Thursday, August 26, 2010

"Chiyoko, a film director is like a painter..."

Anime lost a pioneer and a dreamer this week, as Satoshi Kon passed away due to complications from terminal pancreatic cancer. The artist and director of cinematic masterpieces Perfect Blue, Tokyo Godfathers, Millennium Actress, and Paprika was 46 when he passed away in his home in Tokyo Tuesday. (The New York Times obituary is here.)

While Kon's death has left a notable pall over the industry and a melancholy tone in discussions about the creator, his life is certainly one to be celebrated, even if it was taken from us way too early. What was most touching, however, was the posthumous entry left on Kon's blog by his wife, one that told the shortened story of a man who viewed his upcoming death in a visionary manner, much like the classics he had produced in theaters.

While I was encouraged to try to translate this heart-felt entry from Kon, I felt that I could not be true to his words and be a firm representative of his final thoughts. However, Makoto Itoh has done a wonderful job in translating Kon's goodbye for us, and through her efforts we get the thoughts of a regretful genius who knows his time has come but passes away with great appreciation for the people around him.

What I did find rather interesting were the entries in the company's blog leading up to Kon's passing away. A few weeks before, Kon listed some "favorite things", starting with the music of Susumu Hirasawa and P-Model, the rakugo performances of Shinsho Kokontei, and the works from the movie critic Tomohiro Machiyama, who Kon found so interesting that he read Machiyama's "Book for Understanding How to Watch Movies" with zest over and over again.

Following this entry was one from the staff for Kon's upcoming project Yume Miru Kikai (The Dreaming Machines), who were asked to list their top 100 movies, whether they be favorites or merely influential works (some were also listed that didn't make the cut). It is amazing to see all of the influences listed on Kon's website, stretching from Western directors such as John Ford, Billy Wilder, and Alfred Hitchcock, to Japanese legends Akira Kurasawa and Yasujiro Ozu. There are even visionaries of their own in the likes of Wes Craven, Terry Gilliam, and Quentin Tarantino.

Granted, these may be more from the staff, but with every great directorial staff comes a great director, and there ought to be no doubt that the influences running through every creative vein in the team also ran through those of Kon himself. Just looking at all of those influences makes me understand a little more just what sort of man Kon was. While he was a great director of movies, it appears that he too was a great afficianado of movies as well, and that really makes me wonder just how Kon would have taken all those influences and constructed his next great project.

Right now, I'm having so much trouble keeping myself together. I have never met Kon, but what I saw through his movies Millennium Actress and Paprika, as well as his lone television series Paranoia Agent, truly moved me. He was a man who loved his era, both historically and in the future, and it is a shame that we shall not get to see what full potential he had locked inside him.

"Chiyoko, a film director is like a painter...a painter puts the colors as he wants on the canvas..."

Thank you for all of the work you have done, Kon-san.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Summer 2010: Highschool of the Dead

(Screenshots courtesy of Anime Network. Episode 1 is available on their website for free viewing.)

Aside from the two undead zombie hunters in Zombie-Loan (who really don't look too undead), there haven't been many zombies in anime that have managed to make names of themselves. Any and all sorts of invasions unleashed upon the populace haven't really amounted to squat, since the droves of rotten flesh with hankerings for brains have usually been dispatched by the supernatural all too easily.

It's hard to understand why a zombie apocalypse hasn't resulted in success in anime or manga, but perhaps the atmosphere wasn't right for the story. Perhaps success was meant for more first-person perspectives in video games (House of the Dead, Resident Evil). Perhaps the apocalypse was meant for more sinister means and not merely a parade of the undead. (Or perhaps we really really didn't want to wander into stories about zombie girlfriends.)

Well, damn the ecchi undertones. Highschool of the Dead does the obvious by taking that awkward, hormone-infested dump called "school" and turns it into a playground for zombies...and the awkward, hormone-infested teenagers trying to escape them.

