What follows is the account of my week-long vacation to Tokyo in June 2010, where I stuck to the 23 special wards and got a taste of the people, food, music, art, pace, and culture of 21st century Japan. The only other foreign country I’d visited prior to Japan was the Dominican Republic.
4 June, 2010 (Fri)
Left home @ 3AM
Depart PHL @ 6 AM on a
Tiny plane was in air for half
hour. Got to EWR
Waited from 7 to 11 AM, for
Big Honkin’ Plane.
Been in Big Honkin’ Plane
for many many hours.
Watched Up In The Air
and Death Note I + II
Couldn’t see out; had aisle
seat. Over Alaska all clouds.
Same with Kamchatka Penn.
3 1/2 hours to go.
Seat too upright to sleep
4577 miles so far
~1800 to go…
Rundown: Mysterious teenager has a fantastic dream, wakes up in normal Japan. He was found in bushes and grew up in an orphanage. When he touches others, he can feel their emotions, leading to reactions that can confuse or anger those people. He receives death threats, but is saved from an attempt on his life by someone in weird clothes claiming to be his brother.
Like Ookamikakushi last season, this show doesn’t reveal much in its first episode; a lot is still wrapped in mystery. I even felt a tinge of Escaflowne-ness in the cross between the kid’s cheesy Final Fantasy dream and reality, though elements from the former show up in the latter before long. The kid himself is not that interesting yet, girls love him, kids love him, rival guys loathe him; nothing out-of-this-world. But I’m intrigued enough with the buildup thus far to keep watching for now. Rating: 2.5
Rundown: A college student in Kyoto is vexed by his inability to enter meaningful romantic relationships with the fairer sex at university. Egged on by his antisocial and mischievous friend, he has spent much of his college life as a “black cupid,” intervening and spoiling other students’ pairings. Despite this, he develops a liking to a quirky yet cute freshman girl. One night at a roving ramen stand, he meets a so-called “god of matchmaking” who says the girl will be bound to either him or his odd friend. He must get serious, shed the black cupid act, and act on his feelings for the girl, or risk losing her.
Ye gads, I thought Sayonara Zetsubou-Sensei was hard to keep up with. This show combines an almost constantly-changing animation style and color palette with rapid-fire narration and dialogue that goes by so fast, even the subtitles lag a bit. Like Mr. Despair, watching this show is a workout, but once you find your comfort zone, its a gorgeously presented and highly entertaining account of a student’s college dreams deferred. Living in Kyoto, he was bound to run into a god of some kind, and he does – one who’s offering him a chance at a wife. The girl’s reaction to a moth landing on her face was priceless. You may want to brush up on your speed-reading beforehand, but I reccomend you watch it!
Rundown: A 16 year old high school student is recruited to work at a family restaurant by a female classmate one year his senior, whom he nevertheless mistakes for middle schooler. The restaurant staff is full of odd personalities, but he decides to stick with the job that fell in his lap.
I’m always weary of slice-of-life, since the genre itself just sounds like a snoozefest. Thankfully this has enough liveliness and comedy and production values to warrant a fair viewing. Everyone has a quirk, from the protagonists’ somewhat disturbing love of “small things”, a watress so terrified of men she attacks them viciously, a laid-back manager who calls delinquents to rob customers who run out on the bill, and a cheerful hostess who always carries a wakizashi around and never opens her eyes. Again, nothing groundbreaking, but for me, it’s nice, calm, amusing slice of life with odd but ultimately likable characters.
Rundown: Girl travels to Kyoto looking for her father, and witnesses a battle she isn’t supposed to see. The warriors who won the battle take her back to their HQ and keep her detained while they debate what to do with her. They eventually learn that the doctor they’re looking for his the girl’s father.
This is a nice change of pace from a set of mostly modern/futuristic settings of the anime I’m watching this season. That said, while I sympathize with Chizuru (the female lead), I’m not that interested in all the warriors quite yet. The show throws a lot of characters at her and you at once, and keeping their names and opinions straight was tough. At first I thought, well, they’re all assholes for teasing and threatening to kill her, but eventually they let up, and even gave her her katana back, so they can’t be all bad.
Rundown: Technically sound but weak-willed ronin hired by a gangster who turns out to be a member of a band of thieves who have kidnapped a boy. He initially questions whose side he’s on, but once he finds out the thieves have a code and their victims are hardly sympathetic, he decides not to back out and joins the group.
The Samurai Champloo similarities are here: both center around ronin in the Edo period; both are done by Manglobe…but I loved the character design in Champloo and I don’t care for it at all in Five Leaves. This show had a beautifully-done opening sequence, a decent intro story, and gorgeous landscapes throughout, but the character design ruins it for me. The last straw was when the main guy laid eyes on whom he believed “the most beautiful woman he’s ever seen.” IMO she looked like a man in drag. Everybody looks tired, worn-out, and ugly, like they’re strung out on drugs or starving. Maybe that’s the point, but usually, to enjoy an anime I have to like how the characters are drawn, which simply isn’t the case here. The only character design I liked was the cat, which is why it’s pictured so prominently.
In depressed post-WWII Japan, seven teenage delinquents are incarcerated in an infamous jail and have to deal with the humiliation and abuse of prison life, and also share their cell with a more seasoned inmate.
