Sunday, April 8, 2012

First Impressions–Nazo no Kanojo X

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Everything about Mysterious Girlfriend X is extremely odd and seemingly mismatched, but I was absolutely and utterly fascinated by the premiere.

I’ll say it up front – I loved that episode unreservedly.  It was that head-shaking, talking to yourself kind of love that really great first episodes give you sometimes, and not at all the reaction I expected.  I’m not at all sure how people are going to react to this series – I suspect I may be on an island in my adoration for it, perhaps as much as I was with R-15 – but if that’s the case, so be it.  I thought the premiere didn't put a single foot wrong, and continually surprised me with its stunning creativity and wit.

This is a series that’s full of weird contrasts.  I confess I find the central conceit – the tasting of the drool – extremely gross and distasteful.  But in spite of that I’m totally won over.  You have the contrast between the extremely experienced and accomplished Miyu Irino playing main character Tsubaki Akira and an absolute rookie, 20 year-old Yoshitani Ayako (who also sings the OP and ED), playing female lead Urabe Mikoto.  Then there’s Irino-san as the lead and Kaji Yuuki as his best friend Ueno Kohei – talk about the extremes of seiyuu talent there!  And there’s the matter of director Watanabe Ayumu, best known for Doraemon and also directing this season’s highbrow (and superb) Uchuu Kyoudai running this very edgy teen sex comedy.  And studio Hoods Entertainment’s repertoire is basically mediocre ecchi like Seikon no Qwaser and Aki Sora

Put that all together, and there’s no way this should be good, never mind the triumph that the premiere was. But that’s the final contrast – it was a triumph.  I’ll assume a bunch of the credit goes to mangaka Ueshiba Richi (whose Yume Tsukai I also liked).  If you read my Spring Preview you know I recognized this series only because I’d bought a doujin in Akihabara based on liking the artwork, and this adaptation is almost unbelievably faithful to the original in terms of character design and overall look.  But there’s so much more that was great, starting with the BGM by industry veteran Hasegawa Tomoki – it’s theatrical and full of whimsy and does exactly what BGM should do – create atmosphere and enhance the mood of what’s happening on screen.  The premiere was full of interesting visual quirks, right up to the quick reveal of what’s under Urabe’s skirt and the moment when her eye opens in the ED.  I love the way the faces are framed, too, and the use of light and shadow.

I should also point out that in addition to the stylish flair, the look of this series is very, very retro – I’m talking seriously old-school here.  If you did a quick double-take you might almost think you were watching a Takahashi or Adachi adaptation from the 80’s – that’s how old-school the look is, both in terms of color and character design.  That might not work for you, but I loved it.  I also loved (surprise, surprise) Irino-san as Tsubaki-kun – no male seiyuu is able to get to the truth of the emotion like he can, be it comedy or drama.  In addition to everything else likely to be love-hate, I think Yoshitani-san’s performance will divide the audience.  It might recall Omigawa Chiaki a bit (another divisive seiyuu) but Yoshitani is herself – her voice is very natural and unforced, without a lot of professional polish.  It’s different from any performance you’ll hear this season – whether you take that as a good thing or not is up to your taste.

Again, this is very weird.  The whole drool thing is something I had to get past, and there are going to be other eccentricities to follow.  But as in R-15, I found an essential sweetness (and not in the drool) at the core of this relationship underneath all the kinky stuff.  Urabe is very strange (and will get stranger) but I like that about her – her total unconcern with fitting in.  It was certainly refreshing the way she came right out and asked Tsubaki if he was a virgin, and then told him she daydreamed that he’d be the first boy she’d have sex with.  In another time and setting she’d be called a Bohemian, but whatever you want to call Urabe, she’s unique.  Tsubaki is also more bold and straightforward than the typical male lead, and Miyu-san never settles for the standard reactive pushover in his performances.  It's a treat to watch and listen to Tsubaki as he incredulously takes Urabe - so different from anything or anyone he's ever seen - in.  He’s still a leaf boat being buffeted about in Urabe’s stream for now, but I think Tsubaki is up to the challenge.

So there you have it – another interesting first episode, and most of my top picks going in haven’t even premièred yet.  It’s shaping up as a very deep season at the least, though it’s too early to say if we’ll also see above-average quality at the very top rank.  This one was certainly on my radar screen, somewhere in the second tier, but I never expected to be bowled over by the premiere the way I was.  Now I’ll sit back – somewhat tremulously – and see if the rest of the world thinks I’ve lost my mind.

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ED: "Hōkago no Yakusoku" (放課後の約束) by Ayako Yoshitani
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29 comments:

  1. One of the initial impressions I think many will have on the voice side is how Urabe doesn't sound like what many (readers) expected her to be. For example, the voice in my head for years was VERY close to Misaki Mei's -- low in register, deadpan with a hint of mischief. Indeed when I close my eyes, it's like a very normal girl was talking, which is NOT the image at all that I'd attach to Urabe.

    I think it's a carry-over from Ayako Yoshitani's stint in live-action acting. What was the observation again? She doesn't sound like an cutesy high-pitched anime character, which is refreshing in a way.

