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.


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.

First Impressions: Someday’s Dreamers

Country girl, big city: it’s an old tale.

But this time she’s got magic.

When I first saw the cover of today’s First Impressions, I assumed that it would be a heavy drama along the lines of Ef: A Tale of Memories. And to be fair, I’ve only seen one episode, so the drama might be just around the corner. However, I was pleasantly surprised at how light and charming the first episode of Someday’s Dreamers turned out to be.

Yume meets random nice dude in the big city. At this point I assumed she was about to get robbed, probably because I watch a lot of Batman cartoons.

Yume Kikuchi is a young mage who has just arrived in the big city (that’s Tokyo, for the record) in order to register with the Bureau of Mages and complete a sort of apprenticeship with an assigned mentor. However, being fresh off the farm, she has trouble crossing a busy street in order to reach the subway. A nice young man sees her plight and helps her with her bag. As they cross, Yume trips and is almost hit by a speeding car. Luckily, being a mage, she causes all of the cars near her to levitate for a moment, then lands them gently back on the pavement. The young man asks if she’s a mage, and she says yes. He thinks that’s cool, and helps her the rest of the way to the subway. Yume wants to thank him, but he insists on nothing. As her train is pulling out, she looks back at the young man and uses magic to fill his shirt with so much money that he looks pregnant as a way to repay him.

“So my first assignment is to magic you guys up a couple of shirts, right? ‘Cause seriously, this is ridiculous.”

Finally she arrives at the building she was told to find in a letter. (She was also told to make her way there without using magic, but she blew that twice.) Another young man, this one barely wearing a shirt, introduces himself as Smiley and helps her with her luggage up the stairs to his boss’s apartment. In a moment more Smiley’s boss arrives, Masami Oyamada, the person Yume was told to find. Masami is also shirtless, having just come down the stairs from a shower. In a sweet and funny scene Yume blushes and requests that both men put on shirts. After everyone is clothed Masami looks at Yume’s records and wonders why the daughter of a famous mage would be assigned to him, then he goes on to fill her in on her upcoming duties. Yume confesses that she believed that Masami would be a woman based on his name, and as such had planned on boarding with him. Masami says that even though he’s male, there’s an extra room upstairs, so her boarding with him will be no problem.

The sad pizza of loneliness: the pepperoni even tastes like discs of salty, meaty tears.

After Yume gets settled she wanders downstairs to the salsa bar that Masami runs. Smiley also works there, and he tells Yume that if she wants to stay she’ll have to dance. She hurries back up to her room, feeling homesick and thinking of her family back in the country. Soon a pizza arrives at her door, ordered and paid for by Masami. Yume eats then falls asleep. The next day she and Masami have a lovely breakfast together and then walk over to the Bureau of Mages. Masami jovially chats with the receptionist while a man clearly hiding from Masami motions Yume over to him. He asks what Masami is doing there, then he tells Yume that he hopes she’ll become a good mage. Suddenly, the young man who helped Yume onto the subway comes bursting into the Bureau with a huge sack filled with the money that she created in his shirt. He demands that the money be taken back by Yume, saying that he doesn’t want her to pity him. Everyone stops and stares as the massive bag o’ bills topples over and spills onto the floor. Fin!

Let’s toast! To the beginning of a beautiful new…friendship? Love interest? Mentor-and-student connection? I just don’t know yet, but I can’t wait to find out!

It’s kind of funny how this anime seems like a typical slice of life story except for the part about Yume and Masami being mages. I was shocked when I heard that Yume was a mage, because I was expecting a run-of-the-mill melodrama. It was a nice surprise to find something different in a traditional genre. Apparently this anime came out in 2003, but the animation still holds up very well. I don’t always enjoy the lighter lines and broad details in this type of art, but for some reason it really worked for me in this story. I especially loved that instead of the usual wing of hair sticking up, Yume has almost a heart-shape created by her stray hairs! The music was nondescript and not very memorable, to the point where I can’t even hum the opening or closing themes, try as I might to recall them. The characters were pretty great, in my opinion. Masami was gentle, thoughtful, and charming, which definitely puts him in danger of becoming my newest anime crush. Yume was innocent, shy, and inquisitive, but not annoyingly so. As someone who has traveled far and wide and lived in other states as well as other countries, I very much identified with Yume’s homesickness, especially since she and her family had Southern American accents in the English dub. I really loved how Yume’s accent was understated until she talked on the phone to her family, and then it became amplified. (It’s so true! I never sound more country than when I’m on the phone with my grandmother.) It’s these kinds of details that really struck a chord with me. Overall, I was quite impressed with episode one of Someday’s Dreamers, and I’ll definitely be tuning in to see what happens next.

