Them Cicadas, They’re a’ Cryin’: Anime in the Summer of 2011
Posted On July 18, 2011
Analog Housou is back with another installment of our seasonal anime reviews! This time we got everyone in on the fun!
Ikoku Meiro no Croisée (wah)
I’m not a huge manga reader, so I’m hardly ahead of the game when it comes to anime adaptations of manga. However, a few years back mt-i mailed me some manga, and amongst the books he sent me was the first volume of Ikoku Meiro no Croisée. (As an aside, I still haven’t gotten through every volume of Lolicon Phoenix. Sorry!) I took to Ikoku first as I had heard good things, and the cover artwork was rather captivating. My Japanese wasn’t so great back then, so I had a hard time comprehending a lot of the dialogue, but was positively taken with Takeda Hinata’s graceful artwork. Given the relative obscurity of Ikoku, as well its scant amount of material (Just two volumes!), the last thing I expected was an anime adaptation of it. But here I am now, writing a review of an Ikoku Meiro no Croisée anime.
As someone who has read the original manga, I went into Satelight’s adaptation with some expectations. Like a lot of manga to anime conversions, my issues lie with the artwork. Rendering Yune in the cutest manner possible at all times is key for an Ikoku anime working, and they only get her face right about half the time. But aside from that nit-picky issue, Satelight nails everything else. Aside from Yune, they generally do a good job of rendering Takeda’s art in animated form, along with paying particularly good attention towards utilizing atmospheric colors and cinematic shooting, giving the visuals a good sense of realism. Given their collaborations with the French in the past, Satelight uses their French connections to get some their artists on background duty for authenticity’s sake. Nailing the authenticity down even further is a French narrator who opens each episode, as well as smoothly reads off the title cards. The icing on the cake is the show’s antiquated and slightly jazzy incidental music that draws you further into the era and locale.
While Yune’s design suffers a bit from the inconsistencies inherent in animation, Touyama Nao’s performance expertly captures the many facets of Yune’s personality, from her wide-eyed enthusiasm to her focused seriousness. Alice–despite only getting a few moments of screen time thus far–is brought to life with an energetic and vigorous performance by Yuuki Aoi.
I had initially feared that given the small amount of manga material, the anime would stretch itself too thin, but that fear has been put to rest. Rather than putting out mediocre filler, the show’s primarily anime-original second and third episodes take the time to expand on the setting and character relationships in ways the comic did not. The camera lingers over shots of boarded up stores in the Galerie, driving its financial issues home even further; and the show takes time to explore the cultural differences between Yune and Claude with scenes of Yune writing her name in kanji for Claude, or Claude taking Yune on a tour of Paris, showing her his favorite view.
Three episodes in, and this is shaping up to be a nice compliment to an already strong manga.
No. 6 (Seiya)
No. 6 is a fairly down-to-earth science fiction…uhh…drama? It’s hard to say, really. After watching the first episode (and again, no additional background) I can imagine the story going in quite a few directions, but I wouldn’t put money on any of them just yet.
And that’s fine!
The characters are already more engaging than the ones from anything else I’ve watched this season, but that’s really not saying much. Just as importantly, the characters that we do have are actually given a chance to breathe. I’m not sure how many episodes this is supposed to run, but so far it feels delightfully unhurried. While many of the shows this season are prone to dump all of their character introductions and background exposition into the first half of the first episode for fear that the audience will never make it past the first 15 minutes, No. 6 plays things much closer to the chest. The setting and associated sci-fi trappings unfold at a natural rate, and so naturally it’s the one thing where I’m the most interested in seeing the second episode.
Unfortunately, judging from the first episode, I think I’d be more excited about it if they had aired the whole thing without any of the dialog. Or, for that matter, any of the character animations. Which isn’t to say the characters are poorly presented or unlikable, it’s just that they’re pretty decisively outshone by the backgrounds they inhabit. If this were a show that were just about rain falling on a competently-rendered cityscape, I’d be pretty well sold. The animation isn’t exactly revolutionary, but it’s done with a certain amount of care and polish and the show isn’t afraid to linger on the odd landscape or uninhabited interior shot for a lot longer than is normal in modern television. The setting, in all of its broad-strokes dystopian glory, becomes the real star of the show, with everything else taking a back seat.
There’s some huge potential here, but the flipside of that is that we’re left with so many unknowns that the entire enterprise could easily fall apart at any moment. I’d be interested to hear from someone who’s familiar with the light novels/manga, since part of the engaging quality for me stems from the meta-level suspense of wondering if the show is going to run itself into the ground with no warning.
