Ashita no Anime

Anime of Tomorrow

Monthly Archives: May 2012

Shakugan no Shana II Second (review)

Impression – an epic fumble that does manage to recover a little (7/10)

Fall 2007 to winter 2008 (24 episodes) (title literal translation – Shana of Burning Eyes, English synonym – Shana the Fire-Eyed)

Picking up right where Shana I left off Yuji, Shana and Kazumi are confronted by a new classmate whose appearance so closely resembles Hecate—a powerful Crimson Lord they recently faced—that it goes beyond mere coincidence.  However, after their suspicions turn out to be unfounded, Fumina Konoe is found to be a rather nice, if simple-minded girl from a wealthy family who needs a friend.  Much to the dismay of Shana and Kazumi she attaches herself to Yuji and the four friends indulge in enjoying the summertime youth of their first year in high school.  But a few other strange occurrences surrounding Fumina keep them on edge and only time will reveal her true nature.

After such a spectacular first season, it was always going to be hard for a sequel to live up to that kind of quality, but to fall this far was truly sad.  It goes from a psychological, action series with romance elements to a low-key aimless high school drama (at least for the first half).  Season one dealt with big issues such as the nature of existence and season two’s change of tone is so jarring it doesn’t even feel like the same anime anymore.  The characters have also taken on such a wishy-washy passive-aggressive attitude it’s hard to believe the half-baked romantic rivalries that dominate much of this second season.  It’s clear that Yuji wants to be with Shana, but combined with his gentle nature and Kazumi’s home wrecker attitude that just won’t let him go, there’s no shortage of frustration in the direction of the plot.  And if this love triangle that’s already been well established wasn’t bad enough, Hecate’s way-to-obvious clone Fumina Konoe turns the triangle into a pyramid with the all-too-trusty Yuji being exploited left and right because he can’t find his backbone.

The second half of this series does manage to head back in the right direction and attempts to recapture the spirit of its predecessor, but by then it’s really nothing more than a simple matter of too little too late.  To its credit, the ending is spectacular; crowned by an epic battle that really satisfies with its brilliantly constructed flow and amazingly intelligent strategy as characters on both sides take advantage of the changing battlefield.  Also satisfactory is the final scene that, while a bit of a cliffhanger, at least gives the distinct impression that the indecisive romance that plagued the rest of this season has finally come to an end.

The most telling failing of the second season really gets revealed in the third season because it highlights how little actually happened in Shana II, making everything feel empty and futile.  What was the purpose of this series in the grand picture of the whole Shana franchise?  If it was to establish Shana as Yuji’s official love interest, we pretty much already figured that at the end of season one.  The cool, insightful Yuji of the previous season who was Shana’s greatest pillar of support also stagnates horribly—making him into a football that the characters good and bad pass around and occasionally punt to satisfy their own objectives.

All this negativity could easily be misinterpreted that Shana II is a bad anime, when it is absolutely nothing of the sort.  It’s just…well…a little above average…and that makes it pale in comparison to the awesomeness that was Shana I.  It’s really just an unacceptable fall from grace that highlights the wasted potential that deserved much better than this.

Anime of the Week (5/20 – 5/26)

Anime of the Week – Acchi Kocchi

Everyone loves Io—even goldfish.
(Click to see animation)

Ridiculously silly and fun. This is one of the most endearing anime I’ve had the blood-rushing pleasure of experiencing.

(If someone can help me with the interlacing problem I’m having with the animated gif I made for this post, I’d be very appreciative. I’m using Adobe Premiere Pro.)

