About Me

Newfoundland, Canada
I've been a big anime fan for about 10 years or so now. My five all-time favorite animes at this point are, in no particular order... Puella Magi Madoka Magica, El Hazard: The Magnificent World, Love Live!: School Idol Project, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, and Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha. However, there are hundreds of anime shows that I like. The main purpose of this blog is to provide meta-commentary on anime, and the anime industry - to try to cast a critical, though appreciating, eye upon this entertainment genre that I believe has tremendous potential, but can also be easily wasted. I have always been a fan of animation in general - in the 80s, I grew up on western cartoons like He-Man, She-Ra, Transformers, and G.I. Joe. Through out the 90s, I was a hardcore comic book fan, for the most part. I'm also a big fan of Star Trek. Right now in my life, though, anime is my principal entertainment passion.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Nice Girls: They Just Can't Win

"No one's going to side with you, you're stark-raving mad!" - Ash Ketchum

"Oh yeah? Just ask your mother..." - Giovanni

"That's all in the past!" - Ash Ketchum

"Listen to me, little boy, nice guys finish last, last...!" - Giovanni

Given the endings of many of the animes with romantic conflicts, that I've recently watched, Giovanni could very well be talking about nice girls instead. Indeed, that could explain why Ash Ketchum keeps moving on from one girl to another to another. Ash is internalizing what he was told by one of his greatest enemies, and hence he's not letting any of the nice girls that he's met end up with him...

A harem-esque Pokemon anime might be a lot of fun... ;)

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Kanon 2006 Review

What Dreams May Come...

Back in 2006, I was not active in the online anime fandom. I was already an anime fan, but I was watching few animes apart from those that were recommended to me by my cousin who had been an anime fan before me. These animes tended to be of an action-packed (i.e. fighting) sort, and not of the romantic tearjerker variety. These animes also spread across several years, if not decades. They were not strictly from 2000 or after.

So it's only been within the last twelve months or so that these slice of life, school life, and harem mixtures have entered into my anime watching world, starting with Clannad. When reading this review, please keep that in mind. I saw Clannad (and Angel Beats! and True Tears and Sola) before I saw Kanon 2006. This means that, for me, Kanon 2006 is inevitably measured against some excellent romantic animes, a couple other prominent Jun Maeda and Key works, and animes of elaborately, exquisitely, excellent production values. Nice visuals are nice, and good audio is good, but I'm not going to spend too much time on them here. Because, I have to admit, I've grown accustomed to high production values in the top romantic comedies of anime.

With all of this in mind, I am not "wowed" by Kanon 2006 as much as many of the people who watched it more or less "live" were. I may very well have been wowed by it if I had watched it back in 2006, but unfortunately I only watched it recently. This is somewhat unfair to Kanon 2006 perhaps, but on the other hand, it could speak to how well (or poorly) it has aged.

Friday, July 9, 2010

Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora Review

Thanks to acejem and 0utf0xZer0 of Anime Suki for recommending this generously gentle gem of an anime to me. It feels and flows like a heartwarming real life story contained in Reader's Digest, and not just because of its shortness. Six episodes were enough to tell the simple yet multifaceted story which is Hantsuki (the title I'll use from here on in to refer to Hanbun no Tsuki ga Noboru Sora, simply as an associated shorthand).

The story of this anime is simple in that its plot could be comprehensively summed up in two or three paragraphs, if that. The cast is small, with there being about ten key characters, and of those ten, the primary focus is almost always on the two people at the center of a romance fit for a beautifully blossoming ballad. After all, the romance of Yūichi Ezaki, and Rika Akiba, does indeed beautifully blossom through the course of this anime.

While the cast is small, and the focus is almost always on but two characters, there is an emotional and philosophical depth to this anime that goes well beyond a surface level understanding of it. The story is multifaceted in that it asks the viewer to reflect upon both the human condition, and human nature, and how best to respond to the former while staying true to the latter. And in asking the viewer to reflect upon them, it puts forward a variety of characters that all grapple with that question themselves. Little is known about most of these characters, but the way that they address these human issues is nicely interwoven with the overall thematic drive and plot development of this anime.

Questions are posed that asks the viewer to consider fate against human free will, and the prioritizing of one's personal success against the prioritizing of the happiness of your dearest loved one. These conflicts run through out this anime, usually below the surface, but sometimes expressed explicitly.

But all of this depth could very well be lost if not for the charmingly captivating courtship that serves to plunge the viewer into it. I liked the Ezaki and Akiba romance a fair bit, as it never felt contrived or forced. Akiba has some of the traits of the tsundere, but it is the classic tsundere. In other words, Akiba truly does soften over the course of the anime, and this is due to how Ezaki responds positively to her moments of anger with him. So as Akiba develops at a character level, so does her romance with Ezaki, with the two developments having a sort of synergy between them as they are both the cause and the effect of each other. This is what I've always liked about the classic tsundere.

