Version 5.4 ~ Haruhi gave rock and roll to you.
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Dated 5 April 2006: Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha

When it first started airing, I dismissed Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha as being a horrible ripoff of Cardcaptor Sakura. Yeah, it turns out I was way wrong. Both it and its sequel Mahou Shoujo Lyrical Nanoha A's are actually kinda awesome, to tell you the truth.

Nanoha
Nanoha.

Fate
Fate.

Fate and Nanoha
Fate > Nanoha.

Fate and Nanoha
(Fate has a cape with a giant collar AND had a terrible life. This contest was a boat race.)

Standing in circles magic? Check. People shouting out the names of their attacks before unleashing them? Check. Battle costumes? Check. MAGIKAL GIRLS KICKING THE SHIT OUT OF EACH OTHER? Checkmate.

In other news, both Shakugan no Shana and the end of Mai-Otome were also great.

Dated 12 April 2005: Kannaduki no Miko (Kannazuki no Miko)

Kannaduki no Miko (also romanized Kannazuki no Miko) is a pretty good 12-episode series, although it does take six or seven episodes to really get going. I would have given up on the show except it featured Ayako Kawasumi doing a serious, evil-sounding voice (which is always top notch), and I already saw spoilers about the later episodes which gave me hope that the show was going to get interesting later.

Kannaduki no Miko opening
Opening credits. Yup, it's a shrine, all right. On the frickin' MOON.

Kannaduki no Miko is about a love triangle with a lesbian slant. Souma (male) and Chikane (female) both love Himeko (female). The problem is Chikane and Himeko are the Moon Priestess and Solar Priestess, respectively, and Souma is one of the Orochi—one of the so-called "Eight Necks"—and is supposed to be trying to kill them instead of trying to screw one of them. Since Souma is in love with Himeko, he spends most of his time protecting Chikane and Himeko from the other seven Orochi. Protecting them with his GIANT ROBOT. Oh, I forgot to mention that part, didn't I?

Himeko and Chikane
Himeko and Chikane

Most of the time Souma, Chikane, and Himeko are high school students at an upscale academy. Souma is the "prince" of the school. He is handsome and athletic and popular and everyone assumes he's dating Chikane, the beautiful well-bred girl and undisputed queen of the campus—the girl everyone loves. Himeko, on the other hand, is just some blah, worthless, nothing of a girl.

Souma and Himeko
Souma and Himeko on a date

It's not at all clear at the beginning why Chikane is in love with Himeko. Like I said, she's kinda worthless. Pretty much the only thing she has going for her is her genuine, unassuming, sincere nature. Everyone else we see in the school appears to be catty and coniving and mean. But c'mon, it's a big school. There has to be someone else decent on campus.

But Himeko is the Solar Priestess, while Chikane is the Moon Priestess. Chikane has to love her, because it's destiny and all that. It took me about eight episodes to fully accept this, though.

Oh, I was going to talk about the GIANT ROBOTS. Yes, apparently the world is in peril, and the Solar Priestess and the Moon Priestess have to save it by chanting. The Orochi try to kill them using giant, monstrous robots. Normally, this would be pretty easy to do, but Souma is in love with Himeko, turns traitor, and keeps the other seven Necks at bay. Let's ignore for now that Himeko is kinda worthless. Souma is in love with her, and that's that. Souma is also fortunate in that the Orochi are mostly content to go after our story's two helpless priestesses one at a time. They're pretty half-assed about it too, which is good for Souma, and good for Himeko, and good for Chikane, too, even though it royally pisses her off that she gets her ass bailed out of trouble by Souma all the time.

It's kinda hard to describe the other seven Necks. They form a rather absurd ensemble of caricatures including a manga artist, a pop idol, and a kid who alternates between acting like a cat and pursuing her obsession with administering medication. Most of the time they stand around bitching at each other until one of them goes and tries to kill Himeko and Chikane.

Corona
Corona the pop idol villain demonstrating a defining idol pose.

If Kannaduki no Miko sounds kinda mediocre right now, that's because it is—during the first half of the series. The second half of the series is pretty awesome, and is somewhat twisted.

The turning point of the series involves a substantial spoiler, so just stop reading if you're already at all interested in watching Kannaduki no Miko. Personally, I wouldn't have watched it all the way through if I didn't know all the spoilers already, but once I got past episode six or so, it got pretty captivating.

Being stuck in the losing corner of the love triangle, and constantly being rescued by the odious Souma, whom she loathes, and constantly being unable to protect her dear Himeko herself, Chikane snaps.

Yeah, Chikane kinda turns evil. Not SUPER evil, just kinda evil, and she already seemed kinda evil to begin with. And then she starts kicking ass wholesale.

Chikane
Chikane stops fooling around. You're all screwed. So, so screwed.

I should probably mention the sexual assaults at some point. I'm too lazy to craft an adequate segue, so I'm just going to come right out and say that there are a few sexual assaults depicted in Kannaduki no Miko. They come in the "I'LL RAPE YOU UNTIL YOU LOVE ME" variety, the "Hey, do you wanna get ahead in this business or what?" variety, the "Shut up, I need this" variety, and also the "Oh, lighten up already, you know you could use a good fuck" variety.

I guess it all sounds kinda twisted, but that's mostly what makes Kannaduki no Miko so good once you get past the boring first half. Ayako's evil voice is always welcome, and everyone pretty much gets what's coming to them, so the payoff is good.

Kannaduki no Miko ending
From the closing credits of Kannaduki no Miko

Plus it has KOTOKO singing the OP and ED. The ED, "Agony," is a particularly good way to end most of the episodes. It captures the thematic nuances of the show well.

