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Dated 13 June 2012: Upotte!! ends and AKB0048 begins

G3 and M14
Upotte!! should have focused more on the battle rifle high school.

Upotte!! is much less tasteless and much more informative than the first episode and initial viewer impressions might have you believe. In those respects, it's sort of like Chu-Bra!! only with rifles instead of brassieres. Notably, the befuddled human teacher has a much smaller role in the series than I expected.

Sig
And the Alpine guns with the way they shoot
They keep their riflemen warm at night.

Overall, Upotte!! is a trite sitcom with anthropomorphic military small arms and several historical and factual capsules interspersed among the action. Some of the stereotyping is heavy-handed, but I'm mostly in agreement with the show's criticism of the British SA80 bullpup and her comical failings. Upotte!! does love the Sig 550 way too much, though. Fanboys.

NO IDOL!
The moé war has already begun. People simply haven't noticed.

AKB0048 is mostly terrible, but it does have good stuff in it. At a minimum, it gave us NO IDOL! missiles and wota cavalry riding to the rescue in their itasha mecha amidst an Itano Circus swarm of glow-stick missiles. There is that. [P.S. Spoilers.] But aside from the absurd battles, very little of AKB0048 is memorable. In fact, at the moment I can only remember the name of one girl: Cherry, whom I've designated as the the AKB0048 Best Girl mostly by default because she has the best hair.

Itasha vehicles
Actually, maybe they're mechanized infantry and not cavalry.

Aside from that, AKB0048 (properly called A-K-B zero zero forty-eight, as the show constantly reminds us, as opposed to A-K-B double-'aught forty-eight, as I prefer) seems little more than a celebration of the real-word AKB48 idol troop. There are numerous in-show references presumably aimed at AKB48 fans, a collective fanbase which I view as a curious lot, to be quite honest. The impression I get is that AKB48 fans are not fans of the music, nor even necessarily fans of the girls (despite their vocal and occasionally socially inappropriate expressions of devotion), but rather fans of AKB48 as a phenomenon or as an entity, much as rabid sports fans are loyal to their favorite teams despite the regularly changing roster of star players.

Chieri
I bet Miki could strike out Cherry with just three pitches.

If you think this is a seque to bootstrap an idol-based fantasy league team that I'll match up against The iDOLM@STER 765PROs...you're wrong. I don't know crap about AKB48, and I'm pretty sure the AKB0048 candidates would get shellacked by the 765PROs even with Kotori pitching both ends of a double-header. It might be a different story if the AKB0048 farm team gets to include scenery-chewing Ayako and cyborg Yukarin in the lineup as ringers, though.

Dated 3 April 2012: Season Wrap-up, Winter 2012

Genjuro and Chris
When in doubt, hug Chris.

Senki Zesshou Symphogear was awesome because it was preposterous. Symphogear went above and beyond to remain entertaining. From the first BADICAL episode to its ridiculous climax, Symphogear always remained fun to watch. I can't claim with a straight face that it's actually good, but I never claimed a show had to be good to be the best show of the season. More of this sort of thing, please.

Yassan and Hidenori
It's all about the timing.

The best show of Winter 2012 if you want to use boring metrics such as "funny" or "consistent" is Daily Lives of High School Boys (Danshi Kōkōsei no Nichijō or "Nichibros" affectionately, among fans). Shockingly, this was a very amusing comedy and nothing at all like what I thought it would be about based on the title. Daily Lives of High School Boys also accomplished the rare No Bad Episodes achievement. Hell, I'd even go so far as to recommend it. That's something I can't do for Symphogear.

Saya
Black Rock Shooter needed more DARK MAMIKO.

I liked Black Rock Shooter for its almost confrontational use of allegory and metaphor to illustrate the trauma of suffering teenage feelings. I don't believe I have an especially high tolerance or patience for teen angst in general, so I consider my positive overall opinion of Black Rock Shooter to be a testament to its solid, stylish execution and depiction of envy, despair, humiliation, friendship, and courage. I can see how other viewers might wildly disagree, though.

