Friday, 25 June 2010

Release number 3!

Urrrrgh, I’m happy to be shot of this horrible, horrible chapter. Horrible to translate, that is. It was written in incredibly complicated language, using obscure kanji at every opportunity. At least I saw a whole lot of characters I haven’t encountered before. But I suspect I’ll very, very rarely see them used again. The mangaka was just showing off, really.

Still, it’s translated now, and actually reading it back I find it quite fun. Not characters you’re going to see very often, and more of Wong being evil, so check it out!

Mirror 1: Sendspace
Mirror 2: Mediafire

Thursday, 24 June 2010


Yesterday, I reposted my impressions of D.N.Angel from back in 2006, in which I discoursed about shoujo series that in outline seem like shounen, and made mention of some shounen series written by women. Well, since then a few more important series have appeared, and continue to blur the line at the centre of the two. There has been Reborn!, which has all the attributes I gave to battle shoujo, including hapless and childish yet adored main character, homoerotic love interests and cutesy mascots, yet is published in Jump and is popular with a male demographic. There has been also been Kekkaishi, following Fullmetal Alchemist in having a main character who is both vulnerable and yet capable of great power, and who has a very slow-burning but important romance with a female character who is formidable in her own right. And then there is D.Gray-man, which has managed to become one of the biggest series in Jump and full of inventive characters, action and angst.

Its pilot manga chapter was a little more obviously created by a woman than the anime, if we are to follow the tell-tale tropes that I by no means want to claim are absolutely universal, but which are certainly prevalent. The first incarnation of Allen Walker was extremely effeminized, even being made to cross-dress, and Linalee fell into a damsel in distress pigeonhole.

Thankfully, the final product was rather more mature and idiosyncratic. There are a lot of very familiar elements to D.Gray-man, but it offers a very striking and complete world with a cast of quirky but likeable characters and some fascinating adversaries. Set in a Victorian-era world, principally in Europe but also incorporating Asia, it tells the story of an exorcist called Allen Walker, blessed by God with ‘Innocence’, a substance that transforms into a powerful weapon to fight demons, or ‘akuma’. Along with other innocence-users in a Christian organization called The Black Order, Allen fights against the rather mechanical demons sent forth by the grotesque Millennium Earl.

It’s a neat set-up, complex enough not to be dismissed offhand but simple enough that it can be easily understood and the development of its characters become the focus. Initially, I thought it was a terrible idea to give Allen such an underwhelming power – that of having a big sharp arm – but over the course of the series, his anti-akuma weapon is developed in the most intriguing ways, until final designs are extremely impressive. Every one of Allen’s comrades is interesting and possessed of a well-developed power, and the stakes always seem higher than in most shounen. There are some real tragedies in this series, and everything seems a little more mature than most of the titles that come from Jump.

As with so many manga adaptations, though, it ends before its time. Running two full seasons, the first of 51 episodes and the second of 52, it wraps up a huge arc, then spends ten episodes hanging a final mini-arc on the end that despite showcasing the awesome generals, does not give any sense of closure.

But it has been two years now since it ended. It doesn’t look like there’s going to be any more D.Gray-Man animated. Of course there is still manga to go to, but if I’m honest, of the big Shounen Jump series, I’d honestly rather this was running on and on and on than almost any of the other, far bigger titles.

But perhaps the added layer of complexity was the undoing of this series. A shame, because it has so much to offer.

