Sunday, February 24, 2008
It doesn't have a magic solution for the challenges faced by the music, movie, and anime industries (otherwise I imagine the author'd just go make a fortune himself) but it's a very interesting examination of what it means for economics when the perceived value (and costs) of products drops to zero (or near to it).
Recommended for anyone curious and speculating about the future of business in the digital age.
It's no surprise that the director had previously worked on Pani Poni Dash!, as both shows share the same uncontrollable randomness. His work on SoulTaker also shows through in the wild shifts in perspective, lighting and color. While it's not as cute or quite as anime-typical as either, it does manage to avoid being weighed down by a massive cast with more distinctive character designs - and frequently not really expecting or needing you to remember who's who. Sayonora Zetsubou Sensei seems to draw from smarter source material with sharper (and more risqué) jokes. It's not just loli-con snipes or running gags; it keeps building as more and more screwed up students are introduced.
This is one of those titles I'd watched one episode of and knew I was going to like it, so I put it aside for quite some time. Now I've gotten back into it and I'm at a loss to really explain why I didn't keep up with it. Really brilliant stuff, one of the best comedy anime in quite some time. Highly recommend to anyone who doesn't need their anime to constantly make sense.
Wednesday, February 20, 2008
Sitting squarely in the realm of mind-fuck anime, Ghost Hound clearly has a lot going on behind the scenes and dribbles the hints out slowly. It succeeds where earlier shows such as Lain may have lost some viewers by constantly evolving, expanding or event changing the mystery as it progresses. The viewer isn't left out the dark, the questions just keep leading to more, deeper issues. What starts as 3 boys who all have some connection to death in their childhood leads to out-of-body experiences and creepy visions of insect-like spirits covering everything. That soon veers off back towards the mental trauma you would expect these kids to be carrying around - and that leads to ruminations on memory and the dead, tying back into the spirit world the kids stumbled into. It's a coil that takes you deeper and deeper without really realzing what's going on, but its kept grounded by realistic characters with a plethora of real-world problems and flaws - and that most un-anime of character traits: a willingness to actually talk to those around them about what is happening.
Even with all that, however, it would just be good anime. What takes it beyond that and into the realm of truly great is the execution. The visuals are top-notch. This is a Production I.G show, after all, so the animation and art-direction is unmatched. The character designs might strike some as plain or blandly generic, but just like the show itself, quickly reveal themselves as intricate, subtle and remarkably expressive without relying on the usual flashy tricks. The supernatural bits are handled with a flair that becomes increasingly disturbing and ominous, building the sense of tension. But again, it's the sound design that really steps up as remarkable. There is very little music in the show, the creepy atmosphere is wrapped around the viewer using ambient noise and effects. Sounds fade into each other and are distorted so masterfully that they quickly serve as storytelling tools as deft as direct dialogue or full animation.
Ghost Hound has a lot it wants to get off its chest and manages to do most of it with a glance and the sound of a heartbeat fading into footsteps in gravel. When it does talk, it answers your questions by revealing that you were only seeing the tip of the iceberg before and now you have to re-evaluate everything.
Highly recommended to anyone who wants more than a robot and a cute girl in their anime.
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
As a slice-of-life show, there's little-to-no ongoing plot. Exaggerated characters are just thrown at each other in a variety of ridiculous situations and you laugh at the fallout. Animation is top-notch and used to great effect to bring everything to life. It's hard not to laugh along with the over-the-top antics when the younger two sisters start going at it.
It's virtually impossible not to draw comparisons with Azumanga Daioh, as it largely established the genre for American otaku. Minami-ke has a smaller cast (which may mean you might not find that one kind of girl you just love) and isn't quite as overtly cute (like Kamichu!, it's somewhat subtle its cuteness attack, letting it sneak around and jump you from behind when you aren't paying attention) but does feel somewhat less disjointed. It's less obviously a sequence of humorous skits sewn together by merit of sharing the same characters, even if only by virtue of each skit/sequence being longer.
