Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Spring/Summer 2010 - The WHO?! Award

There have already been some impressive performances over the past six months of anime—just getting acclimated to the various talents in Japan reminds me that the process of producing an anime requires full participation from a cooperative staff and an instructive mangaka who wishes to express his or her views on how the anime should be created. There are so many voices for feedback and output that it seems unfair to focus on one.

Still, there are faces and names that have defined shows, star recognition that has turned no-named works into hard-to-forget gems. It's time to identify those individuals with the next award for the half-year:

Who?! - The award for the best performance over the half-year. When we think about 2010, this is who left the biggest impression. Could be a character, voice-actor, producer, director, designer, etc. (Pretty broad, I know.)
It also appears to be unfair that the three names I've selected all seem to have a lot in common, especially over the past three years or so. Yes, I will admit it—all three of my choices are linked to the animation studio Shaft in some way.

3. Hiroshi Kamiya

Kamiya's development into one of anime's best voice actors started from his obscure appearance in Marmalade Boy and his first named role as the entity known as "Zazie the Beast' in Trigun, but it wasn't until his performances as the suicidally-negative teacher Nozomu Itoshiki (Sayonara Zetsubô-Sensei) and the spirit-seer Takashi Natsume (Natsume Yûjinchô) that he finally broke through as a talented lead actor.

Just in 2010 alone, Kamiya has remodeled his tsukkomi nature for characters described as "strangers in a strange land" such as Kô Ichinomiya (Arakawa Under the Bridge) and Yuzuru Otonashi (Angel Beats!). However, it is likely that his choice for this category stems from his creepy performance as the street information merchant Izaya Orihara (Durarara!!), as Kamiya managed to turn Izaya into a manipulator without making him psychotic. Along with his performances in Working! and UraBoku, Kamiya has been one of the hardest-working male seiyû so far this year.

2. Akiyuki Shinbo

While Shinbo's name can really only be affixed to this year's surprising show Arakawa Under the Bridge so far, that's not to say that he shouldn't be recognized as one of this year's more influential directors. Over the past few years, Shinbo's works have been characterized by their interesting camera angles and use of text and typography. His directorial work currently is a far cry from his past work, starting with light comedies such as Metal Fighter Miku and Devil Hunter Yohko.

Considering that Shinbo has also directed the three Hidamari Sketch anime shows (3 Stars being his 2010 production) and will be working with the future sequels to Bakemonogatari (of which he also worked on) and Arakawa Under the Bridge, he stands to be one of the stronger directors in the near future.

1. Miyuki Sawashiro

Appropriately, one of our candidates for the award should be one of the reigning Seiyû Award holders. Last year's "Best Actress", Sawashiro starred as the lead voice in CANAAN and Tegami Bachi, but 2010 brought her into the limelight as a serious voice actress, taking the lead as Celty in Durarara!! and Saeko in Highschool of the Dead.

You'd be stunned to find out the other roles that Sawashiro used to perform. One of her first roles was that of Puchiko in Di Gi Charat, a role she also voiced in part of the English dub. That's not to say that she didn't work in lighter genres this year, as she also voiced the role of the snickering sadist Maria in Arakawa Under the Bridge, bright-eyed Perrine in Strike Witches 2, and lead-singer Asami in Angel Beats!

Those of us here at AniMaybe, however, were pleasantly surprised to find out she voiced the childlike foreigner Maria in Sayonara Zetsubô-Sensei the past few years. If you have the talent to be deadly serious in one show and goofy in the next, you have one hell of a career as a seiyû. Sawashiro has already been announced as a lead voice for Zenigata in Milky Holmes and Baby-Beel in next year's Beelzebub.

Next time: the WHEN?! Award!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Spring/Summer 2010 - The WHAT?! Award

Earlier this month, I had suggested that the anime blogging community take up some sort of method to gauge how well this year has been. Granted, this year is only half over—well, more like 3/4ths, as the winter season will likely start in January 2011, and I got on this bus late. However, Crunchyroll called it "Winter 2009" three seasons ago, so I stick with that initial assessment.

