First Impressions: Flower Boy Ramyun Shop

Girls trying to achieve their dreams

should steer clear of cocky teenagers.

After several full reviews, it’s about time I checked out something new. Thanks to my sister’s insistence (say that three times fast) it turned out to be the first episode of a recent-ish Kdrama. And that Kdrama is called Flower Boy Ramyun Shop.

Eun Bi, trying her best to prove that geeky girls can have it all.

Yang Eun Bi is hard at work studying for final exams with the dream of becoming a high school teacher. She’s twenty-five, a go-getter, and believes she has everything together. She has a boyfriend in the army, and she knows that her life will be perfect once she becomes a respectable teacher like her roommate (who is already quite successful in both dating and employment). However, that boyfriend turns out to be less than faithful. Luckily Eun Bi has a tarot reading in which the fortune teller predicts that she will meet the one she is meant to be with this year, and when she does bells will ring. By sheer coincidence, Eun Bi has a run-in with handsome Cha Chi Soo in a public restroom just as bells ring.

Enter Chi Soo, aka Mr. Cool.

Chi Soo is arrogant and on the run from his rich father and the many guards sent to retrieve him. He’s just returning to Korea from New York, and his main goal is avoiding both his father as well as all responsibility. While trying to escape one day he hides in the ladies’ bathroom and meets Eun Bi. She thinks he’s a pervert until he almost kisses her, then smirks and walks away. After that incident Eun Bi keeps running into Chi Soo, and once she finds out her army boyfriend is worthless, her popular roommate gives her advice on how to date. Eun Bi tries this advice out on Chi Soo, but he laughs at her and joins his friends. At this point Eun Bi spies Chi Soo’s school uniform jacket and realizes that she’s been hitting on a teenager!

Is a pervert still a pervert if he’s kinda dreamy? Probably.

This episode was gosh darn adorable, and brought to mind one of my most addictive shoujo Kdrama favs, Boys Over Flowers. Eun Bi comes off as a slightly dorkier JanDi, which makes her a very likable protagonist. It’s difficult not to feel a kinship with her when she’s wishing she was as popular as her roommate or discovering that the guy she’s been pining over for two years is a complete jerk. Chi Soo has all the good looks and arrogance of the F4 and then some, but you know that a transformation is in the works for this cocky rich boy. Overall I was delighted with the initial episode and greatly look forward to watching even more Flower Boy Ramyun Shop, especially if the rest of the series is as funny and sweet as the first episode turned out to be.

La Luna Misteriosa: Polyphonica Crimson S

Students and spirits combine

to create music and save the known world.

To begin with, dear reader, let me just assure you that the cover of this DVD has nothing to do with today’s actual series. It is not loli porn or regular hentai in any way, shape, or form. It’s not even very ecchi. I have no idea why they went with a mostly naked Corti for the cover of the second season. Personally, I would be embarrassed to have this sitting on my anime shelf. And that’s a real shame, because Polyphonica Crimson S is actually quite an excellent anime (as I hoped it would be in my First Impressions post).

Hey kid, I know I’m glowing and stuff, but just don’t freak out, alright? All will be explained in this season, so hang tight…

This is the second season to the original Polyphonica, but it’s actually a prequel. Now we get to see the lives of the Dantists of the Tsuge Divine Music Player Office while they’re still in school and learning to master their One-Man Orchestras in order to play powerful Commandia. (If all of this sounds like gibberish to you, please see my review of the first season in order to get a grasp on the setting and characters involved in season two.) The plot is revealed little by little, and I obviously don’t want to give away any big surprises. What I will say is that you get an in-depth look at Corticarte and Phoron’s growing spirit/Dantist relationship, as well as the struggles that Phoron goes through in order to become a master Dantist. Also, we finally discover the full details of what spirits are, how they function, and exactly how spirits, humans, and indeed this entire world was created. It’s not all sunshine and roses, though, as the antagonists this time around are a group of highly skilled Dantists who are very unhappy with the current state of affairs. Secrets hiding at the Dantist Academy are revealed, and the students have to band together in order to combat the rebels and try to save everything they know and love.

Phoron does his best Phantom of the Opera impression. Gets the ladies every time.

What’s really great about this prequel is the fact that all of my questions and concerns about season one were answered in this season. Seriously, every single problem I had with the first season was addressed here. What the heck are “spirits” and where did they come from? Answered. What’s the full story of Phoron and Corticarte’s relationship? Addressed. The subtitles were normal-sized in this season instead of tiny as they were in the last. The artwork was similar to before but slightly more crisp and detailed this time around. And my biggest concern from last season, the one-off episodes that never developed a sustainable plot, was completely laid to rest in season two. Crimson S was much more successful in producing unique episodes but still feeding details about the big picture each time, so when the final few episodes appeared we, the viewers, were better prepared and much more invested in the outcome.

See what I mean? Ladies love Phantom. All except for Prinesca, who prefers Cats.