The concept of the anime is as plain as the paper that housed the manga written by Daisuke Satô, known for his fictional readjustments of history, and illustrated by Shouji Satô (no relation). While skipping classes and brooding over his crush Rei dating his best friend Hisashi, Takashi Komuro witnesses an odd occurrence at the school's gates—one of the late students sinks his teeth into the Phys-Ed teacher, and one zombie becomes two. Sensing the oncoming onslaught, Takashi dashes into his class and pulls Rei and Hisashi out before the panic sets in.

In a matter of minutes, the peaceful school is overrun with the infection, leaving the three to survive on the school's rooftop, only to see the grim reality that the entire city has already succumbed to the spreading infection. Surprisingly, the first episode of the anime leads to the first notable death of the series, as Takashi is forced to kill a zombie-bitten Hisashi right before Rei's eyes, setting the somber and drastic tone of the series.

Of course, every zombie apocalypse is to have their smaller bands of survivalists who dispose of the horde their own way. Cold and collected Saeko uses a kendo bokken to split open skulls. Combat otaku Kôta fashions a nail gun for the fight and attempts escape with his classmate Saya. The school nurse Shizuka...well, Shizuka's not really the "fighting" type, as her breasts are really in the way too much to tell what her fighting style is.

This is perhaps the trickiest part of Highschool of the Dead—fan service lurks amongst the action like the undead. Mangaka Shouji Satô's reputation for erotic artistry and sensually-drawn women is well-represented, as the cinematographic angles tend to get rather low. Skin shines, breasts bounce, and skirts flap in the air from helicopters. Yes, the story is shockingly stocked with horrific shots and grisly deaths, but the flashes of lace and skin (when not being ripped or chewed) are almost so inappropriately strewn in the story that it gets comedic.

That being said, even the blatant service shots are not enough to keep this series from being exhilarating to watch. Piloted by director Tetsuro Araki (Death Note), the pace of the show is rather explosive once the zombie population hits exponential rates, and its presentation is pretty sharp from an artistic perspective. The characters may not be the most memorable, but the show appears to be willing to present the survivors through their own monologues as time goes by. Most of all, the story manages to take the overplayed setting of a high school and turn it upside-down—while schools are normally used as "haunted houses" in some horror shows, very rarely will the horror be presented during the day.

It is perhaps this excitement, this altering of the scenery that we've found commonplace into a thrill ride, that makes Highschool of the Dead an anxious show to watch. The starting episodes present the zombie apocalypse the way it should be presented—as a panic attack with very little choreography, even with the panty shots.

The only disappointment? High schools can never be used again successfully in stories as zombie breeding grounds.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Your Guide to the Fall 2010 Anime Season!

Once again, the summer fades into fall, and the humidity turns into frost. The sakura are long gone, and the fireworks from the summer festivals fade into the falling of autumnal leaves. The passing of the seasons brings us another venture into what animation companies have to offer for the next 13-week shuffle.

The Fall 2010 season has been lined up for your viewing pleasure! Over 30 TV shows! Ten OAV titles!

Each show (as far as we know) is listed below with their Japanese names, a link to their official site, and a short description of the plot. (H/T and thanks to chartfag and Cart Driver for providing image compilations on their websites)

