Aquagaze's blog

2:39 PM on 05.19.2012

Aquagaze's Summer 2012 Anime Preview

While I most certainly have more important things to worry about then about the summer season of anime - which is still more than a month away - I still feel obliged to write up an extremely biased preview, based on the charts that get released way too early. In good Aquagaze fashion, I am using a completely different format once again, thereby continuing my eternal search for worthwhile blogging skills. I wonder how wrong I will be this time!

If nothing goes wrong, the summer season will kick off with Kingdom, a historic shounen anime set in the Chinese Warring States Period, by Studio Pierrot (Naruto, Bleach, …). If you, like me, stopped caring as soon as you read “Chinese Warring States Period”, you needn’t worry. It’s almost as if there have been more anime about Chinese history than there have been about Japanese history; and the Warring States period is such a convoluted mess it makes Kingdom Hearts look like Dora The Explorer. Don’t expect Studio Pierrot to knock any sense into it, or make it anything worthwhile, for that matter. I sure can’t wait for the next Dynasty Warriors game to come out! Equally underwhelming looks Oda Nobuna no Yabou, yet another fanservice-ridden history anime about the Sengoku period getting the genderbending treatment, this time by Studio Gokumi (A-Channel, Saki: Schiga-Hen, …) and Madhouse (Death Note, Monster, …). Yes, Madhouse. I thought they were smart enough to know that breasts cannot exactly jiggle when covered by plate armour. Then again, they did make High School of the Dead

If you’d like your history to be a bit more sparkly, you can always check out Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi, an allegedly “super liberal” interpretation of the Hyakuninisshu anthology, which is a collection of one hundred romantic poems from the Heian (794-1185) period. The “obnoxious shoujo” alarms are bleating loudly, but this is obnoxious shoujo with the director of Honey and Clover and Aoi Hana behind the steering wheel. While Chouyaku’s premise proves to be original, it may have an alienating effect on many. With different romantic poems as the source material, the result could be very shallow and repetitive, but if we look at this from an optimist’s point of view, this might just end up as the best anime of the season… that no one safe for the Oxford University Faculty of Japanese Literature watched. Animation will be provided by TYO Animations (Tamayura, Ginga e Kickoff!, …).

Of course, no anime season is complete without a boatload of boring eroge adaptations and other shady shows that might get you arrested. By far the most interesting of the uninteresting, but by far not interesting enough to be interesting, is Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse; a science fiction anime based on a light novel based on figurines based on a spin-off of an eroge I have been hearing way too much about as of late. If you had trouble reading that last sentence, you had better get out now, but for some people, Muv-Luv might be right up their alley. Do you like supposedly attractive woman jabbering incomprehensible technobabble? Did you ‘play’ the original Muv-Luv visual novel and its equally hefty sequels and spin-offs? Are you prepared to have your favourite franchise ruined by the director of Rosario + Vampire and Baby Princess 3D? Yes? Have fun with it. As for me, my timeline can’t wait to be filtered.

AIC Build (Oreimo, Boku Wa Tomodachi Ga Sukunai, …) is responsible for the obligatory harem eroge adaptation of the season. The thing is named Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate and, well, it’s an eroge adaptation by AIC Build. I have a special, specific room in the “I don’t give a sod” section of my heart specifically for eroge adaptations by AIC Build. If you liked Boku Wa Tomodachi Ga Sukunai before it became a porn parody of its-… I mean, an anime, you know fully well how much you should care about this chocolaty anime: about as much as you should care about Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imouto ga Iru! Like looking for an anime in this season that is actually worth a damn, this show’s brave protagonist must search his ever growing harem of female schoolmates in order to find his real little sister. I don't think I have to add anything more. This fun for the whole family will be animated by Studio Gokumi and will serve no other purpose for the human race than to act as evidence of how depraved our kind has become. My allergies are playing up. If you have not yet had enough obnoxious ecchi yet, consider yourself lucky, for Dakara Boku wa, H ga Dekinai shall be your saving grace. In this new, brave attempt at creating the Citizen Kane of anime, revolutionary anime studio Feel tells the story of a virile young spirit who has his sex drive stolen from him by a well-endowed Grim Reaper and has to undertake a heroic quest to gain it back. An epic tale of masculinity, corporeality and bodily fluids, from the visionary director that brought us Yosuga No Sora. Yeah. If you are really desperate for a Feel anime, just watch that kissXsis OVA that comes out the sixth of July. At least kissXsis is entertaining.

Good thing noitaminA is still there to provide undertake a true brave attempt at making something worthwhile. The renowned timeslot has been trying very hardly to make up for some of its recent disasters (Guilty Crown, No.6, Fractale, …) by going back to what it does best: Josei, slice-of-life and offbeat comedy. That last category will be all too well represented by Moyashimon Returns, and Natsuyuki Rendezvous falls well into that first category, though studio Dogakobo (YuruYuri, which is - by the way - getting a second season as well) and the director of Rosen Maiden and the much-maligned Yozakura Quartet anime may seem like odd choices. On the other hand, however, we do have the animation director of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the noitaminA seal of quality, which all of a sudden is worth a damn again. Only time will tell if the timeslot can keep up its glorious resurrection.

While noitaminA has rekindled its fiery determination to be as against the anime mainstream as possible, J.C. Staff continues to put out one unremarkable show after another. Its two representatives for this season, Joshiraku and La Storia Della Arcana Famiglia, respectively a four-girl-ensemble comedy and an otomege adaptation, don’t seem to show any aspiration to change this tradition around, but it would not be the first time a seemingly generic J.C. Staff show turned out to be fantastic. Toradora!, anyone? La Storia Della Arcana Famiglia does not seem to have much going for it aside from its setting and odd pretty mafia boy vibes, but Joshiraku can count on the reputation of its spiritual predecessor. The Joshiraku manga was penned down by the author of Sayonara, Zetsubou-sensei, which suddenly reveals a lot more potential in Joshiraku’s entirely generic premise. You can take that premise very literally, though, as the manga consists of literally nothing else but girls sitting around a table and having random conversations. Without the Shaft magic that SZS did have, why does this have to be an anime?

As you probably figured out already, J.C. Staff does not seem to be putting much effort into this season. The most J.C. Staff of all anime this season, however, is not even being made by them, but by Diomedea of Squid Girl fame (and Komodo no Jikan infamy). Are you excited for an anime about a generic, mild-mannered male high school student protagonist who meets an offbeat girl with special powers and gets dragged into fighting hardly threatening enemies with her, while ending up in a lot of ‘hilarious’ and ‘erotic’ situations involving an entire cast of stereotypical teenage girls who are all in love with him for no reason whatsoever? Yeah, me neither. But if you are, make sure to check out Campione! Furthermore, if you’d like some more funbags in your generic battle anime, Hagure Yuusha No Estetica, the latest from the wizards at ARMS (Samurai Girls, Queen’s Blade, Ikki Tousen, …) is there for you. My hype level, on the other hand, is inversely proportional to the average breast size of the average girl in this average anime.

Have no fear, though, for there is more than enough actually promising anime on the way. Anime like Sword Art Online, for instance. Based on the novels by the author of Accel World, this spiritual successor is bigger, badder and better that the currently airing show, at least according to fans. If anything, it looks more consistent and fantasy-themed. With the director of Occult Academy – which, despite its lacklustre plot, was pretty well directed - the nose-hating character designer of Working!! and folktronica fairy Yuki Kajiura backing the project, Sword Art Online has a lot going for it. So does Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, which – according to the trailer – looks like an original, atmospheric, cute and fairy tale-like fantasy anime. The main issue this anime has will have to face is the presence of director Seiji Kishi, who is so bad at picking a mood that he and his team at AIC ASTA (Persona 4: The Animation) nearly ruined an anime based on the best game of all time. With atmosphere seemingly being such an important factor in Jintai, picking Kishi seems like a very strange choice.

Another director who seems to be trying very hardly to become the Uwe Boll of anime is Shin Onuma, the poor man’s Akiyuki Shinbo. Onuma and his studio Silver Link (Baka and Test, C3, …) have been putting out one sub-par Shaft imitation after another as of late, and Kokoro Connect is their last in line. An anime about five boys and five girls switching places seems pretty interesting to me, yet I am very suspicious of how exactly Onuma will adapt this. Will we get another desperate attempt at Shinboism, or will Silver Link tone this down in favour of a more casual, bubblier atmosphere befitting of the K-On!-esque character designs? Will the screenwriter of Clannad turn this into another one of these obnoxious angstfests we have seen way too much of as of late, or will he show his talent is a more restrained way? I am sceptical, yet I cannot say I am not intrigued.

The same can be said for Tari Tari. To me, P.A. Works (Angel Beats!, Another, …) has always delivered before, and while the promotional material and premise seems to live and breathe Hanasaku Iroha, the crew is entirely different. The queen of overwrought obnoxious screenwriting, Mari Okada, has been thankfully ditched for newcomer Masakazu Hashimoto, who will also pick up directing duties. Director and writer being the same person is never a bad thing – unless it's M. Night Shyamalan – so Tari Tari gets the benefit of my doubt.

This leaves us with two more anime before we can wrap this admittedly lengthy preview. About Arve Rezzle, not much is known, aside from the fact that involves a guy being trapped in cyberspace and having to find his missing sister in order to escape, and that it is animated by ZEXCS (Sister Princess, Chu-Bra!!, …). The latter is enough reason for you to not bother about the half-assed logic in the former. We end up this preview with an unfortunate comedy by Sunrise (Gundam, Daily Lives of High School Boys, …) and Fujita Yoshi, the director of the later episodes of Gintama: Binbou-gami ga! This show tells the story of an extremely lucky girl getting a visit from the goddess of misfortune, who has been sent to restore the balance of luck. Hilarity will ensue… or will it? With the screenwriter of Bleach and that atrocious Rock Lee‘s Springtime of Youth spin-off penning, people hoping for another Gintama or Dude Days might be better off not getting their hopes up too high for Binbou-gami ga!

Aside from all these shows, the summer season will also feature second seasons of lesbian-tastic comedy YuruYuri, Moyashimon, historic otomege adaptation Hakuouki, the infamously convoluted Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, Rinne No Lagrange and Dog Days. In general, I think the same can be said about the summer season that can be said about a lot of summer seasons: There isn’t really a lot that looks promising, but there are some shows that could prove to be decent entertainment. What will you be watching?   read

5:24 AM on 12.30.2011

Don't Hire Me: Aqua's Extremely Shitty Winter 2012 Preview Guide

In which Aquagaze attempts to stand out by miserably abusing his drawing tablet. Sadly enough, he is too busy to contribute anything meaningful to this surge in C-blogs, let alone to Japanator as a whole.

Readable version here.

Have a GLORIO 2012, lads and lasses.   read

11:20 AM on 12.16.2011

A Look Back On 2011

The image of December that has been bred into our very flesh and bones by the efforts of every possible peer one could possibly be pressured by is a highly dubious one. Whether you are the smart boy or girl your parents have been trying to mould you into or the brain-dead, Santa-hat-wearing consumer marketers have been trying to make you be, you have to and you will look forward to the final month of the year as its absolute pinnacle.

