Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Hiatus for Finals

Since finals are looming around the corner, from today through May 9 I won't post any more reviews/witty commentary here. I'm definitely looking forward to going from studying and writing my last few papers...

...to some summer fun at home in Florida. ^^

Things I'm looking forward to (hopefully) reviewing this summer:

-Strawberry Shake Sweet manga
-Sasameki Koto manga
-Aoi Hana anime and manga
-More Girl Friends manga (Damn you, Morinaga, and your addictive soap opera sadism...)
-Sora o Kakeru Shoujo anime
-Hayate x Blade manga
-Yuri Monogatari 6 manga
-Hanjuku Joshi manga
-The Conditions for Paradise manga
-Otome Kikan Gretel manga
-More Kannazuki no Miko manga

See you in May!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Yuri Monogatari 6 Manga Anthology Trailer Now Up

Lookin' good. I'm especially looking forward to the Christmas story by Eriko Tadeno. ^^

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Yuri Manga: Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo

Before I start this review, I want to thank my super-cool fellow Japanophile and college classmate Sara for lending me her copy of this manga. Thank you for contributing to the cause, Sara. I would fain own this title myself, but by the time I tried to buy it online, it was out of print (and I still can't find it... ;_; Why, Yuri Hime?!).

Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo (or Kisses [more literally translated as Lips, Sighs, and Cherry Blossom Pink) by Milk Morinaga is an adorably girly volume of yuri one-shots, only two of which feature the same protagonists, fan favorite couple Nana and Hitomi (seen in the picture above). The unifying theme of this collection is that the main characters of each story attend the same all-girl's high school. While the stories vary somewhat in quality, from the dizzying romantic heights of Even If We're Not Friends and If I Kiss Her Ring Finger to the comparatively so-so one-sided love that goes nowhere in This Love From I Can't Remember When, the entire volume as a whole makes for a very enjoyable light reading experience, and a must-read for yuri fans.

While Morinaga does a good job crafting the stories in this volume (aided by the protagonists of the different one-shots briefly appearing in each other's stories), being in the format that it is, Kuchibiru lacks the cohesion, immersive worldbuilding, and more painstakingly developed characterization found in Morinaga's ongoing monthly serialized manga, Girl Friends, which fans of Girl Friends may notice. On the plus side, Kuchibiru cuts through the thicket of its characters' emotions and misunderstandings in a far more speedy fashion, providing the satisfying romantic resolutions that impatient readers are still hopefully anticipating in Girl Friends. I normally don't compare two titles by the same mangaka too much when evaluating each, but since most people who have read Kuchibiru Tameiki Sakurairo read it before reading Girl Friends (as I originally did), I should acknowledge how one may view this title in retrospect after reading Morinaga's later work. One of the key differences between the two titles is that in KTS, the characters exist as vehicles to drive the romance, while in Girl Friends, the romance exists as a vehicle to move the characters forward, if that makes any sense. ^^;;

As for the art, the character designs are pretty and cute, and Morinaga conveys moods and emotions adeptly. The layouts, while not especially inventive, aren't tediously conventional or overly crowded either, and they allow the story (err- stories) to flow smoothly without distracting from one's reading experience at all. Morinaga's use of layouts on certain key pages sometimes produce an especially lovely visual effect.

Although the characters in this manga do a lot of reflecting, this isn't by any means a deeply introspective work, but a fun, enjoyable, light shoujo romance collection that one can reread without detracting from one's overall enjoyment. It's like a slice of homemade chocolate cake- not terribly substantive, but very satisfying, comforting, and sweet.

Story: B
Art: B+
Overall: B+

Milk Morinaga created two more stories in Yuri Hime magazine that aren't printed in this volume (Chocolate Kiss Kiss and Wishing on the Moon) that star the protagonists of Even If We're Not Friends and If I Kiss Her Ring Finger. I hope they get published in tankoubon format someday, since they're delightful stories that really deserve to be printed outside of their respective issues of Yuri Hime magazine. (Maybe include them in a second deluxe printing of this collection, Ichijinsha? ^^ *hint hint*)

Friday, April 17, 2009

Yuri Featuring Adult Characters and Storylines

Tgif! I'm so glad it's Friday!! ^__^ This post will be a list of yuri anime and manga featuring adult characters/storylines. This isn't a definitive list, but it's a good starting point for anybody looking for yuri anime and manga featuring or including adult women:

(the first two titles are available on R1 DVD)

The Devil Lady: the protagonist and three other adult women in the story are canon yuri characters.

Mai Otome (released as My Otome in the U.S.): The sci-fi alternate world spin-off of Mai-Hime, featuring several canon (and heavily implied) yuri characters, both teenage and adult. (Shizuru/Headmistress Natsuki ftw!!)

