“Mnemosyne”, also known as “Mnemosyne: Mnemosyne no Musumetachi”, is a six episode series containing a mix of supernatural, science fiction and horror elements. What will no doubt strike most viewers about this series are its explicit horror and sexually tinted scenes.
Considering these horror and sex scenes, as well as the themes behind them, “Menomosyne” is only suitable for mature viewers. Those who do watch will be treated to a dark series that holds some very interesting references and concepts, both apparent from its visuals or integrated in its plot.
The series' time frame spans over sixty years, the first episode showing us events that occur
in 1990 while the last episode takes place in 2055. Some flashbacks even give us a glimpse of events involving the main characters that took place many centuries ago.
The story follows Rin and Mimi, the various people they encounters and the overarching plot around mysterious phenomenon involving Yggdrasil, everything is slowly unravelled piece by piece to come to a conclusion in the final episode.
In the beginning of the series, Rin and Mimi run a detective agency, as such the first episodes seem to be more independent mystery tales that reveal little about the girls' true nature and nearly nothing about the overarching plot. Gradually more pieces are added to the puzzle and the whole plot becomes clear during the final episode when its fully explained and the intention of those that were pulling the strings behind the shadows becomes clear. This can make the final revelations a bit of a paradoxical experience for the viewer.
On one end, as everything is explained to the audience about the mystic nature of immortals, angels and Yggdrasil, it is rewarding to finally see the bigger picture of the series. On the other end since it was initially so vague that it seemed almost absent during the first episodes, most viewers who have developed a bond with the main heroines are more likely to focus on what becomes of them and may feel more alienated in regards of the overarching plot and its impact on humankind, even though it does involve the main characters.
At first glance it may look like the horror and sexual scenes are there just as selling points to brand the series and fit it in the horror or sexually explicit category, an impression that could even be reinforced when one realizes the meaning behind most of this horror and lust towards the latter half of the series. Yet I found they end up giving the series more depth and add weight to its themes of (im)mortality and human desires. Not only do those scenes explicitly reference to psychological themes or hold sociological meaning, they also tell us more about the characters involved, which may cast a more grim light on some but makes them that much more interesting and involving characters.
Much like the excessive horror and blood spilling in “Elfen Lied” served another purpose than just showing gore, which became clear as the series progressed and ultimately gave it a deeper meaning, especially for its characters.
The cast of “Mnemosyne” is rather small, which makes it easier for us viewers, seeing the limited number of episodes. Most are quite interesting, even when little is known about their pasts, the way they're presented and act shows more intricate and complex characters than the average bland two dimensional characters. Some even offer us quite daring and grim persona.
Rin of course gets the most attention and development, while Mimi is an interesting character, she clearly remains a supporting character to Rin.
Being immortal, Rin especially seems to almost seek out situations where she will encounter physical harm, her body often suffering atrocious injuries. While Mimi is more reserved towards dangerous situations, like Rin she too is no stranger in seeking out the extremes of physical pleasure, certainly sexual pleasures. In the end it's made apparent that being immortal can also be seen as a curse, cut off from one of the very foundations of what it means to be human, one's mortality and finity, the girls can often only thrive or feel alive by seeking out extreme physical experiences and emotions, be it through suffering or pleasure. Paradoxically, their hearts and spirits are shown to remain as those of every other person, while somewhat desensitised towards certain concepts that normal mortal humans face, they became perhaps even more sensitive to others. When they are finally able to bond with someone and feel true emotions such as love, any joyful or painful emotions there seem to be felt even more vivid than for mortal humans.
More disturbing in that aspect, no doubt intentional, was the emotional torture executed on some of the characters, showing that physical pain while great and lethal, can still pale in comparison to mental anguish for which no true deliverance exists, especially when there is no deliverance to be found for it by death.
Portrayed as a strong female lead, who is not only smart and cunning but has terrific martial art skills, Rin is voiced by Mamiko Noto, whose subdued and soft voice could be seen as ill fitting but actually offers a nice contrast and adds indispensable depth to Rin's character by making her not only appear more serene and experienced, but also gives her the aura of a soothing mother figure. This gives Rin a believable mix of strength and vulnerability, of passion and serenity, of distance and attachment.
Mimi's character seems a bit more standard but also turns out to be quite interesting. Mimi's bond to Rin seems to be quite deep and even amorous at the start of the series, but later on those amorous and lustful feelings seem to have given way to a deeper and different attachment. Ultimately Mimi fights to protect and save Rin, the way Rin had once fought to save her.
While the bloody horror scenes should still be stomachable by most, the sadism exhibited in some scenes can be stomach churning. Some characters are repeatedly tortured and mutilated in such sadistic ways, it forms a dark and dire sketch of the inhumanity and levels of sadism some can display. It may seem a gratification or even celebration of sadism, inflicting pain and sexual abuse. A theme that was also touched upon in “Higurashi No Koro Ni”.
Next to the horror, there are many sexual themes and sexually tinted scenes, from near explicit sex scenes to the mutual effect immortals and angels have on each other. All immortals are women and the only real treat to their immortality are angels, males that posses superhuman strength offset by an extremely short lifespan. Devoid of any logical and normal reasoning, angels act as wild beasts that seek out immortals and devour them. Immortals are vulnerable to angels due to their overwhelming physical reaction to them, when close to one, they become utterly defenceless and lust to be embraced by them.
The sexual references are quite obvious, men are referred to as mindless beasts whose power is to subjugate and conquer women, women who regardless of their own powers such as continuing the circle of life, become lustful creatures unable to resist men.
Its story also expanding into the future, “Mnemosyne” shows us an interesting view of mankind's future with a contemporary spawned idea of how the digital world permeate and eventually blend in with the real world.
