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.

Somewhere in the late 90’s, Final Fantasy V was translated to English and a ROM patch was released to the Internet, allowing English speakers a chance to play the game for the first time. In the wake of this, other unreleased Japanese RPGs were translated and patched. One which caught my attention was Sailormoon: Another Story. The show was at the peak of its popularity on Toonami, and I was heavily getting into anime and Japanese culture through (VHS!) fansubs of it. I downloaded ZSNES, the ROM, and the patch, and played through it enthusiastically.

Recently, I bought a few Super Famicom carts along with a simple cart adapter to let them fit in my SNES. Of course, one I particularly sought out was Another Story. I hadn’t initially intended to play through it, as I’ve already beaten the translated version a few times, and I didn’t think I wanted to sit through a whole RPG in Japanese. After turning it on for a few minutes though, I decided the level of Japanese would actually be manageable and decided to give it a go. With kanji and translation dictionaries at my side, I didn’t have much trouble. Good practice, actually. Also, as I played through it I was referencing a FAQ that summed up most of the dialogue in the walkthrough, based on the translated ROM. There were a lot of wild translation errors that I can see now. For example, during Venus’s segment in chapter 2, the Japanese dialogue uses the term “jibun jishin” which means one’s self. Jishin can also mean earthquake, so the translated ROM apparently starts talking about earthquakes within Venus’s self or something like that.

As for the game itself, it’s a classic Super Famicom style RPG. You wander around exploring your environment and talking to people. In some areas, you’ll be pulled into random turn-based battles where your party squares off against some monsters pulled from the anime’s Monster of the Day ranks. The story is set after the 3rd manga story arc, or the Sailormoon S anime, and is an amalgamation of the two continuities with original material thrown in. All 10 inner and outer Sailor Senshi are playable (but not Tuxedo Kamen), and have access to all their special attacks from both the anime and manga. As with the show, Senshi are able to combine their attacks for new or more powerful effects. You also have access to a full party combo attack depending on the formation you’re in, and if you’re using the 5 Inner Senshi, you can use their powerful Sailor Planet Attack. One oddity of the battle system is that EP for using your special attacks caps at 12 for each character, but refills after every battle. This actually has the effect of encouraging you to bust out powerful attacks, which really speeds up leveling up. However, it does reduce random encounters to simply tapping the A button to repeat the same attacks you’ve been using to defeat the enemy party in 1-2 turns, once you’ve figured out how to do that in the current area. Another criticism of the combat is that the enemies, even most of the bosses, only pull from a very small pool of special attacks which get old quick. With all the unique and amusing monsters from the anime that make an appearance, it would have been nice if they all used their own signature powers.

The gameplay is very dialogue-heavy. You will typically go through long story sequences, followed by being cut loose on an area with random battles where you train up to fight a boss. Then, another story scene and repeat. The story centers around an evil being attempting to alter destiny, which leads to fan-pleasing showdowns against the series’ previous villains like Queen Beryl, the Black Moon Clan and the Death Busters. You also do some time traveling to visit the Silver Millennium and the Earth Kingdom of their previous lives, and the events leading up to their destruction. If you don’t like Sailormoon and aren’t into the story though, you will be very, very bored.

Character customization is minimal. You can equip each Senshi with up to 3 accessory items which affect their stats, though each Senshi has two accessories of her own gemstone hidden in the game which are vastly superior to any of the regular items, so there’s no reason not to use them. The extent of strategy with the characters is to just look at which stat is their highest after getting their gemstone accessories, then fill the third slot with a regular item that complements it. For example, you would put an attack enhancing Bracelet in Mars’ third slot, and put her toward the front of the formation to capitalize on her high damage attacks. Mercury, you would put either a Tiara (defense) or Anklet (speed) and put her in the back where she’ll be near impossible to kill and good for doing healing.

Difficulty of the game seems to be wildly debated depending on who you talk to. Some find it extremely easy, others extremely difficult. I tend to fall in the prior camp. I think some people get so wrapped up in the story, that when the game returns control, they forget they’re playing an RPG. As long as you remember to put some equipment on new characters as you come into control of them, explore the areas thoroughly so you don’t miss those valuable gemstone accessories, and make sure to not let characters fall behind in level, you’ll be fine. There is a point where you gain free roam of the world with an airship and have to go to the North Pole, only to find the enemy parties there are substantially tougher than previously. That can be a bit rough, especially since this is where you first gain the ability to choose your own party out of the full group and there are several characters in need of catching up. Use your head, don’t forget to make good use of your formations, and carry plenty of status healing items. This is also where you learn one really annoying thing about the game—Chibi-Moon is mostly useless, and nothing you do will make her anything but a wasted slot in your party whenever you’re forced to take her along. So, just like in the anime, pretty much. Chibi-Moon is actually unique in that she has three gemstone accessories, but all they wind up doing is giving her good defense and the highest speed in the game, easily hitting 999 on speed. Even then, she’s only really useful for doing a combo healing technique with Mercury.

Overall, I like this game despite its flaws. But, I really like Sailormoon, and can sink myself into its very fanservice oriented story. If you’re a Sailormoon fan, this is a game you shouldn’t pass up. For the rest of the world, I’d say pass. There just isn’t really enough RPG meat in there to sink your teeth into if the story doesn’t do anything for you. The translated ROM is easy to find, and if you’re up for a bit of a Japanese workout, I got my cart CIB for about $30 or $40 I think.

Battle Stadium D.O.N.

