Thursday, July 13, 2006

Bokura ga Ita 02

Well, I guess I've found another little-noticed romance to love. Episode 2 was at least as enjoyable as episode 1. The story could still go nowhere, but it's shaping up nicely right now. Of course, you have to like shoujo romance.

The look is artistic, the emotions and relationships interesting, and the comedy delightful. And the new young seiyuu who plays the lead, Sasaki Nozomi ささきのぞみ, has something special. Her voice is not smooth and professional, but it is real and fresh, and under some control. She can be beautifully comic, emotionally expressive, and amazingly moe -- as long you don't mind a bit of whine with the feast.

OP OPYamamoto Nana, Yano's dead girlfriend Takahashi Nana confesses to Yano

This show seems to be flying under the radar. Some posters have quickly rejected it for appearing to be standard shoujo, or for the sketchy but artistic visual style. There are comparatively few posts on AnimeSuki (English) or 2channel (Japanese), and the raws are very slow to appear. But it may be more popular in the Chinese world: there were four different Chinese fansubs of episode 1.

The sound effects this week were striking. Flipping the pages of a book. Stomping down the hall. Maybe a little overemphasized, but intriguing and vivid. And Sasaki Nozomi did some very interesting things. I'm not sure whether to credit her or the director, but a broken little "mm" near the end, for example, was wonderful. Or the way she made her voice break when she was confessing. Or the humorous way she said "deshou?" when she was telling the class who was going to star in the play. Or the way the emotion in her voice matched the emotion in the face on-screen saying "hontou ni suki?"

episode summary
Takahashi Nanami ("Nana") hears the rumors about the object of her affection, Yano, dating his sempai, Yamamoto Nana last year. Then we see our Nana running beside that other Nana's younger sister, Yamamoto Yuri, and saying how happy she is that Yuri is well enough to do phys. ed. now, after her heat stroke during the cross-country hike. She tells Yuri she got 34 on her last math test, up from the previous zero. Yuri says she'd better get 56 next time, since she'll fail if she doesn't get an average above 30. Nana says to herself that she'll work hard. As she runs along, she sees Yano smiling with a friend and thinks: he never changes.

Back in class, she sees some girls looking at a picture of Yamamoto Nana in a yearbook. She turns away, in a complex of emotions, only to find Yano himself coming in asking if anyone can change a Y5000 (~$50) bill. Nana says to herself again that he's always the same.

Nana worries that she isn't pretty enough Nana storms out without her wallet
photos from a machine I look like a smiling octopus

She comes back to the empty classroom after a long committee meeting and happens to see the yearbook. She's starting to look for Yamamoto Nana's picture when Yano comes in. She puts it away, embarrassed, but he asks her to show him the picture, which he hasn't seen. He asks if she wants to see it, and she refuses for about five seconds. She didn't really want to see it under these circumstances. She doesn't know what expression she should have when she looks at it. Then she sees how pretty the girl was, thinks Yano only likes beautiful girls, and feels that she can't compete.

She asks who was in love first and Yano says it was him, that she had a boyfriend when he first met her. She says he must have been proud to have such a pretty girlfriend. He answers that she was the first girl he really loved. She knows she really didn't want to believe there was someone Yano loved, but having him tell her so directly is a bit comforting. Then she blurts out that she likes him. He doesn't seem to react at first, so she starts laughing and pretending she didn't mean it. But he says: "So let's go out together, then."

"Just a minute," she says in shock. "Do you like me?" After a pause, he says: "Uh-huh." She notices the pause and asks if he really likes her. He says he likes everything about her. She says she means does he really, really like her. He pauses and says he doesn't know. She says that isn't enough, that she will wait until he does before they go out. "Understood," he says. Later, on the roof alone, she thinks about the fact that it was the first time she's ever confessed love to anyone, and she was totally confused by his answer.

In class, Yano is almost asleep. The teacher has him to the board and he can't do the problem. The teacher comments how unusual that is. Perhaps Yano's a bit overwhelmed by Nana's confession, too. Nana sees him in the hall and gives him a yogurt drink she has left from lunch. It's supposed to be good for anemia. He says it tastes awaful. But she is pleased they can talk normally to each other after her confession. But then he says she kept asking him if he really, really liked her, so he wants to ask her if she really, really likes him. She finds it hard to answer, so he says she's the same as him.

I made a mistake saying I loved you. sketchy but artistic

Nana and a friend are out shopping in the evening and meet Yano's friend Takeuchi, who takes them to a restaurant where Yano is surrounded by girls, one of them feeding him with a spoon. He introduces Nana as his class rep. One of the girls says how quiet and morose Yamamoto Yuri is, that she probably has an inferiority complex. Nana leaps to her defense and says the girl doesn't know Yuri. The girl says she was in the same class for three years, but Nana replies that then it's surprising she could say a thing like that.

