The times, they are a-changin’. More and more, companies that produce content are finally accepting that their business model needs to embrace the immediacy of the Internet age. Content needs to be provided to those who want it, how they want it, when they want it. Companies who fail to wrap their heads around this risk facing a hostile customer base who will resort to their own methods to get that content.

Out of the dust of the rapidly declining anime DVD market comes an apparent savior for the anime industry. Crunchyroll offers up anime in pretty much exactly the way I would have described my dream scenario a year ago. You can pay a flat fee to access high quality streams of anything on the site. If you like something, you can then buy a permanent, DRM-free copy of your very own for $2. What’s not to love?

Well, as far as the service itself — nothing. That’s exactly what I wanted. My problem is that of all the possible entities that could have arisen to provide this service, it had to be Crunchyroll. To clarify why this bothers me, let me give some background.

Fansubbers have traditionally often left notices in their work to identify it as a fansub and discourage unscrupulous behavior. In the days of VHS fansubs, these would be on pre-roll splashes or overlaid on the commercial bumpers. When digisubs came about, primarily based on TV recordings, they’d often be put in the bit after the opening credits where the show’s sponsors are thanked. Typical content of these notices would warn people that fansubs should not be rented or sold for profit. Digisubs would warn you that if you paid anything at all for it, you were ripped off. When streaming video went big, fansubbers started using these messages to plead people not to upload them to streaming video sites like YouTube. Some didn’t want such a cruddy, low resolution version of their work out there. Many were concerned about it drawing too much visibility into what is really an illegal underground practice.

At one point, I started noticing some JDrama fansubs specifically mentioning Crunchyroll as a place they did not want their stuff uploaded. Since I wasn’t familiar with the name, I went to see what it was. What I saw at that point in time made my blood boil. Here was a site that had exclusively Asian content, mostly subbed by fansubbers, all nicely indexed for your perusal. And, of all the sheer dickhead moves, they charged for a subscription. I couldn’t believe it. These people had the chrome plated balls to actually try and found a business on the backs of fansubs. There was a word for that in the VHS days — bootleggers. Nowadays, we usually them pirates. Well, not a big deal I thought. Surely anybody gaining this much attention while daring to charge for copyright infringing content will soon be sued out of existence.

Flash forward a bit and… what the hell? Some venture capital firm actually dumped four million US dollars into Crunchyroll? Are they insane? If the site didn’t have a big “SUE ME” sign on it yet, it must now. Right?

…right?

Turns out Crunchyroll had one more card to play. They were actually forming legitimate distribution deals, starting with content from Gonzo. In doing so, they began to build momentum to become a truly legit business. This feat, attempted and failed by many P2P services in the past, actually was working for them. More and more content providers jumped on board, and now Crunchyroll has an impressive selection of titles new and old.

Now that we’ve gone through that, let’s back this thing up and look at what happened here. In its original form, Crunchyroll was all about hosting illegal content. Crunchyroll’s apologists supporters will tell you that Crunchyroll did honor DMCA notices from rights holders, and would even honor a fansubber’s request to take something down. Also, once a request was made to take something down, they made sure it stayed down. That is all true, and nobody is denying that. The problem is that content would only be pulled down if somebody specifically asked for it. Crunchyroll remained as a hub for all the illegal content that wasn’t specifically requested to be removed. With that content they were able to build a brand, and an audience. This is a classic Web 2.0 model. Once they had a certain critical mass, they were able to use that momentum to obtain their VC funding, and open the door for their distribution deals.

They used the brand and audience built on illegal content to obtain four million dollars in VC funding and establish relationships with the very companies they’d been ripping off.

Are you fucking kidding me? How can this be? When they begin negotiations with a rights holder, do they open up with “Hey, we have an audience of X million uniques a month that we gained by stealing your shit. Want to sign a deal with us?” Are these companies so out of touch that they don’t see this? Aren’t they researching Crunchyroll before entering into deals with them? I honestly cannot fathom how Crunchyroll is rewarded for being a den of piracy. They get funding and cozy deals from the content industry, while the Pirate Bay guys get hauled into court and fined for more than they’ll make in their lifetimes? And this all because Crunchyroll, in their vast sense of honor, obeyed DMCA takedowns instead of flaunting them?

Somebody please explain to me how the hell that works.

