Posts Tagged ‘Anime’

Anime worth watching: Bloom Into You

February 4, 2019

Naname’s Back, and Koito’s Got Her

This is a straight up romance anime between two high school girls. What’s called yuri, in the trade. I should note that I am not the target demographic — I’m male and I’m old.

Q. How old are you?

A. Old. Old. I’m older than Donald Trump. I’m older than Eric Clapton. I’m older than Cher, OK?

Still, that gives me a certain distance, a certain perspective, that others might not have. Being from a time when boys tended to be oblivious to this sort of thing, and girls took a more Aoi Azusa approach, I don’t have the personal and hormonal involvements that others might.

Q. So,why did you watch it?

A. I recently traded in my Crunchyroll subscription for VRV, which opened up HIDIVE and a whole new library of anime backlist, including Bloom, which was recent, and highly regarded. I watched it on my TV using Roku, which presented some technical issues, mentioned below.

Q. What’s it about

A. Girl meets girl, girl falls for girl, other girl doesn’t fall for girl, girls continue that relationship.

Q. Could you be more specific? I don’t mind spoilers.

A. Koito Yū, our first year protagonna, meets Nanami Tōko, her second year senpai, while helping out at the Student Council. Nanami is the typical anime perfect girl — top of her class, good at sports, soon to be Student Council President, etc. Avowedly asocial when it comes to things like dating, except that 24hrs after meeting her, she decides that Koito is the one who makes her heart go doki-doki. Koito, meanwhile, is still waiting for that moment and has zero romantic inclinations. Nanami essentially forces them into a relationship, but Koito says she doesn’t mind, she just doesn’t love Nanami back. Nanami, for some anime reason, is fine with this.

The first few episodes deal with the establishment of the relationship. Nanami asks Koito to be her campaign manager for the Student Council elections, surprise kisses her at a railroad crossing (while a train passes, meaning that only half the world can see what they’re doing), later elicits a more consensual kiss in the Student Council building, and gives her a planetarium night light as a souvenir gift from a recent trip. Despite the asymmetrical kohai/senpai* power relationship, Koito appears to be more consenting than coerced. One reason for this might be that Nanami is a person who maintains one (perfect) face to all the world, letting only Koito see her insecurities and self doubt (“Don’t fall in love with me, I don’t want you to love someone I hate“).

The second half deals with Nanami‘s desire to have the Student Council put on a stage play, something that hasn’t been done these last seven years. Soon, Koito finds out that the last play was arranged by Nanami‘s older sister when she was Student Council President, but the play, and the tradition, were abandoned after the older Nanami was killed in a car crash. As an aside, Japanese must be terrible drivers, given the number of deaths reported in anime.

We can use my father’s barn!

Meanwhile, a student friend of Koito agrees to write the play script, and comes up with a story about an amnesiac student who is trying to find out what her original personality was like, but gets three different answers from three different people.

In quick succession, Koito finds out about Nanami‘s older sister, and how Nanami is devoting herself to replacing her sister in the world, while Nanami finds out that her sister was far from perfect. This causes Nanami a major identity crisis (almost like in the play, what a surprise), and it also induces Koito to ask her friend to change the ending of the play — instead of taking on the persona reported by her lover, the amnesiac will adapt her own persona, as revealed over the course of the play.

The anime ends … umm… halts, with nothing resolved. The two girls go on a date to the local aquarium and in the post-credits Nanami falls asleep on Koito on the train home, with Koito gazing at her fondly. At the very end, Koito grasps her hand and whispers “senpai…”, with a long pause, and everyone waits for her to say “I love you“, but instead she says “…we need to change trains now“, and the end card appears. The series is over, and Koito has not told Nanami about the change in the play, and has not admitted that she may be developing feelings for her senpai.

Q. And what did you think of it?

A. I liked it. I liked it a lot. It was straight up romance, not rom-com or some  flavor of harem anime. There was no spiky hair, no yelling, and no mechas. To the extent that one got to know them, the characters were all likeable. (Note that, to keep this essay short, I am leaving out a lot of characters, including Nanami‘s childhood friend Saeki Sayaka, who makes for a low-key love triangle, the two adult women in a lesbian relationship that is probably unique in anime, all Koito‘s other friends and the rest of the Student Council).  Their conversations were (mostly) lifelike, and their actions were (mostly) understandable, if we excuse Nanami falling in love with Koito eighteen minutes into Episode 1 as anime artist’s license. There were parents who did parenting, and teachers who taught and advised. None was a caricature.

One of the things I liked was how Bloom tells its story in small gestures. For example, there’s a trope in anime of the indirect kiss — where you drink from a container that the other person just drank from. Very often this is a big deal, sometimes with panicky voices and waving of hands. At one point in Bloom, however, Nanami opens a bottle of soda and hands it to Koito, who takes a drink and hands it back. Koito is oblivious, but Nanami stares at it for a long moment, before drinking from it herself, and the scene moves on.


None of the plot turns were based on standard shonen anime misunderstandings-of-the-obvious, and none of the characters were as dense as the average shonen protagonist, but then that just might be girls being smarter than boys. The physical side of the romance was very muted (despite her feelings, Nanami didn’t get beyond first base), she and the girls are proportioned like humans, and the fanservice was limited to a shot of her in her underwear, and her and Koito (et al.) up to their armpits in the bath.

Visually, Bloom is very soft. The art is very clean, and the colors are mostly pastels. Many of the scenes are bathed in the orange glow of sunset, what the Japanese call tasogare, the yellow dark.

The golden days of youth

One glaring note is not the fault of the anime. The presentation I am watching is from HIDIVE via VRV over Roku on my TV, and VRV on Roku uses black bands with white lettering for the subtitles, instead of the preferred yellow-on-picture that VRV on the PC uses. That’s not too bad, except VRV/Roku likes to put the sub in the middle of the screen, and sometimes it will double up the subtitle, which is irritating and can obscure most of the picture.

The music is provided by a subdued, unobtrusive piano.

The ending is very European.** We can see the form of the resolution, but they don’t feel the need to spell it out.  Of course, the fact that the anime used up all the available source material may have had something to do with it. Volume 5 of the manga (the aquarium trip) was published in Japan in January of 2018, and Volume 6 (the play) didn’t come out until 27 September, eight days before the anime aired in Japan. If the publishing cycle holds true, we won’t get a sequel until Fall of 2021. To my mind, if they waited a year, or even a season, and then used the play as a wrap-up, they’d have had a much stronger story.

I’m not a manga person, but I bought Volume 1 on Amazon just to see, and the anime tracks it very closely. There’s a suspicious-looking (“English language not guaranteed”) third-party blue-ray on Amazon for the low, low price of $144. You might want to wait on that.


*Junior/Senior status, for those not used to anime

**It reminds me of the British detective shows we watched when we were living there in the 1970’s. They had the same sort of ambiguous endings, instead of the US style full closure arrest and sentencing. Foreigners seem to be more comfortable with ambiguity than we are.


Starlight Promises

August 10, 2018

Starlight Promises really wants to be a Miyazaki movie. It has the young protagonists, the mystical happenings, the colorful animation. What it lacks is heart. And coherency.

Spoilers follow.

Mihara Shoma gets a call from his former best friend, who he hasn’t seen in years, inviting him to meet at a location in the mountains. That location turns out to be the site of a Tanabata festival, celebrating the legend of the celestial lovers Orihime and Hikoboshi. His friend isn’t there, but he meets a hologram AI named Kana, and a girl,  Senozawa Shiori. It turns out that this festival is also designed to carry out a ritual that will let the participants meet anyone they wish to. The participants — several dozen of them — build the stage settings, and Mihara and Shiori are to enact the parts of the star-crossed lovers.

Kana and Shoma and Shiori

We immediately have questions.

How do they gain the skills needed to carpenter up an elaborate stage setting? How do they know how to move in the ritual?

It’s just like Ikea

How do the rest of the participants know how to do the Busby Berkely dance number at the start of the ritual? Well, they have these AI suits, that just know how to move to do things, ya know? And the wearer is sortof goes along for the ride.

We built it, and we can dance on it

OK, so how does the ritual conjure up the ghosts (and it looks to be all ghosts, nobody’s asking to meet Shinzō Abe) of the people the participants want to see? Well, so, it’s not really those people. It’s a new super-AI program that can take in all the information about the person and recreate a hologram of them. The participants just get to pretend they are real.

For that matter, why are they doing this during a Tanabata festival? Wouldn’t a Bon festival, honoring the dead, be more appropriate? Could it be that the Bon festival doesn’t have a romantic couple at the center?

Back in the action, the festival AI is malfunctioning, because of the existence of Kana. Why? They don’t say. In any event, it conjures up [AI hologram depictions of] the ghosts of the former castle, who proceed to attack the participants. Shoma and Shiori fight them off, using skills their AI suits taught them (and swords that are really debugging tools), while Kana sacrifices herself to install the patch, or something. Since this is hologram on AI suit action, nobody actually gets hurt, but they all act as if they could.

We will avenge our lord!

At the end, there’s a lantern ceremony, and everyone gets to see the person of their choice. Shoma sees his friend Atsushi — who it turns out is dead and Shoma just forgot about it, as often happens in anime — and Shiori sees her sister. Then the lanterns take flight, and the ghostly holograms fade away. Shoma and Shiori have found closure, and look to become friends, leaving open the possibility of a Starlight Promises Afterstory.

Is it really you?

Part of the problem with this anime is that Starlight Promises is only one hour long. That’s not enough time to develop the multiple threads of the story, or even the explanations and backstory and such. On the other hand, the whole knights-of-the-old-castle thing seems just bolted on, as if they needed some conflict to pad things out but couldn’t figure out what to do. Finally, the heart of the anime, the recall of the dead, is based on a logical fallacy. The participants are not talking to the dead, they’re talking to an AI construct, an updated version of ELIZA, from half a century ago.

But it looks pretty

Overall, Starlight Promises isn’t bad, but it’s not Miyazaki. It’s an OK way to waste an hour, unless there’s a My Neighbor Totoro rerun on.

My favorite anime mother

May 13, 2018

Kuramoto Nana

There are very few mothers in anime, and those that do appear are usually lacking in the normal motherly attributes. In most anime where parenting might be an issue, the parents are dead (Japanese cars are notoriously unsafe in that respect), or working overseas (possibly contributing to the drop in Japanese population). Many mothers who are both alive and present are professionals who we see briefly on their way to work in the first episode (one of the magical girl series), or briefly when well into the series (Monogatari). Others turn out to be behind-the-scenes contributors to the plot (Witchcraft Works).

The only normal mother I can think of is Kuramoto Nana, in The Flying Witch.

She runs the household, and does motherly things, and She also handles the occasional magical phenomenon with grace and aplomb. And just so we don’t think she’s a tradition-bound woman, she also is a professional artist and writer of children’s books. Maybe not rocket science professionalism, but pretty good for a farm wife in Aomori Prefecture.


Keeping hubby fed

“Mom, can I go out?”

“Mom, I want to make some tempura”

“What a cute witch”

Why yes, I am a professional

TLDR: Anime I never started

October 14, 2017

Sometimes you don’t have to watch even the first episode. Sometimes you happened on the first volume of the manga. Here’s two.

Inuyashiki: From the creator of Gantz. Actually, that tells you all you need to know. Old guy and young punk are reincarnated as robots. Old guy becomes superhero. Young punk becomes supervillain. Much bloodshed and dismemberment, most of it gratuitous. I dropped the manga after the first volume.