In reality, when December days don’t give you any valid reasons to stay away from school, they tend to be the worst days of the year. Horrible weather, sadistic teachers trying to squeeze the last out of you before Christmas break and all kinds of stress with causes ranging from buying presents to making sure your cards are sent on time.

A phenomenon that is both a December staple and an excellent example of its ambiguity are end-of-year lists. They deliver both a fun opportunity to bring back fond memories of some of the year’s highlights, but on the other hand, they are extremely tedious to make and most of all, if they are not made in some special way, they are, frankly, often quite boring.

Though I did think that I would not be worthy of calling myself a blogger -which I still do, despite my low productivity- if I did not at least write something that could pass for one of these end-of-year lists. When the Anibloggers Community Anime Awards were announced, I, in great Aquagaze fashion, was one of the first to join. Of course, in great Aquagaze fashion, I am also one of the last to actually put out his blog. I hope it was worth the wait. It probably is not.

Time to kick this thing into gear and get this show on the road with a slice-of-life anime that is more often than not about the scenery than the plot; a light-hearted and heart-warming show which, at the same time, always know which vibe to create; a show that combines the idealized with the all too familiar.

Contrary to what you may think, I am not talking about Hanasaku Iroha.

If you want a list of reasons why I, Aquagaze, lover of all anime featuring a cast of four females with ambiguous sexuality turning being lazy into a form of art, have managed to ban all ‘cute girls going cute things anime’ from this list, I can gladly provide you with one. A-Channel and Yuru Yuri were entertaining, but not a single four girl ensemble show this year was good enough to come up to scratch with the relatively high standards set by this year’s anime. All but one.

What sets Tamayura ~hitotose~, including obnoxious tildes to accentuate the ~healing~ vibe, apart from other shows within it’s overly crowded genre is its focus on characters and its breezy atmosphere. It has absolutely mastered where Hanasaku Iroha crashed and burned: combining the breezy and the more serious into one consistent whole.

Tamayura culls all heartstrings without tugging at them, develops its likeable cast of characters and the rich past they share and easily liberates them from the archetypes they all started out as in the OVAs that preceded this full TV series.

Tamayura is a slow burner; a show that is at it’s best when it is watched on a busy train after a long day at school. When the rain pours down from the grey clouds and everything seems pointless, Tamayura’s mellow melodies, nostalgic visuals and tinier-than-live adventurettes always bring a smile to my face. Life isn’t all that bad. Neither is slice-of-life.

To be honest, I don’t know how to feel about Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai –which, for the good of my sanity shall be referred to as Ano Hana from now on- anymore. Pretty much everything that has been said about it, be it positive or negative, is true in some way. Ano Hana constantly dances the rope between genuinely touching melancholy and cheap melodrama. Its characters are interesting, flawed and developed, but fail to be likeable. Ano Hana’s legacy is as bittersweet as the vibe it tried to create, most of all because it went out with a supposedly heart-warming ending that turned into an almost morbid circus of sharks jumping through flaming rings. It is a noitaminA staple, but one that needs to be buried quickly. The bitter characters stayed bitter, the likeable characters became bitter and the love triangle that dominated a good half of the show did not get resolved.

Ano Hana, however, is not the show we have always regarded it to be. This is not a show about five friends trying to get over their shared traumas and be friends again; this is a show about five friends miserably failing trying to get over their shared traumas and be friends again. It is a gruelling tragedy disguised as a melodrama about a bunch of overreacting, broken, socially inept selfish bastards who have convinced themselves of the fact that they cannot be happy if Menma is dead. So Menma returns as a ghost, trying to get them to be friends again and she actually almost manages to pull it off, resulting in some of the most beautiful moments I have ever had the honour of witnessing. The second episode, in which Jintan, Anaru and Poppo reminisce their childhood innocence over a good old session of Nokémon, definitely deserves to take the hypothetical award for best episode of the year home.

Past the halfway mark, though, Ano Hana quickly starts rolling off its own hill, devolving into a whiny, angsty, predictable mess. However, within it still lurks the brave idea of creating a character-driven drama anime with cute girls and romance in it that does not end well. In the end, Menma finally moves on, but did she bring her old friends any closer? No. All she ever really wanted was the fireworks she could never see when she was still alive. She manipulated Jintan into making everything revolve around her once again. Of course the fireworks were merely symbolic, but they never succeeded in what they were intended for. In fact, they made everything even worse. Anaru and Jintan could be happy together, but Menma’s orchestrated tragedy blocked their wheels with a stick. Yukiatsu and Tsuruko go back to pretending to have nothing to do with their friends like the blasé high-flyers they are. Menma only returned to dig up old corpses and to ruin the lives of her five old friends because she couldn’t stand them getting over her death. Worst of all, I still do not remember the name of the flower they saw that day.

Rants aside, Ano Hana is a nostalgic, sadly enough often overwrought mess with occasional brilliance, but in the end, it deserves its spot on this list because it is provocative and even controversial. It attempted to do something different. It showed that anime with utterly broken characters and an almost sickeningly tear-jerking plot can end up being popular. How well it succeeds in this is a topic one could dedicate an entire college course to. It had both rabid haters and dedicated fans, and in my opinion, both groups have their appeal. I am most comfortable in my own group of people who have no idea how to feel about Ano Hana. Nevertheless, I cannot deny it a spot in this top 12. It is too memorable for that.

Are Gainax the only people who can make crazy nonsense and get away with it? Say hello to Kyousogiga. You probably have not heard of Kyousogiga until -depending of your reading speed- around 3 seconds ago, unless you for some reason download everything your favourite torrenting website’s home page has to offer. I would not recommend doing that.

There is not much I can give away about Kyousogiga aside from the fact that it looks absolutely gorgeous. Every single second of its 25 minutes is stuffed with creativity and hilarity. The explosion of colour and synths is supported by an absolutely ridiculous story, starring Rie Kugimiya in the role of her life. For once, the Vixen of Violence ditches her growth deficit, washboard and bad temper for a huge hammer and a big mouth. Giving away anything more about Kyousogiga’s supernaturalicious plot, including the poor girl’s name, would be a spoiler, but one thing you should know in advance: It will not make sense.

Kyousogiga’s decision to stuff a plot worthy of a full series into a 25-minute OVA inevitably causes a lot of the plot’s minor and not so minor details to be left up to the viewer’s imagination, but in this case, lightning-quick pacing is a plus. Kyousogiga is balls to the wall, but it is not a show that is insane for the sake of being insane. There is a lot of depth and originality to be found in its setting and characters, rendering Kyousogiga very fit for multiple watchthroughs. When the incredibly wacky adventure has come to an incredibly wacky end, you will be left begging for more. If this ever gets the full series treatment, FLCL better holds on to its kidneys. There’s a new kid in town.

Are you ready for the shortest justification ever? Bunny Drop is adorable. What more is there to say that has not been said already? It truly is a show that excels and revels in is simplicity. Its main ambition is to be charming and to Bunny Drop, being charming is as natural as breathing air. It is true to the words its theme song declares with a joie-de-vivre that makes every French bourgeois quiver in envy: it just wants to make you happy.

Fate/Zero, oh brave victim of my everlasting scepticism! Oh foolish successor of the hideous Fate/Stay Night! Oh slave of an exaggerating hype machine; my respect for you knows no bounds! You showed me that the interesting premise your sequel tried to force feed players and viewers alike with pages upon pages of descriptions of food, harem antics, needlessly complicated explanations for needlessly complicated phenomena and writing that defies the basic rules of writing, can actually work

Compared to Fate/Stay Night, your average issue of Shonen Jump reads like Shakespeare’s finest, as Type-MOON’s autocratic ringleader Kinoko Nasu apparently thought that telling the story of an epic war between magi, heroes of legend and evil-doers of infamy would be best delivered from the perspective of a useless halfwit. Nasu’s supposed masterpiece gets seemingly aroused by its own pretentious writing, while it forgets the very basic of the art of the pen: show; don’t tell.

Almost everything in Fate/Stay Night takes place in and around Shirou’s house and most of it has absolutely nothing to do with the Holy Grail War. When other Servants and Masters finally do attack, we learn nothing about them. What drives those Servants to join the War? Why do these Masters desire the Holy Grail? We don’t know. All enemy Servants simply wait in line to get their proverbial ass handed to them by Saber. Worst of all, Fate/Stay Night has no official canon. It consists of three different takes on the same story; three versions that cannot be unified in a sensible way. That way, we never know the true motivation and, ironically, their true fate. This is not creative writing. This is merely not knowing which idea to choose.

What sort of brain deficit caused Gen Urobuchi, a man who, unlike Nasu, does know how to write a decent story, to be interested in the Fate franchise is beyond me, but the lovechild of Urobuchi and Type-MOON ended up being the Fate’s saving grace.

While it still has its occasional moments of blithering idiocy and shamelessly bad writing –see the scene where Sola-Ui tells her husband that Lancer receives mana from the both of them, in case he would have forgotten- Fate/Zero is a vast improvement over its (in)famous predecessor. Stay Night’s bumbling protagonist is replaced by an obviously flawed, but pragmatic badass. Even though Kiritsugu could get away with having everything told from his point of view, the focus often hops from one member of the extensive cast to another, making the backstories and motives of all Masters and Servants in this war clear. In Fate/Zero, you are actually able to root for a character that isn’t Saber, because they are all interesting and likeable in their own right.

Nearly all harem elements are thrown overboard as the cast is mostly made up of males from all different ages and demeanours. This is only for the better of the few female characters, though. Especially Saber is much more likeable when she can be her noble, badass self, instead of devolving into a harem member that needs protection from a sexist douchebag who cannot even properly fire a bow. Not to mention she looks absolutely stunning in a suit, an interesting design choice that accentuates her androgynous characteristics –both mentally and physically- that Fate/Zero manages to portray so well.

A truly great epic does not survive on story alone, though. Luckily enough, Studio ufotable’s CGI expertise works like magic on the source material. Through a special animation method that combines regular animation with computer generated imagery, flashy magic like Saber’s wind-clad sword and Kayneth’s floating mercury orb fit in perfectly with the equally stellar regular animation. Especially the shading and colouring stand out and give Fate/Zero a well-deserved art style it can call its own. Televised anime hardly ever gets this close to cinematic quality.

Nevertheless, Fate/Zero has its flaws. Its Homeric tendency to reduce most fights to equal parts talking and an exchange of quick blows does not always result in exciting television and some of the heroic spirits chosen to be Servants fail to invoke a sense of familiarity or excitement, even if, unlike in Fate/Stay Night, the abilities of these heroes and the legends they hail from are all very relevant to the plot. Do not tell me you knew who the heck Diarmuid Ua Duibhne was before he showed up in Fate/Zero.

