An Important Message from Japan #7

22 07 2008

News coming in on the wire!



Gundam 00 Review

22 05 2008

Studio: Sunrise
Genre: Gundams, Gundams, Gundams
Episodes: 25

Warning: This review contains words which might be construed as spoilers by some.

What the fuck is a Gundam anyway? Wait, i’ll look it up… General Unilateral Neuro-Link Dispersive Autonomic Maneuver System? That doesn’t spell gundam…it spells gundams. Well anyway, Gundams 00 is a show about Gundams’s. I should probably mention my history with the gundams, just to make it clear that I am not one of those people who can identify every gundam model by silhouette. The first thing gundam related I saw was the first episode of Gundam Seed, and it was a very confusing experience. My mind was not prepared for the majesty that is gundam related entertainment. I watched all of Seed, and it’s sequel Gundam Seed Destiny. I then attempted to watch the original show Mobile Suit Gundam but stopped watching because it was boring or something. Oddly I found myself very pleased to discover that Gundam 00 was being made and that I would soon be able to view it with my eyes.

Since 1979 there has been almost continous stream of gundam things coming out. 616 anime episodes split among over 21 properties, and more than 12 films. Apparently the whole brand is worth 5 billion yen (250 million british pounds). Thats crazy madness, and admittedly very daunting as a person trying to understand what the hell it’s all about. In that regard, it’s worth knowing that each show is quite a separate entity. For example, this show Gundam 00 does not share anything in common with any other Gundam show except that there are gundams in it. There are some shows which are connected, these are identifiable by the fact that everyone in them refers to years in the same manner (ie. Universal Century, Cosmic Era)

Yes, that’s totally a gundam.

It’s worth asking the question, Why the hell is it so popular? An answer would be “Giant Robots? I dunno”. Another slightly more accurate answer would be that it taps into the same part of the brain as Star Trek did, but for the Japanese. Gundam shows are probably a lot more political than you would expect. Usually the universe has been divided into a bunch of different countries and their conflicts. Also there’s usually a baddie who wears a mask. Japan as a country also doesn’t seem to feature prominently in any of the shows I have seen. The theme of the each series seems to be vaguely analogous to what’s going on in the international headlines currently, and they deal with touchy subjects such as racism and unexpected amputation, that sort of thing. Gundam 00 is about terrorism and the effects of a global energy crisis which they solved by building millions of solar panels in orbit roung the planet, but that ruined a lot of countries only export and it all went tits up.

In the future there are three countries, the Union (which is America, Australia and Japan), the League (China, Russia and India), and the AEU (basically Europe). Coming along to mess things up is the ridiculously named Celestial Being, a group of people with the mandate of waging a war to end wars (with gundams). Continuing the theme of having dodgy names, the four pilots of the gundams are Setsuna F Seiei, Tieria Erde, Lockon Stratos, and Allelujah Haptism. Yes, Allelujah Haptism. Actually, they code-names which makes it a little less dumb. Main character Setsuna is a little Kurdish tyke who got himself involved with local civil wars and a youngster. He sort of fits the mold of angstish teen that you might expect in a Gundam show, but oddly he gets very little screen time. There are so many characters and plots going on simultaneously that no one element of it ever gets overplayed.

Setsuna F. Seiei, seemingly pretending to be Solid Snake

The bods of Celestial being are enacting the 200 year old plan of one Aeolia Schenberg, who wanted to unite the world somehow. He also invented the mysterious Solar Furnace drives that the gundams use that makes them continuously fart out fairydust. Whenever war doth occur, Celestial Being show up in their overpowered robots and total both sides. Their plan is to do this until no more war occurs. It’s a solid plan, and I like it. Also, they obey this big computer called Veda who tells them what to do. Yes, the plan is retarded, but that’s part of the point. Everyone is like “A war to end war? That’s sort, you know, stupid!” so you can’t make fun of that if you were about to.

In most Gundam shows, the opponents of the main characters can usually put up a bit of a fight, but in this show most of their opponents respond to almost anything any of the gundams do by exploding. This makes these gundams seem more like Super Robots than Real Robots, if you get the difference. Anyway, the three countries of course don’t like being messed with very much, and start trying to build robots good enough to not explode whenever a Gundam flies over them, and are largely unsuccessful. In the later half of the show some enemies that are more of a threat emerge, and the characters seem very put out that they actually have to put some effort into their giant robot piloting, the lazy sods.

Aeolia Schenberg declaring the war on war

The cast is far to vast to list, but there are some good memorable characters. Being a gundam show, it looks really really good. Sunrise pride themselves as not stooping so low as to use CG to render robots fights. Sunrise employs humanity’s foremost experts at drawing gundams, and they are not eager to be put out of the job by computers, so they dutifully get out their rulers, compasses and sextants in order to bring us some of the best animated robots possible. This series was aired in HD which makes it look even more better than any previous gundams. There isn’t an enormous amount more detail on characters, but the background paintings and detail within scenes is truly astonishing. Music ain’t so bad either, especially the first ending song, and the second intro song which is very excellent:

HD version

Most gundam shows hover around the 50 episode mark, but this one went for the much more restrained 25 episodes and managed a much tighter narrative because of it. There is supposed to be another season coming along after Sunrise stop making Code Geese R2 which is good. Though this season did have a mostly satisfactory ending so it’s not entirely necessary. The ending was actually pleasantly bleak. I just hope you don’t get attached to any of the characters or anything. All in all if you have any interest in Gundam but are unsure where to start, this would be as good a place as any.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Gundams.