Usagi Drop (wah)
I read the first ten or so pages of the Usagi Drop manga in the book store, and while I enjoyed it, it was the kind of thing I’d rather read in its native language due to its setting. Thankfully there’s an anime now! And people speak Japanese in it!
I’m not big on girls’ comics, but I’ll usually give josei a chance. I generally enjoyed Honey and Clover, and given Usagi Drop actually has a real deal loli in it–unlike Hagu–it at least warrants a fair shake. In all seriousness though, two episodes in, and Usagi Drop is a great, down-to-Earth story about people in a weird situation. The character designs are neither too simple nor too detailed, and have realistic features being obviously cartoony. The voice acting has something of a realistic edge to it as well, especially with Rin being voiced by an actual little girl (the cause of some confused feelings in the 2ch thread for the show). Reinforcing the reality even further is the show’s somewhat muted and laid back color scheme.
That said, the show’s josei roots are already beginning to grate on my nerves just a little bit, between the un-ironic use of background sparkles and the weird cutesy drawings of animal heads that inexplicably float around the outside of Rin’s daycare. I also hear the the manga dives into some controversial drama near the end, so I’m not sure if I’m totally on board with this franchise just yet.
When Blood: The Last Vampire came out in 2000, it was a sleek animated action film with a striking character design in Saya and a dark, gritty setting that more than made up the lack of depth in the story and character development. It was the very definition of style over substance.
Some five years later, the paper-thin premise was expanded upon in Blood+, an alternate retelling of Saya and her fight against the Chiropterans. It attempted to remedy the lack of depth found in the movie and started off promisingly, but ultimately ended up a hot mess due to lazy writing and poor character development. Or poor writing and lazy character development. They’re pretty much interchangeable in this instance. I remember immediately thinking how disappointing the show wound up.
Fast forward to today, another five years later. Production IG apparently is giving it another go with Blood-C, relying on CLAMP for both the character designs and the story, the latter of which also sees contributions from Junichi Fujisaku, a co-developer on Blood: The Last Vampire and director of Blood+. The result so far? I don’t know. I don’t think the show’s staff knows either.
The show stars Saya Kisaragi, a klutzy and kind-hearted school girl. She trips constantly, sings songs on the way to class (we get to spend a scene watching her sing with butterflies going around her in a scene that goes on for way too long) and apologizes to classmates for being late. She’s oblivious to the advances of a classmate who seems to have a crush on her. You know how this stereotype goes…or so you might think! She’s not just that! She is also incredibly athletic, as she can make a basket from half-court! Plus she manages to kill water-skiing grasshopper statue things in her spare time without a hint of her clumsiness she exhibited earlier in the episode! WOW! What a shocker!
The first episode feels like two completely disconnected shows smashed together into a Frankenstein’s Monster that spews nothing but bullshit out of every orifice of its useless body. For all the shit I give Blood+, everything seemed to flow naturally in the first episode (well, as naturally as a vampire girl fighting monsters with a katana blade can be): a school girl living a normal life with bits and pieces of foreboding and proper buildup that lead to an encounter at the end of the first episode. The audience wonders what’s going on, but in a manner that hooks them to watch more to find out what happens next and, ultimately, what is going on (which ends up being bullshit).
I can’t say the same for Blood-C. The show feels like a subpar shoujo romance with “blood-and-guts-rip-and-tear!” thrown in because the franchise tag demanded it. There’s no proper set up, and all that’s left is two contrasting ideas that don’t blend together at all. Both the few foreboding scenes and Saya’s clumsy bullshit antics feel incredibly forced, her classmates aren’t worth writing about at all, and the action sequence at the end is boring when compared to Blood+ and Blood: The Last Vampire (especially the latter) .
Ultimately, there’s nothing compelling here. That said, I’ll thank CLAMP and Production IG for saving me time and heartache by making sure they start off with a bullshit show that will undoubtedly end as a bullshit show.
The iDOLM@STER (wah)
After being horribly disappointed by the bizarre first attempt at an iDOLM@STER anime by way of Sunrise, I had been holding out for a proper adaptation of the long-running idol simulator for years, and now that hope has finally been realized in this brave year of 2011. Due to a lack of sufficient language skills and money, I’ve never really partaken of the iDOLM@STER franchise, but I do enjoy the videos that populate Youtube and NicoNicoDouga, as well the fanart that permeates throughout pixiv, so I’ve always wanted an anime adaption that could effectively endear me towards these characters beyond their cute designs. Given the franchise’s track record on the small screen (effectively only Sunrise’s iDOLM@STER XENOGLOSSIA) and the quality of video game adaptations in general, I wasn’t sure they’d be able to Get It Right.
