Escaflowne – still great after all those years

escaf4.jpg Hitomi

Just received 3 retail DVDs of Escaflowne, which I bought to complete my DVD set of the series. I hadn’t seen these episodes before other than in Japanese, so lost no time in checking DVD#5. First impression is that this is still a great series, and that story, character design, characterisation, and general designs still make the grade by today’s standards. It was a revelation in places to discover exactly what the characters were talking about!
Escaflowne was among a minority of anime in having an original script, rather than being adapted from a manga or novel. If one can altogether trust the interviews in the “Escaflowne Cafe” extras, the production team were aiming to make it a cutting-edge series.

I wonder what we would think of other well-known older anime if we looked at them today. I’m not so sure about the continuing merits of Fushigi Yuugi or Kimagure Orange Road, but I still have a high opinion of His and Her Circumstances (Karekano). KOR has been discontinued by AnimEigo, but other older US-released popular series can now be bought as budget sets that actually cost less to buy than the amount some people paid to collect the early fansub tapes. For instance a US slimpack Escaflowne costs around $50 (£25), not much more than the cost of a dodgy Oriental 3-DVD knockoff version.

Dream Hunter Rem

Rem Rem

A few months ago I got a download of Dream Hunter Rem episode #1. Years ago I obtained VHS tapes of the Dream Hunter Rem OVAs 2,3, and 4. I was intrigued by the strange un-subtitled episodes and their dreamlike symbolism. Rem – obviously named for the dreaming part of human sleep – can’t ever sleep, but she can enter the dream world, so she uses her powers to be a private investigator of the dreamworld.

In episode 1, which is typical of the format, Rem is approached by an employee of a rich man whose daughter is seriously ill. Rem attends, and finds that the girl is possessed by a swarm of minor demons. Rem then enters the girl’s dream, and does battle with a very big and very ugly demon, which she does initially by transforming into her swords-and sorcery form, involving a big sword and a very brief costume. Eventually she defeats the demon by tricking it into entering the real world, and the girl is saved. Rem suggests that the girl’s well-being would be improved if she found a boyfriend.

It’s a privilege to be able to see Rem #1 at all, as AFAIR it was a limited edition when first released, and so rare that few got to see it. Now, one can still wonder at the bizarre content of these videos, which as well as some ugly monsters include demonic schoolgirls, & a clock tower that turns into a giant robot. For a private investigator, Rem looks quite young, and when dressed in the skimpy metal bikini obligatory for her swords-and sorcery transformation looks more wholesomely chubby than sexy. For some reason, the 1980’s period animation of the monsters is very static with immobile faces when they’re not actually fighting. Rem drives a reather sporty car equipped with a rocket launcher, and has two pets that can also enter the dreamworlds where they transform into larger and more dangerous beasts.

New season anime (Continued)

Sola: Moderately intriguing anime which starts with a boy, obsessed with photographing the sky, who meets a strange girl, and buys a doll. He makes a hospital visit and presents the doll to a sick girl (his sister?) only for it to be lobbed into a bin on top of a lot of others.

The episode ends leaving the naive viewer wondering what’s going on. Actually I cheated a bit and Googled for this title, whereupon I found quite a lot of information. Seems several characters are a kind of demon and Sola is really about demon hunting.

I wasn’t inspired to get any more of it but others may differ.

Fushigiboshi no Futagohime (Twin Princesses of the Mysterious Star) An anime set in an improbable “stellar” world and having as its twin heroines two badly behaved and un-regal princesses. Sunny, funny and as sweet as candy-floss, this is a perfect anime to show to little girls, who will enjoy its bright toy-box designs and simple plotting. I suspect some more mature viewers will have fun with it too, though some old farts may find it’s a bit young for them.

New Season Anime Round-up

wellber Sisters of Wellber

Sisters of Wellber is a medaeval-style fantasy romp in which a thief girl tries to rob the royal palace and gets involved with a murder. The king’s daughter has just knifed a prince from a none too friendly neighbouring kingdom because she didn’t like his rough bedroom manners. They escape together, pursued by the royal forces who want to execute Princess Rita in order to avoid a devastating war, and one of the prince’s friends who just wants to kill her. Fast-moving and entertaining, worth a look.

El Cazador de la Bruja (Witch Hunter). Fantasy drama set in Mexico. Bounty hunters search for a naïve girl who soon demonstrates her supernatural powers. Given the choice of bringing in the girl dead or alive, most of the hunters opt for the former, except for one female bounty hunter who soon becomes more of a companion and would-be protector. Not bad, well scripted, worth a look.

Murder Princess: Swords-and sorcery fantasy romp in which a royal palace is overrun by a defecting scientist and his small but deadly helpers – two cute-looking girl puppets. The royal princes has to flee for her life, but soon runs into a bounty hunter. They both fall off a cliff, and during the fall they exchange personalities, so now we have a princess with an extremely aggressive personality and two ugly and capable assistants, and a bewildered girl. The ‘princess’ soon gets her palace back, and that’s only episode 1. This is really a lot of fun, that is, if you enjoy cartoon violence.