King’s Game: Normally a slightly racy kids game. Whoever is ‘king’ gets to tell the others what to do (“kiss the person to your right”). In this one, everybody is out to kill everybody else, because some ‘king’ made that decision. I don’t even…

This is why one reads manga.



What anime am I watching, Summer 2016?

July 22, 2016

Having been down on a bunch of shows, let me tell you about what’s good what has kept my interest. There’s a number of highly thought of shows this season, but for some reason, none of them resonate with me. Right now there’s only four that I’m watching.

Amanchu! In the quiet, ‘healing’ tradition comes a story about how a shy transfer student to a high school by the sea learns to fit in by way of scuba diving and a whacky friend. So far, it’s more Aria than Girls und SCUBA. The girl is well presented and believable. The friend is over-the-top. Her most common face makes her look like one of the elves in Humanity Has Declined.

One of these girls is having way too much fun

One of these girls is having way too much fun

ReWrite  Typical VN-based high school harem hi jinks. Our Hero joins the Occult Study Club because, well, that’s where the oppai are. Gets involved in various occult happenings. What I like about it is that it keeps throwing in twists. Like when they catch the tsuchinoko monster that’s been seen around campus, and it turns out to be a rubber dummy being used as a tsuchinoko lure by another occult seeker.

I suppose you ladies are wondering how you all came to be in the club

I suppose you ladies are wondering how you all came to be in the club

ReZero HikikoNEET gets transported to a fantasy world. This is a two cour series that started last Spring, so we’re on episode 16. Proto-agonist Subaru (yes, it’s , the same as the car, and the same as the Pleiades/Seven Sisters constellation) keeps getting horribly deaded, respawning at an earlier place and time. In the first season he came over as well-meaning, if a little dense and hot-headed. In the second season the heat and density reach stellar-core proportions. So far, he still has the two maid-demons (demon-maids?) on his side, but in the latest episode the Main Heroine has dumped him for being as crazy as a bag of cats. Oh, and everybody has died. Horribly.

Post-respawn awakenings can scare the maids

Post-respawn awakening screams can scare even demon maids

Planetarian Lonely robot keeps watch over a dying planetarium in a dead, post-apocalyptic city. Is befriended by a junk dealer. It’s sweet and sad and reminds me of There Will Come Soft Rains.

Even though we only have electricity for one week, every five years

Even though we only have electricity for one week, every five years

Flying Witch Yes, I know that’s last season. I watched then, also. Very much slice of life. Country-style OP and ED and BGM. Good characters, good art. I’ve marathoned it twice, so far, and plan a much longer essay, later.

It looks like fun, but it can be painful, until you learn the trick

Well, where did you think they came from?
Besides, they’re on sale

But since I’m watching it this season, it counts.

My Personal Best of 2015

January 2, 2016

It sometimes seems like everyone on the Internet spent the last week of 2015 writing Best Of lists. I don’t have anything to add to those lists, so I thought I’d write about the best of me. According to my official WordPress report, I published 138 posts this year, and garnered almost 14,000 views, a seventy percent improvement on last year’s total. To celebrate, I thought I’d provide my own personal 10 Best List. That is, the 10 best blog entries I made — sez me. Grouped by category, in more or less chronological order.

Public Affairs
1. Abolish TSA
I got a quick start on the new year by pointing out that TSA’s own numbers indicate that it is incapable of performing its primary mission, and that it should be abolished. Based on Pournelle’s Iron Law of Bureaucracy, this won’t happen.

2. Systems Science and the F-35
This is one of my recurring efforts to use the concepts of Systems Science to inform a discussion of public policy.

3. SpaceX
A color-commentary on the loss of the SpaceX Falcon 9 last June

4. WWII 70th Anniversary Retrospective
As someone who considers themselves an I&W professional (retired), I have always been fascinated by the foundations of WWII, particularly the Pacific War. This is the first of a series on the 70th Anniversary of the start.

5. Memories of my youth
The first entry in my Memories series, about a story I heard from a doctor when I was about ten years old.

6. Cataracts
I had them. They’re gone. The start of a discussion of my personal experience of the experience.

7. Green thumb lessons learned
I keep a garden. In the summer I write more or less weekly about how it’s doing. This entry is worthwhile because it’s an example of one way to learn from notes taken over the course of the growing year.

8. Pumpkin Oats
I like to write about cooking, but I don’t cook a lot (having an old-fashioned sort of wife), and most of the dinners I do cook are one-dish things, eaten standing up over the sink. However, I do cook breakfast daily, and for reasons of health that breakfast is always oatmeal. Herewith, one of my many attempts to make plain old oatmeal, un-plain and new again.

9. Twelve days of Anime: GaruPan and Shirobako
I’m an unabashed anime fan, although not at the level of an otaku — more of an oataku (that’s a cooking joke). This is not an ani-blog, but I do write pretty regularly. This year I decided to accept the challenge to write one item on anime every day for Advent through Christmas. This link is to the last, and I think best, article in the series.

10. The Wind Rises.
Impressions of Miyazaki’s anime about the inventor of the Japanese Zero fighter. It’s not really a biopic.

So that’s it. 365 days of egoboo, 138 posts, 10 best, 1 list. Like the Lessons Learned gardening post, this will give me something to ponder when I decide what topics to address in 2016.

Faking Shalyapin

May 15, 2015

So, here we are, back at the Food Wars (AKA Shokugeki no Souma) anime. Our Hero is in a contest to see who can make the best meat dish. If he loses, his club gets disbanded and he quits the school. If he wins, his bikini-clad carnivore challenger will join his club. Sounds like a reasonable bet to me.

This is a simple dish, but it takes some time to prepare. Note that I took the recipe from the manga, which adds some touches, like the ume paste and the post-onion sauce. It also changed the order of the cooking. And it changed the spelling of Шаля́пин.

1. You take a slab of cheap steak. I’m a cheapskate, so I used boneless pork chops, which is why it’s a fake Shalyapin.

Squint your eyes and pretend this came off of a pig

Squint your eyes and pretend this came off of a pig

2. Slash it with your slasher, and beat the snot out of it with a meat-beater.

3. Chop up a couple of onions and pile them on top of the beaten meat. I did it in the frying pan I was planning on using, and put about half of the onion underneath and half on top. Let them sit for an hour, turning them halfway through.

Lots of onions, the finer the chop the better

Lots of onions, the finer the chop the better

4. Fry onions. This is harder than it looks, ’cause there’s lots onions. Took a long time. Because of this, and (3), the house will stink of onion. Pretend you’re French. Set aside. (Note: the anime did the meat first, and cooked the onions in the meat drippings.)

I wonder what the difference is between cooking the steak in the onion juices and cooking the onion in the steak juices

I wonder what the difference is between cooking the steak in the onion juices and cooking the onion in the steak juices

5. Make rice. Don’t use too much water, like I did, or you’ll end up with something more like rice paste. Add ume paste. Um …e… no ume paste. Substitute a pinch of salt instead.

6. Fry meat. Don’t get it too hot, like I did, because you are going to want unburned fond. Set aside.

Butterfried steak

Butterfried steak

7. Make sauce in the frying pan, if you are using the manga recipe. A few glugs of wine to one glug of shoyu. Cook down and thicken. They used potato flour. I used flour flour. Don’t boil it too hard, like I did.

8. Stack the results in a bowl: rice, meat, onion, sauce. They used a standard roundhead-helmet don – bowl. I used a very flat soup bowl.

It better be chopstick-tender, or the rice will end up all over the table

It better be chopstick-tender, or the rice will end up all over the table

Results: The meal was not inedible, but I’d have been thrown out the back door of the cooking school before the sauce finished congealing on the rice. Rice was wet and pasty. Meat was not tender. No way it would have come apart with just a chopstick. You’d end up eating Shalyapin-onna-stick.  Underdone onion flavor noticeable, possibly from fragments sticking to the meat. Sauce tasted burned.

Comments: Quite aside from my failures as a cook, the whole marinade in finely chopped onion thing seems much overrated. Maybe it’s because I used pork instead of beef and pork doesn’t tenderize in onion or something. Perhaps I should have used chopped turnips. Plus, the manga recipe called for ume paste mixed in with the rice. 7-11 was all out of ume paste that week (well, it was right after Easter), so the rice was plain, with salt. Maybe that was it.

Oh, that ume!

Oh, that ume!

Her reaction was almost exactly, but not quite, totally unlike mine.

UPDATE: I tried it again, with a small, thin, beef, steak. Prepared it exactly as directed, except I used a little balsamic vinegar instead of ume paste. Tasted much better. Was in no way tender. Needed more sauce. Maybe do it as a gravy rather than as a sauce. And use a better cut of meat.

UPDATE: It seems that just scoring the meat improves the tenderness

Faking Pork

April 11, 2015

So, three days ago I trashed the anime Food Wars (AKA Shokugeki no Souma, 食戟のソーマ / Souma’s Food Weapons). I stand by that. If you are looking for an entertaining anime, and there’s a shred of (cultural) taste in your makeup, you will skip this one and go watch HOTD reruns. Scenes that the manga passes over with one or two giggleframes, the anime lingers lovingly on, detailing every blush, every squeak, and every crotch clench. Classes at the cooking school are arbitrary contests — “Today you will make bœuf bourguignon. What!? You never made it before? You don’t belong in this school!” — which Souma, Our Hero, wins handily (“Oh, you mean beef stew“).

On the other hand, those of you who read Playboy for the insightful articles, might find that this anime is worthwhile because of the …. recipes!

In the first episode, Our Hero is challenged to make a juicy meat dish, after the bad guys have trashed all the meat in his kitchen. All he has is a half kilo of thick-cut bacon he picked up on the way in to work. Fear not, gentle eater, he wins the day with a Gotcha Pork Roast.*

Step 1. Chunk, steam, and mash some potatoes. I used three medium/smalls, chopped fine and boiled. FoodWarsPotatoes Step 2. Chop some onion and oyster mushrooms. Looks to be about 2:1 ratio by screen presence. I used a 100g box of mushrooms and one medium onion. Chopped and softened in the frying pan.

Eringi (エリンギ) mushrooms

Eringi (エリンギ) mushrooms

Step 3. Mix, mould, and wrap in thick cut bacon, dotted with rosemary. I just mixed the veggies, put them in a shallow casserole dish, and layered the top with bacon. No rosemary.

Looks more like a hash brown patty from here

Looks more like a hash brown patty from here

Step 4. Roast at an unknown temperature for an unknown period. I used a convection oven set at 325F for half an hour.

I was out of rosemary

I was out of rosemary

Step 5. Meanwhile, cook down a mix of red wine, shoyu, and mirin, with a pat of butter. Being fresh out of mirin (and also out of sake, so I couldn’t なんちゃって some up), I used half a cup of vin exceedinly ordinaire, tablespoon of shoyu, and a half-tablespoon of dry sherry. Reduce to 1/8th of a cup.

Mine didn't look like this

Mine didn’t look like this

Results: Very good, in a non-crotch-clenching sort of way. None of my clothes exploded off of me, and any squeaking noises I made were due to the potatoes being too hot. No-one would ever mistake mine for a pork roast.

