Secret Santa 2010 – Shigofumi

Kanaka and Fumika So you may or may not have heard about the Reverse Thieves’ festive anime Secret Santa project, dependent on how active you are in the anime blogosphere. You’re given a random blogger’s personal anime tastes (usually via a rated anime list of sorts) and need to suggest three new shows for them to watch, while the same happens for you. It’s a fantastic idea, as it removes the painful part of finding existing anime to watch. A curt 50 word description often isn’t enough to decide if a show will be worth it, so why not leave the decision to someone who has (hopefully) already seen it and is assured of its quality. Or terribleness. Either way, its entertainment.

I really lucked out with my choices, as they mostly weren’t series I had on the backlog, but were still interesting after reading their descriptions. I’ve had the time to watch my first choice, Manabi Straight, a gorgeously stylish show that’s moe for moe’s sake, with the best opening titles of an anime I’ve seen in a while. Unfortunately, I haven’t had time to watch my second choice, Full Metal Panic: The Second Raid, but it’s a credit to my Santa that he/she read my taste incredibly well. The focus of this review is my third choice, Shigofumi: Letters From The Departed. It’s relatively recent, having aired during the Winter 2007-08 season, but had still completely passed me by.

The basic premise of the series follows our protagonist Fumika, as she and her lippy but earnest magical staff Kanaka travel around the city delivering shigofumi, letters from the dead sent to the living as a last testament of sorts. Just from hearing that alone, the show has a lot of scope in what it can do, but is essentially relegated to an X-of-the-week format, where this time X equals “letter from dead person”. The only common factor you can really develop over the course of a 12 episode series is the main character herself, so her story sure as hell better be good.

The show does manage to overcome the repetition of the X-of-the-week format – each letter is too engrossing and the show mixes up the “get letter, transport letter, deliver letter, end credits” format throughout the series. Fumika’s story I believe is a different matter.

The first few episodes are extremely promising. The first story involves Shouta, his quest to build a rocket and Asuna, a girl he befriends while doing so. Needless to say, Asuna’s closet has many skeletons, and the episodes descend further into tragedy with every passing minute. We find she’s been “helping” her father produce child porn, who then wants to bring her little sister into the picture. The show certainly doesn’t shy away from showcasing the dredges of human society, and is all the more watchable for it, though it does bash the viewer with tragedy so much it manages to lose its meaning sometimes. Fumika’s take on events is fairly refreshing in that she sees the world through ruthlessly unclouded, emotionless eyes.

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The Jellyfish Princess – 03

So I’m having some difficulty with Kuranosuke at the moment. On the one hand, he is someone who sees the good in others, even when they might act a little outside of society’s rules. He certainly doesn’t judge on first look. These are all good points about his varied and flamboyant character. Oh, and he’s a giant dick.

Yep, truly. Let’s take a look at his actions, shall we? From what we know so far, Kuranosuke’s been cross-dressing to shift responsibility away from himself and on to his brother, who seems to be wrapped around his little finger. Sure, perhaps the responsibility of the family “business” is a little great, but I don’t think he’s dealing with it in the best way. Being a hipster, he has other hipster friends, but look – he seems to have been ignoring them recently, even going as far as telling one of them, over the phone…

WHAT A GUY

I’m not going to say that he’s completely at fault, given how the caller in question wasn’t exactly selfless about her reasons for phoning, but even at that, it seems a little harsh to throw out all of your friends.

Not to mention his constant intrusions at the Nunnery. The girls seem to have accepted the fact that he’s going to keep doing this, yet still he persists. Despite this, the culture clash that inevitably happens every time he’s there is always fun and exciting to watch, especially his interactions with Tsukimi.

And on Tsukimi, she seems to be setting herself up for a fall awfully early. I think we know that this will probably end in tears sooner or later, but I’m hoping that Kuragehime puts a better spin on the unrequited love trope. It certainly seems the type of show that could do that.

