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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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Yes, it’s true. This is #4, folks. Not that I’m complaining about seeing cute anime girls rockin’ some J-pop. I’m not. It’s just that this the fourth video/preview, and judging by the plot-like bits they’ve interwoven into each preview, the anime` does exist and has gotta be close to being done by now. Come on and hurry it up, guys!

In case you don’t know what I’m blabbing on about, Love Live! seems to be a story of h.s. girls who are recruited as an idol supergroup. It looks to be loads better than the perv-o-rama that Idol Master was. The songs are fairly good, with #1 and #2 being the best, the animation is top notch, and there’s little risque material (a few camera shots now and then which are arguable).

Anyhow, here are the previous three videos/previews:

  1. Preview #1
  2. Snow Halation
  3. Egao Jump

Thanks to Doremi subs for all of the above.

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Full Moon Wo Sagishite (Looking for a Full Moon) is one of the exemplars of the magical girl genre, right up there with Hime-Chan’s Ribbon. It undergirds the usual transformation/maturation motif with doom, because the main character, Mitsuki, is fated to die in one year. Plus, it features enough romantic complexity and humor to make the series well-rounded and not simply a genre effort. It is quite emotional and convincingly so.

Mitsuki’s dream is singing, and the principal reason why she sings is so that she can reach Eiche, who has left for America. Her grandmother is opposed to all forms of music, however. One day, two shinigami appear (those who transport souls when the person dies), only they have messed up and have come one year too early. Mitsuki learns of this and becomes even more dedicated in pursuit of her dream.

Given the target audience, I’m convinced that most of the profanities here are mistranslations, but be aware that there’s usually a few of the tstsch/itse in each episode. The animation itself takes a sympathetic perspective towards Mitsuki, instead of an exploitative one; the number of perv shots you can count on one hand. However, Meroko’s outfit is a bit much and that’s in every episode. No gore.

The music deserves a shout-out; it is across-the-board excellent, evocative, emotional, and well-produced. Songs will stay with you long after an episode ends, and I’ve looked around to see where I can find the soundtracks to the show. Unfortunately, the only places that have this now are import shops and they are charging ridiculous prices. So watch out: the music is that good.

The usual OO guide is as follows, with * indicating excellent episodes.