August 23, 2008

One of the things I bought at Otakon—one that was actually on my hit list—was the import crossover fighter Battle Stadium D.O.N. I got the PS2 version, since I haven’t made the molestations to my Game Cube that allow you to run imports. See my previous post on some of the insanity I’ve gone through for that. I have since replaced the Go stones with a rubber stamp pressed down by rubber bands to get the adequate pressure.

The game is a fighting crossover between three of Shonen Jump’s biggest properties: D.O.N. stands for Dragonball-One Piece-Naruto. Gameplay is heavily based on Nintendo’s own fighting crossover, Super Smash Bros. Given the extreme similarity, I’ll be describing the game based on that comparison. I’m assuming everyone has at least played SSB. For the most part, you have a standard attack button, a special attack button, a grab/throw button, and a block/dodge button. Each of these works mostly the way they do in SSB. DON also adds a super attack button, where you can unleash your character’s most powerful (and flashy) attack.

One major difference in control is that while SSB will change your attack based on however you’re holding the stick, DON requires you to tap the direction on the stick and hit the button at the exact same time. I always found this approach irritating, as in the heat of a match, your character frequently fails to do the right move because you didn’t hit the timing. Generally speaking, DON’s controls are not as tight as SSB’s. Jumping is difficult, as you can’t jump very high even with a double jump. Many ledges are barely within reach of your jumping ability, so any mistake and you won’t make it onto the platform. Dashing can also be really bitchy about timing your double-tap.

As far as the actual game mechanic, there are two major differences from SSB. While SSB is entirely based on ringout, DON is based on KOs… sort of. Every character in the match shares a single health bar at the top of the screen. Attacking your enemy allows you to steal their health, as well as sending some of it flying out as red orbs. Your goal is to take control of the entire health bar, or be the player with the most at the end of the timer. In matches with more than 2 players, you’re not out of the fight if you lose all your share of the health. As long as no single player has taken the entire bar, you’re free to fight and try regain your share.

When you have a certain amount of the bar, you go into “burst”, wherein you are stronger and faster than before, as well as becoming Super Saiya-jin, or whatever your character powers up to. In addition, attacks that can be charged, including the super, are instantly at full charge. This allows you a chance to clean up the last bit of health from your opponents, but beware. If someone hits you hard while in burst, it could trigger a “Reverse Attack” where you lose a ton of health and are suddenly the one at a disadvantage!

The other big change in mechanic from SSB is the use of a fairly typical energy bar to govern use of special attacks. Specials all cost a certain amount of energy, and using your super requires something like 2/3-3/4 of your bar. I have no particular problem with this, especially as it prevents spamming and overuse of supers. However, blocking and dodging also drains the energy bar. There does need to be a way to limit turtling, but it should be separate from your special bar. Also, dodging should be free. Doing this discourages using the defensive moves that add a level of tactics to fighting games and encourage button mashing blitz attacks. Very bad.

Before I get to my biggest peeve about the game, let me point out that I actually do like this game. Once you get used to the quirks of its controls, it actually is pretty fun. Who doesn’t want to smack Frieza around like a bitch with Luffy’s rubber arms? With some fine tuning, and some more content to unlock, this could be a very good game should they make a sequel. Content, however, is where my biggest gripe is.

THIS GAME HAS THE WORST UNLOCKING MECHANISM EVER. By playing the single player battle stadium mode, and no other mode, you have a chance to accrue coins. You accrue these coins on three random stages, where you are given a randomly generated “mission”. Succeeding in the mission gets you coins. The missions range from simple, like don’t use your super, to near impossible, like take no damage, to the bizarre, like jump 100 times. Any difficulty above normal, and the missions are damn near impossible to do while the computer harasses you, so you play Easy or Normal where the game is boring. Except for the final boss, Cell or giant Buu, who are overpowered and cheap as fuck.

Let’s say you get some coins though, then you get to play a slot machine after beating the boss. You have to hit a jackpot of Jump logos, then you go to the bonus slot machine. If you get a similar jackpot of ? icons in the bonus slot, you may unlock a character or stage… or maybe you just get some ultra rare tickets for use in the custom battle mode. The real insanity is that you can’t hit the jackpot except for certain times where the screen goes dark and it basically gives you the jackpot on a platter. I tried many times to hit that jackpot naturally, and it will always cheat you out of it. It’s very observable that it is adjusting how long it takes the third column to stop so that you always miss the jackpot—except when it wants you to. This unlocking system is so convoluted and irritating, that I just can’t think of a way to describe it besides “bullshit”. That’s what it is.

Overall, if you like shonen action shows, you should check this game out. Rasengan, kamehameha, it’s all there for you to fling at your friends. I’m hopeful they’ll make a sequel to iron out some of the kinks, add more characters, stages and modes of play, and have a real winner on their hands. Just beware of that damn slot machine.

Otakon roundup

August 12, 2008

Finally getting some time to post. Was pretty dead Sunday and yesterday. Cons are not exactly the relaxing type of vacation. I get more sleep during a regular work week O_o

Kicked off the con with Otaku no Video. It’s an Otakon tradition, and honestly there usually isn’t anything better going on at 9am on Friday. Always good for a laugh though. Also hit panels for Dubs That Time Forgot, PGSM, and JPop. Dubs That Time Forgot demonstrated another Otakon tradition — technical issues in the panel rooms.

Big event for Friday was of course the JAM Project concert. Let me start by saying I’m not a big follower of JAM Project, but