That being said, I present to you the first of my half-year awards by looking at the things that made us go...

The What?! Award was defined as the award "to be reserved for the double-take of the half-year", "the show that left us speechless, either in a good or a bad way".
Let's face it—the best laid plans are never laid out perfectly. Normally, shows are expected to perform for certain niche groups, but sometimes there are just things we don't expect from an anime series. (I mean, there was an animated short series about talking poop in Winter '09!) Here are the three things that surprised us enough to spit our Mitsuya Cider.

3. Ketsu-Inu ("Bum Dog")

Yes, if you survived those aforementioned vignettes about talking poop, you're ready for a small-eyed dog whose dotted cheeks and tongue make it look like a pair of buttocks. Thank the Lord that these were short episodes that weren't meant to be serious. Even the preview unveiled at the Tokyo International Anime Fair last year seemed...rather lax. I mean, we love you, Japan, but there are just some things that shouldn't be animated.

(And please leave those "pussycat" jokes to yourselves, you cheeky monkeys.)

2. Shin Koihime Musō: Otome Tairan ("Maiden Battle")

There were lots of shows about maidens and harems this half-year, plenty of them mindless as ever. Strike Witches came out with a sequel to declare another "war on pants", while sisters were trying to fondle up their brothers' yum-yums (kissxsis, Aki Sora), but none were as mindless as the first episode of Shin Koihime Musô: Otome Tairan. It takes a village of idiots to not know when a woman is preggers, yet to know exactly how to solve a former enemy's inconvenient nekomimi troubles.

A little intelligence from the female warriors, please? I mean, it made the Ikkitôsen sequel palpable by comparison...

1. Mitsudomoe

Surprisingly, the biggest spit-take of the season for me was the biggest surprise of the season (more on that to come in other award presentations). I was totally ready to dismiss Mitsudomoe as an attempt to make a raucous, absurd Minami-ke clone, but I was totally unprepared for the jocularity to come. Mitsudomoe is totally rude, crude, nude, and shrewd, but it was all of the completely bizarre misunderstandings stemming from potty/breast/panties humor that made it all worth its weight in gold (or whatever the equivalent measure would be in pee).

A big NSFW series in the end, but totally worth checking out. Just be sure you're not drinking milk when you watch scenes such as these...

Next time: the performance that made us shout "Who?!"

Monday, September 20, 2010

Reviews in Review: The First One

When I was a sophomore in college, I got my first taste of anime in the form of an nth-generation copy of Locke the Superman (Chôjin Rokku) and the prerequisite screening of Akira. One thing led to another, and by the time junior year came around I was already making the monthly hike to our city's anime club and watching Maison Ikkoku, The Rose of Versailles, and Kimagure Orange Road with friends.

In the beginning, it wasn't enough to simply watch anime. I felt the need to express my opinions in hopes that people would look to be selective with their viewing choices. This was primarily influenced by the presence of magazines such as Animerica and Protoculture Addicts, as well as the newsgroups during the infant stages of the Internet. Producing the college club's newsletter never really measured up to a big following, but the seed had been planted, and soon I was sending reviews to Animerica.

I had no idea they'd actually publish one.

My first review was for the soundtrack to the first Tenchi Muyô! movie, Tenchi Muyô In Love. Yes, back when Geneon was Pioneer, and Pioneer was actually in existence in the U.S. The review was buried in Vol. 4, No. 11 (around October 1996), the issue with the giant smiling head of Goku from Dragonball Z on the cover and Kyoko Otonashi's "Guide to Better Holiday Living".

