February 02, 2004

Kita He: Diamond Dust Drops Episode 1

Kita He: Diamond Dust Drops

"Hakodate - Akanegi Atsuko - Part I"

The first thing that struck me, watching this show, is how incessantly grating and annoying Atsuko's voice is whenever she raises it. It's almost as though her seiyuu was instructed to give the most obnoxious performance she could muster, and came through. It's not always terrible, but when it is, it really sticks out.

On the bright side, the first character we're introduced to (presumably the main female character of the show) isn't your typical submissive anime female! (On the downside, it does mean that she's more or less your typical tomboy anime female. You can't have everything.) It's a refreshing change, though, and much of what happens in the episode draws from the fact that she has a backbone, is independent, and stands up for herself.

Another thing that sticks out--and this one's good--is the music. There are three or four very good tunes in this first episode, and they go a long way to completing the scenes they show up in. The animation is also quite good, though the style of some of the character designs doesn't really appeal to me (I feel like the faces have a bizarre extra "chunk" in them).

The story follows Atsuko, who has had a difficult childhood, filled with many hardships. She hasn't had much time to experience life like a normal person, and she resents that. On top of that, her living situation is somewhat precarious, running a fish shop with her mother, and it seems she wants to experience love, but is unfortunately already betrothed. Because she's spent so much time just getting by, she's confused about what she wants in her life, and events that are beyond her control aren't giving her time to try and figure it out.

So far, not your archtypical romantic drama, so it gets points for that. Interesting main character, good animation, good music. Outlook positive.

Rating: B

Posted by Kei at 12:30 AM | Comments (1)

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi Episode 1

Magical Shopping Arcade Abenobashi

"Mystery! - Abenobashi Shopping Arcade"

Holy cow! Is this actually a TV series? The animation quality is incredible. It's Gainax, so that's not too surprising, but throughout the entire episode, I was pretty amazed by how solid the production values were.

Those first two sentences might also be a good way to describe my impression of the plot so far. There's a frame of a plot introduced in this first episode, but what its relation to the actual story of this show is beyond me. Having just watched FLCL, there's a definite similarity in how the story is being told seemlingly without feeling it necessary to actually clue the viewer in. "Trust us," it seems to say.

It's not the best way to sell a show, especially if a person is going to base whether or not they will continue to watch based on it. In all honesty, I'd be very mixed about continuing with this show (other than the fact I'll watch more for the sake of reviewing). There's some interesting stuff, but you start wondering how much of what you'll watch in the future will just be weird or insane or incomprehensible, and how much will be some actual content.

Rating: B-

Posted by Kei at 01:41 AM | Comments (2)

Fullmetal Alchemist Episode 16

Fullmetal Alchemist

"Lost Thing"

I didn't think Mustang was that great at first, but ever since they made him act randomly psychotic, he's become my favorite character in the show.

I had two comments in my review of the last episode of Fullmetal Alchemist. The first was that I wanted to see how the various characters reacted to everything Ed said at the end of the episode (letting all that dirty Ishbal information out). Well, the answer to that one was... not much.

The other thing I said was that I anticipated a few cooldown episodes in the near future. What I meant to say, of course, by "near future" was "the next episode". So here it is. Some really non-plot-essential stuff happens in this episode. Most of it is character development by a bunch of random strangers, who (hopefully) will become important at some point. I hope this is true, and an episode wasn't wasted introducing this group of minor characters who serve no purpose other than to make Ed .1% more mature.

I guess the lost thing is how to make a good episode!

Rating: C

Posted by Kei at 02:45 AM | Comments (1)

February 03, 2004

Fullmetal Alchemist Episode 17

Fullmetal Alchemist

"The House Where the Family Waits"

Ahh, my favorite animeism pops up in this episode:

"We've got to keep moving forward."

This episode was better than the last, but we're sort of in a lull between plots right now, so everything's moving a bit slowly. On the plus side, the music in this episode was exceptional, and a lot more noticable than usual. There were at least three or four very good different songs sprinkled throughout.

Winry makes another appearance in this episode, and it appears that putting Al into the armor has some negative side effects (particularly his memory). This episode is kind of strange though. It's obviously trying to be touching and all that, but it almost feels like it was done just for the sake of being sentimental. There's some humor too, and it's all entertaining, it just doesn't sell it 100%.

Rating: B

Posted by Kei at 11:51 PM | Comments (1)

February 04, 2004

Noir Episode 1

Noir

"Maidens with Black Hands"

Excellent. The first non-narration line is some lovely, lovely Engrish. And we're off!