May 20 Fate/Zero Ep. 20 Rider always seemed to be a much more honorable character, so this turn of events surprises me. What is his justification?
May 21 Tasogare Otome Ep. 5 I can’t imagine how creepy it would be to meet the young ghost of a family member who looks almost exactly like me.
Hyouka Ep. 5 I wasn’t given many hints to solve this particular mystery on my own, but the reveal was epic enough for me to excuse it.
May 23 Tasogare Otome Ep. 6 The power of belief is not something to be taken lightly. Playing with people’s sensibilities is a dangerous game.
Kore wa Zombie 2 Ep. 3 I wish this series could focus better. I’m not hating it, but I know there’s a story to be told so get on with it.
May 24 Jormungand Ep. 7 Great character design! Between disturbed Valmet, quirky Dr. Miami and conniving Koko there’s no shortage of good writing.
May 25 Tasogare Otome Ep. 7 Does Karma work in reverse? If you are too kind and cheerful, does misfortune and sadness come to restore balance?
Acchi Kocchi Ep. 8 Io’s animal magnetism is frighteningly powerful. He is definitely one of the most likeable characters I’ve ever seen.
May 26 Accel World Ep. 8 Haru is progressing nicely as the story moves into the next phase. But Snow Black’s past seems to be catching up with her.

*You could have read these mini-reviews in real time as I updated my status by following me on Twitter.

Anime of the Week (5/13 – 5/19)

Anime of the Week – Acchi Kocchi
I don’t know that I’ve ever applied this word to an anime before, but I think the best way to describe Acchi Kocchi is “precious.”                                
May 13 Accel World Ep. 6 For all of Haruyuki’s talent, it’s a terrific character flaw to see that he still has the shortsightedness of a newbie.
Black Lagoon Ep. 4 Some of the story ideas for this anime are really off the wall, but at least they manage to keep things interesting.
Black Lagoon Ep. 5 You don’t have to explain everything, but some details can’t be overlooked—like why there is air in a sunken ship.
Fate/Zero Ep. 19 This is the kind of story I was hoping to see more of in this series. Not the predictable stuff that hogs so much time.
May 14 Eureka AO Ep. 4 I think the strength of this series is how it’s honest and doesn’t put up any pretenses. The story is all it needs.
C3 OVA While delightfully off-canon as most OVAs are, it also fails to recapture the series’ spirit. At least it manages to be lighthearted.
May 15 Black Lagoon Ep. 6 I can’t tell if this was just an unlucky job or the start of some larger plot arc that is slowly revealing itself.
Acchi Kocchi Ep. 6 This anime succeeds again at putting charming twists on some stereotypical school drama scenes. It’s an adorable romance.
May 16 Sankarea Ep. 6 “Give me freedom or give me death,” is a simple enough theme and associating death with freedom is a really cool concept.
Jormungand Ep. 6 After the opening battle I had a funny thought that all cargo ships rounding the southern end of Africa should hire Koko.
May 17 Hyouka Ep. 4 I like mysteries, but this was a little too information heavy. The hesitation at the end also indicates this isn’t over.
Ladies vs Butlers Ep. 1 Somewhere I’d heard good things about this anime, but it’s a poster-child for what happens when ecchi goes too far.
Tasogare Otome Ep. 3 This anime’s playfulness combined with the way it makes light of its darkness makes it both fun and insightful.
May 18 Sankarea Ep. 7 This review of Chihiro’s history with Ranko would have been a lot less interesting if it wasn’t for his zombie mania.
Eureka AO Ep. 5 It’s pretty clear that Ao is in the process of finding himself. But what intrigues me most is Generation Blue’s motives.
Tasogare Otome Ep. 4 I’m impressed by how well this anime transitions from playful to serious without skipping a beat. It’s beautiful.
May 19 Accel World Ep. 7 Is this episode about camaraderie or about learning to forgive yourself? Either way, it was a little too sentimental.
Acchi Kocchi Ep. 7 Well-scripted timing of romantic humor is definitely this series’ best asset. If you like moe this is a must watch.

*You could have read these mini-reviews in real time as I updated my status by following me on Twitter.

