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.

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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 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: 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.

Gamer’s Paradise: The World God Only Knows

His skills are an online legend.

Now he has to face reality.

Initially I was quite taken with today’s anime selection, as evidenced by my glowing First Impressions post. And I still enjoyed it several episodes in. However, now that I’ve reached the end of The World God Only Knows, I’m not quite sure how I feel about it.

Keima's worldview consists of whatever is on the screen in front of him. Elsie isn't a gamer, so she just doesn't understand.

The premise: antisocial gamer geek Keima Katsuragi is an unbeatable “god” when it comes to dating sim games. Because of this, he’s tapped by dark forces (re: forced) to help a cute demon named Elsie collect loose souls which have escaped from hell. They hide in the hearts of girls, for some strange reason, so Keima has to put aside his disgust with reality and use all of his dating sim tricks of the trade in order to woo the girls who are the unknowing hosts. Once their hearts fill with love for Keima, there’s no more room to hide, and when the loose souls escape Elsie is there to capture them in a giant glass jar. Keima hates real life and pretty much anything other than his games, so watching him try to utilize his gaming skills in real life situations is the basis for much of the show’s humor.

Keima's harem covers all the bases: a nadeshiko, a tsundere, a meganekko (without glasses), a yandere, and a sporty girl.

I really enjoyed this series at the beginning. I loved the character of Keima and identified with him instantly, being something of an antisocial gamer-type myself (though I hold nowhere near the level of disgust with reality that Keima does [except for when I’m having a super horrible day]). I thought that Elsie was cute, though nothing special when it comes to daffy sidekicks. Most of all I really liked the premise and was eager to watch it all unfold. But then somewhere along the way things fell a bit flat. There are four girls that Keima must pursue in season one. The first story arc was hilarious, and quite quickly resolved. The second took a bit longer but remained funny throughout. There were a couple of filler episodes, and one involving Keima trying to beat a bugged dating sim made me tear up with laughter. Then came the third girl’s story, which was mostly enjoyable but seemed to drag on just a bit too long. Finally, the fourth girl’s arc emerged, and I hated everything about it. I hated the character of the girl because she was boring and almost painful to watch; I hated the setting, which was repetitive and repressive, and I hated the total lack of anything funny. It was a longer arc, which made it worse, and I found myself getting depressed just by watching it. Whereas earlier in the season this show was always the first one I’d watch after downloading all of my Anime On Demand shows every week, by the end it became the last. I had high hopes that the final episode would make up for lost laughter, but it did nothing to redeem itself.

In godlike mode Keima is nearly invincible. In his own mind, that is.

The series seemed to try to become too serious, which in turn made the show depressing because the girl who the final story arc revolved around was herself depressing. Keima was also kind of joyless by the end, in my opinion, and that only left Elsie as a character to cling to, but she was never that exciting and could hardly be considered a reason to watch all on her own. The art was solidly good anime art, but nothing extraordinary or new. The music was just okay, though I did always enjoy the opening theme as well as the song that crops up in the final two episodes. Basically, the whole series was a bit of a letdown. It seemed too rambling and scattered, and it didn’t remain funny enough to abandon its storyline as much as it did. There’s a second season, and I would certainly check it out if given the chance in order to see if it can pick the series back up and make it shine like it once did. I still believe that the premise is great, and there’s a lot of comedy fruit just ripe for the picking to be found there. But a complete season should be able to stand on its own two feet, especially a first season, and The World God Only Knows fumbles disappointingly short of my initial expectations.

Rating: ★★★ Glad I watched it, and I might be tempted to add this series to my collection if the second season can make me laugh like the first half of season one did.

Fried My Little Brains: Mardock Scramble, The First Compression

Even after death she looks for a purpose.

When in doubt, seek vengeance.

I feel like I keep hearing about Mardock Scramble, and I was intrigued enough by the preview to jump on the chance to watch it when it came around On Demand. Now…well, I’ve seen it.

Not even a magical mouse named Ufcock can make Balot smile.