Wednesday, 23 June 2010


There’s quite a thin line between shounen anime (aimed at boys) and shoujo (the feminine counterpart). Yes, there are obvious shoujo shows like Bokura Ga Ita, purely about a young girl discovering romantic feelings, and there are purebred shounen shows, featuring little other than testosterone-fuelled fighting, like MÄR, but if you think that a lot of fighting automatically makes a show shounen, you’re not seeing the full picture. Like Jyu-ou-sei and Loveless, DN Angel is a show with lots of action, lots of fighting and lots of magical duels nonetheless aimed at girls. The difference really lies in tone and in the characters – shounen protagonists tend to be simple, headstrong characters usually unable to grasp everything about the world they find themselves in but with a strong sense of wrong and right, while male protagonists in shoujo action series tend to be a little bit weak and vulnerable, even useless, guided by some far cooler male figure. Romance, while by no means absent in shounen, tends to be closer to centre-stage, and you’re considerably more likely to see ultra-cute mascot characters (see any CLAMP action series). DN Angel is a good example of such a show, ticking all these boxes and making its male protagonist even more harmless and adorable than most shoujo male leads. Niwa-kun must have blushed at least six times every episode. Indeed, the show was even marketed as shounen-ai, a subset of shoujo wherein there is a lot of homosexuality (ie Loveless), but here, despite lots of contrived circumstances putting Niwa Daisuke and his nemesis Hiwatari in close, occasionally shirtless proximity, there was little more than light hinting, no more than what is found in a fair few shounen series, particularly Naruto and Hikaru no Go.

I watched DN Angel when it first started, but only actually committed to watching it all when I saw some amusing but impressive cosplayers on a little movie made by someone trying to highlight how odd cosplay is by asking ‘What are your special powers?’ and recording the silly answers. It’s a nicely presented show, with Studio XEBEC’s usual cute, wide-eyed character style, meaning that Niwa and his three romantic interests (two twins and a genki girl who speaks with a horrible mock-American accent) are very pretty, and some very nice cel-shaded 3D and some beautiful ideal-Western-hamlet backgrounds making the series generally very easy on the eyes. Music was good and animation was generally of a high standard, although the fights were a bit daft – perhaps it’s another trait of shoujo series, but it does grate on me a bit when fights involve two pretty winged men flying at each other, and then everything freezing with them in nice poses, and then us seeing the aftermath of the strike. Especially with feathers prettily fluttering about. Nonetheless, some of the magic looked very impressive.

The trouble with the show, though, was once again the story. The premise is a bit odd but not bad – a family carries special genes that means the successor can transform into a suave phantom thief with the hilarious name of Dark Mousy, who finds and seals artworks that have been somehow cursed or possessed, all the while being chased by the Hiwatari family, who can channel a spirit called Krad who ostensibly works for justice but truthfully is a bit of an obvious psychopath. Fair enough. But the manga is still ongoing and thus there wasn’t a holistic story to work with. Therefore we get series of formulaic episodes, with Dark generally having to seal an artwork, Hiwatari/Krad getting in the way, and then Niwa giving a heartfelt speech to the spirit that must be sealed and it nobly acquiescing. There was an extra part with the aforementioned genki girl, Hio Mio, turning out to be a tool for a baddie, but it went nowhere, and the final climax was very rushed and artificially put together from dodgy make-up-the-rules-of-a-magical-artifact plotting. The slow development of the Harada twins, and Daisuke realising his true feelings about them was nice, but ultimately his revelations and changes of heart didn’t seem to have enough build-up, making them a bit hard to swallow.

And I have to say, I got a bit fed up with Dark. There’s very little to his character but outward experience. He looks cool, can fly, is great at stealing, can give moving speeches when needed, and everyone fancies him – but that’s all there is to him. He just feels like a cheap trick to me, a badly-written hook for girls who want someone to fancy without actually having to think about them. The one interesting thing he did – kissing the girl Daisuke liked – just disappeared from the plot, lead to no development or tension and was ultimately retrospectively made to seem fine because Dark knew what Daisuke wanted better than he did. Wasted opportunity.

Anyway, DN Angel shouldn’t be looked at for anything challenging, intelligent or particularly well-written. But it’s a nice little anime with attractive characters (with huge spiky hair!), an unchallenging escapist plot and a very, very cute mascot rabbit-thing that eats strawberries and goes, ‘Kyuu!’ If that sounds like your sort of thing, go for it, though I wouldn’t say you were missing much if you gave it a miss.