Lovejoy: Ghibli’s Grave of the Fireflies is a highly-acclaimed and celebrated film but frankly I couldn’t stand it…it was too damned depressing. So far I’m getting that same vibe with Rainbow; I appreciate an anime digging deep into one of Japan’s darkest times and their effect on youths, it’s not necessarily the genre I’m looking for, and nothing in the first episode stood out as being particularly groundbreaking for a prison drama.
Rundown: Girl vows to have 100 sex partners, but just ends up pursuing her first male target.
Lovejoy: The opening credits were a bit too syrupy, and it’s a cringeworthy premise, but all that aside, this first episode turned out to be a surprisingly decent and amusing romantic comedy. The show does a good job capturing the hormone-soaked fiasco high school courtship can be, and isn’t lazy with the dialogue. While Yamada, the female lead, is incredibly naive and overzealous, the show itself isn’t and seems to have a good bead on what it wants to do. Yamada’s meta sidekick, kind of a mini love-god version of herself with a mustache, is a nice touch.
Rundown: Rich, pompous, self-made 21-year old Tokyo U student can not allow himself to be indebted to anyone. However he becomes just that when a mysterious girl who lives under a bridge saves his life. Demanding he repay her, she orders him to become her “lover”. He then enters her extremely bizarre world under the bridge.
Zetsubou-sensei, bakemonogatari, and now this: Shaft continues to churn out intriguing shows with curious, multi-textural visual style, self-deprication vis-a-vis anime conventions (cliches, not cons), and rich, carefully-manicured dialogue. Our protagonist is loud and over-the-top, which contrasts nicely with the soft-spoken, calm girl. Her meek appearance and gestures conceal a sharp wit that is likely a match for the confident family heir. It isn’t clear yet what she has in store for him, but this introductory episode (or 9 episodes, according to the numerous title cards) made me curious to find out. Rating: 3.5
Rundown: Heroine is an overachieving class president with a secret (she works at a maid cafe) and initially no time or interest in love. In addition to school duties, she has to support her family which her father abandoned and left in debt, hence the maid job. She clashes with a popular, attractive guy who finds out about the maid job, but he isn’t the villain she initially suspects.
Lovejoy: Once I got past the gimmicky concept, I found this a good romance in the making (also I haven’t really seen any other maid shows). I like how Misaki is the first female class president in a school that’s still mostly male. She’s like an Obama, and she working towards a more perfect union in her school, where neither gender has the run of the place. Being a talented politician requires acting chops, so it actually seems quite natural that she’d work at a maid cafe. Since working there pays well (probably better than a normal cafe, for instance), it makes practical sense too. With so much on her plate and so much competitive drive, it’s logical for her to interpret a guy’s fairly unorthodox advances as hostile. She sees the guy achieving success with little or no effort while nothing comes easy to her, but that’s just her perspective.
Rundown: Three Japanese operatives with unique supernatural powers are instructed to retrieve a corporate hostage from the Chinese in 1931 Shanghai. They employ telekinesis, telepathy, teleportation, and teamwork to carry out their mission. There’s also an old-timey car chase scene.
Darker Than Black in 1931 Shanghai, anyone? Well, not quite. I’m not well-versed in Sino-Japanese history beyond my watching of Capra’s “Why We Fight” and Herge’s “The Blue Lotus” but so far the story seems insulated from the larger political spectrum and focuses on the exploits of a few gifted Japanese spies. Unlike Valkyria and Sora no Woto, the core characters in this A-1 joint are full-blown adults, and there’s a dark, serious tone to Night Raid, without ever getting too stuffy or pretentious. The focused action sequences made clever use of the three spies’ powers. This was a good intro, and left me looking forward to their next mission.
Rundown: Guy wakes up in the afterlife with amnesia; is immediately recruited into an after-school club locked in a battle with a seemingly omnipotent authority in the guise of a white-haired schoolgirl (Angel). They foil Angel with combo of J-pop concerts, handguns, artillery, and stage fans. The afterlife is also densely populated with NPCs. Guy’s told if he doesn’t fight, he’ll disappear.
This is P.A.’s third anime after True Tears (haven’t seen) and Canaan (watchable but shallow). It doesn’t waste any time throwing you directly into the situation at hand, and is paced well throughout. The SSS brigade/club leader reminded me a lot of Haruhi Suzumiya – charismatic; bossy; a little insane, but she has a much larger force under her command, more weaponry, and isn’t fighting on Earth, but in an afterlife with specific rules and roles. There’s thoughtful dialougue, comedy, and plenty of well-orchestrated action, and I didn’t even mind the concert, since it was intercut with other action.
Rundown: A meshing of Bones’s vivid style with Marvel-style hero story. Downtrodden kid fixes robot; lightning storm brings Robot to life; with robot’s help, kid saves his would-be girlfriend. Meanwhile, kid’s professor friend successfully makes contact with aliens, but said aliens are evil. And Stan Lee has a cameo.
RahXephon was enjoyable, as was Fullmetal Alchemist. Darker than Black and its sequel were cool, noiry escapades. Eureka Seven was stylish and fun, but its protagonist was really annoying. And Soul Eater’s manic animation and bawdy comedy were a breath of fresh air, but got too serious at times and didn’t end well. Daughter of Twenty Thieves had one of the best first arcs around, but its ending was simply horrific. Heroman continues the style and great music of all these series, but in its first outing, comes up short in the substance department. So far, dumb, but fun and watchable due to its technical merits.