Elfen Lied (review)

Final impression – an often misunderstood psychological thriller (9/10)

Summer 2004 (13 episodes + 1 OVA)

Off the shores of Kamakura is a secret island that conducts research on the cutting edge of human evolution.  Called the Diclonius after a type of dinosaur, this genetic offshoot of humanity is distinctive by two small horns protruding from the sides of the head. The other quality that makes them worthy of scientific research is the female’s destructive psychic capabilities.

The first and most dangerous specimen named Lucy breaks her bonds and after an ensuing bloodbath manages to escape the facility.  But not before suffering a massive head wound that splits her personality between a dangerous beast and a helpless child.  She is discovered on Enoshima beach by Kouta and his cousin Yuka who take her in and decide to shelter her from her shady pursuers.  But when Kouta notices her horns, he senses there is a frighteningly deep connection between him and his new dependent that he must remember at any cost.

Elfen Lied and I have a bit of history that needs to be fully explained before I can go into a proper review of the title.  Back in 2004, I was still a wide-eyed 18 year old, fresh out of the nest and learning to fly solo at college.  At this point in my life I had only watched three anime that I actually knew were anime—Escaflowne, Cowboy Bebop and Evangelion.  I’d also seen Tekkaman Blade, Sailor Moon, Dragonball Z, Digimon and Pokemon as a kid, but I thought those were American series at the time so in my mind they don’t count (more on that some other time).

I had just joined my university anime club because I wanted to learn more about this genre and by some chance of fate the club president recommended Elfen Lied, which was still airing on Japanese TV.  Horror and R-rated media were things I’d never really been introduced to at the time, which gave Elfen Lied the privilege of relieving me of my innocent naivety.  It was such a shocker it felt like I’d been hit by a bolt of lightning (thinking back on it now, that metaphor is so apt it’s kinda scary how green I was back then).  I’d never experienced such an incredible emotional response in my life and I became immediately aware of something—I wanted more.  The rest they say is history because I’ve been hooked on anime ever since.  No other medium has been able to illicit such a heartfelt passion in me as anime and I foresee this to be one of my lifelong hobbies.

As I’ve matured over the past 8 years, my adoration for Elfen Lied has been tempered slightly.  I’ve come to realize it has a few flaws that can’t can’t fully be ignored and I may have been initially oversold on this anime’s shock value.  The years have also not been kind to its super large-eyed character style that is getting dated and was very indicative of the previous decade even at the time this series was made.  It also hurts its own potential with over-the-top violence and blood—important as that may be to its success—and lets us down with deceivingly simple writing about an exceedingly complicated story that needed a lot more time to be properly told (to be fair, there was a lot of contention within the staff to push this series into a longer run).

However, I continue to maintain that Elfen Lied is an excellent model for how to properly use nudity as a storytelling device. Whether it’s to accentuate Lucy’s animalistic savagery or Nyuu’s childlike innocence, what’s very clear by its direction is that this is not fanservice.  There aren’t any random panty-shots or views of cleavage made possible courtesy of deliberately maligned camera angles—every instance of the female form works to support the plot.

It’s a story that raises all sorts of philosophical issues about the nature of humanity—namely what constitutes being human.  Is it kindness, pure altruism and our ability to forgive past transgressions?  Is it nothing more than genetics?  Is it emergent in our sophisticated intelligence?  Is it our resourcefulness and ability to adapt to whatever circumstances we find presented to us?  Is it willingness to do whatever is necessary to survive?  Or is it the simple quality of possessing immutable instincts that go beyond mere desire for simple survival?  All of these themes and more are touched upon if ever so briefly in this anime and the only disappointment is that there wasn’t time to explore them more thoroughly.

Sadly, Elfen Lied is probably one of the most contentious, misunderstood and quite often underappreciated anime of all time.  Despite how well it reviews statistically, I suspect that like my younger self it gets a big boost from its emotional impact.  I hardly ever hear very much praise for it from a technical standpoint.  Ironically, it’s almost as if, in its attempt to reveal the intricacies of human nature, it was able to expose the superficial shallowness of the average person who so quickly and easily discredits it without making any attempt to reach for a deeper meaning.  However, the fact that it’s still capable of firing such powerful emotions eight years later is a testament to the kind of response it generates in its viewers.  As much as I can try to guide people on how to interpret the value of this show, it is ultimately going to be an exercise for the individual to undertake.