Definitely highly recommended for anyone who is a fan of either cute girls just doin' stuff or heroin-comedy (Azumanga Daioh, as opposed to the crack-comedy of Excel Saga).
Saturday, February 16, 2008
While I'm all for brutal combat and I loved the tempura-frying scene in Ichi the Killer, torture for torture's sake gets old real fast. Add in a dominating lesbian with a piercing fetish and it gets mildly uncomfortable as well. It's not particularly explicit or disturbing, but it feels like the pain is being showcased as fanservice, and that's very disconcerting.
The plot's also rather weak as well: something about clones and implanted memories that somehow ends up resulting in an army of attack zombies. This is only the first episode of an OVA, though, so it can very easily develop into something better. I'm willing to give it a chance to develop so long as it doesn't dip into Saw/Hostel pain-porn.
Let me spoil it. Here's what was really going on: Hinata Kagura dies as a child and her little sister, Hotaru, is forced to take her place by an abusive (and prestigious) family. They tell the village that Hotaru died. Meanwhile, the powerful Kohinata family abuses the village, taking advantage of its wealth and doing horrible things like refusing to give medicine to the poor. Hinata Kagura and Hayami Kohinata become friends - only to be torn apart when the Kaguras lead the village to overthrow the Kohinata's, burning down their houses and scattering the family. Hayami is forced to live in squalor in the woods and the townsfolk regularly abuse her, both verbally and physically. But then the Promised One shows up: the blind Hirose. The "Spirit of the Sound of Time" (who turns out to be the ghost of the real Hinata) shows up, cheerfully (and prophetically) cures his blindess and he obstinately - but passively - sets out to just make everyone get along.
Turns out there was no The Lottery or any creepy, weird small-town with some kind of brutal, human-sacrifice superstitions. Instead, we just get a grand collection of idiots who are more than willing to take the abuse and blame for things they didn't do, and a town full of people more than happy to abuse - and then just as happy to be all nice-nice once an I'm-blind-but-now-I-see hapless loser shows up and asks "Why can't we all just get along?"
Recommended only for moe-taku and anyone with an unhealthy love for insipid harem anime that have pretensions of a deeply tragic plot.
The first surprise was to find Shinichiro, the hapless object of just about every woman's desire, actually had real character traits - and a spine. This gives the women a reason to be interested in him: they're impressed with his art, he stood up for them (instead of the traditional Japanese habit of standing nearby and watching), or he's just a genuinely nice guy that they've seen try to help people. It really is shocking to find that you can actually root for (or even like) the kid. Actually having definably traits shouldn't prevent nerds from associating with him, though - we've all done the "I like the girl, but she likes this other guy, so I'll help them get together" thing.
The girls have actual personalities of their own as well, from the Ideal Girl to the Long-time Friend to the Weird One, they all actually manage to transcend their obvious stereotypes to one degree or another. Further, the art direction and animation is stunning (aside from the unnerving CG crowds in distant shots) and as things seem to warm up, the show injects a bit more melodrama, adding some more tension beyond simply "Will he get the girl? Which girl?!"
Highly recommended for anyone who can stomach anime romance, or teen romance in general. If you're willing to try, give it a chance. I was expecting to completely dismiss it after an episode and I've been unable to quit it since.
The premise is unique: Horo, a wolf-god of prosperity, enters into an agreement with Lawrence, a medieval merchant, to travel north to her ancient homeland. Things get complicated when a young merchant who clearly has complicated feelings for Lawrence shows up hunting Horo to turn over to the church and usher in a new era so her village no longer needs to rely on the god's whims for prosperity. The glue that holds the show together, though, is the interaction between Lawrence and Horo - it's surprisingly compelling and sublte for an anime.
Things have progressed rather slowly so far, though, and I suspect that's part of general sense of dissatisfaction. Most of the "action" has involved economics and manipulative trading and it's taken six episodes to resolve what seemed like a minor story about currency devaluation with a climactic revelation of Horo's "true" form - and for the leads to finally commit to each other. It's the team-building scene when constantly bickering travelers can finally admit that they really do want to travel with each other, no matter what pretense they insist on.
