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Winter 2014 anime and drama picks January 16, 2014

Posted by ayasawada in Anime, Drama.
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I’ve a long overdue 2013 review post in the works, but in the meantime, I’ve been working my way through the fresh season of anime and drama offerings. I have to be honest, the Fall 2013 season was nice but a bit meh in terms of my viewing, with only the spectacularly good Ando Lloyd really doing it for me (will try and write a separate post on that sometime). But the Winter roster looks good. This is what I think I’ll be picking up.

Anime

1. Nisekoi

Of the clutch of first episodes I watched, this is hands down the one that impressed me most. I was always going to watch this  because SHAFT. But besides the studio’s pedigree for inventive, playful visuals, direction and scripts that don’t take themselves too seriously, it’s been a while since I’ve watched a romcom anime. This looks like it’ll fit nicely.

2. Gin no Saji season 2

Looks to have picked up with the same quality from where it left off. I miss Miwa’s OP though.

3. Chuunibyou demo Koi Shitai! Ren

Follow-up to one of my anime of 2012. There was no way I wasn’t going to watch this.

4. Kill la Kill (continuation)

Into its second cour and still a rollercoaster ride.

5. Nobunaga the Fool

Trust Shoji Kawamori to come up with a wacky sci-fi mecha anime ‘reimagining’ historical figures in an inventive ‘East meets West’ space opera. Visuals look good, characters seem interesting, story has intriguing possibilities (particularly with the historical figures histories setting up an element of dramatic irony). I’m up for this.

6. Space Dandy

Hyped up like hell and a little underwhelming so far. But it’s Shinichiro Watanabe so I’ll stick.

7. Wake Up, Girls!

Realistic(ish) anime about a dying talent agency making one last attempt to save themselves through an idol group pulling together against the odds? Sure, I’ll bite.

8. Noragami

Wasn’t really sure what to expect from this, but the wacky concept, fun characters and good visuals should be enough to keep me casually watching.

That’s actually quite a lot. Realistically I’ll only have time to watch 5 or 6, so it may well be that the last two trail off into the land of the spare-time catch-up marathon.

Drama

In keeping with my ‘at least one drama a season for nihongo listening practice’ I have four I’m interested in, but realistically only time for one or two. I’m pretty sure one’s going to be Watashi no Kirai na Tantei because I love Goriki Ayame and Tamaki Hiroshi and this sounds pretty fun. Along similar lines, Senryoku Gai Sousakan also seems fun and has the Takei Emi factor. If I get time, Shitsuren Chocolatier and Yoru no Sensei may also be worth following (though I might just save up eps to watch on a rainy day sometime).

All in all, that’s a lot to get me through the cold, dark, poor winter months and post-Xmas, post-Japan blues. The question is: what are you watching?

Summer 2013 anime retrospective October 6, 2013

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With the autumn season now underway, and in the spirit of every other anime blog, a few thoughts on what I’ve been watching anime-wise these past few months:

Shingeki no Kyojin

Ok, so this was the second cour of 2, but finishing over the summer Attack on Titan maintained its ridiculous consistency and went beyond. Hands down the best anime of the year unless something miraculous pops up. A rich fantasy world of the future full of ingenious storytelling, epic cliffhangers, interesting, morally-dubious characters, and epic debates over morality, humanity, survival, family, friendships, duty and honour. I spent every week with my heart in my mouth – that is if it weren’t agape at the show’s (or rather Hajime Isayama, the original manga-ka’s) ability to keep surprising us every week. Matched by an outstanding soundtrack and a dynamic use of CG for the manoeuvre gear scenes, this is anime at its best. Phenomenally popular, and rightly so, if only we didn’t have to wait for a season two.

Kaminomi zo Shiru Sekai – Megami-hen

Now this was a surprise. Having not got around to reading the manga, I still thought of this series as a light-hearted harem take on otaku gamer culture. I loved the first two shows but hadn’t expected this level of depth in character, intrigue and plot for something that’s essentially about pursuing a different girl every few episodes. Having read around on the subject, I now realise how loved this arc is – and with good cause. Kudos to manga author Tamiki Wakaki for taking what was surely envisaged as a throwaway concept and making it that much deeper. Revisiting seven of Katsuragi’s most famous conquests is a genius idea, and forcing him to deal with the consequences of love – as the one person who really cannot forget any conquests – on top of the life and death deadline situation, really keps me coming back week to week. Great music and balance of humour and drama/romance, this was perfect summer viewing.

Gatchaman Crowds

I think Asobi over at Random Curiosity pretty much nails it: this was an inspired mess. I LOVED it. Right from the get go with its colourful, atypical animation, funky electrobeat soundtrack and the tour de force that is Hajime, you just didn’t know what to expect (and even if you did, it certainly wasn’t Gatchaman as we knew it). Yet as the series went on that mess started to show thoughtful, inventive ideas on the nature of the modern world, politics, democracy, communication, social media, anonymity and community, as well as the nature of ‘heroes’ in a world where everyone is less thoughtful about their actions. Sure, it was all a bit rushed and nonsensical in the 12 short episodes we had, but it did enough to make you think – and keep us entertained. Even if it didn’t quite hang together (particularly the confusing final episode) it had tremendous moments of cool and GAR (exhibit A: the penultimate episode’s Gatcha-team-up). I’ll take one of this kind of show over a dozen generic anime in a season.

