Ef – a tale of memories Review

25 02 2008

Ef - a tale of lower case subtitles
Genre: Drama, Psychological, Romance, Art!
Main Studio: SHAFT
Episodes: 12

Amnesia. Is there any more wretched word than amnesia? The moment I hear it when watching anything, my brain lets out an audible groan. Amnesia is associated with many things; bad writers crutch, pointlessly dragged out mysteries, lame filler episodes even seasons sometimes. You almost always can’t go right with amnesia. Almost… So with that said, I must continue by saying that Ef has probably the best use of amnesia in an anime ever.

Oh yeah, I am going to heartlessly spoil a bunch of the plot here, so hah!

One of the main themes of ‘Ef – a tale of lowercase subtitles’ is art. The three main male characters are all artists of various types. There’s a mangaka, an author and a film student. The show is also more than a little arty itself. It’s produced by Shaft who are a studio with a definite artistic flair to them. They have been working on the amazing Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei, and in the past made arty shows like Pani Poni Dash and the disappointing Tsukuyomi -Moon Phase-. Ef is a technically seinen renai show, or as normal people would understand it, it’s based on a visual novel for adults, uh the type of adult without rape that is. Man, classifying these things is hard.

Yes, but is it art? Well yes pretty much.

The animators use a wide variety of animation techniques, with to generally great effect. There’s super-flat shots, CG shots, and others that while traditional, just look plain stunning. You could take almost any frame of this show and end up with something that would look great hanging above your mantlepiece. Here are a couple more shots to waste some space:


More Art!

One of the main characters is Asou Renji who wants to be an author. One day while hanging around an abandoned railway station like a normal person, he meets a girl named Chihiro. She is very timid, and appears to have an eye injury. They become friends, over the course of a few days, but it quickly becomes apparent that Chihiro has something deeper wrong with her. It turns out that she forgets everything that happened longer than PRECISELY THIRTEEN HOURS ago. A lot of the show deals with the practical details of her attempts to live with this condition, and her attempts to write a depressing yet symbolic book.

Renji and Chihiro
Renji is totally into girls with disablities, and severe mental problems, the cad.

She records everything that happens to her in her diary, including enough information to re-educate herself if she ever sleeps for longer than thirteen hours. If that happens, she wakes up with only the memories of her twelve-year-old self, and is terribly confused about what happened to her eye, and why she’s aged four years. Of course Chihiro and Renji fall in love with each other, and they both have to work out how the hell the relationship is supposed to work when she’s got the mental development of a twelve-year old, and Renji is just a bit of a non-entity.

Miya and Hiro
“All I want is a guard rail. Right there.”

The other main story is about mangaka Hiro Hirono and his attempts to do too much with his life. He get’s his bike nicked by spunky harlot and all-round ne’er-do -well Miyamura Miyako who attempts to steal Hiro away from his childhood friend Kei Shindo who also wants to get in his pants. This half of the show is probably the weaker, but it’s still plenty entertaining. Lots of jealousy and moody talks on beaches. Infact I never really got a handle on where this show is set, and wikipedia ain’t helping today. It’s set around this town, there’s a beach, a school, and a weird area where there are tons of destroyed buildings like the aftermath of a war. You can definitely feel it’s video game roots showing through anyway.

“Why did my plot just sort of trail off without any resolution?”

The film-maker character Kyosuke Tsutsumi gets forgotten half-way though and never really gets a conclusion. I guess they just ran out of time. The two main plots are interconnected by a bunch of characters, but never directly cross. There’s also this mysterious girl who always shows up to offer helpful advice before vanishing without the characters really seeming to care. She also may be a nun or paper aeroplane, depending on who you ask.

So I’ll stop spoiling the show now, and wrap up by saying that the plot is gripping, emotional and beautifully told. I think the thing that has the most impact is the amnesia plot, which is something I absolutely never expected to say in a thousand years. For record, the best amnesia plot outside of this show is Planescape Torment, and the worst is Alias Season 3, or maybe that ridiculous part of first season of 24 where a character gets amnesia for about an hour and fifteen minutes.

Arbitrary Rating: 9 – I can’t remember why though.

Attention: Real Drive Sennou Chousashitsu Exists

22 02 2008

Director of Zipang…. yeah okay. 

Production I.G… Uh huh? Nice.

Shirow Masamune? Holy Shit!

Real Drive Sennou Chousashitsu
Real Drive Sennou Chousashitsu

An Important Message from Japan #2

21 02 2008

I have received an important message from Japan:

 Hayate no Gotoku - 44 - 07:10

Message ends.

