’s become the traditional moé design as seen in Clannad and Lucky Star. I can see that style repeated in a variety of romantic comedies of varying quality such as Hayate the Combat Butler to Kanokon. Hell, Tayutama -Kiss on my Deity-, Haruka Nogizaka`s Secret and Goshuushou-sama Ninomiya-kun are practically indistinguishable from each other. If there are complaints about modern anime (we’ve all heard or voiced them in abundance) it’s that it looks the same. I don’t believe the detractors are just talking about clichéd characters and unimaginative story development, but also about monotony within the art itself. This decision to cash-in on the moé popularity is ultimately what killed it. While I remain a fan of the romantic comedy genre, I’m not sorry to see its recent signature style go.

That actually makes me wonder what influence will proliferate the medium next. What anime will represent anime’s look into the next decade?

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"You like WHAT?!"
"You like WHAT?!"

Looking over EquitasInvictus’ “Just Anime” thread Generally Unpopular/Controversial Anime Series (Guilty Pleasures) again, I was curious to see what shows people consider shameful. Perhaps that’s too strong a term, but anime communities, local and online, tend to form broadly accepted opinions of what’s good and what’s bad; the respected versus the undesirable. The latter doesn’t necessarily equate to poor quality but only that some element of a show falls outside what is welcomed by the group. All-to-familiar story formulas, clichéd characters, gratuitous sexuality, and genres that don’t specifically target the demographic of the community can all contribute to a show’s unpopularity. Whatever the reason, mentioning that you enjoy some shows can be met with praise or repugnance.

Holmes and the Count
Holmes and the Count

For the titles we suspect are ill-favored, we call them our “guilty pleasures”. The expression publicly devalues a series, but in doing so, makes it acceptable. The purpose may be two-fold. First to inform the group that you understand that your appreciation for a show isn’t commendable and that their opinion of you should not diminish based on those affinities alone. Second, to categorize within our minds what has greater value. Some shows either set the standard or try to break free of mediocrity. When they accomplish that they deserve to be held in higher esteem. Entertaining titles that remain conventional or unsophisticated are placed lower within our personal hierarchy. Perhaps that’s just an excuse, however, which allows us to enjoy something we recognize as inferior. How else do we quantify the satisfaction we feel from both Tantei Opera Milky Holmes and Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo?

The cure for what ails me
The cure for what ails me

I’m no different than anyone and I have labeled several of the franchises I have a propensity for as guilty pleasures. I have strong enthusiasm for the Pretty Cure/PreCure franchise. I like the lighthearted stories of plucky, extravagantly dressed, young girls fighting for the dreams of their loved ones. Being marketed toward juveniles, they purposely don’t challenge my adult mind, but that doesn’t lessen the good feeling I have while watching. My head maybe left wanting, but the joy within my heart is equal to that received from more substantial shows. Having said that, the series isn’t something I expect others to extol. I may sing the praises of Suite PreCure here, but I’m not truly seeking converts.

"Have you no shame?"
"Have you no shame?"

There is another side to this coin, though. Those shows we unabashedly cherish and deem worthy of unquestioned respect; the stories and characters that transform us from mere fans into vocal advocates. They are central to our anime-loving identity. Here just as with “guilty pleasures” our passions may be rebuffed by our community. Apathy, misinformed preconceptions, and a general reluctance to experiment outside the familiar can explain the community's rejection of our beloved properties. How we accept that defines our bonds. If we are reluctant to promote or defend a series, we may harbor some of the shame earlier explored. However, if we defiantly persist in our acclaim, our affection for the show becomes a source of our pride.

For me, shows from the 80’s through the early 90’s provide the most self-satisfaction. As I’ve noted in the past, my introduction to anime began with the programs of the 1970’s, but my obsession didn’t take root until years later. Every morning I’d wake up early enough so that I could watch Robotech uninterrupted before venturing off to school. As I grew older, I would routinely travel a hundred miles to anime dealers in search of new video tapes. I attended paltry conventions held in the back of public libraries to watch raw footage and accumulated mangas from sellers in “Little Tokyo” undoubtedly amused by my illiterate purchases. This is the foundation that formed my love for the medium, so even today when I watch something from that time period; I appreciate it with a greater attachment.

Lum with Ataru and Kyoko with Godai
Lum with Ataru and Kyoko with Godai

Anime based on the works of Rumiko Takahashi generate the strongest affection within me specifically Urusei Yatsura (1981) and Maison Ikkoku (1986). With her creation, Lum Invader, Takahashi significantly contributed to archetype of the “magic girlfriend” and the harem genre at a time when those concepts were still fresh and undefined. She followed those fanciful comic hijinks with a more down-to-earth romance in Maison Ikkoku. It explored a five-year, frustration-filled courtship between a hapless college student and apprehensive apartment manager. The complete satisfaction I felt at the end has rarely been duplicated among other series.

Other shows affixed to my anime-pride include Tsukasa Hojo’s City Hunter (1987), Haruka Takachiho and Yoshikazu Yasuhiko’s creation of The Dirty Pair (1985) and Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (1990) created by Toho, Group TAC, Gainax from a concept by Hayao Miyazaki.

When I talk about these shows, I am confident in my feelings. My resolve is certain and I unequivocally believe in them. It comes from a different place in my heart than my love for favorites Gintama, Eureka 7, One Piece or even my most cherished School Rumble. Simply put, the fulfillment they provide strengthens my fondness for the hobby.

