Saturday, January 28, 2006

Lemon Angel Project 04

This show reminds me of a Glass Mask with comedy and a bit of fanservice. After four surprisingly enjoyable episodes, I'm pretty sure I'm going to keep following the progress of Tomo and her friends.

I enjoy the personalities and interactions of the main characters, especially the basic innocence and goodness of Tomo, who is not a pushover, but is full of good will. Each episode presents an obstacle for one of the protagonists, who solves it with a little help from her friends. Gives a good feeling.

After Tomo (blue hair) and Erika (grey) helped Saya (red-brown) free herself from her evil former employer in episode 3, you would have thought they would all get along. But Saya and Tomo are still constantly arguing. Saya won't even let Tomo call her by her first name. As Erika says, their arguing means they must be very good friends.

Tomo is still far behind the other girls who are in training for the final selection as members of the Lemon Angel Project. She can't dance and she can't keep a tune. But she is willing to work hard, and stays later than anyone else, practicing.

When the dance instructor praises Erika, some of the other girls say mean things to her, making fun of her as a foreigner. At lunch, Erika shares her huge bento with Tomo. Tomo is impressed by the salad and other Western food and asks Erika to teach her how to make it. In the end, Erika invites her and Saya to her place that weekend.

It turns out later that Erika's little brother is a famous pop star, and the other girls who have been mean to her -- particularly a girl called Haruka -- change their tune and demand invitations to the weekend get-together, in order to get a chance to meet him. Miki, the stuck-up older girl who will be the leader of the new Lemon Angel Project, comes up to Erika but doesn't say anything. We see later that she has Erika's brother's image as the wallpaper on her phone, and must have a crush on him.

When the weekend comes, Erika's brother has to stay out late for work and can't be there. This doesn't bother Saya and Tomo, but Haruka gets mad, shouts at Erika and knocks her and her food to the ground. Erika is so upset that she runs out into the streets.

Tomo and Saya go out after her. It starts to rain before they find her, but they eventually find her alone on a pedestrian overpass. After some angst from Erika, sisterly love from Tomo and realism from Saya, their friendship becomes even tighter.

Monday, January 23, 2006

Lemon Angel Project 01-03

With several negative reviews already out there, it's time for someone who likes this show to speak up.

People say they find Tomo's voice "annoying." This is the word often used by people who don't like the high and drippy Japanese female voice. Lots of us like that kind of voice, however. Now, I can understand why some people who like, say, the voice of Nanami in Lamune (seiyuu: Gotou Yuuko) might still not like the voice of Shihono Ryou, who plays Tomo in LAP. Her version of the voice is far from the most professional around. It's strange, breathy, cracking...but I find it full of emotional force. Ryou-tan is 14, a swimsuit photo idol turned TV personality and now singer and seiyuu.

The story is Glass Mask meets yuri fanservice. The band called Lemon Angel Project suddenly stopped appearing, and now producers are forming a new version of the band. Our heroine is an inexperienced amateur who is a surprise addition to the auditions. You can guess how well she does at the crucial moment. The plot may not be terribly original, but it does have some original aspects. (spoilers follow)The fact that the first LAP band was a computer program is original. The fact that episode three's climax is a knee to the groin is fairly original. And the resonances between the career of Saya (the harsh beauty with two red-brown ponytails) and that of Ryou-tan herself is pretty striking: in episode 3, Saya works to free herself from the evil head of the company that has been producing soft-porn DVDs of her but has never let her become a singer. It makes you wonder about the men who produced Ryou-tan's own swimsuit DVDs. (spoilers end)

The voice acting is not by first-line pros, except for Koshimizu Ami, who plays Saya (also Nadja in Ashita no Nadja, Tenma in School Rumble, and Nina in Mai-Otome). Some of the other girls in the band are apparently played by the losers in the auditions for the role of Tomo. But not much anime voice-acting is at the level of Kawasumi Ayako, or even Yahagi Sayuri (Karin). And the directness of amateurs sometimes conveys a realness that makes ordinary pros sound artifical (I always say).

What the show does have, in my opinion, is good emotion. Tomo's feelings are always near the surface, and the emotional transformation of Saya works for me.

Episode 3 features half-clad girls grabbing and poking each other's soft bits, so if yuri fanservice offends you, this show is not for you. And if you want all your seiyuu to be polished (even boring) pros, or if you are driven crazy by that sappy little-girl voice, don't even bother.

images from episode 3:

Some of the credits: other seiyuu include Kadowaki Mai and Shimizu Kaori. The director Chiba Daisuke 千葉大輔 is directing his first full show; he directed episodes of Canvas2, Last Exile, Koi Kaze and Gakuen Alice. The character design is by Watanabe Yukari 渡辺 由香里, who did key animation on Haibane Renmei and various animation work on Nausicaa, Niea_7 and HandMaid May. The chief animator is Yamakawa Kouji, who did key animation on Haibane Renmei. The art director is Miyamae Mitsuharu 宮前光春, who was art director on Natsuiro no Sunadokei, City Hunter, World of Narue and W~Wish.