First Impressions: Ef, A Tale Of Melodies

Another tale, this one told not in memories,

but in melodies.

I told you that I’d check out season two in the Ef series, and by gum, I did just that. (Thanks for showing season two right after the first one, Anime Network On Demand! Now if you could go ahead and show the second season of The World God Only Knows, that would be super.) I figured that A Tale Of Melodies would be an entirely new drama of heart-wrenching proportions, but as it turns out, we get to interact more with the side characters from season one. Hooray for familiar faces!

So, here we are, Yu. Alone at last. I’m so glad I decided to stalk you today!

Episode one opens with Yu Himura, the guy who dresses like a priest and took care of Chihiro in season one. He says some deep things about two towns, then we get to see a flashback of him during his school days. He meets up with the magical nun from season one, who is now also a teen, on the roof of his school, and we finally find out that her name is Yuko. They talk about not seeing each other for ten years and how Yu doesn’t remember her, then she leaves saying that she doesn’t want to see him again. After that we see more of Yu wandering around the school, first running into a creepy teacher who encourages him to join the art department, then finding a girl painting a self-portrait in the nude. Turns out that this gal is his friend (though I didn’t catch her name) and after she gets dressed they walk around town to do some shopping. Artsy gal notices that Yuko has been following them, gets in a huff because Yuko and Yu allude to having some sort of relationship/friendship, and leaves the two of them standing in the middle of town.

Hey Kuze, it’s totally not creepy if I try on your “cosplay” for “lady friends,” right? We’re almost all adults here, after all.

Finally, at twelve minutes in we get the opening credits (which are similar to season one’s) then we switch over to Mizuki Hayama, the blond side character who was obsessed with Kei in the first season. Turns out she’s Renji’s cousin, and she’s staying with him and his mom until she goes off to the school she’s been accepted to. Also noteworthy: turns out the whole thing takes place in Australia?!? I guess due to the names and outfits I assumed the setting was either Japan or some fictional “every place.” Anyway, Mizuki mentions hearing lovely violin music the previous night, and Renji’s mom tells her it must have been their neighbor, Kuze Shuichi, the professional violinist. (All the side characters from season one are coming out of the woodwork now!) Mizuki wants to meet him, but Renji warns that he’s also a pro at being a ladies’ man. Mizuki doesn’t care, so she gets her introduction via Renji’s mom. As a further treat Kuze agrees to let Mizuki spend the day with him. They faff about his near empty apartment, sometimes saying deep things, sometimes just chewing the fat. Mizuki finds his infamous collection of school girl uniforms but isn’t fazed, then asks to hear him play. He begs for a rain check and she obliges. At one point Kuze mentions needing to take medicine, but we don’t know what for. After that they spend time just lying on the floor and staring up at the ceiling, appreciating the simplistic joy of it. Mizuki leaves, and Kuze falls back on the couch in pain. O no! What will happen next?

Deep dramatic scenes are deep. And dramatic.

I really liked this first episode, thanks mostly to my enjoyment of season one. The art and music quality are still quite good, and I knew what sort of story to expect thanks to the first season. I was fully prepared to learn about a new set of characters embroiled in deep drama, but to my delight the story seems to be following up on side characters from season one. I like this not only because it already gives me a starting point brimming with comforting familiarity, but also I was truly curious about some of the characters that we saw so little of the first time around. Thanks to that, I’m probably more excited about watching season two than I was watching the initial season. I just hope that it lives up to its predecessor’s outstanding quality.

There Will Be Tears: Ef, A Tale Of Memories

Memories and dreams are fleeting things.

We must make our own destiny.

Today we have a series that ended up being the complete opposite of last week’s anime, The World God Only Knows. I’m not talking so much in terms of plot, but more about the overall feeling of the show. The World God Only Knows started out strong then faded off into a muddled mess. However, Ef: A Tale of Memories began confusingly (see my First Impressions post for details) and ended very powerfully, making me kind of love it.

Cheerful Chihiro. Who needs memories when you have fluffy duckies?