Romeo x Juliet Review

20 02 2008

Show Title
Genre: Drama, Fantasy, Romance, Japanese Adaptation of a Famous Western Work
Main Studio: Gonzo
Episodes: 24

Since the moment I heard the name Romeo x Juliet, nothing could of possibly been made that lived up to the name. I was therefore destined for disappointment with this show, it was only the precise nature of the disappointment that had yet to be determined. When I first heard about it, I had recently finished the sublime Gankutsuou, and so the idea of another Gonzo adaptation of classical western literature was highly appealing. Of course none of the people who worked on Gankutsuou would turn out to be involved. The concept of making weird adaptations of classics definitely has more places to go. How about Pride x Prejudice, Flanders x Fields, or uh, Rumpole x Bailey?

Going into Romeo X Juliet, the best advice would be to throw out what little you remember about the original play from high-school English class. You should also forget that Baz Luhrmann movie as well, but more as a general rule rather than for any specific reason. The first clue something weird is up with this adaptation is that it’s set in Neo Verona, as in “Neo Verona Is About To Explode”.

What we have here is a very loose adaptation of Romeo and Juliet, which sort of of takes the names and rough setting, then goes crazy and shoots up a canning factory. Get this, William Shakespeare is actually a character in the show, except everyone calls him Willy, and he’s exceptionally camp. The idea here is that he writes the real play ‘Romeo and Juliet’ based on the events of the show, which sorta makes total sense.

Odin, Juliet, Crimson Whirlwind, and Romeo
The various guises of Juliet, and Romeo poncing about on his flying goddamn horse.

Juliet, last surviving member of house Capulet (who naturally used to rule Neo Verona), is hiding from society at large, from her own gender, and also from her own assumed identity. As the show begins, she’s pretending to be a boy named Odin, and also assumes a Zorro-like persona called the Crimson Whirlwind which she uses when going out into the city to fight crime like Batman. These three different personas are a pretty weird direction to go in with Juliet. I’m still not sure where the majority of her hair is supposed to go when she’s dressed as Odin.

Romeo on the other hand is just regular Romeo, flying around on his Pegasus being a hated noble, and son of Lord Montague who rules Neo-Verona with iron fists. Almost all the conflict in the show comes from the fact that Lord Montague is a jerk, and at any point in the series, simply killing him would fix almost everything. The rest of the cast are names from Romeo and Juliet, and some from other Shakespeare plays as well.

Never happens in show. Only occurs in titel sequence.
Romeo and Juliet rolling around like idiots, crushing someone’s garden.

Over the course of the show almost nothing from the play happens so really don’t expect it to. That said, it does drift confusingly far from the original material. All right it is set on a fantasy floating-island continent place, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it needed to stray as far as it did. There are a few episodes in the second half of the show where Romeo is sent by his father to run an ore mine staffed by convicts, and is told to get it to double it’s yield. This plot goes on for many episodes, and I furrowed my mental brow the entire time. Then a bunch of stuff with magic trees happened. Okay, while there are times where the plot does sort of benefit from having Romeo and Juliet slapped onto it, there are also a lot of other parts when it could easily just be any old fantasy show with nothing to do with any plays wharsoever.

Who could forget this classic moment from the play?

I feel I must mention the presentation at this point. The art, being a Gonzo show, is great. It’s by no means as good as Gankutsuou, but it’s using a totally different style from that show. There are almost none of the 3d sets that Gonzo likes to use here, and no weird clothes effects. No fighting robots either, just in case you were wondering. The music is composed by Hitoshi Sakimoto, who you might know as the guy who did the majority of the music from Final Fantasy 12, infact it sounds like leftover music from that game. Neo Verona even looks a lot like Rabanastre the main city in FF12, so if you have played it you’ll keep probably getting flashbacks to it for better or for worse.

Overall I did enjoy this show. It has some sword fighting, a surprisingly un-sappy love plot, and some badass characters like Tybalt who is pleasantly unstoppable with a sword. Unfortunately though the last few episodes were pretty dumb. I find that most anime shows struggle with endings, and like the majority of them the plot goes all weird ‘n’ crazy just to make it seem more epic than it really needed to be. The ending also manages to be staggeringly un-tragic, for an adaptation of what is predominantly a classic tragedy. They had moved a bit far a way from the classic simplicity of a plot-devicey vial of death-effect inducing liquid to really be tragic.

Coming up next season, an anime cross-over version of Poirot and Miss Marple. Oh wait they already did that? Fine, how about an adaptation of Les Misérables? Oh shit, that too? Well, how about Friends? Anyone done an anime version of Friends yet? No? Good. Make it.

Arbitrary Rating: 7 – Yeah fine.

An Important Message from Japan #1

19 02 2008

I have received an important message from Japan:

Minami Ke Okawari - 07 - 14:50

Message Ends.