The worst part of this is, I probably will wind up using Crunchyroll, despite my protests. The new Fall season is showing definite signs of fansubs beginning to fall away in the face of this new model. Getting good quality fansubs of shows that are on Crunchyroll is getting harder and harder as well-meaning fansubbers step aside for the “legitimate” solution. In addition, we have self righteous cocksuckers like Mark Ishikawa and his BayTSP out there actively going after the users of popular BitTorrent trackers, so I may have no choice but to use Crunchyroll in an effort to keep my nose clean.

I love anime and JDrama, and I’m more than happy to pay for content. I spend more on content every month than anybody else I know. I have a large collection of DVDs, most of which was built based on watching fansubs then later buying the DVDs. A large portion of those DVDs have never even been watched, they were bought just to do my part to support the creators. I am not some punk kid who thinks he should get everything for free. However, whenever I reach a point where I’m about to throw down my credit card for Crunchyroll, my teeth grind as I recall what I felt the first time I saw them. I just really have a problem giving my money over to “reformed” pirates.

Buzzer Beat

October 3, 2009

This summer season has been fairly busy for me. I’ve had a lot of things taking up my time. As a result, my viewing of new Japanese TV goodies was pretty light. One show I did make time for, however, was “Buzzer Beat”.

Initially, I wasn’t sure I was going to watch it. When I pulled up its info on the D-Addicts Wiki, what leapt out at me is that this was a show about a basketball team with neon pink uniforms. Since I have little interest in basketball, especially in such an obnoxious color scheme, I thought I might take a pass on it. On closer inspection though, there were three reasons why I decided I had to see this show, which I will now enumerate:

1. Yamashita Tomohisa
2. Kitagawa Keiko
3. Aibu Saki

Yamashita Tomohisa was one of the first actors I noticed when I began watching JDramas. While he’s unlikely to show up on any lists of the greatest 21st century actors, he has a sort of subtle goofiness about him that makes his characters very entertaining. In 2007’s “Proposal Daisakusen”, he played a character who was completely clueless in how to deal with women. His performance must have been good, as I was simultaneously rooting for him, and falling off the sofa yelling at him for being such a blockhead. He brings a similar sort of aloof cluelessness to “Buzzer Beat” in its lead character Kamiya Naoki.

Kitagawa Keiko dates back with me even farther than Yamashita. Kitagawa had a main role in the very first live action Japanese TV series I ever watched: Pretty Guardian Sailormoon. “PGSM” as it’s commonly called was a 2003 adaptation of the 90’s manga and anime classic “Bishoujo Senshi Sailormoon”, successfully blending elements of the manga, the anime and original material into a pretty compelling story. Unfortunately, it was plagued by some middling to bad acting on the part of the central five actresses — with one exception. Kitagawa Keiko turned in a surprisingly competent performance as Sailor Mars, despite just having been plucked from the ranks of gravure idols (as were the other four). In a surprisingly wise move among idols, Keiko decided to attend college after the completion of the series rather than immediately pursue a celebrity career. Recently, she has returned to acting, doing a few movies before returning to TV with “Mop Girl” for which she won an award. In “Buzzer Beat”, she plays Shirakawa Riko.

Aibu Saki I first encountered in 2006’s “Attention Please” where she played a supporting role as the main character’s friend. Since then, I’ve seen her move up into larger roles and recently landing some leads in shows like “Zettai Kareshi” and “Utahime”. Saki typically plays very pure and innocent characters. However, in “Buzzer Beat”, her role as Nanami Natsuki allows her to play a woman who, while outwardly poised and well liked, secretly is spiteful and even vicious toward those she believes have wronged her. Saki handles the duality well, successfully acting like a good, upstanding person while simultaneously using subtle facial expressions to indicate her character’s true nature to the audience.

The story primarily follows Kamiya Naoki (Yamashita), a player for a Japanese pro basketball team called the JC ARCS. As the series begins, Naoki loses his cell phone on the bus, which is found by a young violinist named Shirakawa Riko (Kitagawa). The ARCS’ head coach, Kawasaki Tomoya (Ito Hideaki) comes to retrieve the phone, and also winds up arranging for a date with Riko. Naoki, meanwhile, asks his girlfriend and the ARCS’ head cheerleader Natsuki (Aibu) to marry him if they win the championship. However, the ARCS are quickly eliminated from the playoffs, where Naoki made a less than stellar performance.