Blue Drop: There is a subplot featuring a woman (technically an alien woman) seeking to avenge her girlfriend's death.


Available in English:

Pretty much everything by ALC Publishing, like Rica'tte Kanji!? by Rica Takashima, the Yuri Monogatari anthologies by various artisits, and Works by Eriko Tadeno. Yuri Monogatari 6 was recently published, and I'm looking forward to reading it once I go home in May. (I didn't have it shipped to my college address because I already have a ton of stuff to bring home, @_@;; but I'm looking forward to it.) Later edit: Whoops. It looks like I had YM6 sent to my college address when I pre-ordered it. At this point, I don't have time to properly review it until the semester ends, though. -_-;;

12 Days by June Kim, which is about a woman living in New York who copes in an unusual way with the death of her girlfriend while reflecting on their past relationship.

S.S. Astro by Negi Banno, which is a 4-koma comedy about four high school teachers, one of whom is a canon yuri character.

Only available in Japanese (titles that are currently being scanlated or are already scanlated will have an * next to them; titles that will be scanlated by a scanlation group in the future are marked by a +; if you enjoy any of these titles via scanlation, you should support the artist who made them by buying them so that he or she can continue to produce good yuri):

*The Conditions for Paradise by Akiko Morishima: features a three chapter romance between an office worker and her long time best friend who works as a traveling freelance writer, as well as stories about other adult yuri couples.

* Azure Dream by Akiko Morishima: another yuri collection by Morishima featuring numerous adult characters. "Honey Mustard" is especially nice.

*Hanjuku Joshi by Morishima Akiko: focuses on romance between two students at an all-girl's high school, but includes one adult yuri character who works as a teacher (although as a caveat, she does become involved with one of her students).

Any yuri by Yamaji Ebine, like *Free Soul, *Love My Life, *Indigo Blue, and +Sweet Lovin' Baby. I've only read the first two listed, but they are extremely good, mature slice-of-life narratives, and I've heard good things about the latter two.

*Octave by Haru Akiyama: about a woman who was once an idol when she was a teen, but winds up working as a talent manager in Tokyo as an adult, unsure of what she wants to do with her life. Her romance with another former idol, who is now working as a song composer, helps her to reevaluate her life.

*Your Cuteness by Otsu Hiyori: Includes a one-shot titled "Maple Love" about two women in college.

+Clover by Otsu Hiyori: a series of yuri one-shots about four sisters and their respective relationships. The epilogue, taking place three years after the previous chapters, centers around one of the sisters when one them is in law school, living with her girlfriend. I haven't actually read the entire volume yet, but it's gotten very good reviews and I've enjoyed other one-shots by the same mangaka. ^^;;

*Otome-iro Stay Tune by Miyabi Fujieda: chiefly focuses on romance between two seiyuu who voice characters in a yuri radio drama, with a few other adult yuri characters thrown into the mix.

*Chatting at the Amber Teahouse by Miyabi Fujieda: about a romance between the owner of a teahouse and a third-year (or "senior" in the U.S.) high school student who works at the cafe to be near her. In one chapter, an elderly lesbian couple also gives the teahouse owner romance advice.

*Iono-sama Fanatics by Miyabi Fujieda: about the queen of a small, fictitious country who especially loves women with black hair and travels to Japan to find new sobame (ladies-in-waiting). The main character, a woman named Eto, unwittingly decides to become a sobame and falls in love with Iono. The first volume was published in English by Infinity Studios, but they never published the second volume... ;_;

*The Miko's Words and the Witch's Incantations (Kotonoha no Miko to Kotodama no Majyo to) by Miyabi Fujieda: about a witch who frees a miko from the shrine that she was entrapped in as a child and shows her the outside world. (And of course they fall in love. ^^ The miko's protective female bodyguard has a thing for her too.)

*Honey & Honey by Sachiko Takeuchi: a manga that was primarily written to explain lesbian relationships to a straight female audience, following the lives of Sachiko and her girlfriend Masako, along with other people in their lives. An interview with Sachiko Takeuchi can be found here at Tokyo Wrestling, a Japanese lesbian media site (like a Japanese Afterellen) that translates its articles into English and French.

*Plica by Sae Amamiya: a series of webcomics about the daily life of Plica, a young woman in the workforce, her girlfriend Mari, and a few other yuri characters.

*Strawberry Shake Sweet by Shizuru Hayashiya: the protagonists are a high school aged idol and high school aged model, but several of the other characters are adult yuri characters, including the owner of a salon that the main characters frequent and an all-lesbian visual kei group called Zlay (the name is a parody of the real visual kei group Glay).

*Spring Summer Fall Winter by Zaou Taishi and Eiki Eiki: three chapters of this volume are dedicated to the romance between a school nurse and teacher who work at the same school; during other parts of the volume, the school nurse gives romance advice to one of the students.