There are two main storylines happening at the same time, but all of the characters are connected to one another in some way. The first, and most central, concerns a boy named Renji who meets a girl with no memory named Chihiro. She’s not an amnesiac, but rather she has a condition in which her memories only remain with her for thirteen hours. When hour thirteen rolls by, she loses any short-term memories of the day before and reverts back to her twelve-year-old self on the day of her accident. The only way that she can retain anything is by both writing and reading a diary. Chihiro’s dream is to write a novel, but with her condition that’s all but impossible. However, Renji, a teen who’s a bit lost about which path to take in his own life, encourages Chihiro to pursue her passion and write her novel. As they work together, their bond grows, but in the back of each of their minds is Chihiro’s condition, making all of her memories fragile and precious.

“Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray your friend Kei gets mauled by a wild puma…” “What was that last part, Miyako?” “Hmmm? Oh, nothing, Hiro! Tee-hee!”

The second story involves a young shoujo manga artist named Hiro who struggles to deal with both school and being a successful artist. His childhood friend Kei (Chihiro’s sister) does her best to keep him in line at school while concealing her massive crush on him. Yet after Hiro helps a girl named Miyako when her purse gets stolen, the two of them hang out together more and more. This fuels Kei’s jealousy, and she tries everything in her power to keep them apart. However, Miyako won’t disappear so easily, and Hiro cares for both girls. Which girl, if either, will he choose? Will Hiro finally find a balance between school and work? What will happen to the rejected girl(s)? And how can Chihiro and Renji’s bond continue to grow if her memories are so easily wiped away? Will Chihiro finish her novel? Will Renji find his true path in life? So many questions to be answered!

Some of that interesting and unique artwork. Preeeeeeetty.

And this series does indeed address all of them in just twelve episodes. The stories are more about emotion than action, and that, coupled with a handful of brief nude scenes, makes this a series for more mature anime fans. At times it could be a bit melodramatic, but once you get into the heart of the show, you get caught up in the drama. The art was really interesting and beautiful. At the outset it kind of looks like a lot of other big-eyed anime shows, but the techniques with the various silhouettes and colours really made the artwork stand out. The opening and closing themes were both pretty and hopeful, and I really enjoyed the background music that sounded like 80s-style synthesizers (80s new wave is my bread and butter). Chihiro and Renji’s story sort of reminded me of a non-funny version of 50 First Dates at times, but that didn’t stop me from getting completely drawn in (despite Chihiro’s ridiculously soft voice).

We never find out who that mysterious nun-type gal is. Maybe in season two?

Speaking of voices, the English dub was excellent, calling on industry pros like Luci Christian and Greg Ayres. Only Clint Bickham as Renji didn’t seem to be a good fit, but that’s just my personal opinion. Hiro, Miyako, and Kei’s tale was just as involving as Chihiro and Renji’s, even though I thought that Miyako was bats**t crazy. While I didn’t feel particularly close to any one character, I really did enjoy watching their stories unfold, and thanks to the artistic flourishes such as overly long periods of silence and the aforementioned artwork, watching this series felt more like getting lost in a great painting rather than a good book. Since the anime is based on a series of adult visual novels, that kind of makes sense. There’s a second season entitled Ef: A Tale of Melodies that I will definitely be checking out next. As for the first season, Ef: A Tale of Memories is a very heartfelt anime, executed impeccably, that older fans should certainly not miss.

Rating: ★★★★✰ I knocked off half a star for the copious melodrama, but overall, this series impressed me greatly, and I look forward to adding it to my collection one day.

Kdrama Fights Back: City Hunter

A twisted fate leads one man to fight crime,

but the truth will change his world.

Well, it took me a little while, but I finally finished watching the Kdrama version of City Hunter this week. (Truth be told, two months is nothing compared to the endless weeks it takes me to complete an On Demand anime series, but I digress.) It was quality viewing throughout, but I didn’t become super addicted until halfway through.

Crappy faux dads don't use bottles to raise stolen babies, they use guns.

The initial episode, which I wrote about in great detail in my First Impressions post, is the most important when it comes to plot, but I’ll summarize it again briefly. In 1983 twenty-one South Korean soldiers were sent on a secret mission to kill officials in North Korea as a revenge tactic after a bombing. However, during the mission the five men who organized the whole thing realized that what they did would ignite a political landmine, so they sent in a sniper to kill all of the soldiers as they were returning to the submarine that was supposed to take them home. Only one soldier survived, Lee Jin-pyo, and he had the brilliant idea to steal his now-dead best friend’s infant son and raise him on a drug compound in Thailand. The boy, Yoon-sung, learns how to fight and wield a gun, but it isn’t until his faux father gets injured that he finds out the reason for his unconventional upbringing. Jin-pyo explains that Yoon-sung’s real father was killed just after he was born, and now it is up to the boy to exact vengeance on the five men who sent those twenty-one soldiers to die.