Ezaki is a fairly standard anime male lead, but it works well here, as it contributes to the overall sense of realism which is prevalent through out the anime.

My mother is a nurse herself, and I can say from what I've learned through her, that this anime is a rather accurate reflection of how real life hospitals operate, and how medical staff will sometimes try to set up one patient with another in order to bring greater contentment to both given the often boring and restrictive confines of a hospital.

With that being said, having a hospital be the primary setting for a novel and anime setting is an uncommon choice. Hospitals appear fairly frequently in anime, but almost always as a secondary location, and usually for only a secondary character or two. It's a nice change of pace to see a hospital be the primary setting for a romance narrative.

While this anime admirably adheres to realism, these two characters are just enough out of the ordinary to be quite amusing:

In the first half of this anime, Akiko Tanizaki and Gorō Natsume are excellent sources of comedy for the anime. Akiko for her hilariously harsh treatment of Ezaki, and Goro for his... hilariously harsh treatment of Ezaki. ;) However, while both cause a lot of grief for Ezaki, they both eventually try to convey good life lessons to him.

Akiko tends to steal most of the scenes that she's in, as her presence never fails to leave a punchy impression, sometimes literally. This is especially true in the very first episode, where Akiko provides most of the sheer entertainment value, and amusement, there.

Goro starts off by simply being, well, a complete dick. That's not a term I use a lot, as I think that it's really overused on the net. People too often associate dickish behavior with selfish, harshly punitive, or unthoughtful behavior, when 'being a dick' is very different from those three in that its intent is different. The person 'being a dick' is getting amusement from intentionally sadistic behavior. And that's precisely what Goro does when he sets up Ezaki to get punished yet again by Akiba for Ezaki's reading of pornography.

Goro's dickish behavior causes some comically clever conflict between him and Akiko, and the scenes of them feuding with one another are some of the highlights of the anime.

Later on, though, these two characters take on more somber and serious moods, and aid a great deal in helping to convey the true philosophical and thematic depths of this anime.

These two characters certainly add a lot to Hantsuki, as it would be nowhere near as good without them.

Two other character that adds some welcomed spice to this anime are...

Maybe its the pro wrestling fan in me, but I really enjoyed how this anime made use of the two "Zebra Masks". The timing of the appearances of these magnificent masked marvels could not be better, and it always felt both funny and cool when they showed up. I always made wide open smiles when a Zebra Mask or two showed up in this anime. And the fact that the two Zebra Masks played such a pivotal role in ensuring that Ezaki managed to consummate his romance with Akiba was simply great, I felt.

I will say that this anime could sometimes feel just a bit too slow paced or subdued, and just as that was going on, sure enough, a Zebra Mask would show up to save the day! :D

One episode that sticks out in my mind a lot is the one where they all went to school. Here's a good collage of pics from that:

That episode had a lot going on, what with Zebra Mask fighting a new "villain", getting to see Akiba in a school girl uniform, getting to see Ezekai fantasize about her a bit, and simply getting to see all the teenagers get together. This episode also had a good cliffhanger ending.

However, this anime was not wanting for cliffhanger endings, especially when you consider how short it was. The ending to episode five, for example, had a considerable cliffhanger feel. It worked well with the pleasant plot twist that episode six had.

The OP for this anime is very well done for a honest and straightforward romance. But many of the clips in that OP left me thinking that the anime would probably end with Akiba dying tragically. Combine that with what Natsume said to Ezekai at the end of episode five, and I went into episode six fully expecting to hear about how the surgical procedure had been a failure. I expected a really melancholic and sad tearjerker of an ending.

Instead, the ending was much happier than that, which was a very pleasant surprise for me. The anime gets full marks for setting that happy plot twist up.

Another twist to Episode 6 is how it introduces Akiba's mother as the final obstacle that Ezekai has to overcome in order to enter into a lasting romance with Akiba. That twist was very unexpected by me as well, yet it makes perfect sense retroactively. It's a good example of a good plot twist. It also negates one of the aspects of this anime that I didn't like.

I didn't like how Ezekai constantly tried to run off from the hospital. In some cases, this was to help Akiba, but in other cases, it just seemed really foolish, selfish, and/or silly of him to me. It became really bad in the episode where Ezekai actually drives off with Akiko's female friend. While the scene between her and Ezekai was indeed pretty hot and well-developed, part of me wanted to simply slug the guy for taking these reckless irresponsible actions, particularly given his romance with Akiba. This was one case where I felt Akiko's abuse of Ezekai was perfectly justified. I did feel a bit sorry for Akiko's female friend though. That last punch must have really stung her, both physically and psychologically. ^_^;;

So, with all of that being said, I felt that there was some karmic justice at play when Ezekai's reckless activity had resulted in Akiba's mother not thinking that much of him, and wanting him to stay away from her daughter. It also set the stage for Ezekai's zeal and passion, helped along by the heroic Zebra Masks, to take drastic measures to seal the deal between him and Akiba.

