Sunday, July 31, 2011

R-15 - 04

When Raika the photographer told Taketo, "All humans are ugly - especially women." I thought it ironic that she could easily be talking about herself (or the female cast of this season's Baka Test). What I didn't expect (and R-15 is already proving adept at surprising me) is that the show itself would explore that topic and prove me right.

Update Your Bookmarks!

At long last, Lost in America is master of its domain.

That's right, we've moved on up to the East Side - the new address is  The old link will redirect, but why would you want to go to that run-down address when we have this fancy new house?

There may be a few glitches with gadgets and such - please let me know if they arise.  Otherwise, my hope is that things will be smooth.  Welcome to the new place!

Kami-sama no Memo-chō' - 04

It's looking to me like JC Staff used all their ammunition in the first episode of Kamisama no Memochou.  Nothing since then has captured that indefinable something that made the premiere work.  At this point I'm going to drop if from the blogging rotation - not because I dislike it, but because there's just too many good shows to blog on the weekend.

It's not as though there's anything offensive about Kami-Memo as it exists. I don't get angry at it, I don't hate any of the characters and it isn't grossly stupid. It's just not very interesting right now. While the premiere had a compelling sense of style and some very clever dialogue, the subsequent eps have felt very routine and anything but extraordinary. Is this simply a case of JC Staff finding their level? Could be. It's not as if they're incapable of doing pretty good series, but their efforts do tend to bleed towards the generic end of the scale more often than not for me.

As for the episode itself, it had the virtue of being focused on ramen, which is a personal passion of mine. It also focused on Rin, who is one of the livelier and more interesting members of the cast. But while a treat for fans of underboob, it didn't manage to produce much of a spark. Narumi is still a doormat, for starters, which I'd hoped we'd see marked improvement on after the last arc. The mysterious customer and the underwear salesman didn't represent much of a mystery, really, except (as Major had the sense to ask) just why Rin didn't recognize her own father just because he was wearing sunglasses. I'm fine with a light-hearted mystery for a change, it's just that this one wasn't all that interesting.

And that, in essence, is the problem and why I'm dropping Kami-Memo. I'll probably watch for a few more weeks and who knows, maybe something of that first episode magic will draw me back into blogging it. I should have known something was wrong when "Colorado Bulldog" was dropped as the ED, but I ignored the warning signs...

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Dantalian no Skoka - 03

Head on over to RC for my post on episode 3 of Dantalian no Shoka. And don't stop to smell the flowers.

Baka to Test to Shoukanjuu Ni! - 04

There are a few chinks in the armor for Baka Test this season that are preventing it from working for me at the same level it did last season. I think they were really issues all along, but for whatever reason they're more noticeable to me now than before.

For one thing (and this has certainly always been true) the girls on this series are just nightmares. Are they worse this year, or am I less forgiving? I don't know exactly but the unrelenting stream of abuse coming from them feels a little more exhausting this time around. Of course, Aki is in the center of it as always. With a full-on yandere and physically abusive tsundere after him, not to mention a perverted older sister, he's got it pretty rough. It's no wonder people ship him with an elementary schooler and a guy (well, a Hidesexual) - the worst thing Hazuki ever does is call him "Baka". The "Penalty Game" skit was fairly clever, and as always with this show the level of detail that went into "Bullshit" was impressive. But psychotropic chocolates or not, Himeji really seems nastier to me this season. She was always nuts but I don't remember a lot of deliberate abuse, just homicidal cooking.

Second sketch was certainly the better, and very funny. With 2-F taking part in an experiment the shoukanjuu are back, but with the very clever twist that they're basically unfiltered representatives of their summoner's unconscious mind. Well, obviously Himeji and Minami are presented with an awkward dilemma there, and when Shuuko shows up things are looking pretty grim for Yuuji. All I could think of was that HimejiNami's summoned beings were a hell of lot nicer to Aki than the real girls were. As for the boys, well, it was pretty hilarious that their shoukanjuuu were basically chibi versions of the full-sized humans - nothing too complicated here. Yuuji and Aki's are happy to look up Aiko's skirt, Voyeur's just said exactly what everyone knows Voyeur is thinking and the worst Hideyoshi's had to offer was that three middle-school guys confessed to Hideyoshi just this month. I was a bit disappointed in Aiko, who I held to a higher standard - she genuinely seemed to enjoy getting Aki and Yuuji in trouble with HimejiNami.

If anything, the other major problem this season is that the humor just doesn't feel as fresh as it did last. I did enjoy the second skit this week because it put a new spin on the summoning gag, and even the Bullshit game was amusing enough. It just feels to me as if the scales have been tipped more towards abusive humor at the expense of the guys (especially Aki) than they were last season, and that just isn't as amusing to me as when this show gets really creative. On the plus side, it's still doing amazing things with visuals - especially in the classroom during the summoning this week, it was fantastically vibrant and eye-catching.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Mawaru Penguin Drum - 04

There were some unsettling trends evident in the fourth episode of Mawaru Penguin Drum, which was an overall step down in entertainment value from the first three for me.

No. 6 - 04

Fly on over to RC like petals on the wind to catch my review of No. 6, episode 4. I hope you become drawn to it.