Gin no Saji

I can’t believe this was only 11 episodes. A wonderful bit of NoitaminA programming from the author of Full Metal Alchemist. This was a fantastic slice-of-life tale of an agricultural school in Sapporo, finding one’s dream and the reward of good hard work, while all the while teaching you about farming and where your food comes from. Valuable knowledge for the modern man, woman, boy and girl, served with oodles of humour, great characters and heartfelt moments, this was another perfect summertime show. Thankfully the manga is ongoing and a second season planned for next year. Pork bowl!

Overall, this was a way better summer season than usual. More often than not, summer is full of short throw-away entertainment shows that give you a warm feeling but don’t generally change your life.  I think this season (at least from the four I watched) was the season of ideas and inspiration, mixed in with top-notch entertainment.

2012 anime retrospective December 30, 2012

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Hyoka
Another year, another great batch of anime watching. Despite my ‘cutting down’ due to time constraints, I still ended up watching over 20 shows this year, not to mention the odd OAV, movie, drama, live-action adaptation etc. etc. As I rarely get a chance to blog on a series’ end, I thought it might be fun to follow many other blogs’ lead and gather my thoughts in retrospect. (more…)

Japanese film at #LFF 2012 October 21, 2012

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The 2012 BFI London Film Festival is nearly over and as usual there were more interesting films than one could possibly see/afford. So as usual, I made an effort for the Asian ones. Because of scheduling and budget, I ended up picking 4 Japanese films, but was overall very pleased with my choices.

Helter Skelter

A thought-provoking and incredibly well acted, if deeply deeply disturbing (in a very Sono Sion way), take on the Japanese model industry and the lengths to which people go for fame and  beauty. I hadn’t realised Helter Skelter was based on a manga, though that partly explains why it interested me. Overly stylish, though not as much as Director Mika Ninagawa’s earlier feature Sakuran, and suffering from Lord-of-the-Rings-style over-endings syndrome, but absorbing nonetheless. Erika Sawajiri gives an absolute knockout performance in the lead role.

Wolf Children (Okami Kodomo Ame to Yuki)

Mamoru Hosoda‘s latest effort and the sole anime offering in the LFF this year. I have to admit, I was a little underwhelmed by Summer Wars and when I first heard the story of Okami Kodomo it sounded a bit meh. I was pleasantly proved wrong. From the stunningly animated opening this is captivating from start to finish. As with all Hosoda’s previous films, the fantasy element is almost totally irrelevant; the real focus is the very human drama – in this case the perils of growing up and single parenthood. As always, Hosoda, as writer and director,  captures this, particularly the little life moments, so very very well. Yet what impressed me most is the character development – every character goes through a genuine arc of transformation leaving you with a lump in your throat as you follow them through hardship and relief along their life journey.

I have a feeling the ending isn’t going to stay with me as much as Toki wo Kakeru Shojo, but the film certainly will.

For Love’s Sake (Ai to Makoto)

Takashi Miike, you’ve done it again. Another (slightly baffling) cult classic with plenty of charm. This is the tale of two high school kids literally from opposite ends of the social spectrum, and what all of us will do ‘for love’s sake’. I love musicals, manga adaptations, Japanese music and weird Japanese humour (especially ones bookended by anime scenes), so I was guaranteed to love this, though I didn’t expect to be moved by it.

It’s not perfect by any stretch, mind. It’s based on a slightly off the cuff manga so the characters are pretty one-dimensional (though in a comedy, and one with so many characters, this works in its favour). Moreover, you can’t shake the impression that the film has cut the story a little short from the original manga. It’s a shame characters like Gumko never get fully realised, but there’s surely more to Makoto’s story than just ‘he wanted to save his Mum’. His father isn’t mentioned much and we never really know why his family fell into such disarray – I can only conclude that ‘the person he wants revenge on’ is actually his father, and he would have done so had he not [SPOILER]… you know. There’s also the puzzling role of the teacher, who only has a couple of scenes prior to his [SPOILER] surprising appearance at the end – why would he do that?? The opening also talks about the 70s, the start of the bubble economy and how not everyone felt the riches even when the country had its rise – hints of a larger theme probably explored in the manga but not one ably touched on in a musical movie adaptation.

Nevertheless, Ai to Makoto = great fun and with an ending that gives it poignance. More than the throwaway entertainment I was ready to brand it as.

