Thursday, February 26, 2009

Impressions of Girl Friends Chapter 19

Page 1 of Chapter 19 of Girl Friends, which is being scanlated by the awesome people behind Maki Maki Scanlations. ^^

YES!!!! After two months, chapter 19 of Milk Morinaga's fabulous yuri romance Girl Friends is out and scanlated!! XD Better still, Maki Maki Scanlations included the two page Girl Friends comic that was printed in Comic Hi in January instead of a regular chapter. It's a cracktastic mini-story in which Mari finds that Akko has suddenly shrunk to the size of a doll when she sees Akko being carried around by the neighborhood cat. Despite herself, Mari thinks it's adorable. XD Akko adjusts surprisingly quickly, and Mari tries to carry her to school in her bra (that's a novel way to use it...), but poor Akko starts sliding down, causing poor Mari to panic. Then we see a flustered Mari at home telling Akko (who's taking a bath in what looks like a rice bowl), "I'm never taking you to school again!" lol Morinaga should include some more trippy bonus chapters in the upcoming Girl Friends tankoubon volumes. XD

As for chapter 19 itself, it starts with best friends (or are they still? >_>;;) Mari and Akko entering Akko's apartment, and Akko makes a convenience store bento for herself while Mari doesn't eat anything because she was just at a festival with her boyfriend Haruda (it's a lost cause, Haruda... ^^;;) and thus, presumably, already ate something there. Indeed, this reminded me of when I asked a guy who I was friends with at the high school I attended in Japan if he wanted to go to Akihabara and visit a maid cafe there sometime. He seemed to take it as a date offer, (nooo... ^^;;) but I just wanted to see the maid cafe with a friend. And we never ended up going, although I did visit the maid cafe later. (But with my poor dad, who was utterly bewildered as to what the point was. lol) Anyway, back to the story.

Things seem back to normal between my favorite Morinaga pair, until Akko realizes that the last time Mari was at her apartment was when she confessed she liked Akko (before denying it later!! Grah!! >_<). She doesn't give Mari the swimsuit that she had bought for her after Mari turns down her pool invitation (which Akko assumes, sarcastically, to be because of Haruda). Mari sleeps over at Akko's, and Akko wonders why it pains her to hear about Mari and her boyfriend (while it's pretty obvious to anybody reading the manga). Then we see that Akko, Sugi, Tamamin, and Taguchi went to the pool and later the beach, but Akko never saw Mari again that summer after the night she slept over. After everybody's back at school, Akko worries because she didn't recieve a morning e-mail from Mari or see her at the station as usual. When Mari appears, Kuno and Taguchi ask if they can copy her homework, but since Akko didn't finish hers either, Mari gives it to her first. ^^ (It's cute between Mari and Akko, although it's incredibly irritating when people ask to copy homework in real life, even though nobody has asked me at college so far, thankfully.) Akko continues to ponder her strained friendship with Mari, before realizing that she actually does wish that the person who Mari liked was her. All that I can say is... YES!!!! YESSSSSSS!!!!!!!!!!!! FINALLY!!!!!! Time after time, Morinaga has ended her Girl Friends chapters on cruel cliffhangers, leaving me feeling like she was gleefully holding my heart in her hands, twisting and turning it any which way she pleases, only to subvert my fears of what would happen time and time again!! Brilliance. m(-_-)m Even though I had faith in Morinaga's storywriting prior to this, it's fantastic to finally see Akko returning Mari's feelings, although Mari has no idea and Akko still thinks she's into Haruda. But for now I'm just enjoying the ride, and every single delicious teenage soap opera twist before Mari and Akko finally get together!!

