Saturday, April 01, 2006

Spring Anime Calendar

What a season. Fifty new shows, most of them appearing for the first time this coming week. A lot of shows are only going to get one episode to prove themselves.

To keep things straight, I made a graphic calendar for myself showing when each series I might be interested in started, and adding the names of some of the voice actors I want to hear. Then I realized it might be useful to other people, too. Times and dates are checked by official sites, Moon Phase and Shoubai Calendar.

Click here to go to the calendar
, which looks like this:

So far I've seen three of the new shows. I loved the first two episodes of Dai Mahou Touge, which is an OVA series of which the next episode should air in April. It seemed a worthy comic successor to Puni Puni Poemi and Dokuro-chan.

Since I'm not eight years old, Fushigiboshi no Futagohime Gyu! is not really my style, but I watched it just to hear the beautiful tiny voice of GotouYuuko (Kaede, Nanami) in her bread-and-butter role. Mmmmm. She's perfect as a three-foot-tall magical princess.

And Yoshinaga-san'chi no Gargoyle was interesting, but the only thing that really did it for me there was the always lively voice of Saitou Chiwa in the lead role, using a new voice with a strong accent and a pure childish aggression that was delightful.

I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of the new shows, but I don't yet see one that appears as "serious" as noein, Honey & Clover, Paradise Kiss, or some of the other shows that I like most. Except maybe Nana. But there are always pleasant surprises, and I certainly expect to enjoy some of the bishoujo items like Strawberry Panic, Inukami or Joushi Kousei. I'm also looking forward to the weirdness of Suzumiya Haruhi -- one of the three main seiyuu there being Gotou Yuuko, and another being Chihara Minori, Erika from Lemon Angel Project. I am eager to hear Hirano Aya in the title role, too.

And of course I'll be glued to the screen for the godly Orikasa Fumiko as the Good Witch of the West next Friday. The official site is now up and some of the backgrounds in the Flash intro look good. Others I'll pay special attention to: Witchblade (Noto Mamiko), Higurashi no Naku Koroni (Nakahara Mai, Yukino Satsuki, Yukarin, OriFumi), RAY, Yume Tsukai (Kawasumi Ayako and Hisakawa Aya!), and Saiunkoku (for the fantasy mediaeval China setting).

If you find the calendar format useful and want me to add anything, let me know.

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Lemon Angel Project 13 (end)

If ever one episode justified a series, this is it. The acting, animation, plot, and music all reach a peak in this final episode. I was embarrassed after the first couple of episodes that I enjoyed this show so much. Now I know why I enjoyed it.

The series has helped us get to know a group of individuals who learned to love each other and work together, and now they have grown into a real unit producing music and emotion that bring tears to my eyes. If you are a cynic and a perfectionist, forget this show. But if you can suspend disbelief and give yourself to the emotion of a story, this is a show to see.

Finally the music takes center stage. Starting with the OP sung by the whole group. Then there is a good song by the original Lemon Angel Project (studio singers, I believe), with fabulous animation I will talk about in a minute. Then the new LAP comes through, having reached the height of their powers, with Never Give Up.

Shihono Ryou's voice is totally exposed to start the song, all alone without musical accompaniment, and is certainly reedy and young-sounding, but she has musical sense and gives her part real feeling. Then the rest of the group joins in and creates the entertainment you would expect from a top idol group -- of the 1980s? None of them are great singers individually (except maybe Hirama Juri, glasses-girl), but together they create a great sound.

The drafting and animation also reach a peak here. The characters, particularly Tomo and Miru, look wonderful. The animation of the performances is really good. And there is one scene that just blew me away. It is a concert in a stadium in 2017. The original Lemon Angel Project, the computer program one, performs in mid-air above the crowd, holograms swooping and diving from the roof and up into the sky. Along with the audience in the anime, I got goose-bumps. I look forward to going to a concert like that in 2017.

There are some hiccups. At one point when the group is singing, their mouths are moving so fast an auctioneer couldn't keep up.

voice acting
Voice-acting is not this series' strong suit. I love Shihono's rough-edged voice and emotional expressiveness, but I'm one of few who seem to. The other seiyuus are generally undistinguished. I think the director might be part of the problem: when both Miki and Saaya are expressing anger in this episode, their voices sound as if they are pushing it too hard, breaking the emotional thread. One person seems to have gained from her role here, however: Chihara Minori (Erika) has a main role in this spring's Suzumiya Haruhi.