Kazuha and Amakazu
Kazuha aikidos the shit out of some deadbeat.

Detective Conan remains as good as ever. It's somewhat amazing that after more than 650 episodes it still has compelling stories about its key characters. It's also just as satisfying as ever to watch Ran and Kazuha whip the Hell out of some goob. If you're new to these wrap-ups, Detective Conan is sort of my control group of quality since it's pretty consistent and appears ready to run as long as it has to.

Tsugumi
Guilty Crown needed more Butt OS.

Guilty Crown was all over the place this season. It's quite a mess, but was pretty entertaining in an absurd sort of way when it was about [spoilers] and [spoilers] and [spoilers!], but then it just started getting stupid. Shu as a protagonist was its biggest flaw, and things would have been so much better if Guilty Crown had killed him unexpectedly and replaced him with Ayase. For a show that I ranked number one for a large part of the season, Guilty Crown fell a long way in its inability to pull off a satisfying conclusion. It also didn't make a damn lot of sense, but a show doesn't need to make sense to be the best of the season. (See Symphogear.)

Flay
Poor Flay is just misunderstood.

The "HD" rebroadcast of Mobile Suit Gundam SEED is not much different from the original. It's mostly just cropped and upscaled. I still like it, though, even if Flay's breasts are now flying out-of-control all over the OP.

Lucius
That is some pretty good ramen.

I finished Thermae Romae months ago. It's a good thing it was so short, though. I can't imagine watching a full cour of it.

Miyuki and Nao
Flag of England and lance corporal rank.

It's a bit of a relief that Smile Precure! is charming. These girls can't fight worth a damn. That's kind of the trend for Pretty Cure over the last few years, though. There's not nearly enough ass kicking. I remain hopeful that Cure March will get her act together later, even if she does end up carrying the rest of the team. Notably, Nao wears combat boots and her favorite shirt appears to have lance corporal rank insignia on its sleeve and the flag of England on the breast. SHOW ME YOUR WAR FACE, CURE MARCH!

Ai
Ai is pretty awesome even though she tastes like ramen.

Amagami SS+ was a huge letdown because it retconned nearly all of the progress Potato-kun made in the first season. It would be almost inexplicable, except that I should have predicted the craven devotion to upholding the Otaku Virtues. In nearly every respect, the second season of Amagami SS is wasted potential, and a waste of time. At least Tsukasa remains the Amagami Best Girl by showing she's smart enough not to fall for stupid tricks.

Asia
Potato-kun comes for Asia's box.

High School DxD is both a disappointment and a pleasant surprise. On the one hand, it's a lot better than a trashy show like that has any right to be. On the other hand, it didn't turn out as good as it appeared it would be from the early episodes following the cookie-cutter first episode.

Arsène
The best Milky Holmes II had to offer.

Tantei Opera Milky Holmes II was not nearly as good as the first season. Then again, the first season was a lot better than anyone expected it to be, so I guess it works out. Too much lard, not enough Arsène, and the only new gag I liked was Hercule turning out to be a huge pervert in secret.

Akazawa
Hair down > twin-tails.

Another was another letdown for me. It started off boring, got interesting, got stupid, and ended up being completely retarded. I think it tried recapture the elements that made Shiki so good, but instead of B-movie fun Another was just poorly written dreck. So many problems. There's only so much handwaving I'm willing to accept. And another thing: [SPOILERS] If everyone forgets about the dead extra person after he's killed, how do they know it's over? Wouldn't the class continue looking for the extra person until everyone was dead? In any case, it seems a lot of people who were very critical of Guilty Crown for being puerile were much more forgiving of Another despite the two shows sharing similar flaws. I took the opposite view. I dunno, maybe I liked Butt OS and wheelchair-fu more than I thought. A classroom of students too stupid to live? Not so much.