Kim Young-joo tries to think of ways to win against Yoon-sung in the upcoming Blue House wet t-shirt contest.

Yoon-sung takes this news surprisingly well, and after spending a few years in the US earning a fancy MIT degree, he returns to Korea for the first time since he was a baby in order to take a job on the Blue House’s IT team. (The Blue House is the Korean version of the American White House.) From there he sets out to bring the five corrupt politicians to justice by exposing their lies to the public and delivering them to a young prosecutor named Kim Young-joo. The trouble starts when his blood-thirsty fake dad shows up in Korea as well. Jin-pyo doesn’t just want the five in jail and politically ruined, he wants them dead, but Yoon-sung doesn’t want to create anymore orphans. Throughout the rest of the series the two men come into conflict as they work to bring justice to the fallen soldiers using different methods, but it’s Yoon-sung’s Batman-like approach to bringing the truth to light that earns him the moniker of “City Hunter.” Kim Young-joo provides plenty of trouble of his own in his fervent quest to discover the real identity of the City Hunter. Then there’s Yoon-sung’s mother, Lee Kyung-hee, who has never given up hope of seeing her son again. However, Yoon-sung was told that he was abandoned by her as an infant, so even when he finds her his anger prevents him from revealing who he really is. And last but not least is Kim Nana, the Blue House guard who keeps having run-ins first with Yoon-sung, then the City Hunter. She has a full backstory filled with drama all her own, and when she and Yoon-sung meet sparks fly. But the City Hunter can’t fall in love, because love is a liability when you’re in the business of bringing justice to the world…

Surprise, there's romance hidden inside this action drama, too!

Whoo, boy, where to begin on this one? I must say, City Hunter really puts the drama in Kdrama. There are a billion twists and turns in this series, enough to make an American soap opera blush with envy. Just when you think you have one part figured out, three new riddles spring forth. Some of the answers I guessed in advance, and some completely took me by surprise. Overall, though, it was very enjoyable to watch this tale unfold. I must admit that it took me several episodes to really get into it. Up until now all of my Kdramas have been romantic comedies, which are easier for me to become immersed in than stories filled with fight scenes and warfare. (What can I say, I’m a lover and a dreamer, not a fighter.) Even with the über delicious Lee Min Ho at the helm I still wasn’t dying to watch an episode marathon until halfway through. By that point we have established likable characters and I was invested enough to crave knowing what comes next. The cliffhanger endings only helped fuel the fire. The end of the series wasn’t as tidy as previous series such as Boys Over Flowers and Lie To Me, but it answered the main questions, which is good enough. I would have liked a few more details about what happens after the finale, but considering how many storylines they had to tie up, it worked out pretty well.

The modern-day crime fighter: much more unobtrusive, though just as stylish as a Batsuit.

The acting in City Hunter is top-notch. I expect nothing less from Lee Min Ho, but I was happy to see that his excellent supporting cast kept pace with him every step of the way. The music was really good: the opening title song is badass and bombastic, the love theme is sweet without getting too saccharine, and the score is dramatic and fitting. Not to mention there’s a good smattering of fun and bouncy K-pop for the fans. Many songs were used over and over again throughout the series, as I’ve noticed is the norm in Kdramas, but this soundtrack had a large quantity of songs to draw on, which meant that I wasn’t sick of hearing them by episode twenty. The action scenes were very cool and choreographed well, the dramatic scenes became less cheesy the more involved you become with the characters, and there’s also plenty of funny parts as well as romance to keep this series well-rounded. I rooted for all of the “good” characters, despised all of the “bad” characters, and generally enjoyed getting lost in this winding and intricate drama. I read a bit about the manga that this series was based on, and I’m glad that the Kdrama version deviates from the source material. I’m completely bored with leading male characters who are misogynistic playboys, but I can definitely get behind a lead character who only pretends to be a playboy in order to keep his identity a secret. (Hence another reason why I’ve always been a Batman kind of girl.) The scenery of Seoul is stunning and definitely fuels my fire to visit Korea for myself. I would certainly recommend City Hunter to anyone new to Kdrama, or even long-time fans of the genre. With such a great cast and engaging story, there really is something for everyone here.