*No More Need For Chains (Kusari wa Mou Iranai) by Uso Kurata: a Yuri Hime S (*gasp*) one-shot about an office romance.

*Franken Fran by Katsuhisa Kigitsu, chapter 22: This particular chapter of this wonderfully quirky horror-comedy covers a highly unusual yuri romance.

+Papaya Gundan by Aoki Mitsue: about a group of people/friends who work at and run a hostess club. Two of the hostesses fall in love with one another. I haven't read this one yet, but I'm looking forward to reading it since the reviews have been really good.

+Gunjou by Nakamura Ching: about a miserably married straight woman who asks the lesbian woman who is in love with her to kill her abusive husband, and they subsequently go on the lam. Yuri and introspection ensue. I haven't read this one yet, and the plot doesn't sound like my cup of tea personally, but it has received stellar reviews on Okazu and positive reviews in Japan as well.

And although virtually all of the yuri characters in Takako Shimura's Aoi Hana manga are in high school (aside from the protagonist's cousin), the characters are exceptionally mature, while still being realistic teenagers. Hopefully the anime adaptation premiering this July will retain that aspect.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Saki Anime Episode 1 Impressions

After watching episode 1 of Saki, the first thing that I did...was take a nap. That wasn't entirely Saki's fault, but it's certainly not a winning endorsement for a show about competitive mahjong (or competitive anything). The games failed to generate any tension or excitement because the outcome was predictable (and I don't know the rules of mahjong, Japanese or otherwise). The characters failed to make me care about them, despite the writers' risibly transparent attempts to generate yuri subtext that I know will go nowhere, because they're bland archetypes. Unfortunately, despite the Maria-sama ga Miteru-riffic voice cast (hearing Kana Ueda as Saki was the highlight for me) I just don't care enough to follow this show.

But let me me backtrack a little.
Saki is about a high school student named Saki (probably 16...they're always 16...) who hates to play mahjong. After hearing her say that she hates mahjong, her friend Kyou makes her play a game of mahjong at the mahjong club he's in. Saki agrees to play more readily after seeing that Nodoka, the girl with big boobs (you think I'm trivializing her character by describing her that way? Not when the anime never lets you freaking forget it.) who Saki saw walking outside earlier that day, is a member of the club. It turns out that Nodoka rocks at mahjong and she, Saki, Kyou, and the resident high schooler who looks like she's 8 (Saki and Nodoka look like they're 12) all play a friendly game of mahjong. Partway through, their president wakes up from a nap she was taking in a corner of the room (I guess that, like me, she couldn't handle the excitement) and checks the scores, realizing that Saki managed to score plus or minus zero during all three rounds. zOMG. Saki promptly leaves, but Nodoka, her pride wounded at thinking that Saki threw the games on purpose, chases Saki in the rain (which the animators take full advantage of, unfortunately) and asks her to play a mahjong game with her again. Saki comes back to the mahjong club the next day and plays another game, scoring plus or minus zero again, which confirms the club president's faith in her awesome potential. And apparently Saki hates mahjong because her family used to get upset whenever she would win, so she adjusted her game so that she would always get plus or minus zero. God, the suspense is killing me.

With far better options airing this season (Fullmetal Alchemist, Eden of the East, even Ristorante Paradiso), unless you're a mahjong fan, I don't see much reason to watch this. I'm sure that there are people watching Saki for its (not even well executed) subtext between two characters I don't care about that will lead nowhere (and if it does...whoopee?). But with Aoi Hana set to air soon, I don't need to watch Saki for some dubitable yuri crumbs when there's a full meal with dessert and coffee coming right around the corner in July.

Story: C
Art: C (By the way animators, quit using high schoolers who look like 8-12 year olds for fanservice. It's jarring and gross.)
Overall: C-

This series isn't terribly bad as far as the first episode, but it's not terribly good or entertaining either.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Manga Recon's Conbust 2009 Review

Sweeet! ^^ One of the social chairs for the Smith College Sci-fi and Fantasy Society sent me a link via Facebook to Melinda Beasi's review of Conbust at Manga Recon, including a nice review of my yuri panel! It was an interesting read on the con as a whole. (And not only because it mentions my panel. ^^) I've been invited to do a yuri panel at next year's Conbust, which I would be happy to do.

