Saturday, October 11, 2008

Hirano Aya -- Big Forehead

One of the nasty things Hirano Aya is called by her 2channel detractors is "Deko Bitch," "deko" meaning "forehead."

She certainly does have a high forehead, which is one reason she has usually worn a hairstyle with her hair covering at least part of her forehead.

But one of the things I like about her is that she seems able to poke fun at herself. She did that in her blog today. She posted a photo of a birthday dinner at a restaurant with her core support staff. (click photos to enlarge)

The photo is dark, so you can see almost no-one clearly except her. She writes: "It's really dark. I'm the only one that's bright. Why is that? Reflection off my forehead?"

By the way, check this post on j1m0ne's blog for a reference to Aya in episode one of Kannagi.

Seiyuu Tomatsu Haruka -- "nice legs"

I mentioned in my previous post about this great young seiyuu that people say she has "nice legs" but that I couldn't find a photo that showed it. Today a photo was posted on 2channel that somewhat gets the point across (click to enlarge to 1090x1600) :

The first post in reply was: "nice leg" (in English).

A later post also struck my eye:
  • has no interest in anime or manga
  • her voice is too characteristic and there is nothing special about her acting
  • she's not that cute
  • her voice isn't cute
She really has none of the elements that would make her a saleable seiyuu. Why did she become a seiyuu, lol?"

My answers: Who cares what her interests are if she can do the job? Her voice is pretty recognizable, but that doesn't affect her acting skill. She's cute enough. I don't like the basic quality of her voice, either, but the way she uses it in Kannagi is amazing.

I can only imagine that the 2channel poster hasn't watched Kannagi yet. I'm about to see episode 2 and will report back later.

LATER: Another terrific episode. Great animation, especially of expressions, and great voice-acting, not just from Tomatsu-san, but good stuff from Sawashiro Miyuki and Shimono Hiro, as well. Tomatsu does a Yamato nadeshiko that is to die for.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Tomatsu Haruka -- Birth of a Star

I haven't been a fan of Tomatsu Haruka's 戸松遥 voice until now. But in the first episode of the new show Kannagi, she was absolutely outstanding. Her voice dipped and soared, turned and shifted, going sure-footedly from offended goddess to stranded innocent to loopy comedienne to regal mother-figure and back again.

In the little I watched of her previous shows -- Polyphonica, ToLoveRu, and Zettai Karen Children, in particular -- I found her voice harsh and unlovely, and maybe for that reason didn't feel a lot of meaning in it. But that has all changed here. This is virtuoso voice-acting.

The amount of work she gets, and the praise of other seiyuu fans, show that others (e.g., j1m0ne) understood how good she is well before I did. I am late to this party.

I have to give some credit to the staff of Kannagi. Director Yamamoto Yutaka and sound director Kikuta Hiromi seem to have given her room to move and guided her toward these heights. Here is part of episode one of Kannagi, from YouTube.

But the fact that she turned 18 in February and graduated from high school may have something to do with it. She is now living in Tokyo, working and going to college, and this has probably freed her to concentrate more on her trade. Up until last spring, she was living at home near Nagoya, and commuting to Tokyo on the weekends to work.

She actually has three trades: seiyuu, actress, and singer. She is now a top-tier seiyuu, but she is also a lower-tier TV actress. She has had roles in two TV dramas: RH Plus (Misaki Ami - photo above left,) and Here is Greenwood (Arata Mieko). And she released her first single in September, and sings both the OP and ED for Kannagi. She has a strong and fairly accurate voice and can belt out a tune. Here is the OP from YouTube.

This is a brief and sketchy little post, but she impressed me so much in her role as Nagi (right) that I wanted to write at least something about her and give you a few photos.

Right now, she is in six different shows: Kannagi, Zettai Karen Children (Shiho), Kemeko Deluxe (Emuemu), Yozakura Quartet (Touka), Gundam00 2 (Mileina), and Mouryou no Hako (Kanako).

Here's an interview with her from YouTube, about a drama CD. And here's a TV ad (YouTube) for her single Naissance, which was released in early September.

