Posts Tagged ‘school’

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.


Sanae (Dekomori)

Highly recommended by OO.

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

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This is probably the best Studio Ghibli film, all things considered. It’s not the most emotional, but it is emotional; it’s one of the best drawn; the music is effective and it hits the late 1960’s vibe dead-on — and the ending song is awesome. The characters are sharply-defined; the pacing and the plotting are appropriate to the length of the film; it ends convincingly, and it celebrates in that characteristic Japanese way, the beauty of the past. Thematically, it is a poignant love story that leverages the past, a period romance if you will. No profanities, and no immorality. The only weakness is that it provides no eternal resonance, aside from a few nods to the great ideas of the past, late in the film. From Up on Poppy Hill isn’t iconic, but it is consistently good on (nearly) all fronts. It’s worth watching a few times.


Shun’s tugboat

The fansubbing is decent, but not excellent. For example, I noticed a few strange moments where the English translation is ruder than the Japanese. In one scene the literal Japanese is “Ok, see you!” and the translation is “Suit yourself.” But the FSG did capture the essential spirit of the dialog. I’d be interested to see if anyone else translates this and what their take is.

Fansubbed by NODLABS. Download from the torrent hole of your choice.

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Although I watched Another all the way through, I can’t recommend it. It’s the classic tale of anime gone wrong: an incredible start followed by increasingly poor episodes that by the end become unconscious self-parody. Still, the first three episodes are very well done, and worth keeping even if the rest of the series fails.

Another is the story of a cursed class whose members and relatives die under mysterious circumstances every year. This is horror, and initially, it’s done right: atmospheric music, taut characterization, and eeriness without gore. By the fourth episode, gore has replaced the atmosphere, and the series is off the rails by episode five. The series contains no sexual content, occasional profanities, and tons of blood and gore. Be warned. It’s not subtle stuff, and that’s another tragedy. It didn’t have to be dehumanizing. Anyhow, here’s my short guide.

1 – Excellent. The intro music is out of place, though; but once the show starts, the creeping dread settles on you like a funeral shroud. The music is perfect; the sound effects, dead on; the characterization and the plot and the atmosphere are all pushing 10. So far, some gore, no profanity, but tons of atmosphere. This is one that you want to not watch anything else afterwards, just to keep feeling the frissions of creepiness.

2 – A little slower-paced, but still creepy as all get out. The music in this series always keeps you on edge. The ending theme, is the perfect counterpart, slow-moving and beautifully sad. You start to see the little touches that make this series stand out. The scene in the doll house is amazing.

3 – The ravens gather. The beginning is creepy, very unsettling, and the MC slowly finds out what is going on through the story of 26 years ago, Misaki, and the warnings of the class. The ending is gory, but it’s not exploitatively so. I’d say this is somewhere between 2 and 1 in terms of quality.

4 – The atmosphere is still good, one profanity, but the merciless ending is something that is getting to me. There’s not enough exploration of the grief, and the deaths are just random and brutal. The music is still good and the whole outsider/secret angle is used well.

5- WHAT? In a single word, lame. All of the supernatural fear and horror are drained out of the show, leaving just another boring girl/guy thing, since the charm (the shunning) works. I swear. The emotional jags that anime series take sometimes utterly mystify me. Why build up all this atmosphere if you’re just going to dissipate it and let it come to nothing?

6 – OK. The atmosphere returns to some degree, and a total cliffhanger ending.

7 – The beginning is completely gory, and the emotions that the class has to deal with are never even addressed. There’s some creepiness at the end, but it’s like the series has become schizo. The atmosphere is gone, the characterization is gone.

8 – No prurient camera angles, but there’s a lot of girls in swimsuits. Another pointlessly gory ending. The characterization is barely there. No atmosphere.

9 – Some attempt at restoring the atmosphere, but it’s ruined by the pointless deaths. They do explain the ending of the prior episode, but it’s become an emotionless by-the-numbers gore thing by now.

10 – Ok, this one is good. There is only one death at the end, and the rest is atmosphere, although it’s not as compelling as in the early episodes.

11 – Incredibly bad. People go crazy for no reason, tons of blood and gore, not scary, just by-the-numbers and stupid.

12 – Again, just bad. Lots of people die and they die in silly, stupid ways. It’s done to excess and the dead person is such a freaking deus ex machina that you’d never suspect it in a thousand years. There was literally no way to predict. The emotional wrap up is absent — there’s no greater relevance, no spiritual point, the people just survive and that’s it. The closing scene is pointless.

If you want it, you can find it at the torrent hole of your choice. Quite a few groups did this one, with ReinWeiss doing the best job, in my opinion.