After looking at earlier chapters from Morinaga's Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo collection, it's easier to appreciate how much her art has improved. I've always enjoyed Morinaga's crisp, beautiful art and cute, pretty character designs, and Girl Friends definitely shows her off at the top of her game. Some people have complained that they prefer Nana and Hitomi from Morinaga's Yuri Hime stories, but I actually prefer Girl Friends for its slower pace and methodical tension and build-up. That's why I'm not too crazy about Miyabi Fujieda's Chatting at the Amber Teahouse anymore, even though plenty of people adore it. (I've read through chapter 8.) I thought it was sweet and really liked it in the beginning, and there isn't anything really wrong with it at the point that I'm at, but the lack of any sort of tension or starting to bore me. It's like, okay, Seriho and Sarasa are together now they're looking at some shops...and serving tea...and instead of being sweetly relaxing, it feels too placid for me at this point. (Plus, I don't really like how Sarasa changed her college plans because of her relationship with Seriho. If a manga girl decided to change her college plans for her boyfriend, I wouldn't like it either.)

But back to Girl Friends. This is definitely one of my favorites. Morinaga manages to portray Mari and Akko's newly discovered feelings realistically (especially Mari's) without dragging the series in angst-overkill like Kannazuki no Miko. Honestly, some of the chapters in which Mari tried to deny her feelings were a little difficult to read (that's how darn realistic Morinaga's writing is), but Morinaga managed to subvert all of my negative expectations, and plow ahead in creating what I consider to be one of the best yuri manga on the market today.

I'm definitely going to show this in the "Must-Read Yuri Manga" section of my yuri panel, along with Strawberry Shake Sweet, Hayate x Blade, Sasamekikoto, and Octave, among others.

Rating: an easy 4.5 out of 5

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Sora o Miageru Shoujo no Hitomi ni Utsuru Sekai: Episodes 1-5

Despite my anticipatory fervor for season 2 of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya (my friend Adrianna is grudgingly ignoring/blaming both this title and Clannad for pushing back the second season of Haruhi), I really wanted to like this series since I've enjoyed everything Kyoto Animation has animated so far. (Granted, now I realize how...higly questionable/implicitly creepy Ayu's childlike character design in Kanon is, even though I didn't realize it when I first watched it.)

Sora o Miageru Shoujo no Hitomi ni Utsuru Sekai
is about a 13 year old girl named Yumemi who has always been able to see an island floating in the sky that nobody else has been able to see. She isn't crazy, because the island does exist in a magical sky world in another dimension in which Akuto (the magical energy the people of that world depend on) has been running out, and certain individuals/nations have taken advantage of that shortage to attack other nations that heavily depend on it. Munto is the king of one of the magical nations being attacked, and he attempts to reach Yumemi in the "normal" world to get her help restoring the Akuto. Meanwhile, Yumemi goes to school normally with her two best friends, caring tomboy Ichiko and cute, childish Suzume.

From the outset, the visuals don't disappoint. By anime television standards, the animation in this series is as smooth as butter. Gestures are expressive, backgrounds are detailed and evocative, and everybody looks their age (one thing that isn't a trademark of KyoAni). The character designs aren't especially beautiful, but appealing enough, ranging from Munto's slightly ridiculous flaming red hair and royal clothing (which I've gotten used to by now), to Yumemi's pretty but not cutesy girl-next-door look, to tomboy Ichiko and believably cute (but not fetishized, thank God) Suzume. I definitely found it questionable that 13 year old Suzume had a high school aged boyfriend (Kazuya, who she's still with when the story leaps forward 1 1/2 years later), but thankfully their "relationship" seems to be more like a close emotional interdependence than anything resembling a romantic relationship.