Here are some publicity shots for RH Plus (click all photos to enlarge) :

Here she is with the main cast of Moetan, Nazuka Kaori left and Tamura Yukari centre, and in a publicity portrait:

And here are two photos from her home page. I've read people enthusing over her "great legs," but this is the best photo I can find:

home page (jp)
music home page (jp)
blog (jp)
Anime News Network page
Japanese Wikipedia (jp)

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Hirano Aya's New Single Sneaks Into Top Ten

Hirano Aya's new single 涙 NAMIDA ナミダ (Tears, Tears, Tears) is at number ten on its first day on the charts. It is the ED to the new anime Hyakko, in which she is part of the four-member main cast.

And as it turns out, today is her 21st birthday.

The single was written and produced by Tsunku♂, the producer of Morning Musume, Berryz Koubou, and all the other Hello! Project idol groups.

So far, it's not among my favorite Aya songs. I like the harder stuff she's been doing lately, rather than this more poppy music. Here's the single on YouTube.

This fall, she is in three new anime: Hyakko, Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka, and Kurogane no Linebarrels. And Zettai Karen Children continues toward 52 episodes.

Hyakko is a bizarre comedy about a group of four girls, each with her own failings, trying to make their way at school. Japanese ads describe it as "slapstick," but I think there is a weird subtlety about it, too. Aya's character is shy and uncertain, and she uses a high, hesitant voice that I haven't heard from her before -- although it is recognizably Aya.

Here are three photos from her blog. The left-hand photo is from a Voice NewType photo session that will feature her in an apron serving cake. In her blog, she writes: "I was told to make it like a naked apron. It's like, 'Welcome home. Shall I make dinner? Shall I run your bath? Or would you like...?'" The second photo, not from the photo-shoot, shows her equipped with goggles and cap for...cutting onions. The third photo is at the hairdresser. (Click photos to enlarge.)

First-week Favorites -- Kannagi, ef melodies, and many more

As usual, our worst fears have not been realized. Some people expected a second-rate season this fall, but there are lots of entertaining new anime in various genres.

I enjoyed many of the first episodes I've seen, but the two that rocked my soul were Kannagi and ef - a tale of melodies.

In ef - a tale of melodies, Oonuma Shin once again weaves his magical visual rhythms into the musical rhythms of a wonderful score by Tenmon and Yanagi Eiichirou. Every frame a masterpiece. This is real art, visual, musical, and dramatic.

Stories begin to develop, featuring deep characters with dark pasts and potentially romantic futures. The addition of Itou Shizuka and Gotou Mai brings some recognizable names to the cast of no-name game seiyuus.

In Kannagi, the story may seem cliched on the surface -- a goddess moves in with an ordinary teenage boy -- but the animation, direction, and voice-acting are world-class, and elevate this show into something special. This is Tomatsu Haruka's breakthrough role. The nimble twists and turns of her voice are virtuosity with artistic meaning. She's hilarious and real.

Kannagi marks the return of director Yamamoto Yutaka, whom Kyoto Animation fired as director of Lucky Star after four episodes. He was an important aesthetic force behind both that show and Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu, and he demonstrates the same comic genius here. The episode flows like a stream, moving us smoothly through the story, bubbling up humorous and touching moments just when it should.

Those are just the two shows I liked best in a season that looks as if it will give us many good shows.

Hyakko is a daft comedy whose protagonists spend the entire first episode lost in their own school. An unusual group of seiyuus all take unusual approaches to their roles: Orikasa Fumiko, Neya Michiko, Hirano Aya, and Ochiai Yurika. But this show is on a knife-edge. It is so bizarre and delicate that it could either rise to sublimity or collapse into meaninglessness at any time. I'll be watching to see which way it goes.

Kurozuka through one episode is a beautiful and bloody tale of immortal love, originating in medieval Japan and running up to the present day. Paku Romi, in particular, but Miyano Mamoru with her, are absolutely brilliant. This is a less brutish, but no less brutal, spiritual successor to Claymore, directed by the director of Death Note.

Clannad - After Story gives us a large helping of the same melancholy magic moe that delighted fans of the first series, myself included.

Vampire Knight - Guilty picks up where the first series left off, in a dark romance soaked with blood and desire. I loved the manga, liked the first series, and liked episode one as well. I've read the manga past the beginning of this series and I'm eager to see animated what I know is coming.

Skip Beat! is one of my favorite mangas, and the anime seems faithful to the original. I was not thrilled with episode one, but I was not thrilled with chapter one of the manga, either, so I expect to be borne along on the shoujo tide as we go forward. This is a delightful combination of idol-making with romance and revenge, and its protagonist is fascinating and mutifaceted. I only hope Inoue Marina can bring the character alive.