Animation by Xebec and Genco throughout all the episodes is good, with most focus on the female characters and the realistic, detailed backgrounds. The difference in care and attention of the animation between different scenes can be apparent sometimes. In some scenes where naked bodies are shown, they are not always drawn that well. Some of the horror scenes that would have been too gory and no longer look convincing enough if directly shown, use clever tricks of shading and suggestion.
Overall, the animation of “Mnemosyne” is good, though I did miss a bit of the beautiful animation of Rin and Mimi in the last episode, near the ending sequence, it didn't seem as well cared for as in prior episodes. On many occasions the animation of Rin and Mimi is quite sublime, such as the view of Rin leaning against a stone pillar in the opening sequence.
The soundtrack of “Mnemosyne” is fairly good, the hard rock track accompanying the opening sequence immediately sets the trend for the more raunchy and hard hitting horror and sexual parts of the series. The remainder of the soundtrack does a good job at setting the mood and accompanying what happens on screen, though a more eerie soundtrack could have worked just as well but risked making the series a bit too dark.
I definitely recommend “Mnemosyne” to those who want to see an engaging story with an interesting lead character and aren't afraid of gore or sexually tinted scenes because regardless of those scenes, they emphasise some of the more interesting themes the series holds. And if you're watching it just for the horror and nudity, you'll no doubt be satisfied as well.
Nov 2, 2008
“Strike Witches” is a magical girl series rife with action, comedy and fanservice with a zest of yuri. Originally based on a light novel series, it first spawned an OVA in 2007 and a 13 episode anime series in 2008.
The story of “Strike Witches” takes place during the 1940's on an alternate version of our earth, where magic and technology coexist and most countries have different names. Thrust into a conflict that spreads across the globe by an unknown race or entity called Neuroi, the human race is put on the defensive after the Neuroi quickly wipe out several nations. Humanity's best hope to defeat ... the airborne Neuroi lies with the 'strike witches' of the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, young girls with high magical powers that are able to fly when donning their striker units, propulsion devices that envelop each leg.
Undoubtedly one of the series' prime and most visually obvious aspects are its copious amounts of fanservice. One could judge “Strike Witches” solely by its abundant fanservice, but this would be a short-sighted judgement.
The level of fanservice is obvious from episode one on, as in the alternate world that “Strike Witches” takes place in, women do not wear pants or skirts, they simply walk around with their panties or swimsuit bottoms showing in plain view. Each episode is packed with blatant pantsu shots and is rife with other fanservice scenes such as glances at character's bosoms, scantily clad bed attire or bikini's while during the obligatory beach scenes. On top of that each of the witches displays animal ears and tail when activating her magical powers, most likely this was intentionally added to appeal to the fans of animal eared girls.
To fully enjoy the series viewers must be willing to accept these high amounts of fanservice, so “Strike Witches” might not be for all audiences.
At first I was reluctant, assuming the series would be mere mindless fanservice of a questionable level such as in “Kanokon” or “To Love RU”. Watching the first few episodes I was quickly proven wrong and discovered this terrific series holds much more. Though present in large amounts, the fanservice stays digestible and never becomes offensively rude or of poor taste. “Strike Witches” shows how fanservice laden series should be, cute and even daring or sensual, but never without reserve and all in sufficient good taste.
Furthermore, the series offers other well executed elements, such as its homage and accurate references to World War II era air combat, it has flawless animation, and classic but well executed plots such as personal growth, overcoming challenges.
Character design for the anime series as well as artwork for the “Strike Witches” light novels was done by Humikane Shimada, who was also responsible for the character designs of “Sky Girls”, hence associations between both series can easily be made. Next to character design similarities, both series show young girls on the front lines of an apocalyptic war where the human race must defend itself against annihilation from an inhuman entity.
There are also quite a bit of differences, from more obvious ones such as the series' length, “Sky Girls” being animated by JC Staff while “Strike Witches” is animated by Gonzo, “Sky Girls” with its post-modern setting has the girls use futuristic mecha while “Strike Witches” used the concept of magic to have the girls fly around with propulsion units inspired on World War II era aircraft.
With this World War II air combat element one of the other main themes in “Strike Witches” becomes apparent, all of the witches' striker units are reminiscent of existing propeller fighter planes such as the Mustang P51, Mitsubishi Zero, Messerschmitt Bf-109,...
The witches themselves are based or named after famous World War II ace pilots such as Pierre Clostermann, Erich Hartmann, Chuck Yeager,...
“Strike Witches” is full of references and homages to combat aviation from that era, including these direct references to air planes and pilots but also showing accurate recreations of fighter plane combat manoeuvres and tactics.
Furthermore the series accurate and detailed depiction of historic weapons and military equipment is remarkable and helps immerse the viewer into a World War II era atmosphere. Plenty of attention to historical details was made to accurately recreate era weaponry and equipment, such as the Maschinengewehr 42 or M1918 Browning Automatic Rifle.
While most characters may seem generic, they never come off as uninteresting. “Strike Witches” features quite a large cast, there are no less than 11 witches in the 501st Joint Fighter Wing, nearly four times as much as the girls of “Sky Girls”, yet “Strike Witches” has only half the episode count. With those time constraints it is to be expected that not all characters get the same amount of airtime or background depth, yet “Strike Witches” manages to give every character its moment in the spotlights which introduces her better to the viewer or reveals more about her past background.
No characters jump off-screen as being novel or unexpectedly deep, most are based on well known character formula, but because we are either shown their background story or they get enough scenes to make them familiar so that we as viewers will end up knowing all of the witches well enough to care for each of them.