The redevelopment plans certainly sound foreboding, though it sets up an interesting dynamic with Kuranosuke at the centre of everything. It just might be a chance to redeem himself.

Princess Jellyfish is available to stream in North America on Funimation’s video site and Youtube channel. Fansubs available from the usual channels for everyone else.

The Jellyfish Princess – 02

From the first episode, I thought that Kuragehime was going to be a good anime. What I didn’t realise was also how annoying it was going to be. Despite this, I thought episode two was good at laying more groundwork of the story.

First of all, the sisterhood’s interactions and their daily life really makes the whole thing seem genuine. While a house full of female nerds isn’t the most farfetched idea in the world, it still takes some set up to make it believable. Which I think they’ve done very well. They all take an interest in each others likes too, which is nice. Their strangeness is also well presented when Kuranosuke drops in to their weekly hot pot party.

Which leads nicely on to annoyance number one. It’s him. I lost count of the number of times Tsukimi told him to “leave”, “get out” and/or “please don’t come back”. The point was made sufficiently and impressively clear over two days by someone who is self-professedly bad around men. And yet, he smiles, nicely asks why, and proceeds to not listen. Either he’s mentally retarded, or he knows exactly what he’s doing and has a larger plan (probably, and hopefully, the latter from Tsukimi’s deductions). Either way, he’s still an arsehole who either can’t or won’t respect other people’s wishes. Made even clearer by the manipulative power he has over his brother.

And while I’m on the topic of annoyances, the sisterhood doesn’t escape either. Fair enough, Kuranosuke did just barge in on their party, so I’m not surprised they’re giving him the cold shoulder. But you can’t even put their complete lack of social skills down to androphobia, because they still haven’t realised he’s a guy yet! As far as they’re concerned, she’s some female hipster, and that’s damn well enough to kick her out. While the Sisterhood does get teased unfairly by others in general, they’re just as bad as one of the “hipsters” they assume their unwelcome guest is. However, it’s immediately clear that this is a clash of two worlds that don’t understand each other.

Hmm. After rereading, it seems I’ve been spurred on to annoyance. Maybe this show is genuinely good after all.

I talked a bit about the opening song by chatmonchy last time, so it’s only fair the ending song gets a bit of love too – it certainly deserves it. It’s called “”Kimi ni Kirei no Kizuite Okure” (translated, “Realize How Beautiful You Are”) by Sambomaster, a three-piece rock band who’ve also done some music for Bleach. Much like chatmonchy, Sambomaster seem to have a signature sound, mostly defined by Takashi Yamaguchi’s tendency to sing from the throat. That guy really loves his screaming notes – you can’t get through a line of the song without them. Despite this, I thought it was quite memorable, which is usually a feat compared to other anime ending song fayre.

Finally, as predicted, Funimation just announced they’ve licenced this as Princess Jellyfish, which is nice. That of course means that it’s now available legally to stream in North America from their website and Youtube channel. For the rest of us, the usual channels are still open.

London Expo 2010

It’s almost been a week since this year’s October outing of the MCM Expo, and the dust has just about settled around the ExCeL Centre. Once again, nerds of all shapes and sizes took to the DLR to buy lots of merchandise and/or dress up as their characters of choice. It was self-evident from the massive overcrowding on the platforms of Custom House station that this year’s Expo was as popular as ever, and to prove it, the organisers have stated the attendance was the largest ever – 46,400 over the weekend.

My excursion started dark and early pre-sunrise at Cambridge train station. Though even from this point one could tell fellow Expo-ers apart from the normal people. As we all navigated the Tube’s scattershot service, the nerd density increased to a massive level. The queue for the Expo, now very organised (as opposed to a few years ago), was as jovial as ever. Despite outward appearances and stereotypes, the majority of people at Expo are a very friendly bunch, and much high-fiving was taking place as the queue moved steadily forward.

