Sunday, November 02, 2008
Edit: Just found out that the cat with the conductor's hat is a reality.
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
Here, in one authoritative volume, is everything you need to know about Death Note! Features include complete character biographies, detailed story-line summaries, production notes, and behind-the-scenes commentaries. Death Note 13: How to Read also includes exclusive interviews with creators Tsugumi Ohba and Takeshi Obata and a bonus manga chapter of never-before-translated material. (Source: AnimeNation)
I was in Borders one day browsing through the manga section when I found some book about Death Note that claimed to reveal mysteries and secrets about the manga. Intrigued, I leafed through it. But after a few minutes I realized that the book contained nothing that I didn't already know about the series. All it did was summarize info that you could find out by reading the books or watching the anime. Essentially -- much like some Harry Potter books I've seen floating around -- it was nothing more than a worthless attempt by some shmoe to milk money out of a popular franchise. Death Note 13: How to Read, however, is NOT that type of book.
The best way I can think of to describe DN 13 is that it is comparable a really good set of DVD extras. From character bios to creator's commentary to making-of info and even some humorous extras, this book is the definitive Death Note encyclopedia.
Having said that, there is a lot in this book that you may already know. The character bios and timeline of events are nothing new; but it goes the extra mile in both the way it organizes the information and in the level of extra behind-the-scenes info it gives you.
For instance, in the character bios there is a chart that gages certain personality traits of each character. So you can see how the intelligence level of Light compares to L, or how the death toll of Ryuk compares to Rem. Plus it give more insight into the background, motivations, and likes/dislikes and even the physical traits like height, weight, blood type that you wouldn't necessarily know by reading the manga alone. So now you know everything from the degree of Mellow's inferiority complex to Halle Linder's distaste for moths. In addition the creators tell you things like how Misa probably ended up after her final scene and what probably happened with Light's mom and sister.
The book also organizes the story and characters in every which way imaginable. You have the timeline of events including specific dates. You have all the organizations involved, including which characters belong to which organization, and the part each plays. You have all of the Death Note rules including the ones that directly affect the story and the specific scenes they apply to as well as the ones that are never even mentioned in the manga. Plus you have a list of all the tricks that the characters employ when using the Death Note. You have a list of what characters used which Death Note... the list goes on and on. And even though some of the info is redundant, each section provides some new or extra detail or insight to glean from the story.
Of course, the biggest value to the book are the multiple interviews with the creators: Tsugumi Ohba (the writer) and Takeshi Obata (the artist). They go into everything from how they went about creating the series, to the level of collaboration, to how they came up with the character designs, to aspects of the creators' everyday lives. For instance, Ohba reveals that the story was never intended to be as deep as people interpret it. He never meant for it to spark debate about right vs. wrong or whether Light was good or evil. He just wanted to create an entertaining suspense story. And Ryuk's apples -- which so many people interpreted as a reference to Adam and Eve and temptation -- was merely used because he thought the red color would look cool against Ryuk's black body. Although the one thing that I was confused about was the level to which Ohba planned ahead when writing the story. At one point he says that he knew what the ending was going to be all along. But later on he said that he was pretty much just making up the story as he went. I'm guessing the real answer is somewhere in between.
The final parts of the book include a hilarious "Ryuk's Journal" section where Ryuk uncovers everything from Mello's scoreboard of victories and defeats to Near's shopping list to just how much sugar and caffeine L actually inhales. Then there are some funny four-panel comic strips and everything wraps up with the original never-before-seen pilot chapter on which the serial Death Note manga was based.
So -- if you haven't figured it out by now -- this book is more than just a regurgitation of info you already know. It provides useful insight and new details that -- if you are a true Death Note fanatic -- you won't want to be without.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Story = B
Art = C-
Part 1: Set in 1955, a family from Hiroshima struggles to come to terms with their survival of the atomic bombing of their city. The protagonist is Minami Hirano, about 20 years of age. Part 2: Set some decades later, the niece of Minami Hirano is bewildered by her father's mysterious disappearances. She and a friend follow him to discover what he is doing. Parts of this story are told in flashback. (Source: ANN)
There are some subjects that you'd think it would be easy to build a dramatic story around. One is the Holocaust. The other is the bombing of Hiroshima. And although I've seen and/or heard of plenty of movies related to the former, I can't really think of many related to the later (Barefoot Gen being the only one that immediately comes to mind). Part of that is probably because the US is not likely want to explore the unpleasant details of something it's responsible for (or to import that kind of material from Japan). But if Town of Evening Calm is any indication, it is also likely because Japan itself just wants to move beyond those events as well.
Town of Evening Calm, Country of Cherry Blossoms -- unlike Barefoot Gen -- doesn't deal directly with the events of the bombing, but instead deals with the emotional and physical after-effects that are felt years and decades later. The first part takes place ten years afterwards and focuses on a girl named Minami who is trying to happily move on with her life but realizes that as much as she tries she just never feels right about it. The second part takes place in 1987 and 2004, and deals with how even later generations -- for whom the bombing is little more of a history lesson -- still feel its effects.
From a purely entertainment standpoint, this manga is definitely worthwhile. It isn't as heavy or in-your-face as I expected given the weighty subject. It's also not as preachy or critical of the events themselves (except for a few lines at the end of the first chapter). It deals with the subject matter indirectly for the most part, making it easy to read, but also giving it dramatic undertones.
But it's more interesting in how it shows Japanese attitudes and reactions to the bombing. I mentioned earlier that I have not seen a lot of stories involving the bombing directly, but of course there are plenty that deal with it indirectly, through either symbolism, themes, or just through the countless anime that show Tokyo blowing up. So you know that it's still there somewhere in the back of people's minds, but it's not often that I get a chance to see a straightforward representation to how the Japanese think and feel about it. So -- if nothing else -- this manga is certainly worthwhile for that insight alone.
As far as the artwork is concerned, it is not particularly impressive. The characters are ill-proportioned so that it is sometimes hard to tell between an adult and a child; and overall it not clean or solid. But even so, it does exude a light tone that, again, gives the weighty subject a more relaxed feel.
So, I think that a lot of people will hesitate to buy this due to its subject matter, regardless of how effective it is as a drama. But for those who are interested in getting some insight into Japanese attitudes toward one of its most historically impactful events, it is definitely worthwhile.
