Anime

Anime update: Kaleido Star, disc 5


After watching discs 1-3, I described this as one of the best anime series currently running. Disc 4 cemented that opinion, and was so good that I didn’t want to say anything for fear of spoiling it.

On disc 5 it gets better.

Much of what happens is expected, and some of it is even predictable, but in the final scene of the fourth episode on the disc, they casually drop a bombshell that has the potential to change everything. And it makes perfect sense.

The only thing that kept me from spraying my drink across the room in surprise was the fact that I’d just finished it.

Quick take: Seven of Seven (Shichinin no Nana), disc 1


This is a fluffy, squeaky clean little series about a teenage girl named Nana and her six personality-differentiated clones, who appeared after an accident that involved her mad-scientist grandfather, his latest experiment in high-tech prisms, a microwave oven, and a cherry tree. Our Heroine has one goal in life: to pass the high-school entrance exams so she can get into the same school as the boy she has a crush on. Unfortunately, her new sisters share that crush, and that’s not all…

It’s almost painfully cute, with an opening theme to match. Disc 2 just came out, and I’m going to have to buy it.

Update: apparently the associated manga is a bit more fan-service oriented. Obviously I’m going to have to confirm that…

Update: Oh my, yes. The manga version is definitely aimed at a male audience.

Update: Just finished watching disc 2. It’s still cute. I’ll buy the next one.

Recent anime


Quick takes on stuff I’ve watched in the past week.

Kaleido Star, disc 4 — Damn, this show is so good that I’m afraid to say anything that might spoil it. Just don’t read the back-cover blurbs or liner notes, don’t watch the next-episode previews or the special features, and stay away from the episode list on ADV’s web site, because they love to spoil things for you. Worse, many of their spoilers are misleading or just plain wrong. I’ll be buying the rest of the series (eight more discs!). [update: ADV puts spoilers into their press releases, too! I was just looking at a list of release dates, and wham!]

R.O.D The TV, disc 2 — Things are building up nicely, and the paper is flying. Good work on developing the relationships between the characters. I’ll definitely buy the next disc.

Chrono Crusade, disc 1 — Good stuff. A sexy, heavily-armed teenage nun who fights demons in New York City during the Roaring Twenties, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake like a one-woman Dirty Pair. The most glaring flaw is some poorly-integrated 3D CGI, but they either got better at it quickly or I got used to it by the time I reached episode 4. I’ll definitely buy the next disc.

Galaxy Angel, disc 4 — Fluff. Fluffy McFluff, with a side order of Fluff. This show goes nowhere, and is proud to admit it. If you’re in the mood for old-school anime wackiness with modern production values and no pretense at continuity between episodes, Galaxy Angel is the show for you. There’s really not much difference between the four volumes, and no matter how much you learn about the characters, they don’t actually grow and change, so you can pretty much watch them in any order. I’ll buy the first disc of season two when it comes out, because I like fluff. And Mint is evil, in a good way.

Kiddy Grade, disc 6 — Eh. Not impressed.

Ikkitousen, disc 1 — I can’t describe just how much this show sucks. I’ve read the available manga volumes, as well as reviews of the fansubs, so I wasn’t expecting it to be good, but I thought it might at least be amusing, in a “she kicks high” combat-fan-service way. It’s not. It does manage to be about 70% less raunchy and 50% less poorly-plotted than the manga, but also at least 20% more sucky.

What really stood out for me is that it’s just sloppy, both in execution and translation. I expect Geneon to do a good job on their releases, but this back-cover blurb is actually representative of their care and attention to detail on this product:

Once again blood flows in the streets of Kanto. The eternal fate that has been handed down for over 1800 years is now being fought by ancient warriors who have been reincarnated into the students of the seven top schools. One such student, Hakufu Sonsaku, arrives on the scene and is rumored to be the legendary Shou Haou (The one who is said to be the one to defeat many in battle). But can this blonde airhead with the overly-endowed assets actually be the legendary Shou-Haou?

I originally figured it was just a case of putting the junior translator on box work (like the charming example in Hyper Police where the box-cover claimed a character “begins acting like a little child”, but in the actual episode he becomes a child), but no, the subtitles are just like it. And I have to say that the show doesn’t really deserve better. Anyone who thought that Agent Aika’s panty-flashing was obtrusive or that Mahoromatic was in some way misogynistic should stay far, far away from this turkey.

Actually, everyone should just stay away. This show makes Amazing Nurse Nanako look wholesome and well-written. I won’t be buying disc 2.

Next up: 7 of 7 disc 1 (fluff), 50 Years of Playmates (the Playboy box set), and something called Star Wars. I think it’s a comedy. Or maybe a tragedy, the way Lucas keeps pissing in his whiskey.

