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The Place Promised in Our Early Days: Beyond the Clouds (for this review, Beyond…) is a 90-minute animated movie by ComixWave. It takes place in the near future and is told in a bittersweet coming-of-age retrospective narration. It’s a soft SF setup that involves parallel worlds. All of these things appeal to me, which is why when they don’t work, I feel more let down than most, and Beyond… lets you down.

The overall problem with Beyond… is the usual lack of focus and editing that plague anime` movies; there’s simply not enough done to make it shine, and so it ends up as this less-than-stellar, but not altogether bad concoction. The material is often slice-of-life (which isn’t bad by itself), but it doesn’t crystallize moments and then use them to connect to the plot trajectory. Too many things are unexplained. [Warning: spoilers ahead!]

Take the loose connection between Sayuri and the parallel worlds, for starters. Then, why is it a problem if a parallel world overwrites a certain square mileage? How did they figure out that the tower was actually a weapon? What is the NSA doing in Japan (probably the most annoying stretch of all)? While I can understand that Takuya and Hiyakuri like Sayuri, that is always more suggested than shown. Yes, she’s supposed to be this soul out of time, but the movie doesn’t really make the case for it, or it’s just too subtle for non-Japanese people to get. Yes, there’s SOME work there by referencing the poet Miyazawa Kenji, but really, a movie needs to SHOW more. Why Hiyakuri falls for Sayuri isn’t really shown or explained, and the whole time you wonder why Takuya let her go; that’s not explained either. The movie concludes convincingly ending on a bittersweet note though, so points for that, but the plot, pacing, and editing are serious minuses.

The animation style is not photorealist, but a softer detailed style when it comes to scenery, vehicles, landscapes, and so on. The characters share the same color palette, and aren’t given the same level of detail, but it works and isn’t jarring. There are quite a few beautiful scenes of stilled time, and you almost get the experience of having been there, smelling the wind, and feeling the hot pavement beneath your feet. Very well done. The music is minimal except for the main theme, which is emotive but never really expanded; the closing song is haunting and the quality of the singer’s voice is excellent.

Emotionally, the movie collapses under the weight of its own sentiment. Even the retrospective narrated style doesn’t save it (and it actually has problems because the whole story isn’t told through Hiyakuri’s eyes, so why is he narrating something he couldn’t have experienced?). It’s often lovelorn for no purpose and descends into irritating mawkish sentimentality. Editing and a few different scenes would have saved it, and brought the other themes into greater relief.

Speaking of themes, the growing up theme works, the love theme frays (due to the parallel worlds and the hospital angles). War is mentioned just as something that people want to start for no real reason, and its cost is shown a few times, demonstrating a typical pacifist non-understanding of war. Positive and critical references to prayer and a single God appear, but these are strictly to gain human love. I don’t recall any profanities. Some arguably sensual shots occur here and there, but nothing overt. On the whole, nothing bad, but nothing monumental either.

Thora does a great job on the subbing. The font is easy to read, and even the song at the end is done (kudos!). They even did many of the signs so you can see what the narrator sees. The translation appears accurate, but I didn’t focus on that. I only watched it once and I might watch it again someday, but probably not — I just don’t have the interest to sit through the whole thing again.

Hunt your favorite torrent holes if you want it. I suspect it is actually available to buy, but not subbed or dubbed.

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Have you ever found a series that was watchable, but nothing more? Such a series doesn’t inspire you to turn it off; it doesn’t inspire you to pay attention usually, and it just keeps your attention because it has a modicum of a plot and it doesn’t suck? Such series never turn you off because just when you’re about to find something else to do, they drop in a poignant moment, some character development, something humorous, or something unexpected. However, these moments happen far too rarely for such a series to ever emerge from the sea of mundanity; they just surface now and again. As you might have expected with such a long lead in, yes, Love Live! School Idol Project is just such a series.

The setup is an interesting one — a school is going to close due to lack of attendees, and some of the girls vow to save it by becoming school idols. This, they reason, will drum up enough interest in the school to keep its doors open. The first season brings the girls together as they overcome ordinary obstacles to become an idol group, get approved by the school, hone their talents, compete in the contest (the Love Live!). The second series sees them compete in the Love Live! again, but this time it’s a multi-tiered event.

Why this doesn’t work, although it has every reason why it should, is that there are nine girls in this group. Yup, nine (hence the name of the group, Muse, for there are nine Muses, if you’re into that whole Greek myth thing). It’s hard enough to make three characters with distinct mannerisms, personalities, and dialog. Four is harder still; five, very difficult, and well, you get the idea. Nine main characters requires a truly masterful writer, and unfortunately, this series doesn’t have one. Instead, the series went for threadbare characterization. The girls end up being (except for Nico) gross generalizations and stereotypes. Honoka is the happy slacker; Kotori is the maid; Maki is the artist; you get the picture.