The writers did a terrific job, certainly so seeing the number of characters and time constraints. While we're never told much about the pasts of Lynette, Perrine, Erica or Lucchini, their actions and interaction with the others firmly establishes their characters. We're shown scenes or sub plots about the pasts of Minna, Gertrud and Shirley, which immediately makes us feel more involved. So even though there's so many girls next to Yoshika, the leading character, throughout the episodes the viewer will become attached to each and everyone of them.
With an all female cast, several yuri or shoujo-ai pairings and scenes are a given. While some of the girls have strong bonds of friendship, like Lucchini and Shirley or Mio and Minna, others are hinted or plainly shown to be more than friends, which either leads to humorous scenes such as Perrine's jealous fits, Yoshika's infatuation with Lynette's bosom or to more endearing, romantic scenes like those between Sanya and Eila.
Animation by Gonzo is absolutely stellar in the series. Quality almost never drops and retains a high level throughout all of the episodes, with gorgeous scenes and renderings of all the cute witches with a lot of attention to detail. The many air combat action scenes are fluid, fast and well done.
The 3D CGI generated Neuroi are portrayed as alien flying entities built up from black honeycomb structures which makes them not only simple but also makes them seem more realistic and acceptable compared to the Worms from “Sky Girls” which appeared as large animal-like things.
Many series should have consistent animation levels like “Strike Witches”, especially the characters are so well animated, a true feat Gonzo accomplished here when compared to their other creations.
The first Japanese DVD releases of “Strike Witches” have shown Gonzo took it a bit further for the DVD versions, removing any censoring present in the episodes of the television broadcast, where steam, rays of light, shadows or other obstacles obscured full view of the character's bare breasts and the likes. Hence the DVD versions seems more niche oriented than the television broadcast version and as such may not appeal to the viewers who are not keen on the fanservice element of the series. Such casual viewers may be best served by watching the regular television broadcast episodes.
Music is more generic in “Strike Witches”, while the soundtrack is solid, it does not particularly excel on its own but contents itself by accompanying and supporting what is seen on screen, a job it does well. The opening track 'Watashi Ni Dekiru Koto' (the things I can do) is an upbeat song full of hope, which accentuates the theme of Yoshika's struggle to be able to achieve her goals as a witch.
I do recommend “Strike Witches” to everyone looking for a nice series with a good mix of action and humour, regardless of the more niche elements it has like its fanservice it will no doubt be a fun series to watch for all.
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Oct 26, 2008
“Zero No Tsukaima: Princess No Rondo” is the third season of the “Zero No Tsukaima” anime, an adaptation of the currently still ongoing light novel series. As a third instalment, it is recommended to have seen the two previous seasons, else you may not fully comprehend some of the plot references or know the character's different pasts and backgrounds.
The first “Zero No Tsukaima” series was quite enjoyable, while not particularly extraordinary it offered us a nice romantic comedy with an ill-tempered flat-chested tsundere female lead who was one of the characters that would help launch the recent popular movement where plenty of series each season ... feature that type of tsundere character. Many of those more well known tsundere female leading characters like Louise from “Zero No Tsukaima” are voiced by Rie Kugimiya, a good seiyuu who plays those roles well but one has to wonder if she's not being typecast too much.
While I enjoyed “Zero No Tsukaima: Princess No Rondo” it definitely felt like the least good season of all three, an impression that is enhanced by the fact it seems more like some sort of intermission or a stepping stone meant to introduce new characters and new villains before embarking on a new large adventure.
In the previous season “Zero No Tsukaima: Futatsuki No Kishi” we were treated to some more entertaining and gripping character development between Saito and Louise. That season also offered interesting developments and concepts about Halkeginia, where the story takes place.
“Zero No Tsukaima: Princess No Rondo” starts roughly where “Zero No Tsukaima: Futatsuki No Kishi” left off, with our cast off on a search for a mysterious elf Saito and Guiche claim to have seen during the war with Albion. That elf turns out to be the kind, naïve and ridiculously large breasted Tiffania. As one might expect Saito is easily enchanted by Tiffania's large bosom which leads to many jealous fits from Louise and oppai jokes abound in all of the following episodes.
With Siesta already having served the role of the large breasted female who charms Saito with her bosom and makes Louise jealous with envy in the previous seasons, one could wonder if it was necessary to add another female character with an even larger chest to play on those typical jokes.
Luckily they did not make Tiffania into another girl that is smitten for Saito, while she clings to Saito, it's clear she sees him as a friend. While still enough to enrage Louise, it never comes off as a true romantic pairing.
As the opening sequence of “Zero No Tsukaima: Princess No Rondo” suggest, this season does see another girl grow feelings for Saito, namely Tabitha.
Most episodes of “Zero No Tsukaima: Princess No Rondo” we see Louise doubt herself, he lack of magical abilities and Saito's feelings for her.
Arguably, this occurred in previous seasons as well, with several plots where Louise overcame her insecurities and was able to grow from there but by now it starts to become quite tiresome. Even after all that happened between them, Louise still doubts Saito's feelings and is unable to make her own emotions clear to him, which only worsens things between them. You could say Louise carries that burden of insecurity due to her inferior magical skills, but then you would also start to wonder how Saito can keep on coping with her like that.
For the sake of decent storytelling they really should move on from there and focus on other characters their development or other traits in Saito and Louise. Personally I had increasing difficulty to really enjoy the series with Louise's incessant insecurities, it seems to drag on for too long and is becoming a bit much to bear.
Another new character we are introduced to is the happy-go-lucky blue haired Irukukwu, who is more than meets the eye. Alas she quickly comes off as mere fanservice to allow another moe large breasted girl to prance around in the series.
