Thursday, May 01, 2008

Sakamoto Maaya #3, Hirano Aya #20

In their first week on the Oricon music charts, Sakamoto Maaya's Triangular (Macross F OP) came in at #3, while Hirano Aya's unnamed world (Nijuumensou no Musume ED) was #20.

Here is a list, from 2channel, of the placing of various anime-related songs on the charts over the past week, with sales figures:

#3 Triangular - Sakamoto Maaya (Macross F OP, 31,270)
#20 unnamed world - Hirano Aya (Nijuumensou no Musume ED, 7808)
#22 Sakura Amaneku Sekai - yozuka (Da Capo 2 SS OP, 7396)
#26 Dear Prince - Ikemen Samurai (Prince of Tennis tie-in, 6527)
#31 Bokutachi no Yukue - CooRie (Da Capo 2 SS ED, 5160)
#36 Love Jump - Kuribayashi Minami (Kurenai OP, 4166)
#39 Koi no Honoo - Sakakibara Yui (Kanokon ED, 3689)
#43 Phosphor - Miyazaki Ui (Kanokon OP, 3096)
#48 Chousai Kenbo Sengen - MOSAIC.WAV (Kyouran Kazoku Nikki OP, 2732)

Hirano's, Sakakibara Yui's, and MOSAIC.WAV's are the songs that I personally enjoy most, at the moment. The anti-Hirano people once again are posting on 2channel that she's finished and that her fans are crying because she didn't get into the top ten. The more things change, the more they stay the same.

But as I have been saying for the past year and a half, she is making one last attempt to be an idol/personality/singing star and it may work and it may not. I don't know what level of sales is acceptable to her backers. I love her recent music, but it doesn't seem geared to the market. Her second idol DVD just came out this week, too. I don't have sales figures for that, yet. She has at least got her face on TV quite a bit over the past few months, and I suspect she is getting comparatively good money for her seiyuu work these days. From what I can gather from her blog, at least she is making enough that, at 20, she no longer lives at home.

Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Kugimiya Rie to be Interviewed on NHK Anime Giga

The guest on the May edition of the NHK anime interview show Anime Giga will be Kugimiya Rie. The broadcast will be on May 14.

The show, which is broadcast approximately monthly, involves background features and a major interview with its guests, which have included Kon Satoshi, Yamadera Kouichi, Hirano Aya, Paku Romi, and Fukuyama Jun.

The show's main interviewer is Watanabe Takashi, director of Slayers and Shakugan no Shana, former editor of New Type magazine, and one of the producers of The Girl Who Leapt Through Time. The Hirano interview is probably the best interview of her I've seen.

I found all or part of the Hirano and Fukuyama interviews on YouTube and Nico Nico Douga, so hopefully KugiRie's will show up, too. (I searched for Anime Giga in Japanese : アニメギガ).

Here is the main Anime Giga page, and here is a page giving background about KugiRie. The background info says that she has "an unforgettably distinctive youthful voice," and "a very broad range of expression," and mentions her winning an award for best supporting role in the Seiyuu Awards for 2007.

And if you think I wrote this mainly for Kaioshin_sama, well, maybe you're right.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Favorites of the New Season -- Twenty-Faces, Kurenai, Macross and More

Okay, we're three episodes into the spring anime season and I have to declare myself. At least I have to stop watching some shows so anime doesn't take all my time.

My favorites? Nijuumensou no Musume, Kurenai, and Macross Frontier. None of these are reaching the level of True Tears, Ef, or Blue Drop for me, but they have a chance.

I find myself especially eager to see each episode of Nijuumensou no Musume, and not just for Hirano Aya at her best. The pacing is perfect so far, never so fast that it loses emotional sense, nor so slow that I start looking at the slider. All the characters seem to have something inside them: they are people, not just images of people.

I like the way secrets are revealed gradually, but without making a fetish of them. There is always something more to be revealed. And quick moments tell a lot, such as the <2 seconds in episode 4 when you saw the two bad guys glance at each other and Nijuumensou and Chiko both realize something was amiss. And Nijuumensou himself -- "Twenty-Faces" -- is as beautifully voiced by Uchida Yuya as his "daughter" Chiko is by Hirano Aya.

The animation here is actually stellar, although at first it looks quite plain. Chiko's movements in episode 4 when she is cleaning the floor and a window are really something, as is the way her body sways as she gets up onto the seawall carrying a heavy basket. A poster on 2channel said that it looks like a rerun of an old show, and it does. But someone else pointed out that it uses modern techniques to give it this retro feel. Retro plus.

The two groups subbing this in English give it two different names: Live-Evil calls it The Daughter of Twenty-Faces, which is a translation of the Japanese title. Sudo calls it Chiko, Heiress of the Phantom Thief, as Anime News Network does.