Thursday, August 21, 2008
Tuesday, August 12, 2008
Story = B-
Video = A-
Audio = B
Hunted by the Mings from China, young Kotaro and his dog meet a nameless samurai ("Nanashi") who is constantly being haunted by dreams of the past which lead him to seal his sword. Among the Mings is a fearsome Western fighter named Rarou, who desires only to find a worthy opponent. When both groups clash with a Sengoku-era feudal lord, a proud general, and monks torn between faith and survival, the reason behind the Mings' pursuit tests the bond between Kotaro and Nanashi. (Source: ANN)
Sword of the Stranger is pretty standard in a lot of respects. It has a standard samurai story involving a ronin warrior trying to protect a kid from other warrior/bad guys who want to use him for some villainous plot. It has the tried-and-true character types of the guilt-ridden samurai with the tragic past, the tough kid, the arrogant and power-hungry leaders, and the fighter looking for a challenge. But standard or not, the movie does pull off all of these elements successfully: The characters are sympathetic and compelling and the plot has just enough detail to keep it interesting while allowing the action to flow at a brisk pace.
But what sets this movie apart from others in the genre are the visuals. I don't mean the animation -- which is smooth and fast-paced -- and I don't mean the art -- which is above even Studio Bones' typically high standards. What I mean is the details in the action itself. The fight scenes are not only well choreographed, but also go so far as so show, in unexpected detail, the physical consequences of the fight. For instance, near the beginning, Nanashi finishes off an opponent by jabbing the hilt of his sword into the foe's neck. It sinks in, breaking the guy's neck, but when he Nanashi pulls the sword back, the neck swells at the entrance point due to internal bleeding. There are also a few other creative details, like when the hawk guy (I don't remember his name) is looking for his sword when it is in fact sticking out the back of his neck. Now that's quality!
As for the music, it was good and fit in with movie and enhanced the drama. At least I'm pretty sure it did because I don't remember it too clearly.
So anyway, this was a great movie overall and is definitely worth a watch for anyone interested in cool samurai violence presented with high quality animation and with good story and characters. And being able to watch it on the big screen at Otakon made it all the better.
Story = D-
Video = D
Audio = C
Takemoto study in art college, but not knowing what he wants to do in the future. Shy girl Hagumi loves painting. Some day she is painting and Takemoto see her; he fell in love. So does Morita, who is in art college too. (Source: ANN)
Even though I didn't like the anime version of Honey and Clover, I was curious in seeing this live action version (which was showing at Otakon this year). The only reason being that I wanted to check whether or not my theory about how the anime would work in live action was on target. And I can proudly say I was spot on.
This live action movie has all the down-side of the anime with none of the up-side. It's a story about a group of art school students who are all the victims of unrequited love; meaning that girl-A loves boy-B, but boy-B loves girl-C, etc. There is no focus on any particular set of characters, and with no other story elements driving the story forward it was hard to tell where it was going. And the worst part is that over the full 2-hours of the movie, nothing really even develops in any of these relationships, making it seem like the movie could potentially go on forever.
And it doesn't help that it moves so slowly throughout the entire thing. The conversations would include a line of dialogue, and awkward pause, another line, another pause, and so on. This technique can potentially be used effectively to build a sense of tension between characters, but that just didn't happen here. Maybe it was bad acting, or maybe it was lost in translation, but whatever the case it made each conversation way more drawn out than it needed to be. And it made the movie way longer than it had any right to be.
The thing about the anime was that, even though it had much the same type of storyline as in the movie, the visual gags and some of the extreme antics of the characters -- especially Morita -- at least made it somewhat entertaining, if not especially engrossing. But since those types of things can't be pulled off in a live action drama, this movie ends up falling flat.
As for the music, it is half-way decent. And just about all of the songs are in English which is nice from the perspective of a US audience. It also makes me think that maybe this is one of those movies where the soundtrack sells better than the movie DVD.
So in the end, this movie reminded me of a slow-moving Japanese version of Singles -- or any of those kinds of movies that portray multiple couples with loose connections trying to find love. I tend to dislike those kinds of movies because there is no plot and the characters usually seem so self absorbed and sappy that I just want to scream "Get over it already!" Again, I'm not saying that I don't like romance -- hell my favorite anime movie of all time is 5 Centimeters Per Second -- but with little focus and no plot, Honey and Clover left me bored out of my mind.
Monday, August 04, 2008
Story = C
Video = B
Audio = C+
Conspiracies are revealed and sides are taken as Ichigo's quest to save Rukia comes to its dramatic and blood-soaked climax. In the aftermath of the battle, Ichigo returns to the world of the living only to find himself and his friends being taunted by rouge mod-souls and soul-sucking creatures called Bounts. The Bounts have nefarious plans for world domination, which somehow necessitate kidnapping the last known Quincy...
The good news is that the whole story arc involving Ichigo saving Rukia from being executed is finally resolved. The bad news is that once that's all done with, we're faced with the show's first round of mind-numbing filler episodes.
Starting with the up-side of this season, the way that the Rukia-execution story arc is resolved really is climactic. That's mainly due to Ichigo reaching his Bankai form and attaining a new black sword and a new Matrix-inspired outfit (although he looked cooler when he had the cloak). But there are also plenty of other battles taking part across the soul society with soul reaper squads battling one another to show who is strong and who is just a poser.
But as intense as a lot of the battles are, there are a few that seem to drag out. The worst of it comes in the battle with the bearded soul reaper captain Shigekuni. About a quarter of that episode (and part of the following one) was dedicated solely to panning over the old man's muscular body in slow motion just to show how powerful he is. And after all that we never even get to see the guy fight! What the--?
But despite the propensity for lengthy body-shots, most episodes contain some kind of revelation that uncover some new aspect of the characters or world they live in... at least, until around episode 62 -- the start of the dreaded filler episodes.
"Filler episodes" are the parts of an anime where the animators have run out of source material from the original manga and thus have to bide their time by animating all-new plot threads until more manga-based story lines are generated. The main problem with that -- regardless of how good or bad those new stories are -- is that the pace is ruined because there are no more revelations. And that's frustrating because it's almost like you are starting from scratch with a crew of new characters who are not nearly as interesting as the originals.
And even if you give the writers some slack and say that you don't care if the story is sidetracked from a little while, I would still say that the new stories are inferior to the originals. For one thing, it seems like the writers are doing nothing more with the original characters than playing off a single personality trait -- Ichigo as an angry and driven teen, Otahime as a ditz, Kon as a pining pervert -- so the characters do not seem as deep or complex as they used to. Plus, the careful balance between action, drama, and comedy that the show had at the beginning is gone. Sure all the elements themselves are still there, but they are not as well timed making for an awkward narrative.
As far as the animation, it's pretty much the same as it's ever been: average most of the time, above average the rest of the time.
The music -- which hasn't changed at all -- is actually starting to wear on me. I can only take so much more of that "If you want to see some action, you've got to be the center of a-ttrac-tion..." song. And the guitar music has lost the edgy-cool factor that it had in the first season.
From what I've heard the filler episodes keep going until around episode 110 (there are currently 190 episodes released in Japan) so I guess I'm stuck with them for a while. But despite how horrible they get I'll keep trudging along because bad filler Bleach is still better than no Bleach at all.