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Hello again!
Hello again!

I haven’t written anything in a long time, so I am jotting down these few impressions while I’m in the mood. I hope to cover in brief everything I’ve seen since my last blog ages ago.

Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ

Judau (front) Kamille (left) Amuro (rear)
Judau (front) Kamille (left) Amuro (rear)

Recently I finished watching Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ and some things ran through my mind while enjoying it. I finished off the preceding series in the franchise, Mobile Suit Zeta Gundam a few months earlier and it was one of the few shows I actively had to force myself to continue. I am a big fan of the original Mobile Suit Gundam from 1979, and Zeta Gundam follows that one directly. The tone of the show is much darker though. In fact, I would describe it as bleak, pessimistic and angry. Furthermore, I found the show’s main protagonist, Kamille Bidan to be an insufferable prick most of the time. I really didn’t like him at all and that made the whole series difficult to watch. Fortunately, Amuro Ray of MSG’79 was in a few episodes and Char Aznable returned for the sequel, as well. So, with a few elements to keep me involved I managed to make my way the whole thing.

Gundam ZZ - Cello and Chara
Gundam ZZ - Cello and Chara

I was reluctant to watch MSG ZZ after my experience with Zeta Gundam, but I’d been on a magical girl kick for a while and I felt like I needed a change following the uncorrupted innocence of Cardcaptor Sakura and the enthusiastic demeanor of Pretty Cure Splash Star’s heroines. Sandwiched in between those two was xxxHolic which was more sullen, but an occult-themed show wasn’t something I desired at the time. No, “space” would satisfy me. So, I approached Double Zeta prepared for plenty of pathos. I must say, what I found was quite a surprise. Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ is a farcical comedy for maybe as much as a third of it. I don’t believe that anyone dies during the first dozen episodes which, if you know Gundam, is practically unheard of. The protagonist this time, Judau Ashta, was a much more carefree guy and quite the opposite of Kamille. He tried to avoid conflict, he sought to improve the lives of people he cared about and harbored no ill-will towards anyone. With a crew of delinquents, he schemed to steal the Zeta Gundam robot from the war battered Argama spaceship and sell it for parts! The villains for the show were equally off-beat. Mashymre Cello was a rose twirling, overly theatrical Zeon noble and Chara Soon; a bawdy, busty woman with two-toned hair. She would become sexually aroused when in a mobile suit and stroked the control sticks with eager anticipation. I laughed out loud at their antics quite a few times.

Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ crew
Mobile Suit Gundam ZZ crew

I read somewhere that the director of the series, Yoshiyuki Tomino suffered from depression and that impacted the Gundam franchise during his tenure. [source] I haven’t seen the two succeeding Gundam series’ MS Victory Gundam or Turn A-Gundam, but they are supposed to be similarly different. Victory Gundam is said to be a bloodbath for heroes and villains. Tomino gained a nickname in anime for his ruthless disposal of characters; “Kill’em All Tomino”. So, I wondered how the personal lives of anime writers and directors influenced their shows over time. If he was going through a rough time with his illness, the cast of whichever series he was working on could reflect that despair. If he was calm or even manically upbeat, the show might turn into a silly satire as was possibly the case with ZZ.

After about episode 16, Double Zeta leveled off and became a more traditional show with an appropriate balance of lightheartedness and tragedy. The contrast between the Zeta Gundam and Double Zeta was startling to me initially and I wondered if their disparity was due Tomino’s health or audience reaction. It also made me think about how much control anime directors have today versus thirty years ago.

Hime-sama Goyoujin

Tsubaki Himeko
Tsubaki Himeko

After all that Gundam, I watched Hime-sama Goyoujin. Following the rollercoaster of Gundam ZZ, this one fulfilled my appetite for something silly. It was very very silly. It was about a ditzy high school girl who finds a bulbous crown that turns her into the queen of Japan while wearing it. An assortment of wacky thieves and assassins are out to steal it from her, too. Oh and there’s some pink space cats who open a ramen shop. The most remarkable thing was that the show had an engaging, if erratic plot where the end of one episode opened the following show. A big, long arc of insanity.

That’s that for now. Hopefully the next one won’t be six months in the making.

Oh, I wanted to recommend the Powerpuff Girls doujin over on snafu-comics.com. It’s a web-comic with a strong anime style. The story focuses on the Powerpuff Girls in 4th or 5th grade but includes appearances by a ton of Cartoon Network and Nickelodeon characters such as Dexter – Boy Genius, Samurai Jack, XJ9 (Jenny), Hoop and the Megas, Invader Zim, Billy and Mandy, and others. There are around 240 pages up online to read right now, so check it out if you’re a fan of the girls or 90’s cartoons. I think a new page goes up every week, but don't quote me on it.

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Saki from To Love~Ru 
Saki from To Love~Ru 
No excuses this week to open things up.  Instead I want to talk about one of my favorite mannerisms unique to anime; the noblewoman’s laugh.  This is the arrogant shrill cackle that female characters inflict upon the ears of those they view as beneath them.  I believe it might be the feminine equivalent of the mad scientist’s maniacal laughter.  For some reason, hearing this grating sound makes me happy.  Perhaps I am exposing some hidden affinity for masochism, but I love it when the lady-in-question places one hand slightly over her mouth, tosses her head back and lets it roar.   The position of the hand adds a touch of refinement to the outrageous bravado and reaffirms her as a woman of culture.  “OH-AHa-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-ha-haaa!”  Is there a sweeter sound ever heard?  I think not!  
  