TV shows slated for Fall 2010:
Star Driver: Radiant Takuto Star Driver~Kagayaki no Takuto STARDRIVER〜輝きのタクト)
(Mecha - TV) High-school student Takuto pilots his "Cybuddy" robot to rescue his friend from a secret society planning to wake disastrous technology.
Iron Man
(Superhero, Mecha - TV) The first of four Marvel anime shows to be produced by Madhouse Studios in Japan. Animated Robert Downey Jr.!
Panty & Stocking (with Garterbelt)
(Comedy - TV) Gainax's latest features two "angels" sent to battle ghosts on Earth. (Already the Internets are alive with "That's Invader Zim!" challenges.)
Psychic Detective YakumoShinrei Tantei Yakumo 心霊探偵八雲)
(Mystery - TV) A college student born with the ability to see ghosts and spirits through his red left eye is determined to provide closure to allow them to leave their attachments.
Jellyfish PrincessKuragehime 海月姫)
(Comedy - TV) The noitaminA anime block (Moyashimon, Nodame Cantabile) gets a series on a women's-only apartment and the "jellyfish-princess" beauty that crashes the party.
Bakuman (バクマン。)
(Slice-of-Life, Comedy - TV) The Shônen Jump manga drawn by Takeshi Obata (Hikaru no Go, Death Note) about...Shônen Jump manga...hits NHK's airwaves.
Letter-Bee ReverseTegami Bachi Reverse テガミバチREVERSE)
(Action - TV) The continuing story of Lag Seeing, a "Letter bee" forced to face the challenges of mail delivery in a world corrupted by insect monsters.
Togainu no Chi (咎狗の血)
(Drama - TV) Rebellious Akira, falsely accused of a crime, is forced to play a dangerous game with a crime syndicate in an apocalyptic Japan of the future.
Sore Demo Machi wa Mawatte Iru (それでも町は廻っている)
(Slice-of-Life, Comedy - TV) Hotori works for a maid cafe in Tokyo, but still dreams of becoming a high-school detective.
Invasion! Squid Girl Shinryaku! Ika-musume 侵略!イカ娘)
(Comedy - TV) A girl comes from under the seas to stop mankind from polluting, only to have to work for a beach kiosk when she destroys their establishment...
Arakawa Under The Bridge*2
(Comedy - TV) The continuing stoooooory of self-made man Kô Ichinomiya and his adventures with the oddities under the bridge of the Arakawa River.
Hyakka Ryouran: Samurai Girls (百花繚乱SAMURAI GIRLS)
(Action - TV) The Tokugawa shogunate still exists in a modern-day parallel version and battles at the Mt. Fuji academy that houses many of the descendants of Japan's strongest families.
The World God Only Knows Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai 神のみぞ知る世界)
(Love Comedy - TV) Keima Katsuragi is the foremost expert on "getting the girl" in video games, but it's different in real life when it involves capturing spirits for demons.
Maiden Yôkai ZakuroOtome Yôkai Zakuro おとめ妖怪ざくろ)
(Action - TV) Set in a fictional version of Meiji-era Japan, half-yôkai female fighters are paired up with male soldiers to fight full-fledged monster armies.
Yosuga no Sora (ヨスガノソラ)
(Harem, Romance - TV) Twins Haruka and Sora return to the countryside town of Okukozome to move on with their life after the death of their parents.
A Certain Magical Index IITo Aru Majutsu no Index II とある魔術の禁書目録II)
(Action, Fantasy - TV) The continuing story of a college student of science and magic who has befriended a nun with the knowledge of a library of forbidden magical books.
Heaven's Lost Property ForteSora no Otoshimono Forte そらのおとしものーフォルテ)
(Love Comedy - TV) Tomoki continues to defend Ikaros, a "pet" angelic android who fell from the sky and now provides his every wish, from the forces of Synapse.
Hakuôki Season 2Hakuôki~Shinsengumi Kiran~ 薄桜鬼 〜新選組奇譚〜
(Drama - TV) The latest incarnation of the historical Shinsengumi clan involves defense of the daughter of a doctor against a clan of demonic oni.
Motto To-Love-Ru (もっとToLOVEる)
(Love Comedy - TV) Rito Yûki gets another season to sort out his love problems with the girl he crushes on at school and the alien girl Lala, who has been bequeathed to him in marriage.
Hetalia Axis Powers: Season 4
(Comedy - TV) The personified countries of the world are back with more strange interpretations of history. Pastaaaaa.
My Little Sister Can't Be This CuteOre no Imôto ga Konna ni Kawaii Wake ga Nai 俺の妹がこんなに可愛いわけがない)
(Comedy - TV) Big brother Kyôsuke finds a copy of an adult game in the house, only to find that the owner is his middle-school sister Kirino, who harbors an otaku personality despite her fashionable appearance.
M.M.! (えむえむっ!)
(Comedy - TV) High-school student Tarô Sado seeks to resolve his persistent masochism problems by joining the "2nd Volunteer Club", but it's not easy with the violent Mio heading it.
Fortune Arterial: Red PromiseFortune Arterial Akai Yakusoku FORTUNE ARTERIAL 赤い約束)
(Romance, Drama - TV) Transfer student Kohei moves to a prestigious academy off the coast of Japan, only to find one particular student is a vampire.
Detective Opera Milky HolmesTantei Opera Mirukii Hômuzu 探偵オペラミルキィホームズ)
(Comedy, Action - TV) In a society embroiled in crime and justice, four girls form the "Milky Holmes" club to use their heightened abilities against criminals.
Super Robot Wars OG: The Inspectorスーパーロボット大戦OG:ジ・インスペクター
(Action, Fantasy - TV) A second animation series based on the popular video game featuring original creations from the Banpresto design team.
Pokemon: Best Wishes!
(Action, Comedy - TV) The Pokemon franchise gets its fourteenth season with two new characters, Iris and Dento, joining Satoshi and Pikachu in their adventures.
Battle Spirits Brave
(Action - TV) The Bandai trading card game gets its third anime season. Animated by Sunrise.
Agricultural Girl!Nôgyô musume! 農業ムスメ!)
(Comedy - TV) The anime adaption of a yonkoma manga about two sisters doing their best to preserve and protect the rice paddy they inherited from their parents.
Karl and the Mysterious TowerKaruru to Fushigi na Tô カルルとふしぎな塔)
(Kids - TV) Karl is forced to investigate what's wrong when the tower in the center of town fails to ring its bell for lunch.
Robin with his 100 FriendsRobin-kun to 100-nin no O-tomodachi ロビンくんと100人のお友達)
(Kids - TV) Robin moves from the city to Green Village and learns about the environment through interactions with all his new friends.
You Look DeliciousOmae Umasô Da Na おまえうまそうだな)
(Kids - TV, Movie) In the age of dinosaurs, a Tyrannosaurus raised by herbivores discovers his nature as a meat-eater, only to resist once forced to raise his own herbivorous Ankylosaur.
Rita et Machin (リタとナントカ)
(Kids - TV) The picture book series from Jean-Philippe Arrou-Vignod and Olivier Tallec about a girl and her lazy dog get an anime adaption.

