Anime

The Great Den Beste Relocation Project


[From Steven Den Beste, originally posted in my comments]

So here I am in beautiful downtown Beaverton OR, leeching internet connection off a free public WiFi system in the Beaverton Mall. I’m living in a motel, and I’ve found an apartment, but I can’t move into it until Feb 3, and won’t have internet connection at home for another couple of days after that. So until then I have no web site and no email, and decided that the only way I could offer an update to interested parties was by abusing J’s hospitality – or at least, by abusing his comment system.

After I got up here, I spent a week trembling and shivering and sweating because I had no internet connection at all. So I finally broke down and bought a notebook computer, which has built-in WiFi. First thing I did was spend an hour uninstalling all the sample programs and suchlike which Compaq polluted the hard disk with, and deactivating features in XP Home that I didn’t want. I’m sure I didn’t get them all, but at least now when I boot the computer I only have to kill one popup balloon in the tray instead of six.

When I was shopping for laptops I went into BestBuy here in the Beaverton Mall and discovered that they sold DVDs. Not only that, they actually have a small section of anime DVDs. I saw the first Bottle Fairy DVD there, but not the second one, alas (which I think just came out, and which I’m really looking forward to). I did end up buying about four DBZ DVDs I didn’t already have, and, well, on the shelf there was a copy of Eiken. I swear, it just popped off the shelf and landed in my hands, and… well, I bought it.

I’m so ashamed.

Words cannot describe how bad it is. In the teaser for the first episode our hero ends up groping the tits of one fabulously overendowed young woman (who, oddly enough, doesn’t react strongly to the experience by screaming or hitting him or contrariwise with deep passionate moans) and then ends up with another preposterously overendowed young woman sitting on his face – after which the credits roll. But that was enough for me. I’ll never doubt J’s judgment again when he says something stinks.

BestBuy also had the first three DVDs (eps 1-14) of the Ah! My Goddess TV series, and I was curious, so I got them too. They were an extremely pleasant surprise.

The art is fantastic. It’s a pure digital animation so everything is clear and clean. The original voice cast is back again, so there are no jarring changes there.

In general it feels a lot more like the movie than like the original OVA. But there are noticeable differences. The original OVA was a romantic drama. The movie was action-adventure. But the TV series is a romantic comedy, and it’s played a lot lighter. It covers some of the same basic material as the OVA but only in gross terms; in fine it’s nearly entirely different. For instance, in the OVA Belldandy and Keiichi find the temple empty and abandoned and move in. Keiichi asks if it’s OK and Belldandy says she has permission – presumably from Kami-sama. That whole section of episode 1 takes about three minutes. In the TV series there’s actually a priest there, and he gives them permission to say. Then, for reasons I won’t go into, he decides he needs to go on a pilgramage and leaves them to live in the place alone. The whole story about finding the temple and being left there to live takes a full episode.

They’re taking their time unfolding the story. Megumi doesn’t show up until ep 5, and Urd until ep 7. In ep 11 they introduce a character which is entirely new to me: Mara. She’s a demon. Skuld shows up in ep 13. On the other hand, we get to see Holy Bell in episode 3. (IIRC, none of the three goddesses summon their angels at all in the OVA, though they all do in the movie.)

Of course, the danger of “taking their time” is that it could feel padded, the way the El Hazard TV series feels padded, but so far this doesn’t. It does feel a bit leisurely, but that’s not the same.

By far the biggest and most pleasant surprise was Belldandy herself. She doesn’t show up until the last few seconds of the first episode, and it’s the strong, determined, self-confident Belldandy of the movie, not the quivering, self-pitying sobbing wimp of the OVA. In the 14 episodes I’ve seen so far she only outright sobs once, and it’s actually legitimate – and it doesn’t last long. In general, what with the overall much lighter touch to the story telling, the level of angst is much reduced, to the point where it isn’t a throbbing headache.

Another pleasant surprise is that there’s a lot of magic in the series. Belldandy and Urd (and Mara) all use magic quite a lot, and it’s a rare episode without at least one spell being cast by someone. The magic is fun, though it seems as if they’re all a lot more limited than I would have thought goddesses (or top-bracket demons) would be. Fact is that Sawanaguchi Sae or Kikuchi Yume could leave any of them in the dust as far as spell casting is concerned, and they aren’t even supernatural beings.

Skuld moves around using water, just as expected. Urd can transmit herself through electric lines and pop out of any TV screen. Belldandy turns out to have a thing for mirrors, and that’s how she moves around when she wants to get somewhere fast. Of course, Belldandy and Urd can also fly. Skuld, on the other hand, doesn’t appear to know any magic yet, but her gizmos are living up to expectations.

