Monday, March 21, 2011

The Top 15 Best Themes of Winter 2011

Last fall, I ranked the Top 15 themes for the anime season and had a pretty good time rediscovering the music of Japan. Like I had mentioned before, those first 90 seconds can mean a lot to a series, and sometimes the final ninety can also set an equal pace for the next show. However, with the lack of new and/or impressive shows this season, it was a wonder if the themes would be better in order to convince fans to keep watching or if they would worsen from the quality of the shows themselves.

Only one way to find out. I've taken a look at the major opening and ending themes for the Winter 2011 season and ranked the best 15. I promise you that they all have at least used their instruments properly (which is why Oniichan no Koto is NOT ranked here).

[All CD cover images come courtesy of CD Japan. OP = Opening Theme. ED = Ending Theme.]

Honorable Mention: "Immoralist" - Yui Horie (Dragon Crisis! OP)

You can't blame Dragon Crisis! for trying to be dramatic with their opening theme, an array of the main characters glancing at the camera like they were to mean business. It's a weak display of the show to first-time viewers, but it's not like the music is terrible. I'm probably giving the show's opening this spot out of pity, as the ending theme and animation are just horrendous from a musical perspective.

Well, maybe the music is pretty bad. It seemed pretty boring and uninspired.

Actually, you know what? The hell with you, Dragon Crisis. You frustrated me long enough with your wishy-washy nature.

Honorable Mention: "Sekai to Issho ni Mawarô yo!" ("Let's Revolve With The World!") - Love Roulettes (Rio Rainbow Gate! OP)

It's chintzy, totally plastic in its presentation, and likely over-embellished, but it's peppier and deserved eye candy for those expecting it. It grabs the viewer around the neck and leads them through animation and music that fits the form. Yeah, it's faker than 75% of the breasts in the show, but it's mindless and more fitting of this position.

15. "Itsu Datte" ("Anytime") - Daisuke (Wandering Son OP)

The opening animation for Wandering Son is likely a bit too plain for some fans, as there are no appearances by any of the characters to really present the show in its minute-and-a-half introduction. However, it's pretty clever regardless. Presenting the credits in its three-dimensional style not only gives depth to the classroom, but we're given a sort of temporal geometry when we see how all of the credits are spaced in relation to others. Pretty nifty typographical trick.

The song's not so bad either.

14. "Perseus" - Yamazaru (Tegami Bachi Reverse ED2)

The ending theme for the second Tegami Bachi Reverse season is a pretty good example of what some shows are trying to do—save time and space by presenting the next episode's trailer within the ending animation (also done by Wandering Son). In addition to the animation's Final-Fantasy-esque trip that Lag and Niche make between castles, we get a solid dance-pop number from Yamazaru that sounds a little like Quruli's music.

13. "Sawakaze" ("Fresh Breeze") - Tomofumi Tanizawa (Kimi ni Todoke 2 OP)

Kimi ni Todoke is one of those shows that depend on the lightness of the soundtrack behind it. Giving the show something other than a piano-based opening sounds preposterous, but the music accompanying Tanizawa's lyrics treads lightly around the animation. Perhaps the buttery sounds are the reason the animation only lasts a minute—it must have snapped like a spider's web upon its composition.

12. "Ma-Ka-Se-Te Tonight" - Iori Nomizu (Kore wa Zombie desu ka? OP)

There's not that much to the opening animation for KoreZom, save for the decent overlap of computer graphics and traditional art. It's mostly in place to show off the group's fighting talents with an energetic rock song from Nomizu, the voice actress for Haruna in the show. It probably won't be as memorable as others, perhaps due to the animation providing a little too much while withholding a lot of the identities of the other characters.

11. "Wagana wa Shôgakusei" ("Our Names are Elementary-School Students") - Marui Sisters (Mitsudomoe Zôryôchû OP2)

Never mind the idea that the name of the song doesn't make much sense; Mitsudomoe itself was never meant to be coherent. This opening is meant to be thrown around like pillows during a sleepover pillow fight, each of the Marui sisters' personalities shining through boh visually and vocally. Naturally, this makes for hectic animation to accompany it, but it's a fun listen, especially with recorders used for the background music.

