PenguinDust (Level 13)

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As I write this, I am still in a pretty good mood.  The last group of anime I reported on elevated my temperament and I’m glad to say that since then I’ve enjoyed several more shows worthy of praise.  This is what I love about the medium.  I’m not going to say these titles are radically different from the last collection, but there is some variety between them.  What appeals to me, the types of shows that make me happy like this have similar elements so obviously certain themes will reoccur.  What differentiates them is the road they take to get me there.  Today’s set covers a range of locales from the depths of the ocean to the streets of modern Japan with a touch of the nonsense to keep things lively.  I also want to say that I’ve finished the series run of Urusei Yatsura and have been watching Ranma ½ since then, but I’m not ready to wrap up the former or delve too deeply into the latter.  I’ll likely cover both in my next commentary.

Ah, My Goddess (Aa! Megami-sama)

  Goddesses Skuld, Belldandy & Urd
 Goddesses Skuld, Belldandy & Urd
I’m not quite sure where to begin so I’ll start with the series I most recently completed.  Ah, My Goddess (Season One) is a light romantic comedy with some action toward the end.  I went into this show expecting to like it and I was not disappointed by the experience.  I was familiar with the basics of the story following a brief encounter with the Dark Horse published manga in the mid 90’s, but I had forgotten all of the details over time.  I guess you could say I just remember it being a “magic girlfriend” show.  While I shamelessly admit that element alone is enough to grab my attention, it takes a bit more to keep me energized throughout.  By the time a show is over, I want to have felt something positive for the cast and the situations they’ve overcome.  Each tear and smile should impact me with the same intensity that the characters themselves feel.  Ah, My Goddess pleased me with its sweet idealized love story and I am looking forward to the second half of its run.  

  I used up all my minutes dialing heaven
 I used up all my minutes dialing heaven
The premise is as follows; Keiichi Morisato is a likeable if lonely college student attending the Nekomi Institute of Technology in Chiba Prefecture, Japan.  He is a member of the Motor Club and lives in the same dorm house as his fellow club mates.  His seniors impose on his good nature often saddling him with their own responsibilities.  One night, the club president has to receive and return an important phone call, but isn’t in the mood to wait around for the message himself.  He assigns Keiichi the task and then leaves for a party.  After overcoming a series of minor setbacks, Keiichi accomplishes the assignment…well, partially.  While dialing the return phone number to forward the message, he misdials and instead connects to the Goddess Assistance Offices.  “I’ll be there momentarily to receive your request”, she states and then emerges from a wall-mounted mirror.  Belldandy, a goddess, informs him that he’s been granted one wish from Heaven for his good deeds.  Sheepishly he jokes, “I wish that someone like you would stay with me forever.”  Suddenly a bight light shoots skyward leaving them both momentarily confused.  After checking with her superiors, Belldandy announces that his wish had been accepted by Heaven’s network.  She is going to be by his side for the remainder of his life.  

  Ye-ah!  Girls are scary!
 Ye-ah!  Girls are scary!
Back in my discussion of Aishiteruze, Baby I said that Kippei Katakura was fashioned to be the ideal male as conceived by young girls.  He was handsome, caring, responsible, empathetic and slightly imperfect.  In addition to all his positives, there was just enough “broken” in him to keep the relationship interesting.  Following that same principle, Belldandy is designed to be the perfect girlfriend and mate.  She is stunningly beautiful, attentive, supportive, protective, and completely devoted.  Her utmost desire is for Keiichi’s happiness.  Through his cheer, she achieves joy and with his distress, she feels pain.  On the surface that might seem rather limiting for her individuality, but that isn’t the case.  As with Kippei, Belldandy’s personality contains a few flaws that less-than-subtlety emerge periodically.  With nary a hint of irritation on her face, she can telekenetically demolish a room if angered.  She struggles with jealousy, naiveté and inexperience.  On top of that there is the added baggage of her siblings.  