To this day I continue to hold the position that Elfen Lied is one of the best examples of an anime that not only deserves a sequel but NEEDS one.  What anime have you watched that had an open-ended or cliffhanger finale that you think requires a second season to properly wrap up the rest of the story?

Additional recommended reading—Elfen Lied Wiki, Real life scenes from Elfen Lied around Kamakura

First Anniversary and Your Questions

It recently dawned on me that with the spring 2012 anime season about halfway over, there’s less than two months to go before Ashita no Anime’s first anniversary.  I have to say that I’m very pleased with myself for holding to my resolve to become more than just a consumer of anime and expand my passion into writing.

So as this blog turns one year old and after reflecting on my flop and the associated constructive criticism that came from the Aniblog tourney I’ve decided it’s time to seriously start expanding into other areas of discourse besides simple reviews.  I’ve done it a few times already with Vocaloid, Kids on the Slope and Katawa Shoujo but I need to keep pushing to see if there’s some unexplored, unclaimed territory that I can take for myself and find my unique niche.  Clearly, simply being the counterpoint to majority rule on a lot of anime isn’t enough (as much as I enjoy making my opinion heard).

So as old as this internet tradition is, to mark this milestone I want to address any questions my readers may have.  Please ask me anything you’re interesting in hearing me talk about or even personal questions to help you get to know more about me—keeping in mind that this is still an anime blog and I’ll be giving priority to any anime questions that come my way.  To give myself a deadline to shoot for I promise to write at least one answer post by May 26.  Ask away in the comments section below or if you want to keep out of the spotlight you can send me an email as well.

Rinne no Lagrange (ongoing)

Impression – excellent character growth with energetic creativity

Winter 2012 and summer 2012 (more info / part 2) (best English equivalent – Lagrange: The Flower of Rin-ne)

Probably the most outstanding aspect of Rinne no Lagrange is how it tells a story reminiscent of psychological trips with mecha backdrops similar to Evangelion or RahXephon.  But very pleasingly it has managed to ditch the angsty boy pilot and replace him with a brave, cheerful young woman.

On the surface this does have a slight tendency to subvert the heavy atmosphere that naturally accompanies these types of anime, but that doesn’t have to be a bad thing.  I’m all for taking tried and true methods of storytelling that have produced some great anime and putting just enough twists on the formula to create a familiar, but fresh experience.  And that’s what Rinne has accomplished at the halfway point in its two-part run.

Though it’s often silly and a little too lighthearted at times for its own good, the depth of the characters is really something to be appreciated.  I think I started out hating every character other than Madoka at first.  Her pushy cousin Youko, the halfhearted Lan, deceptive Muginami, annoyingly larger than life Vilajulio & Co. as well as the sickeningly bourgeoisie Astelia all rubbed me the wrong way to start off.  But as a testament to the force of Madoka’s personality, they all started to shift ever so slightly as the story progressed and to my surprise, looking back I can’t indicate a specific turning point when they started to grow on me.

This anime has some unique, interesting flaws to point out—most notably being how it ungracefully tiptoes around how it wants to deal with the almost-fanservice moments that it seems to want to indulge in, but always backs off before doing anything too risqué.  To its credit it has an elegant air about itself, but that kind of flirtatious attitude can only go so far before it starts to become a little too obvious.

All in all, Rinne has enough originality and depth in the cast to leave me looking forward to seeing where things pick up again this summer.  But this break between the two halves got me thinking.  Between Fate/Zero and Rinne no Lagrange and then Jormungand soon joining the team, there’s a theme developing where anime are doing two twelve episode seasons separated by a one season gap (about four months).  How do you feel about that?  Would you rather get it all done in one go or do you think there is a benefit to breaking up a two season series like this?

