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[LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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Re: Shingu - Secret of the Stellar Wars

I like to think of Shingu as a "Slice of life alien invasion story".
Well, except it isn't really an invasion story : even the most belligerent aliens don't care about Earth itself at all and only want to seize Shingu. There's no concerted invasion, it's a series of (mostly unrelated) small attack groups making a beeline for the hidden mega-weapon.


Progress on the next reviews :
Show #1 : 39/49 episodes seen
Show #2 : 6/22 episodes seen
Can you guess which those are ? (hint : they weren't suggested in this thread)
 

Aikireikinu

Tsundere Cat
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Validated User
Re: Shingu - Secret of the Stellar Wars

True, maybe 'slice of life alien infiltration' story would be better, though as you say the aliens don't care about humans per se.

Hmmm. Maybe a better characterization would be 'slice of life story that uses intermittent alien attacks, first contact, and ancient superweapons as a source of mild relationship drama.'
 
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Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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Shion's King (Shion no Ou)
(22 episodes, 2007-2008)

My previous exposure

None, besides having heard of the basic premise.

What's it about ?

Eight years ago, the parents of Shion got brutally murdered in front of her eyes, leaving the poor little girl traumatized and mute. One of the only clues is a "King" shougi piece (apparently the murderer somehow decided to then play a game with the six-year-old). Now, Shion (who was adopted by her loving uncle, himself a pro shougi player) is a middle-schooler on the verge of entering the pro shougi circuit. She'd obviously rather forget all about her traumatic past, but the high-stakes tournament organized by the current champion's brother is about to dredge all kinds of bad stuff back up to the surface...

Also quite important to the plot is Ayumi, a high-school dropout who crossdresses because he thinks it easier to make money fast on the female shougi circuit (since his mother is tremendously ill and the hospital bills need getting paid). Not at all important to the plot (despite being featured prominently in the OP) is Saori, another up-and-coming young female shougi player.

What did I think of it ?

First things first : the OP sequence is absolutely ridiculous, with every single cast member desperately trying to look badass or menacing. It's completely different in tone from the actual show, which is way more sedate and less gritty (count all the sequences where Shion has hilariously exaggerated reactions !). I really wonder what the producers were thinking... although I did find it perversely entertaining enough not to fast-forward through it, so mission accomplished, I guess.

Also very misleading is that scene in the first episode where Saori looks like she's actually a ruthless mafia daughter and orders minions to investigate her opponents' backgrounds... but everything after that shows that she's actually just a mostly nice girl (and her minions must be shit, because Ayumi hasn't really thought his deception through). I wonder whether earlier drafts of the plot had Saori actually mattering to the plot...

Now, on any other series I wouldn't be able to get past such bullshit plotting, but this one manages to strike a perfect balance between standard "tournament show" sequences and the convoluted mystery hovering on the edges of the plot. Separately, they wouldn't be of much interest : the shougi matches are drowning in exposition, and the mystery is pretty crap (there aren't many suspects, and the murderer's motive only makes sense if you're insane). But the prominence of the shougi competition allows the mystery to stay in the background so that its flaws aren't too noticeable, while the mystery gives a lot of edge and suspense to the shougi matches.

There's even some quite clever plotting, especially around the "sponsor" dude who has a vested interest in making the match-ups as dramatic as possible to generate maximum publicity. (And since he's a complete neophyte to shougi, he's helpful as someone to be exposited to.) I've grown quite fond of him ; Hiroshi Kamiya is very good at striking the right note between slight sliminess and just pure cluelessness. (Nice touch of having him voice the advert announcements !)

Overall, this is a fun, if heavily flawed, little series.
 

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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Validated User
Nodame Cantabile & Revolutionary Girl Utena

It's been several weeks now, and I still can't find much to write about Nodame Cantabile. That's actually a good sign : I really enjoyed watching it, and nothing really annoyed me. It could easily have the an unbearable love tale of an insensitive jerk and a creepy stalker, but both characters have way enough depth and chemistry together for the series to avoid that trap. It's a great humourous romance show, with actual forward progression over time (unlike, say, Honey & Clover), and with enough love for classical music displayed throughout by the creators to actually rekindle my interest in it.

I also finally took the time to finally watch the last third of Revolutionary Girl Utena, after an inexplicable 18-month hiatus. (Well, "Nanami's Egg" is a probable explanation.) It's even more brilliant a show than I remembered, with dated artwork and repetitive stock footage transcended by clever and inspired directing, and impressive character work throughout (it's not every show that makes me exclaim "How dare you shine light on new hidden depths from characters I thought I'd finally got a handle on ?!"...). When one of my favourite episodes is a recap - and my favourite scene involves Utena rambling about her cooking in dead earnest - I know I'm in presence of something special. Even the ending (always a tricky part of mind-screw shows) was outstanding, what with being both unpredictable and perfectly consistent with everything that's gone on up to then. Bravo.