Kurenai captivated me from the start. A seven-year-old girl who has been a virtual prisoner in her aristocratic family's home is rescued by her minder and hidden in the apartment of a young bodyguard called Kurenai, who has a killing blade implanted in his arm. The bold tsundere character of the little girl and the walk-on-eggs caution of her new roommate continue to make for a fascinating relationship.

Once again, the direction and the portrayal of character and relationship are what make this show tick. And the voice-acting is continually excellent, especially that of Sawashiro Miyuki as the 16-year-old bodyguard and that of former child actress Yuuki Aoi -- who is actually 16 -- as the little girl.

The show is directed by the director of Red Garden, and appears to use the same unusual technique of recording the voices before finalizing the animation. This allows for some very natural conversations, with voices running parallel or interrupting each other. Great effect.

I had never seen any Macross show, and I went into Macross Frontier thinking it would be mainly mecha. Instead of that, I get some interesting characters and even romantic relationships, as well as space battles and friendly and unfriendly aliens.

I am a total sucker for the shoujo staple of the apparently incompetent girl who will show her strengths as we go on. And newcomer Nakajima Megumi as Ranka's VA intensifies the effect. Endou Aya (Miyuki in Lucky Star, Angie in Neo-Angelique) is suddenly blossoming this year and makes the big singing star Sheryl into another fascinating character.

You can add Nakamura Yuuichi's Alto to the list of good performances in this show. Alto was trained to play women's roles in kabuki, and is still called "Princess" by his friends. But his ambition is to be a fighter pilot, defending the Macross space colony. So we get complexities of romance, relationship, and gender. And a huge colony-city in space, making its way from Earth toward the centre of the galaxy.

I am also enjoying Vampire Knight, which is a top-notch vampire show, in the league of Tsukihime and Tsukuyomi, and maybe even approaching Hitsuji no Uta, but with a shoujo tinge. It's wonderful to hear Horie Yui playing the young girl protagonist. But equally good to hear Miyano Mamoru as her (unrelated) elder brother and Kishio Daisuke as the aristocratic vampire who once saved her from another vampire.

The animation here is not as detailed as in the first three shows, but it is very stylish. And I find the angst of the story quite persuasive. Hocchan's Yuki is strong, good, daring, and an attractive personality all round. Mamo-chan's Zero is a young vampire hunter with a secret.

Kyouran Kazoku Nikki is my surprise hit. Its combination of madcap humor and sweet relationships is entrancing. And there is some great character-creating voice-acting by Fujimura Ayumi and Hirohashi Ryou, among others.

My guilty pleasure is Kanokon, which may be the most outrageously sexual fanservice show I have ever seen. Even people who like fanservice are saying it goes too far. And Kawasumi Ayako shows yet another side of her multifaceted talent. The other main fanservice show of the seaon, ToLoveRu, doesn't interest me as much, but the wonderful Yahagi Sayuri is at her best as the hero's real love-interest, Haruna.

I expected Neo-Angelique Abyss to be another guilty pleasure, but it is in fact more than that. The new staff (largely from Corda D'Oro) that is producing this iteration of Angelique is giving it better animation, better dialogue, and a plot that is working so far, despite the monsters. Endou Aya is making this her big season, with another sharp performance as the sweet girl who is the strongest mage around, and ends every battle emitting powerful light that flushes away the monsters. And the character design is terrific, including Angie's outfits and zettai ryouiki, and her bevy of real bishounen. Like Vampire Knight, this show gets its bishounen fanservice right, perhaps because the main staff people in both cases are women.

Many people would consider any Da Capo show to be a guilty pleasure, but I don't. This second season of Da Capo 2 is starting off much better than season one, with romantic complexity and glimpses into the feelings of the participants. And Yoshiyuki's denseness has not yet gotten out of hand. Add Takagaki Ayahi (Noe in True Tears) as Otome, and you really have something.

Real Drive is yet another Production IG/Shirow Masamune tale that I can't help enjoying even when I don't understand what is going on. Production IG's surrender to the commercial usefulness of fanservice has produced some interesting panty shots of the unusually plump heroine. Great animation and character design, as usual.

Naisho no Tsubomi has captured my attention, too. It is based on a health education manga for girls, but has been made into an enjoyable slice-of-life anime. The first episode showed the travails of our young heroine as she had her first period, completely unaware of what was going on. The relationships with friends and family are beautiful, and so is the voice-acting, especially by Nazuka Kaori and Koshimizu Ami as the two main girls. Even if this show weren't such good slice-of-life, I might be watching it just for the beauty of those two voices.