Comments: Needed a few more strips of bacon, to improve the overlap and make up for shrinkage. In photo-recon terms, we had enough for 100% coverage, but not enough for stereo coverage. Needed lots more potatoes, to soak up the thick-cut grease. Was hot all the way through, but the onion was still sharp-flavored, so cooking the onions and mushrooms in the frying pan a while longer would help. Plus maybe cooking the whole dish longer, at a lower temperature. Adding rosemary might help get the effect we want.

Oh, the rosemary!

Oh, the rosemary!


* The word used is なんちゃって (nanchatte), which is defined as “just kidding”, or “fake”.

TLDR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2014

October 14, 2014

A classic trope is the “princess in danger” situation, one that can be traced all the way back to Andromeda and Perseus, and all the way forward to Princess Peach and Mario. This season there were two entries in that category, and neither one made the cut.

Akatsuki no Yona: Semi-bratty, air-headed princess sees her kindly father killed by her childhood sweetheart, is rescued by her faithful guardian general.

So far, she isn't doing much to help herself

Warrior princess makes daring escape

Cold opening of the first episode, and the flashback at the end of the second episode shows she makes it back, as a warrior princess leading a band of superhero allies. Think, medieval Justice League.

Poor artwork, mediocre animation, boring presentation — evil sweetheart had four different opportunities to kill her, stopped to exposiate each time — makes it not worth wasting bandwidth on.

Cross Ange – Rondo of Angel and Dragon: Beautiful, athletic, charming princess Angelise, beloved by all, turns out to not have the mana-wrangling powers that true humans are supposed to have and so is stripped of her name, titles, and clothing, and send off to a women’s prison for “Normas” as plain old Ange. There to suffer various forms of sexual violation and harassment by the female guards and the other Norma women. Later on there are dragons, and bathloads of women washing each other’s backs.

Relax, it's just a physical exam.

Relax, it’s just a physical exam.

Really bad art and animation made it painful to watch, and its disregard of the proprieties drew at least one stinging on-line rebuke. Plus, I’m not particularly a fan of the “let’s throw in some rape to show how bad her situation is” approach to story-telling.

TL;DR — Anime I never finished, Summer 2014

July 14, 2014

My anime list has been bouncing up and down like a World Cup football. At first, I thought there were 4 or 5 that looked good. Then, I swung all the way up to 15 or 16, based on other people’s initial reviews. I may have been right the first time.

First thing to go — Robots!

Aldnoah Zero — Earth-descended Martians (don’t ask, it was the Moon’s fault) invade the mother planet in giant combat robots. Allusia, a Princess of Mars is thought to have been assassinated by Terran terrorists. Except it was actually a false flag operation, organized at the behest of the Master Mind of Mars, Count Kurūteo, by rebellious Warlords of Mars as a causus belli — just in time for SarajevoFest. Except that she’s not really dead, it was a stunt double, and now (accompanied by Thuvia Ederurizzo, Maid of Mars) she’s the Maguffin. Martian robots have this surface field thingy, that destroys things that touch it, which means it stops bullets, and slices through buildings just by leaning on them (adds a whole new meaning to the phrase cutting corners), and roads just by stomping on them. They don’t say how it keeps from going in up to its knees every time it takes a step. Meanwhile, the Terran battlebots have to make do with older weapons


Fangs out and brains in the helmet bag

Fangs out and brains in the helmet bag

Argevollen — The peaceful country of Ingelmia is invaded by warlike Arandians, who break through the Maginot Line of Ingelmania with giant combat robots. Everything is falling apart, when a rebellious soldier finds a cute girl, with glasses, operating a big transport truck, with a giant combat robot, the way cute, glasses-wearing girls are wont to do. He jumps into the robot, which looks suspiciously like something out of Evangelion, finds it responds to his mere thoughts and inclinations, and starts beating up on the ‘Randy robots. This being anime, I’m surprised it didn’t start chasing meganegirl. Meanwhile, the rest of the troops have to depend on older weapons

Are you sure this is the peak of robot development?

Nothing for me to be envious about


M3: The Dark Metal (It’s from Spring, but I didn’t find it on Daisuke until this week.)– The peaceful city of Kawadahara is invaded every night by the human-derived Admonitions and must be protected by high school students driving, you guessed it, giant combat robots.  Meanwhile, …

Nothing like a blunt instrument when you're engaged in the dark

Nothing like a blunt instrument when you’re engaged in the dark


Thinking about it, there’s two problems with building battlebots in real life. First, physics. They’re unstable (just like humans), and have many single-point-of-failure features (just like humans). Of course, no-one in anime would ever think of sneaking up close and shooting one in the back of the knee, or the ankle, or pulling the old エヲク – ログ attack. The second problem is human. If a human does a duck-and-weave, their head moves maybe a foot. A thirty foot tall robot jerks its head (and its pilot) five or six feet. And sitting in the cockpit while a battlebot runs into battle is like sitting in a box that’s being attacked by a two-hammered blacksmith while being dragged downstairs. Thud-thud-Thud-thud. I was on the verge of a mild headache after every one of these shows.

Girls und Feminism

January 19, 2014

Last year, on Altair & Vega, there was an interesting feminist critique of Girls und Panzer. In that essay, author the_patches takes the show to task for false feminism.

Gendering the sport of tankery in this manner takes something from the province of men and boys and places it in the hands of girls and women–at least when compared to our social norms. The show plays on a subtle inversion of how we normally align gender roles. Since waging war is currently considered mainly the province of men, the idea of high school girls doing it implies an upending of the social order and therefore seems progressive. But it really isn’t.

While that certainly is one way to look at the feminist structure of GaruPan, I’m not sure it’s the best way. I agree with the_patches that the recruiting film, and remarks made in the anime make it clear that the social order has not been upended. Because of that, and despite the fact there is a certain amount of gender-symbolism-poaching going on, GaruPan isn’t really carrying that kind of a femininist message.

Hard to get more phallic than this

Hard to get more phallic than this

Instead, I’d like to think of the feminism of GaruPan as the basis of a gedanken experiment in an alternate approach to sports and team building and leadership.

GaruPan asks what a competitive team sport would be like as practiced by a gender with a more balanced testosterone/serotonin ratio. The use of tank combat as the target sport is brilliant, because anime about the more traditional sports brings a lot of baggage along. Those sports already have female teams, and most of the anime about them (not that there’s a lot) deal with the issues associated with women playing known sports in a man’s world. Since GaruPan is about Sensha-Dō as a sport, nobody in the audience has any preconceived ideas about what the rules, tactics, and ethos might be.

So what we get is a particularly womanly way of doing things. Onna-Dō, if you like. Tank teams are more supportive of each other from the start, for example, without the need for any chest-bumping male bonding rituals. There’s none of the samurai swagger of “I’ll go out and sacrifice myself for the team“. In fact the arc that has the Napoleonic arrogance of Kachusha clashing with the overconfident arrogance of the Ōarai team (yahoo!) is the one they come closest to losing.

In the end, Girls und Panzer doesn’t have a strong feminist message. But a core theme of the anime is an idea a boy’s team is most likely to overlook: “Sensha-Dō isn’t war, it’s a sport, and the tanks would be sad if we forgot that”.

My full set of commentaries on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Girls und Panzer: A Study in Command, and the DVD.

TL;DR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2013

November 16, 2013

Two more anime slide off my radar. Neither are bad, as such, just not compelling.

Gallilei Donna (Galileo’s Girls): Three greatN granddaughters of Galileo are pursued across a frozen and dying Europe by ruthless energy barons, duplicitous Italian police, and ultra-fashionable sky pirates, while they search for clues to his inheritance, whatever that is. The writers appear to have read too many Dan Brown novels and have taken the art form to heart — plot holes, contrived discoveries, hidden meanings and all. I can put up with a lot of anime logic, but there are limits. I lasted five episodes, primarily to watch the flying goldfish mecha.

Gingitsune (Silver Fox): He’s a ten foot tall invisible fox in flowing priestly robes, she’s a middle-school priest-descendent shrine-maiden, and the only one at the shrine who can see him. Started out as a slice of life program about their relationship; tried to add drama with a depressed and rebellious teen-age boy (is there any other kind), who is also a priest-descendent (forced to leave his shrine for excessive slouching or something) and has his own invisible fox, said fox being an immature, scared, bratty chit of an 80-year-old. I didn’t drop it so much as I wandered off and left it laying somewhere.

TL:DR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2013

October 18, 2013

Add three more to the list. I couldn’t finish the first episode of either of the first two, but I did what the anisensei all say to do — I watched the first three minutes before dropping the series. None of the reviews I’ve read since have changed my mind.

My Mental Choices…: Boy is haunted by a voice that forces him to choose between two stupid options (ForEx: A: eat the discarded porn mag B: sniff the discarded porn mag) and presumably uses this affliction to impress all the girls in his harem.

Samurai Flamenco: Wannabe superhero gets in fights with drunks, gets superhero suit set on fire, ends up naked in an alley. Not necessarily in that order.

I am not totally against stupid. Stupid has its place in anime.* Then again, there’s stupid and stupid. Life is too short. I’d rather go watch HOTD reruns.

Strike the Blood: Teen becomes supervamp, fights demons with the aid of a Lion King Org middle-schooler with no fashion sense.**

No, I'm not color-blind. Why do you ask?

No, I’m not color-blind. Why do you ask?

Too, too, melodramatic, and when not being TTM, was filled with useless expository lumps, and when not exposiating was just plain overwrought. I lasted through 2.75 eps before my wroughtmeter pegged.


*There are friends of mine who would say that sentence is missing a comma

**I mean red plaid panties with blue plaid school uniform belt skirt? Did her parents teach her nothing? Ah,  right, she’s an orphan, raised by lions to kill supervamps.

TL;DR — Anime I never finished, Fall 2013

October 11, 2013

The Fall anime season has started, and I’m wasting time seeing what might appeal. So far, not a lot.

Nagi No Asukara (凪のあすから), Nagi’s Tomorrow, is about children of the sea forced to go to school on land. Gorgeous graphics, OK animation, total ignorance of the laws of fluid dynamics. Just because you can live and breathe there, doesn’t mean you can walk the same way, or cook stew in a pot. Obviously, they’ve never heard of a Reynolds number. The rest is all clash of cultures and coming-of-age angst of middle schoolers, not something I feel like watching right now.

Infinite Stratos 2 Typical high school harem show. Transformer suits only girls can operate, except that the clueless male protagonist [insert your name here] is the only boy in the world who can do it. First episode was fun because they packed everything from maid/butler to shower scenes to the beach trip in one ep. Still, ya seen one, etc…

Walkure Romanze (ワルキューレ ロマンツェ), Valkyrie Romance. A Visual Novel adaptation set in a jousting school. Remember how one of the strong points of Girls und Panzer was how well they did the tanks? WalRom’s approach to horses is exactly the opposite. Their scenery is quite good. Their characters are reasonably well drawn (except that their lady-armor design has lots of what the tank community would call shot traps). Their concept of horse movement seems to have come from 17th Century English foxhunting prints. I dropped it at the 11:35 point

MeganeBu (メガネブ) Glasses Club. Boys wearing glasses turn themselves into asses. The first episode looks like a opthalmologists version of the swimming anime Free!. The color palette looks like they hired Shaft Studio’s Monogatari staff to do their color.