Yuno, Yuno, Yuno. Where on this list would Future Diary have ended up if Yuno Gasai were nowhere to found? Probably a lot lower, and although Future Diary has many other characters who are interesting and likeable in their own way, Yuno is still the vicious, bloodthirsty sun around which the entire show revolves. Future Diary’s entire mood often depends on Yuno’s very fragile composure. How hard it may be to admit, she lifts the entire show to a higher level.

What sets Future Diary, and Yuno herself, apart from other shows that play around with the same tropes, is the interesting dynamic between the obsessive Yuno and the meek Yukki. Why exactly Yuno is so head over heels for Yukki is still a mystery to people who did not read the source material, but the almost sarcastically vicious tension between the two is excellently written. On one hand, Yukkii is happy that such an attractive and cute girl is madly in love with him and he knows that he will not survive the survival game without her, but on the other hand, she is and will probably forever remain an omnicidal maniac.

Production values are not Future Diary’s strongest point, but nevertheless, studio Asread still manages to get the job done with great care. Characters often wear different outfits and with the exception of the hilariously bad Playstation 2-era CGI, the animation is decent. While I personally think a more horror-like direction à la Sam Raimi would have worked even better, the direction and even the animation –simply take notice of Yuno’s ambiguous facial expressions- manage to create a disturbing atmosphere. You know everything is going to go horribly wrong. The question is: when?

Every episode of Future Diary manages to be even more gruesome and disturbing than the last one and while some of the gore is marred by blisteringly unsubtle censorship, the shock value remains. Even if logic is often far to be found and Yukkii’s gullible idiocy will sometimes drive even the most stoic of viewers insane, Future Diary’s tension, mind games and creative shock value turn it into my favourite show of the fall season. Best of all, we are not even halfway in!

When Aquagaze likes something, you will know it. After all, I hyped up a considerable amount of people for Boku Wa Tomodachi Ga Sukunai, which, despite being utterly hilarious, you will not find on this list. Yozakura Quartet is another one of these manga I have nothing but praise for. Badass fight sequences, gorgeous character designs, fun and interesting characters, heart-warming scenes and a proverbial motherload of awesome; Yozakura Quartet deserves the anime treatment more than anything.

Yozukura Quartet is set in Sakurashin, a town where humans and youkai live together in harmony. The youkai have various magical powers and originally hailed from ‘the other world’, which is connected to our world by the seven pillars defining Sakurashin’s skyline. Akina is the oyakume, a human with the power to send youkai back to the other world, but most of all, he just wants to keep the peace between both species. He gets help from humans and youkai alike, such as Ao, a mind reader; Kotoha, an eccentric girl with the power to turn words into concepts, and Hime, the teenage town major with an epic scarf. Together, they fight whoever threatens the peace in their town, and eat lots of ramen. Lots of ramen.

Earlier this year, a three-part OVA was released which adapted what the studio considered to be the most awesome part of the manga up until now, similar to the Wandering Son anime. Sadly enough, this leads to the OVA being nigh unwatchable without knowledge of the source material. Yozakura Quartet: Hoshi No Umi starts in medias res and while it surprisingly –and coincidently- does manage to properly introduce the characters as if this were their very first adventure, some elements that are of primordial importance to the plot of the OVA are only explained in the manga chapters preceding it.

However, for those who do know what a satori is and why the blooming of the seven pillars is a bad thing, Hoshi No Umi is an insane feast for the eye and ear. The three OVAs are brimming with awesome action, character dynamics, fun gags and miraculous animation; but especially the direction stands out, with creative camera angles and fast cuts. With Yozakura Quartet: Hoshi No Umi, this list delves into the realm of shows that are nigh flawless. In fact, there is really only just one option: Read the manga, watch this OVA. You have no excuse.

How am I supposed to talk about Wandering Son without using the words ‘heart-warming’, ‘atmosphere’ or ‘adorable’? I need to stop overusing these soppy words, but honestly, do you have any better words to describe Wandering Son with? ‘Thought-provoking’? ‘Innocent’? ‘Charming’? All of those words fit, but in the end, the vibe Wandering Son creates is something unique. Tragicomic, yet bittersweet. Melancholic, yet light-hearted. Innocent, yet cruel.

Wandering Son is dramatic, but it never resorts to the cheap “Let’s have all characters cry and scream ‘Menma’ a lot; that should make the audience tear up” tactics Ano Hana was such a firm supporter of. Wandering Son’s drama creeps under the plane of innocence the story is often set on. It treats its controversial subject matter with a subtlety never seen before in anime. Character interaction is often so intentionally awkward it feels as if a bomb could explode any minute now. In fact, Wandering Son would have the best characterization I have ever seen in any anime if its characters didn’t act well beyond their age.

Wandering Son’s art design is absolutely stunning. Episodes feel like watercolour paintings come to live and characters truly blend into the backgrounds, rather than being slapped on, as is the case with many other anime. The fact that Wandering Son hails from the drawing tables of AIC, a studio mostly associated with very –pardon my language- ‘mainstream’ anime, like Boku Wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai and OreImo, makes it only more noteworthy.

In the end, Wandering Son is simply beautiful in every meaning of the word. It never bores, frustrates or strains. As far as I’m concerned, AIC can keep making seasons of this. Not only will we have more Wandering Son, We’ll have less Strike Witches and Maken-Ki! too. Now that is a deal.

I am a man of the present. I hardly ever watch any old anime and for some reason, I even prefer watching vastly inferior currently airing anime to catching up with some old classic I have not seen yet. My radar picks up a lot though, so when a new project from the writer of this or the director of that is announced, even I can get excited. I was hyped for Mawaru Penguindrum, even though I have never seen Revolutionary Girl Utena. I was stoked for Angel Beats!, even if it ended up being my first Key Visual Works experience. When I realized that I had barely paid any attention to anime films that have some out this year, I went looking for some that might interest me, with that same dubious attitude. Thus I found Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below, the new film by director-with-a-decent-reputation-of-whom-I-have-never-seen-a-film-before-except-for-some-fragments-of-Voices-From-A-Distant-Star-that-were-being-played-at-the-manga-section-of-a-French-bookstore-now-that-I-think-about-it Makoto Shinkai.

What I ended up watching was a good old fantasy adventure film where the main characters end up in a magical fantasy world, looking for friends, lost loved ones, treasure, or mot often, a way back out. Nothing new to be found here, but Shinkai presents this Miyazakian story with a sizeable serving of his –apparently- trademark melancholia and skygazing.

Speaking of which, the skies in this film look absolutely gorgeous, as does pretty much everything else. The Quetzl Quatl, godlike creatures that inhabit and protect the underground realm Argharta, could give the Colossi from Shadow Of The Colossus a run for their money. The dramatic soundtrack soothes and shocks, even though it occasionally asks for your attention so obnoxiously, you lose track of what the characters are doing or saying. Hearing Hisako Kanemoto, who plays the main character Asuna, talk in the exact same voice as the one she uses for Squid Girl initially might even make you feel like her performance is missing something -hint: it’s the verbal tics- but overall, she does a pretty great job.

Trying to make a Ghibli movie might sound like heresy if your name is not Hayao Miyazaki, but Shinkai is fully aware of the fact that no one can compete with the man who can make even your grandmother watch anime. While it still incorporates many elements from Miyazaki movies –innocent female protagonist, mysterious boy, strange creatures, and yes, even the oh-so-obvious environmentalist message- Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below is very much its own beast. Much of the uniqueness this film has to offer is comprised in the character of Mr. Morisaki, who becomes Asuna’s substitute teacher after her old teacher proves that anime characters can indeed get pregnant and later drags her with him to Argharta, where he likes shooting at things with guns and being an overall morally ambiguous prick. All the man wants is to bring back his dead wife, though, and unlike that other morally ambiguous prick with Orphean ambitions, Morisaki actually develops a fatherly bond with Asuna, who follows him around for this very reason.

In the end, I have no idea how Children Who Chase Lost Voices From Deep Below compares to Shinkai’s other movies, but in any case, it is an amazing film in its own right. The rich imagination and eye-popping visuals lift Shinkai’s newest to the level of film you should definitely watch, and to the position of my fourth favourite anime of 2011.

You should know that, with the exception of my absolute favourites, I hardly ever revisit fiction. I hardly ever reread books or manga, nor do I ever watch films or anime again. Because of my little brother’s growing interest in anime, which I can obviously only support with all my might, I ended up rewatching Steins;Gate, this time with a snarky fourteen-year-old sitting next to me. I was scared it would be boring, but surprisingly, it was not. At all. That only confirmed just how brilliant Steins;Gate really is.

Time travel in fiction usually equals an immediate one-way-ticket the realm of the narratively dubious, but Steins;Gate miraculously pulls it off and even manages to abide to all laws of anime logic in the process, without ever losing its grip. Both halves of Steins;Gate’s equally hilarious and deadly serious story are unlike anything we have ever seen before. Groundhog Day loops are far from original, but Steins;Gate’s character-driven take definitely is. Rintaro Okabe/Kyouma Hououin is quite possibly the best male protagonist to have ever graced an animated production. Mamoru Miyano’s once again stellar performance guides viewers along the rollercoaster of over-the-top mad scientist antics, genuine fear, despair, dedication and courage. Travelling through time with Kyouma is equally thrilling as it is hilarious.

Steins;Gate is a perfect example of circular storytelling. From the start it constructs its own plot, unawares to the characters and the viewers building up layers and layers of problems that will have to be solved later on. Around the halfway point, a twist occurs, which switches around the importance of Steins;Gate as a psychological sci-fi thriller and Steins;Gate as a hammy comedy. Even though the twist is very sudden, the genre transition happens so subtly you will not even notice. It forces Kyouma to work through every layer he build up again and deconstruct the world all the way back to how it was during the very first episode.

Above all, Steins;Gate is also an example of doing metalinguistic reference right. There are quite a lot of otaku tropes weaved into the plot, but most of them come out for the better. Makise Kurisu may be a tsundere, but who wouldn’t be when you are in love with a delusional wannabe mad scientist? Hearing Daru, Okarin and CHRISTINA go off on ridiculous tangents about chanspeak and otaku culture is not only hilarious, it actually helps building the characters. They are nerds after all.

Steins;Gate proved that there is still hope for visual novel adaptations; that there is still hope for anime that tries to build actual characters; and that not all attempts at trying to blend humour with serious thriller storytelling end up being complete messes à la Angel Beats! It shows that anime can well-written, gripping and poignant, while still being very much anime. El Psy Congroo.

Survival Strategy!

Listen, you lowlifes who will never amount to anything! If Steins;Gate was brilliant in subtly fading from hilarious into dramatic, Mawaru Penguindrum is brilliant in blending the hilarious and the dramatic in to one. Some of the most dramatic moments are so comically far-fetched you have to try not to smile, while most chaotic gags have a very black shadow cast over them. Somehow, this works. Mawaru Penguindrum brims with creativity, shimmers with artsiness without fartsiness and swears by the plot-twist-of-the-week (survival) strategy that made Puella Magi Madoka Magica so supernaturally genius.

Isn’t it electrifying?