More Bleach reviews:
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
TV Broadcast Info
Story = D+
Video = C-
Audio = C
Throughout the passage of time and the shifts in backgrounds, a particular war continues to leave its mark on history, extending its influence into the modern world. There are two major groups involved in the ensuring war. The first group consists of monsters known as Chiropterans who can change their appearances into that of human beings. They are actually immortals who feed on the blood of the living. The second group is an organisation known as the "Red Shield", formed to track down these monsters and exterminate them. Otonashi Saya is a high-school girl who lives a peaceful life with her family. The only problem is, she has no recollections of her life beyond that of the past year. However, her happy life will be destroyed by an event that will lead her to her destined fate. (Source: ANN)
Going into this show I had a specific set of expectations. First of all, it is based on an OAV from 2000 called Blood: The Last Vampire -- a short video about a bad-ass school girl/vampire slayer who goes in to a military base overrun with beasts called Chiropterans and takes them all out. It was heavy on violent action, but more interesting was that it hinted about Saya's dense background, even though it left the details to the viewer's imagination. So with the Blood+ TV series, I was hoping to learn more about Saya and was expecting similar dark, brooding drama, mystery, and action. Other than that is the fact that Blood+ is produced by Production IG -- a studio known for making high-quality animation. Unfortunately, given all of these expectations, I was gravely disappointed with the TV series.
If there is one word to describe this series, it would be "weak". From the story to the characters to the animation, the show promises powerful drama, intense action, and quality animation that it never delivers on.
To start with, the tone of the original OAV and this TV series are like night and day. Don't let the first episode, where you see Saya taking out a village in Vietnam, fool you. The plot here focuses much more on characters trying to cheer each other up than blood-soaked action. The theme is "family means more than blood" (Blood+), so in service of that there is a lot of "I'm no good" "No, you really are good" "Why would you say that" "Because we're family!" kind of dialogue. In some shows that can work, but here the characters are like that so often that it ends up seeming superficial and contrived, if not downright annoying. The version of Saya from the OAV may have been brooding, but at least she was strong. Here she's just depressing and weak.
And the characters aren't vindicated much with their strength on the battlefield. First there's Saya herself. When her sword is supplied with her own blood and she is surrounded by the enemy, her eyes will glow red and she will go from shy school girl to battle-hardened warrior -- at least that is what you would expect. But more often than not, her red-eyed self will be the same as her blue-eyed self. And -- equally annoying -- she constantly forgets to power-up her sword with her own blood... which seemes moronic given that her blood is required for her to be able to kill Chiropterans at all. And she may cut down one or two of the beasts, but more often than not she gets her own butt kicked. Equally annoying is Saya's Chevalier Kaji. He's supposed to be her protector, but he is constantly getting knocked down or throw aside or stabbed through the gut (he's lucky he's immortal). Seriously. It's pitiful.
As for the animation, I was really disappointed in Production IG here. The quality of the visuals is average at best and at times drops to below-average. Given this and some of their other recent works I have to wonder if the studio has simply lost its touch.
So maybe it's not fair to have such specific expectations going in to this series, but the fact remains that for me this show is a major disappointment.
Story = B+
Art = B+
In Treasure Town, orphans Black and White rule the mean streets through violence and terror. These lost boys are direct opposites: Black being a streetwise punk who embodies everything wrong about the city, while White is a innocent dope, out of touch with the world around him. Together, they're unstoppable as they take on petty thugs, religious fanatics and brutal yakuza. But when a corporation called "Kiddy Kastle" tries to tear down and rebuild Treasure Town to fit its own goals, the boys must save the soul of their beloved city, that is if they can save themselves from inner demons. (Source: ANN)
I started reading the Tekkon Kinkreet manga because -- like so many other manga -- I had seen the animated movie and wanted to see how the original compared. And as visually and dramatically gripping as the movie is, I think the manga actually works much better due to the art style as well as the medium of manga itself.
The actual story of the manga is nearly identical to the movie: Two orphan boys -- Black and White -- living on the streets of a city call Treasure Town go up against a shady redevelopment group who want to build a theme park atop the decaying metropolis.
The story itself is solid and easy to follow with genuine characters and relatable drama. But even so there are plenty of qualities of the show that are pure fantasy -- like Black and White's ability to jump from the rooftops and land at street level unscathed, or the supernatural fighting abilities of Snake's assassin squad.
And certainly anime is a better medium to portray these kinds of fantastic elements than live action, since the stylized nature of anime keeps it one step removed from reality. But the medium of manga allows even more creative flexibility and potential for abstraction because it doesn't necessarily require the artist to maintain consistency between panels. In anime it would be odd and confusing to have seemingly random anthropomorphic animals and objects appear in the background, but the Tekkon Kindreet manga does so successfully and with minimal confusion or effect on the plot. And instead said random visuals add a sort of imaginative dreamlike quality to the story. That is especially important because it shows that despite the violence and torment that the story portrays, Black and White are still kids and still have that childish innocence. The anime certainly has lush and imaginative visuals, but lacks that dreamlike innocence from the manga.
But even though the art certainly makes for a more effective story, I think that most manga fans will pass this one by because the art is so nontraditional. It is more influenced by European abstract art (specifically French art from what I've read) than Japanese. But I think if you are open minded enough to try something a little different, this manga will be well worth the time invested.
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
DVD Info (To be released October 2008)
Story = C-
Video = B
Audio = C
In Karakura Town, there has been a sudden outbreak of unidentifiable spirits called "blanks" (vacant souls) while in the skies of Soul Society, the real world has been reflected. A mysterious female shinigami called Senna has appeared before Ichigo along with a man named Ganryu, leading a group called the "Dark Ones". (Source: ANN)I'm watching the Bleach TV series on Adult Swim, and right now I'm into the first set of filler episodes (ie, original stories unrelated to the manga). So I'm starting to get accustomed to the idea of story arcs that don't advance the overall plot or the characters' powers. But even given that, this first Bleach movie -- which is essentially a 2-hour filler episode -- has such an uneven distribution of character development, plot development, and action that it was hard to get into; but almost makes up for it in the end by showing all the regular-series' characters at their best.
I'd read online that the movie takes place around the point where I am in the TV series (episode 67) so it shouldn't have any spoilers. And for the most part that's correct save for two things: First, when the movie starts, Ichigo and Rukia are chasing after a hollow in the World of the Living. But the last time I checked, Rukia was still in the Soul Society, and Ichigo and Renji were the only Soul Reapers hanging out on earth; so how Rukia got there I have no idea. The second thing is that near the end, during the show's climax, Rukia show's her Bankia technique which I haven't yet seen in the series.
Other than that though, everything is original to the movie. The story revolves around a plot by the villain -- an original character named Ganryu -- to destroy both the living world and the Soul Society by making the two world collide.
