No big long intro this time– just going to get into the anime caplets and leave the discussion for later. So…
The Story of Saiunkoku: (Madhouse, 2006; Geneon/Funimation 2007-2009)
If He Is My Master is pure fanservice, then Saiunkoku is “brain service”. There is absolutely nothing sexy, nothing action-packed, and nothing palpitation-inducing about the first episode of this series. That, of course, does not preclude it from being enthralling, fascinating, and just the slightest bit funny. While the concept of a period drama is not exactly unknown among live-action Japanese television, it’s exceedingly rare for anime, especially anime that gets any sort of English-language release. I can see why Madhouse did it, though, and it lies in the simple yet deceptively descriptive phrase, “scenery porn”. This is a gorgeous series. Shuurei herself, the main character, is interesting as well: she’s far from the stereotypical shrinking-violet type. At first I found her to be a little too perfect to be believable, but it was about that time that I caught on that her good-girl act was merely the social facade she was expected to wear, and that she’s written more or less realistically underneath that. I can dig this series.
Kaleido Star (Gonzo, 2004; ADV, 2005-2008)
Around the time Sora started blazing her way through the generic American city after the thief, I started to realize what kind of character she was, as well as what kind of series KS could have been. I was getting a decidedly Excel Saga vibe, until she hit the audition and got shut down. I understand it was an establishing moment for Layla’s character, but the whiplash was just a little too much to reasonably take. It got completely turned around just before the commercial break, to the point where the whole series is completely unpredictable. The floor show worked out to be as awesome as it’s been hyped up to be, and it’s one of those things where I think Gonzo just likes making things great only to crush the characters and the audience as well. And then it got really weird when Fool showed up. I wish I had confidence in the fact that it would end well, but this one episode casts all that in doubt– normally compelling, but here… irritating. Either due to Kalos’ seeming omniscience, Layla’s obsessive bitchiness, or Sora’s crippling underconfidence, it just grates for some reason. As a direct result, I’m uncertain on if I’m going to move it up on the list at some point. This leads me into a side tangent I’ve been thinking about… later. Much later.
When They Cry (Studio Deen, 2006; Geneon/Funimation 2006-2009)
Here’s my problem with spoilers. They can make enjoying a series like this one extremely difficult. I know where the series is going, so this first episode where things are relatively silly is almost impossible to take at the face value that it’s being presented in. Funny thing is, though, When They Cry opens with probably the single bloodiest two minutes of screen time that I’ve seen since Elfen Lied. Nominally, not a problem. I can handle a little guts an’ gore. The problem is that, because I’ve read the manga, I know that that intro is just the tip of the iceberg. Given the fact that I don’t deal well with horror, and especially not psychological/paranoia stuff, I’m probably gonna have to double-bill this with something far, far further up the “light and fluffy” scale. Oh, and for some reason, Keiichi’s English-language voice actor doesn’t really sound right to me. I always thought his normal voice was a little less overstimulated while reading it, and this just doesn’t seem to fit his established character, let alone my preconceptions.
Princess Tutu (Hal Film Maker, 2002; ADV, 2005-2006)
Okay. I stand corrected. THIS has the Excel Saga nature. I have to admit, though, that hearing Chris Patton’s voice coming out of Fakir was pretty much the point at which I started to really enjoy it. When it happened the second time I knew there was more to this than what it appeared to be. The story is steeped greatly in fantasy, to the point where having a cat for a ballet instructor is only a minor and temporary astonishment. Like Kaleido Star it’s a series about performance arts, meaning the animation is going to be gorgeous (when it’s not cracked-out), but the writing here drew me in and got me far more excited to let it go forward. And the fact that the English dub cast works perfectly is just an added bonus.
The Slayers Next (TV Tokyo, 1996; Central Park Media/Funimation, 1998/2007)
So this is where one of my favorite opening themes comes from! It’s been about a year since I finished up watching Slayers, and the thing is that the characters are among the best-loved in anime for a very good reason. While the DVDs are based off the original VHS masters, the whole thing still radiates the kind of charm that’s still rare to find. In terms of the story, it’s presented as being a matter of an irresistible force (in this case, Lina and the gang) meeting an immovable object (Martina). The gleeful, uninhibited ridiculousness was a great change of pace after, well, everything up there. It’s high on the list now, too.
Ah! My Goddess Flights Of Fancy (AIC, 2006; Media Blasters/ADV/Funimation 2007)
First off, explain to me what a Norse goddess is doing playing Scottish bagpipes. I’m not complaining, I’m just trying to figure out the connection. Anyway, if it was a long time since seeing Lina last, it’s been even longer since I sat down with the first season of Ah! My Goddess. I had collected the whole set during the Cleveland occupation (and subsequently lost it…) and watched it then, but I just never got around to season two until now. It’s probably weird, then, that the only thing I can seem to think of while watching is Tales of Vesperia. Seriously, I can see elements of the same character designs in everybody (no surprise, as the Tales series regularly employs Kousuke Fujishima as an illustrator– again, totally not complaining). As for the story, well, it starts with the Father of all “where’s my daughter” calls and just goes from there. Again, it’s one of the most classic manga tales, and its animated adaptation here is very deserving of its praise.
In the end, despite the fact that it was designed to narrow down the list of what I wanted to watch, the Rush to Judgment only wound up getting me to simply reorganize the list. Nothing really got eliminated, just pushed back. That was one of the outcomes I was sort of expecting, though: I know my tastes, and very seldom will I pick something absolutely wretched. It has been known to happen, of course, but those times are exceedingly rare. Anyway, the bottom line is that I’ve managed to get a pretty good queue set up, and barring any must-see shows popping up between now and August (if I’m lucky), I think I’m about set.
So: the mafia, some mages, a wolf, a Western, one graceful duck, four odd ducks, a maiden’s tale, a tale of maids, a fire drill, a girl of fire, a trip to the skies, a trip to much friendlier (ahem) skies, fear and loathing, and a well-earned happy ending. What a list…