Rosario + Vampire Review

28 04 2008

Studio: Gonzo
Genre: Fansevice, Vampires, Trees
Episodes: 13

I’m pretty sure the title of this show should of been ‘Rosary + Vampire’, seeing as the story features a rosary more prominently than most do, while also featuring little to no Rosario Dawson. Of course Rosario Dawson + Vampire would of been a much different and probably better show, but no we’ll have to make do with what we were given. So why did it end up being called Rosario? Well, probably for the same reason that the Chrno Crusade anime was called that instead of Chrono Crusade, whatever that is, I assume some level of incompetence probably occurred at some point?

Anyway, so this show has vampires in it. Uh, well it has vampire in it anyway. It isn’t about a vampire who kills other vampire either, unlike Gonzo’s last vampire related work. When you think about it, Gonzo isn’t really doing very well with its vampire shows. There was Hellsing which is being remade to a much higher quality currently and bloody Trinity Blood which was so unspeakably bad that I have been known to swear never to mention it again sometimes.

….who kills other vampires?

Tsukune is a harem show stereotype. He has brown hair, is a bit of a meek twat, has no idea what to do with women, and is inexplicably attractive to every single female in the cast. What happens is, he’s bad at school, so bad that his parents can’t get him into any high schools. They somehow pilfer a high-school application of some old geezer (how the hell does that work again?) and he ends up going to Youkai Academy, a school for monsters. You see, Youkai means ‘Monster’, hahahaha.. *sigh*

So yeah, the school is full of monsters! It’s only accessible by EVIL BUS, which comes once a month so he’s stuck. Of course all the monsters assume human-like forms because human-like forms wear underwear that can be flashed. There are so many panty-shots in the first episode that it becomes sort of nauseating. To be honest, I probably shouldn’t of watched any more, yet somehow I was compelled to continue. Tsukune bumbles around attracting women, mainly a pink-haired vampire girl called Moka who becomes his girlfriend by the end of the first episode. Each subsequent episode usually deals with yet another girl who tried to get between them, fails, then becomes a regular member of the cast just to spite them.

Excellent trees and panty shot + vampire. This show basically.

The show establishes a formula with all this, but it breaks it just often enough to not get too annoying. In fact, I think they borrowed the formula from Sailor Moon, and the fanservice from Eiken. Actually, I’m not going to link to anything Eiken related, you do not want to know. Ahem, the full cast includes a succubus called Kurumu, a witch named Yukari (I’m not sure how she qualifies as a monster to be honest), a werwolf named Gin, and by far the best character a yuki-onna called Mizore who looks sort of punk.

I guess I should mention that whenever Moka’s Rosary Dawson is removed, she becomes a True Vampire! A true vampire has bigger breasts, different coloured hair, is a bit nastier, and a lot fightier. She does this whenever a fight needs to occur, which is usually in the last five minutes of every episode. The fights are actually animated really nicely. Infact, the whole show looks really really good. It has the art design of a much better show than it is. For one particularly fight-intensive episode they even hire Gainax to do the animation. Unfortunately this episode must of blown almost every single scrap of budget, as the parts where fights aren’t occurring are basically stills.

Oh, sorry were you excpecting fanservice here instead of the cast?

So why should anyone watch this? Do you like fanservice? Well then watch ToLoveRu (or don’t, please). Apart from that it’s just sort of vaguely entertaining, and the plot that develops towards the end is nowhere near as bad as you’d probably expect. I can’t really be bothered to say much positive beyond this, except about how amazing the trees look. I reckon they must of used SpeedTree to make them or something, because damn those trees look fine.

Remeber, if you do watch this show, for the love of god don’t tell anyone you are watching it. Most certainly don’t mention it in your blog either, people will think less of you.

Arbitrary Rating: 5 – Ehhhhhhhhhh

Kaiji Review

21 04 2008

Studio: Madhouse
Genre: Gambling, Grimacing, Paper Towels
Episodes: 26

Kaiji is an excellent, excellent show. There I said it. Review over.

Wait, that’s not going to convince anyone. Fine, I’ll keep going if you insist. Kaiji is the spiritual successor to Akagi, a show I have admittedly never seen. Both shows are based on manga by Nobuyuki Fukumoto who’s works have two notable aspects. 1) They have a really unique look that doesn’t look like anything you’d expect to come out of Japan. 2) They are mostly about the act of gambling. Akagi was about a genius gambler who is capable of outwitting anyone, and his wins over increasingly formidable Yakuza foes.