I wish I could point to some outstanding feature of this series, but I really can’t. The plot, while familiar, doesn’t have any novel touches to rescue it from being humdrum. The voice acting is decent, but not spectacular. The animation style is slightly better than average, although pains have been taken to make the girls dance realistically. What really weighs the series down is the completely generic music. With all the great J-rock and J-pop artists out there, somehow, this series couldn’t find a single one to write even a half-decent song. Music doesn’t have to be awesome for a series to work, but it can’t completely stink when the series is about music! As a further letdown, the show featured four separate teaser songs that themselves weren’t bad, but intercut clips of the show, whetting your appetite only to reveal something ordinary.

On the plus side, there’s very very little offensive here. Some of the girls’ dance moves are occasionally sensual, but that may be in the eye of the beholder; no gore, no violence, some occasional profanity. Nothing positive theologically, but nothing negative either. The usual Shinto shrine rituals show up, and the usual Japanese themes of friendship, hard work, and teamwork are in the spotlight.

The tone ranges from believable and earnest to schmaltzy, saccharine, and overdone, with most of season two falling into the latter category. The pace also slacks off a lot in the second season. I get the feeling that they ran out of ideas for season two, and so just recycled the general plot from the first and threw in predictable character development as a filler.

Anyhow, this show is available at the usual torrent holes.

If you’re in the mood for something fairly generic but not horrible, try season one.

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My conceptions of anime` are being shorn.

You could always count on J.C. Staff to make boring, predictable shonen-fests, and the instant you saw their logo pop up, you knew it was time to jump ship. Selector Infected Wixoss (S1) blew that all out of the water, because it has been good — more than that, it has been excellent. I was looking forward every week to a new episode, and each episode satisfied and yet left me hungry for more.

The animation house wasn’t the only strike against Wixoss coming out of the gate: it also revolved around cards. Yuck, cards! Almost every card series has minimal plot, no depth, and no originality. Those series exist just to move product as far as I can tell. The only series in recent memory that cut against that grain was Fantasista Doll. Yu-gi-o fans — stop. I don’t care.

The series starts by introducing Wixoss, a card battle game that has recently become popular. The main character, Ru, plays it with her grandmother. However a certain few people receive a living card, and owning it makes them a selector. Once a selector contracts with the living card, and the selector wins three battles against other selectors, then his or her wish is granted.

I won’t go into any more detail, but Wixoss is also a magical girl series — a dark one. Think Madoka Magica Puelli. Wixoss takes that kind of setup, adds flawless characterization, a taut plot, always appropriate and unsettling music, all in finely-detailed gothic Romantic fashion. It’s heavy; it’s deep; it’s emotional; and it never falls apart or turns into excess.

The animation style is where some may complain. I’d say it’s on the same level as K-on (season 1); darker tones dominate. It’s not super-detailed, and it’s not minimalistic. The money and the time went into crafting an overall effect (colors, cinematography) rather than realism. The same goes for the voice acting. It’s not about virtuoso performances, but acting done so well that the actors disappear into their roles. Tama has the kind of voice she needs to have, for instance, and each character is perfectly identifiable by his or her voice. What really strikes me is not the quality of particular aspects of the show, but rather that everything works together to create a gothic monolith. Nothing grates. Everything compliments.

And the ending? A lot of series seem to have no idea where they are going. Here, it feels like there is a master plan, and the plot just couldn’t fit into just one season. A lot of things are up in the air, but it doesn’t feel contrived. I can only hope that season 2 continues with the same quality and doesn’t turn into a parody of itself like Chuunibuyo did. Please, let it not be!

No trash; rare profanities. With the Romantic setup, the characters are facing things larger than themselves, and so there is this grappling with the supernatural, an awe present. Also, Ru’s character develops from someone who doesn’t participate much in life to someone who is willing to sacrifice, even herself, for her friends. So that great truth is on display.

I’ve been watching the Horrible Subs version and they do a good job. Download from the torrent hole of your choice.

Highly recommended by OO.

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Every so often a series comes along that is a haven, a resting place, a place of nourishing and respite where you catch a glimmer of something longlasting. Such a series stands out from the crowd the way that a single ray of light slices through an entire overcast sky. Chuunibyou Demo Kai ga Shitai is a series like that; it is heartwarming, innocent, hilarious, fragile, beautiful, real, and far, far, too short. I’ve put off writing about it because summarizing it meant an end to the dream.

