Cardcaptor Sakura – episode one

April 15, 2004 on 11:19 pm | In Cardcaptor Sakura | Comments Off on Cardcaptor Sakura – episode one

I couldn’t resist and just put the first DVD in the player for “sampling” today.
Now this is truly something great!
Forget anything you heard about Cardcaptors; this is not it.

Basically it’s a magical girl show about Kinomoto Sakura who opens an ancient book, freeing the magic cards within. The guardian of the cards, Kero-chan, demands that she get them back lest they wreak havoc on the world!

The first episode of Cardcaptor Sakura is little more than a cursory glance at the life of Sakura, but it’s not a heavy introduction episode. A surprising part of the way it was presented was all of the music. It almost never stopped, like the episode was simply the unrelenting spirit of Sakura.
Essentially it was a preview of what was to come, setting up her homelife, her school life and her “professional” life.
Reluctant heroes and heroines are starting to get a bit old, however, but I think they’re a staple that will forever be with us. As long as they can overcome that, it’s okay.

The light of the series is Kero-chan and Sakura! Their rapport is great, and Hisakawa Aya’s voice is just spot on. Ogata Megumi really had the teenage boy voice downpat by then, too.
Tomoyo is presently very over the top and obvious, in a good way, and there’s just a visual richness to the series that was lacking before (for reasons unknown, back in the day I watched several thousand episodes of Cardcaptors).

There’s a magic to Cardcaptor Sakura: CLAMP magic. It’s just like one big splash of colour at this point.

Gundam Wing – episodes 1 to 9

April 13, 2004 on 9:27 pm | In Gundam Wing | Comments Off on Gundam Wing – episodes 1 to 9

This is coloured because I could not finish it until after I had seen later episodes.

Gundam Wing is the Gundam that, if you listen to what “they” say, you aren’t supposed to like. It’s the Gundam that brought the franchise as a whole to the US, despite being one of the series least representative of Gundam as a whole.
It’s not as bad as people make it out to be, and it’s certainly not the dreary anime purgatory that has been suggested in the past.
This is a 49 episode series with a three OVA follow up, so it might take a while.

The story goes something like this: people left the Earth in order to live freely in colonies in space. The Earth government then tried to impose themselves on the colonies, and so the colonies retaliated by dispatching bishounen in mecha to sort out all of their difficulties. At the same time, the Alliance that runs the Earth is undergoing major shifts to repair relations, and the evil OZ organisation is attempting to overrun the whole damned system.
The idea of ‘Pretty Boys from Outerspace’ might seem laughable, but there’s a bit more to the series than this. There are several political factions, and each has several splinter factions. There’s enough to keep interest piqued beyond the simple brooding teens also on offer.
Zechs is the most interesting of all the characters, and it’s clear that he will be a splinter of OZ. The mixed morality of all of the “villains” is a good source of intrigue, although it’s clear that not all of them are quite so ambiguous, to the benefit of some characters and the detriment of others.
In these episodes Noin seems to be a very strong, moral character, but Lady Une seems to be nothing more than a vicious woman without reason.

The mechanical encounters are very basic affairs at first, posing no threat to the Gundam pilots at all. Only in episode nine, when Zechs takes on Heero, does there seem to be any tension at all.
There’s more than enough “action” in Wing, but the motivations and manipulations are far more interesting. The Gundam pilots are always getting themselves lured into traps – they fight, in the end, for the benefit of their opponents. Luckily enough, they eventually catch on. Plot devices eventually fade away as, of all people, Wu Fei tells the others what fools they’ve been.

The music, from favourites like Two-Mix, is a definite highlight. It gives a romantic, electric feel – like most other things in these early episodes, it hints at a greater promise.

These episodes should be compelling enough to convince people to continue watching Gundam Wing; it gets much better.

