Anime

Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, disc 1


Take an ordinary teenage girl. Bright, clever, slender and pretty, with a pleasant but not exaggerated figure. Now shrink her down proportionally until she’s about four feet tall, then stretch her vertically until she’s back to her original height. Perform the usual big-anime-eye surgery, and reshape the rest of her face until she has a chin that could cut glass. Throw in a haircut that further enhances her resemblance to a puppy-dog, and finish with one of the goofiest-looking dresses ever. You’ve now created Maia Mizuki, heroine of Daphne in the Brilliant Blue.

With that out of the way, she’s the star of an action/comedy series, so set the tone by putting her through The Worst Day Ever. Go wild here; we want her to be about ten minutes away from peddling her cute little ass on the street in exchange for a stale ham sandwich and a dirty patch of floor to sleep on.

In the second episode, we’ll start introducing the rest of the cast, consisting primarily of a conveniently color-coded set of gun-toting women with lush figures and fashion sense that rivals Maia’s. Don’t worry, their chins are razor-sharp as well, so Our Heroine will fit right in. Which one’s Daphne? Well, none of them, actually; we figure that will be covered on disc 6, which comes out next January. You didn’t realize that we’re releasing each of the seven discs two full months apart? Sucker!!!!

Now, for the fan-service, we want to do something a little different. Boobs are great, and we’re always glad to show that our girls have them, but we want to stand out from the crowd, so this show should be all about the ass. No, not the panty-flashing thing, everybody does that. Cheeks. Bare cheeks. Bare cheeks in the water, bare cheeks on land, bare cheeks in combat, cheeks, Cheeks, CHEEKS!

Why? Well, it’s for the fans, really. It catches their eye when they’re changing channels or walking through the video store, and the promise of more cheeks will keep them watching while we set up the plot. It’s not for me, certainly; I’m not one of those, y’know, ass-otaku. Okay, maybe a little. Or a lot. Just don’t ask me why I lock my office door when I’m “reviewing” the storyboards.

Moment of sanity: yes, I’ve now seen the first four episodes of this show, and I’m sufficiently amused that I’ll pre-order disc 2. The character designs grow on you, and the cheeky fan-service is something that just blends in after a while, helped by the fact that no one else ever notices it. Seriously. Maia and Shizuka casually walk through a crowded casino while carrying huge pistols and wiggling their bare asses, and it’s like they’re invisible. Until Shizuka starts shooting up the place, that is.

In vaguely related news, the English translation of the Tenjou Tenge manga has been chopped to bits by a publishing company that's terrified of sexual references and exposed nipples. Um, hello, did you actually look at the product before you licensed it? Did anything about this series say "kid-friendly"? Did no one mention to you that the sexy girls are pretty much the primary draw, here?

Based on the ham-fisted editing they’ve done with volume one, I don’t even want to think about what they’ll do to the Chiaki/Aya bathing scene in volume two. If they feel the need to draw in bras and delete sexual references in the dialog, they’re going to really butcher a lesbian seduction that shows one girl sucking on another’s tit. And as for the dialog that goes with that scene, brrrrr.

[update: I picked up the Japanese version of volume one today and examined the pages in question. The folks at ListerX underplay some of the edits, neglecting to mention that they’re changes to a rape scene. I’m not a fan of using rape to show that villains are villains, but from the description, it sounds like the edits attempt to reduce the severity of his crime, which leads to more edits as the characters react to what happens, etc, etc.

Either way it’s not critical to the story, but this kind of tinkering tends to snowball. It’s the same sort of “mother/editor knows best” attitude that led Eric Flint to “modernize” elements of James Schmitz’s Telzey/Trigger stories when he assembled the new editions (because, after all, modern audiences would be blasted right out of their immersion by the concept of a man offering a woman a “friendly cigarette”, and in an aircraft, of all things!). At least Flint was trying to guess what the audience wanted to see; DC is apparently trying to guess what the local Soccer Moms Against Fun committee will complain about.

If the only thing they’d done was downgrade a violent rape to a violent assault, I’d be able to understand their reasoning, but I’d still be annoyed by it. It’s not that I want to see Chiaki shriek and cry while some leering clown slams her into the wall and gets off on her pain; no, not at all. I’d much rather see her smiling and laughing in the arms of her loving boyfriend, but they hacked up those scenes, too. Because her tits were showing.]