Anime of the Week (5/6 – 5/12)

Anime of the Week – Hyouka
This series is a terrific example of how to write a good mystery story. The key is to reveal just enough information to allow the viewers to piece some of the puzzle together on their own while not revealing so much that it becomes too easy.                                
May7 Fate/Zero Ep. 18 This is the kind of enlightening prequel material that I wanted to see more of in this series.
Acchi Kocchi Ep. 5 I really like the pace of this show so far. Changing the season from winter to spring seemed like appropriate timing.
Sankarea Ep. 5 This series started out with such a serious tone, but it’s been indulging in an unnecessary amount of fanservice recently.
Black Lagoon Ep. 1 I was told this series was like Jormungand so I decided to finally give it a watch, but I’m not seeing the similarities.
Black Lagoon Ep. 2 I’m starting to see the similarities to Jormungand in the action sequences that are often daringly over the top.
May 9 Jormungand Ep. 5 Jonah’s hate really is a tangible thing, but after what he’s been through I’m pleased to see it hasn’t consumed him.
Hyouka Ep. 3 I’m enjoying Oreki’s analytical perspective that gives me enough to figure out half of the mystery before the rest is revealed.
May 10 Black Lagoon Ep. 3 I’m not sure what to make of the tone of this series. They get ambushed but don’t miss a single beat. It’s too relaxed.
May 12 Accel World Ep. 6 For all of Haruyuki’s talent, it’s a terrific character flaw to see that he still has the shortsightedness of a newbie.

*You could have read these mini-reviews in real time as I updated my status by following me on Twitter.

Mirai Nikki (review)

Final impression – the journey is better than the destination (7/10)

Autumn 2011 to winter 2012 (26 episodes) (title literal translation – The Future Diary)

Yukiteru Amano has been entered as an unwilling candidate into a survival game by Deus Ex Machina, the god of time who will use the contest to decide his most appropriate successor.  Yukiteru was chosen, along with 12 other contestants, because they have been keeping impeccably accurate observation diaries that Deus deems a worthy character trait to qualify them for the role of the god of time.

As part of the game, each player has had their diary upgraded by Deus to predict the future out to a considerable amount of time.  Their actions in the present could change their futures and those changes will be reflected in updates to their diaries.  Thus the best candidate will be the one who can control their future and eliminate the others.  But Yukki isn’t the most gung-ho about being unwittingly involved in this survival game no matter how big the prize, especially when he has to put up with his creepy, stalker girlfriend, Yuno Gasai, whose diary is capable of predicting his every move.

I’m not the type of fan who can fully enjoy a series based solely on the adventure.  I need some measure of closure at the end—something to wrap things up or at least signify a proper ending.  It doesn’t matter too much if I disagree with the outcome.  After all, it’s at the writer’s discretion to tell a story the way they think it should be told, not to tell it the way I want.

That’s why I’m so conflicted about Mirai Nikki.  It seems too focused on the path to the conclusion than on the conclusion itself, even if the voyage along the way was a doozy.  The finale does an exceptionally poor job of signifying a true ending as it goes about a little epilogue with a real dearth of imagination.  I just can’t imagine sitting in a self-imposed exile doing nothing but lamenting the loss of your loved one for 10,000 years.  I was always a big believer in the concept of time healing all wounds; particularly those of the heart.

Many times in this series I think Yukki’s personality is just far too inconsistent; even taking into consideration the chaos that’s always threatening to envelop him at any moment.  The pacing of the story also can’t keep a steady tempo with a lot of little bunny trails that seem to lead off to nowhere.  But for all of my complaints it does do a good job of telling a story filled with a terrific variety of interesting characters with a multitude of motivations and flaws; all packed with some pretty grisly details that make me wonder if they’ll be uncensored on the blu-ray.