On top of fixing the problems from before, the creators of this series kept everything that was great about the first season. Once again the music was lovely, and while not new, it still resonated with beauty, especially in the finale. Corti was as cross and brash as ever, Phoron was still sweet and unassuming, and good ol’ Rembart remained the coolest kid in school. Once again there was an episode devoted to the twin sisters Prinesca and Perserte, and this time I even got a little choked up watching it. There were a few new characters introduced in this season, but not nearly as many as in the first, which made them much easier to keep track of than the folks in season one. While I don’t think that the main cast of Dantists and spirits were necessarily more emotionally developed in this season, because they are the ones that we’ve been following since the beginning it’s easy to feel a kinship with them, fleeting as it may be.

Corti gets a buzz from Phoron’s mighty fine playin’.

Overall, season two of Polyphonica is vastly superior to the first. Every problem I had with season one was answered in spades, and all the good stuff remained. As is par for the course with most anime there was slightly more fan service in this season, but nothing much more than a couple of blurry ecchi shots of Corti. At one point we even see Phoron naked, which was really weird! I mean, I’m all for equal nudity, but he’s such a pure and innocent character that it felt dirty to see his naked lil’ bottom. Even so, it’s nowhere near as ecchi as the cover might lead one to believe. In fact, absolutely everything was better in season two. However, you still need season one in order to appreciate it. I’m so glad that I watched Polyphonica Crimson S because it gave me everything that I was missing the first time. I love backstories and prequels, and this one lived up to all of the promise that was only hinted at in season one.

Rating: ★★★★ Sure, you have to get through season one in order to get to the good stuff here. However, this season alone elevates the entire series.

Death Becomes Her: Princess Resurrection

She is the princess of all monsters.

He now lives to serve only her.

Today’s is my younger sister’s birthday. Happy birthday, sis! My younger sister enjoys anime, but she’s over the moon for Kdrama, so in her honor I was planning to write a First Impressions review of a Kdrama. Alas, time was not on my side, and since I have several completed anime series just begging for review, I’ll merrily go forth with today’s offering: Princess Resurrection. (At least it has “princess” in the title, so that can be the nod to my sister for now.)

“I’m a princess, and I drink tea. That’s our thing here: monsters and tea.”

Hime is a princess, but not just any princess. She’s a member of the royal family who rules over all monsters. Unfortunately, she and her siblings are constantly engaged in an epic battle to the death. Because of this, Hime must watch her back and keep those loyal to her nearby at all times. Enter our hapless hero, named, appropriately enough, Hiro. He’s your average teenage boy, and he’s on his way to live with his older sister, Sawawa, in the mansion where she works as a maid. Unfortunately, on the way to meet her he ends up saving Hime’s life at the cost of giving up his own. Hime, impressed by his chivalry, brings him back to life with her scared flame. (For more details please read my First Impressions post about this series.) However, the flame must be revived every so often by Hime or else he’ll die again, this time permanently. And so the only way that Hiro can stay alive is to remain at Hime’s side as her sworn servant. He’s not completely on his own, though. Hime also has a very capable android maid named Flandre, and as the series progresses she gains the aid of a hot-headed werewolf named Liza as well as a calculating vampire named Riere. Hime needs all the help that she can get, because in every episode she ends up battling one supernatural creature after another, most sent to destroy her by one of her royal siblings. But which one is most out to get Hime? And why must the royals continuously battle one another?

Hiro makes his patented “Oh boy, here we go again!” face. Which is pretty much his only facial expression.

Y’know, I really, really wanted to love this anime. And I really, really don’t. Where to begin? Well, let’s start with the most obvious part: the artwork. By this point I’ve seen several Madhouse offerings, and usually I enjoy the quality of their work. But this series just seemed underdeveloped with its basic lines, lack of detail, and primary coloring. Speaking of underdeveloped, I felt that the story had potential, but it was all wasted week after week on one formulaic episode after another. A member of Hime’s household gets attacked, everyone bands together to fight off the intruders, Hime more often than not saves the day, everyone gives Hiro comedic grief. Cut, print, next episode: same thing. No character was shown beyond a basic personality trait (Liza’s hot-headedness, Riere’s mocking bitchiness, Hime’s calm lack of concern, Sawawa’s cluelessness…) and even when we were given select details about a character’s background it failed to make said character any deeper or more interesting. I know that shounen heroes are often portrayed as flat in order for the viewers to insert themselves into the main role, and Hiro was as flat and boring as they come. However, no character in the entire series displayed anything other than the same trademarks by saying the same lines in the same stories time and time again.

I haz a Flandre, your argument is invalid.

Not that this series was a total loss. The English voice cast was pretty great, especially considering the drab material they had to work with. I was genuinely delighted to hear Hime’s seiyuu, Shelley Calene-Black, make a vocal appearance in The Book of Bantorra, and Luci Christian (voicing Liza) is always a treat. The OP and ED were great, especially the ED, which also had some fabulous artwork accompanying it that reminded me of 90s goth girl comics like Lenore and Emily the Strange. Despite saying only one word throughout the entire series (which sounded like, “Foogah!”) Flandre grew to become my favourite character, probably because she was diminutive yet kicked ass. I never expected her personality to grow very much because she was an android, and yet she actually did inch up just a bit in episode twenty-five. Speaking of which, the final three episodes were, in my opinion, the most interesting. Episode twenty-four provided a conclusion that wasn’t shocking so much as, “Oh, so that’s the deal. Huh, okay.” Then twenty-five was about Flandre, and twenty-six was an interesting nightmarish recap of previous capers. Each of the final three episodes provided a slight stirring of emotions, and while it wasn’t much, it was felt like falling into a lake in the middle of a desert.