Japanese reaction
On 2channel, there has been strong negative reaction to this series from the start, as well as bursts of praise. Some of the negatives remain, but there are a number of posts now saying that this one episode rescues the whole series.

The principal bone of contention is the star, Shihono Ryou. Her unpolished emotional voice appears to turn anime otaku off in a big way. They are loyal to the pros. One post said that this episode rescued the series to the point that he can now think of it as a normal series. For me, this reveals the bankruptcy of the posters' judgment. They just can't hear the freshness and emotion in Shihono's voice because it is not a professional seiyuu voice. Actually I agree that she will not become a professional seiyuu: I think her hoarse, edgy voice is better suited to dramas than to anime.

plot summary
The girls are in their dressing-room in the stadium, waiting to go on. But where are Tomo and Miki? Panic. Their producer decides that the four members will perform, with Miru as the main vocalist.

Out at the cemetery where she has gone to commune with Yui, Miki is horrified to find Himuro, the producer whom she believes destroyed Yui's life, standing at her grave. "What are you doing here?" He talks about the long hours he and Yui spent developing the program and the music. He says their program alone could produce that music. "You're wrong," comes a voice, the voice of Tomo, who has come to find Miki. Can the images in a computer program become close friends, laugh together, cry together, work together?

Back at the stadium, the sharp guy with glasses has his engineer turn on the Lemon Angel Project 1 program. The music starts, and people wonder where the voices are coming from. They look up, and see the members of LAP1 up around the edge of the stadium roof. They take off like birds and stream up into the sky, glowing and dripping with light as they sing. Finally, they race into the big screen and disappear, to thunderous applause.

And now it is time for the new Lemon Angel Project. When the crowd sees that there are only four of them, murmurs of dissatisfation begin. But the girls get ready and Miru is about to sing when Tomo's voice suddenly rises above them, starting Never Give Up, and the group's performance begins. Tomo and Miki run down the stairs together onto the stage. As she sings, Tomo thinks back to Miki apologizing to her for having forgotten Yui's heart, and saying that Tomo brings Yui back. Tomo puts her hand on Miki's bare shoulder, in a wonderful gesture like Miru's hand grasping the flesh of Tomo's upper arm in episode 12.

Sharp-glasses is dismissive, convinced that the return of the original LAP has destroyed this new group. But the crowd warms to them and loves their music. He gets his engineer to cut off the lighting. After a restive pause, the audience starts chanting for them to sing, and lights spread through the crowd. The girls feel a rush of pleasure. Tomo lifts her microphone and begins Never Give Up unaccompanied. The rest join in, one by one, the sound echoing unamplified around the stadium. The crowd is thrilled, sharp-glasses is disgusted. Their producer and musical director, as well as Himuro and Miki, hear Yui in Tomo's song.

The engineer, out of respect, turns the lights back on. Sharp-glasses gets angry with him, but Himuro steps in. Tomo has proved that there are some things a computer program just can't do. In the crowd we see the old troupers who trained the new LAP thrilled by their performance. And most touching of all, we see Fuyumi's nasty friend Haruka clearly moved.

This story did not end the way I expected. It could have concluded with the old LAP being defeated, the program destroyed. Instead, they performed well, but LAP2 had their own special triumph, too. It was an ending that grew naturally out of the situation. This series ended up making a lot more sense that it seemed it was going to in the beginning.

The credits roll over some amusing shots of the seiyuus during recording. Kadowaki Mai and Shihono Ryou are particularly comical. Maita's character Miru -- known on 2channel as "Black" -- has recently been getting a lot of love even from the Japanese opponents of the show. She is the moé in this show.

Finally, after the credits, we see the girls running together happily to get to a recording session on time. Tomo's contralto voiceover is beautiful, smoother and more professional than she has been at any point in the series. Tomo is speaking to Yui, telling her that she is together with her beloved friends. The theme of the show: loyal friendship and positive effort can overcome all obstacles. Especially with the help of a Miss Natural whose emotional warmth and daring bring the group together and propel them forward.