Even within a community as tight and niche as the anime fandom, there are certain subcategories of Japanophilia that cause even the average otaku to raise an eyebrow or two. Dolfie collecting is one, as well as having a soft spot for body pillows or yaoi; but the single most alienating fandom for many is the J-drama one. Often associated with tearjerker plots and a strong focus on handsome young men with abs, it is understandable that J-dramas are often categorized under ‘guilty pleasure’, even by fans. The main reason why I have never ventured into the realm of Japanese live-action, however, is that it’s not animated. One of the main reasons why I love anime is the fact that animation thrives on spikey blue hair, fluffy mascot characters and over-the-top humoristic quirks. The elements that make anime unique often have to do with the animation, which is why I never thought that being an anime fan would automatically make me a fan of any sort of televised entertainment from the land of the rising sun.
Although I've never seen the original Space Battleship Yamato anime, nor it's American incarnation Star Blazers, I'm always a sucker for a good sci-fi action flick. My particular interest in this film was piqued when I saw the trailer; it almost seemed as if the Japanese film industry was trying to make its very own big budget popcorn flick in the vein of Star Wars. As one of Japan's premier sci-fi franchises on par with Gundam, Yamato seemed like the perfect film to receive this kind of pseudo-Hollywood treatment. However, it was a big gamble... most live-action adaptations of anime created thus far, whether by Americans or Japanese, have been a disappointment. Could Yamato break this trend?
I'm happy to report that the end result is a flawed but fun high-octane sci-fi action film. Although it suffers from all the pitfalls inherent to Hollywood-style blockbusters, it also does an excellent job of playing to its strengths. It is, in every sense of the word, a popcorn film... and a damn entertaining one at that.
In the year 2199, the Earth is under siege by an unknown race of aliens whom humans have named the Gamilas. Although humanity was successful at resisting them initially, the aliens' technology evolves at a rate faster than humans can match. Now the Earth has been rendered uninhabitable by constant meteorite bombardment, with only a handful of survivors living underground in squalor. The United Nations of Space has refitted the old, scuttled Japanese warship Yamato into Earth's final star cruiser, intending to evacuate as many survivors as possible. However, a message from the planet Iskandar in the Large Magellanic Cloud offers humanity aid, promising them a device that can cleanse the Earth of radiation and make it livable again. The message also contains schematics for a powerful Wave Motion Engine, which will allow the Yamato to make the journey quickly using warp. As humanity's last hope, the Yamato sets out on a desperate journey to find Iskandar, dogged by Gamilas attacks along the way.
More after the break.
In a lot of ways, we knew exactly what to expect from Puella Magi Madoka Magica before the first episode even aired. The story was a closely guarded secret and the previews were only stills of the characters and a few random lines of dialogue with the opening theme in the background. But several other things stuck out. Shinbo had directed several magical girl anime before, and now he wanted to take a risk doing an anime-original story. It was obvious that he wouldn't be bothering with this unless he had something interesting in mind, but the music, character designs, and what we could discern of the premise gave the impression of a bog-standard Nanoha rehash. But once it was revealed that Urobuchi Gen was in charge of the script, everything suddenly made sense.
It's not what a story is about, but rather how it's about it. Execution is the single most important part of storytelling regardless of the medium. As the premise grows more complex and ambitious, it becomes more difficult to pull off. But with higher risk comes higher payoff. When these sorts of stories are told properly, they can leave an impression on viewers for years or even decades. When done poorly, they typically end up so terrible that they can enrage even the most stoic fans. Into which extreme does Puella Magi Madoka Magica fall?
If you make a contract with me, I can take you past the break!
It's hard trying to survive in the world of slice-of-life comedy with an all-female cast, as it's virtually impossible to avoid being compared to KyoAni's previous smash hits. So what do you do if you have been branded 'Lucky Star season 2' without being given a chance to come up with an identity of your own? Simple. If you can't beat 'em, join 'em. Once you've got an audience gathered, try to establish yourself in the one thing that matters: the details.
A Channel tells the story--yes, story, because they dropped some hints on there actually being character development somewhere--of four girls in high school. When Tooru (voiced by Yuki Aoi, also known for her roles as a certain floor-rolling detective and a pink-haired not-magical girl) enrolls in high school, she pays a visit to her senior and middle school friend Run (voiced by Kaori Fukuhara, better known as Tsukasa Hiiragi) to tell her she made it into the same high school as her. However, upon entering her room, she finds her friend in a rather compromising situation with Yuuko (voiced by Mugi with a kansai accent).
Tooru boob slaps Yuuko and procedes to molest her with an invisible chainsaw, while Run introduces her to another friend she made in high school, Nagi (voiced by newcomer Yumi Uchiyama). The rest of the episode flashes forward to all the girls together in high school and focuses mostly on jokes, but also gives us some nice undertones of Tooru trying to deal with the fact that her friend has other friends now, and with Nagi and Yuuko accepting the eccentric Tooru into their group. Sadly enough, this character development is only hinted at slightly, but at least it's better than the girls immediately befriending each other from the get-go as is the case with a lot of other slice-of-life shows.
What will happen next? (Hint: not much.) Find out after the break!