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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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If you are wondering, is Whisper of the Heart worth an 18 Gb Blue-ray download, I’ll set your mind at ease: it’s not. However, it’s far from terrible. While this movie isn’t half-hearted, it’s more like three-quarters-hearted — good, but not excellent. All of its constituent pieces just don’t come together to leave an enduring impression; it begins small and it stays small, and sadly, of little account.

Whisper of the Heart is one of those Ghibli movies, so you know the animation style, and being as it was released in 1995, and a movie, you know that there won’t be photorealistic scenes, but what is here reflects a lot of care, skill, and probably love. The realism of passing clouds, shadows falling away when characters go from shaded areas to light, and the perspective of a train going forward are very nice. The eyes are not very detailed, but the faces are. If you’re a fan of Hime-Chan’s Ribbon, then you’ll be fine with what they do here. The animation doesn’t disappoint for the time period, but I’ve never been a stickler for watching only masterwork animation, anyways; in many places, it’s quite good. Animation is not why Whisper doesn’t succeed.

The music is rarely interesting, and it is, at the beginning, quite confusing. While you’re watching the main character, Shizaru move from place to place in Tokyo, the soundtrack is “Country Roads”, the 1970’s country song. For a good minute, I thought that I had accidentally played something off a web page. It was that jarring. In other places, the music is muddled (sonically) and emotionally, doesn’t add an extra impact to the storyline. It functions often as merely background music, as if the director said, “Hey, we need some music here,” and they just found whatever royalty-free stuff they could toss in. It remains low-key throughout, and that’s a shame. Music is part of why Whisper doesn’t succeed.

The vocal work is mediocre; some of the female characters sound too much alike. The voices are not sharply distinguished as in most anime from the late 90’s forward, and as a result, it’s hard to tell whom is talking from time to time. The men cut a much better form. The vocal work is a small part of why Whisper doesn’t succeed.

The storyline generally works. It skirts the line between fantasy and reality, and depicts Shizaru’s home life in a convincing, realistic way. The challenges she faces, the people she meets, and the situations that she works through all work together, but the emotional depth is missing. Only rarely do you feel the tears that Shizaru cries, or do you feel the heat rush to your cheeks the way it does when love arises. The end waffles off into cheeziness instead of pulling back to an expansive, “open-up” type ending. I don’t know if they compressed too much of the manga here, but it feels like they covered too much ground, and therefore couldn’t go as deep as the story deserved. The characterization is short-changed, as are the emotions, and the overall effect. Whisper ends up feeling like a story that doesn’t matter much, and it should have been the opposite, claiming such ground as To Heart and To Heart: Remember My Memories, at least. This is the big reason why Whisper doesn’t succeed.

As for details, the plot begins when the avid reader Shizaru, notices that someone else has read the books she is reading before she did. (This was back in the day when you used to sign your name on the book card and they would stamp the date after it.) Shizaru follows a cat that leads her to a very strange curio shop, and meets an obnoxious boy. The boy, of course, ends up being the boy who has checked out the books before her; the curio shop (and the boy) spur her to discover her talent, instead of wandering through middle school life without any direction or purpose. In the end, she writes a novella that demonstrates she has talent, and the title of this work is Whisper of the Heart.

I wouldn’t say that Whisper is cheezy, although depending on your tolerance for shojou works, you may find it so. Sometimes it gets perilously close to the edge, but it never wanders over until the very end; sadly, it just doesn’t go far enough the other way to make it recommendable.

Available as an 18-GB huge download from REVO subs, or from your local torrent hole. Note: there are other versions out there, but it looks like no-one is seeding them (aside from the perv-pushers over at Coalgirls).

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Kurenai is a plodding, leaden, mostly unemotional 12-episode anime` that debuted in 2008. It’s mostly plot-based, although there are occasional interesting flashes of characterization and humor, on the order of a handful every two episodes or so. The music is wholly uninvolving, neither adding to the emotion, nor detracting from it, but rather it just exists the way a refrigerator or a dryer exists. While Kurenai touches upon some bizarre/unsettling topics, it does so in such a way to make them unemotional as well; the animation style is also to blame herein. The colors are dark, muted, stripped of vibrancy, and the character’s facial expressions follow with a wooden response.

The plot is rather basic and takes a while to unfurl. It’s all about Shinkurou, who is a dispute mediator, who does jobs for Benica. One of these jobs is protecting Murasaki, a seven-year-old girl, who has been removed from the inner sanctum of the Kuhōin household. Murasaki has never been outside the sanctum, so she learns to adjust to the outside world, and the Kuhōinis try to get her back.

There are sexual references and these are occasionally crude. Profanity is uncommon. Gore is rare and unexpected. As for moral viewpoint, it’s the usual self-betterment/positive Japanese cultural perspective. There’s no paganism or Shintoism mentioned (except for one visit to a shrine) but neither is God positively mentioned. The lack of moral perspective seems strangely absent, given what many of the characters go through.