Rating: ★★★★✰ It took a few episodes to get into it, but once you’re in, you’re completely hooked.

Bishōnen In Space: Tytania

One clan thinks they own the universe.

One rebel is proving them wrong.

At long last, Tytania, the epically epic space opera anime that I’ve been watching for several months, came to a close. I’ve been watching it for so long that I’m just not sure what to think without my weekly dose of intergalactic drama. There are lots of little details scattered throughout this expansive galaxy of political intrigue and space battles, but the main story can be reduced down to a basic good(ish) versus evil(ish) struggle for power.

No one even has the courage to tell the clan lord of Tytania that those pants give him saddlebag thighs.

As I mentioned in greater detail in my First Impressions post about this series, Tytania is the all-powerful ruling clan of the universe. They know it, and everyone else knows it, too. Some of them try to rule fairly, while a few others believe that maintaining power is at all costs is more important. It’s not so much that Tytania is well-loved, but it’s more like people are afraid to mess with them, so most of the galaxy just deals with it as best as they can. Enter one Fan Hyulick, a young cocky solider who gets a promotion to Admiral of Euria strictly for the purpose of losing a big battle against Tytania. The problem is that no one told Fan that he was supposed to lose, and so he wins using an out-of-the-box strategy. This pretty much blows everyone’s socks off.

Fan Hyulick partying. Or possibly a Hardee's commercial.

Tytania wants their hands on this guy pretty badly, and since Fan gets kicked off of Euria for winning that battle, it should be easy to capture him. However, an anti-Tytania faction finds him first and keeps him safely hidden away. When they get compromised, Fan gets handed off to the pirate ship The Honest Old Man where he makes his home for the rest of the series. Tytania keeps having close run-ins with Fan, and even though they discuss inviting him to join Tytania at first, the longer that they can’t find him, the more his legend grows, and the more dangerous of a figure he becomes. Despite the fact that Fan is very easygoing and jovial in person, he has become a hero to the anti-Tytania factions around the galaxy, and that gives the rebels more courage to fight back. You can see how Tytania wouldn’t be pleased with this. The rest of the series is basically a game of cat and mouse between Tytania and Fan Hyulick, with lots of political intrigue going on within the walls of Tytania itself.

Cute but useless, that's meeeee!

There are several pros and cons that I found in this anime. Getting the negative out of the way first, this series is basically a sausage fest. There are only a couple of female characters of note, one being a loli princess (Lydia) who is supposed to play some big role in the future of Tytania. Don’t get your hopes up, though, because you never find out what that is. She just runs around the garden in puffy shorts and thigh-highs and says innocently deep things about the events happening. Basically, she was annoying. Kind of cute at times, but mostly annoying. Another minus would be the episodes in which little to nothing happens, drawing out storylines and battles which definitely did not need to be so drawn out. The three episodes before the finale were especially guilty of this, because only one thing of note would happen in twenty-six minutes of animation. This was a shame, because when it was good, it was brilliant, but when it was boring, well, it was boring. On top of that, I noticed that a lot of the story arcs were becoming the same thing in the second half of the series: Fan gets caught by someone then almost captured by Zarlish, the battle-hungry duke of Tytania, then he gets away. Again and again and again this same scenario played out. It seemed rather unimaginative, given that there is an entire universe of planets and characters to play with here.

Miranda, slingin' back a few beers before battle.

Having said all of that, there was a lot of good stuff in this series, too. The first half was quite engaging, more so than the second half, which was kind of new since most of the anime series I’ve seen start off weak and grow stronger. It’s the Kobato effect: the first half is filler, while the second half is actual plot. But this time, even though the formula was the same, I actually enjoyed the filler episodes more than the repetitive stretched-out plot of the second half, especially the political battles happening within the walls of Tytania. I liked the detailed animation, and the end theme song, “Lost In Space,” by Psychic Lover, is killer. Some of the characters were clichéd, but I still enjoyed watching them. Fan is like a more easygoing Han Solo, which is great. It’s like Star Wars without that pansy Luke getting in the way. (I tease, of course. And to be fair, I’m more of a Trekkie anyway.) Though the XX chromosome set was few and far between, I really loved Miranda, the commander of The Honest Old Man. She began the series as bold and outspoken, then showed more layers as the series progressed. And she wasn’t the typical waif-like anime girl, either. Miranda was built like a brick house and knew how to kick ass!

Rebel, rebel, you tore your dress. Rebel, rebel, your face is a mess.