Princess Henrietta is featured less this season, nonetheless her character shows the most interesting and subtle evolutions. In the earlier episodes it is suggested she too may have romantic feelings for Saito, in part triggered due to the loneliness her position brings with it and her envy of Louise, who she sees as a strong, moral person that can take independent action by her own power, something she herself can not. That and some of the decisions she is forced to make, show a more realistic and three dimensional character in a series that else features rather generic thirteen in a dozen characters.
Most of the episodes are spent on Tiffania joining the cast, a new villain and his minion that come after Louise, and another few adventures. While there are enough events and action, it still feels like some sort of intermission chapter, meant to bridge the previous story and set up the next.
Animation by JC Staff throughout the series is decent, it never particularly excels or disappoints but is a solid average. More attention is spent on the cute girls and any fanservice scenes. The magic wielding action scenes in comparison, while still decent get less of a visual treat.
Typical for the series are the vividly colored and crisply rendered characters, full of bright hair colors and outfits.
There seems to be less effort in rendering the medieval backgrounds and world of Halkeginia on screen, which is a shame as such adventure filled series taking place in other realms can always excel by really immersing the viewer in their unique world.
The soundtrack of “Zero No Tsukaima: Princess No Rondo” is fair, it boasts an upbeat techno-pop opening song and generic tunes that accompany the series well but never really accentuate or help elevate it. Most goes largely unnoticed although the opening track manages to get you fired up and enthusiastic about the episode to come.
In all I would mostly recommend “Zero No Tsukaima: Princess No Rondo” only to fans of the series and those who have seen the previous season and want to know what happens after those events. For the casual viewer, there are other series that would offer more laughs and fun. After this weak season, I ponder if I would pick up a fourth “Zero No Tsukaima” season if (or when) it were to come.
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Oct 7, 2008
“Macross Frontier” is a mecha sci-fi series meant to celebrate 25 years of “Macross” anime and bring all the different “Macross” series together.
As such all of the typical Macross elements are present, veritech fighters (transforming from airplane to robot form and back), giant spaceships and space battles, young men dreaming of soaring the skies, the many faces of being a popular songstress, from being discovered to becoming the people's idol and even saviour.
As a celebratory series that aims to bring all the previous series together “Macross Frontier” is rife with references to the other series, with explicit plot references, obvious links or Easter eggs. While ... viewers who have seen the other “Macross” series will be able to enjoy all these references and possibly gain a better understanding, anyone without prior knowledge about the other “Macross” series will be able to follow and enjoy “Macross Frontier”. The key plot elements necessary to follow the series and its premise are sufficiently explained so no one is lost as to what is happening.
The characters in “Macross Frontier” were quite good, most were sufficiently three dimensional and not merely generic characters. Next to the man characters Alto, Ranka and Sheryl who were all complex enough, a good ensemble of their supporting cast were fleshed out well enough to become quite interesting as well, especially Michael, Klan and Luca. Other characters like Nanase, Brera and Ozma were alas more typical characters.
As the first opening song's title “Triangular” suggests, “Macross Frontier” features a love triangle between the main characters Alto, Ranka and Sheryl. It is done quite well and brought on screen during the entire series' run. While there are hints of a lot of possible drama and suffering that comes with such a situation, the final episode leaves things more open on a positive note. While it's a nice ending, the chance to conclude with some really gripping dramatic storytelling is missed, and seeing the painful elements of their love triangle are often brought forth throughout the series, this is a shame. Nonetheless, the final episode definitely has its charm and hits the mark.
Having two songstresses with Sheryl -the established and widely popular artist- and Ranka -the new upcoming refreshingly innocent starlet- leads to a unique dynamic that allows for many poignant scenes and plot possibilities which the series makes good use of. Add to that each has their own distinct personality and troublesome past they must discover and overcome, they prove to be entertaining characters.
Alto may seem to be a more common male lead, he's often hot headed and seems to fail making any progress in his relationships with Sheryl or Ranka, but the manner in which his motivations and goals are ultimately portrayed make him less generic after all. As for him not making a definite choice between Sheryl or Ranka, while it's implied he may have deeper feelings for both, his goal was always to live his own life so he foregoes any decision even if that has others accuse him of just acting and trying to please everyone. Aiming to not hurt either since he holds them both dear, both Sheryl and Ranka are important people to him who motivated him and helped him get to his goal. So paradoxically Alto ends up holding both Sheryl and Ranka close to him, while at the same time keeping them at a distance.
“Macross Frontier” squeezes enough other (sub)plots in, from the battle of survival against the Vajra, the relationship between humans and Zentraedi, the different evolutions people must make, experiencing and overcoming loss, political intrigue,... most are handled well, be they small or spanning multiple episodes.
Towards the end of the latter half of the series, the pace picks up and the atmosphere slightly darkens, themes such as survival, genocide, the pain of loving and losing are brought in a manner that's quite surprising and gives the series a more serious tone up until the final episodes. Especially when one of the more important characters dies, the sense of loss this means to the other characters and how it affects them is brought forth. This was however necessary as in the episodes before, the Macross inhabitants have already suffered serious losses and damage to their habitat ships but as none of the main cast were directly affected, it would feel distant to most viewers. Having a significant character disappear has a definite impact to illustrate the grave situation the cast find themselves in.
The final action packed episode brings nearly everything to a satisfactory conclusion. Seeing the celebratory character of “Macross Frontier” and the message of wanting to live on that permeates throughout the series, the end is very fitting.
Animation in “Macross Frontier” alas suffered from being quite inconsistent, there could be a visible difference in animation quality between episodes or even between scenes. This was quite apparent due to the fact many scenes or full episodes have truly sublime animation, with gorgeously animated fast-paced action scenes and incredibly detailed characters with great shading and colouring. So when the animation level drops it often stuck out like a sore thumb. I doubt it would ruin the viewing experience for anyone, though most people will pick up on it and notice it.