Kaiji is pretty much the reverse of Akagi. He’s not really all that good at gambling, but he is good at surviving. Infact, one of the show’s many subtitles is ‘Ultimate Survivor’ which is quite apt. But I also like ‘Gambling Apocalypse’ and ‘The Suffering Pariah’. Anyway, Kaiji is a total bum. He lives in squalor, and gambles for a living, while occasionally vandalising cars out of boredom. One day a sinister man knocks on his door (who’s car he vandalised earlier), and tells him he owes the yakuza 3 million yen. A co-worker had asked him to put countersign a loan application, which his co-worker had later defaulted on, so the loan must be paid by Kaiji. Obviously, he’s not in a good position to pay it off being the bum that he is.

Kaiji, looking horrified at the gambling.

The yakuza guy offers Kaiji a night on a GAMBLING BOAT in order to pay off his debts. If he should win, he’ll get enough to pay off all his debts, and more! Although if he should loose he’ll be forced to work slave labour in order to pay them off, which he probably will not survive. So naturally Kaiji agrees to go along with all this. Cut to the boat. He finds himself with about a hundred other losers, and given a hand of cards and millions of yen for bets. The cards have have rock, paper or scissors on them, and he must rock-paper-scissors his way to victory! Of course the game is a lot more complicated than that, and it branches out into strategic alliances, card buying, and betrayal.

The main focus of the show is around these complicated and tense gambling situations in which Kaiji finds himself while struggling to stay out of debt. The rock-paper-scissors arc is just the first of 4 different gambles that Kaiji must survive. In the first arc they are given four hours to complete their gambling, and it plays out in almost real time. I’d describe the pacing as 24-esque, the first arc even has frequent cuts to a large digital clock. Sometimes the twenty-two minute shows seem to only last ten minutes, such is the tension. This is really the main hook of the show. Each episode will have you demanding the next one immedieatly, in order to find out what happens.

The show has a crazy ultra-serious narrator who often stops to explain the situation in detail if it’s getting too complicated, with visual aids! That probably sounds totally ridiculous, but it works really well. The show also often visualises characters torment, like showing them drowning in the sea (of gambling), or leaping over a chasm (of gambling). It also gets quite brutal in places, the most singularly horrible of which is a sequence in which a character is forced to kneel down and prostrate himself on a red hot metal plate. Needless to say the plot gets sort of crazy at times, but this is some sort of gambling obsessed yakuza we are dealing with here so it’s allowed. The Chairman of the Yakuza is probably one of the most insane characters I’ve ever seen. I mean, look at him!

The Chairman is exactly as insane than he looks.

Kaiji is really the only main character in the show. Other minor characters come and go, but it’s mostly just Kaiji, his thoughts, and the aforementioned hilariously serious narrator who I’m not sure is on Kaiji’s side a lot of the time. The villains, from the lowly bums who betray Kaiji to the yazkua chiefs responsible for everything, are all horrible people who you wish to see badly hurt.

I’ll just mention the unusual art style of which looks sort of western to me, you can probably make your own decision from the images. The characters are all really angular in design. Also, everyone constantly has the most horrified expressions glued to their faces which works well with the style. There is quite a bit of 3d usage as most locations in the show are fully 3d so that the camera can do crazy pans all around the rooms in which gambling takes place in all David Fincher style, this stuff works better than you’d probably expect.

Even the background charcters are looking horrified at things, possibly gambling related.

At times the show’s pacing is perhaps a bit slow, as whole episodes pass without significant advancement in plot. The effect is a bit like Gantz, except not nearly as extreme, but even the slow episodes are tense as hell. The second arc of the show is by far the weakest, mainly due to it not being about a gambling game, but rather a much more physical type of gamble. This section doesn’t work nearly as well, but it is a bit shorter than the other arcs, so it’s not too much of a problem and does provide some good setup for the excellent conclusion.

All in all, I highly recommend watching this fine gambling apocalypse. The manga is still being written, and by all accounts the show has followed it quite well, so you should not expect a full conclusion to the story here. There is quite a high possibility of another Kaiji season happening at some point though which is awesome.

Arbitrary Rating: 9 – Paper Towels!

Spice and Wolf Review

15 04 2008

Studio: IMAGIN
Genre: Drama, Wolves, Medieval Economics Thing
Episodes: 12

While you may well immediately dismess this show as furry bait, and yes there is a chances that furries would probably be drawn to it, but there is nothing furry about it beyond there being a girl with ears and a tail in it. There is no ‘yiffing’ whatever the hell that is, and there is definitely no bestiality, implied or otherwise. As a prospective watcher of the show, you’ll have to put your totally understandable prejudice aside and just try it. I thought it best to get that out of the way early.

Anyway, “Spice and Wolf” AKA “Spicy Wolf” AKA “The Wolf and The Spice” is a story of medieval cart travel with the occasional wolf-god. Craft Lawrence AKA Lawrence Craft is a merchant trader in a vague medieval Europe type place, which isn’t as far as I understand, meant to be anywhere in particular. Craft’s unusual travelling companion is a 600 year old Harvest God called Horo who takes the form of either a giant wolf or a wolf-esque girl with ears and whatnot. Horo was bored looking after the harvest in her local pagan village, as the march of technology has lessened the villagers dependence on her. She escapes the village as Lawrence makes a trading visit, and he agrees to take her back to ‘The North’ where she apparently came from.