Considering this was my first review, I'm almost embarrassed to post it again. Here it is, ad verbatim (until I can make a scan of it):

Music From The Anime Movie

RELEASED THRU: Pioneer LDC/Sonic Images
LENGTH: 53:23 (22 tracks)
PRICE: $16.95

From the outside, the case is bathed in metallic elegance, decorated with well-placed pictures from the movie, much like a miniature vinyl record. Musically, the overture "Prologue" immediately grabs the listener with the nightmarish tones of a lone chime among a fiery river of violins and brass, while "First Encounter with Achika" demonstrates a more touching motif, with clarinets resonating with the sweetness of a high school romance. Periodically between tracks, the two emotionally charged melodies clash, crescendoing (sic) up to a bitter conflict in "The Power of Love." The CD's only lyrical song, "Alchemy of Love," is an English-language power ballad duet between Nina Hagen and Rick Jude that personifies the separation and union between Tenchi's parents. These may no be J-pop, Minmei-esque songs, but Christopher Franke's compositions, brilliantly performed by the Berlin Symphonic Film Orchestra, are pieces that I hope to see featured in American philharmonics and orchestras someday.

Geoffery Tebbets
It wasn't my proudest moment, especially with the misspelling of my name, but it was a moment.

Admittedly, I was probably the least talented on the Animerica staff at colorful prose to describe anime and their soundtracks, but it got my foot in the door. It's been almost 15 years since I did that review, but the thing that scares me the most? The page before it had a listing of the "Top 10 Manga in Japan", and #2 on the list was the ninth volume of Meitantei Conan.

My God, Meitantei Conan is older than my fandom.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Summer 2010: Legend of the Legendary Heroes

The way I see it, there are two extremes in sword-clashing medieval fantasy anime. You've got your serious epics of heroes trying to save a war-torn society from complete darkness (Berserk, Bastard!, Record of Lodoss Wars) and your bumbling fools that walk into a feudal situation, only to comically flee the town crisped from dragon's fire (Slayers, Sorceror Hunters, Those Who Hunt Elves). There have been lots of shows that have tried to fit themselves between the two poles, but the real successes appear to be those that decide on one or the other.

By its title alone, The Legend of the Legendary Heroes (Densetsu no Yûsha no Densetsu) appeared to be redundant and pushing for that comical side; aren't legends supposed to be legendary in the first place?

The story was originally composed as a light novel by Takaya Kagami, who shared the "Dragon Cup" in 2001 for the best short novella, according to Monthly Dragon Magazine. The anime has been directed by Itsuro Kawasaki (Arc the Lad, L/R, Chrome Shelled Regios) and produced through Studio Zexcs (Sister Princess, Da Capo, Chu-Bra!), so the series is getting a surprising mix of both expertise and newness to the fantasy genre.

The story is a little difficult to process from the first episode, as we are introduced to two citizens of the Roland Empire who have been granted the task of assembling the relics from the legendary "Legends" from the past that have defeated the demonic lords of the land. The male protagonist, Ryner Lute, despite his laziness, possesses an ability called "Alpha Stigma" and is able to copy any magic thrown at him. His partner, Ferris Eris, is a talented female knight with an affinity towards dango dumplings.

While the first mission ends up like many of the "successful failures" on the comedic end of the fantasy spectrum, it is the underlying story that pushes it closer to a serious drama. It is those Alpha Stigma eyes that have gotten Ryner a disposition as a monster after he mowed down a rebellion from Estabul. Ferris's own past appears to be connected with the nature of her House and uneasy relationship with her siblings. Overseeing the mission is the third dramatic piece of the puzzle in the newly-minted king Sion, who has overcome his past as the son of a royal and a commoner to take the throne.

While Ferris and Ryner appear to have fallen into the flipflopped roles once occupied by Lina and Gourry from Slayers, the story has some rough terrain to traverse. The past is retold quite dramatically, some of the images quite drastic in gory portrayal, while the present mission can't decide whether it wants to be lighthearted or grim. This is likely the reason the series will be going a full two seasons—the show is a bit confusing to digest in the first three episodes and requires a lot more time to weave the story between the three households in Roland.