All in all, this was an anime that I enjoyed a lot. There were a few little things I could nitpick, but most of them aren't really worth mentioning. On the whole, this was a splendidly done anime for such few episodes.

And its ending was one of the most satisfying anime endings that I've watched in some time. The scene that the following picture is taken from was a flawless scene, imo:

9/10 for a sweetly short satisfying romantic comedy.

Monday, July 5, 2010

State of the Anime Industry

It's been awhile since I did a blog focusing on the anime industry itself. And given that the incident involving the President of Bang Zoom! Entertainment declaring that anime is going to die occurred while I was on my hiatus from anime watching or blogging, I missed most of the discussion surrounding that.

However, after taking some time to collect my thoughts on the modern anime industry, and looking into the recent happenings within the industry itself, I've decided to do a write-up on the current State of the Anime Industry.

In recent weeks and months (and perhaps even years) there's been a lot of talk of anime being in a state of decline, at least at a commercial level. DVD sales, for a great number of anime series, are not that good, even in the domestic Japanese market. Digital distribution is very much on the rise, but as many ANNcasts have pointed out, ad revenue streams for free or highly inexpensive digital distribution tends to offer very limited revenue for the anime industry. Crunchy Roll helps, as does official digital distribution in general, but it is not the perfect panacea that a lot of anime fans seem to think that it is. Digital distribution alone is a long, long way away from being a satisfactory principle source of commercial profit for animation companies. And the likelihood of digital distribution ever achieving that is dubious at best. Like it or not, DVD and Blu-Ray sales will remain the principal source of commercial profit for animation companies for the foreseeable future.

Beyond this, I also personally don't get the sense or vibe that anime is still a "hot ticket item" like it was in the days of Cowboy Bebop, Ghost in the Shell, and the original Full Metal Alchemist.

That's not to say that the actual quality of anime has necessarily declined. Visually, anime is as good as ever, if not better than ever. Many compelling anime characters and intriguing new anime series come to the fore each and ever year, if not each and every season. A case can be made that certain types of animes may be missing, but what's there right now isn't necessarily bad at all. Some of it isn't that good, of course, but there have always been some bad animes as long as anime as existed.

So, why is the anime industry in a sate of decline? Why does the President of Bang Zoom! think that anime is going to die, at least in foreign markets? Is it just a matter of the global recession bringing everything down? Does the problem lie with online piracy? Is the anime industry failing to adapt to new market conditions? Is it some combination thereof? Is it something else entirely?

That's what I'm going to try to address in this blog.

First, I'm going to focus on what the industry probably should do to try to turn things around for anime at a commercial level.

The first thing that the anime industry needs to come to grips with is that the old model of people buying VHS tapes, DVDs, or Blu-Rays simply for content access (i.e. simply to get to watch the anime episodes or the anime movie itself) are almost entirely over. The only exceptions may be exported DVD copies of domestic theatrical releases, and straight-to-DVD content.

There are essentially four possible reasons, or motivating factors, behind why a person would buy anime on DVD or Blu-Ray:

  1. Content Access (the actual anime material itself)
  2. DVD or Blu-Ray Extras
  3. Collector's Item
  4. A Gift for a Friend or Family Member

In most cases, 4 is one or more of the first three, only through proxy. So our focus here is on the first three.

Whether or not one agrees with anime fans downloading or streaming free fansubs of all of their favorite anime shows, the fact remains that a large part of the potential market for anime DVDs and Blu-Rays are going to do this, and will continue to do this. The only way that anime companies could get completely around this would be with Direct-To-DVD animes, but the anime industry has rarely if ever tried this option to the best of my knowledge.

So, long story short, much of the potential market for anime DVDs and Blu-Rays have already seen the actual anime content before the DVD or Blu-Ray is ever released. Hence, the anime industry is not going to get many people buying anime DVDs or Blu-Rays for content access alone. Period.

The days of a significant number of consumers walking into the electronics section of Wal-Mart, or into any kind of store selling DVDs, and then proceeding to make completely blind purchases of animes that they've never watched an episode of, are pretty much over.

Basic content access can no longer be the main sales pitch of an anime DVD or Blu-Ray. The anime industry needs to forget about trying to crush fansubs, or even trying to compete with them. They should embrace a business model that makes them irrelevant aside from them constituting free advertising. The anime industry needs to focus on the remaining options for the main sales pitch for anime DVDs or Blu-Rays.

Those two remaining options are the DVD extras, and the Collector's Item appeal.

The DVD extras would include such things as art cards of major characters in the anime, audio tracks of key people behind the production of the anime talking at length about the anime, additional anime content that goes straight to DVD, cosplay items, and perhaps video footage of interviews with the seiyu or voice actors behind the characters. Another aspect of "DVD extras" is simply how the DVD is packaged. Cover art is important. The product looking professional is important. All of these things can contribute to a consumer's decision to purchase the product.