Ace of the Diamond is a country-boy comes to the city to make a name for himself in baseball anime. I like baseball anime, if it’s about baseball. So far, this one is about the character development of a smart-ass little shit with a good arm. In the first episode, everybody shouts, and the protagonist cries a lot, when he’s not trying to be M.T. Luffey, and we see a grand total of two pitches, one wild, and the other a cliff-hanger at the end of the episode. The artwork is OK, except during the action (AKA pitching) scenes, when it turns into a bunch of heavy-penciled comic-book stills with speedlines. Big Windup (Ōkiku Furikabutte), a baseball anime from 2007, is my gold standard for baseball anime. It features the character development of a spineless wimp of a pitcher, but it has the saving grace of being almost entirely about baseball, with the character development tacked on between episode-long coverage of games. I might look in on this one again, mid-season.

Monogatari Trivia

September 23, 2013

In the Monogatari series, Araragi’s vampire companion is named Shinobu, AKA “heart-under-blade”. Today I learned that the kanji for しのぶ ( is 忍, or a heart 心 under a blade 刃. So what does 忍, mean? Well, there’s two pronunciations. にん (ni.n) means endurance. And Shinobu? It means Fern, specifically this fern. Keep that in mind the next time the dread vampire Heart-Under-Blade Shinobu shows her fangs.

Girls und Panzer: A Study in Command

July 26, 2013

The necessary qualities of high military command manifestly are administrative skill and diligence, strategical and logistical sense, military imagination, initiative, resourcefulness, boldness coupled with a grasp of practicality, ability to elicit the best of men, and the more personal qualities of character, endurance, courage, and nervous control.

D. S. Freemam, Lee’s Lieutentants

GaruPan is all about command. In the 12 episodes, we get to see five different command styles. Due to the limitations of time, character development, and focus on the Ōarai team, we don’t get an in-depth look at all the teams, but what we see is interesting. I’m going to go through each school in turn, and talk about how well their leader exercises the various command functions.

GaruPanDarjeeling5Saint Gloriana. We don’t get to see much of Darjeeling’s management style. Her troops are well-trained: all the tank maneuvers start simultaneously, and the individual tanks automatically provide front and side security. Their shooting is terrible, but that’s true of everybody in this series, they’re as bad as storm troopers. Darjeeling fields a balanced force of four Matildas and a Churchill. Caught in one frame after the match was a Crusader tank, so she evidently made decisions about what part of her resources to deploy. In the battle itself, her commands were calm and clear (“Engage the IV to our front“), even though she spent most of her time buttoned up inside the tank. Tactically, she saw through Ōarai kill zone strategy, but still drove into the trap. She was quick to start the pursuit, but we don’t get to see how she directed her tanks inside the city. Her little homily when she had Ōarai cornered can be put down as a personal quirk. (more…)

GaruPan it’s not

July 17, 2013

This season’s entry in the cute girls doing cute things with weapons category is Stella Women’s Academy, High School Division Class C3, AKA C3-Bu. It’s what Upotte would have been if the producers had taken it seriously.

The setting this time is a airgun combat club. Because it’s a more realistic setting, it’s easier to suspend disbelief and go with the flow. Given that, it has more of a Upotte feel to it than it does Girls und Panzer.

It's important to wear proper safety equipment

It’s important to wear proper safety equipment

After two episodes I can say that (a) it’s watchable,  (b) it has the incomparable Sawashiro Miyuki voicing the club president, and (c) it’s no competition for Garupan.

Details in ten weeks.

Anime Double Feature 3

July 9, 2013

Aiura and Yuyushiki.

Instead of back-to-back essays, I’m going to combine these two because they’re so short.



The high concept for both is identical: Slow-paced Slice of Life about three girls who are just starting high school. The three are composed of the tall blond, who is the straight man, the reddish-haired jokester, and her dark-haired accomplice/observer. The big difference is length. After you subtract the OP and ED, Aiura is only 150 seconds of content in a 4min program. Yuyushiki is the standard ~24min format.



I liked them both. Aiura was not only short, but leisurely. It was only long enough for perhaps two jokes per episode, but the timing on them was well done. In the first episode, Kanaka bumps into Ayuko and knocks her ice cream to the ground. To make amends, Kanaka grabs Saki’s taiyaki, gives it to Ayuko, and runs off, pursued. Ayuko bites into it and finds that it’s ‘extra spicy’. End of ep. The OP is a sprightly tune, all about crabs and Steve Jobs, and has nothing to do with the content. The ED sounds like a school anthem. The exterior backgrounds looked like watercolor, and were nice enough that I saved a couple of screenshots for my screen saver.

Amazingly, for such a short program, much of it’s humor comes from the slow, Jack Benny style, response. In episode 10, Kanaka has been doing a hands-on-the-eyes “guess who?” with everyone. When she does it to Saki, she gets an elbow in the ribs:

S: Sorry, I didn’t know it was you
K: You shouldn’t go elbowing strangers
S: It’s OK. I really knew it was you
K: It doesn’t matter. High school girls don’t go around elbowing random people
S: Really? What do high school girls do?
… scene break…
Class Representative: They probably study or something
K:…7 sec pause… No … that’s not right.

Roll credits

Yuyushiki had a little more push to it. The girls are the only members of the “Data Processing Club”, and spend their club time researching random topics and writing their conclusions on the whiteboard for their advisor to see when she finally wanders in — in episode 2 they leave several names for ice cream (Mellorine?). When not at school they are often at tall, blond Yui’s house, irritating her. Now and then there’s something that looks like it might be a plot, but the program just pokes it a couple of times and wanders off.



Both these programs do their jobs very well, within their set limits. I’ve referred to them in some earlier posts, because some of this Summer’s offerings try to emulate them, unsuccessfully.

Girls und Panzer — the anime 5

July 5, 2013

My full collection of commentary on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and the DVD

I just can’t stay away. After spending a weekend correcting final papers and writing one of my own that was due out for a conference the next Monday, I got to thinking about translating, particularly translating from Japanese to English, with their totally different structures. It’s been said that the art of good translation is a good paraphrase, and nowhere is that more important than in Japanese. My Japanese isn’t good enough to catch spoken sentences, but I can pick up short phrases. My skills are at a sophomore level — I know stuff, but I don’t know enough to know which part of what I know is wrong. Consider yourself warned.

For example, いいえ (ii.e or, in English means no, but there are a number of other negatives available. いや (i.ya, pronounced more like iya) seems to be more formal, used with formal denials. One translation I’ve seen is nay. We also have です (, normally with a silent u) is a polite ending meaning some form of it is (red it is), I am (Steve I am), he is (Yamada he is), etc. Yoda talks like he does because his original language was Japanese, or something. So combining those two いやです (and pronouncing the uiyadesu) gives a phrase probably best translated as that would be no. Except that in at least two anime (including Ep 12 of GaruPan) I’ve seen it translated as don’t wanna.

Hey! Move your light tank!

Hey! Move your light tank!

Then there’s the phrase それ ( それ means that (closer to the listener than to the speaker), but can also mean look there! In Ep 4, the volleyball team is practicing while waiting for St. Gloriana to be drawn into their trap, and one member of the team calls そ.れ! (Ball!) when they serve the ball,



but when they shoot the Matilda tank from behind they shout そ.れ! そ.れ! , which gets translated as “volley ball! heck yeah!” In Ep 12, when they drive up on the back of the Maus, it’s translated directly as there!


そ れ!

I suspect it’s a sports term, and a better translation would be heads up! Interestingly, there’s a similar term そら (so.ra), that means sky, but can also mean watch out!

Finally, we have a bit of a pun, that I’m tickled to have caught. Nishizumi is listening to the others talk:

I have a boyfriend in every port

I have a boyfriend in every port

The Japanese words are かれ (, boyfriend, and カレー (ka.ree), curry. The ee isn’t a long e, it’s a short e that’s held a little longer (re-eh). Note that カレー is in katakana (think italics), because it’s a foreign loan word.

TL;DR — Anime I Never Finished

July 2, 2013

I took a quick look at the Summer offerings on Crunchyroll. Good thing I like to go outside and play in the sun.

None of the real series are up yet, but the latest trend seems to be micro-series. Not short from a number of episodes standpoint, but short as in 3min episodes. It’s as if every studio in Japan decided to have a midsummer meetup on Okinawa, and said “If we keep them short we can crank out 13 episodes and still make our plane.”

Teekyu (2 minutes): Irritating cartoony characters playing at tennis
Senyou (4.5 minutes): Irritating SAO/RPG characters playing at a quest
Recorder & Ransdell (3 minutes): adult-appearing 5th grader and grade-school-appearing high schooler in irritating situations

It’s as if everybody looked at Yuyushiki and Aiura and said “how hard can it be?”

Evidently, it’s harder than it looks.

Straight Title Robot Anime — the Anime

June 4, 2013

Strange. Crudely done. Weird. Did I mention Strange?

Also, surprisingly, sad. I liked it.

It’s some millenia after the death of humanity, and the now pointless, robot wars continue. Three fembots decide they want to end the war, and the way to do that is to rediscover laughter. They try and try and try, running through all the tropes of humor, from prat-falls to punchlines, without success. At least, they don’t see the humor in their failures at humor (even if we humans do) — they just sit there with the traditional processing, processing pinwheels over their heads. Every now and then the commentator puts in a comment.

Bad acting, bad animation, sad ending

Bad acting, bad animation, sad ending

Having spent the first part of each show funnily failing to be funny, they then go to the simulation room, where they simulate the impact on the war of various techniques of humor. What happens here is that the opening sequence — giant robots fighting other giant robots — gets replayed with the new element added. The robots find themselves sliding in oil, or looking smugly at the camera, or crossdressing, grabbing their opposite number and kissing them. None of it seems to work.

The last part of each episode sees the girls in re-creations of different human facilities, trying to figure them out. This is done ad-lib, as prop humor. The seiyūs are given their props and must come up with an explanation of what they were originally for. In the music store sequence in Episode 7, for example, one of them puts up two large taiko drums, and stands between them holding a ukulele by its neck, saying “still in, still in”.

Drum wrestling

Drum wrestling

Her explanation being that there used to be a sport where two naked humans ran into each other, and the referee, holding his fan, would decide if they were still in the ring.

Still in, still in

Still in, still in

That’s the whole show, all thirteen minutes of it, each week for eleven weeks. Then, in the final week, things change. The show goes along in its usual silly fashion for a few minutes, with the girlbots trying and failing, and commentator making his sardonic comments. Suddenly, one of them looks straight at the camera and says “who are you and why do you keep saying those things?” It turns out that the commentator is actually another robot, who was left a laughter program by his master, the last human on earth. He explains that laughter is the freedom to make an error, and the time to enjoy it.

The trouble is, if a robot is free to make errors, to ignore their programming, they no longer have a purpose and they shut down. If the laughter program is broadcast, the war will end, with the death of all the robots. The maid robot, Fuji, the most human looking of the three, is given the decision and decides that the flawed children of incomplete humanity should step down to make way for the next generation, whatever that is. They transmit the program, enjoy a few minutes of laughter, and die. Fuji is last. Her final words are Arigatou. Sayonara.

The rest is silence

The rest is silence


A most irritating anime. I seem to be the only person on the planet who has watched it all the way through, because I can find no reviews after the first episode, and the Wikipedia entry is a stub. Still and all, I liked it. And what does that say about me?