Sorry gang, it just wasn’t working for me. Hiro, keep it in your pants!

I really wanted this series to be so much better than it actually was. Truth be told I was bored after just three episodes, but I kept watching anyway because I hoped it would get better. I’ve discovered that quite often anime series with at least twenty-four episodes tend to get repetitive and stale in the first twelve, then blossom into a cohesive plot in the latter twelve. However, that was not to be the case this time. I will admit that episode thirteen, “Princess Sacrifice,” did make quite an impression on me. Hime and Hiro become trapped in a village and pursued by a massive serial killer who wears a bag over his head and wields a scythe. I was actually freaked out while watching it, then I had a nightmare that evening because of that episode. However, I think that speaks more to my personal psyche rather than the anime itself. Overall, I was excited at the prospect of a gothy anime with lots of strong female characters, or at least a funny harem with monsters, but alas, it was not to be. Princess Resurrection is just that: the same ol’ plot resurrected over and over and over again throughout twenty-four episodes. And that’s far too long to be strung along, even by a princess.

Rating: ★★✰ I suppose I’m glad that I finished it, especially given that I usually enjoy the subject matter, but if I knew then what I know now, this series would be a definite pass.

You Are The Music In Me: Ef, A Tale Of Melodies

Are we alone? Do actions matter?

All will meet in music and love.

Oh Ef, where to begin? If you aren’t familiar with the first season of this visually stunning series, I suggest you take a gander at my review of season one, Ef: A Tale Of Memories. Season two, Ef: A Tale Of Melodies, is every bit as much of an emotional roller coaster/feast for the eyes as its predecessor.

Shadows of Yuko and Yu: their destinies paint each other’s lives, as well as the lives of those around them.

Once again we follow the paths of two sets of couples, only this time we have a frame of reference since all of the main characters in season two were side characters in season one. (For details please see my First Impressions post.) The first pair consists of Yu Himura, a budding artist, and Yuko Amamiya, the strange new girl at school, and their story takes place many years ago when both were in high school. As it turns out, Yu and Yuko knew each other when they were children in the same orphanage, and when they meet again they fall in love. However, all things are not as they seem: Yuko carries a dark secret with her, one that threatens to poison her blossoming relationship with Yu. The second story takes place in the present and concerns Mizuki Hayama, schoolmate to season one’s Kei and recent high school graduate, as well as Kuze Shuichi, an adult violinist who attended school alongside Yu and Yuko. As soon as Mizuki hears Kuze play she falls in love with him, yet Kuze rejects her out of fear (you find out more details very soon into the series). Will Mizuki be able to heal Kuze’s heart enough for him to love her in return? Will Yu and Yuko manage to escape the demons that haunt them? Will love conquer all?

Kuze wears many masks, both literally and figuratively.

I don’t want to divulge more details that what I’ve stated above, as this series takes quite a few drastic twists and turns, and I’d hate to spoil it for any new fans. Sufficed to say you get a lot of the dramatic events unfolding early on, which I was quite pleased with. This show definitely kept me on the edge of my seat because I never knew what fresh hell would be thrown at these characters. As in season one, I didn’t feel particularly connected to any one player in the story, which would usually bug me but oddly doesn’t matter so much in the Ef series. It retained its sense of viewing a dramatic painting rather than being immersed in a novel, but that didn’t make it any less enthralling to watch. I was also happy with how well the second season compliments the first. Both are companion pieces of the same story rather than separate entities. To understand the entire saga you really need to watch both seasons, preferably one right after the other.

Mizuki provides one of the few rainbows in this dark tale.

Like the first season, the artwork is gorgeous and makes interesting use of silhouettes, shadows, and colours. It stands on its own as viscerally enticing, but the epic storyline takes the series even further. Once again I found myself distracted with the incredibly high volume of melodrama, but toward the end of the series I became just as caught up in the setting and characters as I did in season one. There’s a bit more fan service this time, as seems to be par for the course in anime, but it never became distracting as it was mostly relegated to the credits. The music was similar to season one as well: pleasant enough to hear at first, then slowly taking root in your brain so that you find yourself getting swept up by the familiar notes at the close of the final episode.

“Finally, Yuko, after 24 episodes, I realized that you’re…” “Shhh, don’t spoil the surprise!”

A Tale of Melodies might be the most perfect second season of an anime that I’ve seen to date. It neither surpasses nor fails the original, but instead retains an equal level of excellent artwork and storytelling. The feel of the second season is the same as the first, but the development of the story is fresh and new, not just a humdrum continuation. There are definitely adult themes in this series, making it one for more mature anime fans, but as with season one, Ef: A Tale of Melodies is not to be missed. Ef as a whole is both grand and simplistic, dark and light, sad and uplifting. I can see myself rewatching the entire series again when I need a story to take me away from myself for a while, then leave me filled with hope when I return, which is a pretty impressive feat for an anime.