Regardless of the animation quality drops here and there, “Macross Frontier” boasts some of the most intricate, flashy and lusciously animated mecha and space combat action scenes seen these recent years, for fans of that genre certainly not to miss.
“Macross” has always had music as a theme or plot device, accordingly the music in “Macross Frontier” is quite frankly fantastic, Yoko Kanno produces an awesome soundtrack filled with different styles, a real musical centipede with tracks that perfectly accentuate the events on screen. The opening, closing and insert songs are all good tunes and nearly all other known songs from previous “Macross” series are sung throughout the series. From the original opening songs “Triangular”, “Lion” , catchy pop/rock tunes full of energy to “Diamond Crevasse”, “What 'bout my star” and even the classic "Ai Oboete Imasu ka“ and "Watashi no Kare ha Pilot” from earlier “Macross” series, all excellent music that adds to the series atmosphere and enjoyment.
For those interested in soundtracks, the “Macross Frontier” original soundtrack is definitely worth it and quite pleasant to listen to by itself as well.
Any “Macross” fan should check out this series but if you like mecha, action or space adventure, then you will surely enjoy “Macross frontier”, it's no doubt one of the best series of the spring/summer 2008 season.
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Oct 4, 2008
"Nogizaka Haruka No Himitsu” is a romantic comedy based on a series of light novels with the same title.
The series focuses on the relationship of its two main characters, high school students Haruka and Yuuto, how they meet, form a bond of friendship and perhaps more, all in a mix of comedy, romance and some fanservice type ecchi situations.
As the title suggest, the main plot centres around Haruka's secret, she's an otaku. While this would not be so shocking by itself, Haruka is the eldest daughter of an extremely wealthy and renowned family, she possesses great beauty, has excellent academic skills and is a talented ... piano player, which makes her a star and the object of admiration at the prestigious private school she attends. If such a person were to be exposed as an otaku, they would be ridiculed and ostracised, something that already befell Haruka at her previous school. Hence she carefully hides her hobby from the outside world.
This is soon undone when Yuuto bumps into Haruka at the library and discovers she's secretly borrowing anime magazines. Fearing her secret is exposed, Haruka is distraught but eventually relieved when Yuuto tells her that he does not mind her being an otaku and will keep her secret safe.
With Yuuto now sharing Haruka's secret, hence forms the main plot device to allow them to interact daily and become friends. Along the rest of the series both Haruka and Yuuto are faced with challenges that threaten their happiness, from Haruka's strict father, to a potential love interest for Yuuto, to the difference in status that comes with Haruka's wealth. Seeing this is a comedy, most of is done with plenty of funny scenes and off course it all ends well.
One of the series' strong points is also its weakness, namely its characters. While most of the supporting characters are rather two dimensional and not much fleshed out, both Haruka and Yuuto are a paradoxical combination of some interesting traits as well as more generic character traits.
Haruka being of wealthy descent, blessed with great beauty and academic skills and having several moe character traits such as shyness and clumsiness that are solely aimed to cater to the audience is nothing new in terms of character design. That such an unrealistically perfect persona has a passion for which one is ostracised in Japan, yet stands up for her beliefs and isn't free of normal human emotions such as doubt and jealousy makes her a more three dimensional character. A welcome surprise.
No chance is missed to display Haruka's moe character traits and truth must be said, she is quite moe.
Yuuto too is such a mixed case, he has many traits of the classical romantic comedy or harem male protagonist, such as being shy around women yet desiring them, he is indecisive and well, he's rather plain. Nonetheless, Yuuto is also shown to be a very level-headed and open minded person, who accepts people's different interests and who will not ostracise anyone, even if he does not understand the things they are passionate about. Having such an adult, open minded character that does not succumb to blindly following the group mentality is interesting, especially if you see the majority of his peers will ostracise and judge someone like Nobunaga -Yuuto's otaku friend- or Haruka without any second thoughts.
While being rebellious is surely not an unknown phase to any young person, being open minded, willing to form one's own opinion that may not align with the public one in a positive fashion is more rare I gather.
I also found Shiina to be a quite refreshing character. Transferring into Haruka and Yuuto's class, she develops a liking to Yuuto, but once she discovers that Yuuto and Haruka care deeply for each other, she takes a very adult stance and doesn't really fall prey to the usual anime clichés.
Throughout the series some dramatic moments or events are generated but rarely does one have the impression anything really bad will occur, due to the colourful and comedic atmosphere the series carries. Everything is usually very upbeat and positive.
Even though the theme of otaku being ostracised and publicly shunned is often mentioned, it's used more as a plot device and never really deeply delved into. Haruka and Nobunaga are shown to be normal people who just happen to be passionate about anime, manga, figurines,... but that does not make them any less human or valuable people than you and me. It's nicely brought on screen but lacks the depth, subtlety or realistic tone a series like “Genshiken” carries with it.
Animation in “Nogizaka Haruka No Himitsu” is good, with most of the focus being on the girls like Haruka, with fanservice scenes and shots getting the best treatment. I did notice that some full body shot scenes where characters are in their regular appearance do look more simple and less elaborate, but this is never bothersome.
The soundtrack is quite nice, it supports most scenes well and the opening and ending theme songs are upbeat tracks, though the opening animation sequence leaves little to no doubts about the series' general direction.
So for those looking for a cute romantic comedy that has a positive overtone and a moe female lead character, then you may certainly enjoy “Nogizaka Haruka No Himitsu”.
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Oct 3, 2008
An anime adaptation of the eroge “Koihime Musou” which in turn is loosely based on the “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” novel, it takes a more novel and surprising approach than we are used to for anime series that are based on eroge. Already quite different is the fact all of the famous characters from “Romance of the Three Kingdoms” are female in “Koihime Musou”.