Dated 6 February 2005: Samurai Champloo

Fuu
Fuu

Jin and Mugen
Jin and Mugen

New episodes of Samurai Champloo are back, with the usual fun mix of easily accessible hip-hop kung-fu anachronisms and quarrellous wry banter. I'm mostly in it for the Ayako Kawasumi sassiness as Fuu, but it's a pretty entertaining show if you're not instantly turned off by mainstream anime with a very western bent.

We also finally get some headway on the Sunflower Samurai story.

Dated 9 November 2004: Bleach

Bleach opening credits
Bleach opening credits

I am rather enjoying Bleach this season. Through its first five episodes, it has been pretty entertaining.

Bleach is about a high school kid, Ichigo, who can see ghosts. Rukia, a shinigami (kinda the same deal as the Full Moon wo Sagashite shinigami, only a lot more somber, and with big ass swords) recruits him to fight monsters called Hollows that seek to devour lost souls.

Rukia
Rukia

The talented and versatile Fumiko Orikasa voices Rukia with much aplomb. Her Rukia is very similar to her Meia voice from VanDread, but the icing on the cake is the fake voice Rukia uses in school as part of her schoolgirl disguise. You can sort of hear Fumiko Orikasa's Pacifica Cassul voice in these scenes. The combination is somewhat amusing.

It appears that many fans of the original manga rather dislike the anime version of Bleach. I haven't read the manga, so I can't speak for their complaints. I like the plot well enough, and the pacing and energy of the anime is quite appealing. Through the first five episodes, it seems pretty good, although episode five did have way too much exposition and turn-based fighting for my taste. If you care to make the comparison yourself, the first three volumes of the manga are currently available in English, published by Viz.

Dated 24 May 2004: Samurai Champloo hype machine

Samurai Champloo title screen
Samurai Champloo title screen

After much hype and anticipation, Samurai Champloo finally aired. Generally when expectations are this high, the actual unveiling tends to be somewhat anticlimatic. I am happy to announce that Samurai Champloo does not disappoint.

Corrupt ruling class
A member of the corrupt ruling class

Samurai Champloo takes place in feudal Japan. Petty members of the ruling class arbitrarily order executions and brutal acts of sadism to amuse themselves. However, although only one episode has aired, I do not think that the subjugation of the common man by the ruling class happens to be the focus of Samurai Champloo. That is, this show does not appear to be about class or politics, but is instead a tale about two master swordsmen and their promise to help a tea house waitress in her quest. The politics involved are merely incidental.

Mugen
Mugen

The first of these swordsmen is Mugen, the apparently younger and more hotheaded of the two. He enjoys fighting, and is confident enough in his abilities to challenge perfect strangers to duels to the death. He presumably lives by a code of justice and honor, as he is the one who steps in and protects the waitress character, but seeing as how he offers to dispose of a roomful of loudmouths for some food, I think it is safe to say Mugen probably also kills for fun.

Jin
Jin

The second of these swordsmen is Jin, the bespectacled cool-headed one whose more level-headed wisdom allows him to refrain from brawling, and fight to right injustice. Well, that may be assuming a bit much after only one episode. After all, Jin is a bit of a braggart, and agrees to duel Mugen to the death simply to determine which of them is the better swordsman. Jin is a bit vexed by the fact that Mugen was the first man thus far that he was unable to kill.

Mugen and Jin duel
Mugen and Jin duel

The aforementioned tea shop waitress is Fuu, voiced by the always welcome Kawasumi Ayako. Ayako Kawasumi is in rare form here, and breathes real life into Fuu, our feisty and engaging heroine. Fuu is Ayako at her best. The Ayako Doctrine dictates that you will watch Samurai Champloo, and it will be radical.

Fuu
Fuu

The great anticipation and hype for Samurai Champloo is well deserved. Samurai Champloo is reportedly created by the team that gave us Cowboy Bebop, and is poised to become The Next Big Thing. It is directed by Shinichiro Watanabe, who also directed Cowboy Bebop and Macross Plus. Samurai Champloo also apparently comes pre-funded with American money, and has already been licensed by Geneon Entertainment. This is good news, as Geneon's DVDs are generally very high quality, and no longer appear to suffer from low episode count as they once did years earlier while using the Pioneer label.

Fuu in peril
Fuu in peril

Samurai Champloo is not a perfect show. I really do not like the rap-ish opening credits. As near as I can tell, it is performed by Japanese artists rapping in English, with dubious results. The editing is also somewhat unsettling at first. It's somewhat like watching Pulp Fiction in fast forward. However, these are minor complaints, and are easily offset by the great elements of the show.

Mugen trying to get the drop on Jin
Jin

I particularly like the contrast between Mugen's and Jin's fighting styles. Mugen is constantly in motion, and at times it appears he is either breakdancing or practicing some form of capoeira with a sword. Contrasting Mugen's frenetic style is Jin's more efficient style, which focuses more on economy of movement and sure strokes.

Jin and Mugen duel
Jin and Mugen duel

However, the real joy here is Fuu. Ayako Kawasumi plays her perfectly. And while I would have liked to have had Megumi Hayashibara in Samurai Champloo as a nod to her work as Faye Valentine in Cowboy Bebop, Ayako Kawasumi appears to be as perfect for the part of Fuu as Megumi Hayashibara herself was perfect for the part of Haruka in Love Hina.

Fuu
Fuu

The official website for the show can be found at http://www.samuraichamploo.com/. Given the fact that it's already licensed by Geneon, and considering the amount of English-friendly material on the website and in the show's credits, I think it's pretty safe to assume Samurai Champloo is heavily targeted for western audiences.

Mugen
Mugen

P.S. Yeah, yeah. "Sonditioner."

Fuu
Fuu