Thursday, January 25, 2007

January New Anime -- Nodame, Manabi, and the rest

As usual, I like too many shows. The winter season is usually a down time, but there are four new shows I find excellent through two or three episodes. Especially Nodame Cantabile and Manabi Straight.

Nodame realizes that she loves Chiaki -- to his horrorNodame Cantabile — Intelligent, romantic, hilarious, with great music and lovely pacing. The live-action dorama was wonderful, but this is more subtle. The characters are not presented in such an exaggerated way, either by the actors or by the character design. By sticking closer to the look of the manga, after two episodes the anime is working better than the dorama. Kawasumi Ayako can do anything. Her performance as Nodame, the piano genius who doesn’t bathe much and can’t keep her apartment clean, is pure genius, and she and Seki Tomokazu work together beautifully. Made by the team that animated Honey & Clover. ‘Nuff said. (Mouseover images for captions, click to enlarge.)

Massugu, GO!Manabi Straight — Industrial strength cuteness. So moe and so heartwarming that the warmth approaches nuclear fusion. Terrific-looking backgrounds and chubby-loli character design. Excellent witty animation. This show is both hilarious and somehow deeply moving. Episode two brought tears to my eyes, with pity at the human condition, and with joy at the positive message at the anime’s heart. Episode three reminded me of a sermon I once heard about each day being a fresh chance. Excellent voices performing well: Horie Yui, Hirano Aya, Nonaka Ai, Inoue Marina, and Fujita Saki.

Kyoushiro sweeps Kuu off her feetKyoushiro to Towa no Sora — Sick and wonderful. Yahagi Sayuri’s liquid voice gives life to the insecure Kuu, who keeps having dreams of a prince coming to take her away. Then he appears as a student at her school — and the first thing he does is rip off her blouse (to look for certain marks on her body). Magic, romance, sex, yuri, mystery, adventure, violence — all wrapped up in a slickly designed anime that reaches down into our unconscious and drags us along, for three episodes at least. Made by the staff that made Kannazuki no Miko.

The most elegantly animated matsuri episode everHidamari Sketch — This may be the most visually artistic anime I have ever seen. Akiyuki Shinbou and his team give us the animation awesomeness of Negima?! in elegant pastels. A gentler version of the random comedy of PaniPoni Dash is served up by a team of outstanding seiyuus: Gotou Yuuko, Shintani Ryouko, Mizuhashi Kaori, Matsuki Miyu, and excellent newcomer Asumi Kana. Cuteness of a more detached and delicate kind than Manabi Straight. Four girls live in a cute little apartment building right next to the art high school they attend. Their teacher — Matsuki Miyu — is delightfully weird.

Les Miserables~Shoujo Cosette~ Nazuka Kaori is shoujo Cosette. This is a 52-week version of the classic French novel, adapted for “family viewing.” The kiddification of the images is a little off-putting for such a serious novel, but on the basis of even the first two episodes, I still may find it too heart-rending to watch. Partisans of the novel, who were dubious before the show started because of the emphasis on Cosette, may be beginning to be won over by episode 3.

Tokyo Majin Gakuen — Excellent animation of fights against monsters, but I really don’t get monster anime, so fans of monster battles or of animation per se are more thrilled by this show than I am. There are a couple of good seiyuus (Horie Yui and Arai Satomi, with Yahagi Sayuri to come), who don’t seem to me to be doing their best work.

Getsumen to Heiki Miina — What can you say about a show called Lunar Bunny Weapon Miina? Just as crazy as its title, but with the underlying story of a high-school girl who gets a gig on the evening news. Quite loony (pun intended): Miina's transformation into the Bunny Weapon involves huge carrot-weapons shooting down from the moon and attaching themselves to her behind. Has to be seen to be believed. Beautiful look, with large areas of bright colors. Distant spin-off from Densha Otoko. Inoue Marina does a fine job as the lead.

Angelique~Radiant Tomorrow~ — This is pure shoujo reverse-harem fantasy — which is not a criticism in my book. Just relax and enjoy it. The settings are a beautiful version of the ancient Greco-Roman world, the character design is good, and the voices are excellent. Sugita Tomokazu joins a cast that already has some of the loveliest male voices around. And the heroine is played by Honna Youko, who starred as Shizuka in Ghibli’s Whisper of the Heart, my favorite full-length animation.

Venus Versus VirusChihara Minori and strong newcomer Takagaki Ayahi are monster-fighters. Not a genre I like, but Minorin’s character's despair in episode 2 at not being able to go back to a normal life was quite touching.

Saint October — Lolis and a shouta fight a mysterious organization run by an ineffectual-seeming Joker-like figure from his grand office atop a skyscraper. Some excellent character design, and not without entertainment value, but not for me.

Himawari!! — I could only watch a bit of it. It seemed very awkward, and the humor didn't reach me. The voices were quite off, including the usually good Hirano Aya and Shiraishi Ryouko. I blame the director and/or the sound director. Only the little-trained voice of Matsumoto Kana in the lead sounded right. Even fans of the first series posting on AnimeSuki sound lukewarm.

GR Giant Robo — Haven’t seen it, but the mecha designs look good, and some mecha fans who have seen it are impressed.

Master of Epic — Weird episodic show that is unique and quite uneven. Each episode is made up of several separate little pieces, with separate credits. I find the animation style too crude, but some of the pieces are good. Derived from an online fantasy role-playing game, it continually breaks the plane by punctuating the little fantasy pieces with an announcer.

Shuffle! Memories — At least so far, it’s a rehash of the first series. For fans only. But since I'm a fan of Gotou Yuuko and Hinata Yura, and Itou Miki (Sachiko in Mari-sama ga Miteru) does such a good job as Asa....

Deltora Quest — I’ve only seen part of episode 1. Comments on AnimeSuki range from raves to condemnation. Some people find it dull and hackneyed. Others praise the animation and the voice-acting, and say that this is first-class old-school fantasy adventure. I found the bit I watched rather heavy, especially the animation, but with some artistic aspects.

Hashihime season preview
winter 2007 anime calendar (with cast and staff highlights)

Monday, January 22, 2007

Hidamari Sketch -- characters and seiyuus (w/photos)

Another day, another group of outstanding seiyuus. Hidamari Sketch is Akiyuki Shinbou (as uber-director rather than doing the job himself) doing a quieter version of PaniPoni-like 4-koma random humor, in a gentle pastel variation on the animation awesomeness of Negima!? The look of this show is just wonderful, and the cast is outstanding.

I've made a chart of the cast, showing characters and seiyuus, with links to more info about each seiyuu.

It's an ensemble cast playing four girls who live in a pretty little apartment building right near their art high school. Newcomer Asumi Kana strikes just the right notes as Yuno, around whom the show seems to revolve, and what can you say about a "supporting" cast that includes Mizuhashi Kaori, Gotou Yuuko (who says she's playing her character as an onee-san), and Shintani Ryouko. And Matsuki Miyu turns in a hilarious performance as their teacher.

The cast and the script are amusing, but the art is what makes this show special. The art high school setting gives the animators extra licence to indulge themselves -- with results that just have to be seen.