Rating: ★★★★✰ Just as with season one, I knocked off half a star for the melodrama, but this definitely ranks with some of the best emotional anime that I’ve seen.

Norse Code: Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok

Face of a child, powers of a god.

He could end the world or save it.

I’ve been watching Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok for so many weeks now that I can hardly believe it’s over. Everything must end, though, especially this series, since Ragnarok is actually the end of the world in Norse mythology. In fact, that was my main draw to today’s show: getting to see anime versions of the gods of Asgard in action. It never quite turned into the series I was hoping it would (see my First Impressions for details) but it was still a worthwhile watch.

Meet Loki, a god, and Mayura, a girl with the power to say “Another strange mystery!” more annoyingly than anyone else on Asgard or Earth.

Loki, Norse god of mischief, has been exiled to Earth in the form of a child. He’s not quite sure why Odin (ruler of the Norse gods) has a vendetta against him, but he wants to return to Asgard (the realm of the gods) as well as his original form quite badly. The only way he can do this is by gathering evil energy (though what exactly he’s supposed to do with all that evil energy, we don’t know) so he opens a paranormal detective agency along with his trusty manservant Yamino. While solving a case involving an evil doll he meets Mayura, a teenager who is obsessed with mysteries and the paranormal. She begins hanging out with Loki (despite his initial objections) and tries to help solve cases, though more often than not she gets captured or is just in the way. Mayura doesn’t realize that Loki is a god despite all of the strange and magical things that happen when he’s around, proving she’s not the sharpest tool in the shed. Throughout the series more gods show up, some with the intention of helping Loki, others trying to kill him. It seems like just about everyone in Asgard is either in love with him or wants him dead. Either way, they all get into many escapades as the series progresses and Loki gets closer to the truth about who is the one actually thirsting for vengeance.

“Check out my super cool weapon Yamino! Wait, what do you mean you’re not impressed? I don’t care if you’ve seen me wield it a thousand times, you will be awed by it or you’ll taste my clichéd wrath!”

Let’s start with the good: the animation itself is excellent for a series that’s nearly a decade old, which one would expect with Studio Deen. It’s a little bright and cartoony in comparison to other works such as Hell Girl or Vampire Knight, almost as though Studio Deen were producing a typical American Saturday morning cartoon, yet even so the quality is apparent. The opening theme is great, and while the closing theme suffers from some shaky vocals, it’s still quite catchy. The idea of the story is an interesting blend of culture: Norse gods solving occult crimes in modern-day Japan makes for some amusing scenes. However (and here we get to the bad) the story overall never really took off. It was a series of similar plotlines, and even when new gods were introduced they were just blended into the background of another form episode the next time. The second half of the series was better than the first in that we finally had some established conflict within the plot, but it was still never riveting entertainment due to reliance on the same old story patterns. In that regard, Loki’s weapon transformation scene was never outrageously cool to begin with, and after seeing it in nearly every single episode I couldn’t help but roll my eyes. It became stale and predictable, which is a shame given that the subject matter had such potential.

Yamino silently wills Mayura to stab herself in the eye as the audience cheers uproariously.

I could have better dealt with the formulaic episodes if the characters had been well-developed and interesting, but they weren’t. Loki as a child was bland and aloof in a partial-tsundere way and only became interesting when he transformed back into his original form. Those episodes were my favourites, but they were far and few between. Yamino had two episodes of not being the cheerful manservant and was otherwise relegated to only having the quirk of overspending on home shopping to make him lovable. Mayura was, for lack of a better term, a complete idiot and did nothing but detract from the show. Even her shrill voice was annoying. The other gods each had their own eccentricity such as Thor’s obsession with part-time jobs, Freyr’s obsession with cheap food, and Freyja’s obsession with, well, Loki. However, there was little else to each character other than her or his one definable trait, hence they were impossible to connect with, which kept me as a viewer from getting truly engrossed in the story.

Loki’s true form. “Better luck next time, lol!”

As a fan of Norse mythology and paranormal anime I was really looking forward to this series, but it never blossomed into the dark, rich tale that I was hoping for. That’s not to say that there’s no merit here: it’s a unique depiction of Loki, to be sure. He’s certainly much more accessible (and even sort of lovable) compared to other portrayals of the god of mischief found in stories such as Neil Gaiman’s Sandman, Marvel’s Thor, or even the original Norse mythology. According to good ol’ Wikipedia the manga is much darker than the anime, which leads me to believe that perhaps the manga is better, or at least that it lives up to the tempting potential displayed in the gothic opening credits of the anime. Even so, something kept me watching week after week. Admittedly I’m harsher when reviewing a series that I’m really looking forward to since it’s easier to be pleasantly surprised when your expectations are low. Mine were rather high for this one, but had I gone in blind (or just not raised my expectations based on the references to Norse mythology in the title) I might have written a glowing review of a relatively light, enjoyable fantasy anime. Even though Mythical Detective Loki Ragnarok didn’t quite deliver on its promise of dark intrigue and ancient godly battles, it’s still worth watching, especially if you adore the Norse gods like I do.

Rating: ★★★ Check it out for the fleeting mythological references, stay for the dreamy glimpses of adult Loki.

First Impressions: The Rose Of Versailles

Is she woman or man?

