As you’ll have seen from the 2010 and 2011 offerings, this is the Reverse Thieves‘ annual Secret Santa project, where the only gift you need to give is the gift of a great series your pick hasn’t had the pleasure of seeing yet. In this year’s post to the blog, I’m looking at a series that I’m sure many people have watched already, given it’s already been licensed. It’s Samurai Champloo, a hip-hop infused sword-fest by Manglobe, following our three main characters as they skulk around Japan looking for a smelly samurai.
If there’s one thing that I value in anime above all else, more than piffling things like character development and story, it’s style. Style over substance any day, I say. Luckily, this show has it in droves. Samurai Champloo is dripping in a strange concoction of American hip-hop and Edo period Japanese chivalry. On paper, these two styles are really like oil and water, but all you have to do is watch and see the two mix together surprisingly well, not least helped along by the effortlessly cool soundtrack by Nujabes who, much like the style of the show, merges the hard edge of hip-hop with more ambient melodies in his offering.
Hello again, and welcome to this year’s Reverse Thieves‘ Secret Santa project post. For those unaware of this, it’s a sort of take a recommendation, leave a recommendation system where a stranger will drop in and give you a choice of three shows to watch, while you do the same for your unwitting recipient. Last year, I was tasked with watching Shigofumi.
This year, I was recommended Binchou-tan, To Heart and Darker Than Black. First of all, big thank you to my Santa. These are three shows I really did want to watch after reading their descriptions. Unfortunately, time constraints lead me to only be able to watch one show, but I will certainly be getting around to the others at a later stage. The show I’ll be reviewing is Binchou-tan.
It’s hard not to be enamoured by Binchou-tan on first watch. The series starts by showing us a gorgeous setting – a run-down old house in the middle of a leafy green forest. The noises, the insects buzzing around, the shadows on the forest floor, they all contribute to creating a wonderful scene. Then we’re introduced to Binchou, our title character.
Last night, I took the final two episodes of Fractale downstairs to watch on the big TV. I should have been approaching that with delight, at seeing the culmination of a show that was both entertaining and enthralling. Instead, I almost had to force myself to finally finish the damn thing off.
Because Fractale was neither of those things.
What’s odder is how difficult it is to pin down what makes it bad. The glimpses of greatness it teases us with ultimately distract from the mediocre overall package.
Produced by ☆Taku Takahashi
Length: 67:23 (w/o hidden tracks)
We’re well out of the Autumn 2010 anime season now, and I think something we can all take from it is not to put too much faith in hype. In reality, there were a few good shows, but nothing entirely earth shattering. In fact, I would probably call the anime linked to this review one of the worst offerings of the season. While it did something different with its western-style animation and delightfully filthy storylines, and did have episodes where it tried to experiment with its comedy, I didn’t find it terribly humorous or entertaining. Despite this, there are always diamonds in the rough if you look hard enough. The demon sisters were two of those, and this soundtrack is the third.
Like many others, I’m sure, I first noticed the possibility of a good soundtrack with the titular track Fly Away, used as the BGM for Panty and Stocking’s transformation sequences and a good proportion of their ghost battles too. Background music can sometimes take a back seat to the foreground action. Not here. If you were dozing off before the fight scene, you sure as hell weren’t when “FLY AWAY NOW” was suddenly blasting out of your speakers, trance melody in tow, all the while two angels have started undressing in quite a provocative way. It was the highlight of many a dull episode, so there might be a bit of positive reinforcement there too.
This gave us an indication of the style of music the soundtrack would lean towards early on. Lots of dance music (or electronica if you prefer). And because that’s the music I love the most, it made it even more exciting to finally crack open the Amazon.co.jp envelope and get my hands on the thing.
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.
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.
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.