Saturday, January 19, 2008

Hirano Aya Hosts Moegaku 5, Will Star in Spring Anime

This winter, Aaya is hosting a daily 15-minute language-learning show ostensibly for kids called Moegaku 5 もえがく★5. Not something that will keep you glued to the screen, but amusing and useful in its way.

And next April, she will star in a new "action comedy" anime called Zettai Karen Children. In between, of course, she will be in the new one-episode Fist of the North Star OVA that comes out in late March. A new Suzumiya Haruhi series is expected either this fall or early next year.

Moegaku 5 starts with an anime of about 7-8 minutes, set in Akihabara. The anime features foreigners speaking words from a foreign language: Monday English, Tuesday Korean, Wednesday Spanish, Thursday Chinese, Friday French. Aaya voices the big maid character.

Then Aaya sits down with a child who is a native speaker of the language but also knows Japanese and the child teaches her three words or expressions from the anime, correcting her until she gets them right. Finally, there is a session with a team of rope-skippers, in which they and Aaya and the child dance and skip as they repeat the words learned on the show.

Here's Aaya learning Spanish, from YouTube. And here's the anime for the first week's French lesson, including the anime OP.

The words taught seem to be either very idiomatic or direct approximations to Japanese, and not the usual words you see in language teaching. Such as Spanish "hasta la proxima" or Chinese "chuci jianmian 初次见面 (that "ci 次" gave Aaya a lot of trouble). I think the value of the show could be mainly in making young kids familiar with the idea of a foreign language, and with some foreign sounds. The skipping and chanting in particular, weird as they seem, may be useful.

As Aaya said in her blog when these first episodes were being recorded late last year, the kids can be hard taskmasters. The little Chinese girl in particular wouldn't let her get away with pronunciation that was too bad. In fact, I think Aaya is doing okay -- with everything except pronouncing Chinese. It ain't easy for any non-Chinese, so she can be forgiven.

The kids are not the greatest dancers -- again with the exception of the little Chinese girl, who is clearly a ball of fire.

Especially in the opening, Aaya uses her highest and most artificial voice. I personally can't stand it, but it follows a Japanese norm for manic entertainments of this kind. The manic presentation comes down a bit when she is sitting there actually trying to get the pronunciation right, so there is hope.

Aaya also wrote in her blog that she was exhausted from the rope-skipping and dancing. She clearly takes the easy way out in the little bit of skipping she does on-screen.

In news of a possibly more interesting show, Aaya will star in a new "action comedy" this coming April. It is Zettai Karen Children 絶対可憐チルドレン, which is from a popular manga involving three girls who have super-powers, and the young man who manages them as they solve mysteries and problems.

Aya will be the main girl, Kaoru, who has telekinetic powers and can also teleport herself short distances. The pic is from the manga's official site. No news yet of who the staff will be.

Starring with her will be Kamiya Hiroshi (Zetsubou Sensei), Shiraishi Ryouko, and Kanda Akemi.

Monday, January 14, 2008

January 2008 Anime -- First Impressions

Based on one or two episodes, here are some first impressions:

true tears -- After two episodes, this is the cream of the crop, for me. Beautifully directed, with interesting characters, and silences full of meaning. The animation is almost KyoAni-level. Takagaki Ayahi is outstanding as the electric Noe, and Nazuka Kaori equally outstanding as gentle, complex Hiromi. Nishimura Junji, the director of Simoun, and Okada Mari, one of its writers, have taken the original game and completely re-imagined it. EDIT 4Feb.: On track to be a masterpiece.

Spice and Wolf -- I hoped that the "wise wolf" Horo would become a classic role for Koshimizu Ami, and episode one makes me think my wish just might come true. Horo is a powerful thousand-year-old wolf-goddess posing as a 15-year-old human, and her archaic speech and playful character really give Amisuke something to sink her teeth into. Horo's travels with the merchant Lawrence show promise. This may give the staff a chance to wipe out the memory of their previous show, Cosmopolitan Prayers. Best OP of the season. EDIT: Good in itself, but Ami makes it excellent.

Porfy no Nagai Tabi -- This year's show in the World Masterpiece Theater series is directed by Mochizuki Tomomi (YKK, Zettai Shounen, Princess Nine) and got off to a good, but typically slow, start in the first two episodes. High-class family drama, involving a Greek boy who will lose his parents in an earthquake and travel around Europe trying to find his sister. EDIT: Maintains its quality.

Hatenkou Yuugi -- Reverse-harem shoujo adventure, with a fascinatingly unpredictable lead shoujo played by the great Kobayashi Sanae. Her bishounen henchmen are played by Sakurai Takahiro and Miki Shinichirou. Could degenerate into monster of the week, but not bad through two episodes. EDIT: I've lost interest.

H2O Footsteps in the Sand -- I will probably have finished watching this show by the time I decide if it is worth watching. I enjoy it enough so far, with its mysteries and its determined lead guy. But it seems crudely constructed, somehow, like Myself;Yourself. And like that show it tries to shock us with unexpected violence. EDIT: A couple of episodes were as bad as anything I've ever seen, but then an episode came up in which there was some emotion. Very, very poorly made, but retains some shreds of interest.

Persona Trinity Soul -- This much psychic angst and violence are too much for me, but it seems like a strong, well-made anime. EDIT: Dropped.

Shigofumi -- This show is the love-child of Shinigami no Ballad and Jigoku Shoujo. The plot through the first two episodes seemed a bit clunky, but worked. Ueda Kana is beginning to display her vocal chops in ep2. EDIT: Gets better and better. Combines epsiodic plots with a continuing plot, and brings in Asano Masumi as a major continuing character.

Minami-ke O-kawari -- Another helping by another studio with the same VAs. It's okay, I guess. I was never as amused by the first version last fall as many others were, and they are not as happy with this version as with that one.

Zoku Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei -- More more of the same. But this time it really is the same. Shinbou by Shinbou. Smart, beautiful, weird.

ARIA the Origination -- Even more. It looks great and sounds great. Lovers of the franchise like it. I admire it, but I hardly ever seem to get through a whole episode. If you are an ARIA fan, however, then be sure to watch: this is probably the last ARIA anime, since the manga itself is drawing to a close.

Hakaba no Kitarou -- I was going to pass on this one until I read the AnimeSuki thread. Wonderful animation and music and a charming (?) story, through ep1 at least -- as long as humorous, knowing urchins from beyond the grave are to your taste. I should have known that Noitamina would not bore us.

-- Well-made low-impact family comedy with Doraemon-like character design. Worth a look.

Ayakashi -- Poorly made, but somehow quite entertaining. I could have said the same about this director's previous show, Lamune, which involved pure romance rather than supernatural violence and teens with special powers. Good cast includes Mizuki Nana, Kishio Daisuke, Matsuki Miyu, Shimizu Ai, Yukino Satsuki, Sugita Tomokazu.

Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino -- I found the first episode quite lame, and so did lovers of the original series. They say this substitutes standard moe for the original impassive lolis. Bad move.

They Are My Noble Masters -- A terrible waste of some great VA talent. At least Hayate is occasionally watchable. This is Hayate with very limp humor. EDIT: I've changed my mind completely on this show: it is hilariously outrageous and has some great characters. I just didn't get it at first.

Rosario to Vampire -- A real disappointment. Mizuki Nana is good as the lead girl, but the plot, animation, and personalities are deeply boring, through two episodes.

Sisters of Wellber 2 -- It was lovely to hear the dulcet tones of Takahashi Mikako again, but this just feels poorly made and dull.