J-Drama Review of Asuko March!: Blending HanaKimi and Gokusen

Enough of summer season initial impressions for now! Amidst all the new anime, I stumbled across a 2011 spring J-drama titled Asuko March! This live action is a bit of a cross between the J-dramas Hanazakari no Kimitachi e and Gokusen, and certainly stands its ground as one of my more recently enjoyed school dramas.  Though I’ve been wading through a pool of angsty K-drama romances, I went back to my Japanese live action foundation to try a newer series.  My stint away from that particular circle was immediately evident, as the only actors I recognized were the two adult teachers.  Upon looking up the acting backgrounds of the student characters, I also saw that they were all younger than me by at least a few years.  Despite having finished high school many years ago, I still enjoy school dramas, albeit from what I like to consider a wiser standpoint.

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Review: Bakuman

I was enthusiastic about trying Bakuman when I first heard about it, but upon reading some initial impressions–always a dangerous thing to do before actually trying it yourself–from die-hard manga fans, I lost my excitement and pushed off watching it during its original airing season.  I’ve just now recently completed watching the 25-episode anime and am glad I waited, glad for good reasons.

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Merging Science Fiction and Fantasy in Bounen no Xamdou

Incorporating action, drama, and even love, Bounen no Xamdou takes us into a breathtaking world brimming with complicated characters and believable settings.  The 26-episode show also fills each episode with elements of both science fiction and fantasy.  While the two genres are quite similar, and do in fact spring from the same origin, there are some key attributes that differentiate one from the other.  Bounen no Xamdou not only includes this smattering of classifications, it also melds them together to form one incredible story–a story that you’ll never want to forget.

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The War of the Sexes: Debunked Ignorance and Sexual Education in Kyou no Go no Ni

Kyou no Go no Ni (TV)

I’m not exactly sure what it was that drew me to giving Kyou no Go no Ni (TV) a try.  Perhaps it was the slight similarity to Minami-ke, or maybe it was the elementary school setting, or maybe it was the episodic structure itself, with even the episodes themselves being constructed of smaller segments of comedy.  Whatever the case, I did not expect the main type of humor the Kyou wields: sexual humor.  Grade-school kids and sexual humor, the combination could go wrong in so many ways.  And yet, it does not (for the most part). After watching the anime, I felt compelled to share the lessons I learned with you, my readers.

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Last Exile’s Steampunkology

Last Exile

To end my short break and string of initial impressions, I present to you my thoughts on Last Exile, an anime from 2003 with steampunk themes and a thrilling, though short, adventure story.  I have always been enthralled with the idea of steampunk, as vague as my early picture of what the term represents.  My first memories of this genre include early readings of Jules Verne back in my middle school days, specifically 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, as well as Disney’s 2001 film, Atlantis: The Lost Empire.  Later on in my undergrad years, I found Miyazaki’s Laputa: Castle in the Sky and Howl’s Moving Castle.  These all share a common vein of steam-powered machines, be they oriented for the sea or the sky.  It wasn’t until I went to a pop-culture seminar in 2010 that I heard the term, “steampunk.”  Late to the punch, huh? I became fascinated with the whole concept of it all, so of course jumped at the chance to watch Last Exile, which I heard included plenty of steam-powered goodness.  What follows is a discussion of how Last Exile fulfills many of steampunk’s criteria, as well as my final impressions of the anime as a whole and my excitement for the newly announced anime, Last Exile: Ginyoku no Fam.

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Jigoku Shōjo: The Questionable Interchangeability of Revenge and Punishment

Notes: This review only considers the first season of the three-season show.  Also, please forgive the lack of screenshots.  I watched this anime through the Netflix stream, and was surprised at how bearable the dubs were.  Enjoy the wallies, instead!

Art by iamfreeska

Jigoku Shōjo focuses mainly on episodic revenge through the majority of its first season, with touches here in there on Enma Ai’s own vendetta which comes to full bloom in the remaining few episodes.  I have never before come across an anime so drenched in vengeance, including its birth, culmination, and fall out.  What I like so much about Jigoku Shōjo is that it doesn’t provide one-sided revenge, but presents a trade system.  In exchange for taking the requested soul to hell, Enma Ai also sets a clock on the person who sought revenge; with death, be that soon or many years later, he or she will also go to hell.  She does not hide the fact that both revenger and revengee will go to hell, which makes each individual’s desperation and eventual acceptance all the more amazing and incomprehensible.