And then there's the movie, which is in many ways "EXTREME!Utena". Having no time for the subtlety of the original series, the movie just pushes every relationship up to eleven. And it works, because it sets us up for an EXTREME version of the original plot... and then does something else entirely, completely subverting our expectations of what Utena, Anthy, Touga & Akio's roles in the story are supposed to be. It's a tricky gamble (which requires extensive knowledge of the series to really work), but the movie pulls it off out of sheer energy and visual inventiveness. It's not a subtle movie, but it's a hoot.
 

Dulahan

Active member
Validated User
Re: Nodame Cantabile & Revolutionary Girl Utena

Adding in a couple of suggestions!

Kino's Journey - Um... There's a certain feel element that makes it a lot like Haibane Renmei, though other than being somewhat slice of life and such, it's nothing like it. Very hard to explain why. Fortunately, what it's about is very easy to explain. Girl travels world, spends 3 days in any one place, and ONLY 3 days. She travels for love of travelling. It's basically a dystopia of the week, very philosophical. Other than one two parter, it's fully episodic.

Mushi-shi - Another one in the same 'feel' category. this one shares a lot with Kino's in that it's a travel thing. In this case, more grounded in reality. Late Edo or Meiji Japan. Not that it matters for the most part. Very spiritual. A guy travels and solves problems with a certain type of spirit lifeform. Episodic, I can't even think of a two parter in it, easy to watch an ep or two at a time.
 

DrunkenGrognard

Exile to the godforsaken reaches of the North
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Re: Nodame Cantabile & Revolutionary Girl Utena

Just chiming in to say I've enjoyed this and to second Tuskikage Ran, and third Moriboto - both of them awesome series IMO.
 

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Re: Nodame Cantabile & Revolutionary Girl Utena

Kino's Journey and Mushishi were already on my list, but thanks for the vote of confidence.

Moribito is coming up very soon (I'll probably start watching it this weekend). "From the director of Stand Alone Complex and Eden of the East" would sell me on anything. But first, I'm going to write up another series suggested in this very thread...
 

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
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Re: Nodame Cantabile & Revolutionary Girl Utena

Fantastic Children
(26 episodes, 2004-2005)

My previous exposure

Suggested in this thread.

What's it about ?

Random young children all of the same age have pulled a disappearing act, suddenly turning albino and deciding to wear creepy dark cloaks. And it's not the first time this happened, as similar disappearances happened every few decades for several centuries... and the children always look the same. Detective Cooks, officially in charge of investigating one of them (but really following up on his journalist grandfather's investigations a century ago), follows their trace and discovers a mysterious government conspiracy that has figured out the kids are periodically reincarnating themselves, and is now trying to reproduce their death-defying technology. Said conspiracy is of course headed by yet another albino young man...

Meanwhile, the purported protagonist of the series, an athletic boy called Thoma, helps a young girl named Helga escape from her orphanage, and they loiter around on an island for a while. The link between this and the main plot is that the "fantastic children" are looking for Helga (actually another reincarnating-through-the-ages person), but they do such a crap job of it that it takes half the series for both threads to rejoin together.

And then we get the actual explanation for all this : all the reincarnating people are actually aliens, with the "fantastic children" being a team of scientists who sent the princess into Earth's afterlife in a bid to save her after an assassination attempt, and are now trying to get her back to their princess. The albino dude masterminding the government conspiracy really works with the alien king's evil brother. And so on.

What did I think of it ?

Oh, dear. How did this series manage to go so horribly wrong ?

Actually, no, I don't think it went wrong. The problems are so deeply ingrained into the plot that it must have been planned that way from the start. Which boggles the mind, but it happens.

Let's start with the positive : it's a gorgeous series, with some spectacular work on the settings and very fluid animation. There are also nuggets of fascinating characterization for the "fantastic children", struggling between the memories of their century-long mission and their latest upbringing as normal children. (Although having them fight actual monsters from the afterlife whenever their resolution falters is a bit too heavy-handed a metaphor.)

But whatever ambiguity the series had managed to build up in its first few episodes is destroyed by the reveal of the very simplistic backstory (to say nothing of the suspension-of-disbelief-killing decision to make Helga a bomb for the main bad guy to fight over). This is a very black-and-white series (in the sense that it has irredeemable bad guys, and good guys making obviously-wrong decisions that come back to bite their ass later). You'd think the taboo scientific field of exploring the afterlife would provide interesting conflict, but it quickly becomes an afterthought, a plot device for people to fight over (or whine that they should never have become involved in it).