Megumi is the only character they really didn’t change from the OVA, and she didn’t need to be changed. She’s still strong, self-reliant, worldly. She still loves her brother and fully approves of him shacking up with Belldandy. She’s not omnipresent but she’s in a lot of the episodes and plays a major part in about four of them, and every time she’s on the screen it’s good. Her reaction to Urd and even more so to Skuld are wonderful.

I’m pretty sure that the three DVDs I’ve got so far are the only ones out, so I still don’t know where it’s heading, but I have suspicions. The last story arc in the OVA involved Belldandy being ordered back to heaven because her presence on Earth is causing problems. They’re laying groundwork that suggests that they’re planning on a similar ending to the TV series, but because they have more time they’re not forcing it. I hope they don’t wallow in it the way the OVA did, but I’m not too worried because so far the TV series hasn’t been wallowing in anything. (Another pleasant surprise is no two-part stories being told; they wrap every story up in a single episode, which also helps to keep things from getting too deep.)

The two strange seniors from the car club keep making appearances, and in the first episode they were thoroughly annoying – which was, in fact, a plot point. But later on they end up mostly being used for comic relief and mostly in small doses. Occasionally they get used for purposes of deus ex machina (e.g. when Mara appears). In the movie the segment they appeared in was easily the worst part of the film, which I invariably skip when I watch it. In the TV series they’re actually not annoying after the first episode.

There’s so much that’s different between the OVA and TV series that it makes me wonder how closely either of them follows the manga. In the OVA, the episode where Urd appears involves a trip to the beach. That’s not the case in the TV series; it happens in Tokyo. There’s no love potion that misfires, and no real misunderstanding between Keiichi and Belldandy – or rather, there is one, but it only takes Belldandy about five seconds to figure out what’s going on, and she doesn’t collapse in tears. Instead, she says (paraphrased) “Urd, get your butt out here.”

All in all I really like what I’ve seen so far, and I can’t emphasize enough just how beautiful the animation is.

Going forward, mostly I’m treading water until the apartment becomes available. I’ve also rented a garage and THAT I can use immediately. Not that I’d want to sleep in it, mind, but I can start buying stuff and leaving it there for when the apartment finally becomes available. It’s all paperwork and legalities at this point. The previous tenant moved out a week ago and went to New York, so it was empty when they showed it to me last Friday. Yesterday when I went over there to put money down on the place, the maintenance guy said he was painting it. They’re going to replace the refrigerator in the next couple days. A rational person would expect that I could move in this weekend. But it has to stay vacant until Feb 3 because the previous tenant paid the rent until then, even though he’s been sleeping in New York for a week. Hooray for rules, regulations, lawyers and bureaucrats.

It’s alright. I’ve got a lot of stuff I need to pick up, and it’s nice that I won’t have to rush. The motel I’m staying at isn’t ridiculously expensive and I’m managing reasonably well. And I think I’ve done more walking in the last week than I had in the previous year.

I don’t yet know what I’m going to do about a net connection. The big remaining puzzle is whether either Comcast or the phone company (ADSL) are willing to give me a permanent IP and let me run a server. I should be able to find that out in the next couple of days, though, and with two throws of the dice I think I have a good chance of hitting at least once at a halfway reasonable price.

Speaking of dancing chibis...


…how about this video that mixes equal parts Invasion of the Body Snatchers, Michael Jackson’s Thriller video, and nekomimi chibi joshigakusei.

Funky Cat Maybe still

For offline viewing, there’s a torrent available.

Update: Google video may be short on dancing chibis, but at least they’ve got Morning Musume making cat noises.

A for Effort...


…but I don’t think Christian manga has much of a chance in the current market.

Serenity Christian manga

Admittedly, putting a cute girl on the cover with the subtitle “bad girl in town” will pull in some eyeballs, and it’s a good time to release anything called “Serenity,” but the interior art is crap. Perhaps if you’d hired the person who drew the cover?

If it shows up at local bookstores, and it’s not shrink-wrapped, I suppose I’ll look inside to see if it’s done well, but I have a hunch the writing is heavy-handed and the art is weak, a sure way to sink this new venture.

PS: the redemptive power of high-school bible study groups is a more fantastic premise than either Eiken or Battle Vixens. Good luck with that.

My need for fluff and fan-service


On Tuesday, a server we rely on that’s located in another state, under someone else’s control, went poof. They have another machine we can upload to, though, so I changed all references to point to it.