Next potential purchase: Gokusen disc 1.

Anime shopping list


Random list of recent anime DVDs I plan to pick up when I see them in stores:

  • Kaleido Star, disc 4+ --- Easily one of the best series running now, I haven't found anything to dislike about it. Well-drawn, well-written, well-acted, funny, and sweet, with a broad appeal. No fanservice, per se, but I have to say that all the women are implausibly well-stacked for professional acrobats. That's not a complaint, you understand. Actually, I do have one small complaint: the liner notes are spoiler-happy, to the point that they give away on disc 1 things that still haven't come up by disc 3.
  • R.O.D The TV, disc 2+ --- This one's off to a good start, and while fans of the Read Or Die OVA series will wonder what happened to Yomiko Readman (the fact that her voice actress is about to release a nude photobook and DVD is pure coincidence), the new characters are quite engaging, and the animation retains the flavor of the original while fitting into a TV budget. Spoilers based on the fansubs reveal that the old cast does eventually turn up, but I have no complaints about the Paper Sisters and Nenene, especially since I recently found the original manga featuring the first meeting of Yomiko and a teenage Nenene.
  • Galaxy Angel, disc 4+ --- Unlike the translated manga, which has a plot, this episodes of this series are basically independent, and very fluffy. Continuity from episode to episode is almost nonexistent, and everything is played for broad humor. It's well-done fluff, however, and they've devoted a few episodes to fleshing out the characters, to the point that I've grown quite fond of Mint and Forte. I don't know how they've managed to crank out four seaons of this without running out of ideas, but reviews suggest they've done it. Maybe the manga and games fill in enough of the blanks to keep the characters interesting, because it doesn't sound like they ever get serious with the show.
  • Chrono Crusade, disc 1+ --- The heroine is a sexy teenage demon-hunter whose middle name is "collateral damage", her partner is a mostly-reformed demon, and together they take on some rather nasty critters in 1920s New York City. Oh, and she's a nun. I've been checking out screenshots and reviews of this one for some time, and the first volume of the translated manga came out recently as well. From everything I've seen so far, Sister Rosette is the true heir to the Dirty Pair legacy, unlike a certain other series I'm about to name...
  • Kiddy Grade, 6+ (maybe) --- I originally gave up on this series after the first disc, because it looked like they'd decided to remake the Dirty Pair with two rather annoying changes: the originals didn't have any loli appeal, and they just weren't powerful enough. People swore that it picked up around episode nine, but at only three episodes per disc, I didn't feel like spending months and money waiting for the good stuff. Well, I've now seen the rest of what's been released so far, and while it has gotten better, there's still a good chance that it will end up sucking. The fact that they completely change the character designs in the next disc doesn't help, since the redhead's looks were my primary hook (although I'd like it more if they'd have given her friend Ricki more screen time...).

Further out, I’m looking forward to Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, Yumeria, Maburaho, Tenjou Tenge, Full Metal Alchemist, and the next season of Happy Lesson. Maybe Onegai Twins and Mezzo DSA, but the episode reviews of the former and the screenshots of the latter reduce my interest. I’ve heard mixed reports on Scrapped Princess, but it looks like it might be worth buying the first disc.

Update: Way, way out there in the land of things that haven’t been licensed for US distribution yet, and that I’ve mostly just seen screenshots and reviews of (here, here, and occasionally here), there’s Re: Cutie Honey, Ninin ga Shinobuden, DearS, and Tristia of the Deep Blue Sea. Gainax’s big effort, This Ugly and Beautiful World, looks nice, but sounds rather dull.

Anime Endings: Cosplay Complex


Okay, it seems a bit silly to review the ending of an OVA series that’s only three episodes long, but in fact the ending is the only thing that really stands out about Cosplay Complex… and not in a good way.

Based on the trailer and the fact that it comes from the director of Hand Maid May, I expected a funny, sweet, well-acted fan-service comedy with a plot that makes Kleenex look sturdy, and, sure enough, that’s what it delivers. They push the limits a bit with one character who can be accurately described as a lesbian pedophile, but while it may sound odd to American ears to say that her obsession is played for laughs, it’s true, and her most serious attempt at seduction ends in a failure that scars her for the rest of the episode.

The cosplay that is the heart of the show is taken very seriously and executed very well. The end credits are built around photos of real Japanese cosplayers, set to a bouncy ondo song that works perfectly. It’s also used for the special feature that identifies all of the costumes shown, and it’s quite a list.