10. "Daydream Syndrome" - Marina Fujiwara (Dream Eater Merry OP)

It was a shame that Dream Eater Merry was claimed off the licensing waivers so quickly this year, but it was a deservedly good show for what it was worth. The opening had the spark that likely sold me the keys to a vehicle with a good motor, plenty of good background music with a strong voice in Marina Fujiwara, who finally was called up to the majors after multiple appearances on Touhou soundtracks. Good stuff.

9. "Shining Star" - 9nine (Star Driver OP2)

I'm certainly not going to back down on my opinion that Star Driver had me at the opening theme for Season 1, but if the animation and music for Season 2 were used in their places, I wonder just how interested I would have been. Granted, you get a good song from 9nine with some great melody, but the animation rubbed me raw. Using the first snips from the Season 1 opening to create the Season 2 opening...feels like there have been some originality lost. You get a solid opening, yes, but I'm mindful of the overused "naked-girl-looking-at-you" motif.

8. "For You" - Rie Fu (Wandering Son ED)

Rie Fu is one of those singers in Japan that has a great balance of cultural influences, her voice weathered by exposure to 70's performers such as Joni Mitchell and The Carpenters. While her talents have been used in action shows such as Bleach and Darker Than Black to bring down the mood at the end of the shows, her song "For You" at the end of Wandering Son is accompanied only by cherry blossoms and the two main characters. While its plainness likely brought it down, the song is sweet and quite pleasant to follow, fitting well with the show.

7. "Magia" - Kalafina (Puella Magi Madoka Magica ED)

I had the good fortune to meet with the girls of Kalafina and their producer Yuki Kajiura at Anime Boston in 2009, and it was a thrill to hear them perform. While most female groups in Japan try to impress with style reserved for unicorns and rainbows, Kalafina have been allowed to go the opposite direction; "Magia" is a haunting contemporary-classical piece that feels windswept and stormy, while the animation depicts the hidden danger the show's opening theme never displays. Even the details are spectacular; note how Homura's shadow turns to look back at Madoka's shadow in concern.
6. "Honki Sentai Gachi Ranger" - Masaaki Endô (Honki Sentai Gachi Ranger OP)

Probably an unfair choice for this song, as it only appeared in the first episode of the Mitsudomoe Zôryôchû as a "spin-off", but the song was a perfect complement to the ode/parody to the tokusatsu "ranger" shows out there. It was upbeat and totally captured the energy (and unintentional comedy) of these live-action shows. The producers were even able to flag down Masaaki Endô, one of the founding members of JAM Project, to do the song. It was a much better display of energy than JAM Project's actual submission for the season, "Vanguard", which was weakened by the Cardfight! Vanguard show.

5. "Connect" - ClariS (Puella Magi Madoka Magica OP)

I was pretty impressed by the talent we saw in ClariS last season when they performed the opening to Oreimo, but I'm well aware that freshman success is often followed by sophomore slumps. The middle-school-duo-that-sounds-nothing-like-one didn't fail to impress with this potent opening to Puella Magi Madoka Magica, the song quite tight in its performance.

However, it's the animation that doesn't quite put it at the top. Now, SHAFT didn't animate it badly, but Madoka's transformation sequence just feels creepy to an extent. Never mind the fact that we haven't seen the transformation sequence in the actual show yet—it just feels shudderingly weird to see Madoka getting transformed by a kiss on the forehead by the ghostly naked image of herself.

4. "Cold Finger Girl" - Chiaki Kuriyama (Level E OP)

Yeah, I know. The animated opening to Level E felt a lot like the opening to the Men In Black animated series intro, but the music to that show was so rigid and mechanical. They should have used something a little off the beaten path like this song from Chiaki Kuriyama (yes, Gogo from Kill Bill, that Chiaki Kuriyama!). This is smoky-blues-bar rock-and-roll that fits the animation's fast pace and solid-color style. A fantastic opening that is so alcoholic it requires a Black Label chaser.

3. "Dadada!" - Group Tamashii (Beelzebub OP)

In all honesty, I was a bit concerned by Beelzebub's concept and character designs, but I'm happy to see the show has developed into strictly the Shônen Jump comedy it was meant to be. The opening theme and animation aren't trying to be overly artistic like some of its brethren—appropriately enough, Group Tamashii, a band of comedians, were recruited for the job, and "Dadada!" comes out as a fitting ode to the yankii lifestyle. The animation itself has its moments, a handful of funny scenes mixed with a vortex of fire that makes characters indistinguishable, but the song carries the sequence and matches a lot of the characters themselves, displaying false macho bravado while it sings about taking care of the son of the Devil.