Would a rose raised as a thorn

still smell as sweet?

There are a few things that I tend to obsess over. (Okay, more than a few, but still.) Anime is one of them. 80s movies and 80s music are two more. And I constantly research the French Revolution as though I were getting paid for it. (If only!) So when I heard that there was a famous shoujo anime from the 80s that takes place at Versailles in the years just before the French Revolution, well, you can imagine my excitement. Actually, it debuted on television just a couple of weeks before I was born! Talk about a sign. And so today I bring you my first impression of the gender-bending classic The Rose of Versailles.

General Jarjeyes must have been wearing his bad idea breeches that night.

Here’s the skinny on episode one: General Jarjeyes is pissed off that he gets a daughter instead of a son, and so, on the very night that she’s born, he declares her name to be Oscar, and she will be raised as the son he never had. (Of course, if gender roles were seen for the ridiculous social restrictions that they really are, the sex of his newborn wouldn’t be an issue. Oh well, in a perfect world…) Flash forward fourteen years to 1769, and we see teenage Oscar fencing with Andre, the grandson of Oscar’s nursemaid. Meanwhile General Jarjeyes hopes to secure the position of Commander of the Royal Guard for his son/daughter, which entails protecting Marie Antoinette. The King of France states that if Oscar can defeat Gerodere, the rival son of another nobleman, at fencing, then she will indeed have the job. However, Oscar refuses her father, stating that she has no wish to babysit some girl. They fight, and as Oscar stalks away General Jarjeyes yells that the duel is set for noon the next day, and she better be there.

Here I’ve provided a collage of Gerodere getting his ass handed to him for your enjoyment.

The day of the duel arrives, and the entire court waits with bated breath to finally catch sight of Oscar, the famed beauty. Oscar, though, has other plans. Instead of appearing before the court, she waits for Gerodere to pass by in the woods. Once he appears, she tells him that she has no wish to be the Commander of the Royal Guard, but just so he doesn’t think that she’s scared of fighting him, she challenges him to the duel then and there. He scoffs and does the expected blustering about not wanting to harm a girl, then quickly gets his ass handed to him. The King and Oscar’s father are both furious, but instead of being punished, Gerodere explains to His Majesty that Oscar really is the best person for the job. Now all General Jarjeyes has to do is get Oscar to accept. He implores Andre, her best friend, to convince her to take up the position.

Andre and Oscar, chillin’ out max and relaxin’ all cool.

Andre takes Oscar horseback riding, but unbeknownst to him, she heard her father’s conversation with him and is expecting Andre to beg her to do the right thing. Yet Andre truly wants what is best for Oscar, and thanks to his grandmother he understands that her reluctance isn’t just about “babysitting a girl,” but choosing to live her life as a woman or as a man. Oscar yells at Andre and he baits her into having a fist fight. After they both release some aggression, Oscar rides away in a rush with Andre shouting, “Now is the time to become a woman again!!” When Andre returns he and the rest of the household are greeted to the sight of Oscar walking stoically down the stairs in the Commander of the Royal Guard’s uniform. With her father’s blessing, she and Andre ride off to go and meet Marie Antoinette, as well as Oscar’s destiny.

Oscar steels herself for thirty-nine episodes filled with changing room shenanigans and jock strap jokes.

There was nothing I couldn’t love here. As I mentioned before, Versailles in the years before the Revolution is a period in history that I just can’t get enough of, and it was well represented in the surroundings as well as the outfits of the characters. Speaking of which, the characters, while not entirely fleshed out yet, have the potential for some extraordinary storylines, especially the Lady Oscar. Several aspects reminded me of the singular episode I saw from Revolutionary Girl Utena: the dated yet fantastic artwork (though Rose isn’t quite as angular and pointed as Utena), the youthful and rebellious protagonists, the elaborate duels, the totally rad 80s theme songs (even though Utena is from the 90s, it still has a very 80s vibe to me), and of course, the gender-bending. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: all the best anime series have gender-bending, and from the tiny bit of Rose that I’ve seen, this one is ripe for some truly excellent comedic mix-ups, dramatic issues, and romantic problems. I only wish it were more widely available to English-speakers! Besides being expensive, all of the DVDs of this series that I’ve found for sale are either subtitle-less or in French. While I’m sure that forty episodes would improve my elementary French-speaking skills, I’d rather absorb the story in my native language before taking on such an endeavor. Ah well, c’est la vie. I’ll continue to search the web for any and all episodes that I can, because The Rose of Versailles is a series that I definitely need to see more of.

Foxy Lady: My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho

He freed her heart and soul.

Even mythological creatures need love.

I didn’t fly through this week’s romantic Kdrama as fast as I did with previous series such as Boys Over Flowers or Lie To Me. To be honest, I wasn’t drawn in for the first several episodes. However, like the characters in the story, I grew and evolved to the point where this series became very dear to me, and now I might even go so far as to call it my favourite Kdrama yet.

This is Dae-Woong’s “thinking” face.