Shana
Dere-Dere Mode, activate!

Shakugan no Shana III was a lot better than Shakugan no Shana II but was still terrible. I blame J.C. Staff's persistent problems with producing compelling fight scenes. They're bad enough at it that sequences only a few seconds long routinely come out horrid. Thus, when J.C. Staff tries to drag out fight scenes over multiple episodes, the end result is disastrous.

Shinobu
Whatever happened to Shinobu's helmet and goggles?

Nisemonogatari is awesome if you like that SHAFTXSHINBO jive. It'll irritate the crap out of you if you have little to no patience for it, though. And let's be clear on this: Koyomi is a harem comedy protagonist. A shitty one. Also, the obsession with little sisters has got to stop. I suppose I don't "get" Japanese fetishes, but I am really tired of the imouto thing. It's basically only okay when it's like Harima + Yakumo from School Rumble (platonic friendship with the kid sister of his unrequited love). I suspect many viewers will further disagree with me here, but as much as I like Sakamoto Maaya, I believe Hirano Aya, the original voice of Shinobu (back when she didn't talk) would have been a better match. I assume Hirano Aya was replaced for reasons related to her relatively recent personal and professional problems.

I already described my problems with Suite Precure♪. I still want to know whether or not Cure Rhythm's battle costume smells like cake, though.

I dropped Moretsu Pirates because it was boring. I heard later that the show is actually about privateering, anyway.

Dated 7 February 2011: Why didn't someone tell me Broken Blade had giant robots? (Break Blade, whatever)

Square gun barrel
Seriously, though, square gun barrels are a terrible idea.

I basically had no idea what Broken Blade was about until I saw this post. Turns out it's pretty good so far. I like how it attempts to treat giant robot battles in a serious way. It's obvious they put a lot of thought into what could work in this magic-quartz universe. However, I do have some problems with these very same tactics precisely because the show adopts a serious tone.

Small arms against giant robots
Small arms against giant robots? Also a terrible idea.

First, what is the point of having light infantry engage these giant robots with small arms? Since there's no magic-quartz equivalent of an anti-tank weapon in their arsenal, they're only there to get fucked up. Second, I have some difficulty believing this society's reliance on magic quartz led to a near complete abandonment of other forms of science and technology, even when they would directly improve the magic quartz versions.

Soldiers and golems line the wall
I guess they don't have crew-served weapons either.

For example, no rifled barrels? I guess square (rectangular prism) projectiles are probably easier to create and store, but man, you guys could be doing so much better. Also, nobody has figured out how to make an equivalent to artillery? Those thick city walls are nice and all, but pretty ineffective if someone just lobs projectiles over them from a few miles away. I am nitpicking, but these are some pretty egregious shortcomings, even if this is a military that places generals in charge of squad-sized elements. It's not as if I'm complaining about the lack of ISR assets or air power in general, even though someone could probably develop the quartz equivalent of a Strike Witch if they put some effort into it.

Dated 15 January 2010: Maybe they'll take my advice for the second Macross Frontier movie

Nanase and Ranka
The Nyan Nyan waitress uniform is downright dirty.

The Macross Frontier folks should have just squeezed Nanase into a Buster Machine. Clear that Vajra problem right up.

Sheryl Nome
At least we'll still have Sheryl Nome and her ridiculous outfits.

Actually, I heard Nanase's character was retconned out of existence entirely for the first Frontier movie, The False Diva, alas. Does this mean the only character to wear the Neo Nyan Nyan waitress outfit is Ranka? That's no good.

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 4 June 2004: Hoshi no Koe

Mikako from Hoshi no Koe
Nagamine Mikako from Hoshi no Koe

One of the best pieces of anime I've seen in recent memory is Hoshi no Koe, also known by its English name as Voices of a Distant Star. I don't know if I can really do it justice in a brief review through an anime blog, but I'll give it a shot.

