Thursday, October 08, 2009

Fall 2009 -- First Week Impressions

White AlbumOne week into a new season, here are quick impressions of most of the new shows. Nothing leaps out at me as being at the level of last season's Aoi Hana or Bakemonogatari, but I'm enjoying a number of shows. (mouseover images for captions, click to enlarge)

My favorites so far? White Album 2, Kimi ni Todoke, Darker than Black 2, Sasameki Koto, Seitokai no Ichizon, Yumeiro Pâtissière, Tegami Bachi, and To Aru Kagaku no Railgun.

Here are brief comments on all the new shows I've seen, in order of broadcast:

Koishigure -- Beautiful and unique, but not really an anime. Love stories read by a young actress over illustrations by well-known artists. If you speak Japanese, give this a try.

Queen's Blade: Gyokuza no Tsugumono -- It is what it is, boing boing. Wonderful ensemble voice-acting cast: Kawasumi Ayako, Hirano Aya, Noto Mamiko, Yuzuki Ryouka, Kugimiya Rie, Nabatame Hitomi, etc. They sound as if they're having fun.

Asura Cryin' 2 -- Romance(s), people that seem to turn into mechas, a lovely ghost, superpowers. If you liked the first season, you'll like this. It sounds good, but didn't hook me. Maybe I just don't get the mecha part, or maybe the story didn't really hang together.

Darker than BlackKämpfer -- Boy occasionally turns into girl and has to fight in a kind of war game with other girls, each with her own weapon. This is not getting much love in cyberspace, but I found it watchable, through one episode.

Nyan Koi -- Boy who is allergic to cats will turn into a cat if he doesn't do good deeds for cats. I'm not that fond of the lead character, or of the cats, which don't seem much like real cats to me (I'm a cat lover). The humor pleases many people, but just didn't strike me -- although I did like it better on second viewing.

Tatakau Shisho - The Book of Bantorra -- Interesting set-up: a mediaevalesque future world in which people's souls are stored as rock-like "books," defended by armed librarians. Episode one didn't do a lot with the set-up, but was a watchable introduction. Amazing cast: Paku Romi, Ogawa Toru, Sawashiro Miyuki, Tomatsu Haruka, Nakamura Yuuichi, Ishida Akira, Hirohashi Ryou, Irino Miyu, Kawasumi Ayako.

To Aru Kagaku no Railgun -- Good yuri/moe fighting/comedy anime. Our heroines protect the academy city from harm with their super-powers. Spin-off from Index, but may be better, based on one episode.

White Album part 2
-- I hadn't remembered how rich this show was. Still as difficult to follow as it was in its first season, but fascinating and rewarding. Our apparent protagonist still can't quite dare to get closer to his rising idol girlfriend, but keeps giving in to his urges with her manager. We can't even be sure what many characters' motivations are.

Sasamki KotoSeitokai no Ichizon -- I loved episode one, but many people didn't. Is this a fresh, hilarious gem of self-referential moe humor? Or a tired and unfunny rehash of a genre that wasn't funny in the first place? Five lovable and humorous characters: dojikko (clumsy) moe, bishoujo moe, elder sister tsundere, cool tsundere, and a blithe devotee of ero-games who openly declares he will make them his harem, an idea in which none of them has any interest. Destroys the fourth wall within thirty seconds of opening. Young cast does well. My Kanamemo of the fall season, lol. No nastiness anywhere.

Seiken no Blacksmith -- Good-looking mediaeval/monster fantasy. I liked the heroine, who is unrealistically determined to be a knight, following in her father's footsteps. This is not getting much love in cyberspace. Neither male nor female shounen fans like a girl who can't fight effectively. Romance and magic. Toyosaki Aki (Yui in K-on) plays an elf.

Shugo Chara Party -- New structure, with live intros, two new girl-groups, a mini-anime starring the guardian characters, and the main episode reduced to 15 minutes. Buono! still does the ED -- very, very well.

Tegami Bachi -- Well made and entertaining fantasy about a young boy who loses his home and becomes a messenger carrying letters through the wilds. Sawashiro Miyuki and Fukuyama Jun.