  

Mitsudomoe (Seasons 1 & 2) 

 Mitsudomoe
 Mitsudomoe
Do you remember that episode of Three’s Company where Mr. Roper eavesdropped and overheard Jack and Chrissy talking?  He unwittingly misinterpreted their conversation and believed that they were chatting about something really dirty, when it was actually something innocent and mundane.  Yes, yes, I know…”Wasn’t that all of them?”  The point I am trying to make is that the misunderstandings led to hilarious pandemonium; each side reacting and responding, completely ignorant to the other’s true purpose.  That comedic structure lives on in the zany and outlandish anime, Mitsudomoe.  It’s possibly my favorite anime of 2010.  I have enjoyed quite a few smart and funny shows this past year, but this one excelled beyond being just that.  I altered my current viewing habits for it.  Normally, I wait at least a year before re-watching a series, but I’ve seen Mitsudomoe three times already and I know that won’t be the last.  It’s just so enjoyable and irreverent and ridiculous that I can’t help myself from wanting to experience the mayhem over and over again.  

Yabecchi meets the Marui Sisters
Yabecchi meets the Marui Sisters
Mitsudomoe is primarily about the three Marui sisters and their lives at school and home.  The girls are referred to as “eldest”, “middle”, and “youngest” but they’re triplets, so that only refers to the order in which they popped from their mother’s womb.  They attend the same classroom, 6-3 at their elementary school under the tutelage of novice teacher, Satoshi Yabe who they along with their classmates call “Yabecchi”.  He entered into their lives full of hope; resolute to meet the challenge of guiding his young students to become good citizens of Japan, but his positive demeanor was abruptly crushed once he experienced the troublesome trio first hand. The three have a knack for causing and exacerbating chaos, although with no malicious intent.  They are not mischievous girls, at least no more than any child their age, but they have very dominant personalities and that invites others to follow or challenge their individuality.  They’re popular and well liked even among their classroom rivals; however because they always seem to be at the center of turmoil they have gained a certain reputation among the school’s faculty.  I suspect Yabecchi is considered “fresh meat for the lions” by his fellow colleagues.  At home, the girls are cared for by their father, Soujirou.  His character design is different from all the others.  It’s very sketchy and emphasizes how suspicious other adults view him.  He is repeatedly arrested by the police believing him to be a pedophile or some other criminal type.  In truth he’s a very good father who is protective and loving to the three even when they are the cause of his incarceration.  

Mitsuba & Miku
Mitsuba & Miku
I can’t say which my favorite is since they are all very different and equally appealing.  Mitsuba is the oldest and the most antagonistic of the siblings.  She is very much the “Ojou” (Princess) type personality, but not in the regal and cultured way.  She is overbearing, demanding, and belittles those around her.  Like the Queen of Hearts she seeks adoration through domination and subjugation. Her greatest desire is for others to use the most respectful honorifics when speaking to her.  Her inflated ego often puts her at odds with fellow classmate, Miku Sugisaki, a wealthy girl with an equally imperial personality.  Despite their rivalry or perhaps because of it, the two are friends.  They spend a lot of time together, and when they aren’t arguing and insulting each other, there are brief acts of kindness.  It’s likely that they see the other as the only one equal to their own resplendence. 

Futaba & Shinya
Futaba & Shinya
Mitsuba’s true foil doesn’t come from Miku, but rather the middle sister, Futaba.  Like a bull in a china shop, she is impossibly strong and unintentionally destructive.  The humorous excuse, “I guess I don’t know my own strength” applies to her; she punches holes through walls, tosses classmates around like rag dolls, and routinely knocks Mitsuba unconscious and bloody.  She can burst a soccer ball with the force of her kick.  Her Herculean athleticism is matched by an enthusiastic and positive personality.  She is practically always cheerful and honestly perplexed when others are troubled.  She enjoys helping although her innocence and simplemindedness usually results in further embarrassment for the aided person.  She has a very close relationship with her father, and spends most of her time with male classmates, Shinya Satou and Yuudai Chiba.  Futaba’s most unique trait is her passion for bosoms.  She is obsessed with boobs, big and bouncy.  Her considerable artistic talents are often used to render the nude female figure in uncompromising detail.  This fetishism along with her physical prowess makes her popular with the boys. 

Hitoha with Father & Sakiko
Hitoha with Father & Sakiko
The final member of the trio is youngest sister, Hitoha. Dark-haired and distant, she resembles any of the evil ghost children seen in Japanese horror movies like Ringu (1998) and Ju-on: The Grudge (2003).  She is soft spoken and keeps mostly to herself preferring to read quietly alone, but her eerie façade masks a warm, shy girl yearning to engage others.  Like Futaba she has an interest in eroticism; however she prefers the written word over images.  The books she is seen reading are suggested to be shockingly lewd.  Anyone attempting to obtain one of her light-novels has the open pages smothered into their face leaving them paralyzed by sexual bliss.   Most, however, are deterred by the soul sucking vortex of her displeasured aura beforehand.  This chilling barrier enables her solitude but also inhibits her interaction with other children.  Many of the other kids bound between liking her and being actively frightened of her.  The one exception, much to her distress, is Sakiko Matsuoka, an occult fanatic who is convinced that Hitoha is a paranormal sensitive exorcist constantly in battle with unseen demonic forces.  In addition to her literary interests, Hitoha harbors a secret passion for a Power Rangers-like TVshow called Gachi-Rangers.  It’s a subject she aches to share, but the imagined ridicule obstructs her every attempt.  She is at her most vulnerable when concerned with animals.  She takes care of the class hamster and later adopts a pet for the family.    


