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.

First Impressions: The Rose Of Versailles

Is she woman or man?

Would a rose raised as a thorn

still smell as sweet?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Can You Keep My Secret: Maid Sama

At school she takes orders from no one.

At work she serves all with a smile.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

First Impressions: Polyphonica Crimson S

Familiar faces retell their tales

only with more detail this time.

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

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

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

Naked girl grabs Phoron: cue sexual innuendo.

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

Shenanigans! Hijinks! Hilarity ensues!

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

Looking For Love In All The Wrong Places: The Great Happiness Space

Love is just another commodity

these men are willing to sell.

I was excited to watch my first documentary about a slice of Japanese culture the other day, and the topic was appealing, too. After all, I’m planning a trip to Japan sometime in the near future, and after watching one of my shoujo favourites, Ouran High School Host Club, I’d joked about visiting a host club for myself. Who wouldn’t want to have tea with a cute boy who fawns all over you? I imagined that this documentary would be slightly seedier than Ouran, but I had no idea how vast the difference would be between my beloved fictional host club and real life.

If you think that this is merely the latest Japanese boy band, you’re sorely mistaken.

The Great Happiness Space follows the daily (or rather, nightly) comings and goings of the most popular host club in Osaka, Rakkyo Café. Various hosts and their clients are interviewed, but the documentary most closely follows a young man named Issei who is both the owner of Rakkyo as well as the most requested host in the establishment. At this point I’ll go ahead and address my preconceived notions: I know that Ouran is a work of fiction, and is completely unfeasible because it takes place in a high school for the super rich. However, I imagined that an actual host club would follow somewhat along the same lines: women pay to have a drink and some conversation with a man of their choosing, and it would be sort of like a maid café without the cosplay or undertones of submission. As it turns out, host clubs are more like frat houses with light prostitution thrown in.

Hmm, I’m feeling funky and slightly dangerous tonight. Got any guys who resemble Steve Buscemi?

First the women choose a host from a book of glamor shots, then they sit back and let their host of choice talk with them and convince them to buy massive quantities of alcohol. Many of the hosts interviewed had a specific system for talking to the women and making them feel special which included scolding her at some point. I suppose because that’s what real friends do? It’s probably just my Western sensibility at work, but if I’m paying someone to flirt with me and he starts scolding me, I’d want my money back. Still, whatever they were doing seemed to be working. The female clients interviewed were all fairly smitten with the hosts and continued to return night after night, pouring hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars into the place in a single visit. Drinks were the main source of income, and hosts would try to convince the women to purchase a “champagne call.” That entails all of the hosts standing around the woman, chanting and yelling encouragement, while she chugs an entire bottle of champagne from what looks like a plastic beer pitcher with glowing ice cubes in it. It was difficult to tell who drank more, the women or the hosts. Many hosts drink far past any healthy level on a nightly basis, then have to pretend not to be drunk as they chat up the women. The goal is to get every women there to buy ten tons of booze, no matter if they’re buying for the hosts or themselves. As for the club itself, it was dark, filled with strobe lights, and looked like any run-down club you might find anywhere.

Issei talks about how well he plays the game.

The hosts spoke to the camera about not trusting women, about wanting actual love relationships but not being sure if that would ever work for them. Sometimes they would sleep with a client, but they tried not to do that in order to keep them coming back for more. As for the women, most of the repeat clients were sex workers, which explains how they are able to spend such massive quantities of money during each visit. One woman spoke about how ashamed she was each time she sold her body and how she wanted to stop, but then each time she thought, “Well, now I can go to the host club!” That part got under my skin the most: first men buy their bodies, then the women have to spend all of the money that they made in order to buy transient feelings of love and self-worth. It was a perpetual cycle of hopelessness, and it was truly heart-wrenching to watch.

If you’re ever on vacation in a foreign city and you come to a section of town with human menus plastered everywhere, feel free to take that as a bad sign.

It seems that Jake Clennel, the British director, set out to expose audiences to the seedy underbelly of host clubs, and in that he did his job well. Having never been to Japan or experienced anything even remotely akin to a host club myself, I can’t tell if this documentary was specifically skewed to highlight the worst case scenarios of the industry, or if the business really is as sad as it seems. All I know is that it was highly unsettling to watch: I began the film as a bit of a lark, so I certainly wasn’t prepared for my shoujo bubble to be burst quite so tragically. Yes, I know that no real host club could ever be as shiny and filled with roses as Ouran, but still, the thought of such a place was rather charming. I loved the idea of a Tamaki or a Kyoya pouring me tea and calling me “princess” as a bit of light-hearted fun. However, Rakkyo was more like a sordid frat party where you’re more in danger of losing thousands of dollars than your virginity. There were no roses, no violins, no fine china, and no commoner’s coffee. Instead it was dingy booths, strobe lights, and cheap champagne disguised as expensive bubbly to go along with an army of jaded guys wearing suits and bleached visual kei haircuts. It was crystal clear what sorts of emotions the director was trying to invoke in his audience, and regardless of what the reality of a host club is like, he succeeded in making them out to be truly devastating, even more so to outsiders not familiar with the culture.