Exactly trying to pinpoint just what makes Penguindrum so utterly brilliant is quite hard for me, though. I often have the feeling that it is too good for me. Penguindrum is an extremely self-aware show, though this self-awareness does not portray itself in the usual fourth-wall breaking. Director Ikuhara takes post-modernism in anime above and beyond the art style blending of Akiyuki Shinbo and creates a world where recurring motives –the apples, the flashback sequences, the many catchphrases, the tram signs and of course, the penguins; to name a few- run amok and no trope or truth is safe from brutal deconstruction.

Gosh, I must crush it soon…

In some ways, Mawaru Penguindrum is the more reserved big brother of Puella Magi Madoka Magica. Both shows have more things in common than the fact that they are insanely awesome. Both shows have a knack of brutally tearing apart everything they had previously established. Both shows have a love/hate relationship with the magical girl genre. Both shows change the ruling structure of their own world around on a weekly basis. Both shows are disgusted by conventional animation and art. But on all these areas, Penguindrum is often the most subtle and mature one. From that point of view, it might even be better than Madoka.

But only from that point of view.

Puella Magi Madoka Magica hits harder. It hits from the very first minute to the very last. It is the primordial, essential and most triumphant example of concise storytelling. It wastes not a single line and it gives its audience not a single breather. It is a rollercoaster ride of plot development, characterization and thrill; a brilliant, poignant, accessible and gruesome pandemonium of emotions. It changed anime for me and the marks it has made on the anime world will hopefully never fade away.

I have wasted blog upon blog upon blog rambling on about how utterly brilliant this show is. I have sung about it. I have refused an opportunity to travel to Monaco just to watch the finale. I have literally used every positive word I am capable of uttering in order to try and scratch the surface of how utterly genius this show is. My opinion on it has only gotten better over time.

I am honestly having a hard time trying to come up with more praise for Madoka. Nothing I have said here has had any value anyways, as everything that I wanted to say about it has already been summarized by the lone wordcloud announcing its position on this list. It’s the best. Number one. What else is there to say about it?

December might be a bit of a depressing month to me, digging up memories from the past is always fun. I’m more of a future guy myself though. What will 2012 bring? Will the shows I praised here get a second season? Will they be milked to death? What will the people behind these shows work on next? Will 2012 have shows as amazing as Puella Magi Madoka Magica or Mawaru Penguindrum? Maybe December is not that bad after all. Not only does it make you remember the good from the year that is about to end, it makes you wonder about the year that is about to come as well. We can never know what the future might bring, but we can hope. Our dreams might just come true.

Finally, a big thank you to all of my friends! Thanks to you, I would never have experienced these shows in the same way I did now! As usual, comments, reactions, conversation starters and constructive criticism are very, very much appreciated. Here’s to a fantabulous 2012!

Please don’t let the Mayas be right. They can't be right, right?

Right?   read

11:39 AM on 10.06.2011

First Impressions: Tamayura ~ hitotose~

Say cheese~!

Slice-of-life anime with 24 episodes are a dangerous thing. Most shows in the genre already struggle with holding up the audience’s attention for one seasonal run, so if a production company decides to go for a full two-cour run, they had better have some ambition to back this decision up. Even an ambitious show like Hanasaku Iroha last season didn’t manage to convince me that 26 episodes were needed to tell the story the creators wanted to convey.

If there is anyone who fully understands the slice-of-life genre and its recipe for success though, it’s Junichi Satou, the inventor of that genre fans like to oh so annoyingly call ”healing” anime. What exactly Sato’s latest original project, a series of four OVAs by the name of Tamayura, was supposed to heal is beyond me, though. It sure was not boredom.

The series was often described as ‘K-ON! with photography’, but it severely lacked everything that made K-ON! so interesting in the first place. It had no jokes, no memorable characters or noteworthy music and was completely different in both setup and pacing, as Tamayura also attempted to smuggle in some character development. This once again proves that not every show with a main cast consisting of four high school girls needs to be compared to K-ON!

My favourite character gets ditched after the first episode. Ágætis byrjun.

The Tamayura OVAs were mostly just boring, depending entirely on invoking a sense of nostalgia and hoping to make people feel warm and fuzzy by having its main character babble on and on about her late father to her cardboard cut-out friends while tinkly piano music plays in the background. So when I heard that this foursome of boredom would be followed up by a 24-episode anime series which would actually air during the day, I was coloured interested. A writer like Junichi Sato would have some clear ambitions with this setting and these characters in order to take on a challenge of this calibre, right?

After watching the first episode of Tamayura ~hitotose~ on a train on a dreary Thursday morning, I can say that Sato managed to pique my interest, for now. While the atmosphere and pacing remained generally the same from the OVAs, the focus shifted from random slice-of-life antics to the events and character establishment leading to our main character Fuu moving to the Nameless Town Her Late Father Loved and reuniting with her childhood friend Kaoru.

The similarities to the first episode of Hanasaku Iroha, an episode which was utterly non-indicative of the nature of the show as a whole, are striking. The fact that Tamayura also depends heavily on scenery porn to establish a sense of traditionalist nostalgia doesn’t help either. There are some things Hanasaku Iroha even managed to do better that Tamayura. In Hanasaku Iroha, Ohana’s mother forcing her to move to Yunosagi because she wanted to elope with her boyfriend was portrayed as something ridiculous and cruel. In Tamayura, Fuu’s entire family decides to move just because Fuu is thinking about attending high school in the Nameless Town Her Late Father Loved on a whim that even Satsuki Matsumae would consider inconsiderate.

Despite all this, though, this episode left a positive first impressive on me. The acting was brilliant at times and the writing managed to quite decently introduce Fuu’s character and her relationship with her father. In the OVAs, she was mostly a clone of Yuno from Hidamari Sketch, a character I may or may not have a small platonic crush on, but this pilot episode established her as her very own kind of girl quite well. Near the end of the episode, all pieces of the puzzle fell into place. The colour palette consisting of mostly whites, greys and browns, the music and the character designs, three artistic elements that didn’t seem to agree with each other at first merged together to create an already unique vibe.

In the end, the chances are very likely that Tamayura ~hitotose~ will not be the plot-heavy slice-of-life show I’m still longing for, but it’s definitely a thing to consider watching for fans of the genre. Tamayura will definitely be a nice change of pace from all the magic warfare, yandere slaughter and truth seeking this season will have to offer.   read

10:26 AM on 08.11.2011

Ouran High School Host Club and Adventures in J-Drama

Oh dear.

Even within a community as tight and niche as the anime fandom, there are certain subcategories of Japanophilia that cause even the average otaku to raise an eyebrow or two. Dolfie collecting is one, as well as having a soft spot for body pillows or yaoi; but the single most alienating fandom for many is the J-Drama one. Often associated with tearjerker plots and a strong focus on handsome young men with abs, it is understandable that J-Drama are often categorized under ‘guilty pleasure’, even by fans. The main reason why I have never taken a venture into the realm of Japanese live-action, however, is that it’s not animated. One of the main reasons why I love anime is the fact that animation manages to make people with spikey blue hair, fluffy mascot characters and over-the-top humoristic quirks look genuine. The elements that make anime into anime often have to do with the animation, which is why I never thought that being an anime fan would automatically make me a fan of any sort of televised entertainment from the land of the rising sun.

Yuusuke Yamamoto easily takes every single second of screentime for himself.

All was good in the world of caring sod all about J-drama, but then came a surprising announcement: one of my favourite anime of all time, the fabulously campy and hilarious Ouran High School Host Club would be made into an anime. Strange, because Ouran was just one of these shows that heavily relied on its animation to create an identity of its own. Sparkles, rose petals, super deformed characters, over-the-top antics and Tamaki’s infamous reactions are things that immediately pop up in my head as soon as someone mentions Ouran. How could that possibly be made into a live-action series without being completely ridiculous? The answer was surprisingly simple: by just doing it. The Ouran High School Host Club drama might lose all of its cinematographic credibility with its overacting and offbeat special effects, all of the charm of the source material is still intact. This show will wear the reputation of being So Bad, It’s Good like a medallion.

A lot of the Host costumes come straight out of the anime.

Watching Haruhi, Tamaki and their clubmates come to life takes some getting used to. Performances are often inconsistent with characters sometimes acting genuinely brilliant --read: hammy-- and sometimes just standing around nervously, waiting until they can blurt out their next line. In fact, the only performance that could be classified as consistent is Haruna Kawaguchi’s role as Haruhi, which is consistently bad. As expected, Tamaki steals the show once again, and while Yuusuke Yamamoto’s version of the Host Club King is devoid of any kind of nuance, it’s hard not to notice his utter glee when he gobbles up all of the scenery for himself.

It took me a while to see it, but Haruna Kawaguchi is capable of showing emotions.

Content-wise, the live-action Ouran High School Host Club stays close to the original work by Hatori Bisco, even closer than the anime on occasion. A lot of the plot and jokes you will have seen before in Bones’ anime, but seeing all of it played out by people of flesh and blood makes it refreshing enough to keep you coming back. If the latest episode is any indication, it looks like the drama will cut, paste and mix up some scenes as well, as it combined scenes from an all too familiar anime episode with a plotline from the manga that never even made it into anime format. Without going into too many details, I’m a bit surprised that said plotline never made it into the anime, because it sheds some much-deserved light on pretty much the purpose of the Host Club in general.

"We have an anime?"

While the Ouran High School Host Club live-action adaptation might divide people and it sure will not force a breakthrough for drama into the ‘mainstream’ anime fandom, I do recommend fans of the anime give it a try. The sheer campiness of it all is a thing to behold and enjoy, as long as you are willing to take this entire show with a grain of salt. A lot of drama there isn’t yet to be found in this J-drama, but then again, J-comedy does not really sound okay. Recommended.   read

3:05 AM on 07.26.2011

Kami-sama No Memo-chou and the joys of licensed theme tunes

For these last months, some people asked me what had happened to Aquagaze’s Anime Weekend. To that surprisingly large part of the anime fandom, I have one message: you are reading it right now. The name Aquagaze’s Anime Weekend has lived its best days. My anime watching and blogging is not limited to the weekend anymore, nor do I want to waste my time making flashy logos and title cards anymore; and focus on my writing instead. Besides, I am not that posh to just stick my own name into the name of my blog. I’d much rather go with something original. If even Liam Gallagher does not have that big of an ego to name his new band something like Liam Gallagher and the Cocksuckers, neither should I. Now do not act as if you don’t know who Liam Gallagher is. He sang the best anime OP of all time. Of all time!


Eden Of The East is not the only show to have a theme song by a Western artist of some renown. Sadly enough, as some of you might remember being the case with “Falling Down”, these never find their way to the licensed versions, but it sure is fun hearing some English in an anime that isn’t brutally butchered by some squeaky girl group.


Madhouse’s Paradise Kiss, based off the manga by Nana author Ai Yazawa sets its quirky shoujo chaos to the retro beats and sing-along-proof airs of Franz Ferdinand’s “Do You Want To”.