Blood-C - 04

I think I finally figured out what's been nagging at me about this show. Sure the dialogue is awkward, the characters are plastic and the transitions jarring. But put it all together, and here's the thing - this series feels like a Blood doujinshi brought to life.

Natsume Yuujinchou Tourism

Here's an interesting little tidbit. The onsen village of Hitoyoshi, near the setting for the series, is using the characters from Natsume Yuujinchou to promote tourism this summer. Their website offers Nyanko-sensei at various sites around the village, and a map of sites where scenes from the anime took place. In addition, the gang from the series (including S1's adorable Little Fox) are promoting their fireworks festival on 8/15.

Usagi Drop - 04

Usagi Drop continues to hit almost all the right notes, providing a thoroughly enjoyable and heartwarming experience every week without laying it on too thick.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Shiki - 21.5

No other series can emotionally pummel me the way Shiki can. The sheer bleakness of it, the intensity of the wrongness that engulfs everything, is truly intense. And it doesn't seem to have been blunted by the passage of time.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni Kira OVA - 1

Let me start out by explaining that I'm a dilettante when it comes to this series. I've watched every piece of anime that's been produced (and that's a lot) but never touched the game and don't really wade into the whole massive mythos that's sprung up surrounding it - the side projects and doujins and Federica Bernkastel and all that. So I go into this OVA knowing all the characters, but not what to expect.

The quality of the various TV seasons and OVA projects has fluctuated quite a lot, though generally they've been at least decent and occasionally striking a brilliant tone for sheer despair and suspense and shock value. Well, safe to say the first "Kira" OVA is in no danger of doing that - in fact, I'd place it at the bottom of all the anime projects in terms of quality. It's played 100% for comedy, and while that's not the first time a Higurashi anime has done that, it's the first time so much of the humor has flat-out missed.

I'd say this whole 29 minute enterprise was on about the level of an omake. Unfortunately that means they had about three minutes with of material to stretch over the full length of the episode. It consisted almost entirely of Keichi's fantasy sequences, as he suffers through yet another penalty game humiliation at the hands of the girls. Ooichi, Irie and Tomitake show up as the Soul Brothers (appeared in the Hajisarashi-hen story) a kind of Bro's Before Hoes Revenge Squad, dreaming up humiliating punishments for the various girls in the club. That's not a great concept to begin with, but when it descends to the level of Tomitake snapping photos of Rika's (I believe she's 10 years old) exposed butt as she cleans the classroom windows with it, you really wonder what DEEN was thinking here. This has to be anime-original, I assume?

Things don't get much better from there, as the level of imagination that goes into the punishments (even poor Horie Yui isn't immune, as Hanyuu gets sucked into this silliness) is pretty non-existent. It's comedy and it's hentai, which is fine, but it's not especially good at either. While Rika's humiliation was the low point, a close second probably goes to an odd and completely gratuitous scene where Satoshi (at least it's acknowledged that his appearance makes no sense) pops up from nowhere, he and Kei-chan are mysteriously in bunny-girl outfits and Satoshi feeds him yogurt with his mouth.

Hopefully, the rest of the Kira OVAs are considerable more imaginative and smart than this one was. The good news is they won't have an especially high bar to exceed in order to be an improvement.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Steins;Gate - 17

So Okarin was indeed faced with a no-win scenario after the events of episode 16. But my speculation was off – it wasn’t whether to save Mayuri or Kurisu, it was Mayuri or Feyris-tan’s father.

Mind you, I still sense that things are going to go down that road sooner or later – there’s a timeline out there where Kurisu dies, and my gut tells me Okarin is going to have to face that down sooner or later. But for now it looks as if Kurisu’s absence at the end of 16 was either a troll or a completely insignificant detail seized on by an overeager audience, as there she was safe and sound in the pre-open of 17. In fact, everything seemed just fine – except one day later than before, Mayuri’s watch stopped. And the door was kicked open, and the rest is history – one of them, anyway.

Kamisama Dolls - 04

There's nothing fancy about Kamisama Dolls, really. It's just a good, solid straight-ahead anime with a really interesting plot and pretty involving characters. The take on the mecha genre is interesting, and the blend of sci-fi and mythological elements is classic but still fresh. It's a very entertaining watch.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Natsume Yuujinchou San - 04

Ramen! Ramen! Ramen!

Get it in my review of Natsume Yuujin-chou San over at RC.

Calling All Little Busters

If you're in NorCal - or would like to be - The Pillows are playing a show at Slim's on 9/7/11.  I'll be there - this will be my first time seeing Pirozu, and I'm pretty stoked.

If you don't know The Pillows, well you should, first of all - they're one of the greatest bands in rock and certainly one of the best to come out of Japan.  They're best known in America for the FLCL soundtrack, and also provided the ED for the currently airing Sket Dance

Nurarihyon no Mago: Sennen Makyo - 04

There's no question, Nurarihyon has stepped up in weight class from the first season. I hope enough viewers stuck around to see it.