Orphen – episodes 13 to 24

April 10, 2004 on 3:35 pm | In Orphen | Comments Off on Orphen – episodes 13 to 24

The second half of Orphen has a twist at the very beginning that sets the tone for the rest of the series. It was a very good twist, but the episodes that surrounded the turning point were animated oddly, with Childman never looking quite right.

Cleao’s relationship with Orphen becomes very important, not in a romantic way but in a caring way. In fact, so much so that Majic seems to have become rather extraneous to everything – that there is only room enough for four characters: Cleao, Orphen, Azalie and Childman. Majic does get to do some things, such as his time in the library, but the early promise he showed as a sorceror becomes ignored as the episodes progress.

Dortin’s heart was always a nice thing to see, and her/his/its compassion for Bloody August was touching. Of course, the whole fake nudity thing is always annoying. The snowy mountains were a great setting for the last few episodes, and while some of the threats were dispatched of with no difficulty, it was a satisfying series. Even the giant tree episode didn’t seem so bad.

When I watched this the first time I was obsessed with video quality, but I was able to appreciate the subtler nuance of Orphen this time around. At times there was a genuine sense of wonder about it. Its final bold move was to actually finish the story with half an episode to spare – which allowed for a very nice wrap up.

Orphen II might find its way here soon, and I hear that it’s less of the same. If there’s more Volcan and Dortin, I simply can not complain.

Plastic Little

April 10, 2004 on 1:35 pm | In Plastic Little | Comments Off on Plastic Little

Now this is what a one shot OVA should be like!

When this came out in Australia all those years ago, it was classified R (NC-17 to you Americans) simply because of all the nudity that was in it. Reading about it, I totally missed the sci-fi aspect and imagined that it was anime about two girls who lived together quietly and had lots of baths and then one of them went crazy and killed some men in dark suits to protect the other.
If you ask me, the anime I created in my mind was actually pretty good. The Japanese film love/JUICE was like that without the violence.

What I ended up with was nothing like my imagination, but it turns out that the real Plastic Little turned out to be enjoyable nonetheless. There’s just something about it. It’s about “Pet Shop Hunters”, who ride their ships through the sea of clouds to find rare animals to sell to collectors. Tita is the seventeen year old captain of this crew, and when she saves the life of Elysse, daughter of a great scientist, the government tries to kill them all.

The plot isn’t important in Plastic Little, it’s the feeling. What a feeling it gives: the energy of the anime industry before there simply stopped being any money to go around.
Urushihara Satoshi’s designs are very attractive, and he is a man who is renowned for his attention to the details of the chest. Character exposition in a giant bath allows for endless pans from chest to face, and everytime a woman gets shot they have to be patched up … so his talents certainly don’t go to waste.
The city in the clouds was a beautiful place, and the atmosphere was just amazing. The ideas of flying ships that were also submarines was cool, and no time was wasted on explaining the world. It was just as it was. The action was well done, and the friendship between Elysse and Tita was warm.
The few moments of humour, and the nosebleeds … it was all worthwhile. The score was also quite good, although the DVD menu played a piece that was unfortunately nowhere in the OVA itself.
The characters were broad but nice … the whole project just gave me a nice feeling.

47 minutes of enjoyment, without any sour aftertaste, Plastic Little is a whole. It’s hard to wax lyrical on such a simple pleasure.

Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko – Episodes one to three

April 9, 2004 on 11:15 pm | In Yamamoto Yohko | Comments Off on Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko – Episodes one to three

I’m growing tired of silly OVAs. This is the second OVA starring Hayashibara Megumi to have disappointed me in a row.

Basically, for reasons inexplicable an engineer travels 1000 years into the past to pick up high school girls to fly ships to compete for mining contracts. In the first episode they pick the fourth girl for the squadron, then in the second they have reached the end of their season and decide that they deserve a break. In the third, something kind of good happens, but why?

Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko is totally without substance. It’s true that there have been other things to lack substance before this, but some of them had redeeming features. This OVA gave me nothing to think about or to enjoy – the space dogfights were essentially all the same and animated in a way that suggested inertia. Although that’s not terribly accurate: there was essentially one fight and nineteen that were alluded to – all of them glorious victories!
There was no threat of anything, the characterisation was almost non-existent (and poor Hayashibara Megumi played the fall girl) and the fan service was weak. Very weak.
It’s a shame that Shake It, one of Okui Masami’s greatest songs, was wasted on this. The third episode had some kind of good content, but it sprang from nowhere. Just roses in space.

There are another three episodes on the disc – Starship Girl Yamamoto Yohko II – which seems to be an alternate universe retelling. They say it’s better. And it would have to be. Yamamoto Yohko was a lame series with no reason behind it and one truly hilarious joke.

Battle Athletes Victory – episodes 23 to 26

April 7, 2004 on 9:48 pm | In Battle Athletes Victory | Comments Off on Battle Athletes Victory – episodes 23 to 26

The final arc ofBattle Athletes Victory is the polarising section of the series, dividing fans of the rest between “It’s a bloody outrage!” and “Best final arc EVER!” Anime fans never do things by halves.
I think that it was a nice, fitting conclusion to a totally enjoyable series. Despite the same problems that faced the series before, there was no end to the rocking.

Inexplicable gender roles, bizarre mutations and incomprehensible character changes were prevalent in these last four episodes, but they still managed to be some of the best. So much happened in them, and they succeeded in reconciling the casts from both the Training School and University. The only disappointment with these last sixteen episodes was the sparing use of Wong Ling-Pha. Otherwise, everything was good.

The symbolism was obvious but never too strong, and Akari’s final growth was liberating.

The only truly bad thing was the slaughtering of the ending for DVD purposes. Great series, lousy DVDs, but good price for such lousy DVDs.
Battle Athletes Victory rose against the odds and stood away from the OVA (to the point that I can’t remember how the OVA ended). Great voice acting, design, comedy, characters (no matter how wonky they were) and drama made a series well worth returning to in years to come.
It may annoy some, but it will charm just as many others, if not more.

Battle Athletes Victory – episodes 11 to 22

April 5, 2004 on 7:04 pm | In Battle Athletes Victory | Comments Off on Battle Athletes Victory – episodes 11 to 22

Akari goes to University Satellite, but on the way her shuttle gets hijacked by terrorists!
The terrorists were a great crime trio, with the traditionally incompetent leader (his tendency to ramble is hilarious) and the completely stupid threats and demands.
While it makes sense to hijack a shuttle with perceived VIPs on it, it makes less to hijack a shuttle packed solely with battle athletes.
The introductions of Anna and Kris came at this appropriate juncture, with Anna being a victim (“Silly faces make you embarrassed!”) and Kris being nowhere near the sensibility level she once was at.
The new Kris is hilarious. Rather than the “nudity for laughs” approach, we get the “inexplicable instant lesbian love for laughs” approach. There’s more to Kris than that, but to have her introduce herself to a ship occupied by terrorists and students as “[Akari’s] lover” is an effective intro, as is Anna’s embarrassing alien greeting dance.
Anna’s discovery of the terrorists was animated with just the right level of absurdity, and the athletes’ entry into university was definitely memorable and proved that Grant Oldman is the greatest man in human history.

Over the following episodes, Akari’s problems seem to be the opposite of her old issues: that is, she is too independent and doesn’t trust her team mates to work with her. In fact, the whole team consists of some of the flightiest students ever.
Fortunately, Akari comes to her senses, but the completely wonky characterisation of this series comes to a head several times. Jessie can’t decide whether she’s supportive of Akari or if she simply hates her, and she’s frequently written in whichever way it suits the story.
When Anna’s dark secret comes out (which is far more disturbing than the OVA’s totally bizarre revelation), it’s disappointing that there was no hint of her competitive side before. When she was losing all the time, she didn’t care this much.
Similarly, Mylandah is initially portrayed as the rabid monster of the OVA, but then seems to grow a healthy rivalry with Lahrri as opposed to an obsession. Still, she should not have gone unpunished for beating the other athletes into comas with tennis balls. That is just not what sports are all about.
Wong Ling-Pha’s presence is, by its very nature, a waste of potential.
The possibility of losing too much in the character shift from Antarctica to the Satellite was not as devastating as it could have been.

