Saturday, February 18, 2006

Lemon Angel Project 07

title: I want to get to know you

My faith in this show keeps being rewarded. It gets better, and the voice-acting and singing in particular get better, as we go along. This ep features good songs from both Kadowaki Mai and Shihono Ryou. Perhaps we really are building an idol group here.

In this ep we find out more about the original Lemon Angel Project and its demise; we see Tomo become the group's "heart" and lead singer; we see Miki, Yui-sempai's friend and collaborator realize how great a person and performer Tomo is; and we enter the dark passageways of a conspiracy against the group.

Reaction on 2channel has been pretty positive about this episode. The good singing of both Kadowaki Mai and Shihono Ryou surprised people. And a couple of people thought that Ryou-chan's acting became dramatically better. As if she is a quick study. If the amazing skill and maturity she shows on her radio show is any indication, she is very smart and talented -- at 14.

The OP is sung this week by Kadowaki Mai. The first few episodes were all done by the group together, then episode 6 OP was sung by Hirama Juri (glasses-girl) and got raves on 2channel.

Saaya is being a bitch. She wants to be leader of the group and keeps telling the others what to do. It's embarrassing.

Meanwhile, the main producer (I'll call him "good-salaryman") sees tangled-light-hair guy go into a conference room. Then he sees Miki coming up toward the same room. We see that she is hiding a data disk behind her, as if she might be coming to give it to tangled-light hair. Good-salaryman rushes her away.

During an interview, the other girls rebel publicly, turning Saaya into a weeping chibi. But they readily agree that she must be allowed to audition for main vocalist, along with Tomo and Miru, whom the producer chose.

But the audition is on Saturday, the same day that the sharp guy with glasses insists Tomo must go to Yui-sempai's grave -- the anniversary of her death. They can get back in time, he says -- if she still wants to. He wants her to quit the group so he and tangled-light-hair guy can bring back the virtual LAP.

He surprises her by taking her first to the practice of a famous rock band, where she is suitably impressed, but then witnesses the star lording it over his drummer and firing him on the spot, with the assistance of sharp-glasses guy and security. Tomo seems repelled and scared. Sharp-glasses tells her that Yui considered her work to be a collaboration with tangled-light-hair, who was her producer

She finally makes it to her goal, Yui-sempai's grave. Yui lived from 2000 to 2016. Tomo prays. Miki comes up behind her. Miki seems to feel some respect for her. She asks if this isn't the audition day. Tomo laments that she had expected to be there earlier and have time, but sharp-glasses had taken her places. Miki explains that when the first Lemon Angel Project got started, Yui signed a contract with a company and got a producer, who was tangled-light-hair guy.

Miki felt that the producer changed Yui's music so it wan't hers any more. Yui told her not to criticize him. She had fallen in love with him. She thought he was a genius.Then he told her he thought she was extremely talented, but that he didn't have any interest in her in a romantic way at all. She was devastated, and wandered off into the dark rainy streets, eventually being hit by a truck.

Miki tells Tomo not to leave the group, but to keep singing. She says that the group couldn't continue when it lost its heart, Yui, but now Tomo is the kind of person who can be a new heart for the LAP.

Back at the rehearsal, Miru is wowing them with her performance. Then they wait for Tomo, who finally bursts in through the door, exhausted. But when asked if she could sing, she gathers herself together and says "Yes!" with determination. And she transports them with her great singing. Miru sees the original LAP lead singer in Tomo. (Yui modelled the appearance of the lead singer in the original, virtual LAP, on her young friend Tomo's features).

At the end, when all the other girls are rushing up to congratulate Tomo (even Saaya, who can recognize quality when she sees it), Miru marches over to the manager and asks him to make Tomo the lead singer.

At the end, Tomo is on the phone with sharp-glasses guy. She tells him she wants to sing, and will not back out. After they hang up, sharp-glasses guy says to himself, "You'll regret it," as he plays with a data disk that looks like the one Miki had.

Wednesday, February 15, 2006

Kashimashi -- Boys just want to be girls

Do boys just want to be girls? The surprising popularity of the new series Kashimashi ~Girl Meets Girl~ makes me wonder.

Hazumu, a very unmanly 17-year-old is struck by an alien spaceship. The aliens put him back together but, so sorry, they unavoidably have to remake him as a girl. This all happens in the first episode. The rest of the series tells how he, his parents, and his friends react to the new situation. In general, everyone is pleased -- Hazumu most of all. His timid, effeminate nature always made him more like a girl, anyway. And his love life takes off: the main story is a love triangle involving Hazumu and two of his friends -- both girls.

Certainly, part of the show's appeal is the yuri ("lily" = lesbian) romance. Gender aside, the romance itself is very touching. And there is enough fanservice -- bras, breasts and baths -- for that to be an attraction, too.

But posters to anime forums in Japan and overseas have eagerly volunteered for the same gender transformation as Hazumu. It's just a fantasy, but why is it such an attractive one?

First, of course, the idea of carrying around on your own person the female body you lust after seems pretty convenient. And wouldn't it be nice to share a locker room with girls rather than guys?

For many, there may also be something attractive in abandoning the struggle for masculinity and, as it seems, relaxing into the role of a girl. Not always having to take the lead. Not having to appear fearless. Not having to strive.

But this is all minor. Anime make their strongest effects with mythic characters and situations, characters and situations that resonate deeply with the human psyche: a hero on a quest for sacred objects, witches, wizards and warlocks, giant mecha that look like prehistoric monsters.

The most common mythic characters in anime are cute young girls. These cute anime girls are not just lolicon fantasies, they are also classic examples of the "anima," the feminine personification of a man's soul that shows up in dream, myth and fantasy.