2. "Destin Histoire" - yoshiki*lisa (GOSICK OP)

So far, GOSICK has been proving to be a series worth following each week, and its opening theme manages to distinguish itself from a lot of the other shows. The song from yoshiki*lisa (stage name for TV talent Risa Yoshiki) is a good synthesis of a pop ballad, not really straying out of the lines when the stencil for a typical opening theme is provided.

However, the artwork done for the sequence and the movement of the scenes are what carry the opening well. The heaviness of the outlines and the lack of true detail in the colors provided for the designs makes the animation appear to come to life as a picture book composed of tarot cards, and the scenes are short enough to explain the bursts of comedy and drama without actually going into the story. Calling it a photo album for the show also isn't justice; the counteractive movement of the panels give it the sense that someone is winding the crank in the background. Perhaps this is the closest thing we can get to a pop-up book in animation.

1. "Harinezumi" ("Hedgehog") - Hitomi Azuma (Fractale OP)

Sometimes the best animation opening for a series is the one that shows almost nothing at all. We saw that from Star Driver's opening from last season, the characters mostly held back while Takuto dashed with the music. This time around, we're not even sure who is being featured in the opening animation. Naturally, the OP for Fractale goes the route suggested by its name by leading the viewer through a fantasy of computerized fractale-laced images, working from the inside out.

The animation is possibly something a good computer-graphics student could produce, but it's the music alone that gets the job done. While the song itself is powered with the digital drive of electronica, Hitomi Azuma provides a wondrously uplifting voice with tinges of Irish folk—you should listen to her sing "Down By The Salley Gardens" in the ending theme, a traditional Irish song penned by William Butler Yeats. Couple that with finger cymbals and the slow drift of an ocarina, and you get a song that is influenced by a multitude of nations, perhaps fitting with the theme of global mentality in the show itself.

In general, the music and sequences for this year's shows were not as impressive as expected, but the choice gems we found were pretty good. Guaranteed you'll find an ULTRA-PRISM song next season, though.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Anime Can Wait.

Illustration by Noizi Itô, artist for the Haruhi Suzumiya light novels

I had the good fortune of being a member of the JET (Japan Exchange & Teaching) Program as an Assistant Language Teacher for the towns of Matsuyama and Hirata in Yamagata Prefecture from 2000 to 2003. It wasn't easy to imagine being 6500 miles from home, but having so many friendly and accepting people in the two towns made it so much easier to adjust to my job as a teacher and help the town as much as possible.

During that three-year span, the hardest part was the most unexpected one. None of us were prepared for the tragedy to occur in New York, Pennsylvania, and Washington, D.C. on September 11th, 2001, and it was all the more difficult to watch it going on from half a world away. There's something about being unable to be there for people, and all I could do was wait until I had the next break to come home in December.

However, I also had strength of mind and belief in the human race. I knew that, as Americans, we would overcome these tragedies. I had faith in the people around Ground Zero, and even though I wasn't there in body, I was there in spirit and more united with my countrymen.

However, I also felt more united with the people around me. While there was a good chance that a lot of the people hurt and killed in the attacks were not related any of us, I found people opening up a bit more and conversing with me about the incidents. Some of my students even felt compelled to talk about this with me. I appreciated the thought and found myself contributing more to the towns through volunteer efforts and cross-cultural exposure.

Now it feels like the same thing has happened again.

Granted, comparing a terrorist plot to a natural disaster is your typical apples-to-oranges display, but being on the other side of the world while chaos reigns once again makes one feel helpless. If you're an anime fan, there's a good chance that someone for which you care—a voice actor, artist, producer, or even a friend—is in Japan dealing with this situation firsthand. You want to be there to experience their trauma and help them deal with the hardships.

And as an anime fan, the last thing on your mind should be the next episode of Dragon Crisis. There's a very real crisis unfolding in Japan, one that doesn't need any Godzilla jokes affixed to it. We can all cope with the preempting of our favorite shows for the time being. We can hold back on buying the latest issue of Shônen Jump if we know the money could be used for Red Cross efforts. Most of all, we can deal without the consumption of popular culture for the meantime, as popular welfare is much more important.