Like in .hack, at times in Noir, Yuki Kajiura's superb score takes over the anime. It's so present at times, that when it isn't there, you're sort of wondering what sort of plot or dialogue is going to go by until it comes back (signaling story movement).

Noir has many strong suits. Along with Kajiura's music, the animation is very good, art top notch, and action extremely stylistic. The first half of this episode shows all four of these things going together perfectly, with a great gunfight sequence. Unfortunately, after the eyecatch, we lose action, and the show seems to almost slow to a crawl. The music is still there, but the spacing between dialogue seems to expand, and we get those lovely anime dramatic pauses (i.e. pause and pan the camera around an unimportant part of the scene).

When all the good parts of the show came together in the first half, it was great. It remains to be seen if the non-action segments can keep my attention.

Rating: B+

Posted by Kei at 11:39 PM | Comments (3)

February 06, 2004

Noir Episode 2

Noir

"Daily Bread"

Ever since the first time I saw a TV show which used a stock intro, I've disliked it. For anime, it began with the first series I ever watched, Record of Lodoss War. Unfortunately, after two episodes of Noir, it seems like this is another one of them. It's the sort of thing that makes you want to give the fast forward button some work.

If there's one thing about Noir that it really shines in (and there are a few of these), it's the show's use of color. From scene to scene, the art is incredibly good, really fleshing out each shot. Purple really stands out, from the muted, romantic colors of sunset, to cold, lifeless rooms.

Also, as I touched on in my last review, this show is all about style. The various action sequences all play out in superb fashion, and it seems like attention was paid to the style of each and every frame of this episode.

Not really sure where the overall story of this show is going (this is another one-shot, it seems), but the characters are interesting, even if we don't know much about them. Mireille is very visually striking, and her heartless approach to her job as an assassin really contrasts her "normal" self, and even her outward appearance. On the other hand, Kirika acts very subdued, with a palpable sadness as she goes about Noir's business.

This is good stuff, and easy to watch (action, style, little plot). I'm looking forward to more.

Rating: A-

Posted by Kei at 12:21 AM | Comments (0)

February 07, 2004

Noir Episode 3

Noir

"The Assassination Play"

Another mission for the Angels (of Death) in this episode of Noir. However, this time, something doesn't go quite right. Their identites get blown slightly in this episode, which really isn't too surprising. I mean, how secret can you be when the people who hire you know how to contact you easily, and know your targets? I have to imagine at some point someone's going to figure out.

Anyways, this episode felt like a bit of a let down after the first two. There's not too much story advancement, and the action seems to be a little less tense and interesting as in the first two. The story's sort of stuck in neutral right now. This is that part of most shows where the audience is supposed to get use to the "normal" grind of the show, before the real story (or stories) begins.

It's hard to say much more about this episode other than it felt really average. It's probably not a good sign that on the third episode, I already have an impression as to what an average installment of Noir is.

Rating: B

Posted by Kei at 10:32 PM | Comments (1)

Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien Episode 12

Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien

It's amazing how quickly Shinji went from being the okay one of the group to being the real screwed up one. I actually liked him for a while there, because he didn't show any of the problems the other three were having, but after his little rant in this episode, he's shot way up to the top of the disliked list (knocking Mitsuki down to second, though she helped her own cause with finally talking to Narumi at the beginning of the episode).

Obviously it's all their faults (except for Haruka, who couldn't do much about being hit by a car), but Shinji's taking the easy way out and blaming it on Narumi. Let's not forget, he didn't really have a good excuse for sleeping with Mitsuki. After all, he's got a girl, has a job (though apparently he's been secretly repressing desperate romantic feelings for Mitsuki).

If there's a bright side to the fight between Shinji and Takayuki, it's that maybe physical force can do what sex, whining, and tears couldn't do to make Takayuki actually do something for a change.

Rating: A-

Posted by Kei at 10:58 PM | Comments (0)

Da Capo Episode 05

Da Capo

"I'm a Maid, So..."

This is not a good show. It's like its target audience is older teens, but it's written and created like a show for kids. Anyways, this is your standard issue maid-testing episode. Maid shows up, needs a place to live, of course wants to live with our female-burdened hero. The maid is, of course, grossly unqualified to be a maid, but aforementioned tries his hardest to help the maid pass the arbitrary tests she's been given. Of course, in the end, everything works out for the best.

