Saturday, March 04, 2006

Lemon Angel Project 09

title: symphony of sorrow

Once again, we have a hymn to the power of friendship. The glue of Tomo's goodness binds the members of the Lemon Angel Project even closer. And the evil reporter's stratagem, after some quite effective angst all round, blows up in his face. Erika's seiyuu, Chihara Minori makes the most of her turn to sing the OP. A real voice.

This show is about the characters and their emotions, as well as the Lemon Angel Project's rise to stardom (not to anticipate the plot, lol). There may be the odd hole in the plot, but that doesn't change the fact that the emotions work, because of the direction and storyboarding, and because of the emotional intensity of the voices.

The reporter's plan to reveal that Erika and her brother are not blood relatives, yet are living together, makes sense until you realize that he was adopted when he was a baby and she was about three, so a timely statement from their parents would blow the whole thing out of the water.

Miki-sempai takes a big step toward accepting the group, and appears to end her cooperation with the forces that are trying to turn back the clock and recreate the virtual original of the LAP. The power of the girls' friendship for each other finally cracks her armour and she chooses the future over the past.

Erika is gone, leaving only a note behind. In the chalet where the group has been training, Miki says it can't be helped. Tomo, however, says she is going to go and get Erika, and Saya says she's going, too. Tomo says they're close friends so that's what they should do, and asks Miki-sempai if she doesn't agree. No answer, but you can see the doubt in Miki's face: is she doing the right thing in secretly helping to destroy the new group and reconstitute the original one?

Meanwhile on the train back to Tokyo, Erika watches the scenery pass and thinks about how much she loves her brother Takumi and how she always saved him in the past and will do so this time, too. She arrives at Shinjuku station and calls him. They will meet at the studio where he is working.

When the manager and producer come downstairs in the chalet, Fuyumi (glasses-girl) tries to explain away the absence of Erika, Tomo and Saya, but Miru (dressed in black) quietly tells the truth.

From the train, rushing to join Erika, Saya and Tomo call her on her cell. Erika is deeply moved when Tomo says they are close friends, and she agrees to meet them at the studio. When she arrives, however, the cartoon-exaggerated evil reporter lies in wait behind some bushes, snapping photos of her going to her brother/lover (as he will claim in his exposé).

Back at the chalet, good salaryman concludes that it is too late to stop the story, and declares that the LAP may be dead. The musical director, Katagiri-san, arrives at the tabloid's offices in Tokyo, but is unable to move the editor who is thrilled by his reporter's lying exposé.

Tomo and Saya catch up with Erika, and her brother comes out of the studio to greet her. But the reporter snaps more photos and, when they catch sight of him, even goes so far as to tell Takumi that he is not really Erika's brother.

The animation in this series is just adequate, but here they do some nice things. They solarize Erika and then show her spinning away into dark emptiness as she thinks the worst has happened and the reporter has informed her brother of this secret before she can. But then Takumi says, "So?" and reveals that his stepfather told him all this before he left to go overseas. He challenges the reporter to do his worst, and says that he only has one beloved big sister.

Then Katagiri shows up. He has a grudge against the reporter, and is a big guy. The reporter drops his camera and it breaks, losing the shots he's just taken. Katagiri stomps on it for good measure. The reporter flees, uttering threats.

But Saya and Tomo aren't finished. They stand up for the group against Katagiri. Saya says she doesn't want to have her throat destroyed, as the reporter had told her Katagiri did to a previous singer. She says they refuse to continue such excessive training. Tomo chimes in that she just doesn't understand what Katagiri is trying to do.

Katagiri then remembers how Alice, the girl he loved and produced as a singer, had her throat destroyed, bleeding on the keys of the piano. Then, since she could no longer sing, she leapt to her death from the hospital window, just before he arrived with flowers. There is a nice shot of his foot crushing the bouquet as he rushes to the window. The evil reporter was on the scene then, too....

Katagiri tells the girls that their tough training is in fact intended to prevent their throats from being injured. Then they hear the strains of Erik Satie's first Gymnopédie piano piece wafting down from a nearby apartment. Katagiri says it is his favorite music, and you realize that it was a piece played by Alice.