Girls und Panzer – the anime 4

May 5, 2013

My full collection of commentary on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and the DVD

Possibly the most interesting character outside of the Ankou team is Kadotani Anzu, the Student Council President. Wikipedia describes her as manipulative, childish and carefree. Well, they got one right. She is certainly manipulative, but the carefree childishness is a front, part of the manipulation. Anzu is also short

The Student Council President Appears

The President Appears

but as I said in an earlier essay, she doesn’t let this bother her. Only after trying to climb onto a tank and failing does she call on Kawashima for assistance.

Yeah, I'm short, but I have tall friends

Yeah, I’m short, but I have tall friends

Her management style is to shove people into a situation and let them sort it out. It’s called delegation.

You guys go look for some for me.

I know they can do it.


Girls und Panzer — the anime 3

April 23, 2013

My full collection of commentary on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and the DVD

Herewith a collection of miscellaneous thoughts on GaruPan. I really should let it go, but there’s so much more that can be said.

For example: The real Goosefish hunts birds.

For example: There are twenty-one characters in the initial episodes of GaruPan. Another ten join by the time all fourteen episodes have run. That’s way too many for the usual rounds of individual character development, so one of the things you might expect to see is how the characters of the teams themselves change — or don’t. A couple of the teams don’t have time to change, Anteater (the World of Tanks girls) isn’t around long enough to even establish a baseline, let alone change. Team Mallard, the hall monitors, has not much more time, and doesn’t grow much beyond Sodoko’s personality. Four more of the teams, Turtle (Student Council), Hippo (History Club), Duck (Volleyball Club), and Leopan (Auto Club) come to us fully formed and effective. They existed before Sensha-Dō, and will presumably continue to exist afterwards. Except for Team Turtle (about which more in a later post), none of the individuals stand out, and there’s not much team development, because it all happened somewhere else. That leaves one team to talk about:

The coming-of-age of Team Rabbit

Run Away!

Run Away!

This is the group that progressed farthest as a team. In the third episode, the six first-year students of Team Rabbit attempted to flee the practice match, shouting ‘run away’ (actually, I think it was にげお — — escape). In the fourth episode, in the match against St. Gloriana, they abandoned their tank, and in episode five, the first formal match, they almost forget to load shells for the M3’s guns. But gradually they become more confident and more capable, and by episode ten they are starting to show some teamwork

And make sure you have the shells loaded this time!

And make sure you have the shells loaded this time!

They demonstrate their maturity in episode 11, when they volunteer to be abandoned in the river in order to not hold back the side. In the last episode they come into their own, displaying skill and daring and courage unthinkable six episodes earlier. First, they play picador on the giant Maus, lashing it with machine gun fire to get it to turn its turret, and then sliding artfully away from its gunline, shouting ‘run away’, while Team Duck drives up on its rear deck and blocks the turret in position. When the Kuromorimine team arrives in town, they volunteer to be the ones to attack the rear guard, doing so with a trick they learned from Kelly’s Heroes.

An Elefant is no match for a Rabbit

An Elefant is no match for a killer Rabbit

At the end, they play matador with a JagdTiger, attacking it head to head and enticing it to push them backwards until they slide aside, in in the panzer version of suerte de muleta, upon which it rushes past them and head first over an embankment.

That's Right!

That’s Right!

Considering that these girls are at the bottom of the pecking order, both as individuals and as a team, GaruPan manages to jam a lot of character development into the few minutes of screen time they are allotted.

For more of my reviews, check out the Anime tag, below.

TL;DR — Anime I never finished

April 15, 2013

Attack on Titan, 進撃の巨人, which is literally something like Attack’s Giants (where 進撃 is a military advance, の is a possessive, and 巨人 is giant, like the Tokyo Giants), is the story of a boy who lives in a medieval walled city, which protects the last of humanity from the giants who live outside the walls.

Our Story So Far: Young Eren is your typical idealistic overexcitable early teen, who lectures the city guard to be more alert (yes, it’s been a hundred years since the last attack, but you never know), yells at bullies who don’t want anyone to leave the walls, and says he wants to be part of the Survey Corps. The SC mission is to learn more about the giants and their world. They do this, from what we are shown, by going out and attacking the first giant they find. This particular giant is strolling along, head down, oblivious to the world, looking like he’s worried about his mortgage. The SC executes their cunning plan by splitting into five groups, including a decoy group and a air attack group, plus three unspecified others (battle group, striking group, covering group?) and converging on this guy.

As a historical aside, this was a typical failing of the Japanese Navy in WWII. They’d come up with these complex plans requiring close coordination of five or six battle groups, and invariably get their ass handed to them.

The Survey Corps gets their ass handed to them. Their latest ‘survey’ comes back all bandaged up and minus several of their members, who are also minus several of their members. Nothing daunted, Young Eren still wants to be in the Corps, presumably because of the chance for a quick promotion.

Too loudy (as one of my Japanese students called this type of anime), too shouty, too much fangs-out-and-brains-in-the-helmet-bag. Young Eren has two settings — sullen and enraged. The Survey Corps has been working their side of the problem for a hundred years, and still can’t get it right. On the plus side, the artwork reminds me of Spice and Wolf, and the mechanized spiderman web-spinners looks like a fun way to do airborne, as long as you have a lot of trees around and don’t get tangled up.

TL;DR — Anime I never finished

April 14, 2013

Devil Survivor 2, The Animation. Given a name with that many modifiers, you know it’s a long way from home. It’s an Evangelion knockoff, based on a sequel to a game with magical apps instead of mechs.

Our Story So Far: Earth is being attacked by demons. Secret underground government organization recruits teens to help fight them. Three teens — hero boy, clueless sidekick boy, passive girl — have downloaded other-demon summoning-apps to their smartphones (at least the Japanese are now moving away from blade phones). When summoned, the other-demons fight the demons. Secret underground government organization won’t use their secret underground government organization transport system to evacuate Tokyo after the demons start destroying things and eating people, because it might cause panic.

I get the same vibes from this that I got from Blast of Tempest, which many people liked. I don’t really care about the characters. They haven’t done anything so far to make be interested in their future, and when they are doing things, they aren’t doing anything that surprises me. Not that I can predict their actions, but that once something happens, I say ‘Oh, yeah, that’. If you liked Blast of Tempest you might like this. If you liked Evangelion, you might not.

TL;DR — Anime I Never Finished

April 13, 2013

The first to be dropped this season is Majestic Prince, a combat mech story that one reviewer described as “an old-school space opera through and through that is full of heart and intelligence“. If they had said “has more heart and intelligence than your average mecha” I’d have agreed with them. But that’s setting a pretty low bar.

Our Story So Far: Crew of losers from an Academy prep school dropped into major battle as a rear guard, covering a retreat. Obviously because they were expendable. Fights off the enemy fleet (well, they were leaving anyway) and saves the base. Their group leader’s stated goal is to be a hero. As another reviewer said, in any army in the world, that goal will get you pulled from combat immediately — heroes get people killed. In the second ep they are accosted by the bad guy equivalent of their own cutting edge mechs — who proceed to fly rings around them, but don’t kill them because they are not worthy opponents.

If you are a mech fan, and I’m not, this will probably be right down your beamline.

Girls und Panzer — the anime 2

April 4, 2013

UPDATE: This is Part 2 of a series. It has nothing to do with Season 2 of GaruPan, if there is such a thing. Sorry.

My full collection of commentary on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and the DVD

After a three-month unexplained production break, Girls und Panzer came back with a roar. Oouri High is outnumbered 20:7 and in the middle of a fight with a much better equipped Kuromorimine Girls Academy (黒森峰 Black Forest Peak, three symbols together, see the trees in the middle?), led by Nishizumi Miho‘s older sister, Maho.

Episode 11: When we last saw GaruPan (the abbreviation based on the Japanese title ガールズ & パンツァー Gā.ru.zu ando Pa.n.tsā), they had just started their championship match. Over the previous ten episodes the teams had bonded, had become experienced, and they now know just how much is at stake. The night before the match, each tank crew quietly prepares in its own way — which for each one seems to include eating karaage of some kind. The scenes are a poignant reminder of how far they have come.  Team Duck is playing volleyball in a darkened gym, while Team Rabbit spends their  time watching nostalgic old movies like Kelly’s Heroes, and crying when the Tiger tank gets blown up. As the contest starts, the girls are already under pressure, because the Germans Kuromorimine have taken an unexpected shortcut through the forest.

Kuromorimine advances

Kuromorimine advances

Fast forward three months, and the chase is on. (more…)

Monogatari Music

March 3, 2013

This is a two-CD import from Japan, with music from Bakemonogatari, arguably the best of the two seasons released so far. It has 56 tracks, and runs just over two hours. You can listen to samples about halfway down the page at this Japanese site. The best part about it is that it has all of the OP/ED songs: Staple Stable, Wonderful Day, Maoi Snail, Surugu Mokey, etc. Usually, you don’t get this music on a sound track CD because of licensing issues, so I’m glad they were able to get those sorted out. These tracks all run around four minutes, and if you liked them in the series you’ll like them here.

A second category are the tracks that form something of a leitmotif for the various characters. Most memorable, of course, are the various guitar / piano / harmonica blues backgrounds to Arararage’s encounters with Oshino Meme.

Third, we have a few additional renditions of the OP/ED music, but on different instruments. If you’ve ever wondered how Nadeko Snake would sound on a music box, here’s your chance. Also in this category is the unforgettable piano rendition of Staple Stable that always seems to make its way softly into the more romantic moments. This alone makes the album purchase worth it.

The final category is what I’d call incidental music: simple tunes that form an aural backdrop to one scene or another, and useful most for recalling those scenes. The music isn’t designed to stand on its own. Most run about a minute and half, are childishly simple, and repetitive. The last track on the second disk, for example could be mapped as something like:

accordian: ____BBBBBBbbbbbbB’B’B’B’B’B’
marimba: __________CCCCCCcccccc

with each letter representing an identical six-second/ 12-note sequence.

If you then replace those instruments with various combinations of tubular bells, marimbas, autoharps, pianos, drums, or their electronic equivalents, you get the pattern for about two thirds of the music on the discs. Nice tracks to build ringtones and time alarms with on your cell phone. Nice background to other things. No thought required.

Conclusion: I like it. I’m glad I bought it. I’m not sure it’s worth buying if you’re not a Monogatari fan. Even the Staple Stable piano cover gains most of its value through its romantic associations.

Girls und Panzer – the anime 1

February 16, 2013

My full collection of commentary on GaruPan can be found in Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, A Study in Command, Girls und Feminism, and the DVD

I was originally going to do a double-feature writeup and compare this program to some other, based on a shared topic or trope or something. I didn’t do it, because from the jaw-dropping pullback at the end of the first episode, to the equally jaw-dropping arrival of the instructor on top of the Headmaster’s Ferrari F-40, to the musical in the snow to the cliff-hanger battle before their spring break, Girls und Panzer is simply incomparable. It may not be high art. It may not be the greatest anime ever written. It is unique. (This is Part 1. Part 2, the exciting finale is here, and Part 3, post season commentary, is here)

I'd like to make my classroom arrivals this dramatic

I’d like to make my classroom arrivals this dramatic

The setup is simple: in a slightly-alternate-history version of our world, small unit tank combat has become a varsity sport for high-school girls. One can see why. Sensha-Dō (戦車-道) is literally the way of the tank, with way (Dō, long o) being used in a philosophical sense, like Tao (the symbols are identical), or like other martial arts (弓道 kyūdō, way of the bow). The localizers saw fit to translate it tankery, probably in parallel with archery, but tankmanship might be a better phrase. What better way to turn young girls into strong, resolute women? Women who are every bit as kawaii as the clatter of a caterpillar tread.