Noboru
Terao Noboru from Hoshi no Koe

Voices of a Distant Star is a 30-minute short film by Makoto Shinkai. It is an earnest love story set in 2046, during an interstellar war. Two young friends separate when one of them becomes a mecha pilot with the Earth's expeditionary force sent out to bring the war to the invading aliens.

Mikako in mecha
Mikako in the cockpit of her mecha

The fifteen-year-old mecha pilot, Nagamine Mikako, and her Earth-bound friend, Terao Noboru, can only communicate with each other through cell phone text messages. As the expeditionary force travels farther and farther through space, the lag between their communications grows longer. Messages that once arrived nearly instantaneously eventually take months to arrive, then years.

Despite its short length, Hoshi no Koe is very successful in conveying the longing and despair of the separated couple. It invokes something of a Flowers for Algernon effect as the story unfolds. We see Mikako's excitement. We see her anxiety. And we see her trepidation grow as she travels farther and farther from Noboru, knowing that it will be years before he receives her messages.

Mikako
Mikako

The communication medium that director Makoto Shinkai uses in Voices of a Distant Star, cell phone text messages, is well chosen. The pervasiveness of electronic communication today has created a world where people take communication for granted. We can be separated by thousands of miles, yet still be able to reach our loved ones with essentially no effort. Voices of a Distant Star acknowledges that not so long ago, such distances could only be closed after months of perilous travel; messages that were sent were often never received at all.

Mikako's mecha in battle
Mikako's mecha in battle

By showing the extraordinary wait required between each text message, Hoshi no Koe forces the viewer to consider how valuable each message—each word—is to the young couple. Likewise, the relativistic effects make each message more poignant.

Noboru
Noboru

Back on earth, Noboru's anxiety comes in a different form. He is trapped by The World, and by time. He feels the burden of the years between them, whereas Mikako feels the burden of the distance between them. Noboru has to live his life, joylessly meet other people, and stoically grow old, all without knowing if he'll ever get another message from Mikako—without knowing her ultimate fate—even whether or not she died in battle over a decade ago.

Despite its somewhat depressing theme, Voices of a Distant Star is buoyed by its equally powerful theme of hope. This is Voices of a Distant Star's great triumph. Despite all the years and despite the countless miles, Mikako and Noboru maintain sparks of hope. They understand that each message may be the last, but they never quite give up, and the messages themselves are not goodbyes.

An alien planet
An alien planet

Even from only a purely technical perspective, Hoshi no Koe is excellent. The artwork and visuals are striking, and the music is beautiful. The animation is captivating, with excellent CGI battles that succeeds in this 2002 production in ways VanDread cannot match. The voice acting in Hoshi no Koe is also good, although further explanation is necessary regarding this point.

Mecha
Earth mecha on an alien planet

There are two Japanese audio tracks, and one English one. One Japanese track is performed by professional voice actors, and is polished and skilled. The second Japanese track is voiced by the director, Makoto Shinkai, and his fiancee, Mika Shinohara. The acting is different, but not at all unskilled. The director gives Noboru a younger sounding voice, and has the advantage over the professional voice in that it sounds less, well, professional, if that makes any sense. He sounds more like a kid than a seiyuu, even though the professional's acting is better.

Mikako, as played by the director's fiancee, sounds similar to the professional, but is also a bit more subdued. One line in particular, "I don't understand," is more heartfelt coming from the professional voice actress, whereas the line as spoken by the director's fiancee is more level—almost matter-of-factly.

Mikako
Mikako

I am generally disinclined to like English anime dubs, for a myriad of reasons, but people who usually watch dubs instead of subtitled works will probably like the English dub of Voices of a Distant Star well enough.

Personally, I felt that the English voice for Noboru sounded too mature for the part, but I suppose that's a relatively minor complaint given the broad age range demanded by the role.

An older Noboru
An older Noboru

The English-language Mikako has kind of a raspy, smart alec, "tough grrl" voice. This changes the character a bit from the original vision, and I don't like it, but the acting is otherwise good.