The 3 Marui Sisters
The 3 Marui Sisters
In one essay I read online about Mitsudomoe, the author related the three Marui siblings to the Hecate sisters of Greek myth who are often depicted as maiden, mother and crone.   In this instance, innocent Futaba is the maiden, bossy Mitsuba as the mother and gloomy Hitoha as the crone.  I can see the comparison, although I prefer to see them more as examples of the three dominant female archetypes in modern anime; tsundere, yandere and kuudere.  I perceive Mitsuba as the tsundere, or hostile on the outside, warm on the inside.  Futaba then becomes the yandere meaning loving on the outside but exhibiting a violent and destructive nature.  While she doesn’t have the harmful mental instability commonly associated with the personality-type, she is oblivious to her own power and that naïveté is equally threatening.  Finally, Hitoha exemplifies the kuudere type which is cold and somber on the surface but loving beneath a grave exterior.   Both analogies apply and one may have given birth to the other.  Good stories and good characters are timeless.  Either way, creator Norio Sakurai obviously put some thought into their design.  

  
What?! The Pink Gachi Ranger -- NUDE?!
What?! The Pink Gachi Ranger -- NUDE?!
The first season of Mitsudomoe is comprised of twelve episodes and the second, Mitsudomoe Zouryouchuu, follows through with an additional eight.  I believe the forth coming Blu-ray releases of both volumes will include an additional episode bringing the series final total to twenty-two.  The shows themselves are independent comic slice-of-life stories usually two to four per episode.  While there is no overall story arc, there is a momentum to the series meaning incidents from early shows are sometimes referred to later on.  Each little tale has impact on the cast and that creates a connection between the audience and the characters.  What’s more, there are multiple facets to each character’s personality including the subordinate cast members which makes them interesting and surprising.  One of my favorite examples is Shinya, Futaba’s friend.  Early on, he’s seen as a real cool guy who all the girls adore but about a third of the way through he’s labeled a pervert and has to deal with that misconception for the rest of the series.  It’s hilarious to watch him struggle with the stigma. I really can’t say enough about this treasured delight other than to urge fans of comedic anime to seek it out and watch it.  It’s very funny.   

Megane na Kanojo 

Megane ni Kanojo 4 part OVA series
Megane ni Kanojo 4 part OVA series
Anyone experienced in the world of anime is familiar with the term “moé”.  In the beginning it meant having an acute interest in a specific element, but over time its definition was expanded and corrupted to primarily mean young, cute anime girls.  Megane na Kanojo takes a page from both descriptions and tells the stories of four bespectacled girls and their encounters with romance.  These heroines are all cute and they all wear glasses.  That last detail is the focus of these short stories with an eyeglass shop serving as the common locale between the four tales.  I believe I’ve confessed a couple of my predilections in past blogs; a weakness for girls in glasses is certainly among them.  Having declared that, you’ll understand my attraction to this concise series.  It’s got comedy, it’s got romance, and it’s got meganekko (glasses fetishism).

This is a very short series running under an hour total, but worth the time spent.  There’s nothing too deep here, but the stories are enjoyable enough and their abridged length is actually a positive.  How often do we fall for an anime only to have its potential squandered as we find disappointment?  These four 14 minute narratives provide a brief glimpse into the lives of their heroines and then close leaving the rest to our imaginations. 

Mmm... spectacles 
Mmm... spectacles 
My favorite of the four was the first with the second close behind.  The former is about a boy who joins an after school club because there’s a cute girl in it.  Well, the first time he sees her she isn’t wearing glasses and it’s that moment that his heart compels him to join.  Afterwards, she puts on her glasses much to his dismay since he hates glasses.  What’s done is done however and so he stays in the club and instead tries to get the girl to remove her glasses again.  The ending of the vignette is what I found both amusing and familiar.  I wear glasses myself (I refuse contacts or whacked laser surgery), so I could relate to some of scenes in the show.  The next episode reminded me of Rise from the Shin Megami Tensei Persona 4 video game.  In this story, the protagonist is an idol who’s on vacation from her modeling and performing duties.  She spends some of her days just relaxing in a café reading books.  So that she’s not pestered by fans, she disguises her appearance with a floppy hat and some glasses.  One day, a waiter who works there asks her out.  He’s completely duped by her charade, and so she accepts believing it might be fun to have a normal date with a normal boy as a normal, obscure girl.  The story is very sweet and it too has a bright conclusion.  The following third and forth episodes are fine but not as well constructed as the former two.  The third actually feels more like a segment from a much larger show such as Strawberry 100%.  

All-in-all, I’d recommend the four for anyone looking for a short and sweet anthology with affection for cute girls in glasses. 