Continuing from the Summer 2010 season:
Amagami SS, Legend of the Legendary Heroes.

OAV slated for Fall 2010 releases:
Queen's Blade: Beautiful WarriorsQueen's Blade: Utsukishiki Tôshi-tachi クイーンズブレイド :美しき闘志たち)
(Adventure, Ecchi - OAV) The continuing adventures of the Queen's Blade cast under the rule of a new queen.
Kuttsukiboshi (くっつきぼし)
(Romance, Yuri - OAV) A story about the blossoming romance between high-school students Kiiko and Aya
Tamayura (たまゆら)
(Slice-of-Live - OAV) The story of four friends and their adventures in a photography club.
Future DiaryMirai Nikki 未来日記)
(Mystery - OAV) A pilot episode of the "survival game" manga involving diaries of fate. To be bundled with the 11th manga volume.
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(Drama, Harem - OAV) The continuing love story involving the ToHeart2 cast.
Yozakura Quartet: Sea of StarsYozakura Karutetto~Hoshi no Umi~ 夜桜四重奏 〜ホシノウミ〜)
(Supernatural - OAD) The Hiizumi Life Counseling Office, protectors of the humans and yôkai in the town of Sakurashin, face a new threat to the Seven Pillars.
Megane na Kanojo (眼鏡なカノジョ)
(Comedy, romance - OAV) Anime adaption of an omnibus manga covering stories about girls with glasses.
Koe de Oshigoto! (こえでおしごと!)
(Comedy, romance - OAV) A 16-year-old girl becomes an unwilling voice actress for her sister's eroge video-game production company.
Koisento (コイ☆セント)
(Science fiction, comedy - OAV) In the year 2710, a boy stumbles upon a mysterious girl and a white stag inside the halls that preserve Nara's relics.
A Certain Scientific RailgunTo Aru Kagaku no Railgun とある化学の超電磁砲)
(Action, Fantasy - OAV) The side story to To Aru Majutsu no Index, electromaster esper Mikoto Mikasa continues to fight for justice as a member of Academy City's Public Moral Committee.