Not even a world-famous band is save for the fury of the east, as Radiohead’s “Paranoid Android” was used as ED for 2006’s Ergo Proxy. Well, set to the ending animation and faded out at a completely random moment is a more accurate description.


Most of these songs do fit the themes or mood of the corresponding anime in some way, but my mind went completely numb when I read that the song licensed as ending theme for the 2006 live-action Death Note film was “Dani California” by Red Hot Chili Peppers, a band whose funky, cock-sock wearing swagger would be the last thing you’d associate with Death Note. The production team pulled this stunt again a few months later, by slapping “Snow” from the same band and the same album onto the movie sequel. I can’t help but think that this was only done because the song in question happened to be the Peppers’ charting single at the moment.

Another well-known example is Speed Grapher, a Gonzo anime about a former war photographer who is given the ability to destroy everything that he photographs by a girl whose bodily fluids give people powers corresponding to their fetishes. I am not making this up. While I can’t help but feel as if this plot summary just screams ‘cult classic’, Speed Grapher is mostly known for using an 80’s classic as theme song, more specifically Duran Duran’s “Girls On Film” of all things.


Choosing “Girls on Film” was a surprisingly logical choice, not only because the anime features a lot of girls being caught on film, but also because the song is rather famous for its fetishistic music video. Another fun fact about the 1981 song is that the band only found out that their record label had sold the full rights to the song when they were contacted by FUNimation, who wished to license the song for their Speed Grapher release, more than 25 years later.


Now, once again, those dirty Japanese have stolen a piece of our wonderful and blatantly superior music for use in their infantile porn cartoons. What exactly J.C. Staff was thinking choosing a 1993 hard rock track, "Colorado Bulldog" by Mr. BIG, as ED for the first episode of their new show Kami-Sama No Memo-Chou (God’s Memo Pad) is beyond me, but I cannot complain. In fact, I even missed it when it turned out that the real ED, form episode two onwards, is a rather generic J-Pop track.

This made me think of some possibilities of my own. Not that I do not like J-Pop, but replacing the often utterly forgettable original songs by licensed gems that sometimes might even fit the show better than the original OP, let alone be musically more memorable.

Warning! The following video contains copious amounts of the nineties. Extreme caution is advised.


The ‘doing boys like they’re girls’ line in Blur’s “Girls and Boys” would already immediately nominate it as theme song to every yaoi to have ever been thought out, but the catchy chorus’ lyrics pretty much summarizes the entirety of Wandering Son in one big, snazzy synthpop snark. Just replace ‘do’ with ‘love’ or something to keep it all G-rated.

We have girls who are boys, boys who are girls, girls who like boys to be girls, boys who like boys who are girls, boys who like girls who are actually boys and end up dating the boys’ sisters, girls who like girls, boys who like boys and girls who occasionally dress as boys, not because they are boys but because they feel like it and boys who dress as girls because they’re assholes. Of course it fits.


Poor Shinji. I know that everyone and their moms now want my head on a stick for even remotely implying that I want either “Cruel Angel’s Thesis” or “Fly Me To The Moon” replaced, but really, I’m not saying that these songs are bad, I’m just saying that ‘Teenage Angst” by Placebo could make a good Neon Genesis Evangelion theme song as well.

One fluid gesture, like stepping back in time.
Trapped in amber, petrified.
I'm still not satisfied.

If there is one thing that the five episodes of Evangelion that I have already seen have taught me, it is the fact that piloting a mecha is hideously frightening. With reason. Who can really blame Shinji for allegedly being a ‘whiny little bitch’? How would you react if your father, who hasn't spoken to you in years, randomly plucks you off the streets and forces you to fight off mysterious alien creatures in an enormous robot?

Shinji is a goddamn badass. Just a badass with some teenage angst. Later on, piloting Unit 01 becomes automation for him, like one fluid gesture. The most frightening moment I have yet seen in the series is Shinji sitting in the pilot seat, drenched in Morning Rescue –trapped in amber, hint, hint—blankly staring into the distance and mumbling ‘Yes’ whenever he is commanded.

Since I was born I started to decay.
Now nothing ever - ever goes my way.

Really now, all this song lacks is a lyric about how it’s all daddy’s fault. Then again, daddy issues are probably too straightforward for Placebo.


The following song on my list comes straight off my favourite album of all time, A Weekend In The City by Bloc Party, and fits straight in with definitely not my favourite show of the season, No. 6. In fact, No. 6 is a pretty great show, but when Mawaru Penguindrum and Bunny Drop are your direct competitors, No. 6 is sadly enough not good enough to compete for the title of best show of the summer.

But enough about how good No. 6 is because really, who gives a damn about that? Evil dystopias, parasites, desolate hotels, no, let's talk about what is really important when it comes to No. 6! YAOI! Irony aside, three episodes in, I still don’t really know whether the writing staff is actually going for a romance –and a decently set up one at that, judging from what we’ve see- or just a bromance.

Either way, the song, which you are hopefully listening to at this very moment, fits Sion’s state of mind at the start of the second episode perfectly. “I Still Remember” is all about remembering an intimate relationship with another boy, a person you met once and can’t stop thinking about. Hell, Bloc Party frontman Kele Okereke, well known for being an extremely awkward interviewee –and having a name that is impossible to pronounce-, said that the song is all about boyhood homosexual experiences himself. And it's damn honest.


What better way to wrap up with than with a timeless classic? While I’m not a big Beatles fan myself, or a fan of psychedelic rock in general, I can’t deny that “A Day In The Life”, with its characteristic piano twinkles and the insane psychedelic orchestral build-up culminating into a nightmarish last note straight out of LSD hell is anything but a musical masterpiece.

During my last attempt to force music I like upon anime, someone already proposed to hook up Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band with Azumanga Daioh, and it’s hard not to see why. Both are psychedelic, colourful and occasionally downright wacky. As we are looking for a single track to replace that hideous ending song of Azumanga’s, it’s only logical to roll with the one about falling out of bed and combing your hair. Azumanga is still a show about nothing, after all. Nothing, on crack.

How did we get here already? We went from changing Aquagaze’s Anime Weekend over Eden Of The East, cock-socks, nineties music videos and Morning Rescue to yaoi and finally, The Beatles.

Oh well, this is what I will be doing for the coming season. I’m a bit tired of summarizing and reviewing anime episodes week after week, so in stead, I’m just going to blog about whatever I feel like blogging about, inspired by the anime I have been watching. Maybe not weekly, but at least regularly. If there’s anything you’d like me to blog about, or if you have anything to say at all, you know I’m a sucker for comments, so fire away. Now if you will excuse me, I am going to listen to some more music.


6:49 AM on 07.12.2011

Summer 2011 Anime Guide (Part 2)

Part two, here we go!

Kami-sama no Memochou/God’s Memo Pad
J.C. Staff
Cast: Yui Ogura, Yoshitsugu Matsuoka, Ai Kayano (Menma in AhoHana)
Notable staff: Taku Iwasaki, composer of Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann (music), Mel Kishida, original character designer of Hanasaku Iroha and So-Ra-No-Wo-To (original character design)


NEET detective Alice solves mysteries with the help of her personal investigation team of fellow NEETs, including average everyman Narumi.


From the vivid city landscapes, over the mild-mannered protagonist who gets thrown into an underground full of weirdos, to the jazzy soundtrack, Durarara!! is never far away during the first half. From the moment Alice, the already infamous NEET detective, shows up, Kami-sama No Memo-chou brings more original material to the scene than most other J.C. Staff shows have ever done. The production company is rather well known for anime about mild-mannered spineless males meeting supposedly adorable females with special talents, and while KamiMemo fits this description to a T, it miraculously and quickly saves its own butt with clever dialogue, an engaging plot and dark subject matter.


Pretty decent, as usual with J.C. Staff. Let’s just hope that the budget can keep up, as is not always the case with the studio. The lighting fits the darker mood of the show well, and character designs are fairly solid, yet somewhat forgettable. I won’t, however, forget the guts that this show had to feature two girls with long black hair and still make it possible to tell apart from each other.


Taku Iwasaki’s soundtrack kicks all kinds of butt, with bumbling jazz bands, mumbling rap vocals and three buckets of indie cred. The debuts of Yui Ogura (Alice) and Yoshitsugu Matsukoa (Narumi) do not exactly cause a landslide within the world of voice acting, but they get the job done.


There was not much of a mystery going on this first episode, but taking a full hour in order to properly introduce the characters and what the show is all about was a smart move. Too bad not all episodes can be 60 minutes long.

Watch if: You miss Durarara!! or want to give Gosick a second chance, this time (hopefully) without the asspulls.
Don’t watch if: You think a NEET is an animal.

Second opinion

Lifesong: J.C. Staff hit this one out of the park. Easily my favorite so far going into this new season. NEET detectives sounds like it should be contradictory just hearing the concept but it really worked for me in execution. Think Gosick in modern day Japan and you have the basic idea only with a debut mystery that was actually interesting. I am a little worried as I always am with J.C. Staff that this anime will take a turn for the contrived and convoluted but I loved this introduction and can't wait for the next episode.

Marlin Clock: The initial comparisons of Gosick with NEETs is not without warrant, but after this first episode I think Memo has a lot of potential in it. I think it can outclass Gosick and write a detective mystery narrative that is sorely absent in anime outside the legendary Detective Conan. It is funny to think how, since it seems they are actually hired for these jobs, they have no right to call themselves NEETs, but they certainly have the quirks stereotypical of the culture. My one complaint was, while the other NEETs seem believable, if exaggerated, Alice is far too extraordinary. I suppose that works as she’s supposed to be very mysterious, but the arrangements of her room are just very strange. I did like that they gave subtle hints about what the boyfriend knew in the scene in his house. It seems like they’re going for a lot of realism, seedy institutions like prostitution, people driven over the edge of reason by grief or the heavy expectations one can become subject to in our modern life. I can’t wait for more.

Cast: Yuuki Kaiji (Kou in Hanasaku Iroha), Yoshimasa Hosoya (Shichika in Katanagatari)
Notable Staff: /


Shion is an honour student living in the utopian city No.6, in the nearby future. After celebrating his birthday with his girl friend Sayu, who aspires to fuse these two words together, Shion gets attacked in his house by fugitive Nezumi. The latter explains why he is on the run, and Shion vows to protect him, even if that means breaking the law himself.


First and formost, this show is filled to the brim with ho yay. Let’s just forget about the beautifully developed characters, the interesting setting and the air of mystery, because no; Nezumi and Shion holding hands is the talk of the town whenever No.6 is mentioned. Really, people? This barely even classifies as ho yay, in my humble opinion. And even if Shion and Nezumi end up with each other, what’s the big deal? No one would complain if they were girls, and I’ve seen worse developed romances. So please, there’s a lot more to this show than just two kids holding hands.


It’s Bones, so it’s pretty and beautifully animated. The city of No.6 consists mostly of greys and whites, yet the architecture is so marvellous that you wonder why we even need colour in the first place.


