“Nana”: melodrama with a rock and roll beat

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(C) Yazawa Manga Seisakusho / Shueisha (C) NTV / VAP / SHUEISHA / Madhouse )

On Sept. 8, VIZ Media will be releasing a box set of the anime “Nana” which contains 12 uncut episodes. Price is $59.90 for the 3-disc set and includes a “Nana” guitar pick.

The anime is based on the manga by Ai Yazawa, which has sold over 43 million copies in Japan and is published in North America by VIZ Media under its SHOJO BEAT imprint. Yazawa also created the manga “Paradise Kiss.”

“Nana” follows the lives and loves of two young women who share the same first name.

Nana “Hachi” Komatsu goes to Tokyo to follow her boyfriend and find a fresh start while Nana Osaki hopes to make it big in the world of rock and roll. They meet in the train and end up renting an apartment together.

This is not a show for kids so there is a reason for the advisory warning on the boxed set. I would put this series in the older teen category. It has a mature rating so don’t say I didn’t warn you.

I’m not a big fan of “Nana” since I don’t like the animation style used. Looking at elongated skinny people with huge heads and eyes makes me want to treat them all to a meal.

Although I like shoujo, I got weary of the drama in “Nana” and found the Nana nicknamed “Hachi” to be a whiny, weak and annoying character. I want to smack her with the other Nana’s guitar.

But I’m in the minority since “Nana” has been a hit in its manga, anime and movie incarnations.

I do like the first ending song sung by Olivia.

But as to the other songs? For example, part of the opening song’s lyrics are in “Engrish”. So if you’re a stickler for grammar, you would be reduced to gnashing your teeth by the end of the song. It has a nice beat though to be fair.

Of fairies, charming rogues and a fairy doctor

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An anime season wouldn’t be complete without a shoujo show or two. And this fall’s offerings include the shoujo series “Hakushaku to Yosei” or “Earl and Fairy” as the fansubbers called it in English.

Lydia Carlton, who has huge green eyes and masses of red hair, is a fairy doctor which is a term used for those who act as liaisons between humans and fairies. It seems Lydia inherited the ability to see and talk to fairies and assorted spirits from her late mother. Her companion is Nico, a spirit who takes the form of a talking cat. He drinks Scotch and walks on two legs when he can.

But Lydia lives in the Victorian age when many people don’t believe in such things anymore and just see her as some kook. She leaves her Edinburgh home to visit her father in London. On the way, she is waylaid by some men and ends up on the run with a charming rogue who calls himself Lord Edgar, the successor of the legendary Blue Knight Earl.

The Blue Knight held titles in England and the Fairy Nation. Edgar wants the Knight’s Noble Sword of Merrow which would allow entry into the fairy world and so recruits Lydia to help him in his search. He also lies shamelessly to others about why they’re traveling together and flirts with her at every opportunity. And like many other shoujo heroine, Lydia blushes, gets annoyed, tells him to stop but somehow likes the attention. ( I would have kicked him where it hurt already.)

But blonde, mauve-eyed Edgar is not a good man. He is the scion of a nobleman who when accused of treason, kills his family and himself. Edgar, the lone survivor, gets sold into slavery and does everything to survive. He is a thief, a liar and a suspected killer.

The one who actually did the killing turns out to be his servant, Raven, who has fairy blood and a bloodthirsty sprite inside of him. Raven’s sister, Ermine, also served Edgar but it seems she was killed or died.

Edgar tells Lydia he isn’t a descendant of the Blue Knight but believes if he gets the sword, he can turn an impostor into the real thing. However, there are hints he is the successor since why else would Raven be able to obey him and there’s two other characters following them around who are definitely not human.

Their nemesis is Gotham, the son of a doctor who experimented on criminals and took their brains. Gotham also wants Lydia to get the sword and much of the problem is caused by him planting false stories about Edgar and trying to capture the couple.

I don’t mind watching the show but it really doesn’t rank very high on my list right now. Edgar knows he is cute, poses a lot and lays on the charm too thickly. And like all bishounens, he gets surrounded by sparkles or flowers. The series also appears to be a reverse harem which means Lydia will have a bevy of beaux to choose from.