The confused structure of the first half of the series exemplifies what's wrong with it. Thoma, our supposed protagonist, gets into wacky hijinks with the orphanage escape that seem transplanted from a much more carefree story, and are frankly quite boring. The "fantastic children" do nothing besides running around ineffectively (and it quickly becomes obvious that they've been doing so for centuries). Detective Cooks's thread is by far the more interesting, but it's mostly a vehicle for exposition and just stops abruptly at the mid-series mark (his few token scenes after it just emphasize how irrelevant he's become).

Darn, the premise sounded really interesting, but this show clearly had a completely different (and much more boring) story to tell. Too bad.
 

JELEINEN

Sizzler Black Squadron
Validated User
Re: Nodame Cantabile & Revolutionary Girl Utena

It's too bad you didn't like Fantastic Children. I really enjoyed it. I thought the back story behind it all was neat and I didn't have a problem with how it was handled. The only thing that felt off to me was making the aliens giants seemed unnecessary.
 

Jhiday

Unrepentant Froggie
RPGnet Member
Validated User
Seirei no Moribito

Sorry for the long intermission ; between a heavy Fall anime season, the DC reboot and my increased workload, I've had very little time to marathon stuff. Still, there's one series I've managed to make time for during the last few weeks...


Guardian of the Spirit (Seirei no Moribito)
(26 episodes, 2007)

My previous exposure

Heartily recommended by this thread at least thrice.

What's it about ?

This is set in the Yogo empire, a parallel version of pre-industrial Japan with a rich spiritual world bubbling under the surface. A good part of the plot revolves on the relatively recent Yogo empire having mostly erased the spiritual knowledge of the previous civilization for political purposes, and having it biting them in the ass.

Case in point : Chagum, the young second son of the Emperor, has become the host of a major water spirit ; the Emperor mistakes it for a demon (because that's how the faked histories describe it), and engineers "subtle" attempts on his son's life to get rid of the menace. Chagum's mother isn't too keen on that, and hires Balsa, a foreign female bodyguard reputed to be very good at her job, to try and save him. Cue chase scenes and all-too-brief respites in the countryside in between.

Also among the main cast are Shuga, the high priest/diviner (and Chagum's tutor) who leaked the news about the spirit to the Emperor and really regrets it ; Tanda, Balsa's not-boyfriend, a skilled herborist who's really handy to cure her frequent wounds ; and Torogai, Tanda's teacher in all things spiritual, a wise (and abrasive) old woman who's one of the few characters with enough knowledge to understand the significance of Chagum's possession...

Because what Chagum is really carrying inside him is the egg of a water spirit whose rebirth is essential to the cycle of life in the world ; on the other hand, all the data Torogai can gather seems to confirm that Chagum is going to die in the process...

What did I think of it ?

This is a gorgeous show, with tremendous attention to detail. We spend a lot of time with our main characters living quiet lives in the countryside, and all of it feels real and well-researched. The (relatively rare) fight scenes are also impressive, Balsa being the most badass depiction of a spear-carrier I've ever seen. I also like that Chagum's character design slightly changes in the last few episodes to reflect Balsa's training and growing maturity.

The only false note on the production side is the score ; not that it's bad (it's very adept at rendering the atmosphere of a slightly eerie countryside with barely-concealed danger lurking underneath), but because it's so strongly similar to another Kenji Kawai score from the same time period ; as a result, I was often half-expecting a redhead with a billhook to jump in at any time. That was quite distracting indeed. It's only within the last few episodes that the soundtrack really manages to rise above this.

The strength of this series is its deep grounding in verisimilitude : all of it feels real, even when the cast is battling giant crablike monsters or sliding into the spiritual world. The society looks real, the politics are depressingly familiar, the characters feel like actual people (even the one-dimensional evil Emperor is a somewhat believable jerkass), and the supernatural elements are carefully and methodically worked in progressively so that they don't feel jarring. I also enjoyed Chagum's characterization ; he doesn't whine, and he's smart and well-learned. Actually, most of the characters are quite smart, and see reason relatively easily once they get the right information.

And this may be the part that doesn't quite click : a big part of the plot hinges on the Emperor being a ruthless asshole as the only explanation for why the more reasonable rest of the cast spends so much time blundering about and working at cross purposes. It feels a bit like forced conflict, with the heavy-handed Message that forgetting (or worse, erasing) old knowledge is Wrong.

Still, this is a very entertaining tale that tries very hard to hit a mythic vibe, and mostly succeeds. Not my favourite genre, but it's so well-done it doesn't matter.
 
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