Chuunibyou is the story of Rikka, who has a serious case of 8th-grade syndrome. What is that? Eighth-grade syndrome is the (over-)dramatic expression of living as your own self-created super-hero, at least that’s what it means initially. The problem is that she is an admirer of her next-door neighbor, who is one year older. He too was once in the grip of eighth-grade syndrome, but has abandoned it (mostly) now that he is in high school. Rikka has not.

The main characters are:

  • Rikka Takanashi (Wielder of the Tyrant’s Eye)
  • Tooka Takanashi (The Priestess) — Rikka’s older sister
  • Yuuta Togashi (Dark Flame Master)
  • Sanae Dekomori (Mjollnir Hammer) — Rikka’s faithful servant
  • Shinka Nibutani (Mori Summer) — Sanae’s foe
  • Kumin Tsuyuri — the nap girl
  • Isshiki — Yuuta’s friend, hopelessly in love with Kumin

The story charts, with tender detail and depth, the relationships between each of these characters as they get to know one another, and as the winds of romance whirl through their lives. There is character development in spades, and the plot flows from that, as they struggle to keep their club in good standing, and as the school year begins and ends.

I haven’t included a guide because each and every episode is worth watching, with the last four or so the best of all. However, if you want a feel for the show, check out the Chuunibyou Demo Kai ga Shitai Lite mini-episodes. If you can’t find them, then I’ve hosted episode #3 here.

There are rare bits of uncool material, and by rare, I mean a few seconds worth once in a while. For instance, two moments during the beginning and ending themes; profanity crops up now and again, but nothing blasphemous. There’s one non-serious reference to a black mass. Some risque material crops up with the same frequency, but it’s openly derided; no pervy camera angles in the series itself.


Rikka






Sanae (Dekomori)





Highly recommended by OO.

Visit the following fansub groups or the torrent hole of your choice:

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In this series, the animation is pastel, non-photorealistic, and bright; the tone is sarcastic, cynical, and loaded with irony; the main character is a lowly UN mediator assigned as the interface point between humans and fairies. She works for her grandfather, and in many episodes, has an assistant to accompany her. (I don’t think she is ever named, oddly enough.)

Civilization is in ruins and people have returned to more of a medieval style of living — hunting and gathering. Electricity is rare, although cars are still around, and so is the dysfunctional UN. In short, “It’s the End of the World as I Know it, and I Feel Fine.” This is the world of Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita — Mankind is in Decline.


Assistant and Mediator

First, the music. The intro theme song is a fantastic slab of alt-J-rock — catchy, emotive, upbeat, and sadly, not translated by any of the fansub groups. Check it out here. The ending theme song is a slower, atmospheric, ambient pop kind of deal that actually better captures the whole spirit of the show. The music throughout the show is atmospheric, often quite good, but not outstanding.


Intro

Second, the consistency. This series has a nearly-perfect setup combined with palliating graphics that put you at ease just so the knife can slip in. As you might expect, the writers don’t make the most of it. In fact, the episode quality is all over the place. For instance, episodes 1 and 2 are awesome; 3 is very lame; 4 is good, but 5 and 6 are a bit tired; you get the idea. It’s almost like the anime` picked random episodes from a manga, and the mangkata was trying to find his/her feet for 12 issues. The episodes connect to one another rarely, and there’s no character development to speak of. However, the main character’s past is explored and more of the world is revealed. It almost works, given the whole stilled time feel of the show.

So why do I enjoy this series? Simply because the episodes that are good are fantastic, there’s plenty of weirdness, the kawaii animation, the sarcastic dialog, and the refreshing themes. Episode 1 features potshots at the incompetent UN. Episode 4 explores the insane nature of much manga. Episodes 7-8 feature a time loop. Even the off episodes still have moments of hilarity and sarcastic insight; episode 5 features Pion, the kawaii robot girl, for instance.


Pion

Your Majesty, the Queen (note the Pocky plants!)

Jinru wa Suitai Shimashita is unique. It’s a breath of fresh air in a time where anime` tends towards the ho-hum and predictable. While another season would have been welcomed, even one season could have sufficed if the quality was consistent. As it stands, I can give this a guarded recommendation, but not a rousing or unreserved one. The episodes to catch are 1, 2, 4, 7, and 9. The others are at your own risk.

The following fansub groups did the best job:
CR
HorribleSubs
Asenshi (Blue-ray specials)

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High points first. First of all, the music is quite good. There’s at least one metal song, and maybe two, depending on how light you go. Second, the characters are well-defined for the short time that this lasts (40 minutes). Third, the plot is interesting.