The psychologist Carl Jung, who invented the term, said the anima is a part of the male psyche that enables a man to get in touch with his unconscious. It is a spirit guide, helping men get in touch with their feelings and find a path to wholeness.

Now, the anima has both good and bad aspects. If we become too devoted to her, she can ensorcel us into addiction. She can hold us back from the psychological progress she enables: why go any further if there is this much pleasure close at hand?

But in any case, in addition to lusting after them and/or wanting to protect their moé innocence, we unconsciously identify with them. These cute, uncertain, natural, sacred creatures represent our own inner self. They embody our own wisdom, our own naturalness and vulnerability and pleasure. Perhaps they are more attractive to less masculine animephiles, but they represent things buried in every male psyche. Seeing them in anime stimulates our feeling for and understanding of ourselves.

Here in Kashimashi, the protagonist actually becomes a girl, so our identification with the female anima figure is particularly intimate. Kashimashi takes an effect that is common in anime and raises it to a higher power by transforming the protagonist into his own anima, and ours. This is why it has such an allure.

Do boys want to be girls? Maybe so. But more important, they are moved by seeing the girl that is already part of them.

Lemon Angel Project 06

Ep6 gives us another shot of Tomo puppy-dog goodness, and adds an unnaturally subdued Kadowaki Mai to the group. Our heroines are finally selected to be the new Lemon Angel Project.

Summary -- title: "Promise You"
Miru-chan (VA: Kadowaki Mai), the girl who dresses gothic lolita, lost her parents in a car crash when she was little. Now, having grown up rich and lonely, she is competing to be a member of the Lemon Angel Project, something she has dreamed of for a long time. She is waiting extremely nervously in a karaoke box for her turn to audition. Tomo comes in to return a skirt to her that Tomo had ripped and Erika had mended. Tomo's insouciant optimism seems to have at least a slight effect on Mira.

The final audition is in front of an audience. The first part is a self-introduction. Fuyumi (glasses girl) takes encouragement from (evil girl) Haruka's last words to her to do her best for her sake, and emanates meganeko charm. Erika's foreign exuberance takes them by storm. Saya gets angry with someone in the crowd who calls her by her swimsuit-photo name and the crowd digs it. Tomo marches on stage and surprises herself when the audience starts chanting what she says back at her. She gets into it so much that she has to dragged off. When it's Miru's turn, however, she totally freezes.

Before the talent part of the audition, Miru is back in the karaoke box by herself, thinking of the original Lemon Angel Project, which she loved. Tomo comes in and they end up listening together to an LAP tune, sharing Tomo's cell phone earbuds. Tomo runs on stage joyously and captures the crowd's heart with her singing. I think the singing is actually the voice of Miki (Maruyama Miki) rather than of Tomo (Shihono Ryou). We see Miru thinking of how much she loves the old Lemon Angel Project and being energized by it.

She must have done well, because at the end, when five girls are chosen from the 12 hopefuls on stage, she is one of the chosen: Saya, Erika, Yumi, Tomo and her. But we end on an ominous note, with a phone call to Tomo that appears to be not quite what she thinks it is.

This is just a feel-good show. Enough tension is introduced to allow its resolution to be a pleasure. The animation is good enough. The character design is not as generic as some people have said. There is less music than I'd like, but what there is is a lot of fun. And there is much joy, particularly emanating from Tomo.

Sunday, February 12, 2006

Lemon Angel Project 05

This episode belongs to Fuyumi, the meganekko (glasses-girl). Once again, we see a hurtful situation transformed by the power of friendship. And once again we feel Tomo's unruly puppy-dog goodness.

Tomo is the heart of this show. The cracked intensity of Shihono Ryou's presentation communicates a real individual: one particular ignorant, self-doubting, friendly, positive 15-year-old. The thinness of Ryou-chan's voice is the thinness of real youth.

Episode 5 repeats the show's theme: friendship and positive effort overcome all. Once again an abstacle presents itself, and once again the mutual support and encouragement of friends overcomes it. And adds another member to the Lemon Angel Project team.

Fuyumi loves making donuts for her friends. She brought some for Haruka, with whom she has performed since they were little, but Tomo sniffed them out and showed that she loved them as much as Fuyumi herself.

Then Haruka -- who is the girl who was so mean to Erika in ep4 -- arrives and commands Fuyumi to come with her, and she gives her a bottle to make sure the friends drink. Tomo has to leave an audition because of tummy problems. Saya finds her leotard has been splashed with bleach -- but she goes ahead and dances well anyway, to Haruka's disgust. Tomo has to have her foot bandaged after stepping on a tack in her shoe.

But Saya overhears Haruka coaching Fuyumi in sabotage. When Fuyumi comes with a letter to plant on them, she thinks better of it even before Saya exposes her, and Tomo simply ignores what's past and includes her in the group's practice. Finally, Fuyumi refuses to carry out Haruka's last attempt at sabotage.

Then it's time for a do-or-die audition. Fuyumi falls and knocks Saya over, and Tomo leaves her place to come and help, so it seems all over. But Tomo's positivity leads them back to dance together better than they ever have.

Haruka dances out in front to show off to the judge, but he taps her on the shoulder and she's toast. She complains. He says that she is a good dancer and will have other opportunities, but he is looking for potential, and he glances at Tomo and company. Outside, as Haruka is leaving, after bitching a bit she tells Fuyumi to do her best, for her sake.

There are still about a dozen contestants left...

This show is about feelings: the feelings of the girls, and our feelings as we follow their ride. The story, as in many anime, is a pastiche of familiar elements. But it works because of the characters and their emotions. We can feel Fuyumi's confusion, Saya's determination, Haruka's fear, hatred and pride -- and especially Tomo's joy and good will.

Next episode: Miru, the quiet girl in gothic-lolita black, takes center stage (VA: Kadowaki Mai!)