At first blush, it appears that the sequels are here to attack for their slices of the industry's pie (Sora no Otoshimono, To Aru Majutsu no Index, Arakawa Under the Bridge, Letter Bee Reverse, Hetalia, Hakuôki), but the hype definitely appears to be centered fully on Bakuman fortifying Shônen Jump's stranglehold on the TV shares (Bleach, Naruto, To-Love-Ru). What could surprise this season? I wouldn't be surprised to see Invasion! Squid Girl become a quirky hit with viewers looking for moe in a different form or for Iron Man to create a new market for Marvel.

Either way, get your boards ready for the next tidal wave.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Summer 2010: Black Butler II

For the past few years, the role of the servant has been quite prevalent in anime. Most likely, the servant has come in the guise of a maid, whether it be the actual house servant (Emma, Hanaukyo Maid Team) or one that is primarily the "Akihabara maid-cafe" kind (Maid-sama!). However, the butler has finally been getting his props after years of neglect, even if those roles have been few and hardly serious in nature (Ladies vs. Butlers!, Hayate the Combat Butler).

If there has been one series that has reversed the trend of the butler's utility in anime, it would have to be Yana Toboso's Kuroshitsuji ("Black Butler"). The initial anime television series had mixed the tastes from Japan's "boys' love" fan community with the gothic style of fashion that had wandered over from visual-kei bands, creating a tale of suspense from 19th-century England that both tweaked murder stories of the past and corrupted the horror show with occasional bouts of comedy.

The original series featured the relationship between Ciel Phantomhive and Sebastian Michaelis, lord and manservant on the manor. However, that relationship was more of the guest-host variety, as the pact formed between Ciel and Sebastian was merely one of temporary satiation. Once the young Ciel gets his revenge on those who tortured him in the past, he is to become Sebastian's prey in a demonic ritual. Whether or not such a contract was fulfilled in the first series is not so obvious, perhaps a reason the second series Kuroshitsuji II was created, the current anime being shown on Funimation's video site.

However, we open to a series that is both similar and dissimilar—the lord of the manor in question is Alois Trancy, a boy who had returned to his empire after a scarred past that was just as corrupted as Ciel's. However, almost in direct contrast, Alois is an imperfect being, faking his mirth behind a smile while doling punishment out to his servant Hannah in a very explicit scene. He too has a demonic servant by his side in the form of the impervious Claude Faustus, his contract sealed on Alois's tongue.

Sadly, although I promised to hide all spoilers from the first episode, that would be like hiding the world's worst-kept secret from people. The first mystery that Alois and Claude must face comes knocking on their door during a raging storm, holding an oversized trunk and a hidden agenda. Of course, that stranger turns out to be Sebastian himself, on a quest to restore the Phantomhive name through his master's own revival, but the connection between the Phantomhive and Trancy legacies appears to be one so intricate that the "spider" in the opening shots wove it itself.

While later episodes of the Kuroshitsuji II anime return to its roots—the first Kuroshitsuji anime was known for hitting the viewer with seemingly-unrelated stories before getting to the meat—the underlying adventure is laid out intricately with the return of charming characters from the first series and the debut of disturbing characters from the Trancy clan. While the black butlers dueling in this series may be too perfect to anoint a clear-cut "winner", it is this sudden arrival of an "evil twin" that could provide some interesting stories—for every situation that Ciel managed to show his tolerance for society in the form of kindness, there is the other side of the mirror where Alois shows his as manipulative treachery.