That being said, while the art is quite graphic and told at a fast rate in the action sequences, it's hard to really place Legend of the Legendary Heroes in one of the two extremes. That might cause the story to fail to attract viewers, as there really is nothing exceptionally unique about the show. Relic-hunting has been done before, and the settings are nothing new to the experienced eye. It's also hard to envision the direction the show may go, although it is likely that the story will revolve around Ryner's desire to not get involved in politics on the battlefront.

Frankly, I'm unsure just how long the average viewer will be attached to Legend of the Legendary Heroes. The fantasy genre doesn't seem to be doing so well in anime, save for those that decide to focus much more on acting and character personality than character design and the actual battles themselves. The show may merit a few more episodes, but it's going to require much more than just a war to capture the attention of starving fans.

Friday, September 17, 2010

Notice: Road Trip!

Well, not exactly a road trip, as much as it is a ritual, AniMaybe will be making a trip to the New York Anime Festival in some form. Whether that form is as a volunteer (most likely) or as a regular attendee (if time allows it and Kinokuniya has a mammoth booth set up) has yet to be decided, but you will find the Epic Fail Whale there! Stop by and say hello!

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Summer 2010: Shiki

The written works of Fuyumi Ono may not be so famous over here in America, but that doesn't mean that anime fans have not been exposed to her. While Ono is primarily known as a solid horror writer, her works have been heavily influenced by mystery and have ventured into fantasy and the occult. Novels are her first mode of literature, but her stories have been adapted into light novels, manga and anime, including the Twelve Kingdoms mythological saga and the soon-to-be-released Ghost Hunt anime.

The latest conversion of her novel Shiki (composed of the kanji for "demon" and "corpse"), currently running on the Funimation website, tests the depths of previous psychological horrors. The novel itself was written back in 1998, a period coinciding with the success of Kôji Suzuki's Ring trilogy, but the story's manga did not see the light of day until Ryû Fujisaki (Hôshin Engi) started it in 2007. The show is currently running on Fuji TV's noitaminA time-slot (House of Five Leaves, Tatami Galaxy) and has been animated by Studio Daume under the leadership of director Tetsurô Amino (Macross 7).

While thrillers in anime have usually been random in location and setting, Shiki takes the approach that has been demonstrated by the recent Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni series by bringing horror to the areas of Japan where the screams would likely be unheard—the villages barely touched by civilization. In the village of Sotoba, a hamlet known more for its construction of grave markers than its citizens, life is simple, but for pop-tart teenager Megumi, it is an insufferable torture for someone who dreams of a more glamorous life. Megumi's plans for escape gain strength when the news of a new family moving to the European-style estate in town spread through the small population.

Simultaneously, the citizens of Sotoba start to notice a slow pall enveloping the village. Dr. Ozaki from the village clinic and Muroi, the village priest, start to notice a drastic increase in deaths from "summer colds". One of Sotoba's newest citizens, Natsuno, has his own worries, forced to distance himself from a public questioning his parental situation and the prying flirtatious attempts from Megumi. When the two lines intersect and Megumi ends up as one of the corpses, Dr. Ozaki starts to suspect something worse than anemia.

There's no beating around the bush with this series, but the horror is well-crafted through slow progress. The strangers to the village—the Kirishiki family, a regal couple and their eerie daughter—serve as obvious links to the mystery behind the deaths, but the series wisely keeps the villagers in the dark about their identity, almost to the point of obliviousness. Although the situations are supernatural, Dr. Ozaki's medical investigations give the show the atmosphere of an episode of House, the pathology of the sickness covered thoroughly. Natsuno's own descent into nightmare is just as slow, as he becomes haunted by Megumi's death. This couldn't be as simple as an infestation of vampires or some outbreak of cholera, could it?

Shiki's drawback may have been its over-dramatic push to distinguish the main characters from the rest of the pack. The art is pretty dynamic and painted with brighter colors, but some of the character designs from Fujisaki appear to be a bit rigid with unmoving hairstyles, and acting from the male leads can border on hammy methods. This use of more vibrant main characters is likely intentional, as the lack of embellishment could cause the public to question why Shiki was made as an anime instead of a live-action drama or movie.