This anime introduced many more questions than it could answer, which is understandable because the manga is still ongoing and, well, it is anime. As far as anime endings go, this one is more frustrating than some other series that provide definitive answers to their stories such as Angel Beats or Black Butler. Yet it’s not anywhere near as frustrating as those series that don’t answer major plot points at all such as Guin Saga or Black Blood Brothers. Basically, if you like space operas, you’ll probably like this, unless you think it’s an aristocratic ripoff of Star Wars. (But then, what space opera isn’t compared to Star Wars? George Lucas really branded that genre.) Personally, I enjoyed the political intrigue, the non-cutesy detailed artwork, and I really liked the ragtag group of rebels as well as several members of Tytania. Not knowing exactly whose side I’m on is what makes me enjoy an anime even more, and Tytania had all that and more.

Rating: ★★★✰ I could see owning this one day, but the rewatch value is still questionable.

Who’s That Girl?: Kobato

Her past is mysterious, her journey unknown.

All she has is love.

I just finished Kobato a matter of minutes ago (it really takes a long time to complete a twenty-four episode anime when you only get one episode per week via On Demand!) and, wow. I have so much to say about this intriguing anime.

Kobato, magically falling from the sky like rain. Or bird poo. Magical bird poo.

As you might recall, dear reader, I wrote a rather positive First Impressions review of episode one. To briefly summarize the overall story, Kobato appears to be a chipper young girl, but she’s actually from “somewhere else.” She arrives on Earth (in Japan, presumably, though if a specific location was provided I can’t seem to recall it) in the company of a grumpy talking stuffed dog named Ioryogi. His sole purpose is to help Kobato carry out her mission of collecting kompeito, which in reality is a type of Japanese candy, but in this story the kompeito are actually people’s broken hearts. Whenever she heals a broken heart, the glass jar that she carries with her gains a kompeito. Only when the jar is completely full will Kobato gain her wish, which is “to go to the place I want to be.” (Yeah, nothing vague about that, is there?) To pass the time Kobato works at Yomogi Kindergarden alongside a grumpy tsundere named Fujimoto. She also encounters a whole host of other people who are, for the most part, completely charmed by her optimistic cluelessness. A bit later on, just to make things more interesting, a stuffed bunny holding a flower appears out of the sky (I swear I’m not making this up) to inform Kobato that she only has four seasons to complete her mission, otherwise it will be bad.

This pic pretty much sums up Fujimoto's and Kobato's relationship throughout most of the series.

What I enjoyed about the first episode became less enjoyable by the third and flat-out boring by the eighth. Episode after episode seemed to have the exact same premise: Kobato wanders around in a daft haze of cheerfulness and naivety until she meets someone who is sad, Ioryogi tries to get her to stay on task, Fujimoto says something vaguely mean to her, Kobato keeps plodding forward with her good intentions, and finally she manages to bumblef**k her way into healing a heart and gaining kompeito. While I found Kobato to be charming, sweet, and silly at first, after just a few episodes she became nearly intolerable. Bless her heart, she’s dumb as a brick, and I find it difficult to stay with a character who has zero common sense. I understood that she was not of this world, but come on, show some growth after a few episodes! I actually thought that the series was only twelve episodes long, so I stayed with it, otherwise I would have probably stopped watching.

Ioryogi seriously needed to explain a few things a bit sooner. I'm all for anticipation, but c'mon, ya gotta give me *something*!

Finally episode twelve rolled around and we got some answers about just who the hell these characters are and where they came from. Not a great deal, but enough to make it interesting again. Then I discovered that there are actually twenty-four episodes in the anime, and my heart sunk. However, after episode twelve, the series got exponentially better. I actually found myself looking forward to watching each new episode week after week, which was a complete 180 from the first half (when I was literally forcing myself to keep watching). An actual plot began to unfold in which there were several stories going on at once, and we finally got to see these characters more in-depth than before. To my amazement, little by little I found myself completely sucked in, so much so that by the final episode I had to pause the TV several times in order to wipe the tears away from my eyes. It was that engrossing!

Wait, you think I'm deep?