Characterization is the best aspect of this series, especially the lead, Yumemi. She isn't a character with any unbelievable quirks or extreme behavior, while still being interesting and likeable. (The one real quirk being her umbrella habit, which is a viable idiosyncrasy for an introverted kid in her circumstances.) I dare say that she fits into an increasingly shrinking pool of anime females whose personalities exist to serve a story, not to fit a one-note character type with a pre-established otaku fanbase (genki girl, tsundere, adorable idiot, ice queen, strong woman who drinks, take your pick). Heck, if I didn't know that this was a KyoAni show, I would be comparing Yumemi to shoujo fantasy characters like Fushigi Yuugi's Miaka or Pretear's Himeno. ("You are the girl of destiny!") The other characters are likeable also, although one can still see traces of other KyoAni girls in Suzume. The only real weakness in characterization is that none of the characters in the magical world really have fleshed-out personalities so far (although I really like that warrior woman who's been appearing), especially Munto (which is a bit of a glaring negative, considering that he's the most important character after Yumemi). Refreshingly, though, there isn't anything resembling romance between Yumemi and Munto. He sees her as the person who he needs to get help from, and she sees him as an annoyance at first, but gradually embraces her role in helping him because it validates what she's been seeing in the sky for her entire life. And that's it. Yuri fans will note that there are some moments of cute, mostly one-sided romantic subtext coming from Ichiko towards Yumemi (beginnning in episode 5). Not a huge amount, but enough to give yuri fans something to chew on besides the new season of Maria-sama ga Miteru. Even if Yumemi and Ichiko's friendship remains status quo by the end, it's still organic and well portrayed.

As for the plot, it's nothing earth shattering but still fairly complex and satisfying for fantasy fans (it helps that the fights are animated well ^^).

What is noteworthy, however, is the execution. KyoAni does a good job of creating a relaxed, measured, ethereal atmosphere, which isn't what one normally expects from a fantasy action/adventure, but it works here. It's really pleasantly surprising that this show doesn't have a trace of postmodern self-awareness, which has been all the rage in recent anime, especially KyoAni productions. As a result, it almost feels like I'm watching a story that was created in the 90s (the Munto OVA that this is based on was made in 2003, before every other anime series started "cleverly" acknowledging its own cliches). It's refreshing, in its own strange way. The beginning felt a little slow, but now the show has settled into a decent pace.

Despite my previous criticisms, even though this is far from a perfect show, I'm enjoying it. The eye candy animation alone is worth it.

Rating: 4 out of 5 (and expecting better)

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Halfway Through Valentine's Day

The sushi event yesterday was a lot of fun and very well run by the Sazanami Club (they've been doing it for years, so they ought to have it down to a science by now, which they did), so my article was easy to write. I finished writing it this morning and sent it in with photos (since my editor wanted photos). Now I'm on to finishing up my Macroeconomics assignment by the end of today, with my Japanese lit paper planned for tomorrow. I'm feeling better than yesterday even though, for some reason, it's a smidgen harder to talk. Just about every single person in this residential house seems to be sick to some degree, though. (That's the bad thing about living in a dorm. It's like living in a petri dish.) At least my roommate's fine.

And last night I had what was quite possibly the stupidest dream I've had in a while (not the weirdest, just the stupidest). I was in the backyard of this white mansion that had a ton of shubbery (in a neighborhood full of other, similarly shrubbed mansions), and this creepy, pasty kid (think a slightly older, blonde Damien from The Omen) was trying to kill me (he didn't really do anything, I just "knew"), and I ran away while carrying a guinea pig, with another one running behind me. (The guinea pig was hiding in the shrubs where the creepy boy was waiting, but it followed me when I started running. Like hell I was going into those shrubs to get it.) Then I was on a rainy highway at night (with the guinea pigs) wearing a completely different outfit and some random woman picked me up in a car and took me to her house, which was attached to a mall. (But it was dimly lit. Boo.) Then I suddenly had the latest issue of Yuri Hime in my hands and was ecstatic to find that Shizuru Hayashiya had written a special bonus chapter of Strawberry Shake Sweet titled Strawberry Shake Sweet Kiss, but I was pulled away before I could read it. Now if that isn't a loser fan thing, I don't know what is.

Edit at 3:45 p.m.: Eh, who am I kidding... -_-;; a "smidgen harder to talk"? My voice is shot today. Curses on whoever gave me this cold.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

New Fullmetal Alchemist Trailer: Renewed Fangirling

Yes!!! According to an article posted on Anime News Network today, the official Japanese Fullmetal Alchemist website just posted a trailer for the new series! It's only 16 seconds long...but what a glorious 16 seconds it is. The new series looks like it will be a little darker and more ominously atmospheric than the first one. (Like how Al's leg looks a little more sinewy and flesh-like as it disappears, and the constant dark-lighting being used.) The entire thing is just fabulously grim. *gapes at trailer* Or maybe it's just my overexcited brain over-analyzing. :] *evil grin* Either way, those 16 seconds look great. And I don't know if it's just me, but Edward's character design looks a smidgen closer to the manga than the first series' design'll be interesting to see how much darker the new series is, and how well it will balance the dramatic and morbid elements with FMA's trademark humor, which the first series excelled at.