Code Geass Review

19 02 2008

Code Geass Title 
Genre: Fantasy, Mecha, Science fiction, Evil Jerk
Main Studio: Sunrise
Episodes: 25

At some point recently, anime and manga writers realised that a protagonist doesn’t necessarily have to be a dopey but well meaning girl-magnet, a bishounen ponce, or an angsty teen with a talent for piloting mechs. It turns out that it’s actually fun to have a protagonist who’s just an evil bastard, and would probably be more like a villain in any other show. I will credit Death Note with starting this trend with the excellently evil Yagami Light whose quest to rule the world using a murdering notebook was sadly cut short. Enter Lelouch Lamperouge the protagonist of Code Geass who has the same haircut as Light, and is perhaps an even more magnificent bastard than Light was.

Do not trust this man
He seems like a happy guy.

How ever I describe the plot of this show, it’s probably going to sound like Japanese nationalistic nonsense, so here I go. In the not too distant alternate future, The Holy Empire of Britannia has conquered one third of the world, including Japan. Being jerks, the Britannians have renamed Japan “Area 11”, and all Japanese citizens are now called “Elevens”. The Britannians came in and set up shop in Japan to mine the newly discovered power source, powerful explosive and general plotdevicium Sakuradite. They made all the Elevens live in the shattered ruins of their cities unless they swear allegiance to the Empire and become Honorary Britannians, or hated traitors depending on who you ask.

The show centres on a group of students at Ashford Academy which is a school which both Britannians and Elevens attend; this includes Lelouch and a whole bunch of his friends. Lelouch finds himself getting involved with a rebel attack, and ends up saving the life of a mysterious woman named C.C. who rewards Lelouch by giving him a power called Geass. This Geass allows him to give a command that cannot be disobeyed to anyone who he makes direct eye-contact with. A lot of the show stems from precisely what to do with this power, fortunately for the audience he is of course totally evil, and his first act is to make a squad of 20 soldiers blow their brains out with their own guns. Lelouch as it turns out has a beef with the rulers of the Empire, and sets about trying to use this power in order to take it down. While the idea of the Britannian Empire may seem to follow the Hollywood ‘evil British people’ stereotype, they come across as more American than British in the show. They also bellow ‘All Hail Britannia!’ in English a lot which is always funny.

The main antagonist if I could call him that is Suzaku, the childhood friend of LeLouch would probably have been the hero in any other show. He’s the one with a noble heart, tragic past, and a giant gleaming white robot. Oh did I forget to mention there were giant robots in the show? It’s hardly the main focus of the show or anything, but yes there are robots called Nightmare Frames, which are just how the characters fight when there is fighting to be done. The fact that Suzaku is opposing Lelouch is really odd, it’s like the story is being told from the point of view of the villain, which is a concept that really appeals to me for some reason.

Where the hell does he get his costumes anyway?
Lelouch as Zero. There’s no way this could be conisdered flamboyant.

Eventually Lelouch sets up as the anonymous leader of a resistance group called the Black Knights, he calls himself Zero and wears a face-obscuring mask and ridiculous cape. Most of the characters in the show end up leading weird dual lives, where for half the time they are soldiers or revels, and the rest of the time they are pretending to be normal students at the academy and having to make up excuses for where they’ve been for the last week. This aspect is sorta ridiculous but only if you think about it too much.

Mmmm, Pizza
Hmm yeah. I could..I could go for some pizza about now…

Along with Darker than Black, this show may give you an odd desire to eat pizza while watching it. The reason for this is some incredibly subtle product placement from Pizza Hut. Okay, maybe subtle wasn’t quite the right word, I actually meant to say blatant. It is integrated into the show a bit better than Darker than Black which seemed to be set in a future where Pizza Hut had taken over every high street, here they just have the characters getting pizzas delivered a lot.

Going back to LeLouch, he is certainly the main reason to watch the show. He’s rather a hands-off character, and prefers to manipulate people into doing his dirty work for him. In many the large scale conflicts, he hides in his robot issuing orders to his troops, and shows absolutely no remorse if they end up dying. At times where he does get involved, he is absolutely unafraid to play unfair. It sort of plays off the viewer’s expectations for how characters are supposed to act in shows like this, and so it is absolutely delightful when he tricks people into falling into his traps just because they assume that he’s actually being honest this time.

Lelouch also has the great ability to turn terrible disasters into opportunities. Light in Death Note, after an apparent series of horrible failures that somehow worked out okay, would always turn up and says ‘Exactly as I planned’ like he’s some sort of precog, Rather than doing that, Lelouch’s skill is being able to adapt his plan along the way and turn things to his advantage, even when he has the sort of emotional investment in a situation that would leave any other character a blubbering wreck. He is also a great charismatic leader and is always able to round up followers under the seemingly noble cause of freeing Japan, he’s just using them of course, but it gets the job done.

It’s probably worth noting that the animation, voice acting and other product aspects of the show are all top-notch. The show is by all accounts only half-finished, as the last episode after a cliff-hander ending informs us that “Production for the sequel is going smoothly! Anticipate it!”. I will.