The plot, such as it is? Think Major League with cute high-school girls instead of baseball players, and leave out the climactic victory. Our perky team of underdogs works to make it to the World Series of Cosplay, battling personality conflicts and bonding as a team, but we never see the payoff. We get to see a cosplay battle with last year’s big winners, but instead of the big game, the end of the third and final episode consists of events and new characters that are clearly intended to set up a second series.

Unfortunately, they really don’t have enough good material (or costumes!) to extend the story much, and the new stuff doesn’t even fit that well, so it’s unlikely that a sequel will be produced any time soon. So, if you enjoy well-drawn girls in and out of sexy costumes and don’t mind the lack of resolution to the story, it’s fun.

And who can resist Ikariya cosplay?

Ikariya costume in Cosplay Complex

One for the road


Under the influence of powerful pain-killers (going in for a root canal on Monday), I spent some time this morning preparing a new music mix for an upcoming trip. It consists entirely of songs from the opening and ending credits of anime series, mostly ripped directly from the DVDs with Audio Hijack Pro (with some minor touch-ups done in the free multi-platform audio editor Audacity).

It’s only 52 minutes so far, since I’m deliberately selecting the tv-edited versions that average around 90 seconds. There are a few songs I can’t include because those discs are out on loan, but otherwise it’s a fun mix. Fortunately the person who’ll be locked in the car with me for six hours likes anime. :-)

  • Agent Aika, Silent City (OP)
  • Agent Aika Special Missions Promo
  • All Purpose Cultural Cat Girl Nuku Nuku OVA, Happy Birthday To Me (OP)
  • Angelic Layer, Be My Angel (OP)
  • Daphne in the Brilliant Blue, Asu No Blue Wing (OP)
  • Dirty Pair OVA, By Yourself (OP), Summertime From Autumn (ED)
  • Dirty Pair TV, Ru-Ru-Ru-Russian Roulette (OP)
  • Excel Saga, Love (Loyalty) (OP)
  • Galaxy Angel, Galaxy Bang! Bang! (OP)
  • Green Green, Guri Guri (OP)
  • Hand Maid Mai, Hand Maid De Ne! (ED)
  • Hand Maid May, Jump---Hug Me As Tight As You Can (OP)
  • Happy Lesson, Telescope (OP), Yume no Miyako Tokyo Life (ED)
  • Happy Lesson OVA, (OP)
  • Hyper Police, That's Hypertension!! (OP), Hey Hold Up! (ED)
  • Jubei-Chan, Forever (ED)
  • Kaleido Star, Take It, Shake It (OP)
  • Kiki's Delivery Service, Lipstick Message (OP)
  • Magical Project S, Yume mireba yume mo yume ja nai (OP)
  • Mahoromatic Summer Special, Hiryu Musume Ha! Date Ondo (ED)
  • New Cutey Honey, Cutey Honey (OP)
  • Ninin ga Shinobuden OP & ED
  • Puni Puni Poemy, Puni Puni Densetsu Ppoi (OP)
  • Ranma 1/2 Season 1, Don't Make Me Wild Like You (OP)
  • R.O.D OP
  • Rune Soldier, Twinkle Trick (OP)
  • Steel Angel Kurumi, KissからはじまるMiracle (OP)
  • Super GALS!, A-I-Tsu (OP)
  • Tenjou Tenge, Aishitene Motto (ED)

This is actually a secondary use for Audio Hijack Pro; I bought it primarily so I could record streaming audio from Japanese internet radio stations (such as Radio Japan, Morning Freeway, and MBS Broadband). Having a variety of native speakers discuss different subjects is very handy for language practice, especially since my primary source, anime, isn’t known for its realistic dialogue and proper grammar.

Update: Mostly successful, but I have to redo many of the audio captures, because of a little feature in Apple’s DVD Player that’s on by default: Dolby dynamic range compression. It’s hard to notice with laptop speakers, but with headphones or in the car, it’s quite annoying. Good thing I picked the short versions of the songs…

Update: Ah, that’s better. No more fluctuating volume. While I was at it, I added a few more:

  • Chobits, Let Me Be With You (OP)
  • Cosplay Complex OP
  • Galaxy Fraulein Yuna OP
  • New Cutey Honey, Circle Game (ED)
  • Those Who Hunt Elves, Angel Blue (OP)

Update: A few more.

  • Cosplay Complex, Cosplay Ondo (ED)
  • Re: Cutie Honey OP

Silly anime soundtrack feature


So I’m ripping the soundtrack album for Hand Maid May, and it’s got 62 tracks on it. Tracks 26 to 35 are short in-character messages by the lead voice actress, which isn’t unusual (I’ve been threatening for some time to put the answering-machine message from the Mahoromatic soundtrack on my voice mail), but tracks 36 to 60 consist of her speaking the complete set of Japanese phonemes, so you can create a “voice collage” that personalizes those messages. That’s new.