On the plus side of this fluff show, the cute art style works pretty well. It's amusing to see Junichi go through his various poses and actions, and the show is fast-moving enough (not to mention short enough) to be watchable, even if it isn't very good.

Rating: C+

Posted by Kei at 11:18 PM | Comments (0)

February 08, 2004

Noir Episode 4

Noir

"The Sound of Waves"

After finishing this episode, the only thing that really came to mind is, "huh?" As in:

"Huh, how could they have fit so little actual stuff into an episode."

or

"Huh, did something happen just now?"

This appears to be another one of those episodes where nothing really important happens. I really hate those episodes. On top of that, all the possible action sequences (how exactly does Kirika manage to get to the president of the company, for example) get glossed over.

All the various "plot" elements of this episode are pretty unimpressive, also. What the heck is this place? Why are our heroines here? Did we really have to introduce a new setting to try and drive home the fact that someone has a disturbing amount of information about them?

Why should I care?

Rating: C

Posted by Kei at 05:48 PM | Comments (0)

Kita He: Diamond Dust Drops Episode 2

Kita He: Diamond Dust Drops

"Hakodate - Akanegi Atsuko - Part II"

There's a lot to be learned about love from this show. First of all, you don't impress girls by showing off the vast amounts of power you can bring to bear upon tracking her down, and finding out about people's pasts. (Especially when said guys pull up in a black car with heavily tinted windows wearing big, blocky sunglasses.) Girls find it kind of... freaky. And not the good freaky.

Diamond Dust Drops also wins the award for one of the weirdest character/voice actor pairups I've seen lately. Nothing like the old, gray-haired, fragile-looking barkeep to sound like a Japanese James Earl Jones.

So this two episode arc of Diamond Dust Drops explains why arranged marriages are bad, why an older man in love with jazz could never love a girl and about how a pretty girl who doesn't dress well can never make it in love.

I really don't know about this show. It was kind of interesting, but there didn't seem to be any point to this first story. I like the fact that the story ends at a different conclusion than most romantic anime, but with just two episodes, it all feels very shallow. It's pretty average, when it comes down to it.

Rating: C+

Posted by Kei at 09:12 PM | Comments (0)

Fullmetal Alchemist Episode 18

Fullmetal Alchemist

"Marco Note"

Finally, some more information about the Philosopher's Stone (I wonder if they'll change it to "Sorceror's Stone" for American audiences?) for Ed. It's really not that surprising to find out that it isn't a happy lollipop, or something like that. I mean, after all, the red water, which was the closest thing to the Philosopher's Stone, caused all sorts of trouble just when people were in the general vicinity of it.

Fullmetal Alchemist has a unique character art style, which generally looks pretty good. Unfortunately, it makes female characters look really masculine, in general. It probably has something to do with how the faces are stretched out a bit (not to mention all the severe haircuts the female military-types have). It's not all bad, though, I seem to recall that Roze looked fine in the first episode.

Gluttony is really a disturbing character, with that helium-squeaky voice and crazy proportions (not to mention the whole cannibal thing), so I always like when he appears. Also, we get some amusing Mustang/Hughes over-the-phone interaction.

On the other hand, the pacing of this show really irritates me. It's got a long run projected, so they take their sweet time in giving you any sort of information. Luckily, it's pretty good at entertaining you in the meanwhile, like with Ed suggesting he'll transmute the ashes of the library, then all the ashes blowing away in the wind.

Overall, this show is still entertaining, but when you look at it episode by episode, it's hurt by just how drawn out it is.

Rating: B+

Posted by Kei at 10:35 PM | Comments (1)

February 09, 2004

Noir Episode 5

Noir

"Les Soldats"

I haven't mentioned one of the problems with Noir before, and I probably shouldn't go farther without saying something. Noir unabashedly reuses little scenes throughout the series. More than that, sometimes you'll see the same scene multiple times within the same episode. Mireille as a little girl is the most egregious offender (which appears twice in its entirety in this episode alone).

But it wouldn't be anime without excessive flashbacks, would it?

Either way, when the animation isn't being reused, it sure does look great.

Five episodes of loyal readership, and we're not much closer to finding out anything about the big mystery of this show. Well, we are given the name of the group that is trying to kill our lovable heroines, but not much else. There's obviously some sort of long history at work behind their motivation, but we're not privy to anything about that yet.

This episode, the enemy (Les Soldats!) does some more to prove that they're hunting after Noir, which forces Kirika and Mireille to do some legwork, which involves shooting some people and some other mildly interesting things. This show feels like it could be really good if it had any sort of plot or character development. We're acclimated to the show, okay? Can we please get on with it?