Allison and Lillia started well, but has become less interesting for me as it goes on. It is seeming too far-fetched and rushes through things that should take longer. We'll see how ep5 shapes up. The character and relationship of the protagonists are what count.

Library Wars seemed to have some of the relationship goodness of Planetes at first, and may still, but ep3 was a bit meh for me -- except for the cliffhanger ending.

My enjoyment of Itazura na Kiss waxes and wanes. Not a great show, but a great story -- which is the reason why it has come to anime after having already been a manga and two dramas. Maybe the fact that I saw one of the dramas makes this less interesting to me.

Net Ghost PiPoPa is another surprise hit for me. It and the new season of Blue Dragon appear to be the most-watched new shows on Japanese TV. The clean look and good adventure story for young kids both remind me of Otogijushi Akazukin. Not something I'll watch every week, but enjoyable for what it is.

There are lots of other good shows this spring. Almost everything is watchable. Soul Eater is visually wonderful, but the surface brilliance and humor aren't enough for me -- especially since monsters generally turn me off. I've never been a fan of Code Geass, despite its great cast. And Zettai Karen Children is just finding its feet. More of the emotion behind the characters and less of the stereotypical battles might please me.

Wagaya no Oinari-sama has two good things going for it: the characters played by Yukana and Hayami Saori (Momoka in Touka Gettan). Yukana is the female aspect of the fox god who is brought in to protect the household. Hayamin is the clumsy but powerful young priestess who is there to help her and keep her under control. Hayamin, at 16, is growing fast as a seiyuu. Her singing of the ED is already top professional quality. But the story and writing are limping.

Golgo 13 has real masculinity: a square-built sniper hero who shows zero emotion as he takes out the bad guys in a show whose dark colors and deliberate direction make it feel classic. Mnemosyne continues to combine atrocious violence with yuri in an over-rich but tasty soup. And Noto Mamiko and Kugimiya Rie sound great.

Crystal Blaze, Himitsu: Top Secret, Monochrome, and Tower of Druaga all have strengths, too. Despite the fact I haven't had time to watch more than one episode, I suspect that Amatsuki could develop into something, as well. And Junjo Romantika is true yaoi, with strong fanservice and relationships. Kyou Kara Maou and Nabari no Ou just didn't do it for me after one episode, so I haven't had a chance to watch more.

This season may not have the overwhelming excellence at the top that some other seasons had, but it is deeper in good shows than any season I can recall.

Sunday, April 27, 2008

New Season Popularity in Japan -- 2channel vs. TV Ratings

Macross FMacross Frontier and probably Code Geass top the list of most posted-about new shows on 2channel. Macross is at almost 87,000 posts. The most popular new shows in TV ratings, however, are Blue Dragon 2 and Net Ghost PiPoPa. I'll get to TV ratings later in the article.

Unfortunately, it's hard to know the 2channel popularity of Code Geass, since the threads have just continued on from the first series. It is now up to 578,000 posts, overall.

Coming after Macross's 87 threads (86,000+ posts), way down at 20 threads, is Zettai Karen Children, which apparently took over Hayate no Gotoku's popularity when it took over its TV timeslot.

Zettai Karen ChildrenKurenai, Soul Eater, and Library Wars follow, at 13 threads each. ToLoveRu has 12.

Kamen no Maid Guy is at 8, and Blassreiter and Kanokon are at 7 each. Kyouran Kazoku Nikki has 6, and Nabari no Ou and Wagaya no Oinarisama both have 5.

Allison to Lillia and Vampire Knight are at 4, and there is a long list at 3: Golgo 13, Itazura na Kiss, Mnemosyne, Neo-Angelique Abyss, Nijuumensou no Musume, Penguin Musume, and Special A.

Chi's Sweet Home and Crystal Blaze are at 2, and Bus Gamer at 1.

It's hard for me to tell about XXXHolic 2 and Da Capo 2 SS, since they both may have just continued threads from their first series, as Code Geass seems to have. But I don't have access to the 2channel archives to find out. XXXHolic is at 20 threads and Da Capo 2 SS at 9.

Golgo 13This list simply shows how interesting shows are to people who post on 2channel. It is quite different from general popularity as represented in TV ratings. For those, check out Siegel Clyne's posts in the "Anime TV Ratings in Japan" thread in the AnimeSuki forum.

In TV ratings, family anime like Sazae-san and Chibi Maruko-chan had 18 and 14 percent of the TV audience in their time slots in the week ending April 20. Anime like One Piece, Detective Conan, Gegege no Kitaro, and Naruto were around 6-8 percent.

Then there was a group around 5-6 percent: Major, Precure, Keroro Gunso. And Gintama was just under 5 percent of the audience.