This is where my first issue with the movie comes into play.... The method by which this massive destruction takes place is way more complex than it needs to be. The pseudo-logic used to explain the events is clear enough to get a general understanding, but there is a ton of detail and terminology thrown at you in a short amount of time, and it seems like it is way too complicated for a simple villain-destroys-the-world story. There's an attempt to make light of this overly-complex explanation by way of some comically bad illustrations by Urahara (something that was originally done much more effectively early in the series) but I couldn't laugh too much because I was focused so much on trying to understand the explanation.
The other issue I had is with the character development. Almost all of the movie except for the final climactic battle involves Ichigo and the other new character, Senna, developing their friendship. As a result there is little action, and even less development of the other characters. The villain Ganryu is hardly ever seen until the end, and almost no time is spent on developing his personality or motivation. So even though he's the key to the events in the movie, by the end he seems like a minor character, which makes the fight between him, his minions, and the Soul Reapers not nearly as dramatic as it could have been.
The one thing that does make this movie worth watching is the grand finale, which is a non-stop Bankai-fest as each Soul Reaper displays their most powerful fighting techniques. This was especially cool when watching the movie in a theatre crowded with other Bleach fans, because as each character made their entrance, everyone in the theatre would erupt with applause.
As for the visuals and music, they were about on par with the TV series. The animation was more smooth and a bit more dynamic, but the artwork wasn't much different. And much of the music was recycled from the series.
One thing that I was especially disappointed with was that the theatre I watched it in didn't seem to have the stereo sound on, so all the sound was coming from the front. So at times you couldn't hear what the characters were saying and some of the sound effects were barely audible when they should have shaken the seats. I'm guessing that had more to do with the theatre than the movie itself, but even so, it did have a big effect on the viewing experience.
So in the end, I'd say that this isn't the greatest anime movie, and certainly isn't as good as the original TV series, but was still fun to watch in a theatre full of anime fans, and is especially crowd pleasing in it's climactic final battle scene.
Thursday, June 12, 2008
I was first exposed to the poignant classic Club-To-Death Angel Dokuro-chan a while ago via Question-san, over at The Hell House blog. I just watched one episode, but my God if it wasn't the most ridiculously hilarious thing I'd ever seen. And now it's coming to US DVD by way of Media Blasters. Score!
Of course, the concept of killing the same person over and over again might loose it's novelty after a while, but hell... it worked for South Park, didn't it?
Tuesday, June 03, 2008
Story = D
Video = C+
Audio = C+
Syaoran, a boy who wants to become an archeologist, and Sakura, a princess from the Clow Kingdom, are childhood friends with a close relationship. On a fateful night, Sakura lost all her memories as a result of a conspiracy to obtain her powers. In order to regain her memory, Syaoran seeks help from the witch, Yuuko. Yuuko tells Syaoran that he has to travel from one alternate reality to another to collect fragments of Sakura's memory. However, even if Sakura regains her memory, she will have no recollection of Syaoran. Traveling together with them is Kurogane, a warrior who was exiled from his country, and Fye, a magician who wants to escape from his King. With the help of a magical creature, Mokona, they set off on an exciting journey through time and space. (Source: ANN)
I usually try not to review a show unless I've seen the entire thing, or at least plan to see the entire thing. But since I've watched a good portion of this show, I figured it might be useful to any readers who are considering the series to know what it is like through the first 26-episodes. The answer is: pretty boring and tedious to get through. That's because -- despite the possibility that things may suddenly start developing at a breakneck pace from episode 27 on -- there is very little development in terms of the plot and the characters up to this point.
To start, it's worth noting that -- as fans of the all-female manga-creator group CLAMP probably already know -- the characters in this series were actually re-used from other CLAMP titles, but here they play totally different roles. So you might see one of the apocalyptic warriors from the X anime (the only CLAMP-related anime I've seen in full) but when you see him in Tsubasa, he is a humble shop owner. It's something that CLAMP fans will surely get giddy over; but for people like me, it's an interesting side note, but otherwise it doesn't add anything to the story.
However, there were a number of things that did catch my interest and made me want to keep watching. First there's the fact Sakura, Syaoran, and their crew have to gather all of these feathers, each one representing one of Sakura's memories. I had to wonder what kind of secret lay in her memories, and what would happen once she got them all back? Secondly, there's the whole concept of traveling to different dimensions. What would each new world be like? And what kind of role would the feathers play in that world? And lastly, there's the whole conspiracy that caused Sakura to loose her memories and send the group on this journey in the first place. Who are the conspirators and what are their grand plans and ultimate goals?
But after the first 26 episodes, hardly any of those things developed any satisfying way, if at all. Sakura's memories didn't seem to have any particular significance other than to highlight the fact that she did NOT remember Syaoran (which we already knew anyway). The journey to the different worlds could have had more potential, but the story in each world dragged on for way too many episodes, and in the end it didn't seem to have much point to it in terms of advancing the overall story. And the villains that initiated Syaoran and Sakura's journey don't show up much, and when they do the hardly ever offer any new information, and what they do offer doesn't bring us any closer to understanding what their grand scheme is. All in all, the story doesn't seem to be going anywhere, or if it is going anywhere it is taking its sweet time getting there.
Then there are the characters themselves. At first they seem like they could develop into something interesting, but up to this point, they have not developed much at all. The people they are at the beginning are very much the same that they are now. They haven't changed and we don't know much of anything more about their pasts or goals. And even that wouldn't be all that bad if there they were interesting enough to keep me entertained in the meantime. But their personalities are basic and cliche -- the boy-hero, the strong soldier, the happy-go-lucky guy, the saccharine moe girl, the cute animal mascot -- lacking any quirks, mannerisms, or idiosyncrasies that might have made them more interesting and less predictable.
The one key element that I think the show hinges on is the relationship between Sakura and Syaoran and the fact that Sakura will never remember him even if she gets all her other memories back. It sounds all tragic at first, but the story plays this angle up so much that it starts to seem more melodramatic and sappy than tragic. And it becomes essentially a moot point later on when Sakura starts to develop feelings for Syaoran despite having no memory of him. It becomes increasingly obviously they are going to get back together sooner or later, so any dramatic impact is lost. And again, since those characters are defined by that one tragic element and never develop any additional depth in their characters, the constant reminders of how great Syaoran and Sakura are handling such heartache gets redundant after a while and essentially looses any emotional effect.
And speaking of flat characters, that's also a good way to describe the art and animation. The character designs themselves are consistent, clean, and simple, but lack any dimension making them look 2-D, even for an anime. And the animation was also very basic and was not particularly dynamic. On the plus side though, some of the costume designs are interesting, and the color palette for the backgrounds and some of the lighting effects are often impressive and appropriately dramatic.
