The 2nd Dimension

Thursday, May 24, 2007

Nabeshin interview

As a promotion for the US release of Negima Daicon Brother, afro-sporting director Shinichi Watanabe (aka Nabeshin) -- who is best known as the director of Excel Saga -- attended an event in his honor at the Alamo Drafthouse in Houston, Texas. Details on the event, video clips, and the full interview are available at ANN. Here are a few amusing nuggets though...

On directing comedy vs. drama:

The anime that are often said to be “good anime” is oftentimes serious and moving and they make you cry – those are the anime that people tend to say are “good”.

I do want to move the viewers, but what I emphasize is getting a laugh. Making the audiences laugh is in a way, moving them. Not sentimentally, but with laughter.

On his trademark red jacket:

I actually found this red jacket in a store, and I was thinking a blue shirt and yellow tie would go well with this. This guy Lupin the Third, though, stole my idea and is cosplaying as me. I saw some folks where I couldn't actually tell if they were dressed as me, or dressed as Lupin.

On his recent visit to NASA:

I made the afro popular in Chicago and Houston, so I wanted to send that signal into space. I thought they had a rocket here at NASA in Houston, but it turns out that's in Florida.

On his next city to visit in the US:

You know, I'm kind of full of Texas, but I'll visit anyplace you want!

Viewing Journal: Gun Sword (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= C-
Story = C-
Video = C-
Audio = C-


On the forgotten penal colony/planet of Endless Illusion, a lanky vagabond in a tuxedo named Van wanders the land on a mission of vengeance against a nameless figure known only as "The Claw". His weapon is a metal sash that straightens into a sword which he can use to call down a special type of "Armor" (i.e., giant robot) that he calls "Dan". Along the way he teams up with a young girl named Wendy who is also seeking out The Claw in an effort to find her missing older brother. In their quest they encounter more villains, more Armor, more friends, and plenty of opportunities for Wild-West-type mecha battles.

This show mostly uses bits and pieces from other shows -- like Cowboy Bebop and Trigun -- and tries to piece them together using a basic lonely-wanderer-seeking-revenge story. Some of the references were less rip-off than they were homage though. For instance, at one point we are introduced to a team of old retired Armor pilots who used to be the protectors of their town. This is (I'm guessing) a nod to vintage shows like Voltron or Gotchaman that involved a team of heroes fighting to save the world. There is another scene at the beginning of one of the episodes that is a blatant reference to the final scene in Pulp Fiction. Those kinds of things were kind if amusing if for no other reason than I knew what they were referencing. (Go me.)

The high point of this show is the first episode, which is a great introduction to Van, Wendy, and "Dan". It has some great action and funky-cool characters. Van's personality especially shines in this episode because you see a few of his little quirks like insisting on putting tons of condiments on his food and the fact that he never remembers anyone's name -- both of which are meant to illustrate his apathy toward the world. His and his face-off with the bandits is also a lot of fun to watch.

After that first episode -- although there were some parts here and there that I liked -- for the most part the story is very cut-and-dry, the mecha battles are redundant, and most of the characters have weak personalities making for an overall disappointing series.

The animation and music are fine, but nothing to write home about. The only character design that I thought was worth anything was Van and, I guess, Wendy (there's something about those pig-tails!) but the other characters and even the mecha designs didn't do anything for me.

So in summary this show has a few good ideas scattered within a very basic storyline. There are pieces of the art, characters, and story that I like, but as a whole the show is average and doesn't live up to the spectacular first episode.

Monday, May 21, 2007

Viewing Journal: Eureka Seven (complete)

Series Overview
TV Broadcast Info
DVD Info
Trailer (opening)

Overall= B-
Story = B-
Video = B
Audio = C


Anime in general has developed a lot of standard storytelling conventions -- things in a story that are consistent across different titles -- and for "giant robot" anime this is even more true. And although conventions can make a show comforting and familiar, they can also make it tedious, predictable, and just downright boring. But every so often a show comes along that tries to weed out those conventions by either twisting them into something more original, or by intentionally breaking them. Eureka Seven -- for better or worse -- is one such show.

Renton is your average 14-year old boy living in the backwater pillar-city of Bellforest. He enjoys surfing the sky on his "ref board" and dreams of living a more exciting life with his idol Holland aboard the rebel air-ship Gekkostate. Renton gets more than he ever hoped for one day when a giant robot called an LFO -- which also surfs on a giant ref board -- crashes on his grandfather's house. A beautiful girl pilot named Eureka emerges from it and asks Renton's grandfather to help make repairs. Renton immediately falls head-over-heals for her and dedicates himself to being with her forever. Oddly enough, she is a member of the Gekkostate! So when Renton gets permission to become a member of the ship, he's elated. But his love for Eureka has greater implications than just a simple boyhood crush -- implications that could save or destroy the entire planet! (No pressure.)

The story has almost all of the elements of a giant robot anime, like the angst-ridden teenage boy who's father is a legendary military leader and who falls for a young female pilot of mysterious origins; and, of course, the semi-sentient giant robots that are developed from alien technology. But in Eureka Seven these elements are treated a tad differently. For instance, in most anime, the giant robots fight against the very aliens who developed the robots' technology. This show has that element too, but the vast majority of the show concentrates on the robots fighting against each other in a Gundam-style rebel-vs.-military storyline (although I've watched very little Gundam, so maybe that's not an accurate description). Most shows also have a few mysterious metaphysical events with dark undertones thrown in to give the story an epic-but-pessimistic feel. Eureka Seven has that too, like the "Seventh Swell" and the "Amita Drive", but it's not quite as dark or moody. If anything they have more of an bright, uplifting, even optimistic tone to them.