Arbitrary Rating: 9 – Fuck yes.

Shigurui Review

11 02 2008

Genre: Historical Drama, Gore
Main Studio: Madhouse
Episodes: 12

No-one has seen Shigurui. You haven’t seen Shiguri. He hasn’t seen Shigurui. They haven’t seen it…. I have seen it. What does that say about me? A good way of measuring how many people have seen a show is by how many people have bothered rating it on animenewsnetwork , in this case a mere 51 people. So why don’t people watch it? Probably because it’s about as penetrable as a steel reinforced mountain, but also because because unlike most of anime it seems to actually be aimed at adults. No, not teens, real adults with jobs and stuff. Actually, I’m not sure if I can pin exactly who the target demographic of the show is.

When you get down to it, Shigurui is largely a discourse on the devastating effect a Katana can have on the human body. The show is a seinen historical drama by animation studio Madhouse, and genius director Hirotsugu Hamasaki who’s last work was the brilliant Texhnolyze (a show so great that it actually sickens me to think that almost no-one has seen it). Shigurui isn’t quite that brilliant unfortunately, but it’s still pretty darned good. Shigurui is an anime based on a manga, based on a novel, so there’s a lot of background reading to do if you really want.

Kogan Ryuu Dojo
How exciting does this look, eh?

The plot is set in a very grim Edo-era Japan, and is based around the Kogan Ryuu Dojo where a man named Irako Seigen challenges the Dojo members seeking to learn their hidden technique. It is also about the eccentricities of the Dojo’s six-fingered master Kogan, who is very old but still incredibly powerful but yet is teetering on the edge of senility. Kogan is very unpredictable and while he has brief moments of clarity, and he also brief moments of wanting to do horrible things to women. The dojo members serve Kogan’s whims as best they can, as they are eager to get him to impart any knowledge he has to them. Anyway, Irako ends up pissing off Fujiki who is a member of the Dojo, along with all the other Dojo members, and gets himself cast out and blinded with a nasty Katana slash to the eyes. The rest of the story features his quest for more powerful techniques, and him using them on the Dojo members, and sometimes passing cats.

Lol Shigurui
I Can Has Massive Trauma?

This show has a curiously impenetrable style to it, one that really leaves it to the viewer to work out what the hell is going on. It doesn’t really tell a story, it merely implies it. If you lack familiarity with the concept of a traditional Dojo, then a lot of what’s going on will just leave you highly confused. It also has a rather unsettling introduction. From a visual point of view it goes for a subdued almost monochrome effect, and many of the scenes aren’t animated a great deal. This is presumably so that when the fights do occur, they can make the animation incredible. Stylistically speaking the fights aren’t the sort where they leap all over the roof tops, but they rather focus on the precise moment of contact between two opponents slowed down to the degree required for you to appreciate the subtlety of their swordsmanship skills.

For those of you too baffled by the story to make much sense of it, you can still rely on Shigurui to serve you up some of the goriest scenes ever rendered in the medium of animation. This show is very eager to display the interaction between katana blade and flesh. Within the first 5 minutes, someone reaches a katana wound across their stomach, and pulls out his own intestines, presenting them to his master in attempt to convince him he is serious. Another delightful scene has Kogan jamming a katana blade into his assistant Ushimata’s mouth, destroying his teeth and carving two slits all down his cheek. This wound is shown regularly throughout the show, as Sake leaks out from it whenever Ushimata takes a swig, and his jaw occasionally drops unnaturally widely open due to the damaged muscles. While the gore is rather extreme, it somehow manages to get away with never seeming gratuitous, as it always serves the plot and is never just gore for gore’s sake.

I believe it was “Urghlblbllgh”

On of the main themes in Shigurui seem to be the idea of making yourself stronger through crippling injuries. A scene at the beginning of the first episode takes place chronologically after the show ends, which in itself is an issue that reminiscent of Berserk‘s legendary first episode. This scene shows a fight between Irako and Fujiki who have been crippled my many years of training. Fujiki has only one arm which has gained immensely oversized muscles, and a massive gash in his foot which he somehow incorporated into his fighting stance. Irako has adapted his fighting to being blind, and is also deformed after many injuries, though you get the feeling that they are more dangerous now than they would be if they weren’t injured.

This show doesn’t have the slightest glimmer of a sense of humour to it, unless of course you find people being cut to chunks in immense detail with swords amusing. The tone is kept subdued, realistic, and there are absolutely no wacky anime cliches to be found. With that said, it’s probably quiet apparent that this show won’t be for everyone. Infact it’s probably for only very few people, so best not to bother watching it really.

Arbitrary Rating – 8 Nice!

Here is some gore for you sickos:

Gore 1

Gore 2

Gore 3