Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Hitohira 02

Episode 2 wasn't as dramatic as episode 1, but it still really wove its spell for me. There are a lot of very likeable people here, and a plot that is developing in interesting ways.

Mugi (Kimoto Orie) and Nono (Kawasumi Ayako) are at opposite ends of the professionalism spectrum, but they both move me. And I'm beginning to be able to stand Risaki, who was the one downer of episode 1 for me. Some of the background music turns me off, but the OP and ED are both just stellar.

I'll interweave two contact sheets of images with a detailed summary of the plot, for those who can't understand what they're saying. I'm sorry I don't have time to pick the images more carefully.

Mugi dreams of being on stage and wakes up with the after-lunch bell in the storage room by the costume she loved in ep1. In class, she tells Kayo she didn't sleep at all the night before, from having joined the drama study club. Kayo tells her it's a good chance to improve herself.

Kai tells her they have their first practice. He apologizes for his sister, but Mugi says it's okay, she can't be on stage, but she'll do backstage work. He says to call him "Kai" instead of his last name Nishida, to be different from his sister. They look for the club room and it turns out to be tiny. Then they find out that their entering the club has made it possible for the club to survive, that there are only five members in total, and that in October they and the other drama club -- the "Drama Club" engekibu, rather than their "Drama Study Group" engeki kenkyuukai -- will present plays and the best play will decide which of the two clubs survives.

Kai's sister Risaki punches him for putting down the club, but Katsuragi, the guy in glasses, says that Nono can handle her, that she beat up the whole judo club the year before when they damaged some stuff. Then Mugi discovers that there are so few people that she can't just do backstage work, and she faints. "Funny girl," says Nono.

On the way to school, Mugi falls in the rain. The blonde girl, Kanna Chitose, helps her. She asks if Mugi is hurt, and Mugi says no, embarrassed. Chitose finds this hard to understand. She loans her a gym outfit while her uniform is drying in Chitose's locker. Katsuragi sees them coming out of the...Drama Club room, which is where Chitose's locker is. In class, the teacher calls Mugi "Kanna" all day, because of the name on the gym outfit.

After class, the Drama Study Group is there to intercept Mugi and Chitose on their way into the Drama Club room, to ask what's going on. They think Mugi may be abandoning them. The Drama Club president and her troops come by and sympathize with poor Mugi for joining the "fake" club. Nono says Mugi didn't want to join the Drama Club because she hates acting. In the pause, Risaki smacks the the drama club prez's hand away from Mugi. When the prez questions her, she says there was a fly on it, and the prez drily thanks her. Risaki says "it was a stink bug" and grabs Mugi and runs down the hall with her. She apologizes to Mugi for mistaking her intentions when it was just that she got her uniform wet, but Mugi says that it's okay, and that she probably doesn't intend to quit the club.

Up on the school roof after school, the club members are preparing costumes and props. Mugi and Chitose are sewing. Chitose is there even though she isn't a member of the club. She's infatuated with Katsuragi. Nono forces Mugi into an informal practice, and Mugi's voice is tiny. Chitose is surprised, but Kayo (Mugi's photographer friend) tells her Mugi's always like that when she's nervous.

Chitose says she has a solution. She rushes over and orders Kai to hold Mugi, and she tickles her. Nono stops Risaki from interfering and notes that laughter is a good way to relax. After the tickling, Mugi angrily shouts at Chitose in the huge voice we only heard once before, at the notice boards. As she's walking away, Chitose says to herself: that voice really surprised me. She's a funny girl, Asai Mugi.

Nono says what a voice it was, and touches her own throat. The other members are concerned (you'll learn why later), but Nono says it's all right, let's get her on stage as soon as possible. The prez of the Drama Club (?) is watching from the window and says: "fool" (I think about Chitose helping the rivals).

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Spring Anime Schedule and First Looks

I've put together a calendar-style schedule for this spring's anime viewing, giving TV days/times in Japan, along with staff and cast highlights.

The calendar shows currently broadcast shows, including those that are not new, but began in past seasons. Titles are color-coded by season, with this spring's new anime in green. It leaves out only some kids' shows and hentai OVAs. It does cover mainstream OVAs released in April.

Data is from the Japanese sites MoonPhase, Shoboi Calendar, and Wikipedia, and from Anime News Network and Unfortunately, I don't have time this season to link the cast/staff name to more into about them, but you can find more info by clicking on the show's "+info" link, which takes you to its page on Anime News Network. For another excellent calendar, of a different style, check out Mahou Showtime.

With almost 40 new shows starting in April, it's a chore wading through them all. But I have already seen several good ones.

The first show of the season, Hitohira (Wednesdays) pleased me a lot. It is a sensitive comedy-drama about a girl who sometimes gets so nervous she can't speak, but is dragooned into joining a drama club. I see a mixture of Maria-sama ga Miteru and Glass Mask with some hints of the gentle sensitivity of PetoPeto-san, whose staff is doing this show. Kawasumi Ayako as a sympathetic senior is brilliant.

Touka Gettan (Mondays) is a mysterious romantic drama that has some of the most beautiful animation and backgrounds I have ever seen, with a heady lushness that suits the overheated (and so far impenetrable) tale. In episode one, we have already seen romantic love, maternal love, sex, violence, death, madness, gender confusion, magical transformations, a chance meeting, and a lot of cherry blossoms.

The voice acting is good, with two relative newcomers in the lead roles, but Itou Miki (Sachiko in Maria-sama ga Miteru) in the pivotal role of the mother of one of the romantic leads. Fujimura Ayumi (Karada in Asatte no Houkou) is also in the cast. The OP, sung by Kitamura Eri and the two leads, Ise Mariya and Hayami Saori, is good, and the ED, sung by Hayami Saori is outstanding, as is the music throughout the show. Animation by Nishida Asako (Simoun, Fate/Stay Night, Yami to Boushi to Hon no Tabibito) and Studio Deen. The main staff, in fact, is entirely the same as worked on Yamibou.

Seirei no Moribito (Saturday mornings) has some of the most detailed and beautiful backgrounds I have ever seen, almost at the quality of a full-length feature, and excellent animation. The story is good, too, set in a fantasy mixture of Heian Japan with China, Korea and Tibet, and telling of a woman bodyguard who is charged with protecting a young boy who is threatened by assassins probably sent by his father the king. The bodyguard is played brilliantly by actress and film-dubber Andou Mabuki.

Heroic Age (Sundays). I would not have expected it, but this science fiction epic really rocked my socks. In the far future, humanity, the last great race to enter space, is in conflict with older races. The technology is so advanced as to seem like magic, and the human relations have a bit of the exotic about them, too.

The center of attention on a human ship is a vague young princess who has the ability to project herself into space and to sense what is present there. She finds a ruined planet inhabited by a lone human boy living in a crashed ship. It turns out that he has been integrated with a tremendously powerful mecha-creature of another race. Even a non-mecha fan like me enjoyed the battles against insectoid invaders from another of the races. Seventeen-year-old actress Ishikawa Yui is fascinating as the princess, and Tamura Yukari, Kugimiya Rie, Arai Satomi, and Takashi Kondou are also in the cast.