All the ones I knew about, that is. A little-used script in a particular branch of our software had a hardcoded reference to the dead host, which it used to download previous uploads to produce a small delta release. The result, of course, was a failure Wednesday that left the QA group twiddling their thumbs until I could fix things. In the end, other failures turned up that prevented them from getting the delta release, but they could live with a full release, and that’s what they got.

That was my day from about 7am to 2pm, not counting the repeated interruptions as I explained to people that the backup server we were uploading to had about half the bandwidth of the usual connection, so data was arriving more slowly.

Things proceeded normally for a few hours, until the next fire at 4:30pm. A server responsible for half a dozen test builds and two release builds had a sudden attack of amnesia, forgetting that a 200GB RAID volume was supposed to be full of data. A disk swap brought it back to life as a working empty volume, but by that time I’d moved all the builds to other machines. I’ll test it today before putting it back in service.

Just as I was finishing up with that mess and verifying that the builds would work in their new homes, our primary internal DNS/NIS server went down. The poor soul who’d just finished rebuilding my RAID volume had barely gotten back to his desk when he had to walk three blocks back to the data center. Once that machine was healthy again, I cleaned up some lock files so that test builds would resume, and waited for the email telling me what was supposed to be on the custom production CD-ROM they’re shipping overseas today.

That, of course, was IT’s cue to take down the mail server for maintenance. Planned and announced, of course, but also open-ended, so I had no idea when it would be back. Didn’t matter, though, because then my DSL line went down. I’d never made it out of the house, you see, and was doing all of this remotely.

The email I was waiting for went out at 9:30pm, I got it at 10:45pm, and kicked the custom build off at 11pm. It finished building at 12:30am and started the imaging process, which makes a quick query to the Perforce server.

Guess what went down for backups at 12am, blocking all requests until it completed at around 3am? Nap time for J!

At 4:45am I woke up, checked the image, mailed off a signing request so it could actually be used to boot a production box, set the alarm clock for 6:45am, and went back to sleep.

This was not a day for deep, thought-provoking anime. It was a day for Grenadier disc 2 and Maburaho disc 4 (which arrived from Anime Corner Store just about the time the mail server went down). I considered getting started on DearS disc 2 and Girls Bravo disc 3, which also showed up, but decided instead to make a badly-needed grocery run.

Yumeria, disc 1


I can see why a lot of reviewers find it easy to pan this series. High-school loser hero? Check. Missing parents? Check. Dream girl who suddenly appears from another world and moves in with him? Check. Girl-next-door type who can’t confess her feelings about him? Check. More strange cute girls showing up? Check. Insane teacher? Check. Color-coded fighting team? Check. Based on a PS2 game? Check. Fan-service? Check, check, check.

If you’re looking for truly original ideas, compelling plots, and genre-breaking characterization, you’re in the wrong place. Yumeria is an ecchi harem comedy with a touch of sentai and a dollop of sci-fi, nothing more. It’s a fun show, though, with excellent character designs, good voice acting, and a story that’s just big enough to last a dozen episodes. And Mone.

Mone. Mone mone. Monene. Mone? Mone! Mone mone. Mone.

If her remarkably expressive one-word vocabulary doesn’t drive you insane, Mone will kawaii her way into your heart.

A few of the in-jokes are a bit forced, and the insane teacher is particularly gratuitous, but most of the humor flows quite naturally from the characters and the situation. I see no reason not to buy, and enjoy, the rest of the series.

ADV cleans house


ADV is closing out a lot of anime DVDs. Some are older series now available in box sets, but a few are recent releases, such as the first disc of Yumeria, which came out less than three weeks ago.

Daphne In The Brilliant Blue, disc 4


Let’s recap. Disc 1 introduced a spunky teen heroine, ruined her life, set up a plot, and began introducing the rest of the cast. Disc 2 followed her through her new life and finished introducing the cast, tossing out the occasional plot crumb. Disc 3 was stuffed with plot crumbs like you’d stuff a turkey for Thanksgiving, not entirely to its benefit. All three were amusing and entertaining, with the exception of one infodump that’s badly delivered by a throwaway character.

In an ordinary plot-driven anime series, self-contained episodes that don’t advance the plot are often regarded as filler. Sometimes they contain important character development, but far too often they add nothing, not even decent art. With Daphne‘s scattershot approach to plotting, at least 10 of the 16 episodes to date would count as filler, so it’s either a terrible attempt at a plot-driven series, or the plot is just a backdrop for the comedy. I’d prefer the former, since they worked so hard at the beginning to make me care about Maia and her problems, but with only two discs to go, it’s not looking good.