It is this sense of hopelessness that intrigues me.  In every single case, I am able to see an additional option the person could have taken that would have had a favorable end compared to the one Enma Ai gave.  I don’t think any revenge is worth sending your own soul to eternal suffering.  In the cases where revenge is taken to help another, even then I believe that if that helped person knew what was done and the price, he or she would not think the charge worth the temporary relief.  What is it that drives these people to Enma Ai? Is it their lack of self-motivation or sense of non-control? And maybe most importantly of all, does revenge equal punishment, and what’s the difference between the two?

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Saraiya Goyou’s Slow Plot + Odd Art = Success

Saraiya Goyou

Much like many others, I skipped over trying Saraiya Goyou when it first aired because I was put off by the strange art style.  BUT! After trying out other treats like Katanagatari and Kaiba–with their own unique art styles–I realized I needed to get over my aversion for the sake of something that could truly astound, or truly suck.  The teeter-totter possibility of this anime, like any other, is saddled not only with the different art style, but also with a slow plot.  Mega-slow plots are usually grounds for immediate failure, but this anime fights off failure with its exemplary characters featuring convoluted backgrounds and motives and the surprisingly tense atmosphere.

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Kobato. | Fluffy Warm Feelings of Do-gooderness

As I’ve mentioned in previous posts, I’m not much of a believer in inherent goodness, but that doesn’t stop me from hoping to meet those who may prove me wrong.  If anything, my list of favorites should reveal my softness for shows and characters who warm my heart and make me smile.  I’m thinking of shows like ARIA, Kimi ni Todoke, and Hidamari Sketch.  Every one of these include female protagonists with kind and innocent souls, the type of people who bring light to those around them.  Cheesy? Quite possibly.  But the feelings they evoke in me as I watch always provoke me to self-reflection, and I find that priceless.

CLAMP‘s 2009-10, 24-episode anime, Kobato., follows in the vein of the aforementioned anime: we follow a female protagonist as she strives to heal the wounded hearts of those she encounters.  Toss in a bit of magical CLAMP action, and we have Hanato Kobato, a mysterious girl from unknown origins with a talking stuffed-animal companion who keeps tabs on her actions and grades her on each of her experiences.  With each heart she mends, she receives one or more konpeito (sugary star candy) in her bottle.  Once the bottle is full, her wish will be granted.  While this sounds rather formulaic for the plot of the show,  the anime succeeds in capturing my interest and investment in Kobato’s task with its characters and clashing conflicts.

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The Female Otaku: Gender and Identity in Kuragehime

Note: While this post focuses on discussion of the anime Kuragehime, I feel the need to first discuss the definition of “otaku” and consider reactions to the label.

We all know nerds, and most people are nerds about one thing or another.  Some view the term along with visuals of glasses, braces, acne, terrible style, and A+ smarts.  I view the term “nerd” as nothing more or less than someone with extreme tendencies over one or more subjects.  The Japanese have a word for these extremists: “otaku.”  While some non-Japanese anime fans have taken this word and proudly applied it to themselves as anime otaku, video game otaku, and the like, they greatly overlook the implications of the word.  Others understand the insinuation, and use it deliberately.

For the most part, the Japanese use of “otaku” is derisive; it is not simply a term of classification as a nerd to the extreme.  It is a put down.  Otakus are fans of any given topic to the excess and have little control of their obsessions, so say the negative definers.  A good portrayal of the attitude towards otaku in Japan can be seen in the live action show, Densha Otoko.  Taken from a supposedly true story, Densha Otoko follows a shut-in otaku and his interaction with online peers.  Since “normal” people treat him rudely, including his own sister, his social instabilities never have a chance to improve until a chance encounter on a train allows him to grow.  The otaku and most of his online friends are male, a trend that continues into anime representations of otaku.  And like many similar depictions, the lifestyle and attitudes of these people are presented as flawed.  Though Densha Otoko warms the heart with overcome barriers and budding new relationships, it still sets the main character up as someone in need of a “positive” change to his life.

Kuragehime covers the empty bases by giving us what seems mostly missing from shows about otaku: the female population, and the beauty of being yourself, even if you are a “nerd.”

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