Saturday, 26 February 2011

Suggestions are welcome!

I know, I know, it's been a while since I last made a proper post on here. In reality, I've not had much time to watch anime recently, let alone spend time writing a full blown review! However, I did find time to finish Shikabane Hime: Aka (Corpse Princess) so there will shortly be my thoughts posted on a rather slick looking soft horror series.

In the mean time, I would love some suggestions for titles to review that are suitable for this blog. Anything ecchi goes, so please feel free to come forward and make some suggestions!

Many thanks in advance if you find me any hidden gems!
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Sunday, 13 February 2011

Anime Review - MM!

Panty shots ahoy Cap'n!
Although most ecchi releases seem to focus on a mini-harem with a tsundere in a central role, there is something about MM! that sets it apart from a mire of mediocrity. I’m still not sure why this title found its way into my watching list, but the love/hate relationship it invoked in many left me at least a little curious about its content: Taro Sado is a masochist; he spends his days getting his jollies from women verbally and physically abusing him. Deciding that his fetish is encroaching into his school life too much, he turns to the Second Volunteer Club to help cure him of this amusing ailment. Unfortunately, their feisty (borderline sadist) leader Mio is perhaps not the best choice as a caring nurse....

Viva Piñata!
Primarily parody driven, MM! doesn’t take itself seriously at all. Each episode features a nod to the otaku culture, even going as far as including every stereotype you can think of. From a forthright pettanko loli and her lolicon admirer to an attractive genderbender, poor Taro seems to find admirers in all the wrong places. Although entertaining, this is not the sole focus of the show and a significant proportion of each episode is spent watching the sado-masochist relationship between the main protagonists grow. The dynamic between Mio and her submissive pig-boy works extremely well, with a hinted romance bubbling away in the background that will have you cheering the duo in their reluctant endeavours.
Taro soon learned that after-school classes could
have a questionable curriculum
But, as always with love stories, things don’t run true and the male hating androphobe Arashiko is thrown into the mix. After suffering in a relationship with a dominant partner, she is left terrified of men and subsequently turns to the Second Volunteer Club for help with her phobia. Personally I found this quite a bold step to take, as this young girl is left extremely vulnerable from what amounted to attempted rape. Papering over this awkward subject quite quickly, Arashiko finds herself helping in the salvation of Taro and ultimately develops feelings for the boy that she can seemingly never act upon. Although this can be quite frustrating to watch, the writers have certainly found themselves an unusual pairing that works.
All of this seriousness aside, the colourful variation in the characters and their interesting methods of curing a masochist are at times laugh out loud funny. I found myself giggling like a mental patient as the prerequisite beach episode saw the girls hanging a bucket of crabs on Taro’s various body parts. Sure, it is frequently silly and over the top, but the story has definitely been one of the best I’ve seen attributed to an ecchi show in a long, long time. If you ignore the distinct lack of satisfactory ending that is.
Look into my eyes, my eyes,
 not around the eyes, into the eyes
Slick and clean, the lines used in MM! are certainly a warm welcome to the new decade of animation. The character designs do err on the side of generic, but this is no bad thing considering that it is intentionally done to match the comically recycled personalities. Mio especially is lovingly drawn and then dropped into some delectable outfits that will have the male viewers falling over themselves for one glimpse of a panty shot. Again, the parody aspect can be applauded for introducing distinct styles to the visuals; one episode in particular pays homage to Dragonball Z – supercharged antigravity hair included!

Opening with a somewhat catchy J-pop number, the accompanying credits are an excellent introduction to the mayhem the viewer is about to be exposed to. Sung by the leading lady herself, both this and the closing audio are excellent choices that fit the atmosphere of the rom-com, ecchi fiesta perfectly. That said, I definitely felt that the final visuals were a reverence to Haruhi Suzumiya, featuring Mio and Arashiko dancing in various states of undress...

So many comments that "could" be made here...
Although she seems a relative newcomer to the world of the seiyuu, Ayana Taketatsu is forging a name for herself with characters such as Azu-nyan from K-On!, and she is certainly no disappointment as the brash Mio. On the other hand, Jun Fukuyama is a seasoned pro, and this definitely shows in his flawless performance as Taro; predominantly shy and confused, the vocal talents switch easily to the frequent outbursts of perversion from the perverted masochist. Although the pair certainly steal the limelight, the remaining cast certainly hold their own in a battle of over-the-top voice acting.

Taro spent some time getting to grips with his plunger
Coming across as a multiple personality weirdo, Taro is certainly unlike any other harem ruler I’ve seen before. One moment, he is showing a shy and naive side, the next he is a slobbering beast begging for punishment from his mistress. Although this grates a little in the first few episodes, the writers soon find their stride and the pervert becomes a brilliant comedy one-man show. The Waldorf to this Statler is Mio – an adorable beauty who has a penchant for baseball bats and causing pain to those she considers beneath herself. Hiding her true feelings from Taro, it seems that the feisty nature is actually an act and she is a frightened little girl at heart. This fragile nature matures as the episodes roll by and give the loveable tsundere depth.