Once again, some of us can't be there with our friends and acquaintances, but we can be there in spirit. I encourage people to find ways to donate to the recovery and relief efforts, as well as try to locate friends and family in Japan through the Internet, as medical supplies, food rations, phone lines and electricity are required in Japan.

Some suggestions for helping the effort are provided on the Japan Society of Boston's homepage, but most of all, remain calm. There are so many bits and pieces of information coming from Japan through social media and mainstream media outlets that it can often be difficult to determine paths of action. Remember that being calm leads to being prepared for anything that might come in the future.

While I myself tend to be more spiritual than religious, my heart goes out to those in Japan, and I wish for a safe and speedy recovery for all of those people that need it. Half a world away, we care about you as much as you cared about us.

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Your Guide to the Spring 2011 Anime Season!

Let's be real about the past anime season—winter hasn't been kind to the casual fan. The number of animated shows usually decrease for the winter, probably due to the crowded television schedules in the beginning of the year, and 2011 has been no different. In addition, the number of quality shows have also fallen, mostly due to the lack of new shows running.

However, the warmer weather brings rejuvenation and revitalization. According to the count by The Cartdriver and Moonphase, over 40 new shows are debuting this new season on TV alone! Seriously?

I don't think I'm going to be able to have enough hours of the day to follow all of these, but here's a preview of the new shows to take a look at. Each is listed under its debut date with their full Japanese names and a digestible plot synopsis.

March 14
Moshidora (もし高校野球の女子マネージャーがドラッカーの『マネジメント』を読んだら)
The title may sound clunky (What if the Female Manager of the High-School Baseball Team Read Drucker's "Management"?), but the story of how a baseball team was straightened out by a spunky female manager and the works of social management theorist Peter Drucker is actually a sincere cult hit in Japan.

April 1
The third title for the anime line developed by Marvel and Madhouse, this story of the X-Men pits them in Japan against the U-Men as they try to rescue Hisako Ichiki, known as "Armor" in the comics.

April 2
The third series for the Jewelpet franchise, another magical girl will come to Jewel Land to try to collect cute, lovable Happy Meal toys Jewelpets.

The Pretty Rhythm dancing/idol game gets an anime makeover before Vocaloid does. Three middle-school girls strive for stardom as a musical ice-skating unit.

Sink Izumi, a kid from Earth, is transported to the Republic of Biscotti, a world of dog-eared humans, in order to help Princess Millhiore protect the country from Galette rebels. (An answer to Asobi ni Ikuyo?)

Everyday Life (Nichijô 日常)
(Slice-of-life, Comedy)
After a year-long hiatus, Kyoto Animation returns with a gag story about everyday life interrupted by things you normally wouldn't see everyday. Perhaps a "What's Wrong With This Picture?" picture show?

You're Being Summoned, Azazel (よんでますよ、アザゼルさん。)
(Supernatural, Comedy)
Akutabe, a detective and summoner of demons, contacts Azazel, an unprofessional devil, to be used for a particular case, but things naturally get out of hand.

Abnormal Physiology Seminar (Hen Zemi 変ゼミ)
Take one normal college student, Nanako Matsutaka, and put her in a course where the professor teaches nothing but sexual deviancy. Guess what happens.

April 3
The popular game that pits spinning tops in battle returns for a sixth season.

The stuffed critters from "Suzy's Zoo", a line of greeting cards produced by Suzy Spafford, get their own series of animated shorts.

Hanasaku Iroha (花咲くいろは)
When Tokyo-ite Matsumae moves out to the country to help her grandmother with her hot-spring inn, she meets new friends and learns to understand the simpler life.

We Don't Have Wings ~ Under the Innocent Sky (Oretachi ni Tsubasa ga Nai 俺たちに翼はない)
(Harem, Romance)
Based on the visual novel produced by Navel. The story of teenagers from the town of Yanagihara and how their lives cross in dramatic ways. (Read: Yosuga no Sora without the incest.)

April 4
Bridge to the Starry Skies (Hoshizora e Kakaru Hashi 星空へ架かる橋)
Do we need to say anything more than "harem"? Okay. Young male Kazuma moves to a new town and...yeah, we really don't need to say anything more.

Gintama' (2nd Season)
(Action, Comedy)
The absurd "odd-jobs" career of samurai Gintoki with his associates Shinpachi and Kagura resumes after a year-long hiatus.