Kobato really was an emotional roller coaster to watch. First it was just cute and pleasant, then it was boring and predictable, then it was interesting and involving, and finally it was intense and heart-wrenching. Once you finally receive all of the backstory in the final two episodes, it doesn’t seem that complicated. However, after reading up on the manga, it seems that the story is even more involved than what’s explained in the anime. Since there are only six volumes, I’m seriously considering checking the manga out in order to find out the entire story. However, even if you only watch the anime version of Kobato, I think that there’s something quite enjoyable to be found if you have the patience to navigate through the fluff at the beginning of the series. The animation is cute, and the music is sweet and strangely touching, rather like this anime as a whole. I really was shocked by how invested I became in these characters, who seem a bit flat and one-dimensional at first but then blossom into figures you truly care about, especially wide-eyed Kobato herself. I would definitely recommend this series to shoujo lovers and CLAMP aficionados, but even general non-jaded anime fans should find something substantial hidden within the sugary-sweet outer shell of Kobato.

Rating: ★★★✰ The initial eleven episodes keep this one from a full four stars. However, the end was emotional and satisfying, and even if I don’t add the anime to my collection, I’ll certainly be looking for the manga.

The Way A Butler Should Be: The Black Butler Manga

There is more than one story to tell.

This may be the darkest tale yet.

Y’know, I don’t talk very much about manga on Otaku Haiku. Or rather, I don’t talk about it enough. I suppose that’s because many of the titles that I’m currently reading are not only anime series that I’ve already reviewed, but they’re also ongoing. I don’t give individual manga volume reviews for the same reason that I don’t give episodic anime reviews: I figure once you have an overview of the story as a whole, either you’ll read/watch them or you won’t, so why bother rehashing specific plot points? Plus it would be difficult to do so while upholding my “no spoiler” guarantee.

Joker, the ringmaster of Noah's Ark, bonds with "Smile" (aka Ciel).

That being said, I just finished reading the latest English volume of the Black Butler manga, and I really want to highlight it here because the story differs so vastly from the anime. As anyone who has read even a handful of entries on Otaku Haiku knows, I’m pretty much obsessed with Black Butler (Kuroshitsuji), especially Sebastian Michaelis, my demonic true love. (If you’re completely unfamiliar with the story of Black Butler, try reading here first, then here, here, and of course here.) After watching season one, there was no question that I would pick up the manga in order to find out even more about Sebastian, Ciel, and all of the many colourful characters who cross their paths. What’s so interesting about the Black Butler manga, though, is that it takes such a drastically different turn from the anime. Most of the manga that I’ve read has the same basic story as told in the anime version, but then it keeps going where the anime left off. Anime series such as Vampire Knight, Fruits Basket, and Ouran High School Host Club all have perfectly satisfying endings, but lucky for us fans, you can read the manga to pick up where the anime leaves off and get the whole story. Black Butler is different, however. The anime and manga share a couple of key story arcs, namely the Jack the Ripper killings and the curry festival, but after that, the two couldn’t be more different.

William's circus disguise, which is an awful lot like his normal self, with the exception of a wacky tie.

The anime goes on to fully explain who destroyed Ciel’s parents and mansion, and furthermore shows why they did what they did. Season two introduces a new boy and butler combo and takes the original pair’s exploits to a whole new level. The manga, however, has thus far shown no hints that the end of the story will be the same as it was in the anime. In fact, as of volume eight, we are no closer to discovering who ruined Ciel’s life than we were in volume one. Instead, beginning in volume six, we’re immersed into a new and fantastic story arc involving a circus and a whole new host of characters. Sebastian and Ciel, under orders of the Queen, go undercover as performers in a troupe called Noah’s Ark Circus so that they might locate a slew of missing children. Sebastian’s stage name is “Black,” and Ciel garners the ironic moniker “Smile.” William T. Spears, one of the Shinigami they met during the Jack the Ripper arc, is also undercover as a circus performer called “Suit,” yet he has his own agenda. Sebastian and Ciel have to blend in while doing their best to be stage performers and camp workers and also trying to solve the mystery. Oh, and Sebastian and William have to try not to kill each other, as neither cares very much for the other. However, after some more investigating, it turns out that the circus troupe has been secretly on the lookout for Ciel Phantomhive, but why? It has something to do with their mysterious benefactor, a man they all call “Father.” Everything builds up until all sorts of confrontations take place in the epically bloody volume eight, which is full of non-stop action. Furthermore, the reasons behind it all are far darker and more twisted than any other tale told in this series to date. It’s certainly not to be missed for any Kuroshitsuji fan!

Badass Mey-Ren is totally badass. Fans of the anime may recall the excellent episode 21 in which we discover the backstories of all the Phantomhive servants. Volume 8 takes that to a whole new level!