Yumeiro PâtissièreYumeiro Pâtissière -- I understand why most people may have little use for this show, but I adored episode one. I've watched it three times. Young-shoujo story of a girl who is determined to be a pâtissière (female pastry-maker). Complete absence of dramatic tension. Pure and talented young heroine is clumsy about anything other than baking, but has magically acute taste-buds. This is popular entertainment at its best, doing a great job of creating emotionally fulfilling versions of positive stereotypes. Brought tears to my eyes. Stars Yuuki Aoi, who was Murasaki in Kure-nai. She is uneven here, but excellent in places.

Sora no Otoshimono
-- Big positive reaction in cyberspace to this one. I am somewhat less enthusiastic. Harem comedy involving perverted guy and a buxom, soft-voiced "angeloid" who can fulfil his every whim. Some interesting science-fiction concepts to go with the ecchi humor. Good cast stars Hayami Saori, Houshi Souichirou, Takagaki Ayahi.

Natsu no Arashi 2 -- Minority hit of the spring season returns. Shinbou, time-travel, good cast (Shiraishi Ryouko, Sanpei Yuuko, Nazuka Kaori, Nabatame Hitomi, et al.). Its fans consider this a higher class of anime. Maybe they're right, but somehow it just hasn't yet clicked with me. Until Bakemonogatari, I didn't really get Shinbou's humor.

Miracle Train: Ooedo-sen e Youkoso -- Pure bishounen damsel-of-the-week, set on the Tokyo subway. Strange but intriguing fantasy premise: each bishounen represents a different station, and only a damsel in distress can board the "Miracle Train" they ride. Well directed by Kasai Kenichi (Aoi Hana, Honey & Clover). Surprisingly watchable. Kenn, Sugita Tomokazu, Okiayu Ryoutarou, Ono Daisuke, Miyata Kouki, Yoshino Hiroyuki -- and the return of Sakai Kanako (star of REC).

Shin Koihime†Musou: Otome Ryouran Sangokushi Engi -- I liked the first season of this Three Kingdoms parody, in which all the heroes are portrayed as moe girls and fanservice abounds. But six episodes was about enough, and two seasons is four times too much, for me.

Anyamaru Tantei Kiruminzuu -- Magical girls who transform into analogues of domestic animals to get their powers. The look was wonderful. But the show was slow and boring, for me.

Nogizaka Haruka no Himitsu: Purezza -- I defended season one of this moe romantic comedy, but once again, six episodes was about enough. If going to a hot spring in the first episode seems like a good idea, this is for you. Watch the unfogged version. Lovely romance between the leads, although it's frustrating that the guy lacks the confidence to realize how much Noto Mamiko's character loves him.

-- Clamp strikes again. Clumsy heroine may be the cutest ever, beautifully drawn and with Hanazawa Kana's voice. She comes to Earth with her tough-talking animal sidekick/handler on a mission to heal people's scarred hearts and fill a magic bottle with the scars. Beautiful look. Well-made and enjoyable first episode.

Kimi ni TodokeKimi ni Todoke -- A great manga gets a good anime. Despite some minor reservations, this is one of my hits of the season so far. Real shoujo romance, with interesting characters and character development, and some actual comedy. Noto Mamiko, Namikawa Daisuke, Sawashiro Miyuki, Sanpei Yuuko. Good drawing and animation.

11eyes -- Bloody fighting and the supernatural. Good characters. Good backgrounds and character design. Intriguing so far. From an ero-game.

Sasameki Koto -- Takagaki Ayahi is outstanding as the heroine of this yuri school romance. Not as subtle, or as subtly directed, as Aoi Hana. The manga is funnier than Aoi Hana, but you wouldn't know it from episode one.

Darker than Black 2 -- Great drawing and animation, intriguing story, good action, terrific backgrounds, especially good sound effects. And a cast featuring Kuwashima Houko, Hanazawa Kana, and Kiuchi Hidenobu. Outstanding first episode.