Some animes do DVD extras well (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya did them very well, imo), but other animes can feel very lacking here. Given that content access in and of itself can no longer be the chief sales pitch of an anime DVD or Blu-Ray, it is important for the DVD to offer something that goes a bit beyond that. Such extras don't need to be expensive. Getting the voice cast and artists and production team together for a day of interviews to be put on the DVDs surely can't be that expensive.

Now, there's also the Collector's Item appeal. This appeal is, of course, increased by having good DVD extras. But even without such extras, there are ways to effectively market an anime DVD or Blu-Ray as a good addition to "every fan's" anime collection. Try to make it seem cool or impressive to own a full DVD/Blu-Ray collection of a particular anime. In fairness, the anime industry is already pretty shrewd here by throwing terms like "limited edition" or "special edition" on just about every DVD or Blu-Ray volume that it puts out. This is a direct play to the collector's spirit, and to some extent it works.

But here is also where the broader social context comes into play.

Ask yourself this: Why do people collect things?

Well, for some people, they collect things because they have a quirky or unusual interest in a particular item. Something just catches their fancy. This is often what is behind people who like to collect bottle caps, or a varied array of rare coins or foreign currency. It's just a fun and usually private hobby for such a person.

However, for most people, they collect things in order to proudly display their collections to their friends and even sometimes just to people who happen to drop in to visit them. Let's be honest, there is often a definite streak of vanity to building up large collections. Like the rapper bragging about all of his money, merchandise, and bling, the collector similarly wants to show off what he owns.

Now, the thing with "showing off" is that its effectiveness lies in the perception of the audience moreso than the perception of the presenter. In other words, a collector's collection only has the desired effect if the audience thinks highly of it. With this in mind, this is why collecting sports cards is so huge in North America, and why collecting hockey cards in particular is huge in my native land of Canada.

Hockey is hugely popular in Canada, and incredibly mainstream, so if you hold a vast collection of hockey cards, then that's something that you can safely assume any audience that you happen to be hosting at your house in Canada will be impressed by.

But suppose you hold a vast collection of material that most people don't care about. Or worse yet, suppose you hold a vast collection of material that has a strong negative stigma attached to it. For example, the pedophile is not likely to proudly display his collection of pedophilia to Joe and Jane Average from next door paying him a welcoming visit. That's an extreme example of course, but I'm sure you get my point.

And here is where any strong negative stigma attached to anime can greatly undermine attempts to sell anime DVDs or Blu-Rays as collector's items. And here is where we get to what I feel is the actual largest problem facing the modern anime industry.

And that problem is simple marketing. The anime industry needs to do more to make its product simply look cool. What comes across as cool can vary from culture to culture of course, but some things can come across as cool in many cultures.

For example, Spike Spiegel of Cowboy Bebop generally comes off as one cool guy. You don't really need to be an anime fan to get that.

I mean, just look at the guy:

Spike looks so colossally coolly cool here that even Coolio's name seems uncool in comparison. The guy practically perspires pools of refreshingly cool water. He's like a action hero from a Hollywood blockbuster, only in the form of an anime character.

Now, somebody like Spike is a gift to the anime industry. You need practically no marketing expertise whatsoever to make him look cool. It's also pretty easy to sell the sex appeal of these characters without raising too many eyebrows:

But then, there's something special about these three characters, isn't there?

That's right, good reader: They're actual women. They're not girls; they're fully grown and developed adults.

I don't disagree that sex appeal can help sell a product, almost any product. But when that sex appeal lies in underage characters, you run the risk of alienating a lot of people. Now, I'm not saying that you can't play up the sex appeal of, say, Haruhi Suzumiya, but it sometimes helps to be subtle with it, and that kind of sex appeal probably isn't what we want to be the most prominent image of all of anime in the west. I'm not saying that I myself don't appreciate that sex appeal (I do like Haruhi a lot, after all), just that it's not necessarily what the image of anime should be in the west.

So again, we come to marketing.

The anime industry never really needed to market Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist, or Ghost in the Shell. They all essentially marketed themselves. But you need a bit more skill to market modern otaku fare to a broader audience, but that too can be marketed in such a way.

The key is to make anime look cool, and not squicky. To make anime look dramatic, but not angst-driven. To make anime look thought-provoking, but not excessively weird. To make anime look charmingly different, but not inaccessible. Play up the strengths that even Joe and Jane Average can get. Its often not the content that determines if something sells, but rather how the content is framed by its marketers.

Think of the movie trailers for most modern Hollywood movies. They're short, quick, often fast paced, and they play on a longing for excitement or allurement. They make sales pitches that simply sound cool and create broad interest.