As the off-season begins, Naoki is fully depressed. He heads to a local park to practice, where he finds a girl practicing her violin on the court. As it turns out, this is Riko, whose apartment neighbors the park. Riko is unaware that Naoki is the owner of the cell phone she had found earlier, but they have a pleasant conversation and begin a sort of friendship. Later, when Kawasaki brings Riko to one of the ARCS’ practices, she notices Naoki’s poor performance on the court. Without thinking, she disrupts the practice by yelling out to him, calling him an idiot. The unusual encouragement from Riko seems to rejuvenate Naoki, and he starts to play better. As they continue to encounter each other in the park, Naoki and Riko promise to chase their respective dreams of winning the championship and becoming a professional violinist.

Meanwhile, one of the ARCS’ new players, Yoyogi Ren (Kaneko Nobuaki), has his eye on Natsuki. He begins to appeal to a “bad” side he says he can see in her, and soon they begin an affair. After Naoki discovers them in the locker room, he breaks things off with Natsuki. Natsuki begins to show more and more of her vindictive side as she continues and on again/off again relationship with Yoyogi while also going out of her way to make Naoki more miserable. As Naoki and Riko begin to grow closer, things become more complicated when Natsuki begins to notice their relationship, as does Kawasaki who was quite in love with Riko despite her never feeling much spark for him.

“Buzzer Beat”, thankfully, manages to build its drama on character development with basketball merely as a background. This is good for me because the basketball is the least interesting aspect. What basketball scenes that do show up are well executed and exciting. However, the bulk of the story regards the evolution of the characters’ various relationships, the obstacles in the way of their various romances, and the sacrifices they have to make in order to chase their dreams. This is supported well by strong performances from the cast all around. I can’t really find fault with any of the actors. Some of the plot devices used were a little forced, but I can forgive that, as this is primarily a character driven story.

One thing I found interesting is that the show presents pro basketball in Japan as a very nascent industry, with pretty low attendance. They don’t even get their games broadcast on TV. Finding this odd, I checked, and indeed pro basketball in Japan is a relatively new thing. The unfortunately named BJ-League was formed only in 2005, currently featuring 13 teams, with 3 more to be added next year, and planned expansion to 24 by 2014. None of the teams are named the JC ARCS, however, and the real teams do get their games broadcast, albeit on satellite stations.

“Buzzer Beat” is overall a very good example of JDrama. It features a number of currently significant actors, and serves well to introduce someone to the overall structure and tone of its genre. Specifically, it’s a “renai renzoku” or “romance serial”, a very common format. Don’t let the word romance scare you off though, these shows feature typically strong writing, multiple types of plotlines and a good sense of humor that differentiate “renai renzoku” from the interminable soap operas your mother has been watching for 30 years. Also, Japanese prime time dramas (with a few exceptions) only last for one 13-week TV season, with the final episode count typically around 10-12. That makes the barrier for entry very low, since you never have to jump in halfway through a very long series. If you’re curious about modern JDrama, “Buzzer Beat” would not be a bad place to start.

Now that I’m done with the Kamen Rider stuff for a while, and I’m more or less done moving into my new apartment, let’s talk about some anime. The last anime related posts I did were for two shows I’d seen previously, but was revisiting. These next ones are about two shows I considered to be holes in my anime viewing.

First up, we have GTO, which stands for “Great Teacher Onizuka”. The live action GTO drama starring Sorimachi Takashi and Matsushima Nanako was one of the first JDramas I ever watched, and I thought it was great. I have been intending to give the anime version a try since then, but only just recently got around to it.

For those unfamiliar with it, GTO is the story of Onizuka Eikichi, an ex-bike gang leader who now wishes to become a teacher. Onizuka has just earned his teaching certificate, and we begin with him during his student teaching period. Some of the students in Onizuka’s class attempt to pull a scam on him that they’ve used on other teachers before. One of the girls shows up at his apartment claiming not to want to go home. She cooks him dinner, then begins to strip and come on to him. At that moment, a couple of the boys burst in and take photos of the incriminating scene. While this would normally cause a teacher to resign and flee in disgrace, Onizuka is mostly unfazed. He starts by calling on some bikers to scare the crap out of the boys and demonstrate what real thugs are like. As for the girl, Onizuka senses something deeper going on with her and pushes to find out how much of what she told him that night was a lie. He finds out that in truth she’s lonely and her family has drifted apart ever since they became rich. Her parents have put up a wall between their separate bedrooms that symbolizes this. Onizuka decides there’s only one thing to do — Smash the wall with a sledgehammer. Though the parents are initially outraged, they do briefly start to reconnect while the hole is still in the wall.

