You’ve got to love Fuji TV’s noitaminA slot. Every season they manage to bring something fresh to the table, and while these projects may not always work out (House of Five Leaves and the Tatami Galaxy, while good, weren’t universally well received), you have to admire them for trying their damnest to open up anime to the masses. Their offerings at the moment include the live-action version of the brilliantly quirky microbe-fest Tales of Agriculture and the subject of this blog post, Shiki.
Shiki begins rather hauntingly – in the middle of a search party for a missing person. This pretty much sets the precedent for the rest of the first five episodes I’ve watched so far. Shiki is based on a horror manga written by Ono Fuyumi and Fujisaki Ryuu based in an extremely parochial Japanese village cut off from the outside world by dense forest. The residents of said village are somewhat traditional and close knit, as you’d expect from a village of that kind. The story appears to start moving when some new residents move in to the house on the hill in the dead of night.
We’re very quickly introduced to a large cast of characters, all residents of Sotobamura. It’s absolutely impossible to remember all of these people, but the main recurring characters have all helpfully either been given actual personalities, or in many cases crazy anime hairstyles, to be memorable. If the number of characters wasn’t hard enough to follow, why don’t we jump back and forward in time as well. Seriously, this show could give Baccano! a run for its money.
Now that the Winter 2009 season is in it’s winding down stage, it’s the perfect time to actually start some blogging about it. Where better to start than Sound of the Skies, or Sora no Woto (or So Ra No Wo To, to be pedantic).
This is the first anime to be born from the new Strength of Anime timeslot on TV Tokyo, clearly trying to be a pretender to Fuji TV’s noitaminA block of programming that manages to churn out some of the best stuff each season. It’s got a lot to live up to, given the pure gems that noitaminA shows (Honey and Clover, Mononoke, Trapeze, etc.).
First impressions don’t bode well here. It’s clear that A-1 Pictures (the production studio) have borrowed heavily from the K-On! school of animation with this one. The characters are animated with as little frills as possible. And why not, you might say, when people will lap it up all the more? This is true, it even gives the designs a certain charm. But this isn’t even for lack of effort, when you look at the luscious backgrounds the team have made for the town of Seize, based on the walled town of Cuenca in Spain, and even researched on location.
Looking past the character designs, the opening treats us to a Klimt-fest the likes of which we haven’t seen since Elfen Lied (note that the two series share a director, Mamoru Kanbe).
The content of the first few episodes, honestly, doesn’t take the plot of the series places, which in some ways belies it’s description – when you think of a war-time setting, it’s logical that there would be warfare, right? Instead, this series bases itself in a post-warfare setting, focusing on a platoon based in a town bordering no man’s land, not seeing much active service. I dove in with some expectations and found it jarring at first, but then settled in to the pace. The beautiful setting of Seize and the airy soundtrack gives the series a great atmosphere, and events should take on a leisurely pace to match.
The cultural references also lend very well to the atmosphere, and in the typical anime vein of borrowing (and twisting) not-Japanese culture, here we have a series based on a town in Spain, set in the remains of Switzerland, featuring a South African bird, with writing in French. I could go on.
The feel of the show so far is almost reminiscent of Haibane Renmei, and for more than just the atmosphere. Even from the first episode, hints have been dropped that something larger is going on. Rio’s bell, the story of the ‘Maidens of Fire’, the blonde woman in so many flashbacks; there are so many treats left lying around to those who would bother to look in to things. And that’s good – anything interesting that an anime does, that is different from the established, should be heavily praised. We’re stuck in a cycle of copycats that needs to be broken free from.
We’re up to episode seven now, with eight coming out around now. It seems the slow pace is beginning to quicken in the second half, with Filicia’s flashback in stark comparison to the first half of the series, showing the horror of war in more frank terms than usual. I think that despite a slow start, this series is only going to get better from here on in.
Sound of the Skies is available streaming on Crunchyroll, a week behind airing for non-subscribers, and immediately (and in higher quality) for those who paid. Higher quality video is also available from the fansubbers.
I’m sure we all have a few guilty pleasures when it comes to anime. After all, weirdness comes with the territory. Well, here’s mine – it’s a show about finding out all about what you want to be, it’s positive and it’s got some really cool characters.
OK, OK, it’s a magical girl show aimed at girls over ten years younger than me. But that doesn’t matter. It’s awesome.
Shugo Chara! is all about Amu Hinamori, a school pupil who is known for being “cool and spicy” (best Engrish ever) and having a very cold outward appearance, but deep down she is just a girl who wants to be loved.
We’re well into the Summer season now, so much so that Autumn is just over the horizon. But Autumn 2009 isn’t really looking all that appetising to me right now, so let’s cross that bridge when we come to it. Or not cross it at all, as the case may be.
The next few posts will really just be a sum-up of what I’ve been watching recently, but not regularly blogging about.
I’ll admit that I have a bit of a soft spot for SHAFT. They make some of my favourite anime (Hidamari Sketch and Pani Poni Dash! to name but two), and I think that their particular style of presentation is more striking than that of other studios. It doesn’t necessarily mean their animation is better, but I like the mood that their fast-paced meta-slideshows create. Now, the studio’s applied their style to Nisioisin’s Bakemonogatari. And God almighty have they cranked up the quality.
Bakemonogatari (roughly translating to Ghostory, keeping the portmanteau basically intact) is a supernatural story, which centres around Koyomi Araragi and his encounters with girls who seem to be afflicted with strange problems. Being the upstanding man that he is, Araragi gets involved somehow or another.
I would love to tell you what I think of every anime series I’m watching right now. Really, I would. But first of all, I doubt you’d be the least bit interested, and second of all, there’s only 24 hours in a day, and because I’m at uni, 18 of them are often consigned to this thing called “work.” But enough complaining. I thought I would quickly go over some thoughts rattling around my head about some of the other series I’m currently watching.
This isn’t an exhaustive list, of course, just the shows that I’m most interested in, and would like to share. You’ll probably see a second part to this list soon.