And speaking of animes that create broad interest...

Those sales figures are astronomically awesome. They're out of this world. They suggest that the potential market for anime in Japan remains huge.

But they also pose a pressing question: Just who are these people buying up all the Evangelion Rebuild DVDs and Blu-Rays? Presumably many of these people are buying little, if anything, else that's available in the realm of modern anime.

As good as Bakemonogatari and K-On! did, the sales of these two look positively paltry compared to the Michael Jackson-esque success of Evangelion. And Michael Jackson was hugely popular in Japan (as he was in most places, of course).

A smart businessman in the anime industry should look at the sales of Evangelion, and compare them to the rest of the anime industry, and try to figure out how to get these consumers to buy into more modern anime. One (or both) of two things must be at play here:

  1. Evangelion has something that no other anime has, and other animes need to get that before they can reach NGE levels of success.
  2. Other animes have something that Evangelion doesn't have, and that something is turning off potential audiences.

Whichever it is, it would be great if the anime industry could figure it out. I have some vague ideas and theories that I'm currently running through my mind, but I'll get into most of them another day.

One thing Evangelion definitely has, though, is great marketing.

Calling yourself "The Best Anime of All Time" may rub some people the wrong way, and I personally don't really agree that NGE is that good, but its also eye-catching marketing. It's the sort of bodaciously bold, brash marketing that can draw in a lot of fans.

Perhaps anime needs more marketing like that.

Imagine the following anime sales pitch slogans, for example:
  • Not your father's shonen
  • The most delicious Slice of Life of all
  • A Harem Anime done the way YOU want it done. For a Change.
  • You haven't even seen a tear-jerking romance anime until you see ____________.

People are intrinsically attracted to confidence. It's part of the reason for Haruhi Suzumiya's popularity I would argue. The same is true of Light Yagami and Lelouch Lamperouge. An anime that shows confidence in itself will inspire confidence in potential fans.

But, anyway, let's bring this back full circle.

DVDs and Blu-Rays will remain the chief source of revenue for the anime industry for the foreseeable future. However, sheer content access is no longer a feasible main sales pitch for these DVDs and Blu-Rays, with the exception of direct-to-DVD content or domestic theatrical releases transferred directly to DVD and Blu-Ray exports.

As such, anime DVDs and Blu-Rays need good DVD extras and/or a vibrant collector's market in order to sell well. It would help mightily for anime to market itself better in order to facilitate stronger collector's markets, as such marketing can also improve the image of anime itself, making collections of anime DVDs and Blu-Rays be something that the holders thereof feel more comfortable and eager in putting on display.

Content-wise, anime is largely fine... but it could use more characters like Spike Spiegel and Faye Valentine. Cool dudes and attractive women. That doesn't mean that other prominent anime character types should go away. Not at all. It's just that characters like Spike and Faye make for a good "face of anime", at least for adult audiences in some foreign (and perhaps even domestic) markets.

By and large, this post just includes some ideas that I'm bouncing around in my head.

I'm certainly open to debate on all of them, and I may throw some more ideas out there later.

But I would like to shift the self-defeating debate of blaming fansubs vs. blaming "distribution models". Its self-defeating because fansubs do not make it impossible to sell anime DVDs or Blu-Rays. Its self-defeating because digital distribution is not a profitable enough venture, at this time, to cure what ails the modern anime industry.

And while the global economy is bad, it certainly didn't stop Evangelion from selling like a Smooth Criminal. ;)

Perhaps the rest of the anime industry needs to master the confident Ikari moonwalk as well.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Sola Review: Part 2

The Beauty of Fan and Promotional Art:
It Need Not Reflect the Actual Plot Whatsoever.

Watching Angel Beats!, True Tears, and Sola over the past few weeks has taught me a lot about anime.

Its taught me about how even short anime series' can do, and often do, a complete and dramatic 180 in overall mood, feel, thematic drive, and plot direction. Indeed, the first half of each of these three anime series bears little resemblance to its second half, aside from the presence of the same characters themselves. And given how drastically many of those characters change (think of Yurippe in the final episode of Angel Beats!, or Yurito in this anime), even this presence of the same characters in name and appearance can provide little sense of continuity or permanence.

How fitting then that Matsuri and Yurito sacrifice a kind of permanence - permanence in the form of immortality - in order to end their lives.

However, that is the only way that their decision seems fitting to me.

I know that many of us anime fans like to think of ourselves as very open and broadminded people. A certain degree of broadmindedness is required to appreciate the heritage, nuances, and inherent differences of a foreign culture, after all. In this case, the foreign culture is the culture of Japan, and it is that culture which gave rise to anime, and hence it is that culture which influences anime as profoundly as Matsuri influenced Yurito in Sola.

But be that what it may, I have to be honest here. The choices made by Matsuri and Yurito in this anime seem insane, if not unbelievable, to me. They go beyond the reaches of how broadly my mind is willing to spread.