Still, the characters are fun, and Mister Miracle (as voiced by Ishizuka Unshou) is a marvellous character. The episode in America shows some wonderful scenery and atmosphere, and some very good music that would not have fit anywhere other than future New York. It’s interesting that New York of 4999 has slums and gangs, but the Japan that is shown is nothing but rolling countryside. I suppose that the debris had to go somewhere.

The Great Competition plays out well, and the spiritual developments are interesting – although Battle Athletes Victory shows a strong disregard for religious practice when it interferes with sporting prowess.

Despite any of the small and confusing inconsistencies, Battle Athletes Victory is almost wholly entertaining. The final episode arc looks to be very little on the serious side.
(yes, I know it’s cheating to write a whole arc at once)

Battle Athletes Victory – Episodes 8 to 10

April 3, 2004 on 10:19 am | In Battle Athletes Victory | Comments Off on Battle Athletes Victory – Episodes 8 to 10

With the closing of the tenth episode, the training school arc came to an end. This series’ episodes come in sets of three more than literally, with each being a mini-arc itself.

Episodes 8 to 10 were the finals. It’s interesting that in each training school of 100 plus students, only three get through to University Satellite. This makes for a really cut throat competition, and it’s completely clear why Ling-Pha goes to such extremes to win everything that she enters. It’s just a pity that the truly competent can see right through her.
Both Akari and Itchan went through a large amount of pain in this episode, and the dependence that Akari has on other people is disconcerting. The theme in this type of program is usually “Run for yourself” or “Play for yourself” or “Sing for yourself”. Hopefully Akari will learn this, because her tendency to hide in a cardboard box when things aren’t going her way gets tired.

The triathlon was a great event. Ayla, who was one of the more interesting characters, is developed quite well in her final episodes. She comes from a very thinly veiled communist country – the sort that breeds people to become athletes above becoming people. The way that we see that humanity has rubbed off on her, and that she can swim for herself, that was good. She also had the strongest relationship with Jessie, who is disturbingly random in her allegiance.

Akari’s weariness and sudden determination were inspiring and led to many well animated scenes. At the end of the tenth episode, Victory is now at the same place that the OVA began. Seeing as only three people move on to University Satellite, it’s essentially like bidding farewell to our Earthly favourites – but Anna and Kris have their own charms, as we well know.

Wong Ling-Pha forever!

Battle Athletes Victory – Episodes 5 to 7

April 1, 2004 on 1:03 pm | In Battle Athletes Victory | Comments Off on Battle Athletes Victory – Episodes 5 to 7

Akiyama made the transition from ultra comedy to ultra drama seamlessly. He really is a skilled director when given the right material.

There were definitely some confusing moments, where the timeline jumped back and forth some months and Jessie didn’t seem quite the same as before (but the Night of Woong-A-Ji may have changed characters for one night in order to bring them together against a common … evil?).
Akari learned a few things about herself – that she didn’t think that she could live up to her mother’s image, and despite hiding behind the “I’m trying!” attitude, she was actually holding back (perhaps to avoid disappointment).

When she realises the problem through some incredibly good Hisakawa Aya Itchan speech, she decides that she will get better, that she will unleash the hidden talent. And when she actually does get better, and she most certainly does, Itchan realises that she is jealous of what she has awakened in her friend.
The result of that is truly horrifying.

The other thing of note here is Ayla, who is a hilarious character because she has no sense of humour and is very literally minded. She produced some wonderful scenes.
While it’s sometimes hard to track the relationships in a series so coloured by competition, Battle Athletes Victory looks like it has it all. Except for eye catches, damn them.

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