The low points: a short nude scene (completely unnecessary), some risque stuff (mostly swimsuit shots), and graphic violence. Given that this is about an anti-terror group, the violence at least makes sense.

There is one profanity; nothing positive theologically speaking, but nothing negative either; politically, it takes an anti-terrorist viewpoint without any moral equivocations (which contrasts with Gunslinger Girl). There’s a little touch of feminism which isn’t obnoxious. The tone is upbeat, occasionally humorous, and human. The main characters aren’t moveable pin-up girls, but have real emotions and motives.

The animation is good but not blow-you-away good. Japan has turned out a lot worse and more recently, too. This looks to be from a high-quality VHS rip with just about no artifacts, so kudos to the FSG on that one.

Overall, I can’t give it a strong recommendation, but if you like the action/anti-terrorist/spy kinda thing, you might enjoy this. I’d give it a C+/B-.

Available at your favorite torrent hole. I’d link the FSG (Nexus), but apparently time has forgotten them.

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In three days, I watched all 26 episodes of RahXephone.

I was just recovering from being sick, and I had the free time (and admittedly, a low drive to do anything else), and I’m a real sucker for narrative once it gets going. Narrative makes me feel like I’m on a steam train with no way to stop or get off until the end of the line is reached. Now that I’m at the end of the line, I’m looking around in a dusty, mostly-empty town, with no money in my pockets, wondering, “Is this it?”

I’m not familiar with the source material, but this anime` has the quintessential adaption problem of “What to exclude?” 26 episodes showed that it included far too much material — that is obvious, yet, only one episode was truly filler. Not only that, but it included the wrong type of material to make the series work; boring metaphysical explorations made the cut, but revealing character motives and thoughts didn’t. As a result of the characters’ unjustified actions/motives, the series lost a lot of resonance. It felt assembled by force, hollow, and sadly superficial.

No simple summary is possible here, but the story revolved around Ayato — who he is, and what he becomes. For the genre, it’s humane mecha/SF, which means that most of the time, the emphasis is on the characters and not the battles. The battles rarely feel forced, and even those show the psychological side of the fight. This is neither your typical shonen battle royale, nor an emotionless Macross. There’s a fair amount of dystopia and genetics involved as well as heavy doses of romance and quite honestly, a bit too much sexual spice for my tastes. The latter element is rarely blatant, but more risque, and never important to the plot.

Early on, the dystopia feel is more prominent, and the music supports this excellently — an atmospheric, timeless minimalist jazz or passionate strings or solo piano pieces. Unfortunately, the music and the tone aren’t always in synch and its quality decreases by the later episodes. The writing is usually strong with a few episodes not quite as good as others. The animation is strong throughout. Bones is the animation house, and the style is a level of detail a few notches below their masterwork in Tokyo Magnitude 8.0, but still enjoyable.

A better choice of source material would have explored the characters’ thoughts, which would have allowed us to really understand them. For instance, why is Makoto Isshiki such a jerk? Yes, he had a horrible childhood. That’s it? Why not show how he thinks, and how he justifies mistreating other people?

And why does Itsuki Kisaragi NEVER acknowledge the affections of Sayoko Nanamori? Sayoko is red-headed, intelligent (she’s a research assistant), and foxy as all get out! The guy completely ignores her and as a result, she ends up sleeping with Isshiki. I don’t get it. He works with a girl that had the hots for him day after day after day, and he never once asks her out? What prevents him? The series never really says.

The Foundation deserved more time and attention, too. As it is, I’d have to watch the series three times to get a better grasp on that aspect. That I don’t want to shows the fundamental flaw with Rah-Xepohone: it is not deeply resonant.

The sense of stolen time intimated so strongly by the music and the early episodes simply vanishes about episode 20, for no real reason, and that dystopic feel gets lost in an overcomplicated plot. The latter is typical with Japanese works, actually, and it is even satirized by Jinrui wa Suitar Shimashita. The meaningless Shintoistic indulgence doesn’t help, and the vague Christian implications don’t save it. All of this confusion and attention given in the wrong places makes the ending especially hard to swallow.

The two main characters, Ayota and Haraku, do end up happy. However, the happiness that they have is boringly ordinary (bordinary), that is made even more routine by the explanation of Ayota’s painting. This ending is completely unjustified by the previous 25 episodes; the Harry Potter movies resulted in a similar unconvincing ending. Was everything that occurred merely symbolic of the struggles of a relationship? All of the battles, maturation, injuries, anger, and self-sacrifice led merely to this? It doesn’t seem worth it.

RahXephone is at times, interesting, but the journey is not worth the effort. It is, in a word, unjustified.

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