Additionally, Melinda Beasi's review of Conbust made me realize that I should have brought a different mental approach to the con. I expected it to adhere more closely to my expectations (anime and manga) without meeting the intended focus of the con halfway and giving the sci-fi and fantasy themed events more of a chance, and as a result, I was somewhat disappointed in my experience. So next year, I'll give the sci-fi/fantasy aspect more of a fair shot without bringing the same "I'm an anime fan! Cater to my expectations!!" mindset. More anime and manga content is, of course, welcome. (And I agree with Ms. Beasi, how could the gender-bender panel not include anime?) But next year I'll attend Conbust with the expectation of enjoying it for what it is instead of what I think it should be.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Boycotting Amazon?: Now with further updates

Good thing I haven't pre-ordered Hayate x Blade volumes 3 and 4 or Sand Chronicles volume 5 yet. I often buy my English manga online at Amazon, but after reading about their systematic, completely senseless and random removal of lgbt titles from their sales rankings (The Lesbian Parenting Book is too "adult", but Playboy: The Complete Centerfolds and Hitler's Mein Kampf aren't?), I'm taking all of my business elsewhere. Sayonara, Amazon. As an extra note, however, Amazon Japan doesn't seem to be enforcing this ridiculous policy, only, as far as I know, Amazon U.S. and Amazon U.K.

Here are two links further elaborating on Amazon's policy at Afterellen and Okazu.

Update 1: When I typed in "homosexuality" in the Amazon search engine under the "Books" category (following up on a comment someone posted under the Afterellen article), the top book that popped up was A Parent's Guide to Preventing Homosexuality. Way to go, Amazon. Here's a link to a petition against Amazon's ranking policy. You can also protest this policy by contacting the Amazon Executive customer service email at ecr@amazon.com, calling the customer service phone number: 1-800-201-7575, or logging in to your Amazon account if you have one and visiting: https://www.amazon.com/gp/help/contact-us/general-questions.html?ie=UTF8&browse_node_id=468496

Update 2: One thing that I hadn't considered while writing this post initially was how boycotting Amazon could wind up punishing the authors and publishers who market lgbt titles through Amazon more than Amazon itself, and give Amazon more justification for marginalizing lgbt-inclusive/themed books, movies, etc. The idea of them making any money from a book, manga, or DVD I buy after their "glitch" still annoys me (ask any of my friends- especially from middle school and high school- and they'll testify that I'm a pretty stubbornly vindictive person when somebody knowingly antagonizes me), but I guess that eternally swearing off Amazon isn't the way to go either. Still, they had darn well better fix that glitch soon and who ever is responsible should properly apologize publicly (I know, not going to happen). This whole episode would be more palatable if Amazon would quit using that flimsy "glitch" excuse.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Yuri in a Reverse Harem? Hanasakeru Seishōnen Anime Episode 1

When people say "reverse harem anime", they normally envision an unremarkable Plain Jane grabbing the interest (romantic and otherwise) of a gaggle of androgynous, sloe-eyed bishonen eye candy. With a certain delightful exception in Ouran High School Host Club, however, there tends to be about as much yuri in the reverse harem genre as there is oxygen on the moon.

So, it came as a neat surprise to see some yuri pop up in Hanasakeru Seishōnen, a reverse harem romantic drama that has turned out to be surprisingly good, as far as the first episode goes. (I half expected another terrible Angelique, or a bland herione like Akane from Harukanaru Toki no Naka de.)

Hanasakeru Seishōnen is about a teenage girl named Kajika, the sole heir of the head of the Burnsworth conglomerate, who was sent to live on an island by her father after her mother was murdered when she was a little kid. She grew up with Li Ren, the heir of the Fang conglomerate in China, and a snow leopard named Mustafa.

Her father decides to send her to Japan to attend a high school there for 6 months, and she quickly befriends another girl named Yui. After she has only attended school for one month, however, Kajika's father summons her and Li Ren (and her other bishonen body guard whose name escapes me ^^;;) to America. Naturally, Kajika is annoyed that her father broke his promise, but he tells her that she has a special destiny ahead of her (dun, dun, dun), but he won't tell her what it is until he sees her future husband also seated in his office. Because Kajika insists that she cannot wait that long to find out, her father informs her that he has found three very special young men who have no idea who she is or what her name is, but they're unknowingly being set up to meet her and she needs to choose one of them to be her future husband and get the guy who she chooses to reciprocate if she wants to learn what her special future is as soon as possible. Kajika, recognizing that her father counted on her playing the game, agrees to do it. My bet is that she'll simply choose Li Ren in the end.

Even though the story is ridiculous (durr, reverse harem), the pacing and execution are well-done. The first episode never drags and by the time it's halfway over, it has covered Kajika's time at the Japanese high school before moving on the the main arc in America. This series also boasts some pretty shoujo artwork. :D It doesn't stand out (Kajika visually resembles Akane from HaruToki), but it's pleasant and stylistically reminiscent of 90s shoujo art, in a good way. I definitely prefer this over some of the overly polished, almost spiky artwork that has been the hallmark of several recent shoujo series like Earl and Fairy. (The Hanasakeru Seishōnen manga came out in 12 tankoubon from the late 80's through early 90's, by the way.)