(originally posted 7.12.2006)

Monday, 21 June 2010

Mahou Shoujotai: Arusu / Magical Girl Squad: Alice / Tweeny Witches

When I first saw the previews for this series, I was smitten by everything but the titles – the Japanese one was clichéd and the English one was just cringe-inducing. The footage, however, was beautiful: superb CG-infused animation, attractive character designs, and a strong Miyazaki influence both in the old-fashioned fairytale aesthetic and in the giant robotic creature that made a brief appearance.

To my surprise, pretty much none of the footage in this trailer actually made the transition to the series. No giant robot, no impressive camera-swooping-through-a-town sequence, no scene of the witches gearing up. The robot eventually showed up in the OVA releases, originally intended to be broadcast but delayed so much that they finally went straight to DVD, but I was surprised how little of the preview appeared in the episodes. Neverthless, what was on offer instead completely charmed me – at least for the first two thirds or so of the 40-episode series.

Perhaps the most remarkable thing about Mahou Shoujotai is that its episodes are only 8 minutes long. This leads to some very interesting writing decisions. Quite often, the action at the beginning of the episode would be quite unconnected to the last, and only later do the events in the interim get filled in. This kept the pace very fast, and was also quite satisfying, once the pieces slotted together. This was fine in the beginning, when the story was a nice, simple tale about a human girl in a magical world, gathering sprites and convincing everyone around her that magic was supposed to make someone happy. It always had a darker edge and realistic characters, so there was no danger of this childish premise making the show twee, and the direction was remarkably idiosyncratic, with odd angles, a more western art style than most in current anime, and some very quirky cutting.

But towards the end, the plot started to spiral downwards the way of so many good anime – into Pretentious-And-Barely-Coherent-Mumbo-Jumbo-Land, where various contrived magical gubbins mean that – oh no! – the world is going to end, and only equally made-up-on-the-spot powers and, of course, true friendship can save the day. Interesting minor characters get cast aside in favour of big overblown sequences, and everything descends into the same tired old action sequences. Which is a shame, because the one thing you could say about Mahou Shoujotai at the beginning was that it was most definitely a highly individual, original piece of work.

Nonetheless, it is definitely a series worth watching. Interesting characters, unorthodox storytelling and some very brave aesthetic decisions make a weird and wonderful little mini-series that has been woefully ignored by most of the online anime community.

(originally written 03.01.2006)

Friday, 11 June 2010

Manga reviews: Fullmetal Alchemist

On the 27th May 2003, I made my usual daily check of Toriyama’s World. Back then, TW was without doubt the biggest and most important scanslation site on the internet, providing scans of big shounen series like Hikaru no Go and HunterXHunter. They were also not only scanning an up-and-coming series called Naruto but even releasing fansubs of the anime – but back then, I wasn’t too keen on the juvenile-looking series, heheh.

On that day, Toriyama’s World released a chapter of Hikaru no Go, which I was very eager to read, but also announced a new monthly manga called Fullmetal Alchemist. ‘it’s about an alchemist who can do a lot of cool stuff. it's pretty good. you should read it’, went the release, somewhat unconvincingly, adding as an afterthought a little note: ‘you’d better read fma, cuz we may or may not have hidden an integral page of the hng chapter in the fma chapter… tho really, who needs a gimmick to make people read a manga this good!’

Well, if that announcement was hardly auspicious, I downloaded the chapter and loved it. Some great artwork, really appealing characters, a superb setting and the great concept of magic deeply based in science.

It’s now more than seven years later, and Fullmetal Alchemist is huge. From the first episode of the anime, where I was very surprised Al sounded like a little boy, to seeing the movie in Japan on the day of an earthquake, to the new Brotherhood remake growing from redundancy to innovation, Hagaren would seldom be out of my life. It has a huge but fickle fanbase, and even though the manga has been a constant fixture for all these years, when the first anime stopped airing, it was remarkable how many people seemed to give up on their beloved title.