Horo and Craft Lawrence Craft Crarence Lawft

While you might expect a series in which one of the main characters is a god would be rather wacky, but it’s surprisingly down to earth. In the medieval world in which they live, there is a church organisation that runs most towns, and will declare people to be heretics if they show the slightest sign of being a bit fey or pagany. Having ears and a tail would certainly sentence Horo to the burning pole, so she has to keep a cloak on for most of the time people are around, and she can’t do anything remotely divine. Not that it would be a problem for her, she can turn into a 100 foot long wolf after all, but it would be quite a hassle.

Rather than all that, the focus of the show is Lawrence’s aspiring merchanting business. Most episodes involve Horo and Lawrence tricking a merchant, forcing a company representative to make a bad deal, talking about devaluing currencies, and other general sitting around on a cart discussing commodity prices. You would normally expect a show set in an ostensible fantastical universe to have lots of magic, swords, pantaloons, ronald weasleys, etc. in it, so this main focus on the economics side of things is definitely the more original and probably much harder route to take. Of course, it isn’t entirely ignored, as the climaxes to both of the story arcs make use of the fact that this show is about a God, to great effect I must add.

Beautifully rendered cart travel, and complex economics. So, Spice and Wolf basically.

There is also a reasonably restrained romantic plot between Horo and Craft, in which they pretend to not like each other, but really actually do. There’s potential for this to be really creepy, but they manage to avoid anything remotely like that for the duration of what has been adapted so far. Oh yeah, this was originally a series of light novels, I think the anime adapts the first two of them or something. This means that the plot isn’t really complete, and just the introduction to a much larger plot. I’ve read a few negative comments that neither the plot nor the characters get advanced particularly far in what has been adapted so far. I personally think it’s one of those ‘journey rather than the destination’ type situations, as the lack of development didn’t bother me much.

Going back to the whole economics thing. One of the earlier plots concerns how various dealings are effecting the value of the local currencies, and there might be a conspiracy to get a type of coin recalled and reissued with a lower silver purity percentage…or something. This is something that they rattle on about at length, and I have to admit that quite a lot of it went over my head. I guess I must conclude that either my limited understanding of economics failed me, or it was too poorly translated to make sense. Actually I guess it might just not make sense, you can never really rule that out. There’s also part of the story where Lawrence ends up heavily in debt somehow, and for the life of me I can’t quite work out what happened. If you figure it out, please send me an email!

Uh huh… huh.

“Hang on, i’ll fetch my slide-rule.”

One interesting thing I noticed about this show is that it really only has two characters. I don’t believe I’ve seen anything with such a limited cast before. After getting my head round the enormous casts of Tengen and Baccano, it’s odd to watch such a comparatively focussed show. This does of course mean that if you end up not liking either of the main characters then you probably won’t like the show as whole. I can’t really see that happening though. Craft, has seemingly white hair, but he’s supposed to be only twenty-five, nonetheless he comes off as a very mature character. Horo is also reasonably mature, and while they occasionally fall out, it’s usually for an actually good reason rather than idiotic misunderstanding.

Overall, if you can get over the slow pace, few characters, and furry connotations this is an excellent show. It’s certainly got a free run of whatever genre you would describe it. It’s also highly un-Japanese, which means there is NO DAMN ONSEN EPISODE! No-one even mentions an onsen at any point! If that isn’t a glowing recommendation, then I don’t know what is.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Nice!

Hayate no Gotoku Review

14 04 2008

Studio: Synergy SP
Genre: Comedy, Butlers
Episodes: 52

Hayate no Gotoku has just finished airing one 52 episode season, that’s one episode a week for an entire year. I have no idea what sort of horrible experience it is to be on the production team for this sort of thing. Anyway, given the incredibly tight turn-around for these episodes, you’d be forgiven for thinking that the quality would probably slip at some point. Normally the super long ‘every week’ type shows are shounen shows like Naruto that can get away with doing filler, flashback episodes, or those episodes where everyone stands perfectly still grimacing at each other, to make things easier. This show is mainly a comedy though, so it requires a bit more effort, and I’m amazed to say that there is no perceivable drop in quality for the whole 52 episode run.

Time for some Plot! Hayate is a combat butler… Japan sure does like it’s butlers doesn’t it? I’m not really sure why, they seem to me to be mostly a British sort of thing. Anyway, Hayate’s parents are gamblers, and leave him to pay off a 156,804,000 yen debt to the friendly people at the local Yakuza. To raise money he tries kidnapping someone for ransom, but it goes a bit wrong. The girl he tries to kidnap is Nagi Sanzen who is their heir to a vast fortune, and owner of a massive mansion in the middle of Tokyo. After falling for Hayate she pays off the Yakuza, and employs Hayate as her butler to pay off the debt.

Main characters: Nagi and Hayate

Nagi is a shut-in Hikikomori-ish girl who spends most of her time playing video games and reading manga. There’s also a maid called Maria whom Hayate fancies, head butler Klaus, and white tiger called Tama who only Hayate can hear talking. There is also a narration done by Norio Wakamoto (Mechazawa, Chiyo’s Father, etc.) which is sublime. With that out of the way, it’s all just set-up for amusing butler and maid related antics. Fortunately, Hayate himself is an awesomely likable character. Nagi isn’t so much, but that’s mostly due to the fact that there have to be lots of irritating misunderstandings to generate comic situations, but while I understand that it still bugs me when she’s being stupid.