And it appears to be pretty obvious that the clash will be brilliant, even if the battles to get there will be trivial, as Kuroshitsuji II again provides intricate gothic design with brighter colors. The series has been constructed with an elaborate story that forces the viewer to get through smaller mysteries, but a provided antithesis to the main character in a form all too familiar to the original makes the quest "worth its salt", as Sebastian would suggest. While there is still half a season to go, Kuroshitsuji II is, so far, one of the better shows of the summer.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Summer 2010: Tono to Issho

From what I've heard, Tono to Issho ("Along with the Master") sounded like it could be an appealing gag series. On paper, the yonkoma manga stayed short and to the point, mocking the historical figures from the Warring States period in Japan. Figures such as Masamune Date and Nobunaga Oda are drawn according to corruptions of their nicknames and modern-day parodies, not according to their historical images in painting.

Yes, on paper, they seem lively, vibrant and exuberant. On paper.

However, considering the length of each of Tono to Issho's "episodes" (approximately 90 seconds flat, according to the screenings being shown at Crunchyroll), there seems to be little reason to really waste breath on reporting about the "series". Reading this review likely will take more than the first five "one-minute theater" episodes combined, especially if you leave out the ten-second closing song.

The brevity does make the show a bit of a hassle to watch, as a sneeze would make you overlook quite a bit, but the comedy itself misses the mark for the non-Japanese speaker. Quite a few gags for such a small sliver of a show may make people scratch their head, while the physical humor gets repeated quickly and hurriedly. Personally, I'm not even sure if this show counts as a show, as I'm getting mixed ideas about the original video made earlier this year. Are these all cuts from the OAV?

I do invite people to watch the show on Crunchyroll, as that will likely be the only form of the show you'll get to see. Any DVD or Blu-Ray of the series will likely be too small to place on store shelves, and the appeal is so fleeting that just showing the three screen shots above probably gives away too much. A lazy effort in the end, Tono to Issho isn't even worth watching just to get a whiff of Gackt playing Kenshin Uesugi.

If you want to mock history, mock it yourself. This show is too short for even the shortest of attention spans.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Summer 2010: Blessing of the Campanella

(Pictures are taken from Funimation's Blessing of the Campanella site and videos.)

I don't do role-playing games anymore.

It's not that I don't like the characters or the art behind the games. Personally, it would require an impeccably-written story to really draw me into the world of RPGs again. While Final Fantasy did not disappoint early on, I've found that in later games it is difficult to jump into some new world if the laws of nature are a little too complex to grasp. Magic points and materia are one thing, but how they all factor in on the operations of the game are another.

While it may have started as a visual novel, The Blessing of the Campanella (Shukufuku no Kan'panera) provides that sort of RPG feel in its first few episodes. The original game was developed by Windmill Oasis, the adult visual-novel development company that gave us the love-comedy Happiness!, so one could expect a little more of the harem touch in this show. Naturally, the male-to-female ratio is closer to zero than one in this show.

True to RPG form, the show introduces us to the Oasis clan, a gathering of adventurers in the country of Ert'Aria that act as sort of an investigational unit when suspicious activity is brought into question in their medieval town. The main character, Leicester Maycraft, is the engineer of the group and the heavenly body that the female characters gravitate around, especially Carina, the magic-user of the group who has a blatant crush on Leicester. One particular day brings the party together--a celestial knight, a chipper puppeteer, and twin golem-users from a rival clan--only to witness a meteor shower of energy strike a nearby tower.

While "El" energy provides magic for the users in Ert'Aria, it is a unique form of energy that can power "automaton" puppetry. Leicester manages to locate the particular target of the strike, only to find it to be a humanoid automaton. Minette wakes up to instantly call Leicester "Papa", causing a lot of anxiety and comic grief from Carina. It is from this meteor shower that other investigations are required, as El appears to be useful to many other beings in different worlds.