Let the fangirl squealing commence.

Old School Mecha

I found this on YouTube courtesy of andylau12345. Thanks dude. Hearing the “Voltes V” theme song brings back fond memories of watching mecha anime while I was growing up in the ’70s and early ’80s in the Philippines.

There were so many robot shows then, it seemed there was one mecha show every day. There was “Mazinger Z” with its weird villains and “Daimos” with its Richard/Erika love story. But “Voltes V” was my favorite with its tale of orphaned brothers and longing for a missing/dead father. Plus Voltes V usually dispatched the enemies by carving a V in their bodies with a sword. I always thought he did that to make sure the baddies knew who crushed them. That’s “V” for Mr. Voltes V. And don’t you forget it!

Of course even then I wondered why the evil guys never attacked the heroes as the robot was transforming. It seemed to me the best time to attack since the robot would be at its weakest. But why ask why.

The only other non-robot show I watched faithfully then was “Candy Candy” which dealt with the Cinderella-like life of one orphan girl. I was 9 when I saw the episode where Anthony, her first love, died in a riding accident or something like that. I bawled for an hour then memorized the sappy ending song. I remember sniffling again when I sang the song afterward. Hey, I was young and easily moved then.

Tickling the ivories: Of music, free spirits and facing one’s fears

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Change is inevitable. Who you are now isn’t the person you were five, 10 or 15 years ago. But fear traps many folks from realizing their full potential. At least that seems to be the case with Shinichi Chiaki, a young man with exceptional music skills who harbors a deep fear of flying and sea travel. We meet the 22-year-old Momogaoka Music Academy student in “Nodame Cantabile”, a 2007 anime series based on a popular and award-winning manga. There is also a live-action show that was shown in Japan last year.

Chiaki plays both violin and piano at a level beyond most of his peers, composes music and possesses an ear that knows when a piece is being played right or being massacred. He is well aware of his talents and doesn’t suffer fools gladly. He walked out on his piano instructor and was dropped from a competition.

He yearns to become a conductor and study under the conductor Sebastino Viera whom he met as a child. But alas, our arrogant musical prodigy cannot leave Japan because he cannot ride an airplane. So he is stuck and seethes at his apparent misfortune as other music students head for greener pastures overseas. During a self-pitying bout at a bar, his girlfriend decided to drop him because he doesn’t seem to be going anywhere.

Chiaki drunkenly collapses outside the door of his next door neighbor, Megumi Noda, another piano student at the academy commonly known as Nodame. She lets him sleep it off inside her apartment which is unbelievably filthy. He is appalled at her abode when he wakes up and proceeds to clean it up. While she is smitten with him, he just wants out of the disgusting place. But he pauses when he hears piano music.

Nodame plays the piano in this freewheeling style that both annoys and fascinates Chiaki. She can listen to a piece once or twice and then play it note for note in her unique style. She gets so obsessed with playing a piece that she can be up for days focused on nothing else. Nodame, however, is a slob and often wears the same clothing for days, forgets to bathe daily and rarely cleans her apartment. She peppers her language with gibberish picked up from her favorite inane cartoon. She also tries to talk cute, acts a lot like a simpleton and mooches food from Chiaki daily. She makes no bones about her attraction to him while he constantly nags, scolds and insults her. Yet deep down, he doesn’t really mind her hanging around.

She has her own fears to conquer. We see this weird couple overcome personal obstacles on the way to becoming better musicians. The series also features a great selection of music the different characters played. I love classical music a lot so I enjoyed most of the episodes of “Nodame Cantabile”. Not all the pieces played are classical however.

Nodame, however, took a lot of getting used to. Her voice, mannerisms and subservience to Chiaki irritated me to no end. I longed to smack some sense into her or at least make her stop her inane exclamations. Although a lot of CGI is used in the musical parts, I’ve seen better animation. The characters are drawn simply. Was it beyond the skill of the manga artist to draw lips?? How about faces that don’t look exactly the same?

Despite the annoying heroine and boring character designs, I think the show works because it doesn’t lose sight of its heart. Love of music, friendship, believing in someone and overcoming one’s personal fears are themes that weave in and out of this entertaining show.