The girl says Nana doesn't know anything, that Yuri's inability to pass a message caused a fight between Yano and her sister. Takeuchi tells her to stop talking about such things there. Yano says they shouldn't stop on his account, adding that Yuri is a nicer person than she seems. But then he tells Nana that she shouldn't talk like that, that this isn't a student council meeting. Nana smacks him with her handbag, says he is an idiot who should die, and storms out.

Outside, she realizes she has left her wallet behind. Then she sees that Yano has come after her. He holds out her wallet to her. He says it's the first time a girl has told him to die. She replies that she can say more, and calls him an idiot and a fool and says his mother has an outie (protruding navel). He laughs and says that his mother doesn't have an outie...but that she's a prostitute. And then tells her that his girlfriend was not a good woman: at the time of the accident, she was with her former boyfriend. He blames himself for the fact that she still wanted to see her old boyfriend.

And then he offers to see Nana home. She at first says he doesn't have to, then asks that they go and take a photo in a booth. She wonders why she said such a stupid thing, but off they go. In the booth, she sees that he is cheering up. She says he's strong to be able to tell her what he just did. He says it's easier to blame yourself than others. She says she thought it was the opposite, and he replies that if you blame another person, you're more likely to get too mad and not be able to forgive them. But if you blame yourself, you're more likely to say "Oh, well," and forget about it. They're both smiling broadly in the picture, and she says to herself that she looks like a fool, that her head is bigger than his and she looks like a big octopus. He says she looks cute. "A cute octopus," she says to herself.

Next we see her as the class rep announcing what the class will do for the school festival. Too many classes wanted to run a cafe, so they missed out on that and will do a short play. This is the least attractive thing to do, since no-one but classmates usually comes to see it. But then she announces to great applause that Yano will star. The class knows that lots of girls will come to see him. Yano is surprised. She asks if he wants to get together and choose the play, but he says she should just go ahead. He's just her ass-wiper, anyway, cleaning up her messes. She says she thinks she made a mistake saying she loved him. "I told you so," he says.

She's really upset with him and is saying so to her friends, and drawing a moustache on his picture, when Yuri comes and tells her about the next day's student council meeting to assign rooms to the various classes for the festival. As she's walking along the hall, Takeuchi calls her from outide and they have a conversation through the window. She tells him not to talk about Yano, that he's got a bad mouth and is just horrible. But she adds that he can bring people together, that when she said he was going to be in the play, their classmates got enthusiastic about it. She really admires that in him. Then she realizes she's being nice to Yano and calls him an idiot and stomps off. Then it turns out that Yano has been hiding right there, and probably asked Takeuchi to talk to her.

Nana and her friends are very busy working on the play when she discovers that they have no room to perform in: she forgot to go to the meeting where rooms were decided. People are all talking about her mistake. Yano hears about it, comes and finds out what's needed, and assures her he will take care of it. She is grateful and relieved, though somewhat dubious. Up on the roof, she thinks how contradictory he is: he's very easy-going and seems not to care, but when there's a crisis he's there.

As she's standing up there stewing, he comes to tell her he got them a good room. She criticizes herself to him for seeming like a responsible person, but being so cowardly and incapable and just apologizing and getting other people to do things for her all the time. He says that isn't so bad. If someone is too good, then.... (He's probably thinking about his former girlfriend.) He also says he doesn't think taking her home that night was a mistake. She asks what he means, and he doesn't really answer. She asks him why, when they get to an important question, he always doesn't answer. Why is he toying with her?

He says he isn't toying with her, he just won't say anything that he isn't sure of. She thinks: "There he goes again." But she has love in her eyes.

Monday, July 10, 2006

The Excellence of Suzumiya Haruhi

a deep, smart, hilarious, beautiful show.
SHnY is excellent in more ways than any anime I know: humor, animation, story, characters, relationships, voice acting, songs, humane philosophy, romance, and even tasteful but stimulating fanservice.

From the first couple of minutes of the first episode, the wonderfully absurd humor, equalled only by Ichigo Mashimaro, really hooked me. Only the island episodes left me less than wowed. In any case, the show did not drop off, but rose to a peak in the "final" episode.

a humanoid data interface the finger of god
moe melt nibble

voice acting
One thing grew and grew on me as the show progressed: Hirano Aya as Haruhi. The way she managed the tonalities in her voice to create subtle feelings was just amazing. I really want to see her in more of these comparatively serious roles. And the new interview on Youtube just sealed the deal. Let's see: three top ten songs in the past three months, raves for her performance as Haruhi, and a student at a prestigious university at the same time. Not bad for an 18-year-old. Of course, she started in show business at 9 and had her first voice role at 14....