The animation isn't particularly impressive either. Horo's giant wolf form ripping through the catacombs was pretty nice, but mainly due to subtle touches like the wind of her passing or her wantonly tossing bodies around. With a better budget or tighter direction, that scene could have been positively bone-chilling.
Spice and Wolf remains a solid, well-written and original anime, however. At worst, it can feel like it's not living up to all it could be, but I think it's really still just trying to find it's feet. It's taken a bit, but I suspect it'll be worth it in the end.
Even if she looks more like a Firefox-tan cosplayer than a big, bad wolf.
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Red Shoulder Document - Roots of Ambition (also translated as Roots of Treachery) suffers much the same muddled and nonsensical plot as the modern prequel The Pailsen Files (which is supposed to immediately follow). The Red Shoulder brigade (the best of the best) essentially live in a prison and are routinely tossed into live combat just to see who survives, all as part of some quest to cull an immortal soldier who has luck/destiny on his side. This, of course, is Chirico. After proving he is immortal, they send him to the front lines to try to kill him once and for all. He's apparently too dangerous to be left alive.
There are a few glimmers of the tactics that made Chirico such a bad-ass in the TV series, but plot holes are large enough to run a mech through and what plot is there seems completely impenetrable without an encyclopedic knowledge of Votoms trivia. Recommended only for fans hardcore enough to watch a full hour for a few shots of a baby covered in goop floating in a vacuum with a terribly disturbing stare (at least judging from the other character's reactions).
While the retro-styled characters are inconsistently animated, the all-CG mecha are very well-done - making it all the more of a shame that very little is done with them. Most fight scenes come across as amateurish staging of WWII movies with giant robots.
A well-worn and aimless plot combined with suspense-less combat adds up to a terrible spin-off that arrived too late to ride on the success of a classic franchise. Recommended only to the most die-hard Votoms fans who will be happy just seeing the mecha animated with modern CG.
It seems that anime DVD sales have dropped 20% in 2007 (the number of releases also dropped by a similar amount, so I wonder if the direct statistic is that bad). Manga sales are apparently still strong, but no longer enjoying that ridiculous rate of growth that shocked everyone a few years ago.
This certainly comes as no surprise. Geneon, Bandai, ADV... those were the surprises. I'd hesitate to guess what this statistic would actually mean, though. The video industry as a whole is certainly in massive flux and anime is even worse.
Blu-Ray has one the HD format war, but I'm skeptical as to whether that's going to lead to any kind of resurgence in the DVD market, like it was back it's heyday. I just don't see HD driving as many sales. It's simply too expensive and complicated for similarly wide adoption.
And I still think that the digital distribution model is really the future anyway, but that's a can of worms people need to figure out: how do you make money on something people can find for free.
Tuesday, February 12, 2008
My friend Jason Thompson (who I ran into way back when because we were both big into the Kult RPG - still such a shame that died again) asked me to work on it a while back now. He was putting together this massive book to give brief reviews of every manga published in English and he wanted me to help.
Specifically, he wanted me to review the hentai manga.
Apparently he'd been reading my reviews/rants on my livejournal account and wanted someone who could write something funny (and often snarky) but still be able to actually consider the books for what they were: porn.
A waist-high stack of hentai manga later, I became an "expert on Japanese porn comics." A very illustrious title, I know. All it really did, though, was give me a frightening peak at the repressed Japanese id and enamor me of the short, 500-words-or-less review. Helped inspire me to get around to doing this blogination as well.
The Original Bondage Fairies (Title) (Kanji Title) • Kondom • Mangerotica (1999) • Japanese Publisher (1993) • ## volumes • Straight Adult Mnaga • X (explicit sexual content)
Going way beyond just an X-rated Tinkerbell, Bondage Fairies is an unsettling mixture of lesbian sex, BDSM and a heaping helping of bestiality featuring scantily clad women who fit in the palm of your hand. There’s plenty of simple girl-girl coupling in the series, but much of it also involves domination and rape/torture, spiced up with just every kind of animal or (more frequently and disturbingly) insect the author could work in: worms, beetles, bats, slugs, etc. Industrious readers can read whatever they would like into the fact that beautiful elfin faerie girls repeatedly receive the attentions of hideous male beasts. Perhaps the most disturbing thing, however, is that Kondom renders the female form in a simple and alluring manner. It’s undeniably attractive, making the sinful acts that later occur with vermin and insects all the more grotesque.
