Saturday, April 25, 2009

Spring Anime -- Brief Reviews and Early Favorites

Eden of the EastThere are too many good new shows this season. Heading the list for me are Eden of the East, Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom, and Ristorante Paradiso.

K-On, Guin Saga, Hanasakeru Shounen and Pandora Hearts aren't too far behind. Here are brief reviews of most of the new shows, from my own fairly idiosyncratic point of view. (mouseover images for captions, click to enlarge; titles link to more info in English or Japanese)

Eden of the East (Higashi no Eden) (jp: 東のエデン) The best new show of the season. Craziness, mystery, romance, real English from American voice-actors, accurate views of Washington DC…. All that and top-notch Production IG animation and strong voice-acting from Hayami Saori and Kimura Ryouhei, who give us wonderful chemistry as the leads.

Despite being shown in the Noitamina time-slot, which is aimed largely at a female audience, this show is designed to appeal to a wide range of anime fans, and seems to be succeeding. First-rate OP and ED, from Oasis (!) and School Food Punishment, respectively. The ED has especially interesting animation, although I myself prefer the OP.

Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom (jp: Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom) The dark and deadly tale of two assassins. People who know say they can see that the original has been "Bee-Trained" by director Mashimo Kouichi. Whatever the case, this is a slick, well-paced, and emotionally moving show.

Takagaki Ayahi is one of the young seiyuus I think of as a future voice goddess. She confirms my opinion in this role as a hardened young assassin. It’s a role I could easily imagine Toyoguchi Megumi in, and I think Ayahime does at least as good a job. And she is surrounded by such voices as Hisakawa Aya, Sawashiro Miyuki, Irino Miyu, and Houshi Souichirou. Fabulous OP by Kokia.

Ristorante ParadisoRistorante Paradiso (jp: リストランテ・パラディーゾ) A fascinating josei show, following a young woman who comes from the countryside to Rome to the restaurant owned by the partner of her mother, who abandoned her as a child.

Through three episodes, it is the story of her desire for one of the handsome bespectacled older gentlemen who staff the place, as she seeks a path toward her future and begins to understand her mother. Not your average anime.

K-OnK-On! (jp: けいおん!) More comic moe from Kyoto Animation. Once again, as in Lucky Star, they have recruited a cast largely made up of unknowns and newcomers and have enabled them to give hilarious comic performances. Overwhelmingly popular among otaku in Japan, as Lucky Star was.

I found my own enjoyment waning slightly after ep3, but this show does have a continuing plot to carry us forward, so it may not fall into the category of "good shows that give you all they have in a couple of episodes." And ep4 brought me back on board.

Mio is terrific: a great moe character, super-tsun and SUPER-dere. She's reaching the popularity level of Yuki in Suzumiya Haruhi or Kagami in Lucky Star. Excellent OP and ED by the main cast hit the charts at numbers 3 and 4, but are up to numbers 1 and 2 as of Friday.

Guin Saga (jp: グイン・サーガ) Classic fantasy. The first three episodes hold out great promise. War. Capture. Dungeons. Magic. A strong and tragic hero. A beautiful princess (played by Nakahara Mai). And I adore Kanon's ED.

Hanasakeru ShounenHanasakeru Seishounen (jp: 花咲ける青少年) Endou Aya has become the go-to girl for mistress of a reverse harem. She did it in the most recent Angelique series, and she's doing it again here. And she is outstanding. Her breathy voice is so beautiful, and she gives the character charm and strength. As she did Sheryl in Macross F.

In this show, she is Kajika-sama, a boyish teenager who is the cherished daughter of a tycoon and has been raised in isolation on a tropical island. She is bold and handsome, like the leopard that was her constant companion growing up. Outstanding OPED from J-min.

Pandora Hearts (jp: パンドラハーツ) I had no idea I would like this show as much as I do. Kawasumi Ayako gives one of the best performances of the year so far as the lovely monster Alice. Good background music from Kajiura Yuki, and a good OP from her group Fiction Junction.

Cross Game (jp: クロスゲーム) One of the better new series, a shounen baseball (and maybe romance) anime with great work from people like Irino Miyu, Tomatsu Haruka, and Kanda Akemi. A huge twist in the first episode that sets us up for the rest of the story. Too shounen in style for me (humor, characters, character design), but fairly subtle and restrained. Good OP by Kobukuro and ED by Ayaka.

Saki (jp: 咲-Saki-) A yuri moe sports anime about mah jong. I kid you not. I'm enjoying it all, right down to the dramatic music and lightning flashes as tiles are played. Ueda Kana, Koshimizu Ami, Kugimiya Rie, Itou Shizuka, Shiraishi Ryouko, Fukuyama Jun. Mmmm.