I love the first series and movie, and I was a nigh obsessive fan girl for it in high school when it was coming out (including buying all of the soundtracks, making an FMA collage- besides getting a poster of Al, who was my favorite character then, and asking for and getting a box set of four Fritz Lang movies for Christmas because he had a cameo in the FMA movie. Yeah... >_>;;). Anyway, I'm ready to fall in love with this story all over again. ^^ <3 After all of the vapid, cloyingly manipulative moe and iyashikei girls and "loser heroes" that have been all the rage, it'll be nice to get back to watching a story about an angry alchemist with a metal arm and leg trying to restore his brother's body through well-intentioned yet dubious means.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Dissection of Musical Tastes

Oh crap, I just found out that whenever I've been listening to music on my computer, even when using ear buds, my roommate could always hear it. >_>;; When I was playing "Vultures" by Glass Pear a little earlier, my roommate said "Did you get that song on iTunes?" since she played it for me to listen to earlier today. I did get the song after she played it (because it's a really catchy, yet mellow song) and I've been playing it repeatedly. Then I asked my roommate if she could still hear it while it was playing on the lowest volume (while I was still wearing the ear buds while they were plugged into the computer). She could still hear it. Then I asked if she heard everything I played, and she replied yes, and that I need to expand my musical tastes. >_>;; She even called my music "high-pitched Japanese crap"! ;_; A lot of it kind of is... but I like it, darn it! (Some examples of what I've been playing lately: "You" by Yuria, "Bouken Deshou Deshou" and "God Knows" by Aya Hirano, "Naraku no Hana" by Eiko Shimamiya, my usual Utada Hikaru library- and she does not have a high-pitched voice-, "Yakusoku" by Lia, "Shin Ai" by Nana Mizuki, "Rara Eve Shinseki" by ALI Project, "Chocolate Disco" and "Polyrhythm" by Perfume, the Clannad After Story OP and ED, both Lovely Complex OPs...yeah...) I feel like somebody who thought that they were alone while singing in the shower, then realized that there were other people in the shower stalls next to them. >_>;; I don't even want to imagine what my roommate thought that one time I played "Motteke! Sera Fuku" from Lucky Star...

Thursday, February 5, 2009

Strawberry Shake Sweet Chapter 15

Another random SSS pic.

Last night, Lililicious scanlated another slice of manga heaven!! ^___^ I wasn't able to read Strawberry Shake Sweet Chapter 15 right away, but instead used it as (very effective) bait to finish my biology homework in a timely manner.

There were so many great things about this chapter!! XD But my top two favorite little parts were probably Julia's quote, "The stairway to heaven has appeared before me much too soon..." lol and Julia's uh...internal military monologue. lol Plus, the ending was adorable! ^^ Heck, the entire chapter was pure win!!

Short(ish) synopsis: After their awesome mutual confession of love at Zlay's concert, instead of attending the after party, Ran and Julia go to their hotel room and start processing that yes, what happened at the concert really did happen. XD Ran even asks Julia for a kiss to make sure!! ^-^ *squeal* Because Hayashiya-sensei belongs to neither the mincing "middle school-style hand-holding-only" school of yuri, or the tedious "sleep together first, ask questions later" school of yuri, Ran and Julia do consider crossing the big line, but rationally decide not to. Instead they fall asleep holding hands. (So cute!! > <) Meanwhile, Saeki is in a panic trying to hail a cab to... wherever it is that Ran and Julia are because, based on Julia's earlier call to Kaoru for advice, she's afraid of Julia putting the moves on Ran. Oh! And I just remembered another favorite part! > <> <

Rating: What else?! XD 5 out of 5!!