For the record, I will always dearly love the anime, especially seeing as how that was my first introduction to the series. However, either the Black Butler anime isn’t that dark, or I’ve just watched it so many times that I’m now immune to all the blood baths, occult rituals, and Sebastian banging nuns for information. But I was seriously thrown for a loop and rather shocked at how bloody, psychotic, and just plain messed-up the manga has become. In a good way, though. It brings to mind the Vertigo and Dark Horse and Slave Labor comics that I so loved as a teenager, those stories that were just written off by others as “oh, comics, that’s kids’ stuff.” I knew it wasn’t kids’ stuff, and I got a secret delight in burying my nose in stories that, to the untrained eye, appeared to be mere children’s collections, but in reality dealt with complex and adult issues ranging from sex and betrayal and death to good ol’ fashioned girls with guns. Reading the most recent volume of Black Butler gave me that same thrill of knowing that I’d found something unique that would entertain me while also making me think, all in the form of a “children’s book.” Overall, I’m so glad that I picked up the manga. The art is excellent, the characters are completely made of win, and the stories are intense and amazing. And since the stories don’t form a linear arc but instead branch out and form wide-reaching, gnarled tree limbs, it’s kind of like there are several Black Butler universes to choose from. And when it comes to a series this good, I say the more, the merrier.

Rating: ★★★★★ Talk about your page-turners!

First Impressions: Ef, A Tale of Memories

Many tales woven into one.

A boy, a girl, and their chance meetings.

I didn’t read anything about today’s first impression, I just noticed it was new to DVD so I dove right in. After viewing it, I kind of wished I had read a description, because Ef: A Tale of Memories left me wondering, “What the eff did I just watch?!?”

Oh, wow. Yeah, I can tell that you don't get out much.

There are several stories building up in this series from the looks of it, but the main two revolve around a guy and a girl. I don’t remember character names, and I don’t want to look them up because I don’t want to spoil any surprises, so bear with me, fellow otakus. Story one starts with a guy, probably in high school from the looks of it, talking about how he always wanted to be a prince that saves princesses, but now that it’s time to grow up he’s not sure what to do. This guy likes hanging out at an abandoned train station and reading, but one day he encounters a girl with an eyepatch hanging out there as well. They converse briefly, then part ways. The next day the guy meets her again, and they talk again, though the girl seems to have a memory problem, though this doesn’t hamper their pleasant chit-chat. This cycle continues until one day the girl runs up to the guy and embraces him tearfully. After she calms down she asks if they can be friends, and the guy agrees with a big smile on his face.

I know I should call the cops, but damn, I love making monkey faces with corpses...

The second story involves another high school guy who skips a Christmas party in order to research a drawing he’s working on. While outside a girl (different from the one before) races by him in pursuit of someone she claims stole her purse. She grabs the guy’s bike and takes off at top speed, and the guy, understandably, chases her. He rounds a corner and sees his bike in pieces and the girl lying in the street, apparently out cold. He calls 911 and requests assistance, but the girl wakes up and says that she’s fine. The guy tries to get her to stay behind and wait for help, but she walks away, so he follows. As they walk in a park she says that nothing in her purse was of much value. However, she did lose her house key, and no one is at her house. She smiles and says that unless he wants to leave her out in the cold alone all night, he’ll have to stay with her. Why he doesn’t just take her back to his house and let her sleep on the couch is beyond me, but I suppose she could be a psycho, so maybe it was a good call. The girl and the guy swing on a swing set and chat esoterically. The end.

Then there's this random girl. Cool nun? I'm betting we'll see more of her.

This anime is obviously supposed to be very deep and meaningful, but I just don’t get it yet. Perhaps there’s a reason for the Tarantino-ing going on with the jumps from one story to the next. Maybe the main couples are the same people in different lives, or maybe it’s all supposed to be about love and human relations. I have no idea, but I am intrigued enough to watch more. The animation had some very cool techniques, such as showing the night sky in the silhouette of the girl in the park, and it was quite lovely from a purely visual point of view. The music didn’t particularly stand out, but neither did the characters or their stories. I want to find out some answers, and I hope that I don’t have to wait until the very end of the series to discover them. Keep me in suspense, by all means, but throw me a breadcrumb or two to lead me down the path, don’t just wait for a frustrating ten episodes before springing the entire story on me. Those are my feelings, at least. But Ef: A Tale of Memories does show some potential, enough to make me eager to watch episode two.

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