Net Ghost PiPoPaBetween 3 and 4 percent came Blue Dragon, Bleach, Shugo Chara and Net Ghost PiPoPa. As far as I can see, Blue Dragon 2 and PiPoPa were the highest-rated new shows.

Then, just under 3 percent of the audience, we have a batch of new shows: xxxHolic Kei, Toshokan Sensou, Golgo 13, ToLoveRu, and Code Geass.

Between 2 and 2.5 percent were Onegai My Melody Kirara, a rerun of Prince of Tennis, Macross Frontier, Soul Eater, Real Drive, Itazura na Kiss, the late show of Soul Eater, and Zettai Karen Children.

Figures are not available for all shows. And some shows will be missing from the 2channel list, as well, since I only took shows that were among the top 100 recently posted about.

EDIT: Here are a couple of sites that give TV ratings. Video Research is a Nielsen-like company that does a top ten of the week in all genres (anime, dorama, etc.). And this site brings together figures for more than the top ten anime and posts them a few weeks later. Siegel Clyne's posts are the best early word on anime below the top ten. Thanks to bluemist for mentioning Video Research in a comment.

OMG, Hirano Aya Actually Is a Great Seiyuu -- Nijuu-mensou no Musume ep3

I am never really sure of my opinions, and Aya's ability is no exception. Sometimes I think maybe I'm just imagining things, and she's not really that good. But I'm not imagining how great she is in this show.

At best, I have always put her in the second rank of seiyuus, not up with the likes of Paku Romi, Kuwashima Houko, Kobayashi Sanae, Kawasumi Ayako, and Sawashiro Miyuki. But this show is making me change my mind. This role and Layla in NANA are Aya's best, for me.

She's not the most naturalistic of actresses, and can't just be slotted in to any role successfully. But when the voices around her fit the tone she creates, she can really convey character and emotion. By the way, that is not happening in Zettai Karen Children, where the three main seiyuu continue to operate in two different voice universes, and Aya's take on the role isn't working that well, for me.

The 2channel thread for Nijuumensou no Musume particularly praises a moment late in this episode when Nijuumensou calls on Chiko to confirm a trick he has played, and the drawing of her face changes from innocent to sly and she says to the person they have duped: "You should have checked when you had a chance." (click all images to enlarge)

Posters are praising both the drawing and the voicing of that moment. A couple of people wrote that it gave them goosebumps. Another wrote that he didn't realize Hirano was this good. With the music stopping at that point, the scene is clearly set up to give Aya the whole stage, and she makes good use of it.

The show itself goes from strength to strength. This is another highly entertaining episode. Uchida Yuya's voice is a pleasure to listen to, as well. And the drawing of faces is excellent all round. This image (right) of Nijuumensou particularly captivated me. That's a lot of character and energy in one still image.

Aya may have benefited from the popularity of Suzumiya Haruhi and Lucky Star to gain prominence and awards over the past two years, but this show is going to make up for that advantage, being a show in a less popular genre, played very late at night, on a schedule that varies from week to week.

There are howls on 2channel about the scheduling on FujiTV, which will see the next few episodes varying from 3:55am to 3:05 to 3:35 to 2:15 to 4:05 to 2:25. One poster joked about "dawn anime" for the 4:05 broadcast. Even otaku will have trouble programming their recorders to get this show.

It will only reach a somewhat larger audience in the Tokyo area when it starts being broadcast on BS Fuji satellite at 12:30 Sunday night on May 12. Fortunately, the schedule is more regular on Kansai TV, but still late: 2:29 early Wednesday mornings.

As some posters say, so far this anime seems like a World Masterpiece Theatre show, and should be on at 7:30 Sunday evening. WMT is a long-running family anime series that has done such works as Anne of Green Gables and Les Miserables.

I have read ahead in the manga, and there is plenty of material there for the anime staff to work with, including some that would not be suitable for WMT. Fasten your seat-belts. The anime is not exactly following the manga, so I expect some surprises.

The photos of Aya in this post were both taken in the past 2-3 days. The latter two are at karaoke with her family, and show her mother and father in the background. Aya says that her mother hates karaoke, but she came this time. She adds that when the whole family sings in unison, their voices sound the same.

Her father actually wrote a song on the spur of the moment to sing. He is apparently in the entertainment business himself, as a TV producer. She says that she and he look alike and you would know they were parent and child if you saw them walking together.

Other people don't seem to like Aya's singing as much as her family does: unnamed world has dropped out of the top twenty in Saturday's Oricon listings. I'm having my lack of faith in the common judgment confirmed, as this show remains not that popular (just beginning only its fourth thread on 2channel) and Aya's best music is ignored.