There is what I call a ‘retarded love triangle’ relationship between Hayate, Nagi and Maria. I really hate love triangles, as they seem to crop up in every single show with any romantic elements. To be fair, this isn’t the worst example of one though, so it didn’t bother me all that much. Actually, there are many other girls who like Hayate, in real life too, I remember reading someone that Hayate was voted most popular character by some magazine in Japan though I can’t find any reference now that I come to try and link to it, so you’ll just have to believe me. It’s the likable nature of Hayate that binds the whole show together.


Being a combat butler, Hayate is required to engage in fights with robots, criminals and other butlers reasonably often. Hayate, like all butlers, can leap a hundred feet in the air, and is capable of surviving almost anything. These sequences are always well animated, as is the rest of the show. One episode (episode 39) is even animated by Gainax, and has lots of Tengen references which is always awesome. Gainax animation is instantly recognisable to anyone who’s seen one of their recent shows, you are just like “Oh…it’s gainax I guess.”.

While this is supposed to be a comedy show, it’s sometimes not really very funny. It varies a surprising amount between episodes. Sometimes I will be laughing my arse off for the whole time, and others all the jokes fall flat. I assume this is a result of the aforementioned rushed production schedule. Although as the jokes are largely reference based, sometimes I won’t have the first clue what they are referring to. It’s not all reference stuff though, and a lot of the jokes are just amusing in their own right. Or sometimes they aren’t.

Being such a lengthy show they certainly run the gamut of anime clichés, you’ve got your Beach episodes, your New Year episode, your Onsen episodes, you Culture Day episode. It’s all there, sometimes more than once. But there are some greatly amusing original episodes though. There’s one episode where the characters are trying to make an anime and we get a hilarious self-parody of an anime production studio. Also in the first episode, Hayate punches Santa which you really have to respect.The most astonishing thing that happened in the show was that Nabeshin the director and character from the Excel Saga anime made a guest appearance. Nabeshin is one of my favourite characters ever, so that was super excellent.

It’s odd to see a show that I have watched for an entire year come to an end. It’s not like it was my favourite or anything, it’s just that I’ve grown to expect there to be more of it coming. Fortunately there is more of it coming in the form of a second season, but they’ll probably take a couple of seasons break before starting up back up. I am sure there are a lot of people on the staff in desperate need of their own onsen episode.

Arbitrary Rating: 7 – Combat Butlers!

Dragonaut ~The Resonnance~ Review

13 04 2008

Studio: Gonzo
Genre: Action, ~tildes~ , “Dragons”
Episodes: 25

Warning: This review deliberately contains spoilers.

It’s rarely a good sign when the fansubbers seem to hate the show they are subbing. With the final episode accompanied the following message:

Thanks for watching… kind of. This series has been a real train-wreck so if you made it this far, give yourself a pat on the back. This has been the only time I’ve ever wanted the power of love to lose. – Shouta

Good ol’ Shouta. Anyway, I can’t help but agree, but also question why this group would go to the trouble of subbing 25 episodes of shitty show. Possibly for the same reason that I watched 25 episodes of shitty show, whatever that is. Well I’ve thought long and hard about it and have come to the probably incredibly controversial opinion that it isn’t actually terrible. I mean it is definitely terrible, but sort of objectively, it’s not ‘terrible’. It’s probably at worst, below average. It’s a good sign that a show like this is considered terrible as it indicates that the quality threshold for anime currently is very high.

Thanatos, a planet with an apparent abundance of Dragons

In the somewhat distant future Pluto exploded, and a weird new planet called Thanatos showed up. Naturally Thanatos is a planet totally stuffed with dragons. Some of the dragons make their way down to earth, accidentally killing the main character’s family on the way. Speaking of the main character, he is Kamishina Jin (I always hear this as ‘Commissioner Jin’ whenever it is said), a youth struggling to cope with the loss of his family. He was about to take his first SPACE HOLIDAY, when one of the dragons smashed the shuttle thing up, but saved him out of guilt. The other dragons crash all over earth for no adequately explained reason.

The dragons in this show aren’t the Smaug-esque or Sean Connery voiced variety, in fact they barely even look like dragons really. They also have a ‘resonance’ with the first human they come into contact with, and afterwards the dragon can turn into a human looking form. This resonance binds the dragon and human together as a friend, lover, or uh a butler (Who doesn’t want a dragon butler, seriously). Of course the government gets their hands involved in all of this and forms the ‘Dragonauts’ who are a group of people and their associated dragons who fight…other dragons. Commissioner Jin gets involved with all of this when the dragon who originally smashed up his family shows up (who happens to take the form of an attractive girl) , and the Dragonauts try and capture her.

Commissioner Jin and Kazuki, or ‘twats’ as they are known to anyone who has seen a single episode.