Here’s the gist: Balot is a fifteen year-old prostitute who gets murdered by maniacal Shell, the man who springs her out of jail. Actually, he attempts to murder her in a fire, but a quirky guy named Dr. Easter manages to snag her body and revive her as a cyborg using a program known as the Mardock Scramble. Balot tries to learn about her new body and come to terms with her life via the help of Ufcock, a weapon who usually takes the form of a golden mouse. Dr. Easter wants Balot to testify against Shell, who is a notorious gambler and heinous criminal. Because of this Shell sends his henchmen to get rid of her. Will Balot master her new powers well enough to stay alive?

Finally she gets a gun! She might not have pants, but dammit, she has a gun.

Honestly, I don’t even know the answer to that. The movie ends very, and I mean very, abruptly. Since I didn’t realize that it was a trilogy at the time, I was quite taken aback. I’ve come to expect less than tidy endings from anime, but this was just ridiculous. However, it seems that the next two movies will pick up where this one left off. As for part one, I have to say that I’m quite torn as to what I think about it. This is one of those rare anime offerings that is clearly of the highest quality production-wise, and yet, I never want to watch it again. I consider myself pretty open-minded when it comes to violence and sex in film (some of my favourites have both) but this one was over the top for me. There was just so much horribly sad and disturbing sex/borderline rape. I thought that maybe the first part would be the worst, but then there was more in the middle, so finally when it came to the gang of criminals obsessed with body parts (most notably a fellow who liked to surgically add women’s privates onto his hand) I was past being affected. I understood from the previews alone that this would be a very disturbing tale, but I have to wonder if it was necessary to have all that was shown. And trust me, it was a lot. Then again, I did watch the director’s cut, so maybe that accounts for the excess of sex and violence. Though I imagine that the original cut of the film is still incredibly dark (and not in a good way).

Let's see that cute little mouse again! Gosh, he's adorable! Almost adorable enough to blot out the horrific violence in the rest of the film. Almost.

There were some aspects that did impress me, such as the astounding artwork, which was really top-notch. I liked some of the sci-fi details, such as being able to take memories out of a person’s head and save them onto a computer disc. And Ufcock was awesome, definitely my favourite character. Other than that, there wasn’t a lot for me here. The music was fine but unmemorable. The characters were pretty much all stereotypical: bad guys who are super evil just because, a kooky doctor who likes to experiment, self-righteous lawmakers, etc. Maybe they become more defined in further films. Most of the backstory was spent on Balot, who was an okay protagonist. I did feel sympathy for her, but little else, seeing as how most of her screen time involves her getting f**ked over, literally. I can see how her vengeance will be very satisfying, especially considering how crappy her life had been, but they barely scratched the surface of her mastering her power and becoming a true badass by the time the credits rolled. Overall, I found the whole thing to be very unsatisfying. Mardock Scramble: The First Compression seemed to be an endless parade of graphic images with an interesting story to thread them together, but personally, I’m not sure that the story was intriguing enough to put up with all of the details exploited on the screen. I might attempt to watch the other two films in the trilogy, or I might just google the story to see how it all ends and be done with it.

Rating: ★★✰ The animation quality is outstanding, and if you love sci-fi anime, this would probably be worth your time. For me, it wasn’t.

The Secret Is Out: Arrietty

Many things are much more than meets the eye,

especially little girls.

I’ve been itching to see the latest offering from Studio Ghibli ever since I first saw the advertisements for its North American debut last year. Finally, at long last, I made it to the cinema to take in The Secret World of Arrietty (or Karigurashi no Arrietty) and all I can say is, wow. I was definitely not disappointed.

I'm not the only one who thinks that Borrowers resemble mice...