But they do! And they do it splendidly.
The iDOLM@STER is the perfect example pure moe done right. While the characters are all caricatured archetypes, the care that goes into animating their every movement demonstrates an honest desire to portray them as “real,” and goes a long way towards selling their personalities. Top-class performances on the part of their seiyuu help, too. But where iDOLM@STER really draws the line in the sand between itself and the swath of mediocrity out there is in its first episode. The style of the first episode mimics the interview segments found in idol videos (or adult videos…), and does a great job of acquainting newcomers to the characters and bringing them into the show’s world in a fresh and interesting way that further reinforces the subtle air of reality amongst the show’s primarily moe-kei atmosphere. Subsequent episodes move away from this style, obviously, but the amount of love and care put into the production is consistent. And the girls really are that cute.
Director and character designer Nishigori Atsushi–of Gurren Lagann fame–is allegedly a huge fan of the franchise, and it shows. What could have been a cynical cash-in is instead a very well produced, vibrant, and energetic show brought to life by a loving staff.
Mayo Chiki (Seiya)
Oh, where to begin. Well, just so we’re all on the same page, this show is about a hapless high-school-aged schoolboy with a pathological fear of women who shares a class with an obscenely wealthy girl (Who apparently looks like Tina!–wah) who happens to bring her own butler to school with her. The butler turns out to be both a martial arts expert and a cross-dressing girl in disguise, much to the protagonist’s horror. Also there’s a catgirl.
I am not making this up.
If the show sounds like the result of someone playing magnetic poetry with anime stereotypes, well…that’s hard to disagree with. The remarkable thing is how little this actually seems to be a problem, once you get over your initial “Really, show…REALLY?” reaction and just settle in for the ride. The show has its problems, but the ridiculous cliche salad that makes up the premise isn’t really one of them. The gag here is that for all of the ridiculous crap going on, the show doesn’t just throw these things at you and expect you to be impressed. The premise here is actually a premise, and not the entire joke in and of itself.
Now, how this stretches for 12 episodes is a mystery. Episode one, just like every other “wacky” comedy in recent memory, rides along for its runtime on shock value (for the characters, not the viewers, nothing in here should shock a viewer). What we’re left with, then, is a show that looks like it dropped all of its (many) gimmicks on the floor the first chance it got. Ideally, it should now have a chance to slow down and actually explore, building on what it has. Unfortunately, my impression (based on absolutely nothing at all) is that it could just as easily try to continue at this pace, making a pointless effort to continually one-up itself at the expense of all else. Only time will tell.
I went into this one more out of morbid curiosity than anything else. The summary is so absurd that it sounds like self-parody, but by all accounts this is being played completely straight (by whatever standards of sincerity can even be applied here) and what’s more surprising, it actually ends up looking like someone gives a shit.
It’s a common notion in modern popular philosophy that everyone has one (and exactly one) talent or skill that they can do better than anyone else in the world. This is a completely crap way of thinking about the world, but it makes for a mildly entertaining premise for a light comedy. The conceit here is that everyone in the school can do one (fairly arbitrary) thing at a nigh-superhuman genius level, which could take a story in any number of directions. In this case, the protagonist is a genius at writing porn.
So this is clearly fluff, but it should be generally inoffensive fluff. Unless you’re offended by pornography, in which case…please leave a comment and let us know how you got here. I’m fine with fluff, and purely on the level of a mindless diversion I really want to like this show. Again, not so much because I have any expectation of it being well-made, but just based solely on the absurdest premise and proud shamelessness. And to be honest, even going in with those expectations, the first episode really left me cold. It doesn’t fall into the trap of relentlessly throwing jokes at you to the point of complete exhaustion, but it definitely feels like it’s relentlessly throwing stuff at you to the point where its hard to care. What’s worse, for a show that seems so proud of its “harem” pedigree, both the designs and the characterizations seem painfully flat and uninspired (with at most one exception). It also doesn’t help that the more “servicey” scenes have been scrubbed with hamfisted and boring censorship, which at this point is honestly worse than no service at all for a show this vapid.
The whole affair seems weirdly self-conscious in an unsophisticated way, and fails to play to its (largely theoretical) strengths. The ero elements that spring from the premise are buried under poor pacing and forgettable characters. The last few moments of the episode give me a small glimmer of hope for the second episode, but it would have to effectively turn into a completely different show in order to hold my interest beyond that.