Kajika is also an enjoyable heroine. She's rather unusual for a shoujo protagonist, especially one starring in a reverse harem series, but in a good way. And the series allows its bishonen characters to grace the screen without drawing excessive, self-aware attention to it, which is nice.

The yuri comes from Kajika's friend Yui in the first half. From the outset, Yui is enchanted by Kajika's silver eyes, and mentally calls her a "bishoujo." She flusters over her introduction to Kajika, while wondering why she's so nervous. After they become best friends, a few of the other girls notice Yui's close behavior with Kajika, to the point that they wonder out loud if she "swings that way." Before Yui can confirm or deny anything, Kajika defuses the situation with strawberries. (Don't ask; but it's a cute scene. ^^) Later, when Yui and Kajika are in the hallway, Kajika defends Yui from a sempai's bullying before kissing Yui on the cheek. Yui's reaction absolutely cements my conclusion that she is a yuri character. :3 Her dynamic with Kajika actually reminds me a bit of Wakaba with Utena...

Anyway, as Kajika has left the school by the second half of the episode, I'm assuming that Yui won't be appearing again, or if she does, it will be a minor appearance. Still, she provided some fun, light yuri, and in a pretty good shoujo series to boot, while yuri this spring season has otherwise mostly been found in moe and fan service-oriented shows. Regardless of the yuri, however, this is a promising premiere episode for people who like shoujo, and I'm going to keep following it if it continues to be entertaining.

Story: C
Art: B
Overall: B

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

A Very Non-Yuri Post: Sengoku Basara Anime Episode 1

This series is awesome. :D Seriously awesome. From seeing a Japanese samurai screaming "Time to party!!!" in English while charging into battle on the most tricked out horse I have ever seen (Date Masamune. He's my favorite character. XD) to watching the most ridiculously passionate energy-charged fistfight ever between the leader of the Takeda clan and his subordinate Yukimura as they passionately scream each other's names repeatedly.

Yes indeed, I see some prime doujinshi fodder in the making. lol

This series loosely recreates the battles of the Sengoku era, featuring ridiculously shonen action-powered versions of historical figures like Uesugi Kenshin and Oda Nobunaga. But what really matters is that this series is simply a fun, energy-packed action romp about samurai beating the stuffing out of each other. It's hard to explain, but I like it. :D

And to include something of yuri relevance in this post, Uesugi Kenshin has a busty female ninja subordinate named Kasuga who is madly in love with him. But when I saw Kenshin, I thought "That is so a woman!!" His faces looks undeniably female, his unusually slender body is covered up too much to really reveal his gender (hello, armor and padding), and he sounds just like a woman, voice courtesy of Romi Paku. And in his first scene with Kasuga, she was obviously ga-ga for him, and my yuri senses twitched. But then when he was addressed as "Kenshin", I was like "Wait..." and looked up the character to make sure that there wasn't any sort of gender switch for this series. (Hey, it's happened before.) But nope, Sengoku Basara's Kenshin is the guy who fulfills the "bishonen guy who really (really) looks like a girl" role. Most of the key players of this show seem to be bishonen also. But anyway, this show kicks a** and Date Masamune rocks. The art/character design and animation is darn good also, especially for this type of show.

Watch it, watch it, watch it!!

Story: B
Art: B+
Energy: A+
Overall: B+

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Maria Holic Anime

After watching the fantastic first episode of Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood today (raw; I'm waiting until it streams on Funimation's website this Thursday to view it subbed), I'm loathe to write about this show, but I might as well while it's still fresh in my mind.

Maria Holic is an unremarkable series with interesting animation that could aptly be described as a poor man's Maria-sama ga Miteru that pretends to be more clever than it actually is. I'm going to try to write this review while pretending that the offensive elements present in this show do not exist, because a good many of the people who have seen this either didn't notice that said elements are offensive or conciously glossed over this series' homophobic and misogynistic qualities because they like the pretty pictures, service, and nosebleeds.