Onizuka then moves on to finding a permanent position. He interviews at Holy Forest Academy, an elite private school. On the way there, he punches out a pervert on the bus who he saw sniffing the butt of a girl named Fuyutsuki Azusa, who turns out to be another interviewee at Holy Forest. When he arrives at the interview, he discovers that the pervert is the Vice Principal of Holy Forest, Uchiyamada Hiroshi, who is in charge of interviewing the new teachers. Onizuka bombs the interview, but is given a second chance when Uchiyamada is confronted by a couple of delinquents from the school. He says Onizuka is hired if he can run off the “trash”. Instead of taking out the delinquents, Onizuka suplexes Uchiyamada, claiming nobody should call the students “trash”. As it turns out, the school’s chairman had been watching the whole time while posing as the proprietor of the school store, and hires Onizuka anyway.

Onizuka is assigned to class 3-B, the absolute worst class in the school. They are renowned for their “classroom terrorism”, used to scare off any new homeroom teacher assigned to them. As the story progresses, Onizuka has to get to the root of each student’s problems using his often “unique” methods, and usually causing Uchiyamada all sorts of hell. He also eventually begins to unravel what caused the class to become so anti-authority in the first place, as well as developing his relationship with the lovely Fuyutsuki-sensei.

GTO is equal part laugh-out-loud comedy and touching slice of life. Each student has unique issues that Onizuka must get to the bottom of, even as the students are attempting to humiliate him and get him fired. Though all sorts of often hilarious and cruel pranks are played on him, Onizuka marches on with his firm belief that his students are all that matters. Compared to the live action version, both are “great”, but have a different tone. The anime and manga portray Onizuka as pretty over the top. His antics are wild, his facial expressions insane, and his physics often pulled from Warner Bros. The live action version wisely tones things down so it’s more logical in that format, and though he’s less over the top, I find that Onizuka more believable.

Artwork in the anime version is from the fairly early days of digital animation production, but looks surprisingly good. Since GTO takes place in a realistic setting, it doesn’t damage it to look a little plain. The lineart on Onizuka’s hyper-realistic facefaults is great, and really sells how outright nuts he is. Opening songs were provided by L’Arc~en~Ciel and Porno Graffiti, both are great though I prefer the animation that accompanied L’Arc’s “Driver’s High” more.

Whichever version you watch, GTO comes highly recommended. Very funny, great characters, and a unique concept.

Mei-chan no Shitsuji

March 31, 2009

Butlers are big in Japan. After all, women need a fetish to match guys’ obsession with maids. Several properties have come out lately featuring butlers. Hayate no Gotoku, Kuroshitsuji… but none capitalizes on the butler rage more than Mei-chan no Shitsuji.

The premise is this: Shinonome Mei lives happily with her parents where they make a small but reasonable living running an udon shop. She spends a lot of time with her childhood friend Shibata Kento, whom she has nicknamed “Mameshiba” and who clearly has a crush on her. One fateful day, her parents are suddenly killed. Shortly after, a man named Rihito appears before her, claiming to be her butler! According to Rihito, Mei is actually the heir to the powerful Hongo family, and she must attend the prestigious St. Lucia Academy to become a proper lady worthy of the position. Further complicating things, it turns out Rihito is Kento’s older brother.

Mei is initially determined to continue running her family udon shop, but it’s soon destroyed. She’s also pressured by her grandfather, the current head of the family, by saying he won’t allow her mother to rest in the same grave as her father unless she becomes the Hongo family successor. So, Mei agrees to attend St. Lucia. When she arrives, she finds that the school requires each lady to have her own butler, responsible for her comfort and safety. The school is governed by a rigid system of rank, with Ombra being the bottom, then Luna, then Sole. Mei starts at Ombra, as all students do, but is constantly challenged and bullied by her snobbish classmates. Standing atop the hierarchy is Hongo Shiori, another potential successor to the Hongo family, and the current “Lucia-sama”, the top lady at the school. Shiori is outwardly benevolent and admired by all, but she’s secretly ruthless in pursuit of her goal. Mei is not alone, however, as Rihito is a top S-rank butler, and Kento even enrolls as a butler in training to stay close to her.