Shoujo Attack: OMG Cute Boys!

My inner fangirl would like to show some more of the reasons why she likes “La Corda D’Oro”. Five reasons actually and they all wear pants. Sigh. Please excuse me while I throttle her into silence.

Here’s an animated music video created by Tsukimorifanatic and posted on YouTube. The song used is “Trouble with Boys” by Loreta.

Attention fangirls. Let the squealing commence. I will now die of embarassment.

A bevy of beautiful boys

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Shoujo anime usually feature a pretty girl, some bishounens (beautiful boys), a romantic triangle or polygon and lots of pointless sparkles, swirling flower petals or spring breezes that suddenly appear around the heroine and her love interests. And don’t forget the angst and romantic hand-wringing.

“La Corda D’Oro” or “Kiniro no Corda” as it is called in Japanese is a shoujo tale set in the middle of a musical competition at a high school that offers a regular curriculum and a music curriculum. The students in the music program think they are waaay better than the regular students.

The show, which translates to “The Golden Cord” in English, is based on a manga which originated from a dating simulation game by Koei. I’ve never played a dating sim. My video game preferences run toward action adventures where I whack monsters with a samurai sword or a high-tech gun. And if I can, I try not to rescue simpering damsels in distress.

The heroine is Kahoko Hino, a second year student in the regular section of Seisou Academy. She arrives late to school one day and encounters a tiny fairy by the name of Lili who is surprised that she can see him. Lili was the fairy saved by the school’s founder. The fairy gives Kahoko a magic violin and she suddenly finds herself competing in the school’s annual concours with five music students and another regular student. Apparently, regular students didn’t participate in the contest before. Kahoko is a pioneer of sorts.

Kahoko doesn’t know how to play the violin really. She does, however, have a heartfelt appreciation for classical music. In short, she plays with her heart. But she feels like a fraud later on because she knows her violin with the lone golden string is the one that actually makes her sound like a prodigy.

I know I’ve stated that I hate harem animes but somehow my inner fangirl likes this show which is a reverse harem. Instead of one guy and a bevy of beauties, there’s one girl and a slew of handsome willowy love interests. Swoon. There’s classical music to boot.

Kahoko gets to spend time with the aloof but brilliant violinist Len Tsukimori, regular student and piano whiz Ryotaro Tsuchiura, cheerful trumpeteer Kazuki Hihara, two-faced flautist Azuma Yunoki and sleepy cellist Keiichi Shimizu. Shouko Fuyuumi the clarinet player is the only other girl in the competition and idolizes Kahoko.

It has a nice theme song too. “Brand New Breeze” by Kanon fits this swoony music tale. But if you’re not into shoujo and pretty boys who look alike except for their hair color and facial expressions then by all means steer clear of “La Corda D’Oro.”

My inner fangirl adores Len out of all the bishies so I sometimes let her out of solitary confinement to watch a fansubbed version of the show. Then when I cannot stand her squealing anymore, I shove her ruthlessly back into the inner recesses of my mind so I can go back to watching action-oriented shows.

Love at First Kick: The Saga of Poor Girl Makino and Rich Boy Domyoji

In honor of Buy-Me-Roses-Or-We’re-Through Day, otherwise known as Valentine’s Day, I bring you an oldie but goodie shoujo series called “Hana Yori Dango” or “Boys Over Flowers.” The anime came out in the early ’90s so the animation can be crude-looking in some spots. The animators also used a palette of soft colors so the background looks like it was rendered in watercolors. And the switch from violin and piano background music to a jazzy soundtrack midway through the series seemed jarring to me.

But it’s the storyline and characters that draw one to Hanadan as it’s called by fans. Some fans even go so far as to say that the story has elements of Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” because of the clash between the hero and heroine who come from two very different social backgrounds. I love Austen and have read “Pride and Prejudice” a dozen times but I don’t agree with these fans’ assessment.