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanaho 

Being a magic girl is a busy lifestyle
Being a magic girl is a busy lifestyle
With the surprising popularity of Puella Magi Madoka Magica this season I thought I’d go back and look at one of the earlier hits in the “magic girl” genre.  I admit I have little experience is the group beyond the most basic.  I’ve seen four of the five Sailor Moon shows, a substantial number of the Cardcaptor Sakura episodes, and a sampling from various other titles.  If I was going to broaden my definition of the category, I could include the many harem and romances that feature magic girlfriends, but I can’t accept lumping Steel Angel Kurumi in with Magic Knight Rayearth.  In my mind, the archetype has a few key features including transformations, wands and/or pendants, and a purity of heart.  Granted the last element may not always apply depending on the depth of the story, but for all the ones I’ve seen it’s essential.  Magical Girl Lyrical Nanaho is a perfect example of the genre as I see it.  The heroine has an unwavering faith in her mission and in her friends.  Like the best protagonists from this school, she is deeply sympathetic to the suffering of both her allies and enemies with concepts like revenge and hate being completely foreign.  Instead, she draws her strength from the unconditional love within her.  
 

Nanaho and Fate...Fight!
Nanaho and Fate...Fight!
Nanaho Takamachi is an average elementary school girl living with her parents and two older siblings in fictional Uminari City, Japan.  The day after experiencing a nightmare full of sorcerers and dark creatures, she meets a talking ferret named Yuuno who spoke to her in her dream.  He informs her that he is on a mission to recover twenty-one ancient jewels which fell into this dimension from his.  He’s actually a mage and junior archeologist back home.  He discovered the “jewel seeds” there and feels responsible for their current missing whereabouts.  The magic within the gems is quite potent and when gathered together can be very destructive.   Nanaho agrees to help him collect the stones.  To aid her in their battle against each seed’s manifested material form; she is given a wand named Raising Heart.  She exhibits a strong magical talent in their first engagement impressing Yuuno with her power.  Over the course of a week, the two successfully recover a number of stones and her aptitude with Raising Heart improves following each encounter; however the two soon discover that they are not alone in their quest for the jewel seeds.  A dispassionate girl equal in age to Nanaho is also after the stones; Fate Testarossa.  With her familiar, Arf at her side, she proves herself to be better at winning the gems away from Nanaho and Yuuno.  

Yuuno and Arf 
Yuuno and Arf 
The first half of Magical Girl Lyrical Nanaho reminded me a lot of Cardcaptor Sakura, but with the introduction of Fate Testarossa, the two became markedly different.  I’m convinced that Fate’s character could not exist in Sakura’s reality.  Sakura functions in a world of pristine innocence and, like the opening of Pandora’s Box, acknowledging her tragedy would invite all other sorts of sins to manifest.  But with great care, the producers behind Magical Nanaho reshaped their world to include such peril and the twisted psychology created from it.  The story element added a rawness to show that I found refreshing.  It also better defined Nanaho’s commitment to Fate who she described as the pretty girl with sad eyes.  There were a couple of very disturbing scenes, but they never felt cheap or exploitive.  Nanaho could have easily become another vacillating pacifist like so many other Gundam pilots before her had the urgency of Fate’s plight been absent. 

Magical Girl Lyrical Nanaho - Support Cast
Magical Girl Lyrical Nanaho - Support Cast
This turned out to be a much better series than I had envisioned originally.  It was important to stick with it though since it takes a while to get past the conventional concepts normally seen in Magical Girl anime.  I know that there are two successive series, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanaho A’s and MGLN StrikeS plus a movie.  From what I gather, the final series takes place ten years after the events from this show, so I am curious to see how the characters evolve during that time.  For now, I’d recommend this show to someone looking for a satisfying light-adventure anime especially for this genre. 

Parting words and Martial Hearts

That brings this blog to a close again.  I had planned to write something about Strawberry 100%, too but that will have to wait until next time.  I’m not too sure what I want to say about it though.  I’ve already abandoned any thought towards a written reflection of Zettai Shougeki: Platonic Heart.  Well, I’ll say I didn’t think too much of it, particularly the end.  If the producers are going to close their show like that then they need to make certain the characters are entertaining enough to overcome the laughable incongruities in the conclusion.  I am a big fan of the Thin Man movies from the 1930’s and 40’s. In that franchise of films, it was the principle characters of Nick and Nora Charles that captivated me.  The mystery of “Who did it” could easily be solved by singling out the most unlikely of suspects.  Platonic Heart takes that route, but without any of the charm innate to those old movies.  There is an uncompelling amount of nudity in the short series, too.  Trust me; it’s not enough to warrant the time investment.  Definitely, skip this one.  

Well, I guess now that wraps things up.  Here’s a cool Godzilla vs Gamera movie I found on the web.  It’s the best of the fan-made mash-ups I’ve seen on the subject.  Ah, when two titans clash you know it’s going to be fun.  Why can’t a real movie be made?  Japan seems to be more flexible than Hollywood when it comes to crossovers, so I still have my hopes.  
  
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She looks like my DQ9 character! 
She looks like my DQ9 character! 
Excuses, excuses, excuses… That’s normally how I open these blogs.  Each time I sit down to write, I’m disappointed by my own lack of steady resolve.  My desires fall short of my reality; another example of life in progress.  And, if I am being perfectly honest, at this point these apologies are an easy literary crutch.  I usually struggle to find someway to open these pieces and it’s easy to complain.  Columnists have been doing it for decades.  Of course I make it my own by adding a touch of self-flagellation.  In my own defense, I was sidetracked this past week by an unyielding obsession with the Nintendo DS titled, Dragon Quest IX: Sentinels of the Starry Skies.  Over the last few years I’ve grown very fond of the franchise and prefer it to Final Fantasy.  I know it’s repetitive, but the familiarity is part of the appeal.  I’m not too interested in learning new control and combat systems with each incarnation, so consistency has greater value to me than innovation.  To an extent, that outlook is reflected in my anime preferences, too.  Comedies, especially harems tend be very emulative.  Curiously, Dragon Quest made an appearance in the first show I’ll look at this week:

B Gata H Kei (Type: B, Style: H)


 100 Lovers or Bust!
 100 Lovers or Bust!
The Spring 2011 anime season from Japan promises to bring a show named Lotte no Omocha!.  It’s described as the story of a 10 year old succubus who must consume a particular substance secreted by males in order to maintain her youth and beauty.  On the surface of it, it seems to be a series that will make a significant number of people uncomfortable.  I mention it because a year ago, the description of B Gata H Kei appeared to be similarly unsettling.  “Yamada is a 15 year old virgin who wishes to have 100 sex partners.”  Seikon no Qwaser has taught me to presume any level of deviance in anime, so being manga-illiterate, I rely on my past experiences and the synopses published online when formulating my expectations.  B Gata H Kei’s premise was fundamentally as conveyed; however instead of a tawdry, provocative tale of impersonal sexual adventure; it was a sweet often riotously funny romance about two high schoolers discovering first love.  At least two-thirds of the shows had me laughing out loud at the clumsy antics and improvised theories the cast created to fit their ignorance of love and sex.  When I wasn’t chuckling at the absurdity, I was touched by the sincerity of their desires. Yamada’s outlandish mission evolved into a genuine expression of affection overcoming the unavoidable hurdles of fear, jealously, confusion and anxiety.  She wanted sex but found love.

 Miyano - Miharu - Kyouka - Chika
 Miyano - Miharu - Kyouka - Chika
As mentioned, B Gata H Kei’s heroine is named Yamada.  She is bright, beautiful and popular.  She is adored by all the boys and regarded as the school’s “idol”, but still sees imperfections in herself.  In order to correct her inadequacies, she resolves to acquire one hundred different sex partners.  Why she arrived at that solution is in itself troubling and illustrates the deep sense of inferiority she masks overtly with a dominant autocratic façade.  To her classmates and friends, she is confident and resolute, but in the solitude of her room she allows herself to be fractured.   

 

Kosuda and Yamada 
Kosuda and Yamada 
It’s been said, a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step, so Yamada planned to lose her virginity as quickly as possible.  Now, the choice of her suitor had to meet one particular condition.  He had to be a virgin otherwise his experience would increase her sense of inadequacy.  She imagined the faceless candidate mocking her innocence.  Rather than have that torment realized, he being a virgin would place the two on even ground.  While shopping for guides on sex and seduction at a bookstore, she meets Takashi Kosuda, an innocuous, fair-looking boy who, much to her surprise sits next to her in class.  She sees him as a disposable donor for her goals, and believes coaxing him to her bed an effortless task.  Of course, it quickly becomes apparent that she has no idea what’s she’s doing.  Yamada is as inexperienced in matters of the heart as any normal teenager and all her misconceptions are revealed with each misdeed and mixed signal she sends.  Many of her schemes are poorly calculated and end with her fleeing the situation embarrassed and perplexed by the jumble of unfamiliar emotions churning within her. 
 
  
Kosuda is no better prepared for what unfolds.  Early on he is surprised by her interest and repeatedly questions if he’s imagining her intentions.  He feels unworthy of her attention since she is the campus queen.  In all fairness, she does little to ease his doubt since she doesn’t know what to make of their relationship either.  Her “love’m and leave’m” plan is befuddled by their blossoming affections.  He persists though and struggles through her inconsistencies as the attraction between them evolves into something more heartfelt.  Kosuda’s kindness and unexpected courage revises her image of him.  While it upsets her designs, it crafts him into someone she wants to be with.  The attachment she develops creates new problems as potential rivals are introduced; one being Kosuda’s childhood friend and another being a wealthy and equally beautiful challenger to Yamada’s popularity.  

Boom-chicka-bow-wow 
Boom-chicka-bow-wow 
Over the course of its twelve episode run, B Gata H Kei consistently surprised and delighted me.  The relationship between the two leads reminded me strongly of another favorite of mine, Toradora; however due to a stronger emphasis on humor and the limited length, it scraps the melancholic turn that series offered in its latter half.  This was a good decision because it left me optimistic and content with its final episode.  However, while I am pleased with its ending, I think there is room for a second season.  There were a few plot points left open that could be addressed with another run.  Whether or not, we see a continuation takes nothing from the absolute enjoyment I had with this show.  It was very funny and sentimental in the light but engaging way.  I strongly recommend it to fans of romantic comedies.  Incidentally, the title’s “B” refers to Yamada’s breast cup size and the “H” defines her personality type.  I believe the “H” is short for “hentai’ meaning she’s focused on sex.   All the female characters’ cup sizes are highlighted in the opening credits.  Two are “F” cups!

D.Gray-Man - Part 1 


 Not sure which is "da gray man"
 Not sure which is "da gray man"
D.Gray-Man was one of those shows I’d heard people mention in forums and online magazines for the past few years.  It gained a moderate fan base, although not to the degree of other similar titles.  Parity can be a double edged sword it seems.  The show is very accessible, but also too indistinct from concurrent shonen shows like Bleach and Naruto Shippuuden.  The upside is if you’re a fan of either of those, chances are you’ll enjoy D.Gray-Man, too.  Then again, some shonen fans can be fiercely allied to a single franchise and become defensive when others are compared, so who’s to say really?  Either way, it reminded me of those two and I consumed 51 episodes without much effort.  That’s a positive in my book.  If you’re in the mood for a lengthy paranormal action serial, this is one of the better available.  

