Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind – Retro Review

What’s one of my favorite films – animated or not – in existence? Why, the twenty-six year old Pre-Ghibli Miyazaki masterpiece known as Nausicaä of the Valley of the Wind, natch. I’ve seen it at least a dozen times, but I never tire of it. Why? I could waste a lot of words and end up with nothing but paragraphs of inane babbling which I’ll spare you. Lots of reasons.

It’s a spectacularly gorgeous movie. Just about every still frame could be framed and put on the wall of a gallery as far as I’m concerned. The music sends up all the hairs in the back of my neck, it’s so good. The characters are rich and varied, and the cast is full of powerful women. I honestly don’t even mind the Disney sub, though it can be distracting hearing Captain Picard and Admiral Adama doing voice work.

Anyway, as I said I could go on ad nauseum, but do yourself a favor and watch this film. If you have anything bad to say about it, just keep it to yourself, because I don’t want to hear it, ok? That may sound immature, but understand this film and I were born in the same year. If, as a newborn, I was able to go see this film, I would have. And there’s nothing less mature than an infant. Rating: 10

RABUJOI World Heritage List

Nurarihyon no Mago – Thru 7

This show has been consistently okay and sometimes good, but never great. I’m enjoying the character design and atmosphere, but the plot is lagging just a bit and lacks urgency. Though I’m not as annoyed than I am with Ookami-san’s dillydallying, in that this is a 24-episode series that can afford to take its time and develop characters and simmer the plot, while Ookami is just 13, and can’t afford to.

After seven episodes, we’ve established that the weak-looking kid becomes a badass, but only at night, but he can still hold his own with a sword. His classmates have had numerous experiences with youkai and their memories haven’t been wiped. One classmate is a youkai-hunter, which should prove interesting as the series moves on, while another is just a bland girl who likes him but believes his snow-girl guardian is putting the moves on him.

Despite its flaws, this may be the first Studio Deen series I’ll see through to the end, though it’s still too early to tell. Fall 2010 is packed with shows with potential, and if this series doesn’t start offering a more compelling story by the time the new stuff comes around, it may have to be bumped. Rating: 3

Amagami SS – Kaoru Tanamachi Arc

I’m now two arcs through Amagami SS. While Arc 1 involved the ‘initially unattainable hottie’, Arc 2 involved the ‘old friend’. I preferred Arc 2 due to what I considered better chemistry between the guy and girl, and the fact Kaoru is voiced by Rina Satou, seiyu of the Railgun, Mikoto Misaka. I’ll admit to having a soft spot for her earnest and tomboyish yet vulnerable delivery. Also, this arc lacks a flash-forward to the future in the ending. The one in the previous arc didn’t grate with me, but I still didn’t really deem it necessary.

Many have used the word “rushed” to describe this series thus far, but I’m not among them. I maintain that while so many romances drag on too long as the would-be lovers circle each other. There’s something to be said for quick, compact, efficient stories that throw you right into the middle of a romance that is essentially fated, but despite basically knowing the outcome of each arc, the journeys to that conclusion are nonetheless enjoyable.

Sometimes you just want things resolved, and with Amagami SS, you can rest assured they will be, within a four-episode period, without fail. I also like the variety and the alternate-universe quality of the resets after each arc. Why spend 26 episodes on a guy courting one girl when he can court six? Amagami SS – Romantic tapas. Rating: 3.5

Seitokai Yakuindomo – Thru 6

Just about halfway through now, this has been fairly solid. Sometimes the humor is a bit childish or lewd for the sake of lewd, but the deadpan delivery by the characters followed by the reaction of the straight-man is usually pretty funny. The rubber-stamp bumper card thing is  also overdone.

This is a slice-of-life anime that hasn’t gone down the “high school harem” road (and likely never will), and has only shown the slightest hints of any romance between the many female characters and the outnumbered male lead. Surprising, considering he’s one of only a handful of guys at a school of hundreds. So while there isn’t much of a story here, the characters and their ridiculous conversations are the focus. I’ll watch the final seven episodes, but like “Working!!”, I’m not expecting a finite ending. Rating: 3

Shiki – Thru 6

I’m not a fan of the character designs (some are outright nutty and random), but that isn’t nearly enough to detract from what’s hopefully shaping up to be a decent vampire yarn.

The medical professionals in the show spew a lot of medical jargon, which adds credibility to the show (regardless of whether its 100% accurate or not; I wouldn’t know) and paint them in a corner where conventional medical consultation and care is having little or no effect on helping the patients. The village is already quite small and mostly elderly people (mirroring a coming crisis in real-world Japan), so the fact that so many people are dying so quickly creates a great urgency to solve the mystery.

But it’s hardly spoiling to connect the dots (anemia and bite marks) and conclude that this village’s problem is vampires. A monk has already met and befriended one (as much as you can befriend a creepy tweener vampire), while the main character’s dreams are haunted by a vamped-out version of the village’s first victim, a cosplay girl who had a crush on him. After six episodes, these three – the monk, the teenager, and the doctor – are starting to come together and realize what’s going on (and what we already know.)

What we don’t know is if this can be resolved before the entire village is killed, and how. At 22 episodes, Shiki is only four shy of a full-length anime, and I’m confident it can make use of the remaining 16 to spin an entertaining resolution. But seriously, wtf is up with some of these characters’ hairstyles? Rating: 3

Katanagatari – Thru 7

This is a series that airs only one hour-long episode a month. These episodes chronicle the journeys and adventures of Togame, a spunky young military strategist “strategian” working for the Shogunate, and Shichika, a young swordsman who wields no sword, but whose body is the sword itself. Shichika is Togame’s muscle, as her mission is to collect twelve extremely powerful ‘deviant blades’, all in the possession of equally challenging adversaries. As they progress, so does their relationship.

