The good, the bad and the ugly

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With the new year just around the corner, I find myself mulling over anime I saw this year. Some were horrible, a few were excellent but most were entertaining enough.

I noticed many of the shows I watched had a supernatural or magical theme. I don’t even remember seeing anything mecha-related. Sorry but giant robots leave me cold.

I have to feed the artsy fartsy side of moi now and then so I gravitate toward shows that look unique, tackle an unusual subject matter or tell a tale in a way I haven’t seen before. “Mononoke”, which deals with the adventures of an unusual medicine peddler, fit that bill. You should check out the show when you have the chance. I suppose you could say “Mononoke” was a spinoff of “Ayakashi” since the peddler was a character in one of the featured tales there.

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Yes, I also saw my share of shonen anime from “Naruto Shippudden” to “D. Grayman” this year. The latter ended recently and was a letdown. Since the manga isn’t finished, the animators decided to end the show just after the Black Order’s headquarters get attacked. Lame. I hope they later come out with movies.

Do stay away from the mess that is “Le Chevalier D’eon”. It is loosely based on a historical figure who was a spy for the king of France and who had a fondness for wearing women’s clothing. In the anime, he dons dresses when the ghost of his murdered sister possesses him. The show is a mishmash of historical figures involved in conspiracies, secret societies and other arcane stuff. While the animation is beautiful, the plot is too convoluted and unbelievable. And anyone who loves history better steer clear of this anime which plays fast and loose with the facts.

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He sees dead people …

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In “Hanada Shounen-shi”, we meet a potty-mouthed brat named Ichiro Hanada.

He is the village troublemaker; the bane of pets and neighbors. He calls his mother “demon hag” and his sister “fat and ugly”. He also doesn’t care much for school and would rather chow down than listen to his long-suffering elementary school teacher.

One day while fleeing from his enraged mother on a bike, he runs into the path of an incoming truck. Next thing he knows, his soul is watching things from afar and heading upwards. But he is sent back because it’s not his time yet.

Nine stitches later, he is back home. But Ichiro can now see ghosts which is bad news for him since he scares easily. The ghosts want him to do things for them like hand over a long-delayed Christmas present or tell a loved one to keep on living.

While this little scamp grouses about helping dead folks, Ichiro often gives in to their requests because he does have a heart. Along the way, Ichiro learns about people, love and life.

Ichiro and most of the cast are ugly. You can see for yourself in these samples. But there is a charm to the characters especially Ichiro’s dysfunctional family. Most of the episodes are worth watching and guaranteed to wring a tear out of the viewer. They don’t get too schmaltzy either.

I’m warning you though. This show is not for kids. There are plenty of toilet jokes and bawdy humor plus our hero prances around in the buff in several scenes.

I would recommend it for those 14 and above.

“Hanada Shounen-shi” is one of the few anime I’ve seen that uses American songs as the intro and ending to the series. It was a jolt to hear the “Backstreet Boys” to be honest.

A brief but magical life

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In anime, the guy sometimes doesn’t get the girl in the end and not everyone lives happily ever after. People get hurt or abandoned. Love doesn’t conquer all. The hero dies. Some series end like it was just another day in the life of the characters.

When I was young I favored shows that had a happy outcome or at least promised some sort of happiness in the future for the protagonist. I’m not a kid anymore.

Life can be tragic, brief yet still beautiful.

“Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto: Natsu no Sora” or as Wikipedia translates it “Things That are Precious to a Mage: Summer Skies” was one of two series shown in Japan this summer which caught my interest.

The animation is done in an unusual way as you can see from the three scenes I included here. It’s as if someone drew on photographs. The characters are simply drawn but they move in a world that looks very realistic.

The short series focuses on Sora, a teen living in a small town who gets accepted to a summer internship program in Tokyo. She is a mage since her late father was also a magic user. Mages are part of this world. They get trained by the Bureau of Magic which sends them out to fulfill requests by ordinary folks.