* 01 – The opening theme is catchy and fun. The intro has some arguably loli parts, but once the show gets started, those concerns are washed away. This show has incredible potential. It has everything needed to make it beautifully emotional, tragic, and yet hopeful within this small sphere of an individual life. I’m looking forward to what’s next. We’ll see how well it delivers. The ending theme is cool.
02 – Not bad, but not as great as the first episode. Lower key and kinda off/on. Mitsuki lies a few times.
03 – A few funny parts, one emotional part, a good end, but the rest is way too complex and unnecessarily so. The part about her doc being an ex-idol was funny.
04 – Ok, this is good.
05 – Another good one. Mitsuki has to act like a 16-year old b/c she’s doing a photo shoot, so just appearances won’t cut it. She’s innocent, but also immature. Still a few dodges from the truth, which really weren’t necessary. A good episode besides that.
06 – Ok, but it’s cool to see the inside of a studio and Mitsuki’s reactions to it. The actual plot with Namini is cheezy.
07 – Ok. Finally an ep that’s not entirely stand-alone. I mean, each of them follows linearly, but this one had some connection to the past. I just wish there would be more of a story arc. The ending song changes; the debut song really doesn’t fit the MC though.
08 – Trite, but at least there’s more connection to the prev episode. The formula is getting old here.
09 – Better. More of the past is revealed.
10 – Ok, I’m tired of the whole nearly self-contained nature of each episode. As far as plots go, this wasn’t bad, and it had some depth to it, but it’s all they could do in 20 minutes and so it feels shallow.
11- Ok.
12 – Nothing special. Like a slice-of-life episode. Funny end.
13 – Eh, overly emotional, stand alone episode.
14 – Ok.
15 – Not bad. Some character development, but not a lot. A kind of cute side plot.
* 16 – Plot and character development. Madoka appears with her rotten, vengeful attitude. A cliffhanger ending.
* 17 – Very good.
* 18 – Very good.
*19 – Excellent. Lots of character development. Some funny moments too. Finally Mitsuki comes clean and stops lying to her manager and her doctor.
* 20 – Excellent. Connected to the previous episodes and character development.
* 21 – Very good. Pretty much vs. Madoka.
* 22 – Beautifully heart-warming, hopeful, and triumphant, as well as innocent. One of the best episodes of the entire series.
* 23 – Hilarious. A laugh riot.
* 24 – Great. Full Moon’s second single is decided, Oshiga-san learns that Mitsuki’s dad was in Route L, and Madoka connives to undermine Mitsuki again, plus the foreshadowing of the producer.
25 – Still self-contained, but a bit of trouble is introduced that doesn’t wrap up at the end — Takuto’s memories begin. Realistic treatment of the recording biz.
26 – Connections to the past, some funny parts, the fact that Mitsuki was born out of wedlock is not cool. Mitsuki has no feelings about it, which seems very strange. Her grandmother’s feelings are now at least understandable.
27 – Just shy of very good. Character development.
* 28 – Some character development. Focus on Mitsuki’s friend at school. Touching, warm-hearted, and funny.
* 29 – Excellent.
30 – Very good. Some unneeded profanities, but good character development, and some funny parts.
31 – Ok. Takto’s jealousy is getting kinda old and the lesson here is silly.
* 32 – Good. Semi-standalone.
33 – Ok. Somewhat heavy.
34 – Good. Faint connections. Emotional. Just shy of very good.
* 35 – Excellent. One profanity (tstch has also been translated as ‘darn’ or ‘crap’). It’s heavy and shot through with fear, almost a horror feel. More connections forward and backward.
* 36 – Very good. Mitsuki’s reaction at the end seems hard to believe, though.
37 – The obligatory Christmas episode. Not horrible. Some character development, actually.
* 38 – Wow. Another emotional blowout. Excellent.
* 39 – Excellent. Emotional, flashbacks, and longingly looks forward to the next.
40 – It’s good, surprisingly emotional, and well-done, but the profanities and a flash of skin towards the end hold it back from being excellent.
* 41 – Another excellent one. The ending is surprising and a blow. Mitsuki’s emotions are kinda predictable and unbelievable in one place, though.
* 42 – Just crushing.
* 43 – Again, crushing.
* 44 – Devastating, and like 41-43, connected to the past and with intimations of the future. Doesn’t end with everything wrapped up. Man. This is what the series promised from the beginning.
* 45 – Wow, another excellent one.
* 46 – Absolutely crushing, but it ends well. At last, the dawn.
* 47 – Beautifully heartwarming and yet, tragic. Awesome combo.
48 – Very good. Only a lame camera angle on Meroko detracts.
49 – Not bad. Definitely connected to other episodes, and doesn’t end with everything all wrapped up. A little bit of cheese.
* 50 – So incredibly wonderful that I didn’t think I could take it.
51 – Good, a great ending, but also a total mistranslation (GD). C’mon FSG. Get real.
52 – Not bad, a little over the top, but it ends on an up note — I know, it’s kind of amazing that they pulled it off. It’s not as convincing as it could be. It’s a bit rushed, but I am impressed with stories that end happily and do so without being utter cheese, and FMWS does so. The theology is…eh…I can see some parallels to the truth, but I don’t think it was really thought through.

The problem with this series is that it takes too long to get to the good stuff, that so many of the shows follow the same formula, that Mitsuki learns anything from Takto’s jealousy-inspired harangues, and that for much of the series, there’s no character development. Mitsuki seems a bit underdeveloped as a character, sometimes, but I think that’s because doing so allows the primary audience (young girls) to pour themselves into Mitsuki’s place. Also her singular focus on a guy is unhealthy both emotionally and spiritually. If you place all your hopes upon someone who will let you down, when they do, you’ve got nothing left.