Due to the slow opening to Blessing of the Campanella, focus seems to be at a premium. There appears to be a whole lot more that hasn't been said and that needs to be said. During the first two episodic scenes that really go nowhere, the idea that Minette is an important figure to the story is set in motion. The major problem, however, is that Minette is barely the central figure amongst all of the characters. All of the attention is put squarely on Leicester, who is hardly reflexive in that attention towards the others. Minette doesn't have much of a reason to be the locus of the story, aside from being an automaton and being cute.

Animation-wise, the anime has promise in its designs (aside from the earring competition the characters may be embroiled in), but the story's bumpy take-off doesn't give much hope in its artistic recognition as a redeeming value. There's no real direction for the group, and the highlights appear to be mostly displays of mirth without any real emergencies. Apart from Minette's awakening, the first two episodes could have likely been passed over completely. If I wanted to enjoy a meteor shower or a trip to the beach, I'd enjoy the experience first-hand.

Blessing of the Campanella could have promise, but the lack of initial direction, something that hurt the animated version of Windmill's Happiness! game in its first few episodes, is unfortunately infectious. Unless something critical happens to our plucky band of explorers, there doesn't seem to be much to this quest except to gather as many females in the party as possible. If that was the key to this show, it might be better to play the game instead.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Summer 2010: Strike Witches 2

I can't help but feel that I'm officially too old as a fan, especially when it comes to analysis and appreciation of mecha. I was more of a Giant Robo fan than I was a Gundam fan, but preference for mecha ran more into the likes of Appleseed and Bubblegum Crisis. While I have enjoyed Heroman this season, I'll have to be frank about the appeal of mecha; I like machinery if they involved mind-numbing commentary on its role in society and/or women dressed in hardsuits.

Lately it seems that the mecha genre has opted to go the way of the cell phone by miniaturizing its clunky structure and making it more hand-held. Bakugan basically shrank Zoids, and even Masamune Shirow himself slowly opted for nanotechnology over hardcover landmates. While Evangelion continues to try to keep the old school alive, the entire "mecha musume" invasion—personified mostly by the Strike Witches franchise—has come to roost.

The Strike Witches anime pushes the mecha sound barrier by introducing many different ideas all at once. Why keep all that moe bound up in a hard ceramic shell like that sexy green M&M? Why let the machine do all the work when it could be a war maiden firing all that immense artillery? Why can't there be animal ears and tails on all of these fighting females?

Most of all, why not have them all declare a war on pants?

Okay, realistically the war in the case of Strike Witches is being fought in an altered universe where Earth during World War II is a little different as we know it, both geographically and geologically. Masses of land have been obliterated by the Neuroi, an alien entity that converts their conquered regions into their weaponry. The only forces that the accumulated armies can counter with are female "Witches" who can infuse their magic into stocking-like machine units that slip over their legs. This allows the Witches to fly with magical propellers, leaving their arms free to fire big honking guns.

(Considering I haven't been exposed to the initial Strike Witches run, I'm still mystified by the ears and tails, but apparently this is due to some animal spirit lodged in each Witch.)

Strike Witches 2 brings us to the uneasy aftermath from the results of the initial series, as our plucky heroine Yoshika has returned to the Fuso Empire (Japan) in order to continue the family clinic's business. Yoshika's visit to the nearby military base to return some accidentally-delivered blueprints from her deceased father clues her into the real situation in Europe: the defeated Neuroi infestation is being overrun by a second, much larger squadron that has overwhelmed the remaining Witch corps.

Yoshika tries to throw herself into the fight again, only to be turned down by Mio, the steely first Strike Witch and most accomplished of the bunch. However, Yoshika's desire to help her fellow Witches overturns Mio's concern, and both rejoin the ranks to fight alongside the 504th troup, much to the join of all their battlemates. The initial strike against a stubborn Neuroi battleship (patterned after experimental aircraft in WW2) brings the band back together, but why in the world was the remaining Neuroi fleet destroyed by the second wave in the first place?