The story is based on Mary Norton’s novel The Borrowers, which I’ve never read, so I can’t say how close the adaptation is. However, I do remember watching the Saturday morning cartoon The Littles, so I kind of understood the gist from the get-go: Arrietty and her parents are miniature people, roughly the size of mice, and they live in the floorboards of a house located in a particularly lush and green area of Tokyo. They survive by “borrowing” things such as cubes of sugar and tissue paper, tiny things that no one would notice if they went missing or not, hence they adopted the moniker of “Borrowers.” It’s very important that none of the “beans” (human beings) ever sees them, because, well, humans are humans. You never know which one might try to catch a Borrower and keep it prisoner, or show it off for money, or dissect it, or do any of the zillions of crappy things that humans in literature and movies are known to do.

One for shoulder, first class, coming right up!

One summer a sick boy named Shō (Shawn in the US version) visits the house his mother grew up in, which is also where Arrietty lives, in order to recuperate. Shortly after his arrival he spies Arrietty, much to her dismay. He tries to befriend her, but her parents warn her that beans bring nothing but trouble. Shō doesn’t give up, however, and though he has the best of intentions, his actions unintentionally draw attention to Arrietty and her family. After a couple of dramatic events take place, Shō teams up with Arrietty in order to make things right.

Imagine a gentle harp playing in the background and you're halfway there.

Oh, Arrietty, how do I love thee? Let me count the ways. First of all, the music is stunning. The entire soundtrack is by Celtic musician Cecile Corbel, and while a Japanese film with a Celtic soundtrack doesn’t seem like it would necessarily be a good fit, it’s actually incredible. The vocals are lovely and lilting, and the harp makes the natural setting come alive, especially in the rain scenes where every pluck of the strings mimics a drop of water on the leaves. As a longtime lover of Celtic music, I know that the genre can get a little heavy at times, hearkening back to those 90s Pure Moods compilation CDs. However, the soundtrack to Arrietty is as far from the Celtic clichés as night and day. It would be a gorgeous album on its own, but paired with the film it perfectly enhances this Western tale in an Eastern setting.

"Arrietty, can you handle being the center of attention for 94 minutes?"

Besides the soundtrack, the rest of the movie is equally awesome. The animation is even more excellent than previous Ghibli offerings, displaying beautiful scenery, well-animated characters, and an astonishing attention to detail. (My favourite was the dragonfly wing quill in Arrietty’s study.) As for characters, Arrietty is kind and courageous, and even though her parents slip into the stereotypes of worrisome mother and stoic father, Arrietty is always relatable, as well as enjoyable enough to carry the film on her own merit. In fact, all of the other side characters are more of a framework set up in order for Arrietty to shine, and this she does with gusto. Shō, the other lead, is also easy to relate to, with a gentleness that anyone watching might hope they would display if they ever discovered something as magical as Borrowers in their bedrooms. He makes well-intentioned mistakes, but who doesn’t do that? Besides that, his actions make sense and never jar you out of the story with an eye rolling “Oh no, don’t do that!” moment found in so many movies trying to establish conflict. In fact, the smoothness of everything, story and otherwise, is really quite commendable.

Arrietty perfectly illustrates the face I made as I watched this entire movie: delight and joy.

By this point in my life I’ve seen many, if not most, of Studio Ghibli’s animated films, and I must say that The Secret World of Arrietty is firmly ensconced in my mind as one of the best of them all. Interestingly, this is the first Ghibli movie I’ve watched that was not directed by Hayao Miyazaki (Hiromasa Yonebayashi directed, though Miyazaki co-wrote the screenplay with Keiko Niwa) and I wondered if it would be missing something as a result. I was pleased to discover that Arrietty contains just as much magic and fantastical wonder as any Studio Ghibli film that came before, as well as another positive portrayal of young girls on par with the ones that Miyazaki movies are known for. In some ways this film might be more accessible to a Western audience thanks to its traditional story structure, but that doesn’t lessen its power in the slightest. Studio Ghibli is still creating some of the finest animated movies in the world, and the big secret of The Secret of Arrietty is actually that this unassuming movie about a very little girl will most definitely stand the test of time beside its Ghibli brethren as a wonderful film for all ages.

Rating: ★★★★★ Love this, love her, want the DVD for certain.

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