Renton and Eureka's relationship also deviates form the norm in a few ways. For instance, when Renton sees Eureka for the first time, he immediately falls in love with her and tells her so right away. That's a refreshingly honest change of pace from your average romantic anime, where the lead male character will fall in love with the lead female but he will be either too shy or just too scared to admit it to himself, much less to the girl.

Not long after Renton expresses his feelings, Eureka says that she loves Renton too, but follows that up by saying (something like) "I love all my children". By "children" she's talking about the three kids that live aboard the Gekko and call her "momma" even though she's not their real biological mother. This whole idea of Eureka having children adds another element to the relationship because it brings up the whole notion that love not only involves infatuation and romance, but responsibility, which is something that Renton has to learn if he and Eureka are going to be able to stick together. By the way, if all this talk about "relationship" and "responsibility" makes you a bit queasy, they you'll best stay away from this show. Because, although there is some cool action and visuals, "love" is a major theme and is what really drives most of the story.

Now, as much as I like how the show deviates from the standard giant robot anime stereotypes, there are a few things about it that really annoys me. For starters, the first episode really starts the show out with a bang and really got me excited to see the rest. But for the next 15-20 episodes, nothing happens -- or at least nothing that moves the plot forward. It's mostly just Renton doing a bunch of goofy stuff to try to fit in to the Gekko's crew, or the Gekko going and doing some freelance work to earn money. I understand that those episodes are trying to build characterization, but as a result they seemed like filler material because they did little to advance the plot and at the time I couldn't help but wonder if anything of consequence was ever going to happen. Luckily the plot does start to pick up around episode 20 or so, but those initial episodes really tried my patience.

Another thing that really annoyed me was the English voice acting. I usually prefer to watch the original Japanese, but since I watched it on Adult Swim, that wasn't an option. I did, however, watch the first two or three episodes subtitled back before it was licensed, and comparing the two, in the dub Renton sounds whiny and Eureka alternates between sounding too perky or too breathy. Overall the whole English dub makes the dialogue sound really cheesy. That's not to say that the dialogue isn't cheesy anyway, but the English voice actors made it 10 times worse and ruined a lot of otherwise intense moments.

Annoyances aside though, the show's ending was great. Whatever misgivings I had for the rest of the series, the ending made up for it. It was a good dramatic climax and generally tied up all of the loose ends. I still don't get a few things -- like what exactly is the "Seventh Swell" and the "Summer of Love" and how did Renton's dad play such a vital roll in saving the planet -- but that may have just been because I didn't play close enough attention (as is often the case) or because I simply don't remember.

The show is animated by Studio Bones, which has always been consistent in making quality animation, and this is no exception. There's something about Bones' animation style and designs that really softens characters and makes them especially likable and sympathetic. The robot designs are pretty original too. I loved the whole "surfing" robot concept -- at least at first. But as the show moved on and the novelty wore off, the surfing concept started to look a little corny, especially when the plot starts to get a more serious.

The music fits the story in general, but it's not something that I would rush out and buy the soundtrack for. There were three sets of opening and ending animation sequences, but I only really liked the first OP and ED.

So, in summary, although I'm far from being in love with this show, I do have to tip my hat to Studio Bones for making an anime that subtly pushes boundaries while keeping all the elements that make for likable characters and an entertaining story. I'd recommend this show, but only if you are prepared to put up with a boring first half, and are ready to deal with a story that is more about relationships than about action. And definitely only if you are willing to watch it subtitled.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Viewing Journal: My Hime (complete)

Series Overview
DVD Info

Overall= B-
Story = C+
Video = B-
Audio = B-


This is going to be a short review because, despite the fact that I did actually like this series, there is not a lot to talk about because it is such a standard, almost stereotypical storyline.

Mai Tokiha and her brother Takumi are on their way to attend the prestigious Fuka Academy when their ferry is suddenly caught in the middle of a battle between two girls with apparently supernatural powers. This is only the beginning of Mai's troubles as she eventually discovers that she too has special powers -- the powers of a HiME.

The plot is relatively straightforward and focused, while at the same time it maintains a certain level of mystery. I'm not saying that the mysteries are especially gripping, but they did keep me curious enough to maintain my interest.

There is a lot of action in this show, but there is also a lot of focus on developing the characters' relationships. The HiMEs' powers comes from feelings they have for the "person most precious to them" so if a HiME looses a battle, that person disappears. As cheesy as that may sound, the show makes it work by keeping the melodrama relatively low key. There are also plenty of love triangles and awkward teenage romance. But it avoids getting too angst-ridden because most of the time the focus is on the characters trying to maintain their friendships instead of building conflict.

The characters -- as with most everything else -- were pretty standard with one exception: Makoto. In fact, a good portion of my enjoyment of the show is due to her character. Part of that is because she has such a cool way of fighting. Basically she spins her giant sword along the ground with sparks flying until she builds up enough inertia to swing it at her enemy... Just trust me, it looks cool. Her personality also made her fun to watch too. Most of the time she acted just like a cat, lazy and affectionate, but once you get her going she's one of the strongest HiME in the show, especially when her "dark" side comes out.

The animation and art are colorful and vibrant and are consistently above-average quality. The music works well with most scenes and does a good job of bringing out the drama in the action scenes, although much of it is recycled throughout the show.

Unfortunately the ending is disappointing. It seems rushed and doesn't explain many key points satisfactorily -- like (spoiler) why Makoto's column showed up when she isn't actually dead, and what kind of power did the star would give to the Prince (end spoiler). It was a decent climax in terms of the action, but since a lot of the elements were unexplained, the drama fell flat. Maybe more will be explained in the sequel -- My Otome -- which is due out in July. (Although now that I actually read the plot summary, it doesn't seem like it will. Ah well.)

Overall though, I really did enjoy this show. It may be low on originality, but the story entertaining enough and the visuals are vibrant enough to make this worth picking up.