Sengoku Otome: Momoiro Paradox (戦国乙女~桃色パラドックス~)
Another anime converted from a pachinko game. If you couldn't guess, the historical figures of Japan's "Warring States" period have once again been converted into buxom ladies. "But, wait, didn't you actually like Hyakka Ryo..." *punch*

April 5
Gambling Apocalypse Kaiji Season 2 (Tobaku Mokushiroku Kaiji 賭博黙示録カイジ)
(Drama, Gambling)
Our main character Kaiji, a man eternally in debt, disappears from society after managing to succeed in risky games of chance. So what does this have to do with Endô, his land shark?

So this group of Akihabara friends have been sending messages into the past through their souped-up microwave. Sounds innocent enough, but a shadowy organization is looking to stop them at all costs.

April 6
Kid loves fashion accessories and animals. Kid finds a nice rock she can use for an accessory. Kid finds out the rock is a fashion accessory AND an animal prince. Life is good.

Health & Phys Ed for 30-Year-Olds (30-sai no Hoken Taiiku 30歳の保健体育)
A 30-year-old male virgin meets a 30-year-old female virgin. Who is to show them how to make whoopie? Why, the Gods of Sex, that's who!

April 7
(Slice-of-life, comedy)
New Shônen Jump show #1. The "Campus Support Group" is here to improve the quality of high-school life! So what if Bossun, Himeko, and Switch are hardly the spitting image of perfection themselves...

Tea for Universe, Tea for Life (Hyouge Mono へうげもの)
Set in the "Warring States" period, Hyouge Mono covers the path of enrichment through tea chosen by Sasuke Furuta, a vassal under the great Nobunaga Oda.

Aria the Scarlet Ammo (Hidan no Aria 緋弾のアリア)
(Action, Comedy)
Having entered a Tokyo high school that specializes in detective studies and armed combat, Kinji meets its most powerful student, H. Aria Kanzaki, during a bombing attempt.

Sofuteni! (そふてにっ)
Middle-school student Asuna wants her team to aim for the National Soft-Tennis Championship, but the club itself isn't so serious about aiming for the top...

(Comedy, Slice-of-life)
Stop me if you've heard this one. Pretty nondescript show based on a yon-koma about high school girls. (Now, why didn't you stop me?)

Electromagnetic Wave Girl and Adolescent Boy (Denpa Onna to Seishun Otoko 電波女と青春男)
(Science fiction)
Second-year high-school student Makoto, meet your estranged cousin Erio. She's been gone a while and thinks she's an alien. You two should get along well while she lives in your apartment.

(Comedy, Horror)
The classic Go Nagai manga and 1973 anime adaption gets a remake. Lead character Enma leads the "Yôkai Patrol" to the world of humans in order to capture rogue demons.

The love-hate relationship between Kanako, a girl with a romantic infatuation over other girls, and Mariya, a cross-dressing boy with a sadistic character, finally returns for a second season.

April 8
World's First Love (Sekaiichi Hatsukoi 世界一初恋)
(Boys Love, Romance, Comedy)
Ritsu enters a publishing company that works on shôjo love manga, a difficult task for one who has vowed never to fall in love again, but the strict chief editor turns out to be his first love!

April 10
Blue Exorcist (Ao no Ekusoshisuto 青の祓魔師)
(Action, Supernatural)
Rin and Yukio were both born to be receptacles of Satan, but only Rin had the strength to be occupied by the Demon Lord for his conquest of the human world. However, when Satan kills Rin's foster father, Rin plans to become an Exorcist to defeat Satan.

Put It All In The Ring 1: World Tournament Chapter (Ringu ni Kakero 1: Sekai Taikai-hen リングにかけろ1:世界大会編)
Team Golden Japan Jr. joins the ranks of the World Junior Boxing Championship in order to challenge powerhouse Team Greece and bring the title home.

Astarotte's Toy! (Asutarotte no Omocha アスタロッテのおもちゃ!)
(Harem, Comedy)
Astarotte is a young succubus who absolutely hates males, but succubi naturally need to live. Thus, she has to put up with Naoya, the first male inducted into her harem.

April 11
In the distant future, card battles are still all the rage, but the cycle continues, as Yûma Tsukumo must deal with the ghostly Astral to return his memories to him.