The story gets set up pretty well in episode one, but the overall gist is this: Cha Dae-Woong is an aspiring actor who is rather selfish and spoiled by his aunt and grandfather. One day he runs away from his family and ends up in a temple outside of Seoul. There he hears a voice command him to draw nine tails on a painting of a fox. He does so out of fear, then runs away. What he doesn’t realize is that he has freed a five-hundred-year-old gumiho, aka a nine-tailed fox spirit. The gumiho follows Dae-Woong and discovers that he’s fallen down a cliff and severely injured. She gives him her energy bead, which will allow him to stay alive and heal without pain. However, because of this she has to stay near him so she won’t lose her bead. When Dae-Woong comes to and hears her story, he assumes that the girl following him around is crazy and tells her so. She becomes angry and warns him that she will find him, make him believe in her, then take back her bead, which will kill him.

Mi-Ho’s cuteness is as infectious as her love of meat. Seriously, I’m a pescetarian, and even I wanted to eat beef after I watched this series.

The strange girl’s words haunt Dae-Woong as he rides the bus back to Seoul. Sure enough, later on that night the gumiho appears, showing her nine glowing tails in the moonlight. She begins to take back her bead, then has a change of heart both because Dae-Woong freed her and because she liked him from the moment she saw him at the temple. Now that Dae-Woong believes her and realizes he needs her bead until he recovers from his fall, he promises to take care of her bead in exchange for housing the gumiho and feeding her. He introduces her to his friends as Gu Mi-Ho, and now has to deal with her constant demands for meat. Enter the antagonist, a super smokin’ hot guy named Park Dong-Joo, who also happens to be some sort of mythological creature (though we never find out exactly what kind). He has come to put Mi-Ho back in the painting, but when he finds out that her desire is to become human, he changes his mind and instead helps her. Dong-Joo explains that if Mi-Ho drinks some of his blood and leaves her bead in Dae-Woong for one hundred days, then takes back the bead full of human energy, she’ll become a human. What he neglects to tell her is that when she takes the bead back, Dae-Woong will die. Mi-Ho, excited at the prospect of becoming human, goes back to Dae-Woong and strikes a deal with him: he can keep the bead, which is healing his injuries (thus allowing him to pursue his stunt acting career) for one hundred days. In the meantime, in order to explain her constant presence, Mi-Ho will pose as Dae-Woong’s girlfriend. Thus begins a whole new chapter of shenanigans as Mi-Ho tries to learn how to act like a human, and Dae-Woong learns how to grow up as well as open his heart.

Ironically, Dong-Joo’s hotness makes *my* eyes fill with tears.

There are tons of other side stories, from the bitchy girl who likes Dae-Woong and suspects that Mi-Ho is not what she seems, to the fact that Mi-Ho resembles someone from Dong-Joo’s past, to Dae-Woong’s aunt finding romance, but the main story is about the developing relationship between Mi-Ho and Dae-Woong. Part of what made this series difficult to get into was the fact that Dae-Woong is so very spoiled and bratty in the first few episodes. Luckily Mi-Ho is adorable pretty much from the get-go, so she was able to carry the series on her own merit until Dae-Woong evolves a bit. And boy does he ever! It’s incredible how a character that started out as such a conceited jerk can become so responsible, romantic, and endearing in only sixteen episodes. Also, having the gorgeous Dong-Joo as a foil helped fill in the eye candy quotient that I was missing. I was slightly peeved that he remained such an enigma throughout and that we never find out much more than his name and occupation, but I can also see how his background wasn’t that relevant to the main story. It probably just annoyed me so much because of my crush on him.

Nothing like gettin’ a little tail! (Yes, I made that joke with Spice and Wolf, too. Still works here, imho.)

The story is great, very emotional and involving, but in subtle ways. I was often surprised by how caught up I was in the lives of the characters and their emotions. Only one little side story about a false pregnancy seemed superfluous, but luckily it resolved itself in just one episode. The music is fantastic, a great blend of sexy Kpop (for Dong-Joo’s theme) as well as upbeat and dancey Kpop (for Dae-Woong’s theme). And the love theme, “Fox Rain,” by Lee Sun Hee, is my favourite Kdrama love theme ever. It’s soft and sweet without becoming cloying or cheesy (as so many Kdrama love themes are wont to do). Every time I hear it, I get a little catch in my throat because it’s so lovely and filled with longing. The actors are all excellent and really played their parts well. I’ll especially keep my eyes peeled for more from Shin Mi Na, the adorable girl who played Mi-Ho, as well as the smoldering No Min Woo (Park Dong-Joo). My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho is a very funny comedy, as well as a great drama with loads of folklore and supernatural elements, but at its heart it’s a pure romance, and one of the best, in my opinion. You can’t go wrong with this Kdrama, as this Gumiho has a tail that appeals to everyone.

Mi-Ho stakes her claim on Dae-Woong. Beware of crossing a gumiho!

Rating: ★★★★★ Watch it, buy it, watch it again. And again and again and again.

Can You Keep My Secret: Maid Sama

At school she takes orders from no one.

At work she serves all with a smile.

At long last I finished watching Maid Sama, or Maid Sama! if you’re being particular, or Kaichō wa Maid-sama! if you want to be precise (translation: The President is a Maid!). While I wrote a rather glowing First Impressions review of episode one, my adoration for this particular shoujo waned a bit throughout the many weeks it took to finish this anime. But before we get into that, I’ll provide a brief overview of the series:

Misaki: she works hard for the money, so you better treat her right.