Rating: B-

Posted by Kei at 08:21 AM | Comments (1)

Read or Die TV Episode 1

Read or Die TV

"...And the Paper Fluttered Down"

I was lucky enough to have seen a panel at AnimeExpo two years ago with the creators of the Read or Die OAV series. One thing that struck me, other than their exuberant insanity, was how typically male-minded they were. They spoke at some length about the various female characters' bust sizes, and how they seemed to grow throughout the series. I got the feeling that their original vision (crazy, over-the-top action anime, with this unique book-loving female heroine), was sort of co-opted by horny, lustful adolescent desire.

It certainly seems to show in this first episode of the TV series, where many of the shots are framed with the express intent of being fanservicey. This is in addition to the other more normal fanservice.

Of course, that just means that not much changed. Which is true about many of the other parts of the show. Much of Taku Iwasaki's music is reused (two or three tracks in this one episode), and the art style is similar (but not nearly as high in production values). We've got our paper-users, though the ways they use paper are exponentially more insane then Yomiko did in the OAV. Somehow, creating a huge bird out of paper to take over control of a plane seems more far-fetched than a weird steampunk flying suit. Call me crazy.

The sheer insanity of what the paper sisters do is so reality-stretching, that it makes it extremely hard to take the show seriously (which at times it really seems like you're supposed to). After all, let's face it, we're talking about guys who want to kill authors who are being defended by "biblio-maniacs" who can make things out of paper (shields, swords, parachutes, etc.). Somehow, and I haven't quite put my finger on it, the TV show is not selling the premise as well as the OAVs. Maybe it just needs a few more episodes.

Rating: B

Posted by Kei at 11:29 PM | Comments (2)

February 11, 2004

Kita He: Diamond Dust Drops Episode 3

Kita He: Diamond Dust Drops

"Kitami - Shiraishi Karin - Part I"

This show is just more evidence that anime creators have no idea what "style" really is. You have this really serious, dramatic romantic series, and you give it the most ridiculous candy pop intro song with the characters bouncing around and generally being happier than you'll ever see them in the show.

Some other things of note. I commented earlier about how I thought the music for this show was really good, but this must (sadly) be qualified. There only seems to be two or three actual tracks of music (and two of them sound very similar).

Also, I'm not sure if the Hokkaido tourism board somehow invested in this particular series, but there's definitely a "check out how cool Hokkaido is" vibe to the whole show. Not a bad thing, especially if you're interested in what Hokkaido is like, taking a vacation there, or something.

On to the new story! We're introduced to a new girl in Hokkaido, and this one's stuck in a hospital living out the dream of being Meg Ryan in You've Got Mail (what, you didn't have dreams like that?). Unfortunately, her voice actress isn't the greatest, and is really unconvincing in some scenes, which takes away from pretty much everything dramatic about the episode.

Do we really need to hear the diamond dust explanation again?

Oh, don't read this next paragraph if you don't want to see a spoiler of some sort (that you really, really should have figured out yourself).

Okay, well, someone is mysteriously sending Karin fan mail that seems bizarrely topical. Gee, could it be the new intern who has a barely-disguised romantic interest in her? We don't know for sure, but let's just say it's a stone cold, lead pipe lock. And, it's not subtle at all. You suspect from pretty much the first letter she gets.

This show seems to have two intents. First, to educate you about Hokkaido. The other, to glorify the courtship between young girls and older men. (I wonder what's on the creators' minds?) I feel bad, because it's obvious this show is trying really hard! The only problem is that the sum total of all its parts is not very good at all.

Maybe story arc three (two episodes away) will be better.

Rating: C

Posted by Kei at 01:45 AM | Comments (1)

Read or Die TV Episode 2

Read or Die TV

"Hopeless People Unite!"

I think I've nailed what makes the TV series (so far) less appealing to me than the OAV series. In the OAV series, it was all about style. Nancy fighting, the slick animation, everything. In the TV series, style is ditched for a lot more, straight-up, over-the-top action.

That's just a basic level complaint. So far, after watching two episodes of this show, I'm turned off by the fact that the four main characters (paper sisters and Nenene), are just not very likable. The paper sisters are so stupidly clueless (and bumbling), that I really can't sympathize with them. I do sympathize with Nenene, but she's well-portrayed as an annoying celebrity. That's cool, but I still don't like her.