TayutamaTayutama: Kiss on my Deity (jp: タユタマ -Kiss on my Deity-) I hate to admit how much I'm enjoying this show. Another clumsy adaptation by the team behind Lovedol, Amenaideyo, School Days, and Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka. But it's doing a great job of the familiar meme of the goddess who suddenly moves in and declares herself the protagonist's bride. I like Miyazaki Ui's ED. She gets better every time out.

Before Green Gables (Konnichiwa Anne) (jp: こんにちは アン) Definitely World Masterpiece Theatre. Well made, although with barely adequate animation. Some people may find the story of Anne before Green Gables a bit old-fashioned. I find it almost too intense to watch.

Jewelpet (jp: ジュエルペット) Surprisingly enjoyable little tie-in meant to sell a line of stuffed toys to little girls. The cast is fascinating: Hirano Aya, Sawashiro Miyuki, Sasaki Nozomi, Saitou Ayaka -- and two idols doing their first seiyuu work: Kamei Eri of Morning Musume and singer/photo idol Akina. The stories are for kids, complete with morals about friendship and courage. But the truth of those morals is hard to deny, and the script and characters have something for adults, too.

Kin-iro no Corda - second passo (jp: 金色のコルダ ~second passo~) A good start to a two-episode OVA series of the reverse-harem classical music anime. I enjoyed the first series, and this show, too, does a nice job of what it does.

kissxsis (jp: kiss×sis) Incest comedy. If those words repel you, don’t watch. If they attract you, you will enjoy this show a lot. Totally over the top, as two sisters compete to get into the pants of their (non-blood-related) younger brother.

Koihime†Musou (jp: 恋姫†無双) If you liked the TV series, you'll like this. More ecchi moe ancient China.

07-Ghost (jp: 07-Ghost) I didn't expect to like this show, either. But I'm enjoying it so far. Saiga Mitsuki is strong in the lead role. And the story has some punch and some mystery.

Asura Cryin' (jp: アスラクライン) I love both the OP and ED songs by angela. A real singer. The anime itself seems a bit limp, but the eps are getting better. The mechas and fights look good to me, though I'm no connoisseur. All this and spirits, too. Irino Miyu, Tomatsu Haruka, and Nonaka Ai are good as the leads.

Basquash! (jp: バスカッシュ!) Well-designed mecha. Great backgrounds. Love the OP by Hayami Saori, Tomatsu Haruka, and Nakajima Megumi. And the ED by Yamada Yuu. The character design is good. The story, involving heroic mecha basketball games still hasn’t hooked me, however. This show may have everything except the most important ingredient: interesting writing.

Fullmetal Alchemist 2 (jp: 鋼の錬金術師) Appreciated by many, but not by me. I couldn't get through the first series, and this one is just as uninteresting. I can't figure out how to care about the protagonists. A waste of great voice talent, for me (and maybe me alone, lol).

Marie & Gali (jp: マリー&ガリー) A trifle, but worth watching for the smart script and interesting animation.

Souten Kouro (jp: 蒼天航路) Madhouse gives us the Three Kingdoms from Cao Cao's point of view. Uneven but fascinating. As an OP that gives a good intro to its show, this show's OP may be the best of the season. Some great images and rhythms, and good shouting rock by Tribal Chair. The ED by Ogre You Asshole is also strong.

Valkyria Chronicles (jp: 戦場のヴァルキュリア -Gallian Chronicles-) I was enthusiastic at first, but this is bogging down for me. WW2-style small-scale war as a small nation tries to recapture its territory from a greater. A bit of romance. Some tanks. Not exceptionally logical fighting. Good voices.

Shangri-La (jp: シャングリ・ラ) A fairly clichéd science fiction adventure that is beginning to be interesting with episode 3. Life in jungle Tokyo after ecological disaster. I love Takahashi Mikako's voice as the heroine. Good OP by May'n.

Natsu no Arashi! (jp: 夏のあらし!) Too shounen for me. I just don’t get the humor, and find the lead boy repulsive. But the voices are good (Sanpei Yuuko, Shiraishi Ryouko, Nazuka Kaori), and the show has some interesting aspects: time paradoxes for the win.

Shin Mazinger Shougeki Z-Hen (jp: 真マジンガー 衝撃!Z編) A feast for smart mecha fans with a sense of the ridiculous. Over the top, but with great fights and mecha designs.