While the warcraft designs are pretty spotless, including some clever adaptions from existing WW2 planes into the Witches' leg-units, the show suffers from what I would call "Aika Syndrome". You remember Agent Aika, right? That spy anime where all of the characters had a quota of panty-flashes? Strike Witches 2 doesn't hide the fact that none of the women are wearing pants, and they don't intend to keep the service shots to a minimum. Yeah, the action is pretty quick, but each glimpse of cotton not only destroys the seriousness of the story, but it makes me feel downright queasy. I mean, we're given bloomer shots of the main character all through the first episode, and she's barely out of middle school. Brrrr.

It seems that Strike Witches was meant to please as many otaku as possible in one show, but the sequel indicates that there was just too much to fit into a 13-episode arc. While I admit to have never seen the first show, Strike Witches 2 indicates that there wasn't much to miss, and the first two episodes themselves were pretty forgettable, with most of the fighting footage in the first episode recycled into the second episode. The eleven members of the corps are also pretty easy to confuse, as only a few seem to have any sort of unique personality.

I find it rather fascinating to see that Crunchyroll is running Strike Witches 2 without any sort of 18+ portal, while the milder Mitsudomoe requires adult supervision. My guess? If you've seen the first run of Strike Witches, there's nothing to see in the next run.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Summer 2010: Asobi ni Ikuyo!

Oni. Pirates. Androids. Meganekko. Devils and tsundere. If it has danced at an Akihabara cafe, it's likely fallen from the sky as an alien and tried to acclimate to human society through intentional or accidental attraction to an awkward adolescent Japanese male. The only thing missing from this eclectic group are maids and nekomimi dancers.

And right on cue, the catgirl aliens have come.

Asobi ni Ikuyo! ("We're Coming to Play!") introduces us to Earth's next moe invaders. The show is produced by AIC PLUS+, no particular strangers to the "alien-babe" angle themselves, as they've had a hand in such shows as Tenchi Muyô, Onegai Teacher, and Black Heaven. However, contrary to past invaders, the Catian aliens just want to have fun, stating so directly in their "We're coming to play!" message sent to Earth.

The band's representative data-gatherer—Eris, an Orihime lookalike in hair color, personality, and apparent ditziness—does little to hide herself from this new civilization, invited to a dinner during an Okinawan funeral and falling for the food and cultural attention. While this doesn't exactly make the token bespectacled nerd Kio as nervous as some of his predecessors, it does panic him when Eris pokes her ears and tail out of his bed in the morning, dressed as the stereotypical bed scene would call for in the Otaku Book of Awkward Situations.

However, it's the harem that assembles around Kio that makes for uneasy conversation. Kio's next-door neighbor Manami is a gun junkie with a ham radio and dreams of joining the CIA. Kio's high-school teacher is part of some secret sect that demands the first contact with aliens be with the "beautiful" kind and not some souped-up silicone version. The quiet Aoi Futaba (not to be confused with Aoi Futaba, the transvestite from You're Under Arrest!) that shares movies with Kio? Oh, she's just some secret agent that can make guns appear out of nowhere. All of them want Eris either dead or primed for dissection, but that means worrying Kio.

And that is where this car-crash of a plot just collapses on itself. Instead of keeping the secrets locked away, the female cast pretty much caves in order to save Kio from danger. Instead of being strategic about Eris's technology, the production team pulls matter-vaporizing mallets out of thin air. Naturally, Eris is back in Kio's room the next day, still skimpily dressed, only for the next wave of female Catians to appear at Kio's doorstep.

Truthfully, Asobi ni Ikuyo! would be decent as an OAV series, especially if the producers wanted everything told in two episodes. Instead, the absurd story gets even more messed up with random encounters that hardly make sense and flighty characters that can't seem to decide on priorities. Eris is merely the Mihoshi of the 21st century, geared with unexplained gadgets and bubbleheaded explanations about her reproductive cycle. The fact that she has both cat ears and human ears gives the impression that the design was to appease cosplay fans and hearkens back to the same mistake made in Hyper Police.

There's only one real thing that can save Asobi ni Ikuyo! from being the disappointment of the summer:

Thomas Magnum, Private Investigator!
(Seriously, this character was in the show?!)