The music is provided by Yuki Kajiura of Noir and Madlax fame. I usually like her work; but in this show her music, surprisingly, did not enhance anything. It may be nice to listen to on a standalone CD, but it did not add anything to the show itself.
So all that having been said, here's what I think the show should have done (assuming it's one goal was to keep me watching):
- Keep the "price" of retrieving Sakura's memory under wraps (like maybe Yuuko would have told Syaoran, but he kept it a secret from everyone else) until later in the series. That would have added a layer of mystery and a whole lot more tragedy once it was revealed.
- Characters should not be in any one world for longer than two episodes... at least for the first 15-or-so episodes. That way we get exposed to something new on a regular basis.
- Provide some kind of hint as to the overarching story after the characters leave a world. That way you'd get an idea that the story is moving in a definite direction.
- Get Production IG to do the animation (though they did produce the movie version, so I'll have to see how that one turned out).
Thursday, May 29, 2008
Story = B-
Video = D+
Audio = C+
Tanaka Yukio, better known by his nickname Koyuki is a 14 year old who feels disconnected from life in general. Through the act of saving a mismatched dog, he meets guitarist Minami Ryuusuke, and becomes involved in Ryuusuke's new band BECK. Koyuki's life starts to change as the band struggles towards fame. (Source: ANN)
There is no shortage of shows involving teenagers discovering that they have an innate talent for something, and -- with the help and encouragement of those around them -- "working their hardest" to develop and increase their abilities until they become the best in the world. It's a formula that works well most of the time because friendship, encouragement, triumph, and rise to greatness are all uplifting themes that most anyone can get behind, Beck being no exception. But Beck also has the added benefit of being about a rock band, which makes it more relatable than most.
Koyuki is a normal 14-year old who one day happens upon a freakish-looking dog, and through it meets up with Ryuusuke -- a guitarist who is working to start a new band. Koyuki begins to learn some guitar and develops his singing talents and eventually ends up bringing the new band Beck/Mongolian Chop Squad stardom in Japan with hopes of making it big in the US.
I think the biggest draw of this show is the fact that it actually seems plausible. Sure, some of the characters and plot threads are unlikely to exist in reality, but the general idea of someone going from being a nobody to being a rock star is plausible because there are so many real stories of rock bands who made that happen. Plus Koyuki's feeling of detachment and his desire for freedom and expression through music are also easy for most people to relate to because music is such a universally understood medium of expression.
The show also does a good job of maintaining a relatively subtle tone. One way it does this is by eliminating any background music in its soundtrack; so the only time you hear music is when the bands are playing. This kind of technique was also used in the Paradise Kiss anime and in both cases was successful in giving the show a realistic and genuine feel by allowing to characters and drama to stand out on their own without the crutch of background music.
The one unfortunate thing is that there isn't much of an ending to the show. The last episode is mostly just a bunch of music-related visuals with Koyuki's voice in the background narrating what the band is doing. My guess is that -- as with so many anime with similar endings -- either the show's writers didn't have an ending planned, or it ran out of material to pull from the original manga, or both.
As for the animation, it's pretty bad. The character designs and animation vary between episodes, but the majority of the time they are sloppy. The only parts that really stand out as being better quality are the times when the bands are playing on stage. It's disappointing, but still didn't keep me from enjoying the story much.
There are a couple of interesting things to note about this show. The first is the fact that the characters -- in the original Japanese dialogue anyway -- will occasionally shift from speaking Japanese to speaking English because two of the characters were raised in America. It's amusing because their accents are so thick when they speak English that if it weren't for subtitles I wouldn't have any idea what they were saying. This is made all the worse when they start swearing in English, which looses some of it's effect because the voice-actors didn't seem to know how to act as well in English as in Japanese.
The other thing that I thought was interesting was how character's reactions to Koyuki's singing -- and Beck's music in general -- compared to the actual quality of the music itself. Back before I saw the anime and had heard of the Beck manga I thought, "How can you have a manga about a rock band? There's no way to hear the music!" But now that I've seen the anime version I can see where the story would actually work better in manga form. That's because in the anime, Koyuki's singing, even at the best of times, is pretty bad. (He reminded me of someone who would have gotten kick off of American Idol in the early rounds.) But regardless, the characters in the anime would react to Koyuki like he was the greatest thing since The Beatles. In manga form this wouldn't be a problem because you couldn't hear the music, so it would be easier to accept that his singing was great as long as you used your imagination. (Though I do have to say that I did enjoy the opening and second ending songs. And if you listen closely you'll catch a Pillows song in the last episode.)
Musical quality discrepancies aside though, I really did enjoy the Beck anime if for no other reason than I generally like stories that involve rock bands. I'm not sure that everyone would like it though since the general storyline is unoriginal and it's animation is sub-par.
Wednesday, May 28, 2008
Story = C+
Video = C+
Audio = C
Justy Ueki Tylor thought a career in the United Planets Space Force (UPSF) would give him an easy life: enlist, get a desk job, spend the rest of his life in quiet, boring comfort. No sooner does he take the qualifying exam than war breaks out with the Raalgon Empire, and circumstances quickly conspire to land this volunteer off the street in command of the cruiser "Soyokaze." Now Tylor faces two uphill battles - against the Raalgon fleet that wants to kill him, and against his own crew, who expect him to conform to some standard of military discipline. But as the war rages, Tylor's easy-going ways might have a better chance of converting his crew than vice-versa. (Source: ANN)
This show takes some getting used to. In the beginning it is hard to accept how Captain Tylor gets to be captain of his ship. It's not that I expect hardcore realism from a sci-fi comedy anime, and I know that much of Tylor's success is supposed to be due to "luck"; but even given that, the reaction of the characters seem unnatural and contrived in order to land him into the captain's seat of the Soyokaze as quickly as possible. The reasons that the commanders of the UPSF use to give Tylor command of a ship don't make sense, and then even after he gets command, the way that the commanders from both the UPSF and the Raalgon Empire overreact to his antics are unconvincing and inconsistent with their personalities.
That all being said, once all the pieces are in place: Tylor is captain of the ship, the higher-ups are focused on getting rid of Tylor, and the Raalgon leaders are interested in kidnapping him -- and once you've gotten over the fact that everything up to that point made no logical sense -- then it's actually a pretty fun show to watch. It's not that it is any more realistic or believable at that point; it's just that the characters react more naturally and consistently to the situations.
The main draw of the show is how it tries to blur the line between how much of Tylor's success is due to luck and how much is due to his conscious strategy. As first everything seems to be due purely to luck, but as it progresses it becomes increasingly unclear, and Tylor starts to seem like a stronger character.
As for the visuals, this is an old-school anime, so it's from the days before digital animation. As a result the art is much more detailed and spontaneous. I've really started to get interested in these kind of old-school sci-fi anime because it seems like there is so much more creativity and fun in the designs. Of course, there's no re-mastering here so the quality of the video is not as crisp and clear as you'll get in modern anime, which I'm guessing is enough to turn a lot of viewers away.