That being said, the character designs do not detract from the eerie nature of the story, a fitting rural opposite to the endless urban zombie horde from Highschool of the Dead. Unlike the unsmiling Sadako from The Ring and Kayako from Ju-On, the wide-eyed marionette expressions of the Kirishiki family bring a grisly sense of mirth to the horror, so much so the plot appears to be deeper than it actually is. Even the titles of each episode are plays on words, as numbers are turned into their frightening counterpart (i.e. the "ichi" for Episode 1 is written with the kanji for "blood").

Since it took over ten years for Shiki to finally see animation, it's hard to say if it is trying to capitalize on the cult success of Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni. Let's consider the similarities circumstantial, as Shiki opts to operate on its story with a surgeon's scalpel instead of a butcher's cleaver. If the path towards despair is meant to be slow for Shiki, we can only hope the progress leads to a bloody conclusion.

Friday, September 10, 2010

5W1H: The First Half of 2010

A good journalist is told to keep the "5W1H" mantra alive when writing an article. (No, that doesn't stand for "WWWWWuH?", although some journalists appear to act that way.) If one is expected to conduct an appropriate investigation into something, he or she is expected to ask:
  • What?
  • Who?
  • Where?
  • When?
  • Why?
  • How?

After a little bit of consideration, we here at AniMaybe felt that this system could be applied(with a little bit of tinkering) to our reviewing process for the anime we have watched over the past six months. After all, there have been shows that have been forcing us to ponder a lot of questions (as well as interjections and expletives), both good and bad.

  • What the...?
  • Where did...?
  • Who in the...?
  • When did they...?
  • WHY?
  • How the hell...?

Most of the time, the questions came when we were either flabbergasted or drunk on exhuberant energy, but in the end, we tweaked those questions further and came up with the 5W1H Awards for the First Half of 2010! (An experiment in critical thinking, perhaps, but an experiment nonetheless. It's something we just drummed up, so by all means give us ideas for modifying them.)

What?! - To be reserved for the double-take of the half-year (a.k.a. "WTF?!"). The show that left us speechless, either in a good or a bad way.

Who?! - The award for the best performance over the half-year. When we think about 2010, this is who left the biggest impression. Could be a character, voice-actor, producer, director, designer, etc. (Pretty broad, I know.)

When?! - Not necessarily meant for the best show of the half-year, this award is for the show with the least amount of hype that was so surprisingly good it left us wanting to know the time of its next arrival.

Where?! - Not necessarily meant for the worst show of the half-year, this award is for the show that had the biggest hype but disappeared from the map so quickly that we can't find it anymore.

Why?! - This should speak for itself. The award given to the one show that just didn't deserve to be animated in the slightest. Meant to be wailed toward the heavens like a pained Captain Kirk while one is crouching on their knees before the computer and begging for all that time back.

And How! - Not as much a question as it is a statement, but it fits the category. This is to be given to the one show that came out as the without-a-doubt BEST show of the spring and summer.

Your assignment, gumshoes, is quite simple: what anime TV shows run in Japan the last six months deserve these awards? We'll present our own in October, but we also ask for other reviewers out there to provide their own, either here in our responses section or on other review blogs!

Let's get the WWWWWH Awards started!

(The name's up for debate, as well...)

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Fall 2010 Previews: Appetizer

We're getting there, folks. Please be patient while we get some time to review together. It's not easy with work and play butting heads.

Until we're able to get you some reviews of Legend of the Legendary Heroes, Shiki, and Sekirei: Pure Engagement, check out the trailer for Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt, the latest from Studio Gainax to come out in Fall 2010. This stuff's a bit risque and slightly NSFW if you're not into toilet humor, so don't say we didn't warn you.

(h/t to HikikkomoriRoom until the video's taken down from YouTube...)