Tears to Tiara (jp: ティアーズ・トゥ・ティアラ) Watchable sword and sorcery shounen fantasy set in a version of ancient Britain and Ireland.

Sengoku Basara (jp: 戦国BASARA) Beautiful battles, but feels stupid to me. Probably just not my thing.

Shinkyoku Soukai Polyphonica Crimson S (jp: 神曲奏界ポリフォニカ クリムゾンS) A big improvement over the first series, but still not that interesting. Tomatsu Haruka's Corti is great, though.

Queen's Blade (jp: クイーンズブレイド 流浪の戦士) A boob parade. This is one of those shows that assembles a large cast of great seiyuus and then wastes their talents: Kawasumi Ayako, Tanaka Atsuko, Hirano Aya, Noto Mamiko, Kugimiya Rie, Gotou Yuuko, Itou Kanae, Takahashi Mikako, Kitamura Eri, Mizuhashi Kaori…. However, it doesn't waste their talents in the ED, which is done very well by Kawasumi, Noto, and Hirano.

Hatsukoi Limited (jp: 初恋限定) Beautiful but boring. Others seem to like this show, but through three episodes, I find it cliched, shallow, unfunny…. Shall I go on? If you liked Tokimeki Memorial, maybe you will like this. I hated that show, too. It's just not my style, I guess. Good OP from Sphere (Tomatsu Haruka, Takagaki Ayahi, Toyosaki Aki, Kotobuki Minako) and ED by marble.

Hayate no Gotoku!! (jp: ハヤテのごとく!!) Well made, magnificently voiced, sometimes funny, and of little interest to me. I got through only a few eps of the first series, so your mileage may vary. Great OP by Elisa, good ED by seiyuus Itou Shizuka, Nakao Eri, Yahagi Sayuri, and Asano Masumi.

Gokujou!! Mecha Mote Iinchou (jp: 極上!!めちゃモテ委員長) Trying to emulate the success of Shugo Chara, but it doesn’t work for me. Stiff animation and rough voice-acting. I do appreciate the educational aspects of the show, however.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Hayami Saori -- the new Kawasumi Ayako or the new Shimamoto Sumi?

I keep rewatching episodes of Eden of the East, partly just to hear more of the beautiful voice of Hayami Saori 早見沙織. The 17-year-old Hayamin is coming into her own with her starring role as Saki.

In the thread about her on 2channel, the Japanese discussion board, her growing number of fans have been debating which great seiyuu she sounds more like: Kawasumi Ayako 川澄綾子 or Shimamoto Sumi 島本須美.

Voices are like snowflakes: no two are alike. But I thought we might listen to her voice and the voices of those two great seiyuu and see what similarities there might be. I'll link to video digests of roles played by all three: Hayamin, Shimamoto, and Kawasumi. You decide which of the others, if either, Hayamin's voice resembles.

Hayami Saori Shimamoto Sumi Kawasumi Ayako

Hayami Saori
Hayamin has had only four major roles in her brief career. Her first role, which she began in the spring of 2007, when she was 15, was as Momoka in Touka Gettan. She has also played Kou-chan in Wagaya no Oinari-sama, Musubi in Sekirei, and now Saki in Eden of the East. In addition to these, she has had minor roles in Koharu Biyori, Ghost Hound, and other shows -- and now in Basquatch.

She hasn't been called on to cover much of a range of roles. All of these share a family resemblance. But I find the quality of her voice beautiful and her acting sometimes moving. Her voice is not that strong, but especially in the latest role, she can modulate it in subtle ways to convey feeling and personality. It's a young voice, almost fading out sometimes, and with some breathiness, but she also has great clarity of pronunciation and there is bit of bounce. For a young seiyuu, she has excellent voice control.

Shimamoto Sumi
Now listen to her predecessors. First, Shimamoto Sumi. As one poster said, Hayamin's voice has some of the almost transparent quality of Shimamoto-san's. But Shimamoto has more. Each of the two adds her own specific coloration.

Shimamoto-san started her career in 1977 and has given us such great roles as Lady Cagliostro in Lupin III: the Castle of Cagliostro, Nausicaä in Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, Kyoko in Maison Ikkoku, Tinkerbell in Peter Pan no Bouken, Saint Just in Oniisama-e, Toki in Princess Mononoke, Shokupanman in Soreike! Anpanman, and Aurelia Jones in Emma.

Kawasumi Ayako
Kawasumi Ayako has played a wide range of characters. She was Lafiel in Crest of Stars, Aoi in Ai yori Aoshi, Saber in Fate/Stay Night, Nodame in Nodame Cantabile, and she is now giving a brilliant performance as the charming and complex monster Alice in Pandora Hearts.