I hope someone can explain to me exactly what the red/pink color ovals underneath the eyes is supposed to indicate. It'll probably increase my appreciation of this show at least tenfold.

Storywise, this episode is kinda light on plot, just trying to be funny with the paper sisters' inability to do anything right, and generally annoy Nenene. It's only a little funny, and it's honestly painful to see how useless they are.

More action!

Rating: B-

Posted by Kei at 11:04 PM | Comments (7)

February 15, 2004

Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien Episode 13

Kimi Ga Nozomu Eien

It probably goes without saying that this was another gut-wrenching episode of Kiminozo. Now that Haruka is awake (again), she's told that Mitsuki was pretty serious with Takayuki in the three years Haruka was in a coma. Having just broken off the relationship, she's rather flippant about the whole thing (which really seems to irritate Haruka), and ushers in a whole new set of depressing circumstances.

On the plus side, it looks like Takayuki might finally be ready to do something, rather than let everything that's going on around him carry him along. That would be a really welcome change, and definitely make him a more sympathetic character (though I'll believe it when I see it).

You know this'll be a good episode because it features extended conversation with my favorite red-haired nurse. She really serves the purpose of telling Takayuki what everyone who has been watching the show has been screaming at him all along, and it seems to set him down the path to his epiphany.

This is the second to last episode of this show, so I'm guessing the brakes are off this coaster until the end. Is there any chance for Mitsuki, Takayuki, Haruka, Shinji and Akane to find happiness?

Rating: A

Posted by Kei at 11:19 PM | Comments (0)

February 16, 2004

Fullmetal Alchemist Episode 19

Fullmetal Alchemist

"The Genuine Truth Behind Truths"

The last few episodes of Fullmetal Alchemist were good, but not great, so I was getting a little concerned about the show. Luckily, we get a good one with nineteen, with lots of over-the-top action (some of it silly, but in a good way).

Any episode of this show that doesn't fall into the pattern it established in the beginning (and in its defense, it has moved away from that lately) is a good one. Even better when the episodes are not self-contained, allowing more in depth plot development and action.

As it turns out, there's more to the Philosopher's Stone mystery than just what Dr. Marco's writings revealed. There's obviously some conspiracy going on here, and Ed and Al haven't given up hope that the stone will still be the answer to their problems.

This is probably the best show this season, so you should definitely be watching it.

Rating: A

Posted by Kei at 10:13 PM | Comments (0)

February 17, 2004

eX-Driver Episode 1

eX-Driver

"AI vs Recipro"

Cute high school girls driving fast cars. Can't go wrong with that setup, right?

Kosuke Fujishima's art style is immediately obvious in the character designs for eX-Driver (really unique looks, pretty girls, all that goodness). The art direction is really good, and goes well with the souped up cars and futuristic style of the show. Lorna and Lisa go through a lot of the classic Fujishima character expressions, so fans should feel right at home.

From reading some of Fujishima's manga and watching YUA and AMG, it's really obvious that he is a huge car nut. Detailed drawings between chapters in AMG, the upgrade-happy drivers of YUA, and finally this, a show set in a future where people no longer drive their own cars, leaving it up to AI and a large, connected traffic system. The eX-Drivers are sent in to handle situations in which cars malfunction or drive hazardously. There's some pretty neat car tricks in the two car chases in this episode, and all in all, it's a pretty fun show.

Light on substance, but good animation and fast pacing makes it an easy watch.

Rating: B

Posted by Kei at 11:51 PM | Comments (0)

February 18, 2004

Noir Episode 6

Noir

"Lost Kitten"

From the moment Mireille says that it should be an easy job, you know all manner of things are going to go wrong.

The real downside of shows that move as slowly as Noir is that sometimes you're given so much time between things happening, you can more or less guess what happens next. Anything from a facial expression to an actual line of dialogue, it's all so predictable that I found myself saying lines and guessing a character's reactions before they actually managed to play out on the screen.

We get a little bit of character development for Kirika in this episode, but otherwise this is another throwaway one. Not just for plot, but for general enjoyment as well. How exciting do you think assassinating an old man who's about to die of natural causes is, anyways?

I don't know much about being a professional assassin (my experienced derived from watching Rurouni Kenshin... okay, maybe a few more pop culture references, also), but I have to assume that making any sort of emotional connection with your target only makes it more difficult.

Oh, and nothing really goes wrong. It was an easy job, after all.

Rating: C-

Posted by Kei at 12:42 AM | Comments (0)