Making up the final corner of a triangle, Arashiko is a worthy opponent in the race to win Taro’s heart. Although the polar opposite to Mio, the male-hating girl comes into her own as she begins to realise that maybe she could fall in love. As the only other Y-chromosome character in the show, Tatsukichi harbours a dark secret that is played upon (successfully) throughout the series in possibly some of the most inopportune times – but somehow remains completely loveable! With the remaining noteworthy characters featuring a lovelorn loli, a secondary tsundere with lesbian traits, a mother with an unhealthy obsession for hooking up with her son and photography obsessed school nurse, hopefully you will find at least one likeable cast member.

If only highschool life was always like this...
Although it may not appeal to everyone, MM! iscertainly a show that should be given a chance to shine and win the viewer round due to the run of the mill start. The first hour may be a little slow, but a point of enlightenment is reached around episode five as the characters are given an opportunity to bring their A-game to the table. Fans of ecchi will appreciate a new spin on an old harem tale, whereas those new to the genre may miss some of the hilarious parodies but still enjoy the je ne sais quoi offered by the cast. Either way, MM! is a fun ride and rumours of a second series give me hope that a satisfying climax may not be too far away.
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Friday, 4 February 2011

Anime Review - Suteki Tantei Labyrinth

Even the setting sun will not hide the poor wardrobe choice
As explained in my Asura Cryin review, a series that packs in too many genres is destined to fail. Thinking a lesson had been learned, and no show would attempt the impossible again, I was surprised by the first episode of Suteki Tantei Labyrinth. Just to give you an idea of what to expect (and how over the top it is), prepare yourself for: middle school slice-of-life, 12 year-old detective, mystery, scantily clad fighting “dolls”, martial artist police, futuristic Tokyo, a “blood curse”, supernatural elements, fan service, murder and to top it all off, the obligatory misplaced humorous episodes.

With the mystery genre being a bit of a secret pleasure for me, any show involving the word “Tantei” is virtually a must watch – hence why this show found its way onto my to-do list. After just the first twenty minutes, I find myself scratching my head; interspersed with a group of middle school students investigating a haunted house were scenes of scantily clad women fighting each other under the control of a mysterious man. It almost feels as if there are two completely different shows messily blended together in a rollercoaster ride of fun-filled investigations and dreary fillers.

Mean, moody and plain annoying.
Introducing the blonde haired and blue eyed protagonist, child detective Mayuki, a firm step is taken toward a “mystery of the week” show which lasts for approximately half of the episodes. Whilst not terrible, the leaps of logic taken in cracking some of the seemingly impossible murders requires more than a little faith. The second half of the show seems to consist mainly of flashbacks and a conclusion to the hinted dark past of our hero and those closest to him. Sadly, it makes very little sense and although is wrapped up over a couple of episodes, feels as if nothing was really succinctly answered leaving a bitter taste in the show’s aftermath.

Divine Punishment, maybe. But what a view...
Easily the strongest part of the show, the animation is some of the best I have seen recently. The characters remain well drawn and gorgeous throughout, whilst the scenery is a superb view of a post-apocalyptic Tokyo. CG is used throughout to great effect, but areas of traditional artwork maintain a creepy atmosphere when called for. However, what is a letdown for this section is the unnecessary use of fan-service. Strapping up the busty “dolls” in bandages and letting that pass as an outfit may be acceptable for an ecchi show, but even as an ecchi aficionado I feel that the demographic has been poorly identified for this series.

Buy two busty female, and get a manly man free!
Somehow pulling in big hitting names such as Romi Park, Marina Inoue and Junichi Suwabe, the vocal cast of Suteki Tantei Labyrinth is nothing if not impressive. The latter especially turns up his sex factor to an eleven, whilst Hatsumi’s voice actress delivers equal servings of ditzy and adorable. Unfortunately, the childish tones of Mayuki do grate as the series progresses and could even be classed as condescending during moments of his detective enlightenment.

The opening track is a fun, indie pop tune that wouldn’t seem out of place in the current UK music market. The closing audio slips down the scale, reverberating with the tone of a misplaced love ballad that would sit comfortably in a cheap candlelit restaurant in the wrong end of town. This disparity matches the confused tone of the show and could well help put off potential viewers.

Mayuki goes super Sayan to solve mysteries
Bursting at the seams with cliché characters, there is no apology for the predictable nature afforded to each personality. Mayuki is the adorable orphan you will want to throttle by the final episode, whilst the delectable Seiran is cornered into the knight in white armour who dashes to the rescue at the last minute numerous times. For me, the divide between likeable and murder-able was predefined by the ages and the annoyance was something to be grown out of.