The scene switches to the editor and reporter trying to look at his story and pictures on a computer, but the screen suddenly shows an error message, and all the data disappears. Then you see Miki's screen, suggesting that she has just completed erasing their data. She is a technical genius, too, it seems, like her old friend Yui.

She comes down to the main floor of the chalet, where Erika, Tomo and Saya are apologizing for having run off. But Miru and Fuyumi both say they will quit, too, if the three girls are let go. Everyone is impressed by the deep friendship the girls have developed for each other. So Katagiri says that their training session is to begin right away, implying that the group is staying together. Miki chimes in, asking the girls what they are doing just standing around, that they should be working. She has made her decision: the old LAP is gone, long live the new LAP.

I still don't much like the harsh and backhanded way such moments are conveyed in Japanese media. Why do those in authority always have to be so heavy, even when they're being nice? Oh, well. It does work dramatically.

But the episode ends on a wonderful, if hackneyed note: with the good salaryman leading everyone in a cheer of determination for the future of the LAP.

It was a nice moment when the producer, manager, and music director realized how tight-knit a group the new LAP had become. It emphasized again the theme of this show: that friendship and mutual support conquer all. These particular girls were in part chosen becuase they showed some feeling for each other, which would help them work together as a group. That decision is being validated again and again.

This is a kids' show in some ways, but it is also a show for adults. The animation is rough and sometimes off-model, but the human feelings continue to shine through. What they say is rather ordinary, but somehow it touches deeper places in the heart.

cast and crew details, etc.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Shinigami no Ballad 01

title: Your Voice

Jigoku Shoujo with goodness rather than evil. The lead character Momo is a cute young white-clad shinigami ("death-god," a conductor of souls) with a dark feline familiar. Each episode appears to be self-contained, with her conducting someone out of the world.

I enjoyed this first episode a lot. It is the story of a middle-school romance in which the girl suffers from a disease that affects her breathing. Moving and wise: value life, and accept death.

Great voice work by Saitou Chiwa as the girl, in a voice I hadn't heard her use before. And Kobayashi Akiko's interesting, slightly dead, voice (Kisa in Zettai Shounen) was good as Momo.

The show succeeds Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora in its Thursday late-night time-slot. Perhaps it should be called the hour of beautiful death. Same animation production company, Group TAC. Japanese posters on 2channel seem to prefer this to Hantsuki. In my opinion, it will have to go a long way to equal that beautiful show. Maybe it can, we'll see. Both are based on novel series.

The director is Mochizuki Tomomi, who previously directed Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou (YKK) and Zettai Shounen. Not too shabby. A specialist in effective silences and a simple but mysterious atmosphere.

The emotions in this show are not extreme, but that is part of its point. Mai accepts her death. This is not a show about struggle, but about acceptance. And the gentle pathos strikes deep.

One thing that drives me crazy is the show's subtitle: Momo the girl god of death. Totally unsuitable. That may sound okay to non-English-speakers, but it has entirely the wrong tone for this show. It sounds more like a put-on or a 1950's B movie.

The guys make fun of Kouta for going home every day with Mai. "Where are you going on your date?" they laugh. But Kouta likes Mai. On the way home, they discover a kitten left in a box under a park bench. Mai is determined to save it, since she feels that she is like it: a stray and forlorn kitten.

The next day, they go to the shrine where they left it and feed it cat food. Mai decides to call it Blue, like its eyes and the sky. She says that Kouta and she are its mother and father.

The day after that, when Kouta refuses to play soccer with his friend, the friend gets angry and tells him he should just go and marry Mai. When Mai and Kouta are tending the kitten, Mai has an attack and Kouta helps her use her inhaler. And she embarrasses (and pleases) Kouta by holding his hand as they walk away. The next day, Mai can't come, and Kouta goes to tend their child himself.