The plot is pretty typical shoujo fare. Tons of pretty guys doing… pretty things. Lots of flower imagery and wish fulfillment for girls wanting to be pampered. As the plot moves along, conflicts escalate from simple problems fitting in to life and death struggles as Shiori’s schemes become more and more dangerous. There’s also a forbidden love aspect since butlers and ladies are not allowed to be romantically involved. Despite that, there’s clearly something going on between at least half the couples, not the least of which is the romantic tension between Mei and Rihito so thick you could scrape it off the walls.

So, why the hell did I watch this? First and foremost, it has tokusatsu actors galore. Most prominently, Rihito is played by Mizushima Hiro, who was none other than titular character of Kamen Rider Kabuto. Rihito is not terribly different from Tendou Souji/Kabuto. Both are seen as nearly perfect, but harbor a bit of a complex regarding a particular young lady in their lives. Opposite him playing Kento is Sato Takeru, who was Nogami Ryotarou/Kamen Rider Den-O in his own eponymous series (directly following Kabuto too). Also playing smaller parts are the actors for Natsuki (Boukenger), Nago (Kamen Rider Kiva), Impactor Logia (Gransazer), and others.

In addition to the cast, the show was just somehow entertaining. Mizushima Hiro goes a long way toward accomplishing that, but it’s not just him. It’s a bit over the top, but not quite as obnoxiously so as Hanazakari no Kimitachi e was. It even has some decent fencing and hand to hand combat scenes peppered in. I would say give this a try if you’re curious, especially if you want to see some Kamen Rider actors outside those roles. It may put you off, but who knows… you may just like it.

New music, week of 9/2/07

September 2, 2007

L'Arc~en~Ciel - My Heart Draws a Dream

L’Arc~en~CielMY HEART DRAWS A DREAM

L’Arc’s most recent single on their way to the new album is released. “MY HEART DRAWS A DREAM” is one of L’Arc’s slower songs, in this case very peaceful. The video has children from around the world lip syncing/singing along with them, seeming to promote a world peace message. Not much to say here, typically excellent work from L’Arc~en~Ciel.

Utada HikaruBeautiful World/Kiss & Cry

Hikki also makes an entry this week with a double A-side single. Beautiful World is the theme for the Rebuild of Evangelion movie. I haven’t seen it, but we can probably assume the Eva connection is the reason why there’s a cover of “Fly Me to the Moon” as a B-side here. How many versions of that song are there for Eva now? “Kiss & Cry” is a faster pop piece that used animation from “Freedom”, the animation project used in the recent Nissin Cup Ramen ads. It also lifts a part of the melody right out of “Hotel Lobby” from her ill-fated US released album “Exodus”. Maybe she liked that bit and wanted to use it on something that wasn’t a disaster.

Tamaki NamiBrightdown

Tamaki Nami debuted by performing the second two theme songs for Gundam Seed. I followed her for a bit through her first album, but then got bored. There’s nothing particularly wrong with her, she just doesn’t really stand out among all the other pop offerings. She also seems to be using sex appeal a lot to promote herself, much like a certain Koda Kumi. I can’t really get behind that, your work should not need the support of your boobs. That said, “Brightdown” is decently catchy and a little darker than I remember her. It’s used as a theme for the D.Gray-man anime, so it’s fitting.

Makihara Noriyuki – GREEN DAYS

OK, so this isn’t “new” as in just came out this past week, but this column is about what’s new on my iPod, and I just got around to getting this 😛 “GREEN DAYS” is the theme to Ushi ni Negai wo, and is a very nice uplifting guitar ballad. I like it, and it jives with the country theme of the show.

