For some of us, Memorial Day is a time to reflect on what’s really important: role-playing games and anime voice actresses. Okay, I’m kidding about that, but I did spend the weekend helping a group of friends run a large D&D adventure that used massive quantities of Dwarven Forge 3-D dungeon tiles. Also, on Saturday I slipped away for a few hours to visit one of the other conventions in the Bay Area, Fanimecon.
They had a dealer room that probably looked impressive to people who didn’t live near San Jose, but all it offered me was the chance to buy DVDs without paying sales tax. However, their web site also mentioned that popular singer and voice actress Maria Yamamoto would be present, so I figured I’d make a quick pass through the dealer room and then try to find her autograph session. Eventually, I succeeded:
She was very friendly and sweet, and if I had been permitted more than 30 seconds of her time, I’m sure I’d have enjoyed it. As for Fanimecon in general, I’ll be kind and say that I was unimpressed with their organizational skills, and that nothing could persuade me to ever attend another of their shows.
Disappointing. Why? Because the series up to this point has been straightforward action/comedy with a dollop of fan-service and plenty of cartoon violence, and they inexplicably turned serious on this disc, dropping the comedy and making the combat bloody and lethal. Previous incarnations of the Burn-Up franchise are reported to have had the same problem, but it really looked like they’d decided to keep this one light.
Nope. Of the four episodes on this disc, only the first matches the tone of the previous stories. In episodes 10 and 11, Our Heroines take on a pair of powerful, brutal “replacements”, and the losers end up on life-support, while shadowy figures pull the strings. There’s some good character development mixed in, and they partially redeem themselves with the final episode (despite the baggage left over from the two-parter), but based on the first two-thirds, this wasn’t the sort of series where you expected to see one of the good guys lying in a pool of her own blood. And I counted at least two arms being graphically broken in ways that don’t heal quickly, which was two too many.
I don’t get it. I thought they’d done a nice job of setting up a world and characters that would support several series of light-hearted action, with sexy heroines and a slapstick supporting cast. I assumed that was what they were shooting for, but even though the last episode leaves room for more adventures with these characters, they left the shadowy string-pullers pulling strings.
So, either they ran out of ideas, they didn’t really want to continue writing an episodic comedy, or they were seeing how an “edgier tone” would play with the fans. Well, I’d have bought five discs like the first one, or at least three like the second one, but I don’t want any more like the story that dominates the last one. Not even with Maya in a bikini.
…then it’s hilarious. I haven’t been following the new Battlestar Galactica series, even though it’s getting lots of good reviews, mostly because I simply haven’t been watching much television at all. However, while looking at the fan sites, I noticed that Grace Park’s character, Boomer, is a Cylon disguised as a human being.
Boomer. Cylon. Where are the Knight Sabers when you need them?
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…]
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)
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.
It was the title, ElePaperAction.
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.
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.