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  2. The_Magus_KillerApril 8, 2012 at 5:33 PM

    No Guardian Enzo, you haven't lost your mind; it's just that Nazo no Kanojo X is that good - despite having a unique take on relationships. It's the drool thing that sets it apart from other romance anime - without the drool, it'd be just another boy meets odd girl romance anime.

    But since the show only 12 episodes long, I don't think Nazo no Kanojo X will be able to properly develop the characters, since most the character development takes place in much later chapters.

    Nice to know you're blogging this too. Thanks. =)

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  3. Oh, I never thought I'd lost my mind - I was just thinking almost everyone else was going to be wrong!

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    1. You did lose your mind. Just that everyone else did, so they didn't notice. I noticed. But soon I'll forgot this. As soon as a week or two

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  4. The first thing that comes to mind in the "better than it sounds" department is B gata H kai but this is another level.
    This wasn't on my radar at first but the closer I got the the premiere the more I got excited,especialy after I saw the PV .
    Oldschool design?Sign me up!
    Actress that has years of experience in live action but none in voice acting?Sign me up!

    I was hyped enough to check it out raw,and even without understanding everything the athmosphere alone was enough to keep me watching,watching it subbed only confirmed that I really liked it.

    The things I like purely plotwise:
    -for once we get an actual "random guy",most guys like that in anime have some existential crisis but there's none here,he's really your avreage dude
    -We've got a guy and a girl going out after 1 episode!Sure it's one weird relationship but most of the time in anime the couple only comes together in the end,there's always love triangles,or harems...
    -The lead (and show) acknowledges that what he's doing is weird,the anime isn't out there trying to start a new fad over drool fetish,he's not a guy that has fantasized over drool his whole life,he just did it at first out of impulse and quickly thought to himself "what am I doing?"
    -Urabe is weird but doesn't fall in any of the standard female personalities.Most importantly,you can't associate her with a "pure" image that otakus like in their girls.
    -Sex,It actualy isn't taboo here,it's always surprising to see how sometimes animes can getreally echi yet actual sex is never talked about

    So that's already really nice but there's more!It's really in its presentation that it stands out.
    Give this modern designs,Hanakana as the lead a cute soundtrack and it would lose a big part of its appeal.
    The presentation isn't just done to stand out,it's the logical conclusion to the plot points noted above.
    This show recognizes that this premise is surreal so you have to have the athmosphere that goes with it,the dream sequence contribute to that but the big factor here is the OST.It's not soothing relaxing music,there's nothing upbeat about it,the best exemple is the music in the last scene of the episode,it would be right at home in something like Shiki or Another.
    In fact the whole last scene feels like it would fit right in a mystery anime,between the music and all the lights going on after Urabe's last words.I guess they're really highlighting the "mysterious" part of "Mysterious girlfriend X".
    As for the choice of art style and lead actress,you've got a girl that doesn't really fit any of the modern anime girl archetypes,pro VAs are trained for those kind of roles,if you've got a character outside the box why not think outside the box and hire a live action actress instead?
    Same for the artstyle,if you're going to go with a susreal athmosphere would modern cute bijousho designs fit?Personaly one of the things I had to get over with Another was the decision to have Haruchi's artist do the chara design for the anime,I'd have preffered a grittier look.And in a way by going for an oldschool look this is what MGX is doing.

    So in the end this anime/manga has some interesting plot choices and the style to go along with those choices.

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    Replies
    1. Glad you've drunk the Kool-aid, totoum! But an Irino character can bever be truly average - he finds the uniqueness in every role, much like Haruka T. does.

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  5. GE I'm gonna have to pass on this.

    The sound the "drool" made when Mikoto got her head off the table at the 5 minute mark literally made me want to hurl and the fact that Tsubaki then ate it will make me hurl. This may be a really good show, but it's way over my acceptable threshold for... for whatever new form of ecchi this is.

    I hope you can enjoy it.

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    1. I guess that means you aren't into french kisses then as those involves quite a loot of trading of drool as well.

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    2. The manga this is based on first came out as a one-shot waaaay back in 2004, then was finally serialized around 2006. New? Hah.

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    3. Not liking "a dude dipping his finger into what must be at least 1 hour+ built up drool on a desk and tasting it" somehow means not into french kisses? What?? What a logic that is!! French kisses CLEARLY involve fresh saliva, not some stinking old drool, LOL! Also there is no way that old drool can taste good. I don't care she eats roses and drink unicorn blood all day. As long as she's a human, bacteria will do its job no matter what in the absence of periodic water drinking & mouth hygiene. This girl saliva business is a pure fantasy, nothing more. Help me with reasons, Guardian Enzo!!

      Seriously this show, not only looks very early 90sish in drawing/style, is definitely aiming for a very niche market. I'm not prudent in any mean, but this is like a toe step away from enjoying golden shower.

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    4. Not many girls have psychoactive spit though (and the manga goes a ways in hinting that, yes, Urabe's spit is NOT normal), to the point where its taste varies depending on Urabe's (or its recipient's) emotional state.