Nostalgia

August 27, 2007

Today, I ran across a site that sells fansubs through the mail. I was a little surprised at this, I didn’t think anyone still did it. Of course, it’s not quite like back when I was getting those Sailormoon subs on VHS from VKLL (remember them?) This person is selling on DVD, pulled from R2 DVD source. I’m sure the quality trounces even a first gen VHS fansub, at least par with the average digisub. They have the whole series of Kamen Rider Agito, which I may have to pick up…

I did find the whole experience rather nostalgic. It reminded me of a time when fansubbing really was done as a service to the fan community. In those VHS days, being a fansubber was a bitch. It was expensive, it was time consuming. I had extreme respect for those folks. These days you can pull it off using raws you got off WinNY and some free/bootlegged software. Anyone with passable Japanese ability (or access to someone who has it) can put out a fansub, and they do.  There are some I still respect, but there are a lot who seem to do it for no other reason than to draw traffic to their crappy IRC channel and feel important.

Oh well, the upside is that we get sometimes 24-hour turnaround on episodes and don’t have to pay anything. You win some, you lose some. I just wish the anime fansub community could be more collaborative and less competitive, like the JDrama subbing community seems to be.

And now, the only VHS fansubs I still have in my current possession, the SuperS Specials and Sailor Stars. Everything else is at my dad’s… somewhere. I kept these because I was afraid I’d never get a better copy of them:

New music, week of 8/26

August 25, 2007

As with last week, here’s what’s new on my iPod this week:

the brilliant green - Stand By Me

the brilliant green“Stand By Me”

This is the big news. After being on hiatus for five years, the brilliant green is back. “Stand By Me” picks up right where they left off, fitting right in with the rest of the band’s catalog. I love Tommy Heavenly6, Tommy February6 is OK, but I’m glad to have BuriGuri back. Well… hopefully this doesn’t spell the end of Tommy Heavenly6, that would make me quite sad.

Nakashima MikaLIFE

Nakashima Mika also has a new single with the 8/22 release of “LIFE”. The song is the theme for the same named TV drama “LIFE”, which I would be watching but am still waiting on subs. The song is very much more pop than is typical of Mika. Not sure if this will be a trend, or if it’s just an experiment, we shall see. The song is certainly catchy though.

Ali Project – Psychedelic Insanity

Albums take a little more time to form a proper opinion of, so I’ll likely discuss this in detail more once I’ve had more time with it. Suffice to say for now that Ali Project has a new album featuring their usual Victorian inspired, mysterious and slightly creepy sound. As I mentioned below when talking about Code Geass, their work fits really well as anime themes. This is especially true of anything that comes from the same Goth-Loli culture as Alipro themselves. The pairing of Ali Project and Rozen Maiden is probably one of the most perfect matings of anime and music ever, and now every time I hear Ali Project I think of Rozen Maiden. Not necessarily a bad thing, mind you.

On another music related note, next week’s Music Station looks fantastic. They’re having both Utada Hikaru and L’Arc~en~Ciel. Is there a more perfect guest list? I can’t wait.

Bonnie Pink - Thinking Out Loud

Bonnie Pink – Thinking Out Loud

Bonnie Pink released her ninth album “Thinking Out Loud” on 7/25. The album has been played heavily on my iPod since that point. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this release, since this is Bonnie’s first album since “Golden Tears,” released 9/21/05.

Singles included are “A Perfect Sky” (sort of, more on that in a bit), “Anything For You,” and “Water Me.” Curious is the omission of “Love is Bubble”, though you can find it on the “Every Single Day – Complete Bonnie Pink” best album released last year. Maybe the song wasn’t popular, but I liked it’s unusually saucy tone for Bonnie (“Love is bubble, Love is trouble, And I could be lovable, If you pay me double…). “Water Me” was used as the ending theme for last season’s JDrama “Watashitachi no Kyoukasho” (Our Textbook). A great song for a great show. Also included as track 1 of the album is the B-side track from the “Water Me” single, “Gimme a Beat.” The version of “A Perfect Sky” included here is a “Philharmonic Flava” version, where the first half is just vocals and an orchestra. I’m not sure what the point is of tampering with her most successful single ever, especially when the orchestra part is just so bland. You can’t even tell what song it is they’re playing, it’s just “Insert generic orchestra music here”.

The album is rounded out by 8 original tracks, none getting to a really slow tempo which lets the whole album seem to have a faster beat than is typical for Bonnie. All of the songs are classic Bonnie Pink though, with all her genre bending uniqueness completely intact. It’s really refreshing to see an artist who can continue to put out such clever work without succumbing to the pressure to just put out some generic stuff to sell records. The closest thing Bonnie ever did to a straight up pop song was “A Perfect Sky”, but even that has the Bonnie Pink stamp on it and is an example of how pop should be done.