[Update: Adding insult to injury, someone pointed out this statement on the DC/CMX web site: “And it’s pure manga — 100% the way the original Japanese creators want you to see it.” What a shame they don’t read their own press releases…]

Ai Yori Aoshi: honorifics and sex appeal


I finally got around to watching the last volume of the first Ai Yori Aoshi series, which is a mostly-successful romantic comedy in the harem genre. The art and animation are quite good, the music works, the voice acting is excellent, the antics are generally amusing, and while the characters are built on common genre stereotypes, most of them manage to grow into interesting people over time. The reason it’s only mostly-successful is that the core romance moves forward at a glacial pace, but this is largely an artifact of their attempt to remain mostly consistent with the original manga.

The only real twist in this “nice guy ends up living in a house full of beautiful women who want him” story is that the childhood-friend/first-love character bags him before any of the others ever have a chance, but must keep this a secret to avoid a family scandal. This leaves the rest with the impression that his heart is up for grabs, and, as they say, “wackiness ensues”.

The female cast provides plenty of variety for a “who would you pick” poll, but the series is so popular (as both manga and anime) that I feel no need to create another one. Instead, I’ll give my own impressions of the cast, and focus on something that I found flawed in the setup of the story, namely the way the “big secret” is constantly compromised by the way certain characters address each other.

(spoilers of various degrees follow; now updated with links to larger screenshots)

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They had me at ‘Ohayou’


Okay, the gameplay looks pretty standard. The graphics are colorful and well-rendered, though, and one of the screenshots suggests that you’re not limited to (literally) pedestrian locations, but that’s not what won me over about this video game based on the R.O.D The TV anime series.

ElePaperAction

It was the title, ElePaperAction.

Burn-Up Excess, disc 1


After my positive experience with Burn-Up Scramble, discs 1 and 2, I decided to check out the previous instance of the franchise. Multiple review sites suggested that Excess was the best of the bunch, but I like Scramble better.

Why? Everything about Excess is self-consciously wacky. The character designs, the bouncing boobs, the nosebleeds, the dialog, the action, etc, etc. There are some nice moments, and it’s still a well-polished, amusing product, but I really don’t care about the characters, who are pretty much cardboard cutouts with simple labels attached. The voice actors do a decent job with the material, but it’s all surface. In Scramble, on the other hand, Rio and Maya are interesting people, and their relationship has some depth to it.

Perhaps the best way to summarize the difference between the two is to compare the “Maya goes home to see her family” episodes. In Excess, she’s reunited with her crazy father and his goofy minions, and ends up on top of an exploding dirigible in a Playboy bunny suit, with a belt-fed machine-gun in each hand, madly spraying ammo; in Scramble, she’s sitting in a bar with Rio and Lilica, telling them about her childhood, her reunion with her foster father, and a terrific Noir-ish battle scene, with (occasionally silly) visuals as imagined by the gullible Lilica.

Both incarnations of Maya are gun-crazy, but in different ways. In Excess, it’s clearly sexual: she visibly suffers when she can’t bang, and goes wild when she finally gets release. In Scramble, Maya is the (relatively) sane, mature member of the team, who derives as much pleasure from collecting guns as from shooting them; she’s obsessive about it, but otherwise stable.

If you haven’t caught on yet, I really like Maya in her Scramble incarnation.

And the award for worst anime goes to…


Eiken, for its horrible voice acting and attack-of-the-killer-blob “breasts”. I have finally found fan-service that is not only unappealing, but actively repulsive.

I wasn’t expecting it to be good. I wasn’t even expecting it to be okay, given the screenshots and DVD cover art, but I was curious to see where the current trend toward breast-inflation in anime is going, and I figured I could put up with the ridiculously oversized boobs.

Unfortunately, not only is the voice acting awful, the… things attached to the girls’ chests don’t even qualify as breasts, of any size or provenance. Thank goodness there was no actual nudity in the few minutes I was able to force myself to watch. Amazing Nurse Nanako and Ikkitousen put together couldn’t suck as hard as this disc, because no matter how terrible they were, they at least had something going for them besides the character designs. This show has nothing; if a masked psycho had started murdering the cast on-screen, I’d have cheered her on.