I've noticed recently that quite a few anime critics, myself included, have been using the term "generic" as if it's some sort of foul sacrilege. We seem to have a knee-jerk negative reaction to anything that contains tropes we perceive to be common or overused. But that's not really fair, is it? After all, trope by themselves are not bad. Even if a show uses the most well-worn cliches in existence, it can still be entertaining if they are properly executed.
Take, for example, Battle Girls, also known as Sengoku Otome. The plot is a mishmash of elements gleaned from InuYasha, Sailor Moon and Samurai Girls, but still manages to be engaging. The characters are archetypes we've seen a dozen times, but they're forceful enough to be memorable. The animation is limited and cuts corners, but still delivers where it counts. This show is profusely derivative, containing absolutely nothing original. But despite this ostensible shortcoming, a whole lot of fun to watch.
The story revolves around Toyoomi Hideyoshino, who (thanks to her unusual name) is called Hideyoshi by her classmates. She's a recidivist slacker who prefers to spend her time reading celebrity blogs and texting, despite her plummeting grades. After a particularly stern lecture from her teacher, she decides to stop by a shrine in the hope that divine intervention will help her next test score. She happens upon a strange shadowy woman casting a magical circle in the shrine, and clumsily interferes causing the spell to go haywire. The resultant magical discharge knocks her cold, and she awakens in the fedual era near a town in flames. To her disbelief, Hideyoshi is saved by two Sengoku-era war generals, Nobunaga Oda and Mitsuhide Akechi... except, for some reason, these famous historical figures have been transformed into busty women with magical powers.
More after the break.
I've always said that Charles Dickens was a brilliant author and an atrocious writer. He's responsible for some of the most iconic characters in the history of English literature, but his tendency to go into excruciating detail about unimportant things makes his stories nearly unreadable. If he hadn't been paid in a way that encouraged this, he would be one of my favorite authors. Hanasaku Iroha is not padding its pockets by producing excessive material, but it is reminiscent of Dickens in all the right ways. It feels a lot like a piece of Victorian literature, which is not what I expected from the studio responsible for things like Angel Beats! and Canaan.
Just before spring break, Ohana is shipped off to her grandmother's inn so her mother can run away from debt collectors with her boyfriend. Rather than taking her in as family, her grandmother puts her to work and makes it very clear that she will not be doing her any favors. Being accustomed to living with someone who is so impressively irresponsible, she has a bit of trouble adjusting to the strict and somewhat oppressive culture her grandmother enforces.
Please, sir, I want some more after the break.
I really wasn't expecting much from Fractale. We're all familiar with the grandiose claims Yamakan made at the start of the Winter season... bloviating about moe killing anime and how he was going to singlehandedly save it with his incredible new show. He even promised to retire if it performed poorly. Now that Fractale has bombed, how long do you think it will be until he starts claiming that plebian anime fans such as ourselves are incapable of appreciating the brilliance of his work? In any case, I wasn't fooled by Yamakan's posturing; I expected Fractale to be yet another mediocre offering from the overrated director who brought us such turds as Black Rock Shooter.
For most of the season, my prediction bore out. Fractale was an incoherent mess that failed to develop its characters or maintain a consistent tone. There were little snippets of cogent material, but they were buried under mountains of frivolous nonsense. But in the last few episodes, Fractale did something utterly terrible that transformed it from a stalled-out steam train into a full-blown derailment; it decided to play the rape card.
The most terrible thing that can happen to a fan is seeing their object of affection losing its touch. Hipsters cry indie tears when they hear the new 'mainstream' album by what used to be their favorite band. Film lovers pull the hair out of their heads when they see the person who used to be a great director releasing one piece of crap after another. And I suppose a lot of Kyoto Animation lovers felt the exact same when the studio wasted another 26 episodes on the Sakura High Light Music Club and dealt the death blow with the terrible abomination that was Nichijou episode 0. But worry not, fellow slice-of-life fans: the actual show makes up for this. Kinda.
Oh, GOSICK, how far you have fallen. Not all that far, actually, since you never managed to climb very high in the first place. It's been like scurrying up onto a small fence and then toppling over backwards off a cliff. Poorly written similes aside, this show is becoming enjoyable on a level much different than I would have ever expected. It's like a mix of Detective Conan and Commando at this point. With the right mindset, that has amazing potential.
So let's dive into episodes four and five of the best unintentional comedy anime of the season.
Sometimes, you just need to think like a teenage girl.
I've been meaning to start watching PreCure after Sailor Moon introduced me to the wonders of magical girls last year. Like its predecessor, PreCure is one of those shows that everybody has heard of but nobody has seen. In Japan, it's a hugely popular merchandising juggernaut aimed at little girls, much like My Little Pony in the United States. Perhaps because of its target audience, it has never received much attention in the Western otaku community. Regardless, with a new PreCure show just starting up, I figured it was the perfect time to see what this franchise is all about. This review covers the first two episodes.
From the very first scene, Suite PreCure dives headfirst a Power Rangers style black-and-white moral morass. Mephisto, the evil ruler of the musically themed Minor Land, is trying to steal the notes of the Melody of Happiness in order to transform it into a Melody of Sorrow. When the queen of Major Land scatters the notes all around Earth, Mephisto sends his transforming cat/girl minion Siren to retrieve them. However, Major Land's adorable mascot Hummy manages to thwart Siren by transforming two girls, Hibiki and Kanade, into Cure Melody and Cure Rhythm. Thus begins the musical battle against the forces of sadness!
More after the break.