The music is mostly typical 80's type of anime music: cheesy and campy but still fitting. There is also some music that is pulled from well-known movie soundtracks which is used in the last few episodes making for some funny moments.
So in the end, I'm glad that I watched this show. Even though the first few episodes were kind of ridiculous (and not in a good way), overall it was a fun show to watch.
Sunday, May 11, 2008
As part of a ruthless program by the totalitarian government, ninth-grade students are taken to a small isolated island with a map, food, and various weapons. Forced to wear special collars that explode when they break a rule, they must fight each other for three days until only one "winner" remains. (Source: Amazon)
About a year and a half ago I watched the live action Battle Royale movie and loved it. So when I heard that the original book version was being translated and released in the US, I had to see how the two compared. And after finishing the book, I'll say that it's definitely an interesting read, but not nearly as entertaining as the movie.
The story of Battle Royale plays out like a combination of Lord of the Flies meets 1984 meets The Running Man. It takes place in an alternate history Japan where, as part of a military research program, a class of forty-two unwitting students are taken to an island, given random weapons, and told to kill each other within three days. The last student standing is labelled the victor and granted a dubious award, but if more than one student is left after the allotted time, everyone dies.
The initial draw of the book is the question of "what would you do in that situation?" And to its credit the book does a good job of showing forty-two kids, each with distinct personalities, history, emotional baggage, and philosophies on how to approach the game. In fact, part of what kept me reading was to see (1) how each character would deal with the situation, and (2) how each character would bite it in the end.
The real value of the book is in it's role as an allegory for youth. It's meant to show that this is in fact how real kids view the world: that they live in an oppressive world in which they have little control, and that adults simply use them and push them into a cutthroat, kill-or-be-killed educational system. I can see where this would be all the more true in Japan where so much more stress is put on succeeding in school no matter what. I found it particularly enlightening how the students in the book, in order to find some level of freedom and rebellion in under the restrictive government, turn to contraband music and literature smuggled from America.
So purely from those ideas and insights, the book is definitely an interesting read. But the entertainment value in terms of the suspense and thrill that you would expect from such a violent story is limited by the author's awkward, amateurish writing style.
The first chapter opens with the line "42 students remaining", which is actually a great way to begin because right away I was hooked with an adrenaline rush since I knew that by the end that number would dwindle down. But as the story built up to the point where I expected the action to really get going, it was suddenly interrupted by an ill-timed flashback; and it continued in that vein throughout. Now, I'm not faulting the flashbacks themselves, it's just that I've seen other authors who are able to use that kind of character development to enhance suspense; but here it tends to disrupt the pace of the action and destroy much of the suspense.
Plus, the characters themselves seem more like one-dimensional stereotypes for kinds of students instead of fully fleshed-out, believable characters. It's like an extended version of the cast of Breakfast Club where you have the jock, the nerd, the rebel, and the princess, along with the arrogant rich boy, the coward, the idiot, and of course everyone's favorites: the stone-cold stoic killer, and the psychopathic bitch. This can be amusing at times, but limits the level of empathy, and -- as a result -- limits the potential for suspense.
There were other things about the author's writing style that I wasn't crazy about. For instance, he is pretty blunt when describing things. So he's more likely to say something like "the red blood flowed from his head" as opposed to "the crimson fluid oozed out of his gaping wound like lava through the caverns of hell." Not that I need poetry, but I think adding more color to the language makes a book easier to read. The other thing I don't like is that the point-of-view will spontaneously shift from one character to another in the middle of a chapter, which can be confusing and, again, break the pace. Though instances like that tend to happen less as the book goes on, which give me the impression that the author was developing his writing skill as he went.
For those who have seen the movie, I do think this book is a worthwhile read just because, though inferior for entertainment value, it does add a lot of description to the characters and setting that helps make a lot more sense out of what is going on. First of all, as mentioned before, just about every single character gets some level of description of their background and personalities, but more importantly there is a lot more explanation of the world in which the story takes place and the real purpose and origin behind the program-o-death. In the movie there was some explanation, but it didn't seem to make much sense; but here, thankfully, it's more fleshed-out.
On the flip side, the movie does a better job at keeping the pace of the action and suspense by cutting back on the flashback sequences, including just enough to give the story some depth. And although many of characters are just as much stereotyped in the movie as in the book, the movie does a better job of playing up the camp-factor, making the stereotypes seem more like intentional exaggerations instead of limitations in the writing.
So overall this book has a fascinating premise, but the execution is so flawed as to limit its full potential. I mentioned in a previous post that my enjoyment of the movie version may have been due to low expectations, so it stands to reason that my high expectations for the book might be the reason behind my lack luster review. But I don't think so.
Monday, April 28, 2008
UPDATE: Looks like the movie below was removed by the Youtube fun police. No worries though, as it's still available via the mavericks at CrunchyRoll.com.
UPDATE 2: I will not be denied! Crunchy Roll seems to have taken the fall, but now we go all the way out to Portugal to satisfy our need for Evangelion 2.0 goodness. And with subtitles no less. Enjoy. (Source: Sapo Videos)
Now it's interesting to do a sided-by-side comparison with that fan-produced remake:
Friday, April 25, 2008
(I'm not sure if these are two separate concerts or just two halves of the same one because they repeat a couple of songs between them. But whatevah...)
- What Planet Is This?
- Want it all back
(One of the best CB songs out there.)
- Piano medley with Yoko Kanno!
(This is so awesome I may weep openly.)
- Bad dog no biscuits
- Call Me, Call Me
- Mushroom Hunting
- The Real Folk Blues
(I could do without the boa, but otherwise incredible.)
- Ask DNA / What Planet Is This?
(This is the end credits for the concert video.)
Makes me proud to be a Detroit native... or not.
I'd never heard of this Detroit Metal City manga before the live action movie was announced (there seems to be an anime in the works too), but according to ANN, KISS front man Gene Simmons is a fan and has a key roll in the film and former Megadeth guitarist Marty Friedman also plays in a short scene with Simmons.
I'm not exactly waiting in eager anticipation to see this one, but simply because it has "Detroit" in the title it does pique at least some interest. It'll be like... the Japanese version of 8 Mile!
A short teaser trailer can be seen below.