Burn-Up Scramble, disc 2


Not as amusing as the first one, but lots more Maya, which is good. It feels like they were trying too hard to make it silly, with three of the four episodes stepping outside the basic premise. The result is that we learn that Lilica is a cheap date, Maya enjoys spinning yarns, and Rio should never sleep with the television on. These episodes aren’t bad, just a bit flat, and are redeemed by the costumes (Naked Apron Lilica, Attack of the Fifty-Foot Rio, and pretty much everything they dress Maya in).

In other news, the people responsible for the credits have started to figure out the miracle that is anti-aliasing. They’re not using it consistently yet, but one can hope they’ll continue to improve. Of course, they’ve only got one more disc to practice with…

Burn-Up Scramble, disc 1


I ordered this disc based largely on the screenshots and comments at Momotato Daioh. I didn’t have high expectations, especially after my last adventure into “combat fan-service” (the utterly wretched Ikkitousen), but it looked like it might be, well, funny.

It is. In fact, the humor and the character interaction remind me a lot of The Dirty Pair (as presented in the OAV series and the Project Eden movie). The character designs are nice (especially Maya), the voice acting is surprisingly good, and the storytelling neatly captures the old-school charm of “screw continuity and character development, let’s just have some fun”. And, yes, it’s a universe where every woman under the age of 40 is quite implausibly stacked, and the female police uniforms were designed by the folks at Trashy Lingerie.

It’s not for everyone. The animation is at best fair, the only decent music is in the end credits, main character Rio is just a little too bubble-headed (bubble-everything, really), there are a number of shots frequently reused to further shave the animation budget, and there is basically nothing original about any aspect of the series. I haven’t seen any of the three previous incarnations of the Burn-Up franchise, and I’ve skipped a lot of the other recent “girls with guns” series, so I’m not burned out on the basic concept. Your mileage may vary. Me, I watched it twice in one night.

It’s definitely not the sort of series that can be used to draw someone into anime. After two of my friends watched the first episode Saturday, they begged me to put in Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, a film that ranks just above Highlander 2 on our list of “movies we like to pretend were never made”.

I’m going to buy the second disc. Hopefully Maya will get more screen time.

Side note: while looking for reviews of the different incarnations of this franchise, I discovered that the previous one, Burn-Up Excess, was directed by the same person as Hand Maid May, one of my favorites. I guess I’ll have to check it out.

Anime update: R.O.D The TV disc 4


At some point in every series, there’s a need for a chunk of exposition. Handled well, it fleshes out the story without interrupting it. Handled poorly, it’s episode 14 of R.O.D The TV.

I like the series. The characters are developing nicely, and disc 4 has some terrific action scenes, but when it came time to reveal what was really going on and how it connected to the original OAV series, they resorted to one of the clunkiest infodumps I’ve seen in years: the bad guy’s secretary spends the entire episode writing a report that summarizes everything that’s happened to date, talking over clips from previous episodes and the OAVs.

It’s a classic “As you know, Bob…”, telling characters things they already know but the audience doesn’t. The worst part is, it doesn’t work. If you haven’t seen the OAV series, it doesn’t give you enough information about the characters you’re starting to meet, and if you have, it’s mostly redundant, with the added negative of handwaving away significant changes in some OAV characters.

After this mid-series train wreck, they get things back on track by fleshing out Wendy and Junior, and finally bringing Yomiko and Nancy into the story. If they can avoid another jarring interruption, the rest of the series should work out nicely.

On a side note, fan-service in this series is primarily limited to the enthusiastic bouncing of large breasts that have never known the confinement of a bra (only one pair of which are ever seen bare), but they’re a bit less restrained in the mini pencil boards that ship with the DVDs. The Maggie pin-up is well-done, if a bit out of character, but the “candid” pin-ups of Nenene and Michelle are just awkward. Anita gets a pleasant, non-sexualized portrait, but the big surprise is the utterly gratuitous “please molest me” panty shot of Hisa-chan included with disc 4.

Yep, Anita’s shy, bookish, young schoolgirl pal is lying on her back, knees up, skirt up, school uniform rumpled, looking like she’s just auditioned for the little-sister role in a hentai game. Definitely not the way I expected that character to appear.

“Need a clue, take a clue,
 got a clue, leave a clue”