This is not a world like Harry Potter’s so don’t expect to be awed by the effects or requests. It’s all quite boring actually. Kinda like having the city repair the pothole in front of your house except the workers use magic to do it.

Sora is a country gal awed by the big city. One can imagine she’d be easy prey for any grifter. But she has plenty of magic powers and tries her best to make sure the clients are satisified with the job she’s done.

She befriends several people from the program which include Gota, a teen who didn’t realize he had magic powers until his father admitted he gave up being a mage. His mother left saying she could not live with a liar and Gota was thrust into a world he knew nothing about. His magical abilities seem close to nil until Sora helps him out.

They also fall in love but Sora carries a secret.

SPOILER ALERT. DON’T READ BEYOND THIS POINT IF YOU DON’T WANT TO KNOW THE PLOT TWIST

She is dying which explains the sometimes extreme reaction she has when she feels she has failed or not lived up to the client’s request.

Sora graduates with the rest of her class, returns home to Biel and dies after she fulfills a promise she made to her dead father.

Gota finally visits her town years later wearing as a necklace the stone Sora gave him. The viewer is shown how the others have fared as well.

Some folks might just groan at this series and find something else packed with action or fanservice. Consider the show a snapshot into a girl’s short but memorable life. Sora made her brief existence count by helping others or making them happy, For her, it was enough.

the lame list

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Everyone has a list of their favorite anime shows. That’s a given. But do you have a list of the anime you consider so pedestrian, lame or terrible you wouldn’t show them to you ex ever?

Lemme share my lame list. It’s not in any order by the way.

1. “Bartender” – Show about a mixologist who can ease your troubles with a drink. Each episode comes with a history or story behind the cocktail du jour. Employs fourth wall techniques. Verdict: bleah and just plain boring

2. “Boys Be” – Tales of boys at school and the way they drool, pine for and leer at girls and women. Contains fanservice which means scenes where female characters inadvertently end up showing their underwear. Verdict: sexist and dumb

3. “Diamond Daydreams” – Show about the lives and loves of several women who reside or work in the nothern part of Japan. At times seems like an ad for certain locations. The character designs are among the ugliest I have ever seen. Memo to the show’s animators: Go back to art school and learn how to draw. Then smack yourself for producing what amounts to nothing more than a disguised travel brochure.

4.”Haunted Junction” – Kids from different religious backgrounds attend a haunted school with well-known ghosts from Japanese popular culture. Well they focus mostly on spectres Japanese school kids yak about such as the girl who haunts toilets. Verdict: A big mess. Supposed to be funny but is excruciating to watch. Has disturbing characters like a teen-aged girl overly fond of little boys. Gag.

5. “Gregory Horror Show” – MIni episodes about a mouse the unseen protagonist encounters in a place full of “scary” characters. The segments are too short and choppy. The characters are NOT scary at all since they are drawn simply. Think of wooden blocks then imagine them with faces and stubby appendages. The premise isn’t bad but the animators faltered in the execution.

6. “Oh My Goddess” OVA – The first installment in a series that should have been buried long long ago. Geek meets one of the Nordic goddesses of fate. She ends up keeping house for him and falling for this very common guy. This show is nothing more than wish fulfillment for the guy who cannot get a date and still lives in his mom’s basement. This tripe is an insult to any woman who can think for herself.

7. “Onegai Teacher” or “Please Teacher” – Half-human/half-alien lands on Earth and pretends to be a teacher to gather data on humans. Circumstances force her to marry one of her students. She looks like a well-endowed woman in her mid-20s. He is actually 18 but looks 15 because he was in a coma-like state for several years. They keep their marriage a secret and eventually fall in love.

Skip this so-called romantic show. If you have the DVDs, burn them and fumigate the room where these were kept. I found the relationship between the main characters disturbing and just wrong. The creator of this show should be ashamed for producing this putrid excuse for an anime. He or she deserves a flogging.