But instead of having a male lead character that all the female characters fawn over and desire to be with, the “Koihime Musou” anime forgoes this classical harem and omits the male lead character from the eroge. The anime focuses more ... on Kan'u Unchou and the many other girls she encounters and befriends on her journey to bring peace throughout the war torn and crime infested lands.
A nice change from the many harem series out there and with its all-female cast “Koihime Musou” pulls the card of comedy and suggested shouju-ai or yuri relationships. Though most of the yuri related scenes are either humoristic in nature or pure fanservice, at no time are serious bonds or relationships really thoroughly explored save for the bond of sisterhood that forms between Kan'u and Chouhi.
From the yuri related scenes, Kan'u is the appealing victim of most, whether she's being teased by Chouun, embarrassed by Chouhi or openly pursued by Sousou. As the series progresses, the viewer can't help but wonder who will try to go after Kan'u next or which yuri joke will befall her.
That being said, “Koihime Musou” still focuses mainly on the humour and situations the characters find themselves in. While there is a certain amount of action it's primarily used for the overarching plot of Kan'u trying to bring more peace to the people and as such does not play a pivotal role.
“Koihime Musou” is really all about cute girls sharing laughs on their journey together.
As such, the series is also mostly episodic with each episode telling a tale of how Kan'u and her travelling party befriend someone new, defeat a foe encountered on their path or have other adventures. This goes from working at a restaurant to participating in a martial arts contest, an eating contest, fighting bandits, solving a kidnapping case,...
Next to Kan'u, the series revolves mainly around her companions Chouhi, Koumei, as well as Sei and Bachou when they are present in her party. I had hoped Ryofu would play a bigger part but alas she was only featured briefly.
Although Sei is featured in many episodes, during the latter half she strays from Kan'u's party and appears less which is a shame since her character's interaction with Kan'u is always a hoot.
Except for some of the main characters like Chouhi, Koumei and Bachou, most of the girls do not especially have any meaningful character evolution and as such they seem to remain rather superficial characters since there's little chance to really delve into their pasts or personae. But given the nature of the series, a relaxing comedy rife filled with attractive girls, this isn't really bothersome.
The final episodes sees Ryuubi, the only male character appear, but although he seems to be able to seduce Kan'u at first he ends up earning her wrath and quickly flees. Perhaps this can be seen as some sort of hint that Kan'u ends up choosing the life where she can travel and live with her female companions where no man's love is welcome or needed? Who knows... but in the spirit and atmosphere of the series, this leads to a very fitting conclusion.
Animation throughout “Koihime Musou” is quite good and many episodes feature scenes that represent the characters in a cute chibi form, the same as in the episodes' ending sequence. All of the female characters are portrayed with unique hairstyles and lavishly decorated and coloured outfits. The cast is physically diverse, from tall, long haired beauties with (very) large bosoms to smaller, flat chested girls. No doubt to cater the different tastes of the audience.
Since the series focuses on the girls, they receive the best animation and detail treatment, usually a feast for the eyes!
The soundtrack is average, it supports the series nicely and the more upbeat opening song and cute ending track are an indication the series is all about watching cute girls and having lots of laughs without being about anything too serious or dramatic.
If you're looking for a nice comedy rife with cute maidens that also offers a zest of shouju-ai/yuri, then this series may certainly be a worthwhile viewing experience!
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Oct 1, 2008
When one sees visuals of “Special A” and reads that the main premise of the series follows the school days of a select group of intelligent, rich students at their prestigious school that has created an exclusive elite class for them called S.A., one can't help but to think of “Ouran High School Host Club”. Add the shared element that the wealth, insane levels of talent and skill that some of the members possess is often plastered all over the screen. The fact the group in “Special A” has one commoner among them, Hikari, quickly makes one think of Haruhi from “Ouran High School Host ... Club” to boot.
However comparisons end roughly there as Hikari and Haruhi are quite different characters. The relationship between the “Special A” leading couple Kei and Hikari and the “Ouran High School Host Club” couple Tamaki and Haruhi also plays out differently, and although both anime series don't have an entirely conclusive ending regarding the main pairing, the relationship between Tamaki and Haruhi does feel just that bit better paced and played out.
Spanning 24 episodes, “Special A” pulls the plot card of Kei and Hikari's love and possible relationship fairly soon in the series and even though enough episodes revolve around it, no real progress is made until the final episodes. Given that a large part of that is due to Hikari being totally oblivious to Kei's and her own feelings, her being an airhead about it may become annoying to some viewers. Especially since Hikari is no idiot but has excellent academic skills and is only dense about love, especially when it involves Kei and her own feelings.
Seeing several romantic pairings between the other characters form in the episodes in-between, perhaps it might have been better if they had only touched upon Kei and Hikari's relationship a bit later on so its pacing would not have been so slow.
Luckily the Kei and Hikari pairing is an unexpectedly good one. Childhood friends due to their fathers being acquainted, the straightforward and honest Hikari is a perfect match for the near emotionless genius Kei since she literally brings a ray of light in his else very cold and businesslike environment. No doubt that is why he has always loved her, she may not be of wealthy descent but she holds everything he lacks in that world.
The added gimmick that Hikari sees Kei as her ultimate rival and is hell bent on beating Kei in whichever task or test they perform adds some uniqueness and is the source of many jokes. Though it gets a bit repetitive towards the end when Hikari seems to desperately grab on to seeing Kei as a rival in order to not have to face up to the fact she's in love with him and always has been.