The Great Happiness Space is a run-of-the-mill documentary with nothing truly special or even engaging about it save for its risqué subject matter. However, if you’re anything like me, that subject matter will stay with you long after the credits have finished rolling. My best piece of advice to anyone who decides to embark on this sad and desolate journey is to have some shoujo anime nearby in order to cleanse your brain after viewing this documentary. I’ll take animated fictional love over this version of Happiness any day.

Rating: ★★ Watch if you’re curious or, say, writing a paper about host clubs, but be prepared for the unsettling feeling that follows.

First Impressions: My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho

She’s no ordinary foxy lady.

This girl might love or kill you.

Yup, another first impression post this week. I’m at the point where a bunch of series have almost ended, at which time there will be a flood of full reviews. Until then, time to start lots of new series, wheee! Today’s first impression is another Kdrama, and one that I’ve actually wanted to check out for quite some time: My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho. I adore folklore, fairy tales, and cultural tidbits from all over the globe, so a comedy about a girl who is actually a nine-tailed fox is something I couldn’t miss.

Meet Dae-Woong, our everyman hero. You can tell that he’s “of the people” by his flannel and Dark Knight t-shirt.

In episode one we meet Cha Dae-Woong, a student and aspiring actor who survives on the money that he begs, borrows, and steals from his wealthy grandfather. Since he’s an orphan, he’s been raised by said grandfather and his aunt, both of whom spoil him to a degree but also try to push him in the direction of growing up to become a respectable person. However, when he uses his tuition money to secretly buy a motorcycle, his grandfather has had the last straw, so he forces Dae-Woong into the car and tries to make him go to boarding school. Dae-Woong fakes needing to use the bathroom and manages to escape in the back of a produce truck. After he sneaks out of the truck at a gas station, he manages to hitch a ride with a passing monk who takes him to the temple where he lives. Dae-Woong borrows the monk’s cellphone and tries to remember his aunt’s phone number, but the reception is bad so he makes his way down to a secluded part of the temple that’s devoted to the Goddess of Childbirth. While there the phone dies, but he hears a voice that commands him to go inside and draw nine tails on a fox sitting in a painting with the Goddess. Understandably he’s freaked out, but Dae-Woong does what the voice tells him to, then bolts out of the temple and into the woods…where he soon falls off of a cliff.

See my nine tails? That’s the last thing you’ll ever see if you mess with me, pretty boy!

The fox disappears from the painting, and a pretty girl comes across Dae-Woong’s body. Her nine tails swish in the moonlight, and she blows an energy bead into Dae-Woong’s mouth. The next morning Dae-Woong wakes up and isn’t even hurt, and the pretty girl explains that she’s a gumiho (a nine-tailed fox spirit) who gave him her energy bead which prevented him from dying. Dae-Woong thinks that she’s crazy, and demands to see her tails. She says that she can only show them to him in the moonlight. At that Dae-Woong keeps trying to lose her (first in the forest, then later on in a nearby town) but the gumiho keeps finding him, saying that she has to stay with him because he has her bead. Finally Dae-Woong yells at her, telling the girl that he doesn’t believe what she says. The girl becomes serious and says that she’ll find him again, make him believe, and then he’ll die. This actually gets under his skin, and he keeps thinking about the girl as he rides the bus back to Seoul.

If you guessed that this guy is our villain by his villainous haircut, you’d be correct. Angled haircuts are to Kdrama villains as black hats are to bad guys in old Westerns.

Meanwhile, a man who seems to be a vet visits the temple where the painting resides in order to check on the monk’s dog. When the monk explains that the fox is no longer in the painting, the vet gets a strange look on his face. When he leaves, he tells his cohort that they’ll be hunting a new kind of creature, a mutant of sorts, but one that’s adorable. When Dae-Woong arrives back at his school he talks to his friends and learns that his aunt wants him to stay away until she can smooth things over with his grandfather. One of his friends notices sever bruises on Dae-Woong’s back, and he wonders why he doesn’t feel pain. Dae-Woong begins to slowly believe what the girl in the woods said. The other friend says that he can stay in the room above the gym that they’re in, then Dae-Woong is left alone. After playing basketball by himself for a time, the gumiho shows up. She unfurls her tails in the moonlight, then tells him that she’s going to take back her energy bead, which means that his previous injury will kill him. She leans in and begins sucking the bead out of his body…and that’s where the episode ends!