Disc 4 is a plot-free zone. It’s fun even when it’s predictable, and includes just enough plot crumbs to keep you wondering if they’re ever going to tie things together, but that’s it. Judging from the fansub reviews, this trend will continue until episode 21, after which it’s wall-to-wall plotty goodness until the end. At least one reviewer thought the ending made up for the show’s flaws, so I’ve got my fingers crossed.

File under peculiar the fact that the box set for this series is sized for seven discs, but the series is being released on only six. My guess is that Geneon originally intended to put only three episodes on four of the discs, but market conditions and fan feedback led them to shrink it a bit. As good as the music CD is, it won’t quite fill the remaining space in the box, but I can’t really complain about a consistent 4-episode-per-disc release.

DearS/Girls Bravo, disc 1


Stop me if you’ve heard this before:

  • Our Hero is a high-school loser, who's never had a girlfriend.
  • Girl Next Door bullies him because she doesn't have the courage to confess her true feelings.
  • Dream Girl suddenly appears from another world.
  • DG moves in with OH, for no apparent reason.
  • OH ends up in a Compromising Position with DG, and is caught by GND, who assumes the worst without waiting for an explanation.
  • This is just the first CP; there are many more to come.
  • DG has big boobs (usually bigger than GND's), frequently displayed to best advantage.
  • DG has superpowers. (optional: frequent property destruction)
  • DG has an unusual and/or unusually large appetite.
  • DG knows nothing about life on Earth, and needs to be looked after.
  • More Strange Cute Girls begin to appear, some of whom compete for OH's affection.
  • Wacky Hijinks ensue.
  • OH's classmates enthusiastically accept the DG and SCGs, even when their WH result in (temporary) injury, embarrassment, or property damage.
  • Handsome Rival attempts to steal/seduce/acquire DG, SCGs, and sometimes GND.
  • DG is utterly clueless about HR's intentions.
  • More WH ensue.
  • Lather, Rinse, Repeat.

How does Girls Bravo differentiate itself from this basic formula? Lots of bare tits, plus more than the usual complement of bare asses. The animators pushed it so far that the Japanese TV networks made them add fog effects to cover the girls up a bit. The fans knew what they were missing, though, so the DVD releases are fully-nippled and unfogged.

DearS tries a different approach, taking its basic setting from the film Alien Nation, replacing funky-skulled humanoids with half-dressed hotties, mostly female. Where most of AN’s slaves wanted freedom and equality, though, the DearS are conditioned to need masters, something they try to keep from their new hosts on Earth. One would think that the prominent dog collars they all wear would be a dead giveaway, but a year after arrival, it’s still a secret. Until the night a “defective” DearS is accidentally released into the wild, or, more precisely, Our Hero’s apartment…

OH apparently spent more time watching V than Alien Nation, so he is perhaps the only teenager in the world who distrusts the motives of the cuddly aliens. This, combined with a hint of moral fiber, keeps him from taking advantage of his willing slave girl.

Clichés aside, are they any good? Both are generally well-drawn and well-acted, with a good mix of humor and fan-service. Girls Bravo is plot-free episodic comedy that makes no attempt to explain the “other world” or its magic; Miharu (DG) and the women of Seiren (SCGs) are from somewhere else, they have a way to get to Earth, and that’s that. The manga it’s based on doesn’t seem to have any explanations to offer, either; it’s just not important.

DearS, on the other hand, has plenty of story potential, and at least tries to set up and explain some mysteries associated with the setting. They rearranged the first three volumes of the manga to come up with a relatively self-contained storyline, while leaving plenty of things to explain in a second season.

They didn’t get a second season. Girls Bravo did. Such is life.

On the whole, I prefer DearS. It’s frequently compared to Chobits and accused of blatant, vicious misogyny, but neither comment makes sense to me. The two women who create the manga know that they’re writing for a mostly young, mostly male audience, but their slave girls aren’t helpless naifs used and abused by their captors (those anime usually involve tentacles…). They’re slaves put into a situation where they’re forced to confront their conditioning.

Ren (DG) is a person with a stunted sense of free will, who rapidly adapts to her new life; Chobits’ Chii is not quite a house pet, not quite a person, and she’ll never really change. Ren, Takeya (OH), and Miu (SCG) all grow and change, and they’re all moving away from master/slave stereotypes. Neneko (GND) grows up a bit, too, although she starts out way ahead of the others.

Girls Bravo is amusing fluff, and based on the fansub reviews, I think it will deliver what it promises. DearS is a promising start at telling a story that will only be finished in the manga, but it’s still a good show, and I honestly like the major characters. As an added bonus, the end credits sequence more than satisfies my dancing-chibi fetish, accompanied by a painfully cute j-pop song.

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