Friday, April 18, 2008
(Not yet available in US)
Story = C+
Video = A-
Audio = B
Nishi has always loved Myon since they were little. And now as adults, he wants to pursue his dream of becoming a manga artist and marrying his childhood sweetheart. There's one problem, though. She's already been proposed to and she thinks Nishi is too much of a wimp. But upon meeting the fiancé while at her family's diner and accepting him as a good guy, they encounter a couple Yakuza (Japanese mafia), only to have Nishi grasp a certain revelation. And, with his newly aquired look on life, adventures abound as he, Myon, and her sister, Yan, escape the Yakuza into a most unlikely location where they meet an old man... (Source: ANN)The first half of this movie is incredible. It is odd, frantic, and fast moving, and so different that I didn't want to take my eyes from the screen just because I wanted to see what would come next. You have everything from Yakuza soccer players, a trip to the afterlife with a randomly shape-shifting god, to an impossible wild car chase down the streets of Tokyo. And if it was able to keep up that pace, this movie may have been one of the coolest things I'd ever seen. But then Nishi, Myon, and her sister are suddenly and inexplicably swallowed by a whale.
So then I'm thinking, okay, that's a bit out of the blue, but what the heck, let's see what further wackiness befalls the heroes. But the problem is that nearly the entire rest of the movie takes place inside this whale, with the characters goofing around, eating fresh fish, contemplating what is going on in the outside world, and Nishi and Myon building their romance. It's still entertaining, and the characters do some pretty goofy stuff as they try to pass the time, making for some cool visuals; but compared to the fast pace of the first half, the plot in this second part seems stagnant. But then comes the climactic escape, which is so outlandishly intense and wild that it nearly makes up for that stagnation.
But then that's mostly where it ends. There are a bunch of scenes that show life and how it ends up for the characters, and then -- as if out of fear that things have ended too nicely -- it wraps up with a vague final couple of scenes that to me were kind of a let-down, but I guess appropriate given the overall tone.
Though regardless of how well plotted it is, the visuals are what really drive the movie. They're colorful and very abstract -- similar in style to Tekkon Kinkreet. But it takes it a couple steps further by varying the style on occasion, even going so far as to use real-life shots of the actors faces in at certain parts. At other times it shifts to cartoony animation, or to a more freeform style. It's not a random shift though, because the style matches and reflects the tone of the associated scene. And the overall experience is something so different from any other anime I've seen -- in a good way -- that the experience alone would make it worth multiple viewings.
In the end, though, I think the real appeal of this movie is that it is so different. With so many similar storylines and art styles in anime, it's refreshing to see a movie that can breaks free from the pack and do something original -- and do it relatively well. I wouldn't call this a masterpiece in filmmaking but it is an overall fun ride and well worth checking out.
The American film production company DreamWorks has revealed that it has licensed the rights to adapt Masamune Shirow's Ghost in the Shell cyber-police manga into a 3D live-action film. The story of an elite paramilitary unit in future Japan has already been adapted into three animated films and two television anime series. DreamWorks has released the second animated Ghost in the Shell film, Innocence, in North America. DreamWorks also released Millennium Actress and produced Transformers, another live-action science-fiction film with Japanese roots.
Variety reports that Universal and Sony also negotiated for the rights, which the Production I.G anime studio was pitching for the manga's original publisher Kodansha. What turned the dealmaking in DreamWorks' favor was co-founder Steven Spielberg's enthusiasm for the project. The entertainment trade newspaper quotes the acclaimed director and producer: "Ghost in the Shell is one of my favorite stories. It's a genre that has arrived, and we enthusiastically welcome it to DreamWorks."
Avi Arad (formerly of Marvel Studios as well as of the Spider-Man and X-Men movie franchises), Arad's son Ari, and Seaside Entertainment's Steven Paul brought the project to DreamWorks and will produce. Jamie Moss (Street Kings, Last Man Home) has been assigned to script the project.
Most of the time I just shake my head and shrug (in my mind) when I read about American companies vying to create live-action movies out of anime or manga. Part of that is because most of the time those kind of projects never come to fruition -- and the ones that do are titles that I don't really care about one way or the other. But, if the upcoming Speed Racer and Dragonball movies end up being huge financial successes, all those other live-action anime projects -- from Monster, to Battle Angel, to Evangelion -- are sure to come out of the wood works by the droves.
Ghost in the Shell is probably my all-time favorite anime/manga franchise, and the possibility of seeing the complex storyline and detailed technological concepts simplified to pander to US audiences really bothers me.
Plus there's the fact that what works in animation doesn't necessarily transfer equally well into live action. Animation -- being a totally contrived and artistically stylized medium -- allows for more flexibility in an audience's suspension-of-disbelief threshold. Transferring an animated movie to live action would only highlight the gaps in believability of the original story unless some key adjustments are made. And those adjustments could ultimately undermine what made the qualities that made original so great. And what would really suck is that if the live action movie turns out horribly, audiences would assume the worst of the original anime and manga worsening the already low-esteem mainstream audiences have for the two mediums, which would then lead to riots, war, pestilence, and the general breakdown of civilization.
Well, maybe not that last part. So maybe I'm taking this a bit too seriously; but the way I figure it, keeping expectations low is the surest way to head off disappointment.
Friday, April 11, 2008
Little Nemo in Slumberland was a comic strip from the late 1800's / early 1900's -- back in the days when comic strips had a good deal more panel space to work in, resulting in some of the most creative art and writing to ever graze newsprint.
So anyway... An animated film based on the strip was released in Japan in 1989 and then in the US in 1992 (and on US DVD in 2004) and involved a long and arduous production phase (the details of which can be found on Cartoon Brew), and among the big names involved were none other than Ghibli veterans Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahata. Although they were not involved in the final movie's production, they did create a short but incredible test film which can be seen below.
Friday, April 04, 2008
[Update: Seems the trailer was removed form YouTube, but you can still find it on CrunchyRoll. Below is an older trailer from about a year ago.]
Tuesday, April 01, 2008
So I went on my DeviantArt site today and discovered that my avatar had been changed to this animated gif that says "So i herd u liek Mudkips??" And, the gullible shmuck that I am, I started freaking out thinking, "Holy cripes! My deviant art site's been hijacked!"... that is, until I realized that it's April Fool's Day and it was all just a temporary joke.
So after coming to that epiphany, I googled the term Mudkips and found out that it's a Pokemon (which I've never watched) character. And according to Urban Dictionary the phrase itself is something that was born off of the infamous 4chan website after someone posted the following (probably fake, but still funny) story. And just so you know ahead of time... No, I do not like Mudkips...
Today being Halloween, I decided to fuck with the major retard at school when I came out of science for break. He was dressed as Ash. Knowing this was going to happen, I brought a Mudkips doll. Thus I started the conversation, making sure no one saw me.
"So I heard you like Mudkips..." "Mudkips? I LUUUUUUUUUUUUVE MUDKIPS." "O RLY? So, would you ever fuck a Mudkips, that is.." (he cuts me off before I could said 'if you were a mudkips') "OF COURSE." "Well I just happen to have a Mudkips here, and."