Claymore: A world in which youmas in human disguise eat people, and are hunted by ‘claymores’ – half-human, half youma girls with silver eyes and carrying large swords. The principal character, the ‘claymore’ Claire, befriends a young boy who has lost his family to youmas.
The story isn’t bad, and some of the artwork looks good, but I marked it down for having a stupid title (a ‘claymore’ is actually a large sword formerly used by Scottish clansmen), and the treatment seems rather overheated.

Tales of Symphonia: Nonsensical farcial stuff, apparently about a magical school, that left me completely unimpressed.

Denno Coil

denno1.jpg Fumie helps Yasako

A new science-fiction anime from NHK, broadcast on the NHK Educational channel. Judging from the characters it is meant for Japanese elementary schoolers rather than otaku, but it throws in some quite grown-up concepts in the first episode. It’s tough to take it all in, in just one viewing, but the young heroine Yuko Okonogi, nicknamed ‘Yasako’ has moved to the fictional city of Daikoku, a centre of Augmented Reality development with an emerging city-wide virtual infrastructure. The virtual world is superimposed on reality with a pair of viewers looking like ordinary spectacles.
The story follows a group of children as they use their AR visors to unravel the mysteries of the half real, half Internet city, using a variety of illegal software tools, techniques, and virtual pets to manipulate the digital landscape. If you watch closely, there is a scene where the younger sister (looking a bit like Mei in “Tototo”) drops her bag on their cyber-pet, and instead of squashing the dog, the bag just goes through it. And it seems something is going a bit wrong with the infrastructure, for there are rogue things roaming about, and holes where cyber-pets vanish.
Yuko’s cyber-pet disappears, and in the process of getting it back she encounters Fumie Hashimoto, a member of the Denno Coil Investigation Agency, and also the powerful “encoder” Yuko Amasawa, nicknamed ‘Isako’. At school Yuko (Yasako) encounters Daichi, the brattish leader of the Daikoku Hackers’ Club, and on the second day Isako turns up as a transfer student. Daichi challenges Isako to a denno duel, rather unwisely as it turns out, as his group end up getting beaten and using up all their cyber-credits.

Production values are high, as one expects with NHK, and no doubt this will be very popular.

Perrine Monogatari

Perrine Perrine with caravan and dog Baron

This is getting a mention here as it was the only title of the 23 or so World Masterpiece Theater animes that I hadn’t seen. I just got hold of a copy of episode 1.

In the original children’s book by Hector Malot , Perrine’s father was a photographer who dies when the family is travelling in Bosnia. In the anime, Perrine and her mother travel to France, where they hope to meet Perrine’s rich grandfather. On the journey through Europe, they work as photographers to make ends meet. Perrine’s mother dies, but Perrine travels on alone with her dog, Baron, and finds her grandfather. She realises that he is a cruel man, and instead of identifying herself, takea job in his string factory.

The novel starts with the death of Perrine’s mother, all scenes preceeding being created by the scriptwriter Akira Miyazaki. On the evidence of the first episode, this is a rather unexceptional anime, and the scene shown is typical of the design.

New Anime round-up

I haven’t written much lately as I have been preoccupied with other things. The heating in my house is failing and it seems a good time of year to get some quotes (not today though – cold!). Also the windows could do with replacing – but did you know that double glazing has a limited life? If I’d replaced all the windows when I’d bought the house they’d all be out of guarantee by now and might need replacing again! On the street side, I still have the original windows which are 110 years old.

Denno Coil

New anime from NHK. Judging from the characters it is meant for Japanese elementary schoolers rather than otaku, but it throws in some quite grown-up concepts in the first episode. It’s tough to take it all in, in just one viewing, but it seems the young heroine has moved to a city where there is a more advanced cyber-infrastructure, which can be viewed with a pair of viewers looking like ordinary spectacles. They have cyber-pets. If you watch closely, there is a scene where the younger sister (looking a bit like Mei in “Tototo”) drops her bag on their cyber-pet, and instead of squashing the dog, the bag just goes through it. And it seems something is going a bit wrong with the infrastructure, for there are rogue things roaming about, and holes where cyber-pets vanish.

Production values are high, as one expects with NHK, and no doubt this will be very popular.

Rocket Girls

A private enterprise manned space company is trying to develop their launchers at a base in the Solomon Islands. They keep blowing up, much to the delight of the natives who enjoy the free fireworks. The despairing engineering director decides to revert to a lower-powered but reliable booster rocket, which means that they have to cut the weight of the payload. At this point, their astronaut candidate decides he has had enough of the sadistic training regime already, and does a runner.

Enter a Japanese girl, who for reasons not yet clear, has come to the islands to look for her father. The director hits on a brainwave – why not use the pilot already tried and tested in many other anime – the petite Japanese schoolgirl?