The World God Only Knows II (Kami Nomi Zo Shiru Sekai II 神のみぞ知るセカイII)
(Comedy, Harem)
Keima and Elsie return again to try to capture (the demon spirits in) the hearts of young girls, all for the sake of the demon world.

(Romance, Adventure)
Those who know the series know it. Those who don't? "Behold...the power...of breast milk."

April 16
(Action, Horror)
Ganta Igarashi wants to find the "Red Man" who killed his entire middle-school class and framed him for the murders, but first he must get out of the prison known as "Deadman Wonderland".

Slated for April
(Comedy, Action)
New Shônen Jump show #2. Toriko wanders the land as a Super-Sayajin-like "Gourmet Hunter" in search of the choicest foods and ingredients for some of the world's superb dishes.

(Science Fiction)
Wild Tiger is the "King of Heroes" in a city filled with them, but how is he going to be able to team up with Barnaby Brooks Jr., someone who treats being a hero totally differently?

Ano Hana: We Still Don't Know The Name of That Flower We Saw That Day (Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Boku-tachi wa Mada Shiranai あの日見た花の名前を僕達はまだ知らない。)
The first noitaminA title of the season, Jintan, a shut-in who has only been able to befriend his high-school classmate Menma, must find his other four high-school friends as a promise to fulfill Menma's wish.

[C] (The Money of Soul And Possibility Control)
(Drama, Science Fiction)
While Kimimaro and most of Japan has been rescued from financial disaster by the "Sovereign Waelth Fund", he still needs cash. He'll be able to pay off his loan if he can survive a location known as "The Financial District".

Showa Story (Shōwa Monogatari 昭和物語)
An animated version of the successful live-action series and movie that chronicles the story of the Yamazaki family during the 39th year of Shôwa, 1964, the year the Olympics came to Tokyo.

A sequel to the Fireball 3D shorts produced through Japan's Disney Channel.

Tono to Issho, 2nd Season
You've seen the shorts before. The historical figure gag comedy returns for more.

(Appleseed XIII was announced for Spring 2011, but will premiere June 13th.)

OAV/DVD Specials
Air Gear, Amagami SS, Asobi ni Ikuyo!, Baka to Test, Beelzebub, Black Lagoon, Blessing of the Campanella, Fairy Tail, Highschool of the Dead, Kämpfer für die Liebe, Koe de Oshigoto!, Maid-Sama!, Mobile Suit Gundam Unicorn, Morita-kun wa Mukuchi, Nana and Kaoru, Norageki, Princess Resurrection, Queen's Blade, Seitokai Yakuindomo, Sex Pistols, Spelunker-Sensei, Valkyria Chronicles, xxxHolic, Yozakura Quartet.

First thoughts? It'll be hard to scarf down all of these shows to pick out the prime cuts, but if history has served its purpose well, the sequels (Gintama', Maria Holic Alive, The World God Only Knows II) should feel the need for those starving for niche titles. Of the truly new stuff, Shônen Jump's Sket Dance and Toriko could actually provide a resurgence for the magic-maker anthology, especially during a point when Shônen Sunday and Shônen Magazine are relatively quiet. The two noitaminA titles, [C] and Ano Hana should also likely do well, considering how well the block has performed the past year.

However, I see three titles performing solidly based on past reputation and current trailers.
  1. Everyone's pretty much been salivating for more KyoAni, so Nichijô should gather tons of fans while K-On! incubates for another series (you mean, you haven't heard about the two new manga titles from kakifly this spring?).
  2. I also see Blue Exorcist performing well, especially with storyboard director Tensai Okamura (Kikaider, Wolf's Rain) taking charge of direction with A-1 Pictures (Kannagi, Occult Academy, Fractale) as the animation studio.
  3. After a bit of a production delay, Deadman Wonderland should also hit it big. For some reason, I feel that delays often increase the palpability of a show and make it all the more an anxious watch.
Definite passes? There are a few.
  1. The two visual novel shows (Oretachi ni Tsubasa ga Nai, Hoshizora e Kakaru Hashi) feel interchangeable. Really nothing between the two that would pull me towards watching them, especially the car wrecks we've had in the past two seasons. Seems they all like to look to the sky for inspiration, too (Starry Sky, Yosuga no Sora).
  2. No breaks for the sex parodies this season, either. While Hen Zemi looks like the pain could be minor, Health & Phys Ed for 30-Year-Olds sounds like it could be the next Rio Rainbow Gate.
  3. There's no doubt that Qwaser no Stigmata II will overindulge us with icky sexual gratuity, but can Astarotte's Toy! sound any creepier? A loli succubus who, I'm told, is around ten-years-old and hunting for sex? And you wonder why candy corporation Lotte might have had a beef with the original name?
So what is driving your interest this upcoming season? Let us know here or on our Facebook or Twitter pages!