Oh, well, if you’re sure you’re fine, I’ll just take this old thing back. Thanks!

I enjoyed this episode, though I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. It’s been more of a straight-up comedy than a romance, the latter of which is usually what has been the basis of the Kdramas I’ve seen thus far, but I’m enjoying it. One scene involving the aunt farting in an elevator had me laughing uproariously. (What can I say? Fart jokes are universal.) I like all of the actors, and the two leads are cute but not too precious. So far they’re both selling the story well. The music is typical K-pop, bouncy and fun. I really enjoy the folklore of the story, and I hope that more legends are explored or shared further in. There are some cheesy effects, but also some really nice ones, most notably a scene that looks as though wood carvings have come to life (very reminiscent of the exquisite video game Okami). And the temple of the Goddess of Childbirth looks like it’s borrowed straight from Faerie Tale Theatre, which I adore. Overall, My Girlfriend Is A Gumiho isn’t quite as romantic as I expected, but whether it keeps barreling down a path of pure comedy or if it blooms into a slow-building romance, I can’t wait to watch more. In fact, I think I’ll do so right now!

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.

First Impressions: A Channel

Teen feels left out, has to make new friends.

I think I’m too old for this stuff.

Between impulse purchases and Anime Network On Demand my backlog of anime series to finish is rather high, and my Netflix queue is positively bursting. On top of that I suddenly have access to a Roku player, so I now have a whole new juicy queue of shows to watch on Crunchyroll. Hence I decided that I wasn’t going to watch any more random anime for a while, at least until I’ve whittled down what I already have. But then I saw the first episode of A Channel On Demand, and the description was about a high school girl trying to figure stuff out, and since I’m a sucker for shoujo I decided to give this random find a whirl.

I have a massive headache. Maybe I should use this box cutter to open up my skull and massage my brain! Great idea, right?

Tooru just got accepted to high school, but she’s in the class one year below her best friend, Run. When Tooru tries to hang out with Run she can’t seem to shake Run’s other two friends from the same class, Yuko and Nagisa. Run is kind of a daffy airhead and doesn’t noticed that Tooru is feeling left out of their conversations or that she’s jealous of her two new friends. However, by the end of the episode, thanks to Run’s reassurances that their friendship will always remain, Tooru finally accepts her best friend’s new friends and they all hang out as one group.

Yeah, taking a metal bat to school to fend off your best friend's suitors is totally normal behavior. Riiiiiight...

God, I got bored just writing that synopsis. Oh A Channel, how do I dislike thee, let me count the ways? As soon as it began I thought, “I’m not going to like this show because I hate this artwork. I can’t stand watching these cute cherub faces for twenty more minutes.” But then my Libran side took over and scolded my art aesthetic side to be more open-minded. Maybe the story would rock, give it a chance! But the story did not rock. It was oh so dreadfully boring. I really am constantly amazed at some of these slice of life anime series that have nothing special going for them. Hey, we’re friends, but one of us feels left out, but now we’re all friends together, yay! I suppose if the world of teenage girls was something you hadn’t experienced, then watching such a show might have some appeal, like if you’re a super young preteen getting ready to enter high school or someone who never went to high school at all. However, since I experienced the highs and lows of female high school friendships firsthand, there was nothing in this episode that appealed to me in the slightest. When my own life is more interesting than an anime, I know that I can’t watch any more.

Okay, so this is about a girl learning to deal with her best friend coming out, that's coo- oh. Nope, it's just some lame comedic fan service. Bummer.

I hated all the characters and couldn’t care less what happened to them. Run was an idiot who could barely stand up straight without falling over, Yuko and Nagisa were stock side characters, and Tooru was psychotic in the most uninteresting way possible. Once again we find an anime series that has a creepily obsessive female friendship which seems to be the stuff of high comedy in anime but is fodder for horror movies here in the States. When Tooru entered Run’s room and thought that Yuko was kissing Run there was a glimmer of something interesting, but that quickly faded when it became clear that this ploy was merely fodder used to fuel Tooru’s jealousy and give her cause to punch Yuko in the boobs every time they met, because hey, that sure never got old. The opening and closing theme songs were tolerably cute, but that’s all the positive feedback I can provide for this series (which is technically categorized as seinen, wth?!?). I’m not sad in the slightest to say adieu to A Channel and move on to any one of the thousands of other anime series out there with more potential than this one.

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.

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