There's nothing cuter than a girl and her tank

There’s nothing cuter than a girl and her tank


TL;DR — Anime I Never Finished

December 19, 2012

This time it’s Eureka Seven (Kōkyōshihen Eureka Sebun, where the first word means symphonic, don’t ask me why). It’s a shounen mecha anime that ran to 40 episodes. I dropped it after three. Twenty-four hundred people rated it 5 out of 5, and only 30 rated it as a 1, so I’m in the minority. It’s just as well that I got out before I had a lot of time invested. I had gotten into the program late, and it turns out that Crunchyroll also dropped it at the end of its run, probably due to licensing requirements.

The “high concept” description might be Evangelion rebellion with mechs on flying surfboards, set on a decayed future Earth. Protagonist is a kid who likes to fly surfboards, has special skills for making mechs work, and is the son of a deceased rebel leader. Gets caught up in the whole fight against an oppressive government thing.

I wasn’t into surfing even back in the Beach Boys era when the music was better, and I have already seen enough Evangelion mechs to last a good while. I won’t miss E7.

TL;DR — Anime I Never Finished

November 30, 2012

For most of my life, when I’ve picked up a book, I finished it, no matter how bad it was. In recent years I’ve gotten less patient with bad writing, and am more willing to abandon a bad book early on. The same holds true for anime. There’s some that are just boring, or bad. I’ll be reporting on some of them from time to time.

We start with Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tenpesuto)
Two factions of a magical clan are fighting in modern-day Japan, each one trying to awaken their respective trees — the Tree of Genesis and the Tree of Exodus — and their battles end up turning most animal life in the area into metallic lawn ornaments. Two friends are allied with one of the factions because they believe the faction can give them information about who killed their sister/girlfriend.

I dropped it after six episodes. It just couldn’t hold my interest. The episodes were scattered, the plot and motivations were opaque, and the characters uninteresting. Mark Twain once wrote a list of the rules of literary art. Number 10 was:

That the author shall make the reader feel a deep interest in the personages of his tale and in their fate; and that he shall make the reader love the good people in the tale and hate the bad ones. But the reader of the “Blast of Tempest” tale dislikes the good people in it, is indifferent to the others, and wishes they would all get drowned together.

He actually said Deerslayer, but that broke the continuity. The same holds true for Blast of Tempest. They could bring in the Tree of Leviticus and I don’t think it would help.

Supporting Characters in Anime

October 29, 2012

Rita Moreno, Helen Hayes, Hattie McDaniel, Elsa Lanchester, Margaret Dumont; Jack Palence, Vincent Schiavelli, Sydney Greenstreet, Thomas Mitchell, Robert Morley, C. Aubrey Smith:

Prisoner of Zenda C. Aubrey Smith counsels younger actor

Prisoner of Zenda
C. Aubrey Smith counsels younger actor

All are instantly recognizable, by name or by face, even though they were never stars. They are the superb actors who played supporting roles, secondary characters, often better than the stars they were supporting. In part it was because of their abilities. In part it was because they were playing people who were interesting characters in their own right. Those of a certain age might not remember right off hand who played “Wild Bill Hickok” in the TV series, but everyone knows that Andy Devine played his sidekick.

It’s the same in anime. While the heroes are driving their mechas, transforming into magical girls, or agonizing over confessions of love, there’s always a supporting character there, to provide key intelligence, to move the plot along, maybe just to vamp till ready. Sometimes it’s a minor part (Fujishima), and sometimes it’s a minor costar with a back-story (Asahina). Herewith, a too-short list of characters I think deserve shows of their own, the way Mary Tyler Moore spun off Rhoda.

Fujishima Maiko (Kokoro Connect):



The class representative. She’s perceptive, supportive, and manipulative. Also yuri. She wants to encourage love matches amongst the students of Class 1-3, and is willing to help others against her own interests. What is her love life like? Who else is calling her for romantic advice? What else is going on around the school that a perceptive Class Representative with police connections might be involved in? (more…)

Another Anime Double Feature 2

October 10, 2012

The anime topic for the week is trust. Last week in Mysterious Girlfriend X, we saw a couple building trust by sharing spit. This week, in Kokoro Connect, we find out about learning to trust people by sharing your bodies. It’s about a group of five HS students (shy, boy-scared Yui, outgoing Iori, mature Inaba are the girls; laid back Aoki and white knight Taichi the boys) who, because of outside intervention, start swapping bodies, giving in to primal urges, and reverting to younger ages. Each of the students has their own secrets and personal traumas and despite the on/off nature of the changes, these start to come out.

The Five Musketeers

The change agent is someone or something called Heartseed. He can take over bodies at will (he regularly takes over their homeroom teacher to explain his latest experiment), and has other powers that become evident throughout the series. We don’t know if he’s an earthly villain, an alien, or an intelligent plant (heartseed is one of the names of Cardiospermum halicacabum, AKA balloon vine)

The body swaps arc takes up the first half of the season. The swaps

Boys will be boys, even when they’re girls

totally move consciousness and memories, so when A is in B’s body, A is still A, including speech and body mannerisms, with no access to any of B’s knowledge.

KC seems to be unique in using this concept as the main storyline. A quick search pulled up references to fewer than ten true body-swap episodes across all of anime (although there is a playlist on YouTube that lists 100 vids, however most are more in the gender-change or video-deleted categories).

The question is, what do you do when you’re in someone else’s body? What might they be doing in, or to, yours? Sometimes it’s useful to have the alternative perspective — when Taichi and Yui swap bodies, he teaches her how not to be afraid of males. The trust issue is highlighted when Inaba (voiced by the incomparable Sawashiro Miyuki) confesses to the group that she worries about being held responsible for a crime one of the others commits while in her body, and that she doesn’t feel she can trust any of them and that she can’t sleep at night for worrying, and that she worries they will reject her when they hear this. The others reaction, after a long dramatic pause, is revealing:

Iori: You’re trying to tell us that…you worry too much?
Yui: I know exactly what you mean, Inaba. Every time Aoki’s been in my body I have to check myself over, and then go through my stuff to make sure nothings been changed.
Aoki: Let’s be clear on this, Inaba. It’s everybody you don’t trust, not just me?
Iori: Lunch break is almost over. Can we talk while we eat?

The end of the first arc is an emotional roller-coaster. Taichi finally tells Iori that he likes her and wants her to be his girlfriend. She tells him she likes him too, at which point Heartseed takes control, tells Taichi the group has become boring and that he wants to liven things up. He then makes Iori throw herself off a bridge. End of episode.

Not exactly a cliff-hanger

In the next episode, Iori is unconscious in the hospital and all the group is there. Heartseed shows up and tells them Iori is going to die and it’s up to them to decide who is going to be inside her body when she does. That turns out to be a lie, but not before we see each one (including Iori, temporarily swapped into different bodies) trying to deal with the emotional and ethical aspects of the problem.


The middle arc is a bit of a disappointment. After Inaba tries to seduce Taichi in the clubroom, and Yui karate-chops a table in half when she catches them, Heartseed tells them he’s changed the rules and now they will be unable to control their innermost desires — the Id has been released. Unfortunately for suspension of disbelief, nothing much happens over the rest of the arc. Instead of normal teenlike reactions — I’d expect sex, drugs, and rock and roll to have a more prominent place — this mini-arc features overeating, and unwillingness to walk very far on a school outing.

It also finds Yui and Inaba hiding out in their bedrooms because they don’t trust their reactions, and they don’t trust their comrades to be able to help them. The friends are able to talk Yui out of hiding, but it takes a confrontation with Heartseed to bring Inaba out, and to have her admit to herself that she’s in love with Taichi, just as Iori is. Iori realizes this almost as soon as Inaba does, and the two agree to be friendly rivals. Yeah, right.

In any event, they survive, and Heartseed tells them that he’s done playing with them and life will be normal from now on.


The final arc is driven by Heartseed 2. Not exactly a different individual, but not the same. With no more information than this, I’m going for Heartseed as an intelligent vinelike plant, either an import from Ceti Alpha 5 or something growing on the wall at Fukushima. Heartseed 2 decides it will be interesting to have them revert back to their childhood selves, not in their current bodies, but in their actual childhood bodies. The opening scene is one of the funniest in the series, with Taichi and Inaba playing parents to preschool Yuri, Aoki, and Iori.

Family outing

The questions here are, who do you trust with your childhood? Which mental state do you trust, today’s or yesterday’s? We see various elements of these questions as four of the five (H2 has told Taichi that he’s exempt, because someone has to keep an eye on the kids, but that he can’t tell anyone, because if he does, the condition becomes permanent, like some fairytale curse).


The ending is only semi-satisfying. H1 saves them from H2, Yui and Aoki decide they really are a couple, Iori and her mother realize they’ve been putting up with idiot men because each thought that’s what the other wanted. And Taichi? Well, in the very last frame, Iori monologues that she isn’t sure she’s really in love with him. But we don’t find out what happens, because the series producers have decided that a good business model is to hold the last four episodes until the BD comes out sometime next Spring.

These two show take very different approaches to the issue of trust. MGX deals with it in a one-dimensional way — who do you trust to stick their…finger…in your…mouth…? KC looks at trust of others when you are vulnerable, a much deeper issue. MGX is a lightweight romantic comedy. KC is weightier overall, but is uneven in execution, and I can’t say I like this new business model, where a major chunk of the story is saved for the BDs, so they can charge Japanese prices for the set. Bakemonogatari is doing the same thing — the original story, plus the three missing Tsubasa Cat episodes, are now available for $150.

Another Anime Double Feature 1

October 3, 2012

Leave it to the Japanese to take a totally weird, off-the-wall concept and turn it into a romance, and that’s the idea behind my next pair of reviews. The two anime are last year’s Mysterious Girlfriend X (which might be subtitled: You can’t get more intimate than this without…kissing), and this summer’s Kokoro Connect (Your body, myself).

Mysterious Girlfriend X is about a high school couple who share their spit, but not in the normal way that I learned to do, sports fans, with a quick game of tonsil-hockey while attempting to steal second base. No, these two pull gobs of spit out of their mouths on their fingers and give them to each other.

Still here? And what does that say about you?

Now, they don’t call it ‘spit’ in the anime. They call it ‘drool’, as in, what runs down your face when you sleep with your mouth open. But we know what it’s really called. The key is, by exchanging spit, they also exchange emotions, even dream content, sometimes actual images. Think of it as a brief, low bandwidth mind meld. Feel better?

Kokoro Connect is about a group of five HS students (three girls and two boys) who, because of outside intervention (exactly who or what is unclear right now), start swapping bodies, giving in to primal urges, and reverting to their younger selves. Each of the students has their own secrets and personal traumas and despite the on/off nature of the changes, these start to come out.

So, what’s the common thread? I’d say it’s trust – how it’s established and how it’s maintained, and how it can break down.

In MGX, the trust part is straightforward — sharing drool, the fact that they can share drool, forms a bond.