Before I finished the sentence, which would have resulted in me hitting him across the face with the doll, he grabbed it. In one swift motion his pants were down and he was violently humping it. Not to get between a man and his Mudkips I started to walk away, because there is no way I'd be caught wrestling a half-naked crazy guy humping a Mudkips.
Needles to say, within 5 to 10 seconds, some girls saw him and started screaming. I coolly walked into a restroom, pretending nothing had ever happened; not that I had intended that outcome, but now that it was in play I didn't want to be involved.
I came back two minutes later, and like any wanton act on school grounds there was now a huge crowd round him. He was still fucking it and baying this real fucked up 'EEEEEEEEEEINNNNF EEEEEEEEEEINNNF' sound. Suddenly a scuffle broke out in the middle, meaning he probably did something stupid.
I asked someone what had happened. A girlfriend of one of the football players tried to get him to stop, but he bit her for trying to take it away. Someone called in a few football players (all dressed up like Road Warrior) who proceeded to pummel the shit out of the guy. Meanwhile the school police were freaking out and having trouble getting in to the situation.
A few minutes later the intruder alarm went off and we were shuffled into classrooms. Over the intercom the principal announced that someone had thrown a
flaming plush toy into the library. Uh.. what the hell.
So we were kept there and about 30 minutes later the principal came on again. This time he was saying that whoever was behind the beating should turn themselves in. All of a sudden this woman began yelling "I WILL SUE YOU FOR DAMAGES. YOU LITTLE PUNKS, I'M GONNA SUE..." and it was cut off.
I asked an office later what had happened. Apparently his mother had come to pick him up and threatened to sue for the beating and 'whatever else happened.' The school threatened to counter-sue because of lewd conduct, inciting a riot, and starting a fight.
So I ask you: do you like Mudkips?
I hath heardth that thou liketh kips of the mud.
Mudkips. I heard you like them.
Friday, March 28, 2008
Feeling as if your life is suffering from a severe lack of "girls beating the bejeezus out of each other"? Then this ought to keep you satiated for the next couple of decades...
Montyoum's Dead Fantasy 1 [ HQ version ]
Dead Fantasy 2 [ HQ version ]
Friday, March 14, 2008
Story = B-
Video = B-
Audio = C
Yurie Hitotsubashi was just an average middle school student living in the city of Onomichi on Japan's inland sea in the easygoing times of the 1980s. She spent her days worrying about exams and trying to get Kenji, the clueless boy she likes, to notice her. Then during lunch one day she suddenly announces to her friend Mitsue that the night before she had become a goddess. Their classmate Matsuri quickly latches on to Yurie’s newfound divinity as a way to promote her family’s bankrupt Shinto shrine. She hopes that replacing their hapless local god, Yashima-sama, with Yurie will make the shrine more popular (and profitable). Now, with Matsuri as her manager, Yurie has to grant wishes, cure curses, meet aliens, and attend god conventions. All the while attending school and working-up the courage to confess to Kenji. (Source: ANN)
Kamichu is about a young girl who one day becomes a god; but not the Mount-Olympus, throw-fire-bolts-from-the-clouds kind of god. She is still the same person that she always was -- she looks the same, acts the same, and has the same troubles that kids her age always have. It's just that she happens to also be a god. And everyone around her seems to be just fine with that.
Kamichu tries to use the concept of girl-become-god to highlight the innocence of youth, with varying success. When it's at its best, the show plays out like a slice-of-life anime with a twist. Even though Yurie is a god, she is not sure what kind of god she wants to be. She's shy, hesitant, whiny, and lazy; and probably would never have ended up using her god-powers if not for the constant prodding of her new-found friend Matsuri and the occasional responsibility of having to answer people's prayers. The fact that Yurie is so hesitant to use and abuse her powers keeps the tone of the show low-key. As a result, much of the show is calming, quiet, and at the best of times can elicit a youthful nostalgia.
There are a couple of other reasons the show has such an understated tone. First of all there is relatively little interpersonal conflict. Everyone in the town seems perfectly happy accpeting that Yurie is now a god; so there's no issue with her having to either keep her powers secret or convince people that she isn't lying. And even though she is a god everyone treats her pretty much like a normal girl, just one with an exceptional talent. Save for one episode, no one worships her; instead they treat her more akin to someone who was known for getting good grades or being good at sports. So in that respect, it's kind of like Ghibli's Kiki's Delivery Service -- where Kiki's a witch, but everyone treats that like it's an everyday occurance.
And while we're bringing up Ghibli movies, another good comparison would be Spirited Away. That's because, like Spirited Away, this movie has a whole host of odd-looking gods walking around. Of course, only Yurie can see them (though nobody in the show doubts their existence); but there they are just hanging out and being weird. Like a shark that is on the docks fishing. Or a little spirit that is always rolling a soda can around. The hodgepodge cast adds a fun element to the show, and since they are all acting so casually it keeps the tone light.
One thing that might make or break the show for some people is that it has so many Japanese cultural and religious references that a US audience wouldn't understand. There's all the gods for one thing, but on top of that there are terms and traditionals and certain visuals that I wasn't familiar with. Even the mechanics behind how and why Yurie becomes a god in the first place is never explained at all, and I wonder if the actual reason for it is implied in some way that a Japanese audience would pick up on, but which went right over my head. So on one hand all these cultural references can be fascinating, but for other people it might be confusing.
So that's how it is when the show is at it's best; but it's far from solid gold, and there are two main reasons why. First, there are some episodes that deviate from the simple, slice-of-life tone and end up being -- for the lack of a better word -- stupid. The most obvious example is episode four. First of all, it involves an alien which totally breaks with the slice-of-life tone. Then, it seems like it tries to balance this sci-fi element by making the alien obnoxiously cute. Then it gets the military involved and -- well it's just all over the place. Those kind of episodes that make Yurie's god status so blunt and break the easy-going mood may well drive some people away from the show entirely.
The other thing that I didn't like is that the puts so much stress on the cuteness of the characters. I know that the whole point is to have an immature and weak character with superpowers, but I can only watch a character hesitate, and mumble, and blush so many times before it gets annoying, if not downright nauseating. In fact, I think the only show I have seen characters blush more was SaiKano -- where it was actually part of their permanent character design. Although, that being said, the second half of the show balances out the cute/shy/moe element by adding some amusing storylines with a bit more conflict, which allows Yurie's character to become a little stronger.
As far as the animation, it is consistently solid throughout. The character designs themselves are pretty standard anime designs, but the animation itself is relatively smooth and I didn't notice any episodes where the quality dipped.
The music is appropriately cheery but subtle, in keeping with the tone of the show.
So overall I'd say that this is a good show if you are looking for something low-key to relax with. But you really have to watch it all the way through to get the most out of it because some episodes may turn you off.
One more note I wanted to add is that this show is very family friendly, and I'd have no problem watching it with kids of any age. Can't say that about a lot of anime, so I thought I'd point it out.