This is a science-fiction comedy – and though some have found the storyline implausible, I find it less implausible than many more po-faced anime featuring adolescent pilots, to which we have already been subjected. It’s also quite funny and looks set to be popular.

Lovely Complex

The story of two high-school kids who would appear to be matched well enough to get together as a couple, since they are interested in the same things, enjoy the same sort of boisterous sports and even start speaking in synch. Just one problem – the girl is 170cm tall, which makes her a sort of Japanese Brigitte Nielsen, and the boy is unusually short, so that she is more than a head taller than him. And they are both self-conscious about their height, not helped by their teacher naming them after a well-known TV comedy act.

More comedy ensues as both try to solve their problem by finding another boyfriend/girlfriend. Ths is pleasant enough and really quite funny, and seems set to be popular. On the other hand, “School Rumble” covered similar ground and did it much better.

Nodame Cantabile

Did I write about this already? It’s now up to episode 17. A story about classical music students, in which the talented Chiaki, not lacking in self-esteem, studies piano and then switches to conducting. He gets involved with the exasperating Noda, or Nodame, a girl who could be a fine pianist if she tried a bit harder. Nodame has a flat which looks like a rubbish tip, can’t cook, and has made up her mind to be Chiaki’s wife and a kindergarten teacher, in that order.

Excellent comedy, interesting insights into the world of classical music, and some fine music, not to mention a cute heroine, make this well worth watching.

The Girl Who Jumped Through Time

PosterToki wo Kakeru Shoujo is a recent anime movie – there have previously been a live-action movie and other adaptations. The basic premise is that school girl Makoto gains the ability to jump through time, which she uses for fun, or so she at first thinks. The time travel is basically a plot device allowing the scenario of being able to go back and redo events while still maintaining knowledge of what had happened. There is a little comedy, a little drama, and so forth.

Overall it’s pretty good – a good story, and the backgrounds are packed full of interesting detail. I don’t want to give any spoilers, which in this case would be particularly regrettable, but after the initial fun it does get a bit dark, and I’d rate it as not particularly suitable for small children. It’s based on a novel, which does usually imply a more intelligent and coherent script than the norm.
Characterisation is not deep, but at least there is no problem in remembering who’s who. At the end I was left feeling a little dazed and confused, which is perhaps not the best way to leave one’s audience, but I have every intention of watching it again.
The animation design positively invites comparison with live-action, as apart from the very abstract-looking time jumps, it could be re-shot (with the appropiate budget) virtually frame for frame as live-action. The detailed street scenes are a striking feature. It does not use the fantasy potential of anime at all, any more than “Only Yesterday” does. If it was a live action Japanese movie, how would I rate it? Below the classics (Kurosawa, “Onibaba” etc) but more interesting than some, and more intelligent than others. Japanese art movies, however worthy, do have a tendency to feel rather longer than their actual runtime… This one doesn’t.

Neo Ranga

Neo RangaShimabara sisters with tribal elders on Barou island

I was reminded about Neo Ranga when it showed up on Catalan TV (TVCi). It was released in 1998, got a US R1 release and has slipped from attention since.

Three pretty Japanese sisters inherit from their missing brother both the throne of an Indonesian island and a god/robot: Neo Ranga.
Unimpressed and suspecting it’s all a con, they return to Japan. However the huge god/robot follows them there; which makes for some interesting juxtapositions of everyday township life; shoot-em-up action; and the activities of the media. The three sisters are very poor; the eldest, Minami, is obsessed with making money, the middle sister, Ushio, is an idealist, while the youngest, Yuuhi, is excited by the power that command of Neo Ranga gives her.

The detailed attempt to capture the effect of weird circumstances on the three girls, and on everyday life – right down to house prices and the trade in local shops – makes “Neo Ranga” worth watching. Various subsidiary characters, such as shopkeepers, an ambitious TV journalist, a police officer keen to pilot law enforcement robots, and the local yakuza, all feature in the action. The activities of the police and armed forces are portrayed in a rather satirical way.

As befits a series made in 15-minute episodes, the action is fast-moving. There are some great images in the opening and closing credits, however in the actual story the sisters keep their kit on.

Maria-sama ga Miteru 3rd series, OVA 3

Yumi and Kanoko Yumi and Kanoko

The series is set in a posh all-girl school in Japan. This latest episode is another delightful comedy of manners, in which Yumi has to deal with Kanoko-san, an over-intense admirer from the first year. The dialogue, as ever, is sparkling.

However the other half of the plot is a bit contrived. Once again, it concerns Sachiko’s neuroses, and her reactions at another inter-school festival. (That poor girl is beginning to look like she needs serious help). There’s a photographer character who doesn’t seem to realise that negatives can be cropped, and a bit of uniform cross-dressing that seems written in solely so that Yumi can be mistaken for her brother (despite having a higher-pitch voice, seemingly).

Still, there is some very pretty artwork, notably in the opening and closing credit sequences.