Can true love literally last forever even if you can never see that person ever again?  Is it really healthy to remain true to your greatest passion or does there come a point when it’s best to just let go and move on?  And what about endings?  Is it best to have closure or can the journey be just as rewarding, even if the reward at the end is seriously lacking?

Comparing Misha to Bush-Cheney

Every once in a while something strikes you like a bolt of lightning and elicits an emotional response that immediately compels you share the experience with others.  Thank goodness we have the internet to release these kinds of urges expediently.

I started playing Katawa Shoujo a couple weeks ago and I’ve been very impressed with it so far (more on that some other time).  Having completed Emi’s arc recently I decided to go again and pursue a different girl.  This time I’m playing Shizune’s arc and this jab at the Republican party had me laughing so hard my sides hurt by the end of it.  Looking back it probably shouldn’t have been that funny, but it really is just absolutely priceless.  If you haven’t expanded the screenshot on this post go ahead and do so now before you continue reading.  Think about it a little bit, too—especially if you haven’t played Katawa Shoujo.

It’s been said that good jokes shouldn’t need to be explained, but I don’t hold to common wisdom all the time.  This will probably give away my political leanings but won’t contain any major spoilers for the game, so don’t worry about that if you’re thinking of playing it sometime.

Basically, Misha (the girl on the left) is your stereotypical ADD / airhead character that has a hard time understanding people (much like the Bush presidency).  The saddest thing is that this comment by Hisao (Katawa Shoujo‘s protagonist) is really kind of an insult to Misha because her character is at least portrayed as being smarter than George and more kindhearted than Dick.  Truthfully, I’d rather have had her bubbly, bouncy if sometimes thickheaded personality running the American government instead of dumb and dumber.  We’d probably have gotten just as much done in those eight years and we could have had an anime character running the White House.  =P

Is it really just a coincidence that Misha and Shizune are members of the student government…or am I stretching this analogy too far?  What do you think of this buried joke about 2000s politics in the middle of a dating game?  Is it too late for this kind of humor to be effectual or did Four Leaf Studios manage to get the punchline in just before the expiration date?

Anime of the Week (4/29 – 5/5)

Anime of the Week – Accel World
This week showed some really good shounen action with a proper balance of natural character growth and decisive vision to set up events to come.

(Obviously Black Lotus is a reference to the famously poweful Magic card of the same name but kudos to you if you know what real card Silver Crow is referencing without looking it up.)                               

April 29 Fate/Zero Ep. 17 My suspicions continue to be confirmed. This series continues to be as unsurprising as ever. I can predict everything.
Accel World Ep. 4 It seems unfair that just because you’re in a coma you can be attacked by another burst linker and completely defenseless.
April 30 Eureka AO Ep. 2 This series continues to emulate its parent while being true to itself—an ironic coincidence considering the main character.
May 1 Zombie 2 Ep. 2 A weird blend of deviant social discourse and slice of life. I don’t see what the merger of these two themes will accomplish.
May 2 Eureka AO Ep. 3 Is it when you’re young and simply don’t know better that you’re willing to take risks? Ao may be lost, but he has guts.
Hyouka Ep. 1 Initial impression – cleverly imaginative and well composed
Jormungand Ep. 4 Koko’s compassion towards her enemies is surprisingly gracious even for her, but I’m glad to see she’s not naive.
May 3 Kids on the Slope Ep. 3 I like Shinichiro Watanabe when he tells a more organized story and I prefer Yoko Kanno to play more powerful music.
What is there to like about Kids on the Slope?
Hyouka Ep. 2 When I watch this show time seems to mysteriously slow to a leisurely pace making the enjoyment feel longer than 25 minutes.
May 5 Accel World Ep. 5 Haruyuki is on a roll. Between revealing a new, unique power and reconciling with his friends his potential is growing.
Shining Hearts: Shiawase no Pan Ep. 1 Initial impression – aimless and silly (3/10)

*You could have read these mini-reviews in real time as I updated my status by following me on Twitter.