Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Hitohira -- a great start for the new season

It's probably not to everyone's taste, but I just loved the first episode of Hitohira
ひとひら. This is the first show in what will become a flood of new shows beginning Sunday, as the spring anime season really gets under way.

It's always dangerous to make comparisons, but in its gentleness, sensitivity and warm atmosphere, Hitohira reminded me of Asatte no Houkou. There was also something of Maria-sama ga Miteru about it, and not just in the conservative school uniforms.

The basic story is about an insecure high-school freshman whose voice completely goes away when she is nervous, but who becomes a member of a drama club. I see hints of a school-level Glass Mask. I'll summarize the story in pop-up captions you can see by passing your mouse over the pictures, and continue my comments between the rows of pics. (click pictures to enlarge)

first-year student Mugi (right) is so nervous that, as often happens, she can't speak

This show is made by the same staff that made PetoPeto-san, and their delicacy of feeling shows. They treat another insecure young lead with great sympathy. The voice-acting is generally wonderful. Kawasumi Ayako as the impassive but friendly senior Nono is totally captivating. And Kimoto Orie as the protagonist Mugi drips out her hesitant syllables in a way that draws you right in.

Mugi's friend Kayo is played by Miyagawa Miho, who played the very popular character Sahara in PetoPeto-san. She does a good job as the close friend who sometimes seems a bit impatient with Mugi and is always trying to push her to be more assertive.

The tenderest moments in the piece are between Nono and Mugi. The understated feelings really work. The silences and hesitations in these scenes are great directorial work, in my opinion. Of course, Kawasumi Ayako makes it all easier by being completely godly here. The series director is Nishimori Akira, who did PetoPeto-san, and he directed and storyboarded the first episode, too.

The blonde freshman Chitose, who loves watching plays, is well voiced by newcomer Yabusaki Emi, who had a couple of bit parts in PetoPeto-san. Narita Ken's voice stands out as the drama research club member Takashi. In recent roles, he played Kazuya in Kyoushirou to Towa no Sora, and Jeremiah in Code Geass.

Mugi's friend Kai, a rambunctious boy, is played by Kishio Daisuke, who was Samatarou in Kamisama Kazoku and the elegant Yunoki in Corda D'Oro.

The music in the show works extremely well to reinforce the emotion without making it melodramatic. The OP and ED are marvelous, to my ear. I just love the very skillful and musical voices of Asami Yuuko (OP) and Mizuhashi Mai (ED).

Left above is the face-touching scene from the manga. To my eye, the animation director, Motohashi Hideyuki, and the character designers, Yamanaka Junko and Sudo Masatomo, have done a great job preserving the feeling of the manga in a clean, colorful anime look. At right is the entire page from the manga, which is by Kirihara Izumi.

Kimoto Orie and her alter ego

On the left are the seiyuus for the three main freshman girls -- (l-r) Miyagawa Miho (Kayo), Kimoto Orie (Mugi), Yabusaki Emi (Chitose) -- just before going on stage for a live event at the Tokyo International Anime Fair on Sunday. At right is Kimoto Orie at the Fair, beside a poster of Mugi. Looks pleased as Punch, doesn't she? This is her second starring role. She was Cure Bloom in Pretty Cure Splash Star. She says she went on Saturday just to see the Fair, but ended up signing autographs by her poster. Both pictures are from Kimoto Orie's blog.

This first episode got the show off to a great start, for me. But that was true of PetoPeto-san, too. While I did like that show, the plot seemed to wander off in the second half of the series. Hopefully the fact that this is based on a manga will help it stay on the rails. The lead writer is Sasano Megumi, who did the same job on PetoPeto-san. The manga is published in Comic High, which is a seinen magazine (mainly aimed at young men).

A show that is a combination of PetoPeto-san, Marimite, and Glass Mask? You could do a lot worse than that.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Another New Show: Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo

Broadcast times and cast have been firmed up and now Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo is slated to begin Tuesday night April 3 at 26:15. I'll add it to my original season summary, but in brief, it appears to be the second harem-show-on-an-island of the new season, along with Nagasarete Airandou.

The island's largest employer is pulling up stakes and the school dorm is almost empty, just our hero and some girls. Then suddenly a transfer student appears: one of the girls arrives back in her room to find a beautiful girl in her underwear resting on the bed. From a popular ero-game, with the PS2 version coming out in May. The hero is apparently a much more interesting character than the average harem lead.

The director, Yabuki Tsutomu, did Keitai Shoujo and Happy Seven. Lead writer Nishizono Satoru does the same job on Happiness and Naruto Shippuden. Animation director Hanai Hirokazu animated the good-looking Kamisama Kazoku. The cast is an interesting mixture, with Koorogi Satomi (Himawari in Crayon Shin-chan), Orikasa Ai, Shinji Kawada (Mine in Nodame), and Nazuka Kaori (in a minor role), among others. The fact that Artland is involved also gives me hope.

To get ready for the new season, which just started (Wednesday 11am availability in Japan) with the promising Hitohira, take a look at my full season preview, and at the wonderful full preview done by Random Curiosity.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Hirano Aya: Award and Crutches

Well, I guess it's all Hirano Aya 平野綾 all the time here on Aya-channel. But the Aya thread on 2channel has been boiling for the last few days, so here's what's going on.