There was music; I just don’t know what it sounds like.


All over the place. Seriously. What is with all these knit sweaters? It’s 2013; why does everyone dress like it’s 1986?

Second Opinion

Lifesong: Prettiest animation of the season. The entire episode was full of simple but beautifully animated scenes. From one scene where our protagonist is sitting in his classroom imagining the wind outside blowing all around him to a thunderstorm that made me feel chilly just watching it. Maybe I should have been scared off when our main character gets a kiss from his childhood friend as his birthday gift and asks her "why?", only to later hold hands with an escaped convict in an incredibly homosexual fashion, but it all looked so wonderful! I am currently weighing my tolerance versus my love for amazing animation. At the moment the animation is winning out. That could change at any moment but as of episode 1 my expectations for No.6 are fairly high.

Dragonzigg: It's no secret that I am a massive whore for anything BONES produces, so I was really looking forward to this. As ever for the studio, half the appeal is in the art and design, which is fantastic and really makes the show stand out. The animation is clear, crisp and fantastically detailed, best seen in the great storm scene, which dominates this episode. The plot I'm less sure about, but it's intriguing to say the least. We're definitely in danger of falling into the 'seemingly perfect future dystopia' cliché trap here, but there's some interesting twists on the formula here. It's buoyed by a similarly interesting cast - protagonist Shion is an engaging if remarkably naive twist on the child hero, and while counterpart Nezumi settles a little more into a recognisable archetype, there's interesting hinting that he too is not all he appears, something which seems to be confirmed by the fantastically spoilery ED. If No. 6 manages to whip together a strong plot to go with the technical and aesthetic chops it could be a real force.

Marlin Clock: I really have no idea what to make of this show right now. It definitely has the homo vibes everyone was talking about. We’ll see what happens.

Bunny Drop
Production I.G.
Cast: Ayu Matsuura, Hiroshi Tsuchida
Notable Staff: /


When Daikichi, a 30-year old bachelor, attends the funeral of his grandfather, he meets a girl he has never seen before. The girl, apparently named Rin, turns out to be his late grandpa’s illegitimate child. As the girl has no one left to take care of her, Daikichi decides to take her in himself.


Why are you still reading this? You mean you haven’t watched this yet?


Beautiful watercolour art in vein of Horou Musuko and Aoi Hana. Some backgrounds could fit in a museum.


They got an actual kid to voice Rin. The OP sequence deserves some mention, with cute animation and a song by Puffy of all people.

Watch if: You love things that are good
Don’t watch if: You expect anime with kids in it to have blatant loli fanservice.

Second Opinion

Lifesong: Honestly I wasn't sure what to expect going in with Bunny Drop. I've heard good things about the manga but still had doubts that this would make a good anime. After watching the first episode I can't really say that I've changed my mind yet. However, the first episode was cute and I did enjoy it. I am little worried about the pace though. I could easily see this becoming boring and dragging on without resolution. Hopefully some of my fears will be put aside in episode 2 as we settle into what this show is really about: A single man raising a little girl on his own.

Dragonzigg: I have to say, I loved loved LOVED this. It's been a while since a show has come along which has impressed me with it's first episode, but Bunny Drop does that and more. It's a production which oozes quality from every aspect - the wonderful art style, the terrific music and the finely measured and nuanced voice acting. It's a well crafted script as well - emotional but never to the point of outright sappiness, sometimes funny but laced with plenty of deeper meaning as well. Granted, this concept is going to be a difficult one to turn into a weekly episodic format, but on the strength of this first instalment I'm very eager for more.

Irothtin: For the supposedly most heart-warming show this season, we have a 30-year-old (Who is thankfully named neither Hikaru nor Genji) taking care of a six-year-old. Some might say this gives off Yotsuba&!-ish vibes, but Bunny Drop is much more serious. Given her circumstances, you can't help but feel sorry for Rin - when Daikichi volunteers to take responsibility, it's only because you can't magically reach into the show and volunteer to do it yourself.

All in all, it was probably one of the best first episodes I've seen in a while. I assume that we'll see what raising a child might really be like, instead of amusing antics and such, though I imagine there will be some of that as well. I just wish they would have kept the pastel, watercolor-like animation for the entire show instead of for just the first five minutes.

Marlin Clock: I think the principal thing to take away from Bunny Drop was this: If it doesn’t concern you, should you concern yourself with it. It may be just because I hear it a lot, but the beginning of Bunny Drop reminds me a lot of the Good Samaritan. These people believe themselves good, but they know nothing of this girl. The family does not want to have to deal with taking care of her. She isn’t their problem. However, the main character sees more, that she is a girl who just lost her father and now has no one to turn to. If his family won’t do anything he will. I haven’t heard much about this story, but just from this first episode I’m anticipating great things.

Mawaru Penguindrum
Brain’s Base
Cast: Ryohei Kimura (Takizawa in Eden Of The East), Miho Arakawa
Notable Staff: Kunihiko Ikuhara, director, writer and creator of Revolutionary Girl Utena (director, script)


Any attempt to summarize this would be a crime. The plot of this first episode was so tight, with possibly every detail counting, that you’d be better off just watching it. Mawaru Penguindrum is really something that you need to experience for yourself.


An explosion of colours onto the screen, psychedelic and fun, with FABULOUS character designs, artistic quirks and the cutest penguins you’ll ever see. Mumble, eat your heart out.


A debuting Miho Arakawa does a great job on Himari and the soundtrack first the wacky mood of the show well.

Watch if: No, just watch it.
Don’t watch if: Are you deaf? Watch it!

Second Opinion

Dragonzigg: I went into this showing knowing nothing about it, and therefore expecting a wacky, penguin themed comedy. A little research however would have revealed it's being directed by Kunihiko Ikuhara, who also directed the seminal, and famously screwy, Revolutionary Girl Utena. And boy, does it show. Conceptually, this thing is all over the place, swinging with wild abandon from slice-of-life to serious drama to crazed comedy and even branching out into some magical girl stuff. At the heart of it all there's a very touching relationship between the three siblings who make up the main cast, but then there's so much crazy poured on top the mood whiplashes violently throughout the whole episode, which is probably the point. I can't really say if it's good or bad yet to be honest, but it's certainly compelling viewing, and everybody should see it at least once. It helps that Brain's Base have given it such lush visuals, especially in the episode ending kaleidoscopic dream sequence which is just an utter joy to behold. We don't have enough true auteurs in anime, so this one is worth keeping an eye on.

Irothin: ??????????????????

Marlin Clock: I really wish I knew nothing about this show before watching it. The beginning, about a poor group of siblings who lose their sister to cancer when she had so much left to live for, was incredibly gripping, and the scene where she collapses and is brought to the hospital only to die in the operating room was very emotional. If the show had rather been about how the brothers go on with their lives after losing their beloved sister, I think it would be a fantastic premise. However, since a show from the man that made Utena can’t be without incredible strangeness, the sister is brought back to life by some sort of penguin spirit. Not to say this is a bad thing, but it just seems to take all the impact out of that scene to just have her so casually brought back to life. However, I did like the magic penguins and the Technicolor nightmare when she steals the brother’s soul or something was pretty. I’m definitely going to stick with it to see where it goes.

That wraps things up for this summer season guide. What shows will you be watching? Do you agree, or are we terribly wrong? Let us know in the comment section!

Also, with exams over and a new season started, Aquagaze’s Anime Weekend will return, only a bit different…. Look forward to it!   read

4:47 AM on 07.12.2011

Summer 2011 Anime Guide (Part 1)

The summer season is often associated with subpar anime; one-cour stuffing made by lesser studios, but this summer season is one hell of an exception. I found at least 8 shows I’m interested in and of course, I’m obliged to tell you what my opinion on these shows is. However, because my opinion isn’t worth jack, I got some of my friends with higher standards to nuance it a bit.

Or just agree with it, because man, this season is GOOD.

Production I.G.
Cast: Nana Mizuki (Fate Testerossa in Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha), Keiji Fujiwara (Ladd Russo in Baccano!!)
Notable Staff: CLAMP (story, character design)


Ditzy girl with enormous pigtails falls, skips to school, eats breakfast, falls, sings a song, falls, talks to her friends and falls. Oh, and she fights vampires, apparently.


CLAMP takes all the time in the world introducing its ditzy heroine to the world, but it’s no use. Saya’s sudden transformation into an acrobatic badass comes out of nowhere, and I hope the story will delve into this a bit deeper further on. Most of the episode is spent on Saya’s clumsy antics, showing off how awesome she is at sports and quickly going over her entire cast of friends and classmates. Only in the final third, Blood-C shows its true colours with an awesome fight sequence between or lanky heroine and some weird bastard child of a praying mantis and a monster from Bayonetta, yet this once again raised a lot of questions, both considering the plot and the talent of the writing staff.


The world of Blood-C is vividly animated and as always, inhabited by CLAMP’s infamous noodle people. Hate it or love it, once again, but if you can’t stand Saya’s ginormous pigtails, there’s at least the lush twilit landscapes and the wonderfully choreographed fight sequences. Just look at all the blood flying around.


In one word, unnoticeable. Voice acting, soundtrack, OP/ED and sound effects all fly into one ear and come out through the other.

School uniforms

Straight out of a My Chemical Romance video.

Watch if: you’re tired of vampires who look like Cedric Diggory.
Don’t watch if: the word CLAMP makes you duck and search for cover.

Second opinion

Lifesong: As someone who found the premise for Bood+ interesting in concept but lacking in execution I've had my hopes up for Blood-C to be what I wanted out of the original. Perhaps because of that the first thing that came to mind when I watched episode 1 was how dramatically different it is from Blood+. The rules of the world have been obviously reworked and despite sharing the same name as the Saya from Blood+, Blood-C's Saya has little in common. That is not to say I didn't enjoy the first episode. I found the bits at the high school to be somewhat dull as the characters were introduced and hints of their personalities shown. Once the action picked up though, it was easy to see that Production I.G spared no expense on the action. Now that my expectations have shifted, I am sitting on the fence over Blood-C but I am hoping for the best out of the next few episodes. If nothing else I expect good things from the more violent moments this anime should have in store.

Irothtin: What kind of school gives people black summer uniforms? Wouldn't that get really uncomfortable, even with short sleeves and a skirt? And why do the uniforms have CHAINS on them? How does Saya keep her hair in such a ridiculous shape? If she's so clumsy, how is she so good at sports and also demon-hunting? Most importantly, why has she not brutally murdered those damn twins?


Marlin Clock: This was a very bland product. The main heroine comes off very flat, she does pratfalls for no reason, and she seems to do nothing but take orders from people. There was also no tension in that fight for me. Even after the mantis-statue-thing has her by the throat she’s perfectly fine and able to get out of it without a single scratch on her. I will give episode 2 a watch, but if it doesn’t do anything to improve such a forgettable performance I think I’m gonna let it lie there.