The storyline in “Hana Yori Dango” is commonly found in any soap opera, romantic fiction or love song. But the series makes it work because the characters are likeable and not one-dimensional. The heroine is Tsukushi Makino, aka the weed, a poor girl attending Etoiku which is a school for the rich and privileged. She tries to keep a low profile until she and her friend have a run-in with the F4, the four boys who run the school. Anyone who crosses the F4 gets a red tag in their lockers which is a signal for the rest of the students to bully the victims.

But Tsukushi is different. She fights back and even kicks the F4′s violent leader, Tsukasa Domyoji, in the head. She has a crush on Rui Hanazawa, the quiet introverted member of the F4 and Tsukasa’s best friend. Tsukasa later becomes smitten with her and the resulting love triangle leads to a tissue break or two for the viewers.

The series shows how Tsukasa’s character evolves to make himself worthy of Tsukushi. Our tough gal doesn’t want to be protected like some simpering fool and she resists falling for this arrogant rich boy. But she realizes he isn’t so bad after all especially when he keeps saving her.

Then there is the matter of his mother, Kaede Domyoji, who does everything in her power to split Tsukushi and Tsukasa apart.

Bear in mind that the anime ended long before the manga so the ending is different from the comics. Actually I prefer the manga now since the artwork vastly improves as the series goes on and there are more twists to the story in this version.

“Hana Yori Dango” by Yoko Kamio also spawned a movie, a Taiwanese drama called “Meteor Garden” and a Japanese drama which is currently in its second season.

When my inner girly girl surfaces, I placate her by reading the manga or watching the anime again with plenty of tissues on hand. This is classic shoujo anime that is worth viewing even if the animation looks dated now. Both DVDs of the show and the manga have been released in the U.S. by Viz Media.

So get swept along by the drama and romance of “Hana Yori Dango”/”Boys Over Flowers”. I promise the effects will last longer than any flowers or chocolates you’ll get today.

Parting is such sweet sorrow.

I’m in the middle of an “Ouran High School Host Club” withdrawal. The final episode aired Sept. 26 in Japan and I saw it the next week via a fansub. Since then, I’ve watched all 26 episodes three more times.

Waaaah! I can’t believe it’s over! My only consolation is that the manga is still ongoing.

“Ouran” deals with Haruhi Fujioka’s life at the affluent high school and with the all-boys Host Club who spend their time flattering and entertaining the ladies. Haruhi is a scholarship student who broke an expensive vase the club would have auctioned off. She ended up becoming a member of the club and pretending to be a boy to pay off her debt.

The characters are a hoot from the overly dramatic club president Tamaki Suoh to the unflappable Haruhi. Yes it is shojo anime which means Haruhi gets romantic attention from the boys in the club. There’s drama since some of the characters have experienced personal tragedies while others carry emotional baggages of their own.

But “Ouran” is also a hilarious show. A couple of episodes were a dud like the spoof of “Alice in Wonderland.” The manga version of that was brilliant though.

Some fans also groused whenever the show veered away from the manga. Personally, it didn’t bother me since the show was pretty faithful to the original source.

SPOILER ALERT. DON’T READ IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE ENDING. The last two episodes introduced a character who doesn’t appear in the manga. Eclair Tonnere (I’m not sure how you spell her last name) becomes Tamaki’s fiancee and he announces that the club will disband after the two-day school festival. Eclair’s ace is that she knows where his mother is. The Tonnere company is also buying Japanese businesses so Tamaki’s nasty grandmother is using him to become part of this rich French family.

Tamaki also thinks that his selfishness is causing problems for the other members. And it is up to them to convince him otherwise. The ending includes a chase, Hunny and Mori beating up the Ohtori private police force and Haruhi/Tamaki moments. However, the epilogue hints that Haruhi is still a free agent.

My personal preference is to see her paired with the club’s vice president – the brilliant, manipulative and cute Kyoya Ohtori. But alas, the pairing is a long shot in the manga. In the anime though, Kyoya’s father tells Tamaki’s dad he wants to marry Haruhi to his son in the future. The other man wants the same thing for his son.

The show ends with a seated Haruhi surrounded by the other members extending an invitation to the viewer to visit the club.

High school was never like this

I have a soft spot for high school anime even though many of these shows have tired plots and feature characters who need to have some sense slapped into them. Nevertheless, Ive found several gems while rooting among the dung heap.