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  6. The 4th out of 5 manga that I'm reading that's being adapted this Spring.
    The manga art was retro and old school already. I didn't think they would stick to it even in the anime. I like it. Feels really different from the lineup this Spring.
    Urabe's voice is pretty cute but I imagined a bit differently, more like Misaki Mei's voice. Tsubaki was fine, props to MiyuMiyu.
    The music is really good and so is the pacing of the show.
    I admit I was disgusted too when I first read this but when it went on I just got used to it. Plus these drool interactions leads to really sweet moments. It's more about the connection they will be forming with every interaction and less about the drool tasting itself.
    I'm looking forward to more of this. Can't believe this is the same studio who brought Seikon no Qwaser...
    And welcome comrade. Been way ahead of you in the whole 'world thinks I've lost my mind for liking this manga' part. So yeah :)

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  7. As a long time reader of the manga I'm more than satisfied. There "are" differences. Urabe seems cuter and her way of speaking more lively. I suppose I was imagining a Misaki Mei type of delivery as well. But all in all a great first episode. Hope your blogging this one Enzo. It deserves some love.

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  8. The first episode was pretty damn good. It was well paced, animated well, and wonderful handle of the material. As a fan of the manga, I was a little worried that Hood would make it extremely ecchi but it doesn't look like they are going there and being more subtle about it.

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  9. Nah Enzo most people will agree with you on this one, the manga is very very good, and the anime just made it better.

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  10. If you'd told me this would be the best premiere of the Spring week 1, I'd have laughed at you - but it was. I loved Uchuu Kyoudai, but MGX was the one intro that got me really excited about how interesting and creative it was.

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  11. Another successful adaptation. Maybe I should stop expecting the worst every time a manga gets adapted. Here is hoping Tasogare manages to do the manga justice too.

    I was also expecting Urabe to have more of a Misaki Mei voice but it's all about getting used to it, I guess.

    So... are you going to blog this one, Enzo? Although I assume it's too soon to tell, given how many shows are yet to premiere and some are bound to be left out of weekly coverage.

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    Replies
    1. If the rest is remotely close to the first ep, I'm definitely blogging this.

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  12. agreed, this was all kinds of awesome with the look and the feel and yes the voices. I concur Enzo that this was an inspired choice for our heroine. Have to admit that it was refreshing to hear a voice that was so new but when I think about it, Urabe deserves that kind of voice, she's unlike any other anime femme archetype I've found. If you read the manga, you'll realize that this is foremost, a sweet coming of age story that treats the youthful excitement of being in love with the seriousness (and unintentional hilarity) that it deserves.

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  13. I think that the author of Mysterious Girlfriend X once said that he intended the series to be a giant robot series where the girl is the giant robot. That's about as accurate a glimpse of a sixteen year old boy's perception of girls that I can think of.

    I had no idea whether or not this show would do justice to the original, but from what I can see, the director and co. nailed it. So long as they continue at this pace, we could be in for something pretty great. We'll see!

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    Replies
    1. Heh, that's an interesting way to look at it. Good insight.

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  14. Perhaps they are trying to play up the mysteriousness by making her voice so "normal" compared to the more typical performances of the girls around her.

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  15. Uhmm... inst Urabe a bit more then just a mysterious wierdo? As a non-manga reader I'm thinking Urabe has just gotta be an alien or something with the way she kept clicking that UFO pen and the fact that her bodily fluid acts as a highly addictive drug to humans such as our regular guy main character. Not to mention the fact it gushes out of her when she's happy. As with all the drool i wasn't particularly grossed out because the show used it as a form of highly symbolic and effective euphemism for sex and created a great sensual atmosphere. Although it sure did sound gross when I was reading the premise.

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  16. I was also blown away by this episode. I read a bit of the first chapter a few years back, but it didn't leave a very good impression on me namely because of the whole saliva thing.

    But this episode drastically improved my impression of the series. The characters, the pacing, the voice acting; they were all phenomenal. I'm definitely liking Yoshitani Ayako as Urabe right now.

    There's something very refreshing about this series that's really attractive to me.

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  17. Hello guys, I really liked this series, the relationship dynamics between the two leads is very rare in anime, to see both of them romantically involved from the get go, is a very refreshing thing to watch. As for the drool stuff, I personally wouldn't blame people jumping off this show because of it, it can be quite distracting (for some reason my mouth kept watering when the drooling happened) but I think it might be a better kink to have than incest? Also, the voice actress was great, even with her low pitch the bursts of laughter appeared genuine. Great stuff, easily the best show of the season, not counting Fate Zero S2.

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    Replies
    1. Hey catsonmars, welcome. I agree, in itself the drool is certainly less disturbing than incest - morally anyway - but the visceral reaction for me is still to be disgusted. Not that it stopped me from adoring the opener.

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  18. I found this first episode quite unnerving. The drool thing is just too weird for me. I won't stop watching it but every time this drool thing comes up all I can think is "Holy shit, she's a Red Court vampire, run for your life Tsubaki!"

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  19. Replies
    1. Haha yes it is, vampires with narcotic saliva that causes the people they feed on to become addicted to being fed on.

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