No one episode is better than any other; they all run together like clouds upon a rainy day. If you make it all the way to the end, you find out that aside from the major conflict being resolved, nothing else has changed. It’s frustrating and kind of depressing.

If you’ve watched the Kurenai OVA first, save yourself the trouble of watching the series. The OVA is worlds better in terms of animation, humor, and characterization. And it’s funnier, warmer, and doesn’t restrict itself to a dead color palette.

Kurenai isn’t very good, but it’s not sludge, either. About the only thing it’s good for is occupying your time if you have nothing else to do. I guess the best way to describe how I feel about it is “meh”.

Look for the BSS batch subs (1.82 Gb) at a torrent hole near you.

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Black Rock Shooter (OVA) 2010. Ok, what we have here is a plot that takes forever to unwind, but the direction of which is obvious within the first ten minutes. Not only that, but there is zero depth: the conflict is a hackneyed over-emotional metaphor for a tiff between best friends. Seriously? And then there’s all the plot threads left dangling all over the place! What the heck is the orange world, anyways? Don’t even get me started on the predictable cliff-hanger ending.

If you’re not turned off yet, the fighting scenes feature boringly predictable psuedo-metal music coupled with basically loli fight scenes. I’m really sick of that. Not only is it totally unreal (you cannot fight in a string bikini, guys — it offers no protection and it gets blown off when you’re falling through empty air), but it’s so transparently prurient. Lest you think that is just part of the genre, you have the other loli parts where the school uniforms expose midriffs. Yeah, I can see who this appeals to, and it’s not me.

About the only thing BRS has going for it is the lack of profanity and some cute scenes between the two main characters. You’ve seen that in Clannad, Soro No Woto, To Heart, and K-On, though, and those series did it much better.

Black Rock Shooter misses, big-time. Welcome to the graveyard.

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It’s really hard to write a review about a series that you love. You run the risk of waxing romantic and droning on about the subtle differences that bore people who aren’t already into the show; on the other hand if you collapse your appreciation into terse sentences like “Watch this. It roolz.” then no-one else will understand why the series was good. So between the fanboy and the hip otaku, therein lies the chasm straddled by the honest reviewer, and yeah, it often feels like you’re stretched across a chasm.

Hime-chan’s Ribbon (1992-1993) is something of a legend in anime` circles. It was one of the most mature magical girl animes` before Sailor Moon came along and added fighting to the mix, and other series tried to appeal to (dumb and horny) guys by sexing up series, a la Lyrical Girl Nanohora. So it may be the purest example of the genre out there. At the same time, it was a mature example of the genre in that magic didn’t fix everything and the main character had to grow up and learn NOT to rely upon magic as a cureall. You toss in the above-average musical score, the well-characterized characters, and deft emotional plots, and it’s easy to see how I could write a book about HCR’s virtues.

However, the series was not perfect. Season two and three saw HCR lose the plot about the ribbon and the lessons Hime-chan learned by it. In fact, you could probably skip most of episodes 31-53 and not miss anything. HCR does experience the anime` sag, just later on in the series and for a more prolonged period than usual. It was in the middle that the series came to rely more upon stand-alone episodes instead of story arcs; and towards the end, the highly-annoying summary episodes showed up when they weren’t needed if you had been following the series all along. At times, it was schmaltzy, cheezy, and over-the-top; critics will find most of the series this way, but I found only a few episodes guilty as charged.

However, if you watch the majority of the episodes and savor them for the pure-hearted innocence that they are, you’re in for a heartwarming and humorous experience. About the only moral caution I would throw out is that far too often, Hime-chan relies upon deception, or purposeful lying in order to evade consequences. Nearly all of the profanities I’m convinced are mistranslations (for example, I’ve seen “itse” translated as “brat” elsewhere and not “b*stard” and at least in one case, “d*mn” is used in place of “idiot”).

One other thing that’s worth mentioning is that although HCR is emotional, it is not pointlessly so. I’m in awe of the way this series builds up sorrow to a climax and then at its height, washes it away in a deeper understanding that we are not meant to be defeated or laid low, but to learn and endure and to triumph.

HCR exists in two forms: the complete original fansubbed series (at small rez and with cruddy WMA audio), and the high-quality DVD AVIs being released by Honobono. Unfortunately, Honobono has only made it to episode 21, so you’re stuck with the original if you want to see the other episodes.

For your downloading pleasure:

The high points in this series are episodes 1-31, and then episodes 54-55, and 59-61. And now, one last word — how does it end? Gently. You’re not left feeling hopeless, but rather feeling like Hime-chan’s adventures were continuing and you could return to them at any time. I say this because sometimes the ending of a good series is like the ending of a good book. You hate to see it end and it can be painful. That’s not the case here.

Hime-chan’s ribbon is definitely worth watching.

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