Anyway, Maria Holic is about a girl named Kanako Miyamae who transfers to her mother's high school alma mater, Ame no Kisaki, which is an all-girl's Catholic school. Kanako is enrolling at the school in the hopes of finding a girlfriend (since she's a lesbian who thinks of nothing but "zOMG, HAWT GIRLZ!!!") and generally basking in the yuri paradise that only exists in her mind and the yuri mangas/light novels she reads. She meets a beautiful, seemingly kind-hearted girl named Mariya Shidou who is the granddaughter of the ex-chairman of the school. By accident, Kanako discovers that Mariya is a boy cross-dressing as a girl, and he subsequently reveals his true nature. He's a sadistic a$$**** who treats her like crap and tells her that he knows she's a lesbian right off the bat, to which she responds by freaking out and insisting that "yuri" sounds better (later in the show, we see Kanako remembering Mariya calling her a "yuri pig" while stepping on her). We then learn that Kanako hates all men because she was teased by boys as a kid and breaks out into hives whenever a man/boy touches her. Mariya has her moved to his room so that he can keep an eye on her and ensure that she won't leak out his secret. He then proceeds to be a controlling a$$**** for the remainder (as far as the series goes) of Kanako's school days. And in the few, precious moments when Mariya treats Kanako decently (like agreeing to leave the room where she needs to change after threatening not to leave; how magnanimous...), Kanako starts to show signs of falling for him (as the narrator points out in episode 2). Will Kanako find true love? Will she become cured of her man allergies and lesbianism and find true love with a man (Mariya)? Will Kanako stop drooling over everything in a skirt without being de-gayed, and will Mariya ever get that stick out if his a$$? zOMG.

Hmmm...it looks like trying to review this series without considering the inherently offensive plot elements when one is aware of them is like trying to refrigerate ice cream by boiling it. It can't be done. ^^

Here's a little Women's Studies 101 for anybody who doesn't see anything wrong with the above description:
-Treating women like crap is a crappy thing to do. It makes for a crappy story, worse still if it's played for comedy. (Example: When Mariya douses Kanako with gasoline and threatens to light her on fire for backtalking to him until she apologizes on her knees. lol?)
-Lesbians aren't gay because of bad experiences with men. This misconception helps instill the idea that lesbians will fall in love with men if only they would meet the right guy or resolve their issues. (See: Kanako's little heart-pounding moments over Mariya when he briefly acts "nice.") This is wish fulfillment for some male viewers.

As for the remainder of the series, it tries to be a clever parody of Maria-sama ga Miteru and other Catholic all-girl's school yuri series, but winds up repeating the same tired gags repeatedly ad nauseaum until, by the end, it isn't anything more than another stale schoolyard comedy that pretends to be more intelligent than it really is. Character Personality Checklist: Kanako got another nosebleed! Father Whatshisname jumped to conclusions again! The maid said something snarky! Sachi said something cute and optimistic! Mariya said something snarky! Etc.

As for the art, it's very appealing. I like the surreal, quirky visuals, rapid editing, and unique use of camera angles, a la the brilliant Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei. The character designs are distinctive and visually appealing also. Nothing I disliked there. But praising the art in this series is like admiring the decorative frosting on a stale birthday cake.

Story: D
Art: A
Overall: D

Saturday, April 4, 2009

Phantom ~Requiem of the Phantom~ Anime Episode 1

Studio Bee Train has been known in yuri fan circles for animating yuri-friendly series like .hack//sign, Noir, Madlax, and El Cazador de la Bruja, all of which contain some enjoyable yuri subtext, if not text, although as for the content of the series themselves, I like the latter three (Bee Train's "girls with guns" trilogy) a lot more than .hack.

Phantom ~Requiem of the Phantom~ seems to be the latest in Bee Train's "girls with guns" line-up, with its distinguishing variation being that one of the two girls is a guy. The first episode opens with an amnesiac young man waking up in a darkened room without any memory of who he is, including his name. (Another amnesiac protagonist? Way to go, Bee Train.) As he tries to make his way out of the building where he is, a female assasin wearing a mask attempts to kill him with a gun. As she's only "testing" him under orders from a mysterious organization called Inferno (subtle), she eventually gives him a knife and they fight each other hand to hand before he over-powers her, cutting away her mask. He doesn't kill her, but leaves the building, which he finds to be in the middle of a desert. The woman then exits the building and tells him that his name is Zwei and her name is Ein before shooting him with a tranquilizer dart. After he passes out, some people working for Inferno show up and provide exposition, and then the episode cuts to Ein and Zwei successfully completing an assasination. Then more ominous exposition by the agents of Inferno.

Despite its snazzy visuals, Phantom, unfortunately, doesn't bring anything new to the table of its niche subgenre. That isn't to say that it isn't entertaining. It works well as an atmospheric, sexy assasin action-mystery, with slick, ominous visuals and a wonderfully fitting, Yuki Kajiura-esque score. (Hikaru Nanase composed the score for Phantom.) But for now at least, it simply has yet to find its own distinctive "voice" or rise above the precedent set by previous mystery/action/assasin series. And while effective enough, the characters aren't terribly unique, interesting, or charismatic. Ein strongly resembles Kirika from Noir, while Zwei, save for his mad fighting skills, pretty much resembles the dozens of other confused, somewhat bland everyman leads that have come before in anime in both appearance and personality. (I know that he's amnesiac, but still...) He's no Mireille/Madlax/Nadie.