Misaki Ayuzawa is the class president of unruly Seika High, which was, until recently, an all-boys school. She has taken it upon herself to rule with an iron fist and whip the slovenly boys who dominate the school into shape in order to make the female students feel more welcome. This is all well and good, and she does manage to command respect from students of all genders. However, due to money troubles at home, Misaki has secretly taken up an after school job at a maid café called Maid Latte. If you’re unfamiliar with a maid café, it’s where cute girls wait on patrons while wearing costumes, call them “Master,” and generally provide subservient fantasies to anyone with enough money to purchase a dish of ice cream or a cup of coffee. Misaki knows that her reputation and respect would be ruined if anyone at her high school found out where she works. So, naturally, the most popular boy at Seika High discovers her secret part-time job. All other girls bore Takumi Usui, but something about Misaki’s deceptive double-nature intrigues him, so he begins hanging out at her place of employment, teasingly flirting with her in a dominating manner whenever he’s around. The rest of the series is pretty much Misaki dealing with her double life while trying to sort out her confused feelings about Usui.

Misaki and domineering Usui: sexy or chauvinistic? It’s all in the eye of the beholder.

What was a cute concept for the first half of the season became stale and slightly boring around the middle of the anime. The formula goes something like this: Misaki gets into trouble of some kind, usually via some jerk threatening her friends, her work, or her school, Usui swoops in to save her, but Misaki ends up saving herself. Even so, Usui leans in and says something flirty and domineering, then Misaki blushes and calls him a pervert before the credits roll. While some have criticized this series as suggesting that all strong women secretly want to be dominated, I don’t feel that’s a fair judgement. Misaki makes a good female lead; she’s smart, ambitious, and overall a pretty decent role model for a shoujo story. If it was all an act and she was just a damsel in distress waiting for Usui to save her, then it would be super lame. Her saving grace is, of course, the fact that she does usually pull herself out of the jams that she gets in, be it through her physical strength or her forceful words. I don’t have a problem with her carrying on a flirtation with a dominant male, especially as Usui is never violent or seriously threatening to Misaki in any way. He was playful and teased her, but if she ever actually got freaked out he backed off. She’s a strong character, so it makes sense that she would be drawn to a strong love interest.

Hey there, new love interest! Too bad you didn’t show up a little sooner. Oh Hinata, we hardly knew ye.

My main problem was with the formulaic episodes that began to blur together around episode twelve or so. My interest was piqued again when a former childhood friend of Misaki’s appears as a love interest as well as foil to Usui, but I felt that he was introduced far too late into the show to add any lasting spice to the story. Also, like so many anime series before, Maid Sama just kind of…ends. There is some resolution, but not enough to be very satisfying. Speaking of which, the only character we get a full backstory on is Misaki, which is disappointing because Usui was interesting but a little too mysterious. I wanted to know more about him but never got much more info than what is shared in episode one.

“Don’t call me Nyan Cat, I hate that freakin’ video! Besides, do I look like I fart rainbows?!? Huh? Yeah, didn’t think so!”

Overall, it was fun to watch, especially if you enjoy shoujo, but I don’t see a lot of rewatch value for me personally. The art was typical with nothing really new there, and the music was the same. The subtitles go by rather fast in this one, which wouldn’t be a problem except for the constant added words in the background as well as explanations of Japanese culture at the top of the screen. There was a lot of rewinding and pausing in order to read everything, and that got to be a bit of a headache at times. I was a little shocked at a couple of episodes in the beginning that seemed to casually suggest that Misaki was in danger of being sexually assaulted (though luckily nothing of the sort occurred) and those instances remained jarring even when the rest of the show devolved into fluff storylines. But all in all, I’m glad that I watched this series. It was a pleasant shoujo with some unexpectedly sexy moments, and I bet that the manga is even better than the anime. It’s not my favourite series by any stretch of the imagination, but you could do far worse than spending some time in the world of Maid Sama.

Rating: ★★★ Definitely check this out if you enjoy shoujo, but don’t expect to be blown away.

First Impressions: The Book Of Bantorra

With the books of the world at stake,

know that the librarians kick ass.

I saw a preview for this series on Anime Network and thought that the art looked good. Then the premise was described: books that need the protection of a band of highly skilled fighting librarians. How awesome! I love books, I love libraries, I almost decided to be a librarian myself. This show seemed right up my alley.

We fight for truth, justice, and the Dewey Decimal System!

We begin with a band of said librarians on a boat speeding to a huge ship in order to rescue something or some things. The head librarian, a gal who seems pretty badass but can never manage to button her shirt up over her huge breasts, sits on a cliffside telepathically calling the shots. The huge boat in question is carrying a bunch of guys from the Shindeki Church, who seem to be our given bunch of evildoers for the series. The guys sit around a table and talk cryptically about stuff, and one guy says that he will become the most glorious book ever. What the what? Okaaaay…

This evil guy really loves books. I mean, he really, REALLY loves books.