8. “Rahxephon” – Show where giant statues ( actually just prettier looking giant robots) wreak havoc in a walled-off world. Hero is a teen with a murky past. There is also a mysterious girl and a woman who is more than what she seems. Great animation, nice CGIs and compelling storyline at first. But I found the plot too convoluted for my taste and the pace of the show can be glacial at times. I couldn’t finish this out of frustration and boredom.

9. “School Rumble” – HIgh school anime about a clueless girl, the guy she likes, the bad boy who loves her and their classmates. Typical show where someone can’t tell the object of their affection how they feel because of certain reasons and circumstances. (e.g. the person they love just doesn’t get it). Some people like this show. I don’t. I got tired of the main characters’ inability to confess their love.

10. “R.O.D.” the TV series – Three sisters with the unusual ability to manipulate paper. They solve cases and are called paper masters for a good reason. One can create paper animals that do her bidding while another can fashion weapons out of paper. This is the tv spinoff of the popular “Read or Die” OVA about a bookworm who is really a special agent for the British.

The television show buchers certain characters in the original movie much to its detriment. The plot is more complex and folks double cross each other out of the blue. The series also runs too long and gets bogged down by the different subplots. This is one sorry spinoff to a decent, original movie.

Snapshots of a furry charmed life

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While taking a stroll with her mama and two siblings one day, a gray-and-white kitten is distracted for a moment and gets left behind. Lost and alone, the despairing furball is found by a little boy named Youhei and his mother.

They take in the kitten while Youhei’s parents try to find someone who would adopt the cat. Their apartment complex doesn’t allow pets so keeping the kitten is out of the question. Or so they thought.

The kitten starts answering whenever someone in the apartment says, “Chi.” Apparently “chi” means pee in Japanese. Or so the subtitles explain in the fansubbed version I watched.

Cute, isn’t it? And so is this show.

“Chi’s Sweet Home” doesn’t aspire to be anything more than it is which is just fine. The show is supposed to be cute and harmless much like its heroine. I don’t think an episode lasts more than several minutes. I didn’t time it so don’t hold me to that,

There are no dramas, no emo moments and no sudden revelations like Chi is really a puppy in disguise. The character designs are simple and the opening song is Chi singing about her happy life which consists of being petted, fed, playing around and sleeping.

Some folks might think Chi is enough to induce tooth decay. Well, if you’re not in the mood for a simple tale about a cat’s life then move along, move along. Nothing for you to see here.

Paging Sam Malone

Not all anime is geared for teens and kiddies. Hence shows like “Bartender” which originated from a manga for the older male population.
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It’s a slice-of-life anime where regular folks get good drinks and advice or help from Ryu Sasakura, the whiz bartender at a small bar in Ginza called Eden Hall. Now either the fansub I saw had it wrong or I need new glasses because it wasn’t really clear if Ryu is called “The Glass of the Gods” or he creates drinks customers call “The Glass of the Gods.”

Each episode focuses on a specific drink, a customer with a problem and how Mr. Genius Bartender helps them by mixing said drink and dispensing sage advice. And in case you want to make the drink, the show ends with a recipe for that cocktail.

The series tries hard to be different by having characters suddenly address the viewer and by tossing in anecdotes or historical tidbits about the liquor business. Cute but not enough to make the show a must-see.

Most of the characters left me feeling cold and several of the 11 episodes were dull. I didn’t get an insight into Ryu’s character even after an episode that showed him as a new bartender making several mistakes. Who is Ryu really? The viewer only sees this smiling pleasant young man. Where did he come from? Why does he have such skill mixing drinks? Does he even have a life outside Eden Hall? And if he really cared about his customers, he would call a cab for them instead of letting them stumble drunkenly out of his place.

Ryu is no Sam Malone of “Cheers” fame. He has no sassy waitresses at his bar and no funny, interesting bar flies. Too bad. They would certainly liven up Eden Hall. Better pass on this one.