I was mostly just amused by it, and then I realized that I now had high-quality recordings of a native speaker pronouncing each phoneme, just the thing for language drills. Obviously I can’t distribute the results, and the truth is that I’m past the need for that particular drill, but I think I’ll build it anyway.

I will not, however, create a voice collage of May telling me goodnight…

No wonder BabelFish has problems with Japanese…


I mentioned in a recent comment thread that I had developed some sympathy for BabelFish’s entertaining but mostly useless translations from Japanese to English.

It started with Mahoromatic, a manga and anime series that I’m generally quite fond of. The official web site for the anime includes a lot of merchandise, and I was interested in finding out more about some of the stuff that hasn’t been officially imported to the US market. So I asked BabelFish to translate the pages, expecting to be able to make at least a little sense of the results.

It was worse than I expected, and it took me a while to figure out why. At the time, the translation engine left intact everything it had been unable to convert to English, which gave me some important clues. It was also possible to paste Unicode text into the translation window and get direct translations, which helped me narrow down the problems. [Sadly, both of these features disappeared a few months ago, making BabelFish a lot less useful.]

The clues started with the name of the show and its main character, both of which are written in hiragana on the site. BabelFish reliably converted まほろまてぃっく (Mahoromatic) to “ま top wait the ぃっく” and まほろ (Mahoro) to “ま top”. The one that really got me, though, was the live concert DVD, whose title went from 「まほろまてぃっく らいぶ!&Music Clips」 to “ま top wait the ぃっく leprosy ぶ! & in the midst of Music Clips”.

With apologies to Vernor Vinge, it was a case of “leprosy as the key insight”. It was so absurd, so out of place, that it had to be important. Fortunately, the little kana “turds” that BabelFish left behind told me exactly which hiragana characters it had translated as leprosy: らい (rai).

But rai doesn’t mean leprosy. Raibyou (らいびょう or 癩病) does, but on its own, rai is one of “since”, “defeat”, or the English loanword “lie” (which should properly be written in katakana, as ライ). So where did it come from? Rai is the pronunciation of the kanji 癩, which means leprosy. Except that it doesn’t, quite.

Here’s where it gets complicated. Every kanji character has one or more meanings and pronunciations. Some came along for the ride when the character was borrowed from China (the ON-reading), others are native inventions (the KUN-reading), but neither is necessarily a Japanese word. There are plenty of words that consist of a single kanji, such as 犬 (inu, “dog”), but not all single kanji are words.

Our friend rai is one of the latter. It has only a single ON-reading, which means leprosy, but the Japanese word for leprosy is formed by appending another kanji, 病 (byou, “sick”). So while rai really does mean leprosy, it’s not the word for leprosy. BabelFish, convinced that anything written in hiragana must be a native Japanese word, is simply trying too hard.

So what was it supposed to be? That little leftover kana at the end (ぶ) was “bu”, making the complete word “raibu”. Say it out loud, remembering that the Japanese have trouble pronouncing “l” and “v”, and it becomes “live”. The correct translation of the title should be “Mahoromatic Live! & Music Clips”; neither of the words in hiragana should be translated, because they’re not Japanese words.

In fairness to BabelFish, the folks responsible for Mahoromatic have played a dirty trick on it. It’s actually a pretty good rule of thumb that something written in hiragana is Japanese and something written in katakana is not, and, sure enough, if you feed in ライブ instead of らいぶ, it will correctly come back as “live”.

I fell for this, too, when I tried to figure out the full title of the Mahoromatic adventure game 「まほろまてぃっく☆あどべんちゃ」. The part after the star (adobencha) is written in hiragana, so I tried to interpret it as Japanese. I knew I’d gotten it wrong when I came up with “conveniently leftover tea”, but I didn’t realize I’d been BabelFished until I said it out loud.

Isn’t Japanese fun? My latest surprise came when my Rosetta Stone self-study course threw up the word ビーだま (biidama, “marble” (the toy kind)). I thought it was a typo at first, this word that was half-katakana, half-hiragana, but switching the software over to the full kanji mode converted it to ビー玉, and, sure enough, that’s what it looked like in my dictionary.

A little digging with JEdict provided the answer. Back in the days when the Portuguese started trading with Japan, their word vidro (“windowpane”) was adopted as the generic word for glass, becoming biidoro (ビードロ). The native word for sphere is dama (だま or 玉). Mash them together, and you’ve got a “glass sphere”, or a marble. Don’t go looking for other words based on biidoro, though, because it fell out of fashion a few centuries back; modern loanwords are based on garasu.

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