Hirano Aya Turns 22

She seems to have been around forever, but Hirano Aya turns 22 today. She said in her blog yesterday that there were so many things she still wanted to do while she was 21, but oh, well.

She's doing enough this fall: White Album, Fairy Tale, Kimi ni Todoke, Queen's Blade, To, Dragonball Kai, Jewelpet, Duel Masters movie, Hirano Aya Only TV, Dragonball live-action movie, four new games coming, a new photo book, magazine photo shoots (Okinawa last week), the Lantis Festa, a new album in November, a new tour in December.

Hope her health holds up and she keeps seizing every opportunity to get better and better at what she does. I loved her as Haruhi again, and her weak little voice in White Album is a dart to the heart at all times. How will she approach Lucy in Fairy Tail?

Photo taken last Friday. Click to enlarge. From Aya's blog.

Happy Birthday, Aya!

-- end of post --

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Takagaki Ayahi Sings! -- and talks about Phantom

Takagaki Ayahi's trained voice has finally burst the shackles and displayed itself in full flight.

Her CD of three CANAAN insert songs "China Kibun de High Tension!" sung as Nene, came out today.

In the song "Life", she sings clearly and accurately, in a high register that still does not prevent her from giving the song real dynamics and musical expression. And a couple of times she soars.

For me, "Life" -- and the other songs on the CD -- lift her instantly to a high rank among seiyuu singers.

In addition to her seiyuu work, Ayahi majored in operatic singing at a Tokyo music college. There is a sample of her opera voice in my previous post here.

Here is "Life":

Her impressions after the final recording session for Phantom have also recently been posted: "There was pain, and love...and happiness. I am so full of feelings. To have gotten this role was a great joy and a great test. A wonderful experience."

What was difficult about the role? "There were lots of difficulties. I thought, and worried.... Phantom was like a high wall I had to climb over. There were so many changes: from Ein アイン, to Elen エレン, to Ellen 江漣. I tried to stay close to her, to the way her decisions kept changing. I don't know whether I got over that high wall, but it was the kind of role you could lose yourself in, and I gained a lot from it. After the last recording, I just sat there in the studio for a long time, unable to lose those feelings."

Ayahi with an Ein puppetWhat scenes would you pick as the best? "There are so many. I can't choose.... Well, if I was forced to, maybe the scene in episode one when Ein and Zwei first look at each other honestly. I thought that was such a beautiful beginning. And the final episode was wonderful, too."

What interesting or amusing things happened during recording? "Jokes like 'What kind of show is this?' were flying around. Especially during the school scenes, the atmosphere in the studio was quite amazing. To touch on so many things in one anime was a very enjoyable experience. And Chiba Isshin, who played 'Master,' was a real mood-maker. When we were tense, he could lift the mood with a joke. After the final recording, the director opened a bottle of champagne in the studio lobby, and we all had a toast. That's the first time I've ever seen that. I really thought Director Mashimo's stylish direction was wonderful."

Do you have a message for the fans? "The direction, the psychology...every scene is a great one. Even now that we've finished, thoughts of Elen and Reiji keep coming up in my daily life. It's like a great whirlpool...there is beauty and meaning in every way of life.That's what I get from watching this show. I hope you can get something important to you from it, too...."

According to her blog, Ayahi just got back from two days in Toyama, the mountainous western region she fell in love with when she was working on true tears. The company that animated that show, PA Works, has its head office there.

view at ToyamaHer manager told her she had Saturday and Sunday free, for once, so she flew there from Tokyo and stayed over one night. It was her first-ever holiday trip alone. She says she got lots of help from people she met, and especially from the people at PA Works. She particularly enjoyed a long soak in the bath, looking up at the evening hills. And she ate and ate and ate.

One new Ayahi show has just started, and another is about to start. In Sora no Otoshimono, she plays a hilariously cold and sharp-tongued student council president. In the yuri comedy-drama Sasameki Koto, which starts Wednesday, she is the star: a tall karate expert who is in love with her friend, while her friend prefers cutesy girls only.