That’s not how I learned to do it

The anime starts out with the arrival of transfer student Urabe Mikoto in Tsubaki Akira’s HS freshman class. She’s a standoffish student who spends most of her break time asleep at her desk. One day, Tsubaki comes back to the classroom after the end of school, and finds her still asleep, head on the desk, small puddle of drool by her mouth. He wakes her up and she slopes off home, leaving the drool puddle. And because he’s a male primate of high school age, he sticks his finger in the puddle and tastes it. It’s sweet. A week later, he collapses at school and is taken home with a fever that won’t abate. Urabe comes to visit him, tells him his problem is he’s lovesick and addicted to her drool. She gives him a fingerload, and he recovers immediately. Ever after, they walk home from school together every day, and she gives him a shot of drool.

The rest of the series rings the changes on their relationship, it’s a coming-of-age romance. With spit. Tsubaki is always wondering about their relationship and if it’s working or not. This is a valid question, because it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. They evidently don’t talk on the way home until that last moment when he gets his inoculation and they have a 30-second conversation. Now and again, she will let him hold her hand. They never call each other by their first names, it’s always “Tsubake-kun” and “Urabe”. Their first kiss is put off “until they understand each other better”, i.e. not in this season.

Meanwhile, Tsubaki, being a boy of that age, is looking at other girls, buying girlie magazines, fantasizing, and stumbling into a reignited romance with an old flame. Urabe is always pulling him up short. He buys a magazine because the model on the cover looks like Urabe, and she cuts it into ribbons with the scissors she always keeps stuck in her pants. Always.

A girl never knows when she might need her scissors

Whenever she’s suspicious of Tsubaki, she tastes his drool, and right away knows what’s going on. For example, he has a surrealistic dream of having sex with her in a strange carnival city wearing strange costumes. She tastes his drool the next day (he’s been looking at her funny and won’t say why) and says “I may do that with you some day, but when I do I won’t be wearing a silly hat”. On numerous other occasions she, for various reasons, lets him taste her drool when she’s not wearing any pants, or clothes. He immediately gets an anime nosebleed. Other times he finds himself crying afterwards, because something he has done has made her sad.

Despite him being a bumbler, and her being stand-offish, or maybe because of that, this series works very well as a romantic comedy. The trust element here is that they always know each other’s true feelings, and they always can confirm that the relationship still holds. In the last episode, they hold a spit exchange ceremony at his mother’s graveside. Afterwards, Tsubaki says he’s not sure that sort of thing was appropriate, and Urabe says that it’s OK, because they’re going to be doing a lot of inappropriate things in the future.

Mom, I’d like you to meet my girlfriend. She’s mysterious.

The hard part about watching anime is accepting the initial conditions. Once you can get past the weird, and the anime logic, then the question is simply one of whether or not the series is true to its concept. Quite aside from the strange base concept in MGX, even the first episode raises all kinds of logical questions. Why does Urabe sleep so much? How does such an inexperienced girl (never had a boyfriend) have such a deep understanding of drool? Why does the drool thing work with so few people (there’s a number of subplots I haven’t mentioned). Don’t look at those questions and you’ll feel much better.

Despite all this, Mysterious Girlfriend X is a romantic comedy worth watching (it’s on Crunchyroll), and worth keeping. I plan to order a copy. UPDATE: Mauser, over at Shoplifting in the Marketplace of Ideas does an excellent ep by ep writeup on this series.

Ghost Stories Part 2

September 5, 2012

This is the second of two reviews of anime ghost stories. The first was posted last Wednesday.

Dusk Maiden of Amnesia (黄昏乙女×アムネジア — the first two kanji translate as yellow-dark, AKA twilight, the last two as second-place young girl, which for some reason emphasizes her purity, so maiden, rather than just girl; the X tends to be used as with in the anime titles I’ve seen (although at least one other was translated of), and Amnesia is in katakana, so it’s the English loan word. Her name is Kanoe Yuuko, and she’s a ghost. She died in the school 60 years ago, and cannot remember her former life or the circumstances of her death. She understands happiness (and maybe a little jealousy), but not loneliness or hate or anger, and there’s only two people who can see her.

The essence of the whole program is set up in episode 1, which opens with Okonogi Momoe, the chronologically oldest but emotionally youngest and most enthusiastic of the members of the Paranormal Investigation Club sitting down to write her report. Meanwhile, her teacup gets moved, her purse charm dangles in front of her face, and her report pages fly up and are shuffled by unseen hands. She manages to be looking in the wrong direction every time, and remains oblivious.

Is he sharing deep secrets with the dead?


Ghost Stories Part 1

August 28, 2012

I’m going to try something new here, I’m going to review two anime back to back – anime which share some conceptual relationship – and do a compare-and contrast. To start off with, here’s two anime ghost stories, each with its own special frisson. Dusk Maiden of Amnesia is a happy story on top of a dark story on top of a happy ending. Another is a dark story with an unhappy ending, or maybe just an intermission. As with all horror stories, there will be sudden and unexpected spoilers.

Japanese horror appears to be all about atmosphere, and about the horrors of being alone. Japanese population is shrinking, local governments are merging, people are leaving the countryside for the big cities. Many schools are abandoned, and others are only half occupied. Both these anime are set in run-down schools — Dusk Maiden‘s more than Another ‘s — so presumably many Japanese can resonate with the atmosphere. From what I can tell, most Japanese ghosts are like the one in Another , a disembodied, unidentified bundle of hate and discontent. They can’t be set to rest, only momentarily appeased, or exorcised — think of The Ring.

Think of these two essays as a pub crawl: we’ll start with Another, and end with Amnesia.

Which of these will still be alive when the end credits roll? For that matter, which of these is alive right now?

The Japanese are a sickly race. (more…)

Nisemonogatari – The Anime

July 10, 2012

Nisemonogatari is the sequel to last week’s Bakemonogatari and again it’s a set (in this case a pair) of (mostly) disconnected stories, filled with disconnected events. It is just as clever, funny, erotic, (even more) perverotic, over the top, opaque, and incomplete as the first one. Also gorgeously drawn. As with Bake-, each episode starts with an OP that features the main character of that story. In this case, it’s Ararage’s little sisters: the bigger little sister, Karen (火憐 Fire Mercy) and the smaller little sister, Tsugi (月火 Moon Fire)*, known (in English) as the Fire Sisters. The ED is the same for all. Sadly, none of the music is as good as in Bake-.

Question: If one is an immortal monster, and the other tries to kick your chest out through your spine,
do they still count as sisters?

The common theme in these stories is fakes, and what it means to be a fake. The Fire Sisters are devoted to fighting for justice, but because they are not strong enough to do anything, it’s really just a game, and they are really just fake justice fighters. Then there’s the villain Kaiki. He’s a con man and a fake, as he will readily admit, although he maintains that if a fake is so good you can’t tell it from the real thing, then it’s better than the real thing, because it achieves realness of its own volition. Finally, there is Tsugi-chan, who fills Kaiki’s definition exactly. (more…)

Bakemonogatari – The Anime

July 3, 2012

This is the first of a maddeningly good pair of anime, based on a series of light novels. It is by turns clever, funny, erotic, perverotic, over the top, opaque, and incomplete. Monogatari (ものがたり, also 物語) means tales, or stories, or the story of. It applies both to national epics, like the 650 year old Tale of the Heike, and to modern collections of children’s stories. Here we have Bake (ghost, monster) stories, and later I will talk about Nise (fake) stories. They center on 3rd year high school student Araragi Koyomi, a human who was briefly a vampire and now retains a small amount of superhuman strength, rapid healing, and a vampire servant as a result.

The Bakemonogatari opening is actually from an early chapter of the prequel novel.


Sasameki Koto – The Anime

May 9, 2012

NOTE: If you got here looking for the Miyazaki anime The Wind Rises, it’s because one of the characters in this anime is reading the book. See the trivia note at the very end of this posting. UPDATE July 2014: The three volume manga is now available on Amazon. Buy it. You won’t be sorry.

Sasameki Koto (Whispered Words) is a lightweight, enjoyable, slice of high school girls life anime that faithfully follows the source manga — and that’s the problem. It’s a 13 episode one-shot series from 2009 that covers the first 12 chapters of a 40+ chapter manga. Despite the fact that every episode is exceedingly good, there’s no closure, no resolution, no conclusion.

Ushi and Sumika

The Girls Club

I picked it out of the lineup at Crunchyroll (my latest fad) based solely on the cover art. I had no idea what was good in the offerings, although I knew there were a couple of programs I wasn’t interested in. I was looking for artwork that was realistic, with no mechs, boobs, lolis, or spiky hair (So, why does he even bother to watch anime?). I was hoping for another Hanasaku Iroha, or maybe even another Chihayafuru. What I got was K-On for big kids. The plot is typical anime romance: A loves B but is afraid to declare. B is oblivious and has a crush on C in disguise. C loves A, who exploits the situation. D also loves A, and is horrified to learn about B. E and F are in love. G enjoys hanging out with friends. As you might have already guessed, everybody but C is female, and he’s a cross-dresser. (more…)

Chihayafuru – The Anime

April 6, 2012

What do you call a sports anime with no sports? A romance anime with no romancing? An anime about a family card game usually played only on New Years? Chihayafuru!!*

This is a gorgeous 25 episode series about a group of friends who bond in elementary school and stay emotionally close through high school. The framework is the Japanese card game Karuta (かるた). It’s a game only the Japanese could invent. You have 100 cards, each with a two-verse poem — one verse on the front, one on the back. Fifty of the cards are laid out face down in front of two players. A reader picks a card from another deck at random and reads the first verse. The players vie to pick up and discard the equivalent card, based on having memorized the first lines of each part of the poems. The winner is the first one with no cards. While there is a version of Karuta played by families on New Year’s Day, we are talking here about competitive Karuta. It involves memorizing 100 12th Century poems, then spending your days on your knees on a tatami mat, getting callouses on the tops of your feet and practicing your card-capturing swing. It has to be fast (faster than your opponent), wide-ranging (the card might be on your opponent’s side), precise (pinky on the corner counts), and decisive (blasting away four or five cards is fine, as long as you hit the right one). Think Rocky in a kimono. The Wikipedia entry is here, and this YouTube shows what a real game looks like. (UPDATE: and here’s a better one)

Got all that? Good. Now forget it. Chihayafuru isn’t about Karuta, much, even though it’s all about it. It’s really about the people who play it. (more…)

Anime I’d like to see

April 4, 2012

I recently came across the aniblog site The Untold Story of Altair & Vega*. Among their many interesting colloquia was one on what each of the blog team’s contributors would like to see in a future anime. All of them were original and interesting, and each of them was built around a single anime on a specific topic (Akkadian history, Taisho Tokyo Noir…). I’d like to take a slightly different approach, and talk about what books I think would make good anime. My ground rules are that I will avoid the low-hanging fruit (Pratchett’s Diskworld) or obvious manga (Gallagher’s Megatokyo), or graphic novels (Foglio’s Agatha Heterodyne), and concentrate on the more obscure novels, or novel series. The structure of the story should allow breakup into a 13 or 26 episode anime series, and the audience is towards the adult end of the otaku spectrum. Herewith, in as-it-popped-into-my-head order, is my list:

Glen Cook’s Garrett series. Garrett is a private investigator in the southern hemisphere of a fantasy world, one populated by the usual run of giants and trolls and dwarves…and vampires and pixies and centaurs. If it exists in someone’s fevered fantasy, it lives here and has crossbred with humans and others. Here is a gritty 16th century-style civilization, with beer and carriages and tricorn hats and eyeglasses, but no gunpowder and no steam power. It’s a monarchic aristocracy, and the power behind the throne is the warlocks, who burn silver like it was oil, and promote wars in desert wastelands to obtain it. As usual, power begets corruption, and most of Garrett’s cases deal with the rich and powerful and corrupt. There’s 13 books in the series, and any one of them would make a good single episode, or four episode arc. What with his many girlfriends, it would make a perfect harem/fantasy/detective series.

Wrede and Stevermer’s Sorcery and Cecelia. A standalone novel, with a separate and somewhat less engaging sequel, this started life as a writing exercise — letters between the two protagonists, one in London, the other in The Country. They are two teenage girls, approaching coming-out age, and are caught up in the affairs of wizards, and plots that extend from old country houses to the most modern (for the mid-1800’s) townhomes. The letter format means that the story can be easily broken and assembled at will and still retain the feel of the original, even in a 26 episode season. The girls are both plucky adventuratrix’s, neither of whom needs rescuing thank you very much. The male love interests are both competent and believable, but there is also a beautiful but ditzy older sister and a bratty older brother to provide the comic relief.

Martha Wells’ Death of the Necromancer. Is the second book of a five book semiseries. I call it a semiseries, because the first one is set several hundred years before the second one, and the last three are set several decades after. Think, Stuart, Victorian, and early Windsor London, except that the feel of the place is more like Paris (despite being called Vienne).

C.J. Cherryh’s Rusalka series. Possibly the least known of her series, this is a dark, Russian, tale of three wizards in the shadowy forests north of Great Kiev. One of them is young, and just learning. One of them is old and tired after years of struggle against magical forces. And one of them has been dead for decades. This is, of course, a mere inconvenience for a wizard, much like living two blocks too far off the tramline. It is a handicap which doesn’t, for example, keep him from draining the life from the forest, and marshalling his magical forces to resume his former place in the world.

Mercedes Lackey’s Diana Tregarde series. This series suffered the fate of Firefly back when Joss Whedon was still writing for Roseanne — poorly placed, released out of order — it died the death of inept marketing after only three novels, despite having a large number of fans. As in fanatics. As in fanatical believers in the truth of the backstory. Never mind. It was good. Tregard is a paranormal investigator and “Guardian”, who bumps into things that go bump in the night every time she turns around. She even has a vampire boyfriend, ten years before that became trendy. The series is long enough to support at least a 13 episode season, although it lacks the closure of a final battle. The three main story arcs — evil people killing gypsy children (and the evil people include a sort of Japanese serial soul stealer), ancient Aztec gods trying to make a comeback, high school students playing with evil just for fun — provide a wide range for action. Tregarde is young enough to be youthed up for the mid teen set.

Connie Willis’ To Say Nothing of the Dog. OK, this one is in here just because I’d dearly love to see an anime based on it. Time traveler and cat inadvertently cause rift in the continuity of time. Other time traveler is sent back with the cat to try to fix things. Ends up at an English Country Home of the late 1800’s. With a dog. Great fun. Could be done in multiple drawing forms — Emma, for the Victorian episodes, Ghost in the Shell for the 23rd Century shots, other minor styles for the 1940’s and 1340’s. The protagonist is of college age. The dog and the cat make admirable animal foils. Tocelyn “Tossie” Mering, the flighty contemp, provides plenty of moe.

I am open to further suggestions, not that this entry will be read by anyone in anime authority, or, well…anyone.. for that matter.

*A reference to the Japanese folktale of the lovers Hikoboshi and Orihime, separated by the Milky Way. Their story is celebrated in the July/August festival Tanabata. It features on the first episode of season two of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, Bamboo Rhapsody.

Read or Die Part 2: The TV series

January 7, 2012

As I said in Part 1 (which you should read first), Read or Die (RoD) started out as an anime concept, paused for a light novel, morphed into a manga, then jumped over to the screen by way of an OVA and a 26 part TV series. If you like books, you’ll like ROD.

The TV series is much darker than the OVA. Five years have passed, and much has happened in that time. There was an attack/incident that destroyed the British Library, ending the UK’s power over the world. The Chinese, in the form of the Dokusensha company, are making their own attempt to rule the world through books. Both sides are after a series of seven books with titles like The Book of The All-Seeing Eye.

Bodyguards at work

As often happens in anime, the creators of a sequel try to flip the old series on its head. Things you thought you knew, or assumed, turn out to be wrong. (more…)

Read or Die Part 1: The OVA

January 5, 2012

Read or Die (RoD) is another multimedia franchise. This one started out as an anime concept, paused for a light novel, morphed into a manga, then jumped over to the screen by way of an OVA (Original Video Animation) and a 26 part TV anime series. I haven’t read much of the books/manga (enough to know that the series name stems from an early manga episode), but that doesn’t appear to matter, because only the high concept, and some of the key characters, have been consistent. The stories and backgrounds are all changed at the convenience of the creators. I don’t have much trouble with that in an anime/manga universe — it’s not like it was Lord of the Rings.

The high concept here is that there are people who have special powers, including paper masters, ones who can control paper in the same way that money controls Congress; the British Empire has not fallen, and the real power is deep in the steam-punk depths of the reading room of the British Museum. The paper masters’ skills range from using a business card as an armor-piercing shuriken, to building an origami crane capable of supporting a wingless 747. Because of their affinity with paper, they tend to be in love with books.

Yomiko buys some books

I was going to use some typographical emphasis on “in love with books”, but there aren’t enough font modifiers to get the emphasis up to the right level – even going bold/italics/all caps with interspaced asterisks isn’t enough. Even comic-sans won’t help. (more…)

The Fighting 501st

September 1, 2011

They were a group of young pilots, brought in from all over the world because of their special qualifications, each bearing the name of a famous pilot of the past. Their mission was to defend Earth against the alien invaders. Flying the latest in air to air technology, they hurl themselves against the black ships that have already conquered most of Europa. Their leader is dedicated, but already too old for the stress of combat.

The Neuroi Attack

Black Ships over Europa

From their isolated base off the coast of Brittania, the pilots of the elite 501st Joint Fighter Wing must fight the enemy while they learn their craft and bond as a team. (more…)

Summer Wars, the Anime

August 26, 2011

This is an outstanding movie for the whole family. Summer Wars (サマーウォーズ, the Japanese spelling of the English phrase) combines the family interactions of films like My Neighbor Totoro with the SFnal renderings of the web inspired by books like Neuromancer (only without the books’ grit and crime), and Artificial Intelligence run amuck, as in War Games. The anime plays out on three different levels — the interactions of a big family and its personal networks, the world of the future Internet, and the gaming ethos of people (adults and children) who have grown up playing video games. (1) (2)

Summer Wars

Kenji meets the family

Summary, with spoilers.
Setup: It is the summer of 2010, and Koiso Kenji (your typical anime insecure and clueless HS student, in this case also a math whiz) has been asked to accompany Shinohara Natsuki (good-looking and popular HS girl from an aristocratic family) to her great-grandmother’s 90th birthday. It’s a totally random choice — he was one of two fellow students she came across, and he won the rock/paper/scissors game with his friend. Natsuki’s hidden agenda, which forms a short story arc, quickly disposed of, is to present him to her grandmother and family as her college-student fiancée. The reason is she is afraid her great-grandmother will die soon, and wants to have her meet a fiancée before that happens.

Moshidora, The Anime

July 8, 2011

Moshidora, more properly Moshi Kōkō Yakyū no Joshi Manager ga Drakkā no “Management” o Yondara, or “What If a Female Student Manager of a High School Baseball Team Reads Drucker’s Management?” is about…well, read the title again.

This is a replacement for an earlier post, now that I’ve watched all ten episodes. As I said originally, I like it, but not so much because of the baseball as because of how they try to bend traditional baseball concepts and traditional management concepts so that they overlap.

Baseball and Management

I mean, baseball and management theory. What’s not to like?

Highschool Of The Dead, the DVD

June 30, 2011

So, my HOTD DVD came last week, and I spent the weekend watching the whole thing in one go — MJ was on a trip, so I didn’t have to waste time discussing the fine line between connoisseurship and perversion. Then I watched it again, dubbed in English rather than subbed. Consider this an update on my previous post (which you really should read first), now that I’ve been able to take a closer look.

JASDF RF4C flyby

My kind of fanservice

The Re-Review
The re-look confirms my first impression, that the fanservice is more silly than offensive — and removing the lens-flare didn’t really do much. I do have to back off a little on my position that otherwise it was a well-told story. In fact there are some flaws. But most of the flaws are inherent in the anime genre, and overall, it’s a reasonably well-told story, too violent for the under-15s (they might not agree), and too boobish for anyone over 25 not living in their mom’s basement.

Kanon 2002, the original anime

June 17, 2011

I have always said that Kanon is my favorite anime. That’s Kanon 2006. I just came across an online set of the Kanon 2002 episodes. Very weird. They are the same, yet very different. Evidently, Key, the company that owns Kanon, licensed it to Toei Animation, who produced K2. Later, Key decided it was worth expanding on (or realized could be improved), and hired Kyoto Animation to do a remake. K6 was quite different, but I’m not sure it was a total improvement. This review assumes you have watched K6, and won’t mind the fact that it is riddled with spoilers. I mean real spoilers. To misquote Terry Pratchett, “all spoilers is spoilers, but some spoilers is spoilers“.

So, we begin. The artwork in K6 is obviously better. The art in Kanon 2002 is very 80’s looking, like, say Macross — very simple lines, not much in the way of background art, crude animation. Part of the crude look might come from watching a low resolution source, but the character art is still cartoony. Yuuichi, in particular, looks like something you would find in an art school ad — “Draw this Anime Boy!”


Highschool of the Dead (HOTD) – the anime and manga

February 18, 2011

What on earth am I doing writing about this kind of thing, a high school horror “fanservice” title, with zombies? Not only that, but doing it from scanlations of the manga, and unofficial YouTube subs of the anime? Well, yes, it is all of those genres, with all the clichéd flaws of all of those genres, but you know what? At some level, darn it, it’s a pretty good story — although the unrelenting gore and death make it not suitable for those under, say, 16, and the unrelenting fanservice makes it less interesting for those over, say, 20.


As stated, it’s a high school horror flick, except that only the first part takes place inside the school, but it’s about high school students, so it has that going for it. It’s a zombie flick, with some speculation that the instant, world-wide plague is a failed biowarfare scheme. And it’s fanservice-heavy. So let’s get that part of things out of the way early. Yes, there’s fanservice there, complete with bouncing sound effects. Yes, it’s over the top (leading one reviewer to describe it as a “fanservice train wreck”). Remember the dodge-the-bullet scene from The Matrix? Replace Keanu Reeves with boobs. If you don’t like fanservice, stop reading now and save your time, then go buy Girl Who Leapt Through Time and save some money. (more…)

Taisho Baseball Girls, the anime

December 23, 2010

Or, as the original Japanese has it, Taisho Baseball Daughters. It’s a light, twelve episode anime based on a series of light novels (which evidently haven’t been released in the US). The target audience is reportedly Seinen, or YA boys. I am not sure I’d agree. This is a girls sports anime all the way. Sure, there are boys, but the girls have to play somebody. I liked it, even though it was too sugary-sweet in places. This would make a great Disney movie, if only they could get a dog into it. (more…)