This series features a huge amount of dialogue; mostly Togame and Shichika chatting about strategy or philosophy or flirting. The banter is quick-paced an witty in a similar fashion to that of the similarly-titled Bakemonogatari. There are some who are put off by shows that are too talky and without enough action, but I’m not among them.

The duels Shichika has with the sword bearers are usually preceded by long conversations, and the battles usually decided rather quickly. Sometimes the pre- and inter-battle discussions are so long-winded, this feels like a parody of typical shonen-style anime, but the talk is almost always intelligent, and the enemies are never transparently evil. In fact, more than one of Shichika and Togame’s foes are actually sympathetic, even pitiable.

Togame and Shichika have good chemistry, and they provide good comedy courtesy of Shichika’s hopeless ignorance of the world (when they first set out, he can’t even distinguish Togame from other people) and Togame always trying to stay one step ahead in their various debates.

I also like the simple but vivid character design, the equally vivid animation and editing, and realy enjoy the high-quality, original score, which in many instances lends gravitas to scenes of exposition or dialogue that would have far less impact otherwise. The month-long wait between episodes, while long, is welcome, almost mirroring the long distances the characters must travel around Japan in search of the swords. The first seven episodes have been very entertaining, and I eagerly await the eighth, out sometime this month. Rating: 4

Bakemonogatari – Wrap-up

Bakemonogatari is dense. Dense in dialogue, dense in wordplay, and dense in imagery. However, If you boil down its 12 TV episodes and 3 ONAs (the last of which aired June 25), well over half of its airtime is occupied by establishing shots, extreme long shots, stills, and unnumbered and labeled color cuts. This is the first non-Zetsubo-sensei Akiyuki Shinbo-directed anime I saw, and it’s clear the guy likes the little details, he prefers the scalpel to the sledgehammer, and he isn’t afraid to turn conventions inside-out and upside-down.

Two characters converse during jumps up, down, over, around, and through them, and the verbal fisticuffs are chock full of wordplay and metahumor, much of which requires fluency in Japanese to fully appreciate. Despite not being fluent ourselves, the series is nevertheless great entertainment. This anime photographs its characters, particularly the female ones, with great care and love, and we have no choice but to sympathize and root for them once we learn of their situations, as the quasi-vampire protagonist must. He muses later in the series that perhaps his residual vampire “charisma” is the reason these attractive girls keep coming to him with their problems. But it was the girls, their excellent seiyus, their vulnerabilities and verbal sparring, that kept bringing us back to this show.

For all the audiovisual artistic license taken and complexity of the dialogue, this show is not so much about a guy saving one girl after another from animal possessions, but about everything before and after that occurs. About the in-between; the peripheral; the leading-up; the aftermath. It is in these spaces that the protagonist falls in love with the first girl he saves, and that love is tested and endures through his dealings with the other girls. There is a prequel coming out in the next year or so; I hope it sticks to this formula while providing us with new insights into this guy. Rating: 4

Ookami-san – Thru 5

I’m pretty indifferent when it comes to Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi (and her Seven Companions). On the one hand, it’s pretty well drawn and animated and isn’t horrible enough to simply stop watching, but it hasn’t delivered anything resembling original or compelling entertainment. It’s chock-full of classic anime tropes: a feisty tsundere with outer strength hiding inner weakness, a weak-willed male lead with inner strength hidden by outer timidity, and a supporting cast of relatively wooden characters defined only by their admittedly distinctive appearances.

The show has the “they’re always wearing the same clothes” problem, as well as the “high schools are nations with infinite resources at war with one another” problem; both strain credulity, while the show’s connection to classic children’s tales (Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel, etc.) is extremely thin and vague. The story’s been all over the place and the narrator is simply annoying (Satomi Arai is put to better use in Railgun, as she has an interesting voice.)

If I’m not exactly selling this show to you, it’s because nearly halfway through, I’m not sold yet myself. Not yet. I like it, and I’ll keep watching, but I’m not optimistic. The sequel to Index (due in October) should be better than this. Rating: 3

Black★Rock Shooter OVA



Black★Rock Shooter
is a 50-minute OVA produced by Ordet, a four year-old studio founded by a former director with Kyoto Animation (Haruhi Suzumiya, Clannad, Air, K-on, etc.).  It is an orderly and uncomplicated tale splicing scenes of two new junior high students (Mato and Yomi) becoming fast friends with scenes of badass versions of themselves dueling each other with huge complicated weapons in a stark, stylish, surrealistic otherworld.

It quickly becomes apparent that the evil Yomi of the otherworld absorbs regular Yomi, who goes missing in the real world after drifting apart from Mato due to ending up in different classes and different clubs in the second year. The moral seems to be: keep your friends close or they could become your enemies.

Straightforward story aside, Black★Rock Shooter looks and sounds great. The real world is rendered in gorgeous detail and lush color, contrasting sharply with the Soul Eater-like atmosphere of the otherworld. The battle itself is also very well animated for the most part, though a bit jerky at times. Mato and Yomi are also voiced by two of my favorite seiyus; Kana Hanazawa and Miyuki Sawashiro, respectively. In all, this was a good watch; a competent Animation by a relatively new studio, and an entertaining 50 minutes. Rating: 3