As a result, this series is both emotionally powerful and yet unhealthy. I think if it were shorter it would have been a better series, and also one more poignant. Don’t get me wrong; the good episodes are good, and it ends well, but it spends too much time in territory that almost makes you feel without hope, knowing that the fragile hope Mitsuki has is doomed, yet this continues on and on instead of coming to a quick end.

Anyhow, if you are an emotional person, watch this with care. If you’re not and you just like fluffy happy stuff, this series isn’t for you because of its undertones and the last third of the series. Also, for guys we have to be careful because seeing episode after episode of Meroko’s outfit is a bit much.

A.F.K is the fansub group that did this series, although another group (I forget which) is doing the DVDs. To download this, search for it at your local torrent hole and find the 8.4 Gb release from A.F.K. The files are hardsubbed AVIs, and if you want to get a good idea of the series, download the first episode and then some from 19 onward.

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While I was never a huge fan of K-On!, I did enjoy most of season one. Some episodes were good, others were lame, and there was a subplot that I hated (you can guess which one), but on the whole, the series worked. There was something endearing in the struggles of a group of high-school girls learning music, even if the music aspect took a back-burner too often. Probably the best episode of that season was the special after-season one, where the girls performed live at a get-together with other bands.

Season two is nothing like season one. I can say this after three episodes because it’s that bad. Here’s how they killed K-On:

  1. Reduce the mentality of the series from high school to junior high. K-On now is Pretty Cure.
  2. Shrink the size of the characters, which de-emphasizes their physically distinguishing characteristics. Everyone looks the same now.
  3. Remove all personality from the characters, so they all ACT like each other, too. Ritsu’s edge is gone. Mio’s shyness is history. Asan-yan’s respect for Ritsu as senpai is forgotten. It’s basically pod people city.
  4. Slow the pace to glacial and get rid of all plot. This is a big one, because K-ON! didn’t have much to sacrifice in the plot department and now that’s gone, too.
  5. Amp up the super-cuteness and bleed out the touches of intelligent humor. There’s still humor. It’s just weak, unfunny, flat and dead.

Was this simply rushed to capitalize on the popularity of the franchise? It sure feels like it. All they had to do to make it successful was keep things going as they were. Instead they dumbed it down, sparkled it up, and made it as generic as possible.

Welcome to the graveyard, K-On!

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Skip Beat has been hailed in various corners (well ok, at least over on the fansub.tv forums) as being the next best thing since sliced bread. Having watched the first four episodes and eaten quite a few slices of bread, I can’t agree less.

Skip Beat (official site, fan site) is a shoju series, and that’s enough to alienate most guys right there. Not me. I heart Saiunkoku Monogatari, for instance. But this shoju series obsesses over one main character, who herself obsesses over a guy that broke her heart. She vows revenge upon him by going into the music business. So if you guessed that the series features endless amounts of internal dialog, ridiculously overdramatized situations, jr. high humor, and more than a few profanities, then you’ve got Skip Beat in a nice little package, wrapped with a bow.

I wanted to like the main character, Kyoko. Really, I did. It sucks having your heart broken, but revenge? That’s totally unhealthy. And then the unfunny situations, dramatized beyond belief, the incessant self-pity and whining? Yuck! After four episodes, “I can’t stands no more!” Do yourself a favor and just give this one a pass. Here’s an abbreviated episode guide.

1 — Ok, semi-interesting
2 — Lame
3 — Better. The plot is thickening.
4 — Ok, but several profanities. The plot is too slow for me and because the MC is pretty much the only character, it gets old. I’m officially bored with this series as of this episode. There’s just not enough going on for me to continue watching it.

Welcome to the graveyard, Skip Beat.

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