If he can see you, he can touch you! 
If he can see you, he can touch you! 
The story revolves around teenage protagonist, Allen Walker and his experiences as a novice exorcist.  These aren’t the somber black-clad priests depicted by Hollywood battling pea soup spewing schoolgirls.  In this 19th century alternate reality, exorcists are specialists gifted with the ability to host and utilize fragments of a mysterious and powerful element called “innocence”. Millennia ago, a supernatural weapon was created to oppose a sinister and ethereal evil that sought mankind’s destruction.  The celestial battle forestalled humanity’s extinction but conjointly shattered the innocence weapon and littered its shards across the planet.  In the time of this story, the Black Order gathers the slivers and protects them from those demonic forces.  Each fragment can be bound to a single person and when the two are joined, they have the capacity to destroy demons.  These are the exorcists.  
 
 The dead are enslaved
 The dead are enslaved
Allen’s “innocence” is a parasitic type meaning it’s part of his body; his left arm to be precise. The series suggests (to this point) that he was born with it which is unusual as most fragments are fitted to their hosts later on.  In addition to his proficiency as an exorcist, he’s also been cursed with the ability to identify demons that hide among humans in their guise.  Demons themselves are born from the sorrows of grieving people who unwittingly form a contract with the Millennium Earl, the ancient malevolence foiled ages earlier by the innocence.  The soul of a grief stricken’s deceased loved one is chained to a construct created by the Earl and becomes a tool of destruction controlled by him. In most cases, the shackled demon kills the saddened human and assumes their identity within society.  This is how they hide among the population and conceal their murder.  Because he can see the tethered souls empowering a demon, Allen has also discerned that destroying a demon frees the soul.  It’s this knowledge that strengthens his commitment as an exorcist.  

Lenalee leaps into action 
Lenalee leaps into action 
At the Dark Order’s headquarters, Allen is teamed primarily with exorcist Lenalee Lee.  The twin-tail styled, vivacious girl has been with the Order since childhood and considers all its members her extended family.  Her actual older brother, Koumi Lee is the Order’s supervisor of operations.  Lenalee’s power is the “dark boots”, an innocence fragment that provides enhanced movement and damaging kicks.  She seems to serve as a potential love interest in the story, but like a lot of shonen, any romance is only hinted at through flushed faces and brief moments of embarrassment. One of the positives of her focus is her development as a character within the series.  She’s probably the most defined personality short of Allen himself.  There’s a very humorous episode named "Lenalee's Love" (ep. 18) that spotlights her relationship with her brother.  Perhaps because of the nature of shonen storytelling, or maybe just in this particular example, I feel she’s still seems hollow.  There are only 103 episodes of this series and considering I’m half way through, I doubt the production will have the time to properly flesh her out past the “pretty girl hero” template.  There is a second female exorcist who I liked more than Lenalee, but I’m fairly certain her continued involvement in the story will be secondary.  Tick-tock-sigh.    

Kanda - Lavi - Koumi 
Kanda - Lavi - Koumi 
There are two other exorcists that Allen is occasionally teamed with.  The first is an irritable and insensitive swordsman named Yu Kanda. For reasons yet to be revealed he’s committed to the expedient completion of each mission assigned to him.  He informs Allen early on that he will abandon him if his wellbeing interferes with mission.  His gruff exterior is eventually revealed to be not quite so callous, but the circumstances that formed that detached disposition remain a mystery.  The only hint is a fragile flower sealed within an hourglass. I know more about his past and the reasons behind his temperament will be explained soon enough, but more could have been done during the first half of the series to make him more interesting.  As he stands currently in my eyes, he’s just the “angry dude”.  The second sometimes-teammate is Lavi.  He’s a little different than a normal exorcist in that he’s also a bookman.  They’re an ancillary guild within the Dark Order whose purpose it is to chronicle the hidden history of mankind.  They’re the librarians of the world recording the actions of the Order, the Millennium Earl and other mysteries absent from accepted texts.  He’s jovial and a bit of a smartass.  I like him well enough, but again there isn’t too much to him.  He’s the “buddy” type for the group whose presence lightens the mood of most situations.  Unlike the others, I’m not disappointed by his trivial development.  And, like the alternate female presence in D.Gray-Man, there’s another guy who I’ve enjoyed more than Lavi that could have filled his archetype.

 Miranda - Arystar
 Miranda - Arystar
It’s hard for me to say I am disappointed in the series, since it’s been so easy to watch.  Never once did I have to force myself further into the show, but on the same token, there feels like there was a lot a waste in the production.  I wonder if the producers had planned for a greater story lasting hundreds of episodes like Bleach or Naruto, because the progress has been very slow so far.  I don’t know anything about the manga, but I suspect there may be some filler included in the first half.  If not, then I believe the studio should have been more aggressive in their editing.  I believe the show would have benefited from a tighter script.  That would have also provided more time for deeper characterization.  Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood is another similar series but one that makes the best use of its time and crafts a compelling story rich with multifaceted individuals.  D.Gray-Man underachieves in its potential.  But, let me reiterate, I like the show.  I just want to like it more than I currently do.      
 