Thursday, March 3, 2011

Itadakimasu! Reconstructing the Miami Burger

Last year, McDonald's decided to go BIG in Japan by launching a series of burgers that were supposed to resemble the BIG tastes in America. Advertised as the "Big America" series, customers could order quarter-pound burgers that catered to tastes in Texas (fried shoestring onions on top of a BBQ bacon cheeseburger), New York (Monterrey Jack and bacon on a cheeseburger), California (bacon cheeseburger with spicy cheese and a red wine BBQ sauce), and Hawaii (fried egg patty, bacon, and a special gravy on a cheeseburger).

In general, it was a variety of bacon cheeseburgers with some sort of kick to them. Well, Japan liked the kick so much that they decided to give it another shot, releasing the "Big America 2" series of special burgers. So far, the company has provided two new monstrosities.

Texas Burger 2
  • Cheese-dusted triple-layer bun
  • Bacon
  • Onions
  • Chili beans
  • 1/4-pound burger
  • Cheese
  • Spicy mustard relish
Idaho Burger
  • Split-top onion bun
  • Mustard relish
  • Bacon
  • Onions
  • Hash brown patty
  • 1/4-pound burger
  • Cheese
  • Spicy pepper sauce
With two burgers down, the American Burger series entered a third stage. While the first two may have been reasonably close to approximations of the regions, the third completely missed the mark when McDonald's introduced the "Miami Burger".

The Miami Burger recycled the cheese-dusted bun to use with the quarter-pound burger and cheese, but this time the burger itself had a full hard-shell taco resting on top of it. Between the burger and bun rested lettuce, tortilla chips, taco beef, and a spicy chili sauce. Apparently, if you speak Spanish in a region, your ethnicity is ignored to the point of assuming that everyone loves tacos and nachos. Then again, I cannot, for the life of me, imagine a Cuban sandwich being converted into a burger.

Now, believe it or not, but someone had tried to make their own Idaho Burger before. Sounded cool. As much as I would love to experience chowing down on the Miami Burger, I decided to do my best by mimicking the abnormality. Naturally, some things (the cheese-dusted bun) were unobtainable, but let's see what we can do with a Taco Bell hard-shell taco.

Step 1. Obtain a quarter-pounder with cheese from your local McD's. Easier done than said.

Step 2. Purchase the Taco Bell hard-shell taco. Easier imagined than done. Seriously, the thing was practically a used sponge before I got home. Even worse, I forgot the fire sauce from the restaurant. Looks like I had to be creative.

Step 3. Goodbye, pickles, mustard, and onions. Come to think of it, there isn't much in terms of pickles, onions, and mustard when you remove them. All this on a cheeseburger, McD's?

Step 4. Gotta leave a little of the ketchup on the burger, just so I could mix some Tiger hot chili sauce into it. Sort of my ode to Charlie Sheen this week. At this stage, WINNING.

Step 5. Lettuce from the taco goes onto the burger itself. This was probably the best part of the burger, to tell the truth, but I don't think I could taste it between the beef and less-than-35% beef.

Step 6. Cheese melted onto the burger's bun. I decided to get more creative than the cheese-dusted artisan bun allowed. Oh, well. Maybe next time I stop at an Italian restaurant and steal some parmesan.

Step 7. Here come the tortilla "chips". Actually, all I did was crumble up the taco shell. Not a great idea, as they were not only soggy, but totally devoid of any crunch. Should have gone with the store-bought tortilla chips, but that would have likely killed me from the sodium.

Step 8. The taco "meat" was reheated and placed atop the burger itself. Not a pretty sight at all. If you're going to use taco meat, MAKE IT YOURSELF.

Step 9. The bun goes on top of our Frankenstein monster of a sandwich. Right now, I'm pretty sure it was telling me it was afraid of fire.