Ikoku Meiro No Croisée
Cast: Nao Toyama (Kanon in The World God Only Knows), Hideyuki Tanaka (D in Vampire Hunter D)
Notable Staff: Junichi Satou, director of Aria, Sailor Moon and Princess Tutu (Series composition)


Cute girl in 19th century France.


Oscar Claudel is an upper class French Santa Claus wannabe and otaku avant-la-lettre. After one of his many travels to the East, he brings back home a little Japanese girl named Yune, who is adorable. Like, really adorable. Oscar introduces Yune to his grandson Claude, a blacksmith –That makes him Claude Claudel, I kid you not- and adorable things happen. The entire series might just consist of Yune being adorable and discovering the European way of life, but who knows what kind of past she has behind her. I hope that the writers will at least drop some hints on where she comes from and why she followed Oscar all the way to France.

Noteworthy in this first episode is the language barrier between Yune and Claude, which is made extremely confusing for the audience, because everyone speaks Japanese, even when they’re speaking French. Especially when it turns out that Yune can speak French, which renders this entire plotline useless. Who came up with this?


This show is pretty. Really pretty. From the rich overviews of Paris over the beautiful architecture and the small details in Claude’s workplace, to Yune’s lushly decorated garderobe; if you don’t watch this show for Yune, at least watch it for the scenery.


I can’t even remember there being any music. Voice acting gets the job done, due to 90% of Yune’s dialogue consisting of ‘Yes!’ in a squeaky voice.


Splendid. The studio hired some actual French people to narrate the episode titles and eyecatches, and it sounds hella sexy. As a French speaker, I can also say that pretty much all of it is grammatically splendid, with the exception of the gallery which is mentioned a dozen times: Galerie du Roy. To spare you the nit-picking, that name makes no sense in French. It’s either Galerie du Roi (King’s Gallery) or Galerie de Roy (Roy’s Gallery). The first option is the correct one though, because the Galerie is an exact replica of the Galerie du Roi… In Brussels.

Watch if: You like things that are pretty and cute.
Don’t watch if: You are highly allergic to things that are pretty and cute.

Second Opinion

Lifesong: Slice of life magic at its best or well... it would be if the language issues present in the first episode could be ignored. Without spoiling it too much both French and Japanese are supposedly spoken in the episode. However it is nearly all done in Japanese! Leaving me laughing my way through something that really shouldn't have been funny. I am hoping that episode one was an exception to the rule and that it will be a little easier to take episode 2 seriously. I want to like this show. Ikoku Meiro's debut made that hard to do.

Irothtin: I stopped watching this one after the French guy acted all surprised when the little girl bowed. I'm sure it's quite good, though.

Marlin Clock: Admittedly, while I am a big anime fan, I’m really not the hugest supporter of the harsher sides of Japanese culture. Nor am I ever a fan when one culture touts itself superior on purely subjective levels. The first episode is relatively free of this, thankfully. The only notable part is how Yune’s prostrating for a simple greeting is supposed to be considered normal. Otherwise it was an enjoyable episode about a young person adapting to a new place and how those around her react to her own mannerisms.
However, the second episode, which was out by the time I wrote this, paints this story in a far worse light. The show tries to paint how much better a Japanese breakfast is with its full course and hot servings. This may just be me, but I would find a good baguette and some fine cheese to be a damn fine meal. What galls me more is that they speak of the traditional Japanese practice of thanking for the meal before eating, yet insultingly shows nothing of the centuries old practice of prayer any catholic family would participate before a meal. The next part just gets strange. After going out to the market when Yune and Claude are done with their work, he explains new foods to her. He says these things to her IN ENGLISH. Oh, except for grapes. Yes, inexplicably grapes are the only food translated into French. Next is another baffling scene: she is served soup, and once prompted to use a spoon as is manners in any European culture, she can’t do it. The girl can’t use a spoon. I’m sorry but if you’re going to make a work about someone adapting to a new culture, it really is in bad taste to taut the greatness of your own before theirs. I’m still going to watch Croisée because I do like the art and Yune is the cutest character I’ve seen in a long time, but the more they cross into this kind of territory the more I think I might start watching it only to find where these kinds of unfair comparisons are made.

Sacred Seven
Cast: Takuma Terashima (Togusa in Durarara!!), Megumi Nakajima (Ranka Lee in Macross Frontier)
Notable Staff: Hajime Yatate, original creator of the Gundam franchise and Cowboy Bebop. (Original Creator)


Badly designed dude with powers from Hell gets a crystal from a big-eyed rich girl with an army of maids. Suddenly, all is awesome.


Almost everything in Sacred Seven is straight to the point: story, jokes, direction; no strings attached, just plain old action. Like in the goddamn 90’s. The story behind Alba’s darker side and all the crystals shows some potential, but as usual, the infodumps are left for the second episode.


Character designs are lanky and slender. Think Star Driver, only without everything that made Star Driver FABULOUS. Especially Alma has enormous legs and looks a few years older than he really is, but his superhero costume, including a scarf of asskicking and a much-needed hairdo change is splendid.


Both OP and ED are performed by FrictionJunction YUUKA, one of Yuki Kaijura’s many bands. Connoisseurs may remember Kaijura as the composer of Puella Magi Madoka Magica and the creative pivot of Kalafina. Voice acting is decent, with the exception of Ruri Aiba, the rich girl. I simply can’t understand why you would cast Megumi Nakajima, a voice actress with such a distinct voice, just to have her sound like a generic cute girl. That girl from around the corner would have done that for 500 yen and a free ramen voucher.


Hoverboards. Maid armies. A talking stone face that says hell at least once every line. Yes, this show is ridiculous. But that makes it all the more worthwhile.

Watch if: You want some more animation in your tokusatsu.
Don’t watch if: You are allergic to any kind of action series that isn’t thought-provoking and post-modern.

Second Opinion

Lifesong: Kids who transform and fight evil and still have time for their studies! Cliché? Yes. Overdone? Most likely, but I seriously don't think it has ever looked this good before. I really don't have much else to say about Sacred Seven's debut aside from pointing out the awesome production values. I wouldn't really recommend it to anyone who doesn't like the basic premise of Power Rangers and similar things. That said the first episode was dressed to impress. If you are even remotely interested in the premise I say you should give Sacred Seven a chance.

Dragonzigg: We all know Sunrise does great action shows, which is good because that seems to be the primary draw for Sacred Seven at the moment. The show feels a little schizophrenic to me - our brooding protagonist Alma and his tortured dialogue, combined with the pretty nasty looking monster in the episode seems to indicate that this show is trying to play the action/drama tropes straight, but then we have an army of sniper maids and a battle suit piloting butler to deal with as well. I have to say I hope the show leans more heavily on the goofy side, as that seems to be the one that has more potential here. Continuing props to Sunrise on their technical chops though- the animation is great throughout, the fights are stunning and I really like some of the character designs, particularly Alma's powered up form that's revealed at the end of the episode. It feels a little messy at the moment, but if it can pull it together this stands a chance of being the action show of the season.

Irothtin: What is it with school shows having main characters who are nice-guys-mistaken-for-delinquents? When I didn't talk to anybody at school, I didn't get any cool rumours about me at all! At any rate, this seems to be a fairly formulaic action series so far, though I'm wondering if we'll see any other people who can transform or if it'll only be the main-dude-whose-name-I-can't-remember. Considering that they teased he has more attacks than the one he used at the end of the episode, I'm betting the latter.

Speaking of which, excerpt from the Skype Chat:
Iro: what's the name of the main guy in sacred seven again
Marlin Clock: guh
Marlin Clock: unhappy-kun

Special mention goes to rich guy (Aquagaze note: Iro, that was a GIRL) with an army of battle maids and to the character who's a chunk of carved rock and makes expressions by magically materializing sweat drops and such out of colored dust.

Marlin Clock: The moment I saw a maid lining up a sniper shot, I knew this was the show for me. I really enjoyed the amount of camp that went into setting up the mythology of this show in the first episode. I am not going to expect a thick story here. What I hope for is an enjoyable superpower show, but also one that changes its formula. I liked Star Driver, but no one can defend how boring and cliché every fight was. (Aquagaze note: *raises hand*) Here’s to hoping what seems to be less conventional powers in play can be engaging enough to keep my attention.

Dogakobo, DAX Production
Cast: Shiori Mikami, Minami Tsuda (Phryne in Fractale)
Notable Staff: Mashiko Oota, director of Minami-ke and Mitsudomoe (Director)


Cute girls doing cute things, volume #5358.


It’s Akari’s first day in middle school, and of course, she’s going to be late. Bolting out of the house with toast in mouth, she bumps into her upperclassmen and friends Yui and Kyouko. Together, they decide to join the Amusement Club, a club that serves as a poor writer’s excuse to make ‘doing nothing whatsoever’ the main premise of the show. Judging from the first episode, YuruYuri is a poor man’s K-ON!, with everything that made the moe juggernaut special replaced with yuri cranked up to eleven. It’s enough to get a few laughs out of you, but fluff nonetheless.


Character designs are cute and colourful but the overall animation quality is nothing to write home about. The fact that almost everything takes place on the same location –the clubroom- doesn’t help.


The main cast consists almost entirely of brand-new talent, with the more well-known actresses kept aside for minor characters, including Aki ‘Yui from K-ON!’ Toyosaki as a yuri fangirl, oh dear. The extremely catchy OP deserves a mention here though. Yuri yu la la la la yuri yuri!


Seriously, these eyecatches are simply ridiculously long. While they ‘only’ gobble up one whole minute of the screen time, they seem to last a whole lot longer and absolutely refuse to end.

Watch if: You are bored.
Don’t watch if: You’re not.

Second Opinion

Lifesong: Surprisingly funny and self-aware. The fact the this show went out of its way to make fun of itself and its characters greatly amused me. YuruYuri left a good first impression on me. Certainly not a must watch anime but if you are looking for cute girls doing cute things in a funny self aware fashion this a good place to get your fix.

Stay tuned for part 2, which will be released later today!   read

1:00 PM on 05.17.2011

I am excitebike: Boku Wa Tomodachi Ga Sukuani gets an anime

I usually don't newsblog, but when Boku Wa Tomodachi Ga Sukunai is concerned, I can't resist the urge to tell everyone to stop whatever they are doing and go watch it. Today, it was revealed that the soon to be released 6th volume of the light novel comes with an anime announcement! This was enough to make my head explode and every resulting head fragment explode once again ad infinitum until the sheer amount of explosions creates a black hole that sucks up all suffering on this planet.

Boku Wa Tomodachi Ga Sukunai tells the story of Kodaka Hasegawa, son of a Japanese father and a dirty gaijin mother. Thanks to her genes he’s got blonde hair, which quickly gives him the reputation of a delinquent. Combined with his sharp eyes, Kodaka seems to suffer from a severe case of Ryuji syndrome and therefore doesn't have many friends. One day when he enters a classroom, he hears a girl enthusiastically talking to someone. Upon closer observation, this someone turns out to be... no one. When Kodaka asks her what’s going on, the girl introduces herself as Yozora Mikazuki and tells him she was talking to her ‘air friend’ Tomo. Kodaka refrains from calling Yozora out on the fact that she still has an imaginary friend and after a short conversation, Yozora drags Kodaka into founding The Neighbour’s Club, where socially inept people can make friends.