As with most English dubs, they pronounce the Japanese names incorrectly. I don't know why. It's not as if they sound any more western this way.

The older Noboru's cell phone
The older Noboru's cell phone

I am disappointed that the English dub took creative liberties with the script. The changes are subtle, but I think the deviations change the characters and the distort the overall feel of the story. For example, in the original version, Mikako is a bit evasive and has some difficulty telling Noboru that she has joined the expeditionary force. Someone watching it for the first time with no knowledge of the story could easy miss the subtle inferences that reveal Mikako's intentions. In the English script, she pretty much just comes right out and says it. It makes the English-language Mikako more assertive, and the viewer readily accepts her role as a mecha pilot, whereas in the original script, the viewer is left wondering about her motivation for embracing these sacrifices, particularly in the version voiced by the director's fiancee.

Noboru and Mikako
Noboru and Mikako

Voices of a Distant Star is available on DVD in North America from ADV Films with about 75 minutes of extras, including the short film, She and Her Cat. It can be easily found for less than $20, and I highly recommend it.

Dated 1 June 2003: VanDread

VANDREAD is big fun.

VANDREAD is a comedic space opera set in a future where men and women have broken off into warring factions colonized on separate planets. They've even gone so far as to forget that men and women ever co-existed together. Their animosity towards each other is further fueled by wild propaganda and Orwellian sociopolitical forces on both sides.

Hibiki running from Dita
Hibiki running from Dita

The series opens as a male warship is attacked by a group of renegade female space pirates. In the course of the battle, a mysterious force flings these pirates a great distance along with their three male prisoners:  A low-caste mechanic turned mecha thief, a doctor, and a coward. Okay, four males prisoners if you count the robot, Pyoro. On their journey home, they forge a shaky alliance united against a new common foe.

Overall it's a good combination of space opera, mecha fights, some slapstick, and even some harem comedy. The recurring odd-couple theme is played to great effect as the three men and their female captors learn to cooperate with each other to fight the threat facing both their planets.

Parfet and Duero
Parfet and Duero

VANDREAD's great strength lies in its characters. They are all very likable and great fun to watch. Naturally, the ebuliant Dita and the boastful Hibiki (the primary leads) develop a sort of love-hate relationship (actually, just love from Dita's end and mostly hate from Hibiki's). Likewise the doctor, Duero, and the engineer, Parfet come to complement each other's strengths and forge a pragmatic union.

It's a fairly large cast, but all the characters are quite engaging and have good chemistry. They also have quite a few surprises in store for the viewer, particularly during the second season.

Meia in a rare, unguarded moment
Meia in a rare, unguarded moment

Sadly, VANDREAD is only 26 episodes long (two seasons of 13 episodes each). GONZO really needs to make a third season because there are a lot of stories left to tell. In fact, I wager all the characters could carry a show on their own, since each of them left me wanting more—well, not that closet gorilla-fucker, but he's just a guest character at best and not a bona fide member of the cast—everyone else, though. I wanted to see more of the stoical Meia in particular.

I suppose I should point out that the space battles are rendered almost entirely in CGI. I typically don't like CGI (I didn't even care for it in Cowboy Bebop), and I hate it when it's poorly done, but the CGI in VANDREAD is quite good and not objectionable. In fact, it makes for rather spectacular (albeit somewhat sterile) space battles.

VANDREAD has too many good elements to mention in such a short span—I wouldn't do them justice. Even relatively minor bits such as the men's discovery of the women's food, or anything related to Gascogne and the stagehands, are a blast. However, I will say that the first season has a sexalicious end-credit sequence. I'm not going to attempt to describe it other than to say it feels positively pornographic.

All 26 episodes of VanDread are available in R1 DVDs by Pioneer (with some kick-ass menus, to boot), although the disks are not anamorphic. Absolutely maddening.