The actions and thinking of Matsuri and Yurito in Sola are truly befuddling to me. It is hard to make sense of. Perhaps something is lost in cultural translation, but nonetheless, I am left finding the plot of Sola almost impossible to swallow. This is not because of its metaphysical or Yaka elements. Indeed, that is easy for me to accept compared to what I can only view as severe character derailment.

Consider that near the beginning of Sola we see Matsuri actively struggle for her life against the aggressive Takeshi. Matsuri later tries to avoid being killed by Aono as well.

These are not, of course, the actions of a suicidal person.

Quite the contrary, they're the actions of a person who wishes to survive, and who desires to keep living.

What, over the course of Sola, would lead Matsuri to want to throw away her life? Just what changed along the way? If it was a sense that her love for Yurito would forever go unrequited, then the anime failed to convey that. Aside from that, I see no plausible answer that makes sense to me.

For by all accounts, Matsuri appears content, if not cheerful. She often smiles, and is rarely portrayed as melancholic. Her honest yet subtly flirtatious nature is nothing if not life affirming. There are sources of sadness in her life (primarily her inability to go outside on a clear sunny day), but by all outwards appearances, she copes with it rather well. So why the sudden desire to end her life?

The answer "She wanted to help Aono" can be offered up, but this rings hollow to me. Aono, by her own words, just wanted to keep living a peaceful life alongside her recreation of Yurito. If Matsuri's goal in taking her own life was chiefly to help Aono, then she was taking a rather huge gamble, as her efforts could have backfired, and nastily. The "last time" Yurito died, Aono soon after committed suicide.

Try as I might, I find Matsuri's sudden desire to end her life to be exceptionally difficult to accept. It is such a drastic 180 from Matsuri's earlier attempts to avoid death.

In the case of Yurito Version 2.0... I can understand him undergoing an existential crisis of sorts. It can't be easy to find out that you are both a living puppet, and a clone.

Nonetheless, Yurito Version 2.0 thinks, and therefore he is. Whatever the precise nature of his being may be, he still is his own self. He still is a sentient being. He still has some degree of independence, as his thoughts often run contrary to what Aono would like them to be.

Beyond that, he has people who intensely love and care for him.

Such as one of the best best friends I've ever seen in anime

This girl is simply phenomenal. If Yurito Morimiya was Ichigo Kurosaki, then Mana would be Chad and Orihime rolled into one. I'm 110% sure that she'd literally take a bullet for Yurito. Then she'd proceed to take a sword slash in place of Yurito. Then she'd proceed to race off to get help for Yurito while bleeding half to death, and she'd make sure that she had reached that help before collapsing. If certain members of the Montreal Canadiens had Mana's heart, dedication, and character, I'd be cheering a Habs Stanley Cup win right about now. You go to war with people like Mana Ishizuki leading or cheering on the cause.

And Yurito is utterly blind to how he has such an incredible friend in Mana. A real friend too, as I think her friendship feelings for Yurito ran even deeper than romance. This is reflected in how she helped Yurito reunite with Matsuri, when Mana suspected that this would mean Yurito and Matsuri becoming boyfriend and girlfriend. Mana didn't care. She just wanted to help out her friend Yurito, no matter what. Again, what an incredible friend.

One of the great tragedies of Sola is that Yurito is beloved by many people, and yet he seems to not care about that at all. He is truly, sincerely, beloved. At some basic level, who cares if he's a clone and a puppet? The people who love him don't care, so why should he?

In a way, I'm actually glad that Mana's memory of Yurito is wiped clean. She doesn't deserve to live a life of anguish and regret over Yurito deciding to get himself killed. She deserves better than that, and thankfully, she did get better than that. Still a bit of a shame that all of her herculean efforts for Yurito's sake came to naught, though.

Just to be clear, I get what Sola is aiming for. The idea is that Aono needs to move on with her life, and not be so obsessed over Yurito (either version). But that doesn't make Matsuri and Yurito's decisions to kill themselves any easier to agree with, and I don't agree with it. Both seemed to be leading fairly happy lives, and in Yurito's case he had a passion in his life that really added a great deal of serenity into his life. It just makes such little if any sense for them to throw it all away. This really does seem like character derailment to me, I have to be frank.

Thankfully, Mana's voice of sanity is added to by at least three others:

These three characters just want to lead full, happy lives while maintaining close friendships.

Takeshi, you're the ultimate hero of this work. You stayed by your close childhood friend, even as you age and she remains a perpetual youth trapped in the darkness. You did almost everything to free her of the Yaka curse. Only she herself refusing the gift caused you to cease your pursuit of freeing her from that curse. I'd love to watch a Sola spin-off focusing on "Dandy Goatee" man, Mayuko, and Mr. Goatee's new waitress girlfriend. ;)

Mayuko, you protected Matsuri from Takeshi even when him slaying her would have freed you from the Yaka curse. Your protection of her was selfless, and caring, without being suicidal.