If you think this sounds like Haruhi meets Toradora!, you're quite right. No news on when the anime will air and who will be animating it. I'm placing my bets on AIC or J.C. Staff, or if we're very lucky Kyoto Animation or SHAFT. However, there might be some news on the voice cast already, if the recently released drama CD is any indication. Kodaka will possibly be played by Kimura Ryōhei (Akira Tachibana in Eden Of The East) and Marina Inoue (Yoko in Gurren Lagann) will probably take up the role of Yozora. Other drama CD cast members include Yuka Iguchi, Kanae Itou and Kana Hanazawa.

I'll stop bothering you with this now, but man...
I am excitebike.   read

2:41 PM on 05.04.2011

Aquagaze's Anime Weekend: The Emo Album

Don't be distracted by the A-Channel header, Steins;Gate is the best comedy of the season. Ignoring the question whether or not this is intentional, the larger-than-life antics of Okarin and his colleagues easily outshine the actual comedies of the season with scientific glee. Steins;Gate skips through its mind-bending plot with a huge grin on its face, supported by exceptional voice acting and a cast of characters to whom overacting and overreacting is as natural as breathing air.

Mayushii, collector of Oopa, cards and hearts.

Despite the fact that it’s intrinsically a sci-fi thriller, the Takanashi-esque snark-offs between Okarin and the naturally adorable, albeit suspiciously noseless, Kurisu stole most of the spotlights this episode, while Mayushii and Daru continue pouring some of their own charm into Steins;Gate’s delicious cocktail. Even Ruka actually being a guy keeps being funny thanks to the variable presentation. Steins;Gate does not seem to suffer from the fact that there is a discomforting number of characters that are, as of yet, completely irrelevant to the plot –yes, you, Feyris Nyanyan- but this may change in the near future, for better or worse.

Meanwhile, the plot keeps speeding forward at a speed well suited to the constant blending of character interaction and plot development. Witty conversations between characters can turn into important plot-related discussions at any moment and vice-versa, as Okarin’s paranoid conspiracy theories thread closer to actually being true with every subsequent episode.

In the end, Steins;Gate has the cutest girls of the season, despite not being a moe show; the best jokes of the season, despite not being a comedy; the best plot of the season, despite being as confusing as Fractale’s writing and the most interesting cast of the season; despite being as ridiculous as a buddy cop movie starring Nicolas Cage and William Shatner. Still, it is not the best show of the season. Yet.

For that, it still lacks one critical aspect essential to a truly memorable experience: Steins;Gate –as of yet- fails to play to the audience’s emotions. Kurisu’s death in episode 1 failed to trigger anything because we barely got to know her as a character and the grave Mayushii frequents is enigmatic as anything else in the plot. However, two other shows this season manage to make playing to emotions their main attraction, bringing a wholly different, but equally interesting kind of entertainment to the table: Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai and Hanasaku Iroha.

Between spending the day with Menma or at school, I'd go for the park bench as well.

Like the flower in its title, episodes of Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae o Bokutachi wa Mada Shiranai, or Ano Hana, bloom open to something beautiful every week again. The first episode started off remarkably dull and even slightly annoying, until you realize that this was all on purpose as the show drops a massive plot twist, which will determine the rest of the series.

The second episode built upon this and quickly exposed Ano Hana’s main premise: five friends who try to mend the cracks in their friendship and relive the good times they had when they were younger, each of them trying to deal with their own problems and demons from the past as well. Seeing the main character Jintan visiting a game shop and embarrassedly ask for a ‘Nokémon’ game, only to spend the rest of the afternoon reliving his childhood, playing Nokémon with his old friends is some of the most adorable subject matter I’ve ever seen.

That brings us to episode 3, which gives a magic-realistic spin to the plot with each character living a different version of the same delusion. In order to get to know each other better, the five friends hold a barbecue, which perfectly highlights the drama in this show, as some of the characters clearly don’t plan on hanging out with their old friends like they used to. Especially Tsuruko and Yukiatsu have a lot to hide, but Anaru –that nickname makes me giggle every time thanks to Sena Akagi blurting out ‘anaru fakku’ in the latest Ore Imo- is by far the most interesting character, if only because as far as I know, she’s the first tsundere done right since Taiga Aisaka.

Ano Hana clearly aims to twist and turn some slice-of-life tropes on their heads and adds the right amount of drama to keep you coming back. If you haven’t checked out this gem yet, be sure to give it a try.

Right click + 'Save as...' You know you want to!

The other show using your emotions as its plaything is Hanasaku Iroha. Although the latest episodes have been focusing on some more light-hearted material and therefore can’t live up to the standards set by the first two episodes, the show is still worth it for a lot of reasons, especially Ohana herself.

Five episodes in, Ohana has established herself as an adorable and funny, yet subtly nuanced character with a lot more soul than most other slice-of-life leads. She’s cute, but not mind-meltingly saccharine. She’s diligent, but stands up for herself. She’s ditzy, but not hopeless. She embraces both the beloved character tropes of the genre and blows a fresh wind through them. And yes, I couldn’t resist stealing her diary again. I promise! It’s the last time!

Well, at least Ohana manages to get her diaries out on time. Should I just rename this thing Aquagaze’s Anime Wednesday? And that wraps things up for the week! Next week, I’ll try to not spend 2/3rd of my blog raving on Steins;Gate and actually write something on The World God Only Knows.

Oh, who am I kidding?   read

9:00 AM on 04.26.2011

Magicast: A bunch of jaded assholes talking about Magical Girls

No Aquagaze's Anime Weekend this week, but who needs that when you have four friends (ItsaTimmy, MarlinClock, kiddtic and Dliessmgg) and an awesome anime (Puella Magi Madoka Magica) to talk about for 1.5 hours!

On this special one-off episode of Magicast: religion, physics, vikings and zombies. And maybe also some magical girls. In the first half, we talk about the show and in the second half, we read a crappy fanfic. Fair deal.



OP: 'Intro' by The xx
Break: '(Intro)' by Sigur Ròs
ED: 'Magia' by Kalafina

Oh, and you know what'd be fun? Comments by people who weren't on the podcast.   read

10:27 AM on 04.22.2011

Aquagaze's Anime Weekend: Second Episode Syndrome

The second episode of a new anime seems in many cases to be the hardest. Similar to how hotshot artists need to justify their often critically-acclaimed debut with a sophomore effort, it’s here that the writers must prove that the first episode was not a lucky shot and that the obligatory story elements introduced in the first episode are actually leading up to a compelling story. Secondly, usually it’s the second episode that finalizes the ‘main’ characterisation of the protagonists; if the first episode didn’t make entirely clear who the heck we’re dealing with here, episode 2 sure will.

On the other hand, episode 2 is also charged with the duty of explaining every single plot point and introducing characters that didn’t make it into the first one, because actual characterisation and plot progress is often strictly off-limits in most first episodes. This is however not a bad thing. No one wants to watch a pilot episode that does nothing but shove bits of info and characters up your throat, hoping you’ll still remember all the names and lingo the following week.

It’s here however that a problem comes in: most writers and directors don’t seem to realize that the rules that apply to first episodes also apply to every other episode. Because of this, a lot of second episodes turn into infodump hells, doing the exact same thing the first episode avoided to do.

Steins;Gate managed to avoid this trap pretty well by actually dividing all the knowledge required for following the story –for as far as that is possible- amongst its two first episodes. Last week, we got the (enormous) infodump and this week we are introduced to the rest of the cast, once again at a breakneck pace. It’s painfully obvious Steins;Gate was adapted from a visual novel, given from the massive amounts of oestrogen present in this episode. Quite funny to see all the harem/moe archetypes in an otherwise serious sci-fi thriller, especially since Hanasaku Iroha is the only thing that comes close to a contender this season in terms of sheer d'aaw.

It’s still searching for the light switch in a pitch-dark room trying to figure out just what any of these girls is going to have to do with the time-travelling plot. However, the same thing could be said about any aspect of Steins;Gate. For some reason, John Titor, the famous self-proclaimed time-traveler Okarin admires so much, has suddenly vanished from history and no one seems to remember anything about him and his ‘contributions’ to the dubious field of time travel-ology.

Not even Ferris Nyanyan can break the barrier of grey shadiness.

Okarin’s own scientific achievements seem to border on the completely random though. Last week, he managed to send a text message to the past and turn a banana into green booger and this week, he achieved something even more ‘wait did I really just do that?’ by teleporting a banana using the very same microwave. If it goes on like this, Tokyo is under severe threat of a bananuclear meltdown.

Okay, that was inappropriate.

On the other hand, [C]: The Money of Soul and Possibility Control’s premiere seemed to lead up to a second episode which will fit this ‘second episode syndrome’ rule to a T. The first 10 minutes were quite the drag to sit through, seemingly wasting precious time –remember, as a noitaminA show, [C] will have only 11 episodes- with protagonist Kimimaro Yoga’s (voiced by Kouki ‘Roxas’ Uchiyama) extremely uninteresting daily and love life. Most of this introduction was marred by some occasionally hideous off-model character design and animation that made Fairy Tail look like a Studio Ghibli movie in comparison. While most of the character designs themselves are great, seeing them stand completely still next to each other talking is not and this happening in a scene that is supposed to be emotional, not at all.

Things change for the better though with the introduction of the Financial District, where candidates in ‘the game’ battle each other using virtual monsters summoned through cards. It’s painfully obvious where the entire budget went, and the Financial District looks absolutely brilliant. It’s also here where the soundtrack starts to shine through, bringing us a weird mix of Durarara!!’s jazz and electro.

The director sure loves close-ups. Maybe because that way, they don't have to animate the bodies.

Nevertheless, [C] sure is showing a lot of potential. While initially, the characters and main premise may look a bit dull, I absolutely refuse to believe that a noitaminA show with the screenwriter of Baccano! and Durarara!! behind the wheel will turn out to just be a slightly more serious Yu-Gi-Oh! spin-off. The arrival of Manshu (voiced by the ever-lovable Haruka Tomatsu), a strange horned creature similar to the one accompanying the presumed main villain Soichiro Mikuni (voiced by newcomer Daisuke Hosomi) sure brought a twist to the otherwise, as of now, rather mundane plot and in fact, the OP and ED alone are enough to keep me coming back. Just bear with me calling it [Q]: Quality: the Lack Of Money of Soul and Animation Quality from time to time.

And that wraps up Aquagaze’s Anime Weekend for this week. Sorry for the low number of shows covered (Jon’s Battle Girls segment is missing as well because that guy is even busier than I am) but hey, blame my parents for a) making it that way my birthday is on the 16th of April, b) organizing a lot of activities in honour of this birthday around the 16th of April and c) dragging me to France for a whole week. Yup, I’m in yaoiland again. The French Dinosaur King dub sucks.

Next week, a full-fledged schedule again!

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