The librarians talk about looking for a certain item as well as rescuing the…meets? Meats? I’ll go with “meats” for now. “Meats” is a derogatory word for the masses of hollow-faced, dead-eyed people on the huge ship. As the librarians close in, the priests manning the ship start dropping meats that contain bombs into the ocean to deter their pursuers. The librarians are horrified but make it on board anyway. Unfortunately all of the main bad guys fizzle away in a very Star Trek-esque beam, and before the librarians can free the non-bomb meats, the ship explodes. The librarians try to save the meats, but they refuse to save themselves, preferring to simply fall into the murky depths below. I was a bit tired when I watched this initial episode, so I didn’t quite latch on to everything that was happening, but one of the meats began glowing and didn’t drown. How he made it out of the water was a detail I missed, but survive he did, because an unnamed bad dude sends that same meat off to kill someone back on land. Meanwhile we get introduced to the librarians’ headquarters, a few random characters milling around it, and a quest that the director with no buttons wants the librarians from the boat to undertake.

“Buttons? Ha, I need no puny buttons, just my razor-sharp alphabetizing skills!”

I’ll give this anime credit, there’s certainly a lot of detail that this world is simply teeming with. It was probably a bit too much for someone sleepily watching in the wee hours of the morning, but even so, I’m intrigued. I know from the preview that the souls of dead people turn into books that look like stone tablets, and that the librarians protect them, and this was mentioned in passing by an old lady who helps a fumbling young girl dropping stone books at headquarters. Apparently if you read one of these books you get the entire story of someone’s life, which is a cool concept, but I’m not quite sure how this comes into play with the Shindeki Church and the epic battles over books. Still, I’m looking forward to finding out, and hoping that the second episode clears up a few things, plot-wise. As I mentioned before the art is sharp and quite excellent, and the ending theme song was great. Overall I look forward to delving deeper into The Book Of Bantorra, though next time I’ll make sure I’m fully awake so as not to miss anything in this seemingly layered and nuanced story.

First Impressions: Polyphonica Crimson S

Familiar faces retell their tales

only with more detail this time.

Even though you might think that I wouldn’t be interested in a second season of Polyphonica based on my review of season one, I’m actually pretty stoked to get the chance to watch it. Besides the various good points from the first season that would reel me in again (namely the music, the main character Corti, and the hope of another moving final episode) it turns out that season two, Polyphonica Crimson S, is actually a prequel. And I love a good prequel.

Corticarte, before the evil magic forced her to wear a full shirt.

Episode one opens much like the first episode of season one, showing the spirit Corticarte meeting a young Phoron for the first time, only now we get a bit more detail. Corti is drawn to Phoron’s singing and appears before him, saying that she wants him and his song to be entirely hers. However, she soon disappears. (By the by, if you’re unfamiliar with this series, you should definitely take a gander at my review of Polyphonica before going further, otherwise it might get confusing.) From there we skip ahead to Phoron attending Dantist Academy, where students go to learn how to hone their musical abilities in order to utilize the help of spirits. Poor Phoron is having difficulty and is in danger of not advancing due to the fact that he can’t summon a single spirit. Renbart is attending school with Phoron (as are younger versions of all of the Dantists of the Tsuge Divine Music Player Office) and encourages him to keep trying, but even though Phoron has seemingly mastered his one-man orchestra, the spirits refuse to show.

Naked girl grabs Phoron: cue sexual innuendo.

One day Phoron is practicing alone in the auditorium when he recalls meeting Corticarte as a child. Instead of playing his musical instrument, he begins singing the same song that he sang on that night many years ago. The other Dantists are secretly listening to him sing, as is a shadowy figure who seems to be trapped in a dungeon. As Phoron finishes, Renbart, Prinesca, and Perserte all descend on him to praise his singing. However, they’ve just begun to give their glowing reviews when the shadowy figure, who has escaped during the song, appears in the Academy and begins trashing the place. The young Dantists follow the shadow outside, where Eufinley (the future boss of the Tsuge Divine Music Player Office) begins playing her violin in order to get her spirit to attack the shadow. Eufinley’s spirit is no match, however, and the shadowy figure advances on Phoron. Suddenly the shadows fade and we see that it’s Corticarte. She tells Phoron that she was captured that night may years ago before she could complete the spirit bond with him, but hearing his song again freed her (though she’s now in a slightly diminutive form). Now she can be Phoron’s spirit, and he, her Dantist. Plus, Phoron gets to advance in school, hurray! The episode ends some time later on with Corti and Perserte bickering jealously over Phoron (and Prinesca standing awkwardly nearby) as they all make their way to class.

Shenanigans! Hijinks! Hilarity ensues!

This episode was basically an expanded version of a flashback episode from season one. What I like about it is that we finally seem to be getting some juicy background details on these characters, which as I noted in my review, was sorely lacking from the first season. Everything thus far is exactly like season one art-wise, music-wise, and setting-wise. The big difference is that now we have more character-driven plot to sink our teeth into. I hope that the second season continues in this vein of expanding backstories instead of creating wacky Scooby Doo-esque capers for the teenage Dantists to engage in. I’m still expecting one-off storylines like we had in season one, but as long as the characters remain at the forefront of this series, I don’t see how it can go wrong. This episode set my expectations fairly high for Polyphonica Crimson S. I hope that it lives up to its initial promise.

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