S2 is still heavy in flashback mode, as the entire episode is spent on the story of Nurarihyon and Princess Yo, in early 17th-Century Kyoto (and the next ep too, by the looks of the preview. It's a complicated story, weaving together the origins of Yura's Keikain family, the early days of the Night Parade of the Hundred Demons, and the story of the dreaded Kyoto demon Hagoromo-Gitsune (Noto Mamiko) whose unsealing provides the impetus for the modern-day plot development.

Kyoto is in political turmoil, with Hideyoshi Totoyomi dead and son Hideyori apparently an incompetent and fully under the sway of Hagoromo-Gitsune. Princess You (Kuwashima Houko) is a beautiful human with magical healing powers which her greedy father sells to the highest bidder. Her liver is coveted by every youkai in Kansai for it's great power, and it's the Keikain family, led by Hidemoto (Midorikawa Hikaru), that protects her. Nurarihyon - young and a real smooth operator - wants her too, but not for her liver. He's in love with her, and Keikain's barriers are nothing to him. But when Hagoromo's henchmen kidnap her, it appears Nurarihyon and Keikain will join forces to save her and seal the evil youkai.

This flashback is obviously intended to cast light on the current-day storyline. The plot implications are obvious, given that Yura's brother has come to tell her than Hagoromo-Gitsune has been unsealed and Rikuo has offered to go to Kyoto with Yura. But the personal implications are important, too. You have Yuki-onna's mother Setsura obviously in love with Nurarihyon, as Tsurara is with Rikuo. And you have the human girl who's captured his eye, much to Yuki-onna's chagrin.

Indeed, when Nurarihyon kidnapped You-hime for a night on the town with his crew, it was impossible not to think of Night Rikuo's evening with Kana, taking her to the youkai hangout and showing her how the other half lives. The relationship flags certainly point to Kana based on that, which is not great news if you (like me) happen to be a big fan of Yuki-onna. Nevertheless, it was a fascinating thing to watch and I love the way these long-ago events cast big shadows on the present day.

My only real concern here is with pacing - ironic, as the pacing feels so much better than the first season. After next week it looks like 60% of the season will have been spent on flashbacks. With the Kyoto Arc reportedly as long and epic as it is, that doesn't leave much time, and given that this show doesn't appear to be a big DVD/BD or ratings success I kind of doubt we'll be getting a third season.

Monday, July 25, 2011

Ikoku Meiro no Croisée - 04

One of the things I've loved about this series from the beginning - and there's an awful lot of them - is the wonderful way it gets at the cultural differences between Europeans and Japanese without demeaning either. When Claude said, "It would be so much easier if she could think of herself instead of others" that really captured the essence of the point for me.

Summer 2011 - Check-in

A quick rundown on where things stand almost a month in:

The Top Tier:

Natsume Yuujinchou San
Episodes Watched: 3
Rating: A
Comments: No loss of quality here at all. Great director, great studio, great manga = great anime.

Hanasaku Iroha - 17

Well, at least they got Yuina back into the massage chair...

I'm feeling myself in a bad place with HanaIro right now. I really, really don't want to be the guy who carps every week on how disappointing this series is. But I've blogged it for four months, and seen just how good it can be (and how bad). So I'm not going to stop now, and I'll certainly hope for the best. But in a way, it was better in the beginning when it zagged between great and bloody awful than what the last few episodes have been - a sort of creeping mediocrity.

I would have if she hadn't
For starters, the whole movie thing - silly from the beginning anyway - was absolutely telegraphed. It was obviously going to be a scam, and the fact that any viewer paying attention knew that doesn't exactly paint Enishi and Takako in a good light. Which leads to point number two - just what were these eps supposed to make us feel about them? If they were supposed to be more sympathetic now, mission failed I'd say. Enishi is just pathetic altogether, and Takako might at best be said to be incrementally less annoying than she was before (putting her about on a par with shingles and Carrot Top).

That pretty much says it all, Kid...
As it turned out, Satsuki was involved in that cliffhanger call - but she wasn't the subject, she was the caller. After trying and failing to warn her mother about the movie being a scam, she eventually calls Enishi (from the airport - hmmm) after the fact and gives him the details. Satsuki would do wonders for this show about now, since her relationship with the generations of her family sandwiching her is far more interesting than the subject matter of these last few eps. Plus, her acid personality would do wonders to cut through the aftertaste of the long, slow-mo shots of the girls frolicking that are supposed to make me feel warm and nostalgic.

My sincere hope is that Mari Okada isn't directly involved in the production of the episodes where she's not credited as the writer (none since 11-13) because I'd like to think she's better than that. The last few have really featured lazy writing - weak slapstick, predictable plots, and "push-button" emotional manipulation to try and make the audience react rather than doing the heavy lifting to get there with character development.

It's the show's own fault, really. It had the temerity to start of well and periodically hit some wonderful dramatic highs, giving me a taste of just what it was capable of. If HanaIro had just been affably mediocre from the beginning a mediocre run of episodes wouldn't faze me. And the truly maddening thing is, the show could just as easily whip out a fantastic and utterly riveting final arc if it finally gets back to the story elements that really matter - Ohana, and her relationship with her mother and Kou. I don't dare stop watching now, just in case.