Jin is sort of highly unlikable as a character, he’s a mopey bastard and he’s oddly obsessed with a girl he’s only known for about 4 minutes, but he isn’t nearly as unlikable as his best friend and occasionally best enemy Kazuki. He is supposed to be Jin’s childhood friend, but a few dragons get between them, and he spends most of his time pathetically screaming about things and losing fights. Every second he is on screen raises questions about precisely why such an unlikable fuck needs to be in the show. The rest of the cast are rather bland characters. A few of the female characters have comically enormous breasts, which is sort of at odds with the serious nature of the rest of the show. It’s fair to say that it takes itself extremely seriously, and there aren’t even any of the usual comedy characters thrown in, it’s all serious all the time.

Anyway so what else is wrong with the show? Well biggest problem, apart from all the horrible characters, are the dragons themselves. Gonzo, while sometimes capable of producing pure excellence; have in this case seemingly used the same style of effects that made Transformers Cybertron look rubbish to bring the dragons to life in laughable blockiness. The CG dragons aren’t capable of interacting in a way that doesn’t look godawful, so when half your show is dedicated to the fighting of these things, you have yourself a bit of a problem. Gonzo are currently making a show called Blassreiter which also has 3d things fighting each other, but these look several times more convincing than anything seen in Dragonaut.


One problem with the action scenes is that they usually don’t include any ‘fodder’ type enemies, so lengthy fights often occur between characters that need to live to be in the story later, which makes them quite unsatisfying as no-one is capable of defeating anyone ever. I call this the ‘Gundam Seed’ effect, due to it’s abundance of fights between the two main characters which never get resolved satisfactorily.

Oddly, the overall plot isn’t actually all that terrible, and manages to be mildly entertaining at times. It’s just whenever characters speak, or action happens then it all begins to break down. Towards the end, the show tackles the edgy subject of ‘Can humans and dragons peacefully coexist and have sexual relationships?’. The answer to this unimportant question is apparently ‘yes’ as answered by the ending in which the tedious power of love conquers everything.  

The nauseating power of love!

At the beginning I was saying about how it’s not ‘terrible’, but I realise that I have somehow failed to prove that in this review. Oh well. Anyway, please learn from my mistake and spare yourself from this rubbish example of anime. If even one person doesn’t watch Dragonaut because of this review, then it will have all been worthwhile.

Arbitrary Rating: 3 – Charmless Guff

Clannad Review

8 04 2008

Genre: Renai, Key Visual Novel Adaptation
Main Studio: Kyoto Animation
Episodes: 23

Obligatory Spoiler Warning

I’ve probably mentioned this show a few times over the last few months, mainly whenever I am talking about a renai show, this is because it’s the product of the only notable production team that specialise good at making this sort of show. Kyoto Animation, while best known for series like Haruhi and Lucky star, also have a team that has been dedicated to adapting Key’s classic visual novels to anime form. They originally worked on Kanon, then did Air a while ago which is the first one that I watched. Haven’t seen Kanon yet actually, but probably will at some point soon. It’s also worth noting that they all have the exact same intro.

So why should you watch any of these eh? Well they are bloody brilliant, if you must know. Oh, If only it were that easy to convince…. Anyway if I had to boil it down I would say that all of these shows are about a bloke and his interaction with some chicks. The bloke in question being Tomoya Okazaki, and the chicks in question being many of the girls at the high school he attends. Much of the show involves Tomoya becoming involved with the girls for various reasons, there’s also the token best friend character just to balance out all the girls.

Nagisa and Tomoyo
Main characters Nagia and Tomoyo, debating Nagisa’s astonishing lack of friends.

Tomoya is a bit of a delinquent as demonstrated by his squint tie, and rarely attends school. He has a chance encounter with a girl called Nagisa who HAS NO FRIENDS. Of course a cute girl having no friends cannot stand in this generally upbeat sort of show, so they become friends and thus the problem is solved forever. Of course her problems continue in thatthat she has this odd desire to start a theatre club at school and put on a play that seems to be rattling around inside her head for some reason. To this end, Tomoya helps Nagisa try and recruit people into the theatre club, which is where most of the other characters come in. This inevitably results in them meeting all the schools odd-balls and other friendless weirdoes. Some of these characters go on to have their own arcs about their own set of horrible problems as well.

The central theme of Clannad is family, so most of the characters have issues along this general line. Tomoya for example has an alcoholic and possibly abusive father who he despises and treats as a stranger. Nagisa has this odd feeling that she ruined her parents life at some point, but can’t quite remember the details. Another girl they meet is Kotomi who spends all day sitting in the library reading, and has absolutely no social skills whatsoever. One of the story arcs is devoted to trying to teach her how to be more normal, and yes, get over some of her pressing family issues! The show tends to be upbeat, definitely it is cheerier than Air ever was.

According to Clannad, this is what a world that ended looks like.

One of the main things that draws me to these Key/Kyoani shows is their odd ethereal tone. In Clannad this is mainly actioned by these odd sequences that seem to take in a “world that has ended” which is an odd desolate future in which exists only a girl and a mechanical/clockwork bear that she made out of sheer boredom. These sequences are obscenely well animated, and are inserted into the show seeming at random at least initially anyway. They are eventually worked into the main in a way that makes sense. It’s a nice juxtaposition between this and the relatively ordinary goings on of ordinary high school life anyway. This section eventually gets tied into the main story in a way that doesn’t seem totally crazy, which is always nice.