One show that will be wrapping up soon in Japan is Ouran High School Host Club. It’s cute and funny although a relative wailed that the episodes were pointless and lacked an overall plot. Puhleez. The show is character-driven.

In order to pay off an expensive vase she broke, Haruhi Fujioka pretends to be a boy and entertains girls as part of the host club at Ouran High School which is a place of learning for the ultra-rich. She attends said school on a scholarship. The clubs members first treated her like a gofer then they realized she cleans up well so she became a host. But she’s a girl so they hide that fact from their clients.

Haruhi actually doesn’t give a rip about being a girl and seems to be dense when it comes to boys. I like her because she doesn’t fit the mold of the shoujo heroine who talks like a squeaky mouse and who blushes or stammers whenever a boy calls her name.

I must admit, a host club was an alien concept to me. I guess it’s like being an escort at a club where you entertain the ladies. In this case, the setting is a rich high school and the host club members are good-looking affluent boys who fill a niche the girls fawn over like the “cool guy” or the “silent type”. They flirt but thats all they do.

I find it ironic that I like Ouran because it can be viewed as a reverse harem – theres a heroine and several potential suitors. However, the heroine is anything but typical. Just watch it for fun. There are a few episodes that are heavy on the angst since it deals with the back story of the characters.

Another show worth a look is “The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya”, which is based on a series of novels. Its only 14 episodes and like Ouran, has drawn quite a following.

Haruhi Suzumiya is pretty, can play a lot of different sports, breezes through tests but can be very eccentric. She forms a club to look for aliens, time travelers and those with ESP. With the exception of Haruhi and the narrator, a boy in the same class as her, the other SOS club members aren’t human. Yep, you guessed it right. One is an alien, one a ditzy time traveler and one a boy with ESP.

Haruhi doesn’t know that though. And these beings view her as either a God, a crack in the time space warp or someone who can create data out of nothing. In short, she’s a special being who can recreate the world to her wishes. She doesn’t know that either and heaven help them when she does.

The show is funny most of the time and part of its charm is the way the narrator, a boy nicknamed Kyon, views Haruhi, the club and her crack-brained schemes. The show also jumps around a lot so the timeline is confusing. Hint. Listen to Haruhi in the previews and not to sensible Kyon.

One show that has been out on DVD for years is His and Her Circumstances which tells the tale of Yukino Miyazawa and Souichirou Arima who meet in high school, opt to change themselves and become a couple. They are smart, athletic and viewed as model students. But they are hiding behind masks.

Miyazawa is addicted to praise from teachers and other students so she studies like a maniac and runs laps in secret. She also claims to listen to classical music and pretends to read literature while using the books cover to hide a financial magazine.

Arima was abused by his mother and abandoned by his parents. He was raised by his aunt and uncle but the rest of the family thinks hell turn out bad just like his biological parents. So he strives to be the perfect son and student. Yet he harbors deep insecurities.

His and Her Circumstances is about first love, family, friendships and the choices we make. I recommend the show even though it ends with a whimper because the anime concluded long before the manga did. There are also a couple of episodes that came out of left field.

Another oldie but goodie is Fruits Basket. But Im not sure if Fruits Basket can be called a high school anime since the story is primarily about Tohru Honda and the Sohma clan. She and several of the characters are in high school though.

Tohrus mother was killed in an accident so she ended up living with her paternal grandfather. When the house underwent remodeling and Tohru needed a place to stay temporarily, she pitched a tent in the woods rather than impose on her two friends.

She was found out by her classmate, Yuki Sohma, who lives nearby with his cousin, Shigure. She agreed to cook and do household chores in exchange for room and board there. Kyo Sohma also joined their household.

The twist is that the Sohmas are cursed with the spirits of the Chinese Zodiac and a cat. If they fall ill or get hugged by someone of the opposite sex, they change into their animal forms. They revert back to normal but sans clothing of course. The show is at turns funny and dramatic. The writing is solid and many of the characters are complex.

So there you go. What more could you want in an anime? Japanese school girls, some chuckles, a bit of angst and characters with depth.

- Ruby G.