The plight of a hard working editor

Hiroko Matsukata is single and a workaholic. The 28-year-old is one of several editors at the magazine, Weekly JIDAI, which covers political scandals, food trends, sports and scantily clad models on certain pages.

It is not unusual for her to pull all-nighters, subsisting on natto hand rolls. Yep, natto. The sticky soybean, which is an acquired taste.
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She earned the nickname, Hataraki Man or working man from fellow employees because she works really hard and doesnt think too much of those who cruise through their jobs.

We see her get excited about stories, work like a maniac, interact with her fellow editors and bemoan the time she cannot spend with her equally busy boyfriend.

Thus goes Hataraki Man, one of those slice-of-life animes geared for an older set. Dont get me wrong. The animation looks sharp and the character designs are true to the manga version. Theyre normal looking folks, if you get my drift.

She goes drinking sometimes with the tubby editor who deals with the food section and the models. Theyre pals only. In an earlier episode, she went out on a stakeout with the prickly Fumiya Sugawara, whose job seems to be going undercover or doing stakeouts to get photos of people caught in the act.

Im predicting sparks will eventually happen between them. Its a clich in anime. The couple who gets on each others nerves eventually falls in love or feels some sort of attraction.

There are only 11 episodes but I didnt feel the need to rush back to the store after watching three episodes. Part of my disinterest is that the show hits too close to home for me. Ya see, I watch anime because it has nothing to do with my real life. I doubt that giant robots would suddenly attack the towns I cover or purple-haired school girls with magical powers would soon attend the local middle school.

I write for a living and I deal with more eccentric characters than Hiroko does so her pals and sources leave me bored. The fact she works through the night isnt unusual in our business either. And I was appalled that her fellow employees seem amazed she works that hard. They should be embarrassed theyre not working as hard as she is.

At the JIDAI, she and her co-workers are called editors when they would clearly be reporters here. I was also surprised when she sent an interview back to a government official so he could approve it after they chatted. I know nothing about Japanese journalism so Im not sure if this is common practice over there or just something the shows writers made up. I can tell you that we never do that in American journalism.

Maybe I will watch the rest of the show this summer when I have some extra time. Right now, its sort of a yawner for me.

A sweet look at teenage Godhood

There are days when I need a break from angsty dramas, supernatural shows and action series. Granted I thrive on those kinds of anime but even I have a limit!

When I’m in this mode, I like to watch anime that is simple, soothing and slow-paced which would explain why I followed the series, “Kamichu” this year. I actually finished watching the final four episodes last night. It works for me because I simply accepted the premise – a middle school student realizes one day that she is now a god but doesn’t know what her powers are. Her two friends try to help her out. And the seaside town accepts her as a god who happens to still be attending middle school. Go figure.

Bear in mind “Kamichu” relies on viewers knowing something about Shintoism which is Japan’s national religion. In Shintoism, there are numerous spirits called “kami” which in English is usually translated to mean “god”. Those shrines you often see on anime are where worshippers go to pay their respects to a Shinto god.

This unlikely new god is a small teen by the name of Yurie Hitotsubashi who has a huge crush on the sole member of the calligraphy club – a somewhat dense boy called Kenji Ninomiya. The episode where she finally tells him she likes him and nervously holds out a box of handmade Valentine’s Day chocolates while the whole town roots for her is so sweet, ya gotta see it.

The series shows Yurie learning the ropes of her new status by attending the annual conference of gods where she goes through an orientation, getting assistants who funnel requests she can choose to grant and meeting people like the Prime Minister who needs her to deal with an alien stranded in Japan. He’s one of the few devious people in the show.

Most of the folks and spirits living in Yurie’s sleepy town are nice. The resident Shinto god at the local shrine who nurses a passion for singing even gives Yurie pointers. But she had to find him first since he ran away from the shrine for several days

I know some of my guy pals secretly watch “Strawberry Marshmallow” so I recommend this show to them.