1 out of 4 stars
The New Bondage Fairies & Bondage Fairies Extreme (Title) (Kanji Title) • Kondom • Mangerotica (1996-2003) • Japanese Publisher (1996-2000) • ## volumes • Straight Adult Mnaga • X (explicit sexual content)
The sex-crazed fairies continue their adventures, though the stories stray further away from fairie-on-fairie action to include a wider variety of insects and other talking critters getting it on with the tiny bewinged beauties. Fairies serve as the police force in the forest, but “protecting the weak” and “upholding justice” invariably involves having sex or harvesting “fairie nectar” or getting raped by some giant beetle or spider. The art is just as good – if not better than – the original series, but the increased emphasis on girl and insect coupling makes it even more uncomfortable. The short breaks for humorous stories about the author’s encounters with the diminutive nymphos are a welcome escape.1 out of 4 stars
Monday, February 11, 2008
I'm testing out a web site that allows you to create a flash interface for an PDF you have. Seems to work pretty well - just click on the magazine and a full page viewer will open up. Then you can browse through that and click on any page to zoom in.
Sunday, February 10, 2008
In many ways very appropriate for a samurai story; it certainly hearkens back to the great scenes in older samurai movies where more time is spent on the stare-down than the swinging. Since this is from from the director of Texhnolyze, this should come as no surprise and tell you all you need to know about the show's "deliberate" pacing.
Ostensibly, Shigurui starts out as a standard samurai anime, albeit much more realistic than most. There are no ninja powers or fireballs here, it's all about the tiny details in the fighter's stance or their grip on their sword. With it's indulgence of combat minutiae and relative lack of actual action-packed sword-slinging, it seemed to be just a samurai anime for samurai otaku with far more style that it deserved.
We even have all the stereotypical pieces: a prestigious dojo, a chivalrous top student in line to inherit it and marry the master's gentle daughter, and a conniving rival who not only fights dirty but has the fall to try to run away and hide when the tide turns against him. Everything begins to take a much darker, more sinister bent as the truth is slowly spooled out. The master is a raving madman with only brief moments of lucidity, during which he's a heartless, evil bastard. The chivalrous student is doggedly obedient, following his master's every command, no matter how inhuman. The manipulative rat seems to be the only one with any human dignity - or is it all an act?
Combined with the non-linear and obtuse storytelling that isn't afraid of leaving loose ends and unanswered questions, Shigurui quickly becomes a baroque tragedy of warped, in-bred privilege and how the fires of revenge, greed and ambition will burn everything around them to ash. It's a clear condemnation not only of the samurai (and their fetishization) but the paths of vengeance and power-and-any-cost in general.
There are no heroes in the show, only monsters and shattered victims (sometimes one and the same).
Sadly, that's not to say it's for everyone. Even beyond the bursts of starting gore and nudity, the glacial pacing will make it nearly impossible for some viewers to really get into it. Shigurui does manage to reach (and maintain) an almost palpable boiling tension, but it takes some time to get there. The "ending" is also profoundly unsatisfying. Having taken a leisurely pace through the first 10 episodes, the last two are surprisingly rushed and somewhat hard to follow. They contain some of the most gruesome and moving scenes of the entire run but leave huge gaps, most significantly how the Gennosuke Fujiki (the chivalrous student) loses his arm. When the anime opened, he faces off against Seigen Irako (now a blind cripple) for a final showdown - but it closes without showing how he lost his arm.
Definitely recommended for those who want something a bit more cerebral and can endure the pacing and don't mind having only hints to go on to get to it.