Key of Life

Unexpectedly, the highlight of my LFF films (and that’s saying something considering how much I enjoyed the others). Key of Life (Kagi Dorobo no Method) is an outrageously good tale of swapped lives and the search for love and purpose in life. It’s a classic example of the off-kilter, slice-of-life comedy featuring an unbelievable, yet believable plot and weird but loveable characters that Japan does so well. Slickly plotted, brilliantly acted (particularly the ever-reliable Teriyuki Kagawa and Ryoko Hirosue, who I’ve had a soft spot for since Yasuko to Kenji) and so full of heart you’ll be smiling your face off, it was a wonderful way to finish off my LFF run. I defy you not to love the doki-doki car alarm bit at the end.

Children Who Chase Lost Voices from Deep Below (Hoshi wo ou kodomo) (2011) June 30, 2012

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Hoshi wo ou kodomoI finally saw Makoto Shinkai’s latest at the BFI’s biennial anime season. It’s breathtaking enough to make me thankful to have caught it on the big screen, yet in its quest to deal with weighty issues it just misses perfection, and perhaps even some of the director’s usual heart. (more…)

Nendoroid Madoka June 9, 2012

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Nendoroid Madoka, a set on Flickr.

Among my loot from this year’s Summer London MCM Expo, was this little gem: Madoka Kaname, the titular character from Puella Magi Madoka Magica.

I’m a sucker for the SD Nendoroids and a big fan of Good Smile Company’s attention to detail (particularly with accessories and expressions, enabling humorous poses in keeping with the parody nature of SD). Having been impressed by my Nendoroid Kirino, I’m usually drawn to whatever character Good Smile add to the series next, and they’re normally a good range of otaku favourites. (more…)

Ano Hi Mita Hana no Namae wo Bokutachi ha Mada Shiranai August 1, 2011

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‘Ano Hana’, as fans affectionately refer to it, is simply a lovely series. It’s the tale of six childhood friends who’ve drifted apart and the shared tragedy that ultimately brings them back together.

Though there’s a supernatural element to it, the core of the show is really about friendship and whether the ties that bind in childhood hold true as you grow to teens on the cusp of adulthood. It’s this simple emotional dilemma – of wanting (or not wanting) to move on but being unable to, of holding on to things and never knowing if that’s the right thing to do – that gives Ano Hana its charm.

Kiiragi on Random Curiosity makes a fair point – the show never quite rose to the high level of profundity and empathy I thought it might. I don’t know quite what I was expecting, but even though the story reached a logical conclusion, it felt like something of a damp squib after a final three episodes that had me weeping at every cliffhanger. This strange lack of satisfactory closure means, for me, it doesn’t quite rank up there with the likes of Kare Kano, Angel Beats! and Honey and Clover as among my all-time favourites. But it is certainly a show I’d recommend and at just 12 episodes it’s a lovely, sensitive and emotional journey that’s well worth your time.

A particular shout out for the music too – Ano Hana features a fabulous score by Remedios and two really lovely OP and ED themes. The ED in particular, a cover of Zone’s classic Secret Base, came to be my theme tune of the Spring, maybe my year altogether. I’m sure I’m not alone in holding this song dear. Having learnt that the group is also reforming to “fulfil the promise of meeting 10 years after that the lyrics allude to” this makes it all the more poignant.

Karigurashi Arietty August 1, 2011

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Arrietty Poster

Ghibli’s latest is an entertaining, if not entirely captivating, tale. Many have said the same thing, but it does say something about Ghibli’s calibre that a film that is merely ‘solid’ seems something of a disappointment.

SPOILER WARNING (more…)

Hyper Japan 2011 July 24, 2011

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Hyper Japan 2011, a set on Flickr.

This weekend I went to the Hyper Japan exhibition at London’s Kensington Olympia.

A celebration of contemporary Japanese culture, it’s the second year the event has run. Having missed it last year, I booked my ticket well in advance this time.

Was it worth it? Yes and no. While I did enjoy bits of it, I have to say, overall, it was a bit of a disappointment. It’s largely another ‘pay high entrance fee to get into a space where you can spend more money’ do. And in contrast to, say, MCM Expo, there weren’t many ‘bargains’ to be had when you were inside. Most of the stuff, from food to figurines remained at a premium. (more…)

Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum July 3, 2011

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Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum sign

One of the highlights of my trip to Japan was a visit to this shrine to the ‘God of Manga’ Osamu Tezuka.

Given how many times I’ve been to Kansai, I’d thought about stopping by many times before, but never quite had the time or inclination. For one thing, I haven’t actually read or watched that much of his original work. Probably the closest I’ve come is watching recent remakes or reimaginings, like Naoki Urasawa’s Pluto series. This is not to say I’m ignorant – I’m fully aware of Tezuka-sensei’s influence and history (it’s hard for any anime or manga fan not to be). In fact, one of the earliest anime I saw as a child was a bastardised cut of an adaptation of his Phoenix series. It confused the hell out of me as a five year old, but it says something about Tezuka’s vision that part of it still sticks in my memory despite my youth, not to mention the bad dubbing and editing.

The Osamu Tezuka Manga Museum is based in Tezuka’s home town of Takarazuka, an easy 40 minute ride from Osaka Station on the JR Takarazuka line. Exiting the station into a little shopping mall, you quickly find Atom pointing the way. (more…)