Koyori, you just wanted everyone to stay together and keep being friends. As such, you are a good girl.

Simply put, I do not think there was any compelling enough reason for Matsuri and Yurito to take their lives as they did. Yes, Sola ultimately ended up happily for Aono, Mana, and Koyori, but who's to say that things wouldn't have been even happier with those three along with Matsuri and Yurito there? Besides, the ending of Sola is a case of writer's fiat, really. It could have very easily been a tragic end for Aono, and a much more lonely one for Koyori and Mana.

Now, my criticisms of the plot resolutions and character derailment aside...

The action scenes of this anime were marvelous. Aono, Matsuri, and Takeshi all looked very impressive and evenly matched in combat. The action felt dramatic, and meaningful, with important outcomes riding on how they were resolved.

Episode 9 in particular was magnificent for the combats therein. I'll probably end up watching that one again, and soon.

The final confrontation between Aono and Matsuri had some excellent scenes in it. I very much liked the portion of the battle that took place in an abandoned movie theater. When the film footage started rolling unexpectedly, only to show scenes of a shimmering sky setting, that was a very nice touch. That was a master stroke, I have to admit. I loved how it stopped Matsuri in her tracks, and broke all the tension in the combat. There were moments of inspired brilliance in the anime.

Unfortunately, the anime also has several holes and weaknesses to it.

For what it's worth to 0utf0xZer0, this ending didn't sadden me as much as True Tears' ending did. Nobody was hurt in the conclusion of Sola who didn't bring that hurt upon themselves. Memory wipes tend to be very intellectually unsatisfying to me, but they're not as emotionally jarring as seeing Noe go through what she did in True Tears. And in this case, if not for the mind wipe, Mana would probably have been as hurt as much as Noe was.

But I do feel that the tale of Sola is a hard one to swallow at a basic believability level, and hence, like the picture that I opened up this blog with, I will dwell more on the characters as how I think they should have turned out than how they actually did in this anime.

7/10 for a memorable ride, but no more than that due to how the plot ultimately unfolded.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Sola Review: Part 1

0utf0xZer0 was right. I have already begun to soften on True Tears a bit. So much so that I very recently asked 0utf0xZer0 if he could recommend any other anime to me that was very similar to True Tears. And, amongst a few other titles, he pointed me into the direction of Sola.

One way in which Sola compares favorably to True Tears for me, is that I strongly doubt it will leave me loathing the eventual resolution of a love triangle. I like both of these two characters about equally well:

And it is these two characters that seem to have the greatest likelihood of winning over our airheaded male lead Yorito Morimiya. And I don't say "airheaded" in an entirely derogatory sense here, but largely as a reflection on how Yorito's "head" is constantly focused on the "air" above him. In other words, he is thoroughly enamored with the sky itself, and loves taking pictures of different sky settings.

To completely grasp how deep Yorito's obsession with the sky runs, it is useful to ask "What is Yorito focusing mostly on in this scene?":

Most guys would take notice of the cute girl staring down at him with the puzzled look on her face. But for Yorito, there's nothing as pleasing to the eye as that curvaceous cumulus cloud up there, and the sun peaking out over its cleavage. ;)

And Yorito's love of the sky on days without rain is a constant point of reference in this anime, at least after six episodes in. And, as with my last two series reviews, this one is also done in two parts: Part 1 after six episodes, and Part 2 after the full series. So when reading this review, please keep in mind that it is only for the first six episodes, and that I have yet to see the entire series. Again, I kindly request any comments left in reply to this blog entry to refrain from spoiling me on post-Episode Six developments in the anime. ^_^;;

So, what do I think of Sola so far?

Sola starts up a bit slowly, as many animes of the slice of life or school life variety tend to do. But in Sola's case, this slow start at least adds to the overall sense of mystery and intrigue that gradually grows through out the anime. The slow start also serves well to introduce us to the seven central characters of this anime, and to flesh out four of them: Yorito Morimiya, Matsuri Shihou, Mana Ishizuki, and Koyori Ishizuki.

As of episode six, the other three central characters of Aono Morimiya, Takeshi Tsujidou, and Mayuko Kamikawa are still somewhat shrouded in mystery. Episode six makes some startling revelations pertaining to Aono, and her connection to Matsuri. As such, it is also episode six that managed to perk my interest back up in the overall plot line of Sola.

Sola's plot, in the early going, proceeds at an almost meandering pace, it has to be said. The anime expects patience on the part of its viewer. Thankfully, the characters are intriguing enough that I do not find it particularly difficult to summon forth that necessary patience. It certainly helps that you get a couple of cool combative confrontations between Matsuri and Takeshi early on in the anime.