The other members of the S.A each have their own distinct personalities which offsets their more generic visual appearance, or their unique quirks which in turn leads to scenes filled with laughter but also when brought at the wrong time, can seem a little annoying when it causes the series to switch from a serious tone to a humoristic one too fast.
Throughout the series, some other characters are brought forth as seemingly purely evil influences bent on hurting the SA group, but most are redeemed as the series progresses, though it is especially Yahiro that is initially brought front as a nemesis.
One could say the final episode where Hikari pursues Kei makes it seem the rest of the cast are just dragged into it to show off their most common trait or role, but it also serves to show their group is a tightly knit band of friends that stands together.
Regardless of the romantic pairings and story, what I most appreciated in “Ouran High School Host Club” is the continuous barrage of humor and jokes that could have one laughing through their tears. Next to the romantic elements “Special A” also delivers tons of humor and jokes, however it doesn't seem to really reach up the level of “Ouran High School Host Club”. In that, “Special A” is nice but not really special since it doesn't excel. It is a nice comedy, but not the best one out there.
Animation throughout the series is decent to good, save for several scenes where corners are cut or the animation drops slightly it's always enjoyable to watch and never drops far. Typical for such a romantic school comedy are the bright colors, stylish school uniforms and extravagant settings.
A welcome change is the more realistic hair colors of the main characters, it's always nice to see a series that can have a diverse cast of characters that sport realistic hair colors.
The background music is generic for series of its genre, it does not really stand out but accompanies the scenes well. The OP songs are another matter, I must confess out of my own personal taste I found them both to be rather atrocious and soon skipped through them when watching an episode.
I have not read the “Special A” manga so I can not say how the anime compares to it or how faithful an adaptation it is.
Regardless, “Special A” will be an enjoyable romantic school comedy for everyone that they will surely enjoy and have a lot of laughs each episode!
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Sep 27, 2008
The “Lucky Star” OVA is made up of several short stories or chapters. A coherent plot or over spanning arc is hence not present, but this is not uncommon for “Lucky Star” and the different short stories ensure the OVA will have something enjoyable for everyone. From a slice of life story, to a full blown comedy or parody story to a heart warming tale, the OVA touches upon all of the types that were featured in the series.
Being all about Konata, Kagami, Tsukasa and Miyuki, it's a bit of a shame the other characters were featured less. Yutaka, Minami, Patricia and Tamura only ... appear in the first story, Misao, Ayano and Nanako sensei appear briefly in the other tales. But this is normal given the time restraints.
Typical for “Lucky Star” are the many references and parodies on current or older anime, as well as otaku and game culture. Some hilarious examples are Patricia's ぜつぼうした(zetsubou shita), Nanako sensei's rare item Pizza shield, Kagami's cosplay as Vocaloid's Hatsune Miku,...
The first story was centred around Minami's dog Jerry and how he encounters everyone throughout his day. A nice slice of life tale to start the OVA with it also held some great laughs.
It was followed by a story showing Konata and Nanako-sensei playing an mmorpg together with Kagami and Tsukasa, told in game which lent itself to some 3D CG visuals and funny mmorpg humour.
A dream sequence story brought us Konata dressed in “The Melancholy Of Suzumiya Haruhi” Yuki's sorceress outfit taking Kagami who was transformed into Volcaloid's Hatsune Miku's outfit -complete with leek- out on an evening filled with magic.
Next was a volleyball match with the Hiiragi sisters on opposing teams which turned out to be a more heart warming story, one couldn't help but root for Tsukasa.
Then followed a school camp tale told by Miyuki to her mother about how she and her friends erred from the correct path while heading to their camp and ended up wandering around the forest until late at night.
The closing scenes were a more psychedelic dreamlike scene which did not appeal to me that much alas as I understood little of the humour in it.
The ending credits feature a live action clip of Akira Kogami's seiyuu Ai Nonaka and Minoru Shiraishi, which I found enjoyable a lot funnier than the live action closing scenes featured in the series. It was uncanny how at times Ai Nonaka's performance and facial expressions were so spot on, one would almost think the Akira persona is based on her. Minoru Shiraishi as always is a hoot, that guy is so silly!
Like all of Kyoto Animation's productions, the animation was good, but not especially better than the series itself as the typical and somewhat more simple visual style of “Lucky Star” does not lend itself to the same visual feats as other series Kyoto Animation has animated are treated to. The subdued color palette and character appearances reinforce this impression.
However they did use the OVA to experiment more with different animation types and scene effects for “Lucky Star”, as is apparent in the psychedelic dream scene or the mmorpg in game scenes.
The soundtrack was good and featured tunes from the television series, however the series' opening track “Motteke! Sailor fuku” was omitted entirely.
The “Lucky Star” OVA was terrific, full of laughs and a must for “Lucky Star” fans, it has the exact same atmosphere as the series so it doesn't feel particularly special but you will feel as if watching the next episode, which is fine with me as the “Lucky Star” series was awesome.
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Sep 8, 2008
The “Clannad ~ Another World, Tomoyo Chapter” OVA brings us an alternate reality story focused entirely on Tomoyo and Tomoya. While I enjoyed the “Clannad” series, I was a bit disappointed that some of the female characters such as Kyou and Tomoyo did not get as much screen time or story arcs that span multiple episodes. This OVA resolves this largely for Tomoyo's case as it deals only with her and Tomoya's relationship, none of the other “Clannad” characters save for Sunohara appear.
Even with the single episode time constraint, this chapter nonetheless brings its story well paced and shows us Tomoyo and Tomoya's relationship over ... the span of several months, how they are pressured to part ways and how their love eventually overcomes those hardships and separation.