Expo wouldn’t be Expo without the provided goodie bag, right? The DVD spoils this year were the usual, with a few old titles that many passed over at the time, and some bargain bin live action flicks. S-Cry-Ed, a 2001 action series, was present, though only the luckiest would have got volume 1, if at all. I ended up with volume 6. There was also an OVA called Submarine 707R, an action-ish story from 2003.

The format and layout of the show has remained mostly static throughout the years, though there was also a Friday afternoon opening this time around. Though I didn’t go, I heard it was nice to walk around the stands without the usual maul of people. The format on the Saturday was the same at least, open around 9am, browse the stalls, take in the anime industry panel, browse some more, go home. While this is the usual path for many, veer off slightly and there’ll be lots happening. While previously lots of unofficial gatherings took place outside, they were semi-formalised this year as the MCM Fringe Festival. Though still having that chaotic nature they’ve always had.

The industry panel for this year had more announcements that usual, with a more upbeat tone than normal. All of MVM, Manga Ent. and Beez Ent. were throwing new licences out left, right and centre. Beez have licensed the two noitaminA shows from Spring 2010, House of Five Leaves and The Tatami Galaxy, with more in the pipeline. I am very glad Tatami Galaxy has been licensed, as it actually manages to be quirky and refreshing. MVM have licensed Tower of Druaga, a sort of action-ey, comedy show with some great characters that would be well worth the watch. Manga have licenced both the second season of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and the movie sequel, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya. Not only that, the also have the Haruhi-chan and Churuya-san shorts, which are likely to be bundled in with the second season as a sweetener to help you survive. Manga are really riding high right now, what with also licensing the first season of K-On! (after fierce competiton from Beez) and Birdy the Mighty Decode. These will all be available next year some time, barring any complications. And as Manga sub-licenses from Funimation, Jerome made it clear that the flow of licences is as obvious as it looks, and that it doesn’t take a lot of thinking to discover what they have lined up in the future.

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The Jellyfish Princess – 01

So we’ve got a few weeks in to this much touted new season of anime. While it would be unwise to draw any lasting conclusions from the first few episodes of everything, there’s certainly lots of potential not yet tapped. A prime example of such in my view would be Kuragehime, translated as The Jellyfish Princess.

The Jellyfish Princess

The first thing that grabbed me about this show is the opening, unsurprisingly. In this case it’s certainly done it’s job. It features the show’s characters appearing in lots of famous movie scenes, like Gene Kelly’s famous romp through the rain in Singin’ In The Rain, scenes from Star Wars, the James Bond opening sequence, and others. The references to mostly western films are especially fun for us to spot – I was particularly fond of the nod to Mary Poppins. It sets up Kuragehime as a fun show full of character.

More than the animation of the opening, I very much enjoyed the opening song by chatmonchy “Koko Dake no Hanashi”. Not only did it fit very well with the pace of the opening animation sequence, it’s an absolute earworm. I couldn’t get it out of my head today. Chatmonchy are very good at doing that – they love their syncopated rhythms and catchy lead guitar riffs, and I love them for it. In fact, one of my favourite ending songs is also by them: “Shangri-La”, which was used as the ending song for Working Man (you may know it as Hataraki Man). The ending song is also sounding pretty good too.

The Jellyfish Princess is adapted from a josei manga by Akiko Higashimura. The josei demographic mostly consists of adult women, giving us a hint of what we can expect from the rest of this noitaminA show. Takahiro Omori directs, after directing such shows as Baccano! and Dullalala! It doesn’t look likely that this show will share quite the same pace as either of his former shows, but what it does have in common is that feeling that what you’re watching is high quality. It’s hard to describe this, but it made me think that Kuragehime was good despite a number of factors.

One of these factors are the characters as a whole. While we’ve only just been introduced to them, they’re big walking one-dimensional stereotypes at the moment, with the possible exception of Tsukimi (voiced by the dulcet tones of Kana Hanazawa) and our Shibuya “princess”. I do have every hope that these fujoshi will be fleshed out in the coming weeks, though. The trap was also a bit obvious, but it’ll be interesting to see how this situation develops.