As for the yuri, there isn't any so far (subtext or otherwise), and chances are slim of any popping up with one of the two main characters being a guy and all signs pointing to a romance between Ein and Zwei (which could be interesting if executed properly), but who knows, with Bee Train's track record something yuri-ish might pop up among the other characters. I'm not sure whether I'll follow this series, however. For now I think I'll wait, and if the future buzz around Phantom sounds intriguing enough, I'll take another look.

Art: A-
Overall: B-

Friday, April 3, 2009

Maria-sama ga Miteru Anime Season 4

The fourth season of Maria-sama ga Miteru just ended a week ago, leaving scores of Marimite fans cheering in its wake. This season was everything a fan could have hoped for and then some, ending by bringing the series full circle while still leaving plenty of room for future plot developments.

The much awaited fourth season of Konno Oyuki's beloved Marimite shoujo series primarily follows second-year high school student Yumi Fukuzawa's journey toward choosing and being accepted by her own petite soeur.

To backtrack for anybody who reads this without knowing what Maria-sama ga Miteru is about, the story begins with Yumi as a first-year high school student attending Lillian Girl's Academy, a prestigious private Catholic girl's school that, instead of heavily relying on faculty to enforce discipline, relies on close sempai-kouhai (or respectful junior-respected senior) relationships between the students- the younger kouhai are called "petite soeurs", which means "little sisters" in French, while petite soeurs normally call their older sempai "onee-sama", which means "big sister" in Japanese but serves as a formalized variation of a general term used in Japan for people to refer to refer to an older girl ("onee-chan" is more common, especially among children). But that was a major digression. ^^;;

Anyway, Lillian has a student council called the Yamayurikai that is headed by three members who are named after different species of roses: Rosa Chinensis (red rose), Rosa Gigantea (white rose), and Rosa Foetida (yellow rose). The three Rosas' petite soeurs are called Rosa Chinensis en bouton (red rose bud), Rosa Gigantea en bouton (white rose bud), and Rosa Foetida en Bouton (yellow rose bud). In season 1, Yumi unexpectedly becomes the petite soeur of the Rosa Chinensis en bouton Sachiko Ogasawara, who Yumi had previously idolized from afar.

While the first season serves to establish the setting and relationships among the cast, the second season marks the graduation of the Rosas from the first season and the establishment of the en boutons as the new Rosas as well as the introduction of new first-year students. The third season gives the viewer some breathing room to simply enjoy the characters' interactions after the high drama at the end of season 2, while leading into the plot of season 4. Season 4 is when, as Sachiko and Yumi commemorate their one-year anniversary, Sachiko asks Yumi to choose a petite souer.

For the remainder of the season, Yumi (now herself the Rosa Chinensis en bouton) and Yoshino Shimazu (the Rosa Foetida en bouton) look for their own petite soeurs. Since Rosa Gigantea and Rosa Gigantea en bouton are in their first and second years (looong story) they mostly get to relax on the sidelines. lol From the beginning, Yumi has two strong soeur candidates, Touko Matsudaira and Kanako Hosokawa. Within two episodes, Kanako's out of the running, as her reason for idolizing and following around Yumi has been resolved, and for anybody who couldn't figure it out from the episode content, the series introduction and ending theme make it clear that Yumi will choose Touko. The question is how Yumi will decide and whether Touko will accept- in other words, this season is about the journey, not the destination. While Yoshino has pretty much decided who her petite souer will be halfway through the season, Yumi takes longer to decide that she wants Touko, and then has to figure out how to cut through the layers of issues and misunderstandings that prevent Touko from fully opening up to others.

Arguably, this is the best season so far. It boasts as much plot development as any of the previous seasons, with the extra polish that the third season added. While the third season brought Yumi and Sachiko's relationship to that of equals, the fourth season marks Yumi's maturity into a person who is ready to be Rosa Chinensis and mentor her own petite souer. Seeing the characters come into their own (not only Yumi) as much as they have in this season is a joy, culminating in a beautifully appropriate, poignant ending. Anybody who follows this show couldn't ask for more. (Aside from a fifth OVA or television season to finish adapting the novels that this series is based on. lol)

As for the art, Maria-sama ga Miteru has always boasted beautiful, distinctive character designs and evocative seasonal backgrounds, and this season is no different. While always very emphatically shoujo, the imagery used in this series, if it's possible, felt even more shoujo-esque. (For example: The way that Yumi imagined Touko needing help.) Maybe it's because of Konno Oyuki's supervision of this season (this season is the first time she's directly supervised the Marimite anime), maybe it's a different reason, or maybe I'm imagining it. As as always, the music, voice acting, everything is wonderfully synchronized to create a stellar shoujo slice-of-life drama.