Rio – Rainbow Gate - Part 1


Viva  Las Rio!
Viva  Las Rio!
I really enjoy reading the variety of blogs published here on Anime Vice.  Most are informative, some are thought provoking, and a few are just humorous.  One recently posted, zombiepie’s Drunk Blog inspired me to write something myself on the featured topic, Rio – Rainbow Gate!.  His effort prompted me to talk about the one show this season that I am watching regularly.  When it comes to anime, I have very little patience and a pretty short memory.  So, I rarely follow a new show until it’s finished or at least until its season is complete.  I placed Star Driver on hold when I realized it was going to go past 12 or 13 episodes.  I haven’t touched Toaru Majutsu no Index II for the same reason even though I really liked the first series.  Occasionally, I’ll delve into a series when I know that each episode is self-contained and for the most part, independent of the next or previous story.  Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt and Mitsudomoe are shows I dabbled in when they were originally airing.  Even in those cases, though I went back and looked at them all from first to last when their original run was done.  I appreciated them more when their entirety was all freshly experienced. 
 
Anya - Rina - Rosa with Chip - Mint 
Anya - Rina - Rosa with Chip - Mint 
Rio-Rainbow Gate is the rare exception to my standard practices.  Very soon after the show started to air, the early impressions started to appear online and all of them were bad.  Here on AV, the few people who took a chance on it said it was the worst thing they’d seen in a while.  Out of curiosity I checked out its background.  The character, Rio Rollins (a.k.a. Koutaro) is a Tecmo creation for their Super Blackjack series of video games.  She most recently made an appearance in the Dead or Alive Paradise game for the PSP.  I admit I find the character attractive, but I’ve got a weakness for redheads.  Busty ones are even better.   So armed with this knowledge and a proclivity for fan service, I delved into the show.  

 Cosplay is part of her job description
 Cosplay is part of her job description
Now, I must clarify that unlike several others who posted their reactions to the show, I watched the first and second episode back-to-back.  Because of this, I didn’t hate it and actually, I might even say I enjoyed my introduction to the character, Rio.  She’s kind of a cheerful doormat.  If this was a hentai she would be a willing slave.  That premise would vastly improve the show, but since Tecmo is uptight when it comes to properly exploiting their characters (titillation short of eroticism), I think that direction will be relegated to the doujinshi community*.  Anyway, she’s apparently this casino “idol” who radiates good luck for gamblers.  Just her being on the game floor can change the fortunes of players.  And, if management realized this, you’d think they’d bar her from the casinos just as they ban card counters.  However, like Gerry Cooney shaking hands at the entrance to the Luxor, she’s also an attraction for visitors.  Travelers believe that her presence brings good luck, so they come to the casino, waiting around for hours, gambling away the time, hoping she’ll appear.  Casinos know that the player has to win every now and then to keep them coming back despite losing.  Rio is hope in high heels.  On top of her usefulness as a living attraction, she’s also a willing sex symbol who accepts her boss’s sexual harassment as just an element of her job.  Rio is all about making others happy, so if that involves exposing her body in public, she’s more than willing to (partially) strip if it brightens their life.

The wacky games are one of the few highlights 
The wacky games are one of the few highlights 
I wish I could say that the show gets better after episode one to validate my enjoyment for the show.  While the second episode is indeed better than the snooze-fest that comprised the first; the third, forth and fifth (haven’t seen #6 yet) are about as entertaining as the opening show.  In the second show, the producers set up this interesting tournament idea involving prized playing cards and Takeshi’s Castle-like games played between card holders.  There were also a few “wardrobe malfunctions” and some semi-nudity covered by a swirling card suit light show censoring all the good bits.  The odd “physical challenges” that comprise the game played for the special cards is what invigorated the series for me.  Sadly, the potential exhibited in the second show is omitted from the third and marginalized in the 4th and 5th.  Creativity is abandoned for some boring story about Rio’s childhood friend, Rina.  There is also the introduction of an annoying apprentice dealer named Anya Helsing.  She’s a blond, ditzy, clumsy, naïve bimbette who’s more likely to dump a tray of drinks on a player than deal them a proper hand.  

Residents of the Howard Resort 
Residents of the Howard Resort 
I don’t think it’s the worst thing I’ve ever seen.  So far, it can best be described as “empty calories”.  I chose to watch this series because I knew it would require no commitment on my part.  Like a bag of pork-rinds, I can consume the show without having to muster any attachment to the characters or plot.  Good shows draw you in and make you care about the cast.  Mediocre shows can still provide something that lures a viewer back.  The most I can say about Rio is that its utter lack of appeal is its best attribute.  I plan to keep at it because I’m curious to see how my opinion changes over the course of its run.  Will I think it better than it is by the end?  Or will it exacerbate me to such a degree that I irrationally despise it like Girls Bravo?  The journey is half the adventure. 
 

And, so with that I bring this long overdue blog to a close.  I’m not going to speculate what the next one will be about, but I do hope it will come sooner than later.  I’m also hoping to complain about something other than my own failing next time.  Actually, I’d like to explore girls who cackle in anime but that term (“cackle”) doesn’t feel right.  I’ll give it some more thought between now and next time.   Here’s another video to watch if you want.  It's the promotional video for Lotte no Omocho! mentioned above.  It doesn't really look all that salacious. 
   
  

* I ran across an interesting piece of news.  When Rio is released on Blu-Ray later this year, the final disc volume will include and extra episode.  It’s only my own conjecture, but this might be the “not safe to primetime” episode similar to the ones that close Ah, My Buddha’s first and second season. 
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