Monday, October 05, 2009

Love Plus Dating Game Sales Top 100,000 in a Month

Anime producers must be red with envy as they see Konami's Love Plus DS game reach sales of over 100,000 units within a month of its release.

That is already over double the entire 2008 sales of high-selling Code Geass R2 DVD1.

Hayami Saori, however, must be thrilled. Her character in the game, Takane Manaka, has become wildly popular. Today, many fans are celebrating Manaka's October 5 birthday (see photo).

On second thought, Hayamin may be getting a bit weirded out by now. After all, she is now the girlfriend of tens of thousands of Japanese otaku, who are no doubt doing unspeakable things in her virtual presence.

A recent story on Sankaku Complex (a site definitely not safe for work, and the source of much of my information here) says that game-players are even figuring out what perfume to buy and apply to their DS consoles to simulate a fuller olfactory experience of their virtual romance.

As the slogan on 2channel goes: "Who needs real women when you have Love Plus?"
-- end of post --

Sunday, October 04, 2009

Seitokai no Ichizon -- Characters and Seiyuus

four rookie seiyuusThe blogosphere is almost united in dismissing this show as boring and awful. The blogosphere is wrong, wrong, wrong.

Actually, what I should say is that this show hits my sense of humor dead on, even if it misses most other people's.

The show parodies itself parodying other shows. Within a few seconds of it opening, it has smashed the fourth wall to smithereens, and the characters slip in and out of levels of self-reference for 22 minutes of verbal and visual fun, almost entirely set in the student council room.

Carrying this light burden are five lovely, strange, good-hearted characters: the four bishoujo elected members of the student council -- petanko moe, bishoujo moe, protective elder sister tsundere, cool tsundere -- and the one token male, who is there because he scored highest on exams. Good work for a sidekick-type character whose consciousness is entirely immersed in ero-games.

The cast is four-fifths unknowns. The guy is played by Kondou Takashi (Train in Black Cat). For all the others, this is either their first major role or their first role, period. I like them all here, and expect to see more of most of them. At least two of them trained at well-known seiyuu schools, one has acted on stage, and one has hosted a TV show.

Here is a characters/seiyuus page with pics of the four main characters and their seiyuus, as well as info about each seiyuu, and links to more. Click image to go to full page:

characters and seiyuus
Sample jokes: they start by saying how surprised they are this manga got an anime, that a drama CD would have been more than sufficient for a show that all takes place in one room. They debate what to call the show: one suggestion is Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuuutsu, in order to guarantee an audience. This is a Kadokawa property, and most (all?) of the references are to other Kadokawa properties.

Each time the moe little chairman stamps papers with her hanko (stamp), the male character says petanko ("flatchest"). She goes weeping to the secretary, burying herself in the secretary's ample chest, the size of which makes her feel even worse. As they are checking and approving items for each club, they approve castanets for the Light Music club (Kei-On Bu).

The guy comes on to the secretary, whose response shows she hasn't even been listening. He says cool characters become passionate in the end. She replies, with hooded eyes: "Just try it." When the chairman gives a speech about what the club should do, all the others pay no attention at all, reading, playing games, etc. The guy's running joke is that the council is his harem. No-one agrees. In the middle of the chairman's speech, he interrupts her with a confession. He keeps coming on to each girl in turn, and being rejected in amusing (to me) ways. The moe-est member of the group turns out to be such an expert at Monster Hunter that she updates the walk-through wiki -- in a self-defeating way.

The show is from a series of novels that has recently spawned a manga version, and that has sold upwards of 200,000 volumes. The director is Satou Takuya, who directed Ichigo Mashimaro. The writer who adapted the original is the well-known Hanada Jukki, who did Rozen Maiden and sola. I think the comic direction is excellent, with just the right sort of bent timing and expressions. Animation is by Studio Deen, a fact which sends many critics into long rants against the studio which made my favorite anime of all time, Simoun, and another of my favorites, Marimite.

If any of this seems even remotely promising to you, give it a go. But don't say I didn't warn you that most people (both overseas and in Japan) seem to hate the show. Fools.

note: The only other blogger I've seen say they like this show is Moogy.