Err... yeah....

Seemingly added purely for fan-service, the female cast are valued for their curves over their brains. Hatsumi is frankly a terrible maid who would be sacked in the current economic climate, and yet she is revered by the rest of the household as practically a member of the family. Sanae is the curvaceous older sister whose unnatural crush on the wealthy protagonist sits in the realms of creepy. Out of the rather large character list, one plus point is that the histories and motivations of each in the main group are well explored and motivations well fleshed out. Well, all but the two superfluous cops that serve no purpose other than to act as chaperones for the excitable kids.

The obligatory swimsuit shot.
Lacking the fun of Detective Academy Q or the loveable cast of Majin Tantei Neuro, Suteki Tantei Labyrinth is an overreaching failure in so many ways. Be it the maelstrom of genres packed into the story or the frankly dislikeable main character, moments of potential are rapidly lost and forgotten. There is a reason for a lack of bubbling excitement behind this title, and unfortunately it is not because it is a hidden gem.

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Tuesday, 1 February 2011

Chii & Kira Anime Watching Club - January 2011 - Wild 7

Meet un-named cop #3 - he's badass.

Although it seems like a lifetime ago that I initially hooked up with Chii to watch A.LI.CE, our next title had already been selected and was hovering in the background like a bad smell. With the ball being in my partner in crime’s court when it came to picking a show, I had no idea what to expect from someone with a penchant for mecha and a lady-boner for series from the last century. When Wild 7 was fired at me, a quick perusal informed me that it fell into the latter of her fetishes. Far from being a modern animation snob, my initial thoughts were "just how bad could a harmless OVA be..?"

Opening with a high-speed chase through the streets of Japan, the line between good and bad guy is blurred as the show’s heroes are introduced as a renegade group of ex-convicts who have turned to a life of law enforcement. Well, in their own way. After running down a group of sadistic thieves, the Wild 7 spend the next five minutes stamping their version of justice on the brash miscreants with varying levels of violence. Be it a shotgun to the face or a motorcycle wheel used to rip a guy out of a car, the results always seem to be the same mangled meat-bag at the other end. Oh, and don’t forget random servings of fan-service that are more amusing than arousing.

Panties! In an explosion! How exciting!
Unfortunately, story is sacrificed for gore and action. Although I wouldn’t normally have too much of an issue with this, the confusion I faced after just the first ten minutes only got worse as the show progressed. Episode one introduces each of the forgettable characters which then shoehorns in a side-plot involving a hilarious road traffic accident and untold amounts of backstabbing. The second fifty-minute “fun filled” offering features some rather butch women, a clan of armour-clad Hells Angels and a plot complicated enough to challenge the writer of Donnie Darko. For those looking for mindless action, you probably will adore this. For those who enjoy a good story, give this one a wide berth as it seems the director did too...

Dave looked forward to his new nickname of "half-face"

I have seen comments that the animation for Wild 7 has an atypical 80’s look to it. Unfortunately, the show is actually from 1995. Although part of the blame probably falls to the fact that only VHS copies are available, the ugly characters are entirely attributable to a tightly budgeted art department. The colours are distinctly muted and carefully drawn lines bend and warp unnaturally as frames fly by. That said, gore fans will adore the attention to detail of a half exploded head or an eyeball slowly dribbling down someone’s face. Each to their own I suppose.

Signor want a siesta? Or maybe a burrito... 
One of the few things I agreed with Chii upon was the unintentional hilarity of the accompanying soundtrack. Featuring mostly a cacophony of utterly terrible rock, the relentless use of guitar riffs actually suits the onscreen violence. Sadly, recordings by the original vocal cast seem to have been lost in the sands of time and only the god-awful dub remains. Starring a Mexican impersonation that verges on racist, the rest of the cast either come across as disinterested seiyuu who have numerous other things they would rather be doing, or see this as a chance of a lifetime and therefore a license to OVERRACT. Either way, it was witty.

Lolicon alert!
From their initial introduction in a slick freeze-frame styled biography, I assumed that the dirty cops would each harbour skills that related back to their pasts. Happyaku the baseball hero, Oyabun the former Yakuza and Hebopi the bearded hippie all sound like intriguing personalities, however they are soon indistinguishable from one another (apart from an awesome ginger beard). With their initial list of skills quickly forgotten about, there is little to no character development afforded to the group. Even more annoyingly, an extremely irritating young girl with an inappropriately short dress is given more than a little screen-time for adding virtually nothing to the plot.

Happy by name, brutal by nature

Definitely not one to be taken seriously, this is certainly a show to watch “for the lulz”. I can now tick it off my watching list and pray Chii’s next choice is a little kinder... But for now, it’s my turn and I’m in the mood for something a little ecchi. Check out Chii's perspective here!
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