Another element that characterises Key’s stories is slight supernatural elements. In Air, the main character could make a small doll walk around and perform little acts using his mind, but no-one ever seemed to think it was particularly interesting. Uh, also he became a crow at one point. In Clannad, at some point the characters realise that one of their friends whom they hang around with every day is actually in a coma in a hospital one town over, which comes as quite a shock to them. This arc deals with them working out how the hell to handle such a situation. I found this the most enjoyable arcs in the show.

To be honest, being main character in one of these shows is a pretty sweet deal.

If you haven’t seen this sort of show before, I can imagine there would be a little reluctance given the evidence presented. They just don’t sound that interesting when described, and it’s hard to really pin down what makes them good. It’s not a comedy, though there are comedic elements. It’s not a mystery show but there are mysterious elements. It’s not a romance show but there are romantic elements, etc, etc. The main draw of the show is I guess it’s excellently likable characters, and good development of said likable characters. This is definitely a character centric show that I can get behind.

If you had to start with one of these shows, this would probably be one of the better ones, though Kanon would also be an option. You aren’t going to see anything particularly badass (except a few scenes where the feisty sporty girl gets into fights), but you will receive a touching heart-warming sort of affair, and there’s still room for that sort of thing isn’t there?

Arbitrary Rating: 9 – Dango Dango Dango Dango, Dango Daikazoku

Shigofumi Review

31 03 2008

 A letter from the afterlife.
Genre: Mystery, Letter Delivery
Main Studio: JC Staff
Episodes: 12

Back in deepest darkest January, I had this show pegged as my ‘best show of season’ type thing. I guess it still is the best show of the season, but it really hasn’t been a very good season now that I think about it. That’s not to say Shigofumi is bad by any stretch, it isn’t, but it just isn’t quite as good as it could have been.

Shigo means ‘after death’ and fumi means ‘letter’, making ‘After death letter’. Actually that sounds like a totally different show detailing what people do after they receive a death threat. Anyway, Shigofumi are letters from the recently departed that are delivered to the living that the dead have beef with, or other unfinished business. Delivering these letters are a group of staff-carrying dead girls dressed in cute postal worker outfits. Shigofumi follows the exploits of Fumika, a relatively new Shigofumi delivery person as she goes around doing her thing, and eventually gets wrapped up in a larger plot concerning her true nature, her past, etc.

She can fly
Oh yeah, she can fly. Did I mention that?

The main concept of the show is really strong, and the initial two episodes are by a far way the best episodes in the show. They introduce the concept, and tell quite a dark story in an appropriately mysterious and well directed manner. The first episode even manages to pull a twist that even surprised jaded old me, which is quite an accomplishment. Initially Fumika while being the main character barely gets any screentime, with most of the episode is spent focused on the living recipients of the letters. Fumika would show up, be sullen and mysterious, explain yet again what the hell a Shigofumi is, and then she sodded off.

The few episodes after the initial plot arc were all stand-alone and also barely involved Fumika. I don’t dislike her or anything, but the concept of short stories about how a letter from the afterlife might affect people really interested me for some reason, and these single episode stories generally work really well. I therefore was slightly disappointed when a plot about Fumika’s old school friends investigating her started up, and began to take up more and more time of each episode. This plot eventually became the show, and the initial stand-alone structure was mostly done away with.


Of all the mysteries presented in the show, I would say that the main plot concentrates on what is arguably the least interesting one. On one side we’ve got a mysterious organisation that seems to be highly efficient at delivering a Shigofumi to people, even though no-one on earth seems to have any idea what they are (I can only assume that they only just started up or something). Also we have lots of dead girls who have somehow been conscripted into working for them, issued a hyperactive talking staff/computer/email client things, and given a delivery area to work. Even though we only see a couple of deliverers, the scenes in the weird otherworld imply that there are probably hundreds of them. I personally wanted to know more about this stuff.

Unfortunately what we received were a bunch of revelations about Fumika’s family, an alter ego, and her old school friends. None of these characters apart form her totally insane and fruity father are particularly interesting. There is also a love triangle thrown in that don’t really go anywhere, just because you pretty much have to put that sort of thing in a show just in case any girls happen to be watching. I will give credit where credit is due though; the show did not end how I expecting (Think Tuvix), so that was at least something. It also wrapped up the presented plots satisfactorily.


It does definitely gains marks for having a genuinely unique premise, and it contains some really dark scenes such as one where bloody hand-print of a baby is mailed to its father who is responsible for it being aborted. Also there’s a bunch of stuff about suicide which is always fun. Of course I expect there are people out there who will enjoy the main plot more than I did, the parts which I haven’t spoiled anyway. I think it comes down to whether or not you are okay with a mostly character driven main plot, which is something I am fine with if it doesn’t totally obscure any real plot from occurring. A good (hah) comparison would be those episodes of Lost where the flashback has nothing to do with anything except giving us a better look at some character. I hate those as well.