  Skuld & Urd go through some changes later on
 Skuld & Urd go through some changes later on
Not long after the reception of their union, her older sister, Urd arrives to meddle in the relationship.  She feels things between Keiichi and Belldandy are moving too slowly and wants to hasten the pace toward “all the way”.  In all honestly, this is a valid point and one of the weaknesses of the series.  Like a lot of anime romantic comedies, the hero suffers from a debilitating shyness with girls; however the show is aware that such innocent dispositions are uncommon.  Remarks made by Urd and Keiichi’s sister, Megumi concerning his timidity are reinforced by his own admission of cowardice.  There were moments when I felt frustrated by the story’s reluctance to strengthen the bond between the pair.  It was usually then that a breakthrough confession occurred.  That’s important because early on, I wondered if Belldandy felt anything truly for Keiichi or if her actions were motivated by her duty to honor their contract.  Skuld, her and Urd’s younger sister also had that same impression and undertook measures to separate the two.  Fortunately, my concerns were dissuaded by several clear professions of deep love for each other.  Eventually, Skuld came to accept that as well, if begrudgingly so.

Midway through Ah, My Goddess I am smitten by its innocent charm.  The show has kept me captivated with its charismatic cast of young goddesses in love and I am eager to see what troubles they encounter next.  I am also curious to see how it all wraps up.  I doubt I’ll receive the satisfying closure I long for from most series, so I’ve lowered my expectations to the standard “status quo” conclusion.  I can’t nitpick too much since I have been enjoying everything so far.

Penguin Musume Heart (Penguin Girl Heart)

  Lots of cuteness
 Lots of cuteness
As I mentioned above, I am in the midst of Rumiko’s Takahashi’s Ranma ½, but I took a break from that lengthy series for this brief but vibrant comedy.  Penguin Musume Heart is spirited and silly, but also warmhearted albeit in the most conventional way.  The character design is similar to He is My Master or My Bride is a Mermaid and while not particularly memorable, it is pleasing to the eye.  The story moves at a very brisk pace since the individual episodes themselves are only 8 to 12 minutes each totaling 23 in number.  The best compliment I can give to Penguin Musume Heart is that it was a fun distraction.  Like a bucket of popcorn, it’s “empty calories”, but enjoyable just the same.  If I have a gripe, it’s that the show closes with a trailer suggesting a third story arc that to date seems unlikely.  If the show had more depth or if I had developed stronger bonds with the cast that would have bothered me more, but since neither occurred I exited satisfied with our short encounter.   

  Even if I am an otaku, I'm not a deviant... Now put on this maid costume.
 Even if I am an otaku, I'm not a deviant... Now put on this maid costume.
The set up: Kujira Etorofu is a pink-haired middle school girl who was raised by her father as if she was a boy.  She is a talented martial artist with an aggressive personality.  Unlike similar characters from other anime (Ryuunosuke of Urusei Yatsura comes to mind), she eventually broke free of the gender confusion and now dresses as a girl.  While her father calls her a crossdresser, everyone else accepts her for her true self.  In the opening episode, new transfer student joins her class named Sakura Nankyoku, but she prefers the nickname,“Penguin”.  She loves to cosplay and has an unusual power.  She manifests the skills of anyone she cosplays.  After a bit of identity confusion (she thinks Kujira looks a lot like her favorite anime character and begs her to dress up as such), the two become friends.  Penguin is the daughter of a huge global mega-corporation's founder, and when the daughter of a rival conglomerate's head is introduced to the cast, the chaos really begins for the group.  
 
  The cast from the opening
 The cast from the opening
I enjoyed this series for what it was and have since moved on.  There are a lot of other shows out that share a similar comedic tone, and many of them have better defined characters.  It’s probably due to the very limited length of the show; however I think that works to its advantage because there isn’t enough story to make it worth a full five or ten hour season.  It should be noted that there is substantial fan service (breast envy, physics defying bounce, revealing costumes, etc…), but very limited nudity.  Also, I really liked the opening and first closing songs.  They strongly remind me of Lucky Star’s upbeat opening title, "Motteke! Sailor Fuku!".

Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water

  Nadia, Jean, King and Marie
 Nadia, Jean, King and Marie
It’s time again for me to gush about a series.  I know I know; I tend to get carried away by even mediocre shows, so what makes the good stuff all that different?  Well, there’s your general run-of-the-mill good anime and then there’s the wow-that-was-fantastic anime.  Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water is without a doubt in the second category.  It’s joined my list of “All-Time Favorites” and will now be a title I recommend on a regular basis.  There is much to love about this series, but above all else it’s the feeling of completeness I had as the final credits scrolled.  As some of you are aware, indecisive endings are a pet peeve of mine so when I find an anime that unfolds fully I hold it in the highest regard.  Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood is the last show I saw that filled me with such emotion and satisfaction.  I’ve seen lots of different titles since, however the majority either leave things open and incomplete or wrap up cleanly but still feel like they’ve missed something along the way.  I had no such grievance with Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water.  Not a moment was wasted and there was nothing artificially extended throughout the course of its 39 episodic tale.  When it was over, it was done and I felt better for the experience.  