Sugita Tomokazu
as Kyon was the glue that held the show together, creating a consistent, amusing, and somehow serious tone. Hearing him now as Mayama in Honey & Clover gives an eerie thrill. Gotou Yuuko captured everyone's attention in episode one, and then with her amazing super-moe shtick, especially in the first few episodes. The hic-gulp when Haruhi first dragged her into the club room was a classic. Chihara Minori as Yuki was just right, but the character was built more on the animation, so it's hard to tell what her contribution really was. Itsuki made me very uneasy whenever he appeared (as he did Kyon), so I guess Ono Daisuke did a good job, too.

imouto in a bag obligatory
he broke her fall omg, she cares!

Much as I admire this show, I still don't quite understand why it became so overwhelmingly popular with so many people. I think it starts with the animation, which is clearly unexcelled in any TV anime. No matter what genres we prefer, all anime fans like animation, so outstanding animation can pull in fans of all genres.

In addition, the show has elements of a number of genres. There are SF, humor, school life, fanservice, romance, monsters, games, great fights, character development, a tsundere, a murderous beauty, lots of moe, and terrific musical numbers (although I was not overwhelmed by the background music). So there are reasons for fans of many genres to like the show.

And it went straight for the encyclopedic jugular of the otaku legions with amusing references to many other anime. And with the beauty, charm and violence of several of its female characters.

But I think one thing that attracted people was the mysteriousness of this show, including the episode order. There was so much you had to figure out that it drew you in, made you participate. Or made you leave, as some people clearly did.

data interface meets cave cricket three minutes of excruciating fun
big mikuru haruhi when she's happy

There is no way to explain humor, but I do want to say a couple of things. I can understand why some people were offended by Haruhi's "molestation" of Mikuru. But I think they're taking it too seriously. Maybe it's because these are not exactly "real" characters, but I was confident from the start that Mikuru would suffer no real harm. It was exaggeration for effect, like Mikuru's classic: "If I'm ruined for marriage, will you have me?" And the helplessness of Mikuru made her like Everyman, helplessly suffering the whims of god.

The humor of Haruhi's selfish intensity was wonderful. How she tests the food in the missing student's frig by forcing it on Mikuru. The way she finessed the free heater. But the humor became even more wonderful as it morphed into the serious sympathy I felt for her desperation in the face of boredom. The humane moment of the grass blowing back into her face. My joy at seeing her smile at the very end. We're not talking stupid jokes that make you laugh out loud (e.g., Muteki Kanban Musume), but a deep, quiet humor that cleanses your feelings about life.

data interface guitar it's going well!
little haruhi i think she likes him

why some people didn't like it
I know that the first ep put some people off, but I don't really understand why. I myself thought the animation there was great, not junk, and that the "bad" video was exquisitely choreographed. And I know that some people admitted that they "just didn't get" the show's appeal. The show is so unique that anyone who expected what is "normal" -- in look or in episode order -- was probably unable to see the true greatness of what was happening, at least at first.

One thing about the discussions of SHnY really bothered me: people complaining about the episode order. It was as if they were demanding that this show become more ordinary. Can you see now that there was a reason for everything, and that it worked? This show is art, not Saturday morning cartoons. The episode-shuffling helped create the emotional arc, and also forced us to feel the instability of time. I'm still not sure if the show ended in the same universe as it began.

I've seen people say Ouran or School Rumble are funnier or better shows. I guess there's no arguing over sense of humor: you either find something funny or you don't. And for me, this and Ichigo Mashimaro are the funniest anime ever made. But, humor aside, even though Ouran is a good show, to say it is better than SHnY seems ridiculous to me. The subtlety of the characterization in SHnY, and the intelligence of just about everything, to say nothing of the amazing animation, make this show stand out. It's a serious comedy.

Of course, I think many people were alienated by the incredible hype. It's hard to like a show that people are baying at you to admire. But it's good to remember that the hype was not there when the show started. It started with people's honest reactions to what they saw. If peer pressure built after that, at least it was not studio hype that created it.

how good is it?
I admit that the characters were not the full, rounded creations of a Honey & Clover, Nana, or Simoun. I was not desperate each week to find out how my "friends" were doing. But they continually gave me important feelings about life. And Haruhi's development, in particular, was quite moving. The characters were almost like figures from myth.

Since I said after episode 2 that this might be the best anime ever, I've realized that there's no such thing. But SHnY is definitely in my personal top few favorites, along with shows like Honey & Clover, KareKano, Uta-Kata, Beck, Planetes, Marimite, Simoun (so far), Ichigo Mashimaro, Haibane Renmei, Oniisama-e, YKK, and others. And if I was forced to pick one top anime, for quality as well as my own enjoyment, I would be choosing between Honey & Clover and this, for their different strengths.

When I was looking for scenes to include as caps in this piece, I discovered that there were many candidates in every episode. I have such strong visual memories from this show. One of the greatest anime of all time.