"But wait! This is a yuri blog! What about the yuri?"
It's everywhere. As in previous seasons (save for the Rosa Canina and Forest of Briars arcs in season 1), the yuri isn't overt. Maria-sama ga Miteru is simply dripping in subtext, or text, for those who see it that way. As for me, I don't necessarily think that, say, Sachiko and Yumi or Rei and Yoshino are already couples (although Shimako/Noriko was really pushed hard in this season), but I see attraction (my litmus test: "Would I think/act that way around somebody who I consider a very close friend? Like, say, my best friend since middle school? We're close, but not like that.") that remains a hair's breadth away from crossing into full-blown relationship territory. But that's just my take. ^^ Oh, and the ending theme is chock full of beautifully drawn, blatantly yuri images. Mind you, the author of the Marimite novels, Konno Oyuki, is supervising this series.

Like previous seasons of Maria-sama ga Miteru, season 4 is a must-see that continues to establish this series as a new shoujo classic.

Story: A
Art: A
Overall: A

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Queen's Blade Anime Episode 1: When Bunny Girls Attack

When the climactic moment of a show's premiere episode is an evil bunny girl's boobs blowing up and exploding like a balloon, you know that you can't take it seriously. Scratch that- from the first fight among said bunny girl and two other scantily clad warrior women, I knew that this would be, at best, a campy t&a action-adventure with a gloss of high fantasy.

Taking it for what it is, it wasn't entirely abysmal, though. (Granted, I watched this episode raw. There might have been some especially atrocious dialogue I didn't catch, but I was pretty much able to follow the story. It's not like this is Evangelion or anything.)

Anyway, the story is about Reina, the second eldest daughter (out of three) of a powerful earl, who is traveling on a journey to fight in the Queen's Blade tournament. In this tournament, women and teenage girls over the age of twelve may volunteer to fight each other to gain the title of queen of the land. Anything goes, as long as there's one queen standing in the end.

Before Reina can reach the tournament, she gets attacked by a pink-haired bunny girl whose boobs shoot acid (me: "Wtf. o_o;;") that destroys Reina's sword and most of her clothing (although conveniently, her body is left completely unscathed). As the bunny girl starts to choke Reina, a red-haired warrior woman name Listy saves her by knocking the bunny girl down a ravine, causing her to melt into a pile of goo. (She'll be baaaack.)

Listy takes Reina back to her home, where Reina is greeted by her cool, competent, yet scantily clad older sister Claudette, and cheerful, more-than-slightly-too-happy-to-see-Reina, scantily clad younger sister Elina. For some reason, Claudette has Listy locked up in a dungeon while Reina returns to her welcoming home. That night, Listy escapes from her jail, stealing some money and a suit of armor (it barely covers anything, making it obviously designed for a woman *rolls eyes*) and brings it all to Reina. Reina hides Listy while everyone in the castle is searching for her, and Listy escapes after leaving the armor with Reina. Reina cuts her hair and dons the armor in preparation for her next escape to travel to the Queen's Blade tournament. As she turns toward her window, she sees the psychotic bunny girl, who attacks again in a massive explosion.

Claudette finds Listy and faces off with her, while Reina fights for her life against the evil bunny girl. lol Of course, Reina wins. I won't say how, but it results in the bunny's girl source of power, erm, exploding. Reina wakes up the next morning on the shore of the lake that surrounds her family's castle with Listy. Listy holds up a bag of the money she took, to Reina's consternation, which they are going to use to get to the Queen's Blade tournament. Cue the credits playing high fantasy music while showing images of other contestants making their way toward the Queen's Blade tournament.

Honestly, while this show was undeniably made to sell body pillows and skeezy figurines, it was still vaguely entertaining (in the sense of The Brain That Wouldn't Die), since it doesn't take itself too seriously and provides plenty of "wtf" moments. The characters were actually okay (I largely didn't hate them), with Reina being a pretty decent lead- much more so than her annoying sister Elina who holds the lead role in the manga version. If she had been transferred to a better show (in which the camera didn't pan over her boobs every 5 seconds), she would still make a decent protagonist.

The one thing that favors this show and contributes to the characters' tolerability is that they all look their age. The women all look and sound like adults, hallelujah! In fact, I was startled a few times when I heard some of the moderately deep, natural-sounding voices some of the women had (like Claudette and Listy) instead of the usual perky helium aural assault found in many series today.

As far as the first episode goes, it wasn't the bottom of the barrel. I expected worse.

Story: D
Art: B
Overall: D

Note: I watched half an episode of Strike Witches, which redefined my idea of "scraping the bottom of the barrel", the day before I watched this. Chances are, that contributed to this series seeming that much better.

Next day revision: After watching the finale of the far, far, far better Clannad ~After Story~ last night, I tried (but couldn't finish) watching this subbed...the dialogue really is atrocious. Save your time and look elsewhere for anime starring super-powered fighting women.