I’ve summarized the series in general as an anime, so I don’t need to go into that here, but it ought to be said that it’s always been the manga I’ve enjoyed the most. The art is unique and often very odd but beautiful to look at, and the pacing is superb – other than in the flashback segment. Few series have so perfectly balanced humour and action, and this series deserves to be a classic. Its concept, characters, world and storyline are all genuinely exemplary.

But the manga rolled on, and I kept reading, through the flabby chapters of flashback and through Arakawa’s other side-projects. And now it’s all finally come to an end with chapter 108, an extended special of over 100 pages. I thought I would rail against it. I thought that it couldn’t possibly end satisfactorily in one more chapter. But I was wrong: the summation of the homunculus storyline was also the climax of all the main characters’ paths and it ended neatly, cleverly and with so many little flashes of where the characters will go next, each one fairly moving.

This is somewhat the end of an era, for me. And I can’t help but feel a little moved!

Tuesday, 8 June 2010

Rebuild of Evangelion: 2.0 You Can (Not) Advance

If the first Rebuild film felt somewhat superfluous, this second part justifies it entirely. For the first time in many years, Evangelion has gone somewhere entirely new and very different.

This is still a film series for fans. I think that anybody who had only seen the two Rebuild films would find the characters underdeveloped and the concept confusing – even more confusing than it is for the initiated, to the extent that it’s probably impossible to quite wrap your head around without knowing some of the parts missed from the original series. There are also little sly references to the things that have been changed, such as one scene giving a nod to Touji’s different fate that would probably just bewilder if you do not know that in the series, he was a pilot.

And I find it something of a shame that Touji doesn’t get the chance to wear the plugsuit, in some ways supplanted by a strange new character called Mari, although I’m not sure her name is mentioned in the film. Mari is a peripheral figure, from a SEELE-affiliated company but not Nerv, who has a weird, knowing confidence that I don’t think quite fits into the Evangelion world. Even though she’s voiced by Sakamoto Maaya and it’s hinted she’s British, I see no reason to like her. She was annoyingly over-confident, detached and really had no development.

Anyway, from where the first film left off, Asuka gets a rather irritating entrance taking care of a new angel (fondly named ‘Clockiel’ by some online) in moments, then moves in with Shinji and Misato and gets her own version of one of the former’s embarrassing early scenes. They don’t have to do a silly synchronized dance, which was always a bit of a nadir for the series despite the adorable outfits, nor the deep dive. The next angel’s attack comes from the original, with the takeover of a new Evangelion, and the actions of the ‘dummy plug’ again deeply disturb Shinji. It is the film’s third angel and its climax that brings the biggest changes, and it almost seems that the very end of the series is coming early – until a long-foreshadowed intervention from a character bearing the Lance of Longinus.

The mixture of old and new elements makes for a moving, beautiful and somewhat disturbing film. Not everything in it worked all that well, and it does suffer from being the middle part of a trilogy, containing story arcs that ultimately have little bearing on the overall story and ending on a cliffhanger, but it sets up the final part well. At the very least, I’m sure that final movie will be devastating and after all, it makes sense for the end to be close, for I anticipate a good half of 3.0’s length to be given to trauma and suffering and weirdness. We shall see!

Monday, 7 June 2010

ぴたテン / Pita-Ten

First Impressions
PitaTen is the adorable story of a little boy’s relationship with a teenaged angel who moves in next door, and utterly adores him – much to the chagrin of his little childhood friend, who is in love with him and for some reason has big cat-ears. Love triangles and unrequited affection drive so much of anime, whether anime or comedy, and this is a fluffy, gentle and cute show with lots of manic humour, which is just the sort of relaxing stuff I’m looking for at the moment. Plus it has music that sounds just like Postman Pat, which HAS to be a bonus in anyone’s book.