Another minor criticism I would have of the show is that some of the stand-alone episodes have good premises, characters, but endings that are either oddly unsatisfying or just plain confusing. I’m really not sure what the message of a couple of the episodes was supposed to be. Specifically, that’s episodes 6 and 10, so if anyone does know what the hell I was supposed to gain from them, then please leave a comment or something.

“It’s a letter sent from the afterlife, Biatch!”

I should probably say some more positive things about the show at this point. Let’s see, it has reasonable art, excellent music and atmosphere. The opening has nice visuals but is accompanied by Ali Project’s most phoned in anime theme yet, though it probably sounds the same as all their other work to those unfamilar with Ali Project’s stuff. The animation is servicable, and occasionally really well directed, especially when Fumika busts out her sweet gun, which she does disappointingly infrequently.

Overall I would still recommend Shigofumi to anybody looking for something a bit different, if only for the first two episodes. I would hardly classify it as a work of genius like Paranoid Agent, Texhnolyze or Happy World. Wait, scrap that last one.

Arbitrary Rating: 8 – Shigofumi. A Letter sent from the afterlife.

H2O ~Footprints in the Sand~ Review

26 03 2008

Genre: Renai
Main Studio: Zexcs
Episodes: 12

Sometimes I don’t really end up having that much of an opinion about a show, which makes these review thingies kinda hard to write. H2O ~Footprints in the Sand~ is certainly one of these shows. It’s also one which has ~a stupid subtitle with tildes~ which are becoming annoyingly common. I guess a good place to start would be to briefly describe the show. Actually, wait, I did that back in my Winter 08 roundup post.  Oh well, most of what I wrote there still applies.

H2O is another entry in the over-packed Renai or visual novel/dating sim adaptation genre. Kyoto Animation has this genre totally locked down with their masterful adaptions of Key‘s Kanon, Air, and Clannad, and with shows like that, there really isn’t a lot of room for bad or even mediocre adaptations. H20 is based on Makura’s PC game which I haven’t played obviously. Like any other Renai show, the protagonist wanders around their setting, and has conversations with girls who he runs into. Actually there is less of this than in the Kyoto Animation shows, and it’s structured more like a regular school setting anime for the most part.

She’s just asking to be pummelled.
Hirose and Hayami, blind, and un-pummeled, respecitvely.

The setting is a remote mountain village community, sort of like Higurashi‘s Hinamizawa but less fucked up. The protagonist is the occasionally blind Hirose, who is about as generic as it gets. He’s blind for the first episode, but starts being able to see at about the 22 min mark, thereby removing his one interesting characteristic. The main conflict in the show is centre around a girl called Hayami Kohinata who the whole town seems to hate, but whom Hirose likes. It’s with this main plot where my main criticism of the show really comes in.

Warning: I am just going to explain the plot at this point, because I don’t really want to end up motivating anyone to watch this.

Okay, so in the past, Hayami’s family were jerks. They ‘ruined’ the town, made some people commit suicide, refused medical treatment to people getting some people killed, you know, jerks. So the residents of whatever the town is called (I can’t remember, and wikipedia tells me nothing!), decide to burn their house down. Presumably her family are all killed in this incident, as they are never mentioned to be alive anywhere in the show, and Hayami going to stay with them is apparently not an option. Hayami decides to continue living in some abandoned train carriages which are improbably located up on a nearby hill.

Punch her Face
Punch her face! That’ll teach her not to have parents who are jerks!

For some reason, Hayami continues to live in the town and attends school despite the fact that every single person in the town hates her. So we already have two glaring questions. 1) Why does she stick around? 2) Is everyone that unreasonable that they can’t separate Hayami’s actions from those of her parents? It’s these two questions that ultimately make me dislike the main plot in the show. I can’t for the life of me accept either contrivance. Look, there are buses that go directly out of town! Why not go one town over, to a town that doesn’t hate you, Hayami?

But for the sake of the story’s existence, she sticks around. She regularly gets beaten up in school, and not in school. Later in the show some villagers come and burn down her makeshift train-car home, because they hate her that much. Even later, they start coming after her with guns. Jesus Christ, Hayami, just get the hell out! What is wrong with you? The main character is not exempt from this madness either, and once he learns that her parents were responsible for his mother’s suicide, he responds by pummelling her face in. Yeah, way to be likeable there, you fucking idiot.

Doin’ some pummelling
Hirose, pummelling Hayami like a totally reasonable person.

Hayami is continually shown to be a nice person, and does eventually win over some of the more reasonable students, but not everyone. The aforementioned face-pummelling bit results in Hirose reverting to childhood for some reason. Also, the issue of whether or not he was ever actually not blind is raised, but never satisfactorily answered. Oh yeah, there’s also a magic dead girl called Otoha who gave him his sight back, just thrown into the mix. I think the writers knew that all of Key’s works have supernatural aspects in them, so they just threw that in there to try and keep up.

Everything about a Renai show really lives or dies on the quality of it’s writing and characters, and sorry H20 but you fail. The art, voice acting and pacing are all fine but not incredibly noteworthy or anything. The show is just cursed with a retarded premise, and unlikeable characters. Overall, I would definitely say to give this one a miss.

Arbitrary Rating: 5 – Stupid