  First encounter above Paris
 First encounter above Paris
A quick introduction goes something like this; while attending the 1889 Paris Exposition (World’s Fair), 14 year-old Jean Roque Raltique meets Nadia, an athletic dark-skinned girl and her accompanying gray lion cub, King.  Jean is infatuated with her from the first instant he sees her, however when he approaches her atop the Eiffel Tower, she’s suspicious and cold.  Moments later they are attacked by an odd trio demanding her blue stone necklace.  Jean rescues Nadia from the mechanized grasp of the trio’s tank-like vehicle with the aid of an airplane he built and the two travel down to his hometown.  They are pursued by Grandis Granva and her two henchmen, Hanson and Samson and are once more forced to flee.  What followed is a journey to uncover the mysteries of Nadia’s past and the pair’s maturation into adulthood.  

  Eureka and Nadia enjoy many similarities
 Eureka and Nadia enjoy many similarities
Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water was inspired by Jules Verne’s 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and features several of the elements from that classic novel.  Captain Nemo and the Nautilus are central characters of the narrative, but Verne’s book is just the foundation for a wholly more fantastic tale of action, mystery and romance.  What I enjoyed most about this anime was its love story.  The relationship between Jean and Nadia reminded me of another of my “All-time Favorites”, Eureka Seven.  Like that later title, The Secret of Blue Water spends a lot of time depicting the emotional maelstrom of teenage love.  Renton and Jean are kindred spirits and encounter the same difficulties in loving complex women.  Both make errors in judgment and learn how to be more sensitive in the process; how to be better men.  It’s made all the more taxing by the persistent threat of danger constantly in tow as both girls are sought by malicious adversaries.  Nadia is similar to Eureka in that regard, but her personality is much more confrontational that Eureka’s.  She is pushy, uncompromising, quick to criticize and occasionally insensitive.  She is also courageous, passionate, tender and vivacious.  At times, I wondered what Jean saw in her, but his devotion to her never wavers even when her affections seem to.  Some of the best scenes in the story are those where adults offer advice concerning the affairs of the heart.

  Grandis being wistful
 Grandis being wistful
Equally important is the attention given to the other cast members in establishing a believable if incredible steampunk fantasy.  Grandis is a brash and temperamental woman, but also sisterly and wise for having endured betrayal and heartache.  Her appearance initially led me to believe she was disposable comic relief.  The same could be said of her cohorts, Hanson and Samson, but that wasn’t the case.  She has a depth to her that motivates her actions and the knowledge she shares with Nadia comforts the young girl's troubled heart.  That isn’t too say she isn’t also quite funny.  The trio’s banter often left me smiling.  I liked all of them.  

Nadia: Secret of the Blue Water is a special anime in my opinion.  Periodically, it drifts a bit too far towards the absurd for my tastes, specifically scenes involving King, but by and large many of the anxieties I developed along the way were alleviated soon after.  All of my hopes and desires for the cast members were fulfilled with a couple of surprises in the epilogue as reward.  This is truly a magnificent anime that I would urge anyone who enjoys stories of adventure not to miss.  

  She's a vegetarian
 She's a vegetarian
There is one closing remark I want to mention.  I strongly suggest seeing the subtitled version instead of the dubbed release.  It’s not 4Kids/One Piece bad, but it is uneven and distracting.  For one point, Jean has a French accent and while that might seem apropos, no one else does and I have to assume they are all speaking French.  Another problem is the voices chosen for Grandis and Samson.  While they are tolerable as long as the characters remain farcical, as the show progresses they inhibit the pair’s sincerity when speaking with Jean and Nadia.    

And with that I conclude another blog for this week.  I may post another sooner than normal to cover Urusei Yatsura, Ranma ½ and another I’ve completed, but we’ll see how things go.  I’ll also be closing Ah, My Goddess come to think of it… Hmm, maybe I’ll just play the games I bought from Steam this past holiday instead.   I'll leave you with this funky 80's video of Miho Morikawa singing the title track to Nadia: The Secret of Blue Water (Paula Abdul, eat your heart out).
  
  
 

EDIT: I just realized from my title some of you might have expected me is cosplay...um, yeah that ain't gonna happen.  Ever.
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