As far as I can tell, Takeshi is a modern day Simon Belmont, and Matsuri is a "woe of the night", which apparently is meant to indicate that she is not a human, but rather is a little bit like the western conception of a vampire. Matsuri has yet to bare her fangs or feed on human blood, but she sure does love that tomato juice which Yurito thinks tastes horrible. Makes me wonder if she's drinking tomato juice as a less harmful substitute to drinking human blood?

In any event, Matsuri is similar to the traditional vampire in that she is immortal, and in that sunlight burns her. Matsuri also has a strange power that enables her to inflict a sort of rapid necrosis on any object or living thing.

If Matsuri's character is inspired by vampire lore, I like how her creator Naoki Hisoya opted to pick and choose specific vampiric elements to incorporate into her, and not just the beneficial elements like a certain famous novel and movie chose to do with its vampires. ;)

For this makes Matsuri an interesting twist on the classic vampire character model, while still maintaining the tragic and hence compelling elements of that model. Matsuri longs to see the daylight sky and its sun, yet is tragically prevented from doing so due to her inherent nature. This unrealized longing serves as a very effective and believable catalyst for the relationship between Matsuri and our sky-loving friend Yurito.

Matsuri longs to see the daylight sky, while Yurito is utterly enthralled by it and loves taking pictures of it. The two are clearly a match made in Heaven... or, at the very least, a match made in the sky. ;)

Aside from Matsuri's character being inspired by vampire lore, I think I can see some definite anime inspirations for her. Consider the following:

Scared now, good reader? ;)

In all seriousness, though, it does appear that Matsuri and Aono may have been inspired slightly by Ryoko Asakura and Yuki Nagato, respectively. Matsuri is very similar to what Ryoko would be like if Ryoko's fraudulent superficial personality was her real one. And just as Ryoko and Yuki appear to be like normal teenage girls but are actually extraordinary beings, the same holds true for Matsuri and Aono.

Aono's character design, and her ever calm and monotonously soft-spoken nature, reflects that of Yuki Nagato quite a bit as well.

But The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya is not the only anime that appears to serve as a source of inspiration for Sola. Mayuko Kamikawa is practically a homage to Rozen Maiden, while I see slight traces of Maho Shojo Lyrical Nanoha in this anime as well. Yurito's personality reminds me a bit of Yuuno Scrya, while Mana's character design and personality reminds me a bit of Hayate Yagami.

I like Mana's take-charge personality, and how she has clearly taken a bit of a liking to Yurito but doesn't want to fully admit it. Mana is a well-meaning and responsible soul, but perhaps a bit too bossy and intrusive. Altogether, though, I like her a fair bit.

Mana's younger sister Koyori is a substantially humorous and moe character, much in the vein of Fuko-chan from Clannad. As a Marvel and DC comics fan, I used to associate speaking in the third person with megalomaniacal villainy.

Dr. Doom: Doom likes bitter wine!

But thanks to the world of anime, I'm now starting to view speaking in the third person in a very different and rather moe light. Perhaps Victor could peacefully bring his feud with Richards to a close if only he could come to grips with his Koyori side.

Admit it, Doom! You actually like moe!

Koyori's ever apologetic and third person self helps to provide some nice humor in this anime.

This anime in general takes itself fairly seriously, but its humor bits are nonetheless of great quality. They almost always manage to get a loud chuckle or laugh from me. For example, the whole discussion over what Yurito was doing with Matsuri on the futon was truly hilarious for me. Anime tends to do such comedy a lot, but for some reason, it really hit the funny bone with me this time. Perhaps its because the dialogue in this anime often feels very natural, and rarely forced, and this includes comedic moments as well.

What also resonates with me is the sky focus of this anime. Yurito is not a particularly impressive male lead, but I easily relate to him. I very much like brilliantly bright blue skies as well. I also like gazing up at the clouds on sunny days as well. I also tend to dislike long stretches of rain due to how it prevents me from seeing those blue skies and those sunny days. The weather has always affected my moods. There is something about clear blue skies with a few clouds on a sunny day that just feels very life affirming to me. And so Yurito's focus on that, and Matsuri's desire for that, makes it very easy for me to get into this anime. And it's part of what kept me watching through the somewhat slow paced episodes 3 through 5.

One final specific point I'll make concerning this anime is that I like its use of settings in general. The large abandoned church setting really adds to the occasional gothic feel to this anime. It also made for a great place for the first onscreen combat between Matsuri and Takeshi.

The hospital and school settings are both familiar ones for anime as well, and it can help the viewer feel greater sympathy for a sick character if that character is forced to stay in a hospital. As for the school setting, I felt it was nicely utilized in Yurito and Matsuri's late evening, after hours, trek through the school.

All in all, Sola is a solid slice of life anime. A good watch. My one critique is that it can seem a bit meandering at times in the early going, but I have hope that it'll pick up considerably in its second half.

8/10 overall.