First, there was the triumphant live event last Sunday, which ended with Aya weeping again. Then on Thursday, the Tokyo International Anime Fair (TIAF) 東京国際アニメフェア awards made her top seiyuu of the year -- but she couldn't attend, apparently because of a recording session, and sent a video message instead. From Friday to Sunday, she did not update her blog. This is remarkable because over the past few months, she has barely missed a single day, let alone three in a row.

On Saturday, however, she appeared at TIAF in a Galaxy Angelune live event. She was late because of another recording session, but still took part in one musical number and a brief talk. However, according to a couple of observers, she arrived and left on crutches. The Japanese Aaya-ota on 2channel exploded with concern for her health. On Sunday, there was another live event at TIAF for the Seiyuu Awards that were presented a few weeks ago. She came to that one, too, and apparently spoke easily and well, but looked tired.

Then late Sunday night she finally updated her blog, first finishing a series on making takoyaki, then posting some more food shots, and finally with posts about the TIAF and a big apology for not having updated the blog: her cell phone died and then her "physical condition fell apart a bit."

Above left: making takoyaki. Middle: the finished product. Right: a White Day gift from Akesaka Satomi, who is a seiyuu with her on Galaxy Angelune.

Above left: Negitoro-don [raw tuna and spring onion on rice, with various delicious-looking additions]. "I love this dish. But I haven't had it for a long time. This is just about the only kind of don [anything on rice] I like. Oyako-don? [chicken and egg on rice] -- Nooo. But I do love hitsumabushi [grilled eel on rice], which is a little different."

Lots of seiyuus post pictures of food. Fewer post pictures of food they make themselves. Above centre: "The Food of Love." "'Here, darling. Tee-hee...' Well, it looks good, anyway." For someone who says she plans never to marry, she seems awfully domestic, in an almost Yamato Nadeshiko kind of way. Above right: "Cinnamon cocoa." "I love cinnamon, but I really love stick cinnamon."

Left: "Awful. Don't say: 'Take off the wig.'" Centre: "Tokyo International Anime Fair." She certainly looks tired in this shot. "I received the seiyuu award! Only one person is chosen every year. It's a big responsibility. I will do my very best. Please don't worry, and please keep watching."

Right: "I apologize for not updating my diary. My phone adapter couldn't take the different voltages in other countries, and my cell phone died. Then my physical condition fell apart a bit. I'm bowing to apologize, but I also want you to see the different style of hair-bun." By the way, posters on 2channel say that she has a red Sharp SH903i NTT DoCoMo phone. And the photos below seem to prove it. She posted the left-hand photo several hours after the others above, and after the discussion of her phone on 2channel. This makes me wonder if she might actually be reading her own thread on 2channel. Pretty scary, considering some of the things posted there.

No-one knows what her physical problems are, but a post on 2channel linked to an interview from last December. The interviewer asked her about her school and said she must have done well in sports. She said she didn't take part much, and was usually just resting in the shade. The interviewer said perhaps it was because she had to avoid tanning. Aya replied that, no, her reflexes were so bad that she couldn't do sports at all, even though she could do her dancing.

At Sunday's talk event for the Seiyuu Awards, there was talk and some skits. Paku Romi gave a moving talk that ended with her pretending to faint. Paku-san, Aya and Koshimizu Ami did a skit together that ended with them all embracing. Aya mentioned that she had been a big Pokemon fan, so they had her sing the theme, which she did to great applause. Paku-san said she wanted to take Aya home with her. Aya apparently seemed very natural when she was shaking hands with fans. No crutches in sight. "Best personality" winner Asano Masumi missed this event because of the flu. The pictures below are from the event, and there are more pics here. Below left (l-r): Paku Romi, Koshimizu Ami, Hirano Aya, Kano Yui, host Washigaki Takeshi, Kakihara Tetsuya. Right: Paku, Aya, Ami.

One more thing of some interest from the Aya thread on 2channel. The Sumomo mo Momo mo DVDs have full audio commentary by the seiyuus, etc. It appears that Kano Yui and Takahashi Hiroki (Momoko and Koushi) are on all of them, with others coming in for different episodes. On the commentary for episode 9, Aya (who plays Sanae) seems very relaxed and talkative, particularly during the scene where Sanae's grandmother has her in a skimpy horse outfit and is riding her, with a whip, as a form of martial arts training (this has to be seen to be believed, like some other scenes in that show):

Kano: "Awful!"
Takahashi: "Well, no...."
Hirano: "Yay!"

Kano: "She's not wearing a bra."
Hirano: "It's just pushing up from below."
Kano: "She has a lot of self-confidence."
Hirano: "Great, isn't it..."

Hirano: "Somehow I seem to have a lot of hentai roles lately."
Takahashi: (laughing) "You've done others?"
Hirano: "All kinds of them, for some reason."
Takahashi: "Hentai in what way?" (his interest rising)
Hirano: "Oh, like characters who always talk about ero things..."

Layla in NANA is sort of an example. One of the early scenes for Layla, a big rock star, is when she has called in a young male prostitute to her room in a hotel.

And one final thing. It was mentioned on 2channel today that items on the Seiyuu News website referring to Aya's photo book and the live event last week had 27,000 and 14,000 hits respectively, whereas most items in the news had hits numbering in the hundreds -- except one around 1500 and a Mizuki Nana item (with photos) around 5000. More indication of Aya's current wave of popularity.