Finally, on the next day, Kouta's friend helps him with homework he missed, so Kouta feels he should agree to play after school. Mai is actually pleased, because it means she is not alienating Kouta from his friends. But she has another attack at the shrine....

At home that night, Mai's mother calls to ask Kouta if he knows where Mai is: she never came home. He runs off to the shrine, but she isn't there. He finally sees an ambulance outside her home....

The next day at school, we find out that Mai has died. After school. Kouta goes and gets the kitten, intending to abandon it where they found it. At the park bench, he meets Momo the shinigami (remember her?). She asks if she should kill the kitten. He agrees, then suddenly saves it. She tells him to remember the feelings he had at that moment, and continue to care for his and Mai's "child."

Mai appears to him, seeming quite accepting of the situation, but very loving toward Kouta, and thanks him for continuing to look after the kitten. Then she fades away. He collapses, devastated by his loss.

In the end, we see Momo rising into the sky, finally able to weep over fate.

Tuesday, February 28, 2006

Lemon Angel Project 08

title: angels at a summer place in the woods

Another human obstacle places himself in their way: a tabloid reporter/photographer finds a secret about Erika and threatens to create a scandal. The episode ends with Erika on the platform waiting for the train which may take her away and out of the group.

Perhaps I expect less than other viewers, but this was another enjoyable episode for me. The seiyuu, including Shihono Ryou, communicate their emotions. There are certainly some standard anime memes -- the silent girl (Miru) who clutches the nearest teddy-bear, the tough producer who acts like an irrational drill-sergeant, the creepy media person (as in Ginban Kaleidosope) -- but the heart of the show is the girls and their feelings and reactions, which come through and give much pleasure. They support each other through tribulations, and the naïve Tomo gets another chance to express worried disbelief ("son-na...") in her cracked but moving voice.

The Lemon Angels arrive at a beautiful chalet by a lake near Mt. Fuji. They are enthusiastic about the holiday, but it turns out to be a retreat for intensive training. Katagiri, a famous musical director, is there to train them with merciless discipline. Miki-sempai produces an agreement for them to sign, saying they will follow the training (up at 4:30 a.m., to bed at 8 p.m.).

Outside the chalet, a creepy-looking photographer secretly snaps pictures of Katagiri. At the end of the day, exhausted, the girls slump into the outdoor bath (with less fanservice than you might expect). At night, Miki-sempai thinks with apparent pain of having passed the data disk over to sharp-guy-with-glasses, who wants to have the group disband so they can restart the virtual Lemon Angel project.

The next day, they keep training, Katagiri-san cruising along beside them on his motorcycle as they run, exhausted. He takes Saaya to go get food and make dinner. We see the secret photographer shooting Erika. At dinner, it turns out that Saaya's cooking is inedible. Later, the girls try to scare Katagiri by sneaking to his room in ghost costumes, but see him there intensely practicing boxing and are left cowering in their own fear: they think he really is the ogre they called him earlier. Miki-sempai shows the girls the foreign magazines that have articles praising Katagiri, and the girls realize how great he is, despite his unpleasant manner.

The secret photographer is let in to photograph them. In the course of the event, he tells them that Katagiri ruined a singer's voice five years before. Then he reveals the secret that Erika and her little brother, the famous pop idol, are not really related, and shows them a proposed expose about them living together. Erika admits it's true, but says they have grown up together and really are like brother and sister. He says he's going to expose it, and Erika feels she has to go and see her brother, who doesn;t know they aren't blood relatives. Miki-sempai says that if she does, it's a serious thing, implying that she might have to leave the group.

We see the photographer talking with Katagiri, dripping his poisoned threats. Katagiri restrains himself from attacking him physically. At the end of the episode, Erika is standing on the platform for the train back to Tokyo, and the train is pulling in....

No singing in this episode. All the training is physical exercise.

On Shihono Ryou's blog, she says that her dream is that she will "definitely" win an Academy Award. Such big talk will no doubt provide some people with quite a bit of amusement, but considering how far she's come in the year since she first started being photographed, I wouldn't want to bet against her. She appears to be a bold and determined person with some talent.