Mouryou no Hako seems like another winner. A mysterious story in which the blood is just little enough for every drop to make an impact. And a touch of yuri never goes amiss. Good voice work from Takahashi Mikako and Tomatsu Haruka, with more Kiuchi Hidenobu (Hei in Darker Than Black, Ren in NANA) to come.

I thought Iguchi Yuka was just da bomb in To Aru Majutsu no Index, playing a moe but mature little magical nun. And the male lead was not a mere cipher.

Kemeko Deluxe and Macademi Wasshoi! are both deeply bizarre comedies with hilarious animation. And both look to me as if they could be one-episode wonders, with the humor not sustaining in the long run. But their first episodes had me exploding with laughter.

Hakushaku to Yousei doesn't seem great, but the lead characters and the story -- Regency romance crossed with shoujo adventure -- somehow captivated me.

Toradora is a well-made harem comedy featuring Kugimiya Rie as an even more tsuntsun tsundere than in any of her previous tsundere roles. In Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka, she is a gentler tsundere -- except for that kick. Too bad she is becoming so type-cast. And too bad Akasaka gave me hints of the director's low bluntness and sensationalism. He directed Amenaideyo and School Days.

KurozukaI found some other shows enjoyable to watch: Kuroshitsuji, Shikabane Hime Aka, Yozakura Quartet, Today in Class 5-2. I haven't yet seen Jigoku Shoujo 3 , One Outs, or Bihada Ichizoku.

On Thursday, the potentially epic space-opera Tytania begins, as does the new season of Nodame Cantabile. I'm looking forward to both.

I think I'm judging these shows at least partly on actual quality, but it's certain that my own particular tastes come into play, so be warned. I loathe monsters and really have a lot of trouble with many shounen memes.

This season, many people like Tales of the Abyss, which I found boring and childish. Few people seem to like the highly anticipated Kurogane no Linebarrels, which seemed a train-wreck to me, too. Ga-rei Zero had some well-planned action, but the only thing that really pleased me was the surprise ending.

Casshern, however, is extremely stylish, and had some moving and mysterious moments, amidst the meaningless killing and artsy self-importance. I can imagine someone who likes shounen reversing my feelings about ef melodies and this show: one a masterpiece, the other pretentious with redeeming qualities.

In any case, these are only first episodes. A lot can happen, for better and for worse, from here on out.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Eve no Jikan -- Don't Miss It

There are some good new shows starting right now, but I want to talk about a little gem that has given us two brief episodes over the past couple of months: Eve no Jikan イヴの時間 ("The Time of Eve").

The show is beautifully and atmospherically animated, with great voices, interesting characters and relationships, and a developing plot. This is real science fiction, set in a time in the near future after robots have been widely accepted, but just as human-like android robots are coming to be used in many people's homes. (click screencaps to enlarge)

The teenage protagonist (Fukuyama Jun) is fascinated with his family's new android (played by Tanaka Rie), which looks like a woman in her twenties. He notices some anomalies as he pores over the records of its movements. There are times when it is out shopping that there is a gap in the data.

He and a friend track down the place the android went. They discover a little coffee-house hidden away in an alley. The club, called The Time of Eve, has a special rule: no discrimination between humans and robots. This seems to skirt the fringes of the law, which calls for a clear distinction between the two. He gradually realizes that some of the people there are actually androids, even though they do not show the rings of light that normally project above an android's head, showing its connection with its master.

Each episode is only fifteen minutes long, but is filled with incident, intelligence, and feeling. The "humanity" of androids is a common enough theme in written science fiction, but this is doing a good job of weaving an animated story around it. And at the end of episode two, we see that there might be something more going on than meets the eye.

In addition to Jun-chan and RieRie, the cast includes Yukana, Satou Rina, Sawashiro Miyuki (as a five-year-old), and Sugita Tomokazu.

The show is written and directed by 28-year-old creator Yoshiura Yasuhiro 吉浦康裕 (homepage) of Directions, Inc. It is officially streamed free via Yahoo or Crunchyroll, without DRM, and with English or French subs. Details on the show's English homepage.

Two of the ONA's six episodes are already out. The next one is due out in early December. The first episode came out at the beginning of August, but I only discovered it in late September. Now I think this is one of the top shows of 2008.