Final thoughts
CUUUUUUUUUUUTE! That’s the only word to sum up PitaTen. With that many ‘u’s. Cute, cute, cute and a little teeny bit of angst – more in the manga, apparently. Cute as Bottle Fairy, but with more of a storyline, it’s perfect for putting on when you need a break and want to watch something that will make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

Kotaro is a normal little schoolboy, other than the fact that he lost his mother in a car accident several years earlier. Bizarrely, his seiyuu was also stately, feminine Shinkuu in Rozen Maiden. He goes to school with his friends Ayanokoji and the teeny, adorable, cat-ear-wearing Koboshi, who even more bizarrely is played by Alphonse Elric’s seiyuu. I can hear the similarity between Al and Hotaru from Gakuen Alice, but hyperactive, squeaky Koboshi-chan? Quelle surprise!

But I digress…

One day, Kotaro opens the door to see that he has a new neighbour, the ever-cheerful, klutzy, loud but always adorable Misha, who soon turns out to be an angel-in-training, and not a very good one at all. She becomes obsessed with Kotaro and begins to follow him everywhere, but soon they become fast friends. Add to this spoilt brat Hiroshi, known as Dai-chan, his tomboyish sister Kaoru, a soft-spoken girl called Shia who has a bad-tempered talking cat called Nyaa and is about the nicest person in the world (thus the worst demon-in-training possible) and a tangled mess of unrequited loves and you get a silly, high-energy comedy show that works a formula, but works it well.

It isn’t clever and it isn’t original, but the characters all look totally adorable, the jokes are simple and funny and the characters have just enough depth for them to be a pleasure to watch. It won’t change anyone’s life, but just for a few hours, it’s sure to bring some happiness.

(Originally written 27.8.05)

Saturday, 5 June 2010

セロ弾きのゴーシュ/ Cero-hiki no Goushu/ Gauche the Cellist

Even from Takahata, I wasn’t expecting something quite so good. Perhaps it’s because I associate his pre-Ghibli work with Horus and Panda Kopanda, but I wasn’t expecting something so mature. A large part of this is down to the deftly-woven allegorical story on which the film is based, but despite how much the anime industry has grown and developed since 1982, everything here is beautiful, intelligent and warm.

Gauche is a cellist competent enough to be in a professional orchestra in a little town, but whose skills are lacking to the extent that he seems to be holding everyone else back. In the first scene, a rehearsal for a recital of Beethoven’s sixth (wonderfully vibrant animation of the conductor unfortunately rather badly set against two-frame violin tremolo animation) is constantly interrupted for his sake, and it’s hard not to warm to him as he looks so crestfallen after being berated by the conductor. Over the course of the next week and a half, he gets visits from various creatures who ask him favours – teaching them a scale, playing a piece to help them practice, soothing a sick baby mouse (one of the cutest things ever, for not being too cutesy) with a calming melody…Gauche reacts to these anthropomorphic guests in an intriguing way – he interacts with them but retains cynicism, so that we soon realise he thinks he is imagining the whole thing, manifesting his own wishes and fears, or perhaps is being aided by the tricksy spirits of traditional Japanese lore, without any of this having to be said, a nice subtle touch that perhaps limits the appeal for international audiences who may not realise why Gauche is guarded, even cruel.

Not until he performs his recital does he realise that the animals he thought he was aiding were all actually teaching him lessons and helping him. His exuberance, realising this, is impossible not to smile through. Some of the nuanced human animation here is amazing, especially for 1982, but it’s the voice actors (a mixture of veterans (from shows like Doraemon and Sazae-san) and near-amateurs) who really shine. The mouse mother is my favourite, a real old-fashioned Japanese lady, who humbly wheedles and guilt-trips without being unattractive, and whose interaction with her beloved child may seem overprotective but then when you see them playing together, is really touching. The cuckoo, the cat and the little Tanuki are great, too, and the still shot of Mrs Owl really made me laugh.

This short hour-long animation is one of the best I’ve seen, clever, peculiar and charming. Sometime between the seventies and eighties Takahata seems to have gotten more ambitious, artistic and sensitive: though perhaps I’ll have to wait to see Jarinko Chie to really judge that!

(originally written 06.08.08)