Maybe the limited time format wasn't such a bad thing, although it could have spanned multiple episodes, here it's brought very concisely and as such every scene feels well thought out, telling us exactly what's necessary about both Tomoyo and Tomoya, the world they live in and how it impacts their lives and relationship. We are only shown what matters and the pacing is precise enough to both convey the romantic aspect as well as the realistic nature of their relationship.
There is no comedy scenes present like in the full length “Clannad” series, it is purely a serious romantic story.
A bit of a negative note might be that we are never shown how and why Tomoyo and Tomoya become a couple. We're presented with their relationship and mutual affection as an established fact, however that isn't detrimental to the remainder of the story.
Even though originally a delinquent due to her rebellious phase, Tomoyo now focuses on her goal to save the cherry trees along the school's road from being cut down, she finds support in Tomoya to achieve that. However her potential as an excellent student brings her into a world where someone like Tomoya is shunned, and they are pressured into ending their relationship. Concerned about her future, Tomoya gives up on Tomoyo, hoping she will be able to forget him and realize her full potential.
Even though apart from her, Tomoya proves he can a serious and responsible person, he becomes a regular student that attends class and dutifully studies. Spawned not only from a desire to prove and reassure Tomoyo that he is all right, Tomoya works hard to not let her down even though they are no longer together.
Soon after Tomoya leaves school and starts working, he and Tomoyo are reunited, for she had never forgotten or given up on him. Showing us that even though she has such potential and can achieve much, if there is no happiness in that path, she desires not to take it. She prefers holding onto love and reaches out for Tomoya, wanting to be with him and they are once again reunited.
The Tomoyo alternate story chapter delivers a heart warming romantic story in a nice bite-sized format. Especially Tomoyo and Tomoya's sufficiently three dimensional and likeable characters, the realistic nature of their relationship, how the surrounding world impacts it make this story fit together perfectly and enjoyable to watch.
Like all of Kyoto Animation's work, the animation is outstanding, from the detailed characters, facial traits and animations, to the luscious backgrounds and excellent use of lighting. It's hard to fault the animation anywhere.
The background music was very good and accentuated the different scenes perfectly. The opening sequence is the default one used in the series so it does not fit this chapter extremely well but it does not conflict with it too much either. The closing song was not that terrific alas, the lyrics are a bit distracting but the tune is nonetheless fitting enough.
If you're a “Clannad” fan or a fan of nice romantic stories, I definitely recommend this OVA.
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Sep 6, 2008
“True Tears” managed to grab from the first episode on due to its more serious themes and the different situations the characters find themselves in, which are not as shallow or simple as they sometimes can be. Especially the Nakagami family situation, and those some of the other characters are in lean closer to more plausible life situations and help make those characters less two dimensional. Not all is black and white, but more grey.
This continues throughout the series for several of the plots and characters involved, especially Hiromi and Aiko are slightly more complex and realistic characters.
Being more of a romance/harem series or ... romantic drama, it does not forego the classic theme of all (or most) of the female characters having feelings for the male leading character. Although from the very first episode there's strong hints that “True Tears” has a 'fated' pairing, one which seems to be the only possible outcome.
The main theme surrounding Neo who 'gave away her tears' is offfered as the central thread throughout the series but is little more than a gimmick for the series to differentiate itself from similar titles and serves as metaphor for the characters to express their feelings and emotional quests.
Far more interesting is the theme involving the chicken that Neo adores, and the ability to fly. This translates into the picture book Shinichiro strives to create. A metaphor for him being able to move forward and break away from the emotional burdens he has by growing past them. The same goes for the other characters, Hiromi, Neo, Aiko and Miyokichi.
In that aspect, “True Tears” mainly deals with growth, adulthood and change. Being able to grow past emotionally stressful circumstances, from verbal abuse and emotional rejection at home, to unrequited love, social isolation at school,...
A theme that plenty of series touch upon, but is done so fairly well here because it touches some more realistic situations, which also makes them a bit more melodramatic at times and as such both brings with it a positive note as well as a negative one.
Neo who's most often displayed as the token weird girl character, is the one who spurs most others to grow and change, to break free from the situations they may seem stuck in.
Shinichiro's character evolution is a bit more classic, the young lad who is oblivious to some of the inner feelings of those around him and who seeks to stretch out and lead a life that satisfies him as he feels pushed into doing things he himself hasn't really desired. Eventually he matures and discovers that even the traditional Japanese folk dance he was forced to study and participate in, is a rewarding experience and allows him to make a new memory with Hiromi. This is seldom seen, as in most series he would just become a rebellious character that breaks free yet here the end result is more realistic. He does things he didn't want to do originally and comes to appreciate some and learns from others.
Hiromi was to me by far the most interesting and realistic character. While able to be more of herself at school, mostly thanks to playing at the basketball club, she was forced to endure a lot of emotional stress at home. She has been living in Shinichiro's family after her parents passed away but was often verbally abused or reprimanded by Shinichiro's mother and had to seal away her own feelings of affection for Shinichiro that she carried since childhood. She grows past that struggle and moves out to live by herself, she overcomes those hurdles and can finally confess her feelings for Shinichiro and become closer to him. Along the way her character had some of the most realistic evolution and scenes.
Even though Aiko has a crush on Shinichiro, which puts stress on her relationship with Miyokichi , the boy she subsequently breaks up with, realizing her feelings are unrequited she grows past it and eventually starts over with Miyokichi.
Animation is solid throughout most episodes with particular attention to subtle facial expressions which greatly help give it a more realistic atmosphere. Most characters have realistic hairstyles and colors while still remaining recognizable.
The soundtrack is decent, with a cute opening song. It does not particularly excel but accentuates scenes and moods where needed.
So if you like romantic series and can appreciate them being just a bit more serious and realistic without becoming heavy, then I recommend “True Tears”.
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