Ayacchi's voice has more solidity than either of the other two, even though it's fairly high. And she has played a wide range of characters.

Which is it?

No two voices are alike. But I agree with the majority on 2channel, which thinks that Hayamin's voice more resembles Shimamoto Sumi's. Her slight breathiness compares with the stronger breathiness of Shimamoto-san. But I think Hayamin has a clearer, more precise voice than either of these two greats.

Noto Mamiko's name has shown up as a comparison recently on 2channel, and I think Hayamin's voice is indeed like Noto Kawaii's in its pure beauty, and in the kind of personality it conveys: a gentle, comforting, ojou-sama. But it doesn't have as much of the beautiful breathiness that is Noto's trademark.

By the way, the first sample of Hayamin's voice in the video above, from Touka Gettan, is from an episode that was actually written by Noto Mamiko (episode 21). She wrote lines that she herself could say, and that Hayamin said well, too.

Hayami seems to have a conception of each character she is trying to play, and is already good at conveying personality and emotion, within a certain range. But I think she has the skill, taste, and intelligence to grow and broaden her range, as Kawasumi Ayako, who is now 33, did through her twenties.

One big difference between Hayamin and the others: she made her seiyuu debut at 15. Shimamoto-san was 23. Kawasumi-san had one role at 16, but no more until she was 20. Noto-san had her first role at 19.

Hayamin the Singer
The only thing that could derail the progress of her seiyuu career is the fact that Hayami Saori is an even better singer than she is a seiyuu. Her singing voice has the same beauty as her speaking voice, but she has even more ability to bend and modulate it to create interest and meaning in a song. And she has a sharp musical sense that enables her to give a song life with subtle phrasing and rhythms.

If Hayamin becomes as successful a singer as I think she could be, she won't have much time for doing anime. Here is her first single, the ED to the 2007 anime Touka Gettan, Kono Sekai ga Itsuka ha, sung when she was 15. She apparently got it right in only one or two takes, and when she was leaving the recording booth, the studio staff all applauded:

But Hayamin's solo singing career is not likely to start just yet. I believe her agency is waiting for her voice to mature a bit, to get a bit stronger, and also for her to be able to perform live fully as well as she does on CD. Hayamin's gift is the delicate complexity of the line she creates. But so far, that is most audible at low volume. She needs time to develop the same precise and lyrical movement at higher volume.

She has the chance to be a real singer, not just a seiyuu-singer, so I think it is wise for her not to go solo until she is able to take any success she gains and run with it. When she starts the race, I think she could run far.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Eden of the East -- episode 3 preview description

Here is a translation of the episode 3 preview from the blog on the official site. Be warned: it includes spoilers for what I guess is the first third of the episode:

"Akira and Saki finally get to the home address in Akira's passport. It turns out to be a shopping mall with a cinema complex. Does Akira own it? They spend the night together in the cinema complex, just the two of them. Then the detective comes in. To protect Saki, Akira confronts the detective. Knowing nothing of this, Saki faces faces dawn alone and lonely. Where will the fight between Akira and the detective go?"

script: Kamiyama Kenji (director), Satou Dai (Eureka Seven, work on GITS:SAC)
storyboard: Yoshihara Masayuki (series assistant director, storyboarded and/or directed eps of GITS:SAC, Moribito asst. dir.)
episode director: Kakimoto Hirota (storyboards/episode direction Moribito, Toshokan, Erin)
animation direction: Mamezuka Takeshi (key anim on Moribito, Shugo Chara, etc.)/Itou Hideki (eps of FMA, Eureka7, etc.)
art direction: Takeda Yuusuke (art dir of Blood the Last Vampire, GITS:SAC, Gankutsuou, Moribito, true tears, Skip Beat)

滝沢と咲が辿り着いたパスポートの住所にはシネコンに併設されたショッピングモールがあった。滝沢は施設のオーナーなのか!? 二人だけの夜を施設内のシネコンで明かそうとすると、刑事が侵入してくる。滝沢は咲を守るため、刑事と対峙する。そうとは知らず、咲は一人ぼっちで朝をむかえる。滝沢と刑事の戦いの行方は?

脚本:神山健治/佐藤大 絵コンテ:吉原正行 演出:柿本広大
作画監督:豆塚隆/伊藤秀樹  美術監督:竹田悠介

There are descriptions for episodes four and five here, in Japanese (I don't plan to read them, myself, but there they are).