Who knows how we got here, but it seems that anime with seafood in the title are faring the best at the moment. Apart from Kuragehime, I’m also very much enjoying Squid Girl (Shinryaku! Ika Musume) for it’s main character’s refreshing demeanour, almost like a dictatorial Yotsuba from the sea. Blog post incoming on that, hopefully.

The Jellyfish Princess currently isn’t available to legally stream, but it’s available from the usual fansub outlets.

Uta∽Kata

Uta∽Kata is a short, one season show that originally aired back in 2004. In what is nowadays an irregular occurence, the story of the show wasn’t adapted from a different medium, but was created especially for TV by gímik, a collective of Keiji Gotou (key animation, Fate/stay Night, Evangelion), Megumi Kadonosono (character design, Clannad movie, Rayearth) and Hidefumi Kimura (concept, Dai-Guard). gímik’s other well-known show is Kiddy Grade. The recent buzz around it, despite being from 2004, is that it was recently announced that it had been licensed by Sentai Filmworks in North America.

The basic plot is that our protagonist, Ichika Tachibana, one day finds a very old mirror in an abandoned part of her school, where she meets Manatsu Kuroki, a mysterious girl who appears from the mirror. As payback for helping Ichika find her mobile phone, Manatsu wants her to utilise the power of the Djinn, elemental spirits whose powers she can use, then write about her experience.

Uta∽Kata

It’s quite difficult to narrow Uta∽Kata down to a particular genre or demographic. The fancy costumes Ichika wears when possessed by each Djinn are firmly in the magical girl realm, each one designed by famous faces in the anime/manga industry, and evoking a very Card Captor Sakura feel. The tone and content of the story is anything but this, though. While everything seems to be happy and cheery at the start, we very quickly gets the sense that things will turn bad. In fact, there’s no nuance about it – the fact that things are going get worse is rubbed in your face every other minute, leaving the surprise anything but that.

There is a lot that Uta∽Kata gets right, though. The suspense felt around the beginning of the second half of the series is palpable, and the show certainly isn’t afraid to get into subjects that many of its contemporaries willingly avoid. In fact, I think the whole point of the show is to display the human condition. There are a few obvious ones the show plays with, like its large emphasis on lying, but there are other altogether more subtle elements of the human condition it plays with. Mental illness, eating disorders, suicide, these are subjects that aren’t often dealt with in a serious way, rather than just being wheeled out for extra drama. A big theme of the show that I haven’t seen in many others is serious misanthropy. It’s painful but fascinating to watch Ichika’s journey of ever-growing self-hate as her body is taken over more and more. Also, it isn’t afraid to show a bit of gore here and there, but not so much that you become desensitised. It’s still gasp-worthy when it happens.

Despite the above, I’m not saying Uta∽Kata doesn’t have its faults. Ichika herself, initially, is incredibly annoying. She’s agreeable to the point where you will her to go against the grain, though part of this was probably intentional. This is especially the case when Manatsu wants her to use the powers of the Djinn under the pretense that it’s to do her summer homework. It’s laughable, but Ichika just goes with the flow and agrees. Quite why she continues to struggle through her power trips is sometimes unclear. The show is clearly aiming to have some sort of moral, but by the final explanation, I think it gets rather muddled and descends into anime cliché. If the message was simpler, I think it would have had more effect.

I really want to like Uta∽Kata. I really do. It’s an interesting concept, and its drama and suspense can be incredibly good. Having said that, while it has some great moments, I don’t think the series as a whole stays as consistently good. Oh, and avoid the OVA episode like the plague, unless the end of the series leaves you terribly heartbroken and in need of some form of closure. In the end, I would recommend it, but I just feel it could have been put together slightly better.

Uta∽Kata is out on DVD in North America on 2nd November 2010. Fansubs are available from the usual outlets.

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