So despite the faults of omitting “Love is Bubble” and including a neutered “A Perfect Sky”, I give “Thinking Out Loud” a thumbs up. Now, if the US iTunes store could just decide if they’re carrying Bonnie Pink’s work or not, since you can get several of her albums but not this one…

Ushi ni Negai wo

August 13, 2007

Love & Farm

Ushi ni Negai wo: Love & Farm

Ushi ni Negai wo (Wish Upon a Cow) is probably the best overall series this season.

Six students from Tokyo majoring in areas like Agriculture or Veterinary undergo an agricultural internship in Hokkaido. Among them are Takashimizu Takashi (Tamayama Testsuji), who is from the village but left because he thinks it has no future; Mano Tohei (Koide Keisuke), a studious guy aiming to enter the agriculture department of the government; and rounding out the boys Wakamatsu Ryuta (Nakata Atsuhiko), who seems more concerned with taking it easy and drawing than anything else. For the girls we have Fujii Ayaka (Aibu Saki), who I hasn’t really stood out all the much to me yet; Suenaga Mihoko (Karina), the pampered rich bitch with an attitude; and Chiba Kazumi (Toda Erika), who dreams and studies hard to be a dairy farmer but in practice screws up a lot.

Each of them has their own issues to deal with in order to get along on the farm, and get along with each other. All of them look like they’ll develop an interesting subplot, except maybe Ayaka whose motivation I can’t even remember after seeing 4 episodes. That can’t be a good sign. Each actor pulls their role off well. Mihoko’s antics early on can’t help but draw comparisons to The Simple Life as she inquires about a convenience store to buy cosmetics, only to be informed it’s an hour away by car. Toda Erika is absolutely adorable as the well meaning but somewhat spaced out Kazumi. I really started watching this because I’ve been following her around ever since the Death Note movies (Misa-Misa!).

The show seems to be a commentary on the state of small farm towns in Japan. These towns have been literally drying up and vanishing lately as the younger generations all move toward the metropolitan areas. On top of a lack of people, some types of (like the milk pointed out in the show) are just facing a steep drop in demand. These problems come to the forefront as Takashimizu struggles against the desires of his family and the lack of a future he sees for the town. I expect more exploration of the issues faced by Japanese farmers as the series progresses.

Between the solid cast, good writing, and topical content, Ushi ni Negai wo is a well rounded show that shines amongst the extremes displayed by the other series I’ve talked about here. We’ll see how it develops, but at the moment I really enjoy it. Besides, what other show has a live calf birth?

First Kiss

August 12, 2007

First Kiss

First Kiss

I was excited to see Inoue Mao again after Hana Yori Dango. The role she plays this time is very different from the straightforward and honest Makino Tsukushi.

In First Kiss, Mao-chan plays Fukunaga Mio, a girl with a terminal heart illness living in the US with her mother. Rather than let it keep her down, Mio uses her illness as an excuse to be a vicious, mean spirited bitch. Before undergoing a major surgery, Mio decides she wants to go back to Japan for the summer. She calls her brother Kazuki (Ito Hideaki) who had stayed behind with their father after their parents split up.

Kazuki is aspiring to be a pro photographer, but has lost his way and is currently working as a mere assistant. He lives with a stylist and a hair dresser in a fairly nice house, though Kazuki is mostly sponging. Kazuki is rather surprised at how his little sister’s personality has changed over the years, and decides that he needs to find her a boyfriend. His attempts are well intentioned, but comically misguided. The real candidate to be Mio’s boyfriend seems to be an intern doctor, though nobody accepts/realizes this yet (of course).

Honestly, despite the presence of Inoue Mao, the show is pretty standard. Nothing really standing out in any aspect. There is one bit that sold me on at least waiting to see how the series develops: Kazuki’s roommates. Best example of their hilarity comes in episode 2. Kazuki decides to have a goukon (group date) for Mio. Mio bails on it, but the real fun is when one of the roommates puts on his own rendition of a TM Revolution PV by wrapping himself in toilet paper. Shortly after, the entire group is dancing to DJ Ozma’s “Age Age Every Knight”. I just about hit the floor laughing.

I’ll give the show a chance, but if I start to run short of time it’ll probably be the first show I drop.