Step 10. And here is our finished product. Looks pretty much like anything I'd make at home. I'm certain that Japan could do a much better job at putting a taco on a burger than I did. At this point, I'm pretty sure I was LOSING.


The "homemade" Miami Burger is, indefensibly, the worst idea I could come up with. Seriously bad idea, seriously greasy constitution, and seriously upsetting after-effects in the stomach. It felt like I had swallowed two rocks, one of which was chipped away from the picturesque mesas in Arizona themselves.

If you want to try this in Japan yourself, you're too late. The last "Big America 2" burger is going to be the Manhattan Burger, complete with pastrami, mozzarella cheese, and something they label as "sour-cream sauce". If you think I'm going to eat that thing, you got another thing coming. No way does that thing look geschmak at all.

Wandering Son (Episodes 4 - 6)

(For a review of Episodes 1 - 3, click here. Some spoilers may be lurking.)

It's hard to recall the space in the timeline of anime where transgenderism transformed from a dramatic plot device into a comedic plot device. While odes to Takarazuka such as Princess Knight and The Rose of Versailles viewed such a situation as an internal struggle versus a societal struggle, manga such as Ranma 1/2 and Futaba-Kun Change! turned the situation into a comedic one. Still between those shows and titles, the troubles and concerns of dealing with dueling gender identities were still there.

However, somewhere along the track, the train broke off its course. Things got a little hotter with the likes of Revolutionary Girl Utena. Anime and manga started to explore the sexual hijinks that occurred from transvestitism and gender-swapping (Pretty Face, Kampfer). Needless to say, some boundaries have likely been pushed a bit too far without exploring the true confusion and pain that comes from the fear of rejection regarding gender identities.

While Wandering Son has carefully extracted its story from the middle of its manga chapters, the show has embraced the vital portion of the story, Class 1-3's re-imagining of Romeo and Juliet for the culture festival. The idea of reversing the gender roles is a secret desire for Shûichi and Yoshino, as both of them express their wishes to play the lead roles. In a very tender moment, while out shopping for clothes, Yoshino and Shûichi make a promise to exchange names in the future.

However, there are many other influences surrounding them that make such transitions harder to envision. Saori still seems to have a rather strong attachment to Shûichi, noting that she would want to play Romeo opposite Shûichi's Juliet. However, the lottery for determining roles actually gives the lead to Shûichi's friend Makoto, who expressed his own desires for the role. With Saori ready to destroy the script with changes into a darker story, Makoto frets over his role, but both learn to swallow their pride and nerves, respectively.

What we manage to get out of these three episodes surrounding the play are glimpses into those surrounding this pretzel of a relationship. We get clueless jealousy from Saori's "boyfriend" Ninomiya, who thinks he could be a cuter alternative over Shûichi. We get conflicting intentions from Anna, a model friend of Shûichi's sister Maho, who might have some sort of thing for Shûichi. We even get some background surrounding the two adult friends of Shûichi and Yoshino's, tranvestite Yuki and her lover "Shii-chan", as they visit the cultural festival.

There are plenty of glimpses into Shûichi's shyness and desire to become a girl in the future, but we're not yet seeing the same for Yoshino just yet. Her desires to hide her developing figure are the only motivation we see just yet, but we also get a small hint at the pain from such conflict inside her, a scene with Yoshino coiling into a ball underwater during a free swim. Perhaps this is the hint at rebirth that she desires, and I hope we see a lot more regarding her own will to change.

It's good to see some time taken to show the innocence behind transgenderism, but there are also those careful taboos that lurk. While Shûichi is rather introverted in his optimism about becoming a girl, often crossdressing in a public that doesn't recognize him, we get that fear and insecurity of those taboos from Makoto, who must play his role before friends and family. While it's likely the show will not end in disaster, there is also this uncertainty that the show may glorify transgenderism too much, and that likely will define Makoto's role—he will be that voice of doubt while Shûichi lets Yoshino speak for him.

Having read portions of the manga, it's good to have Wandering Son use Romeo and Juliet as its focal point before leading into relationship concerns and the overall verdict the series provides on transgenderism. With something so traditional being inverted, perhaps we all will take a look at anime as a genre and wonder if its view of gender identity needs to be inverted and returned to a more dramatic posture. Perhaps it is its use of softer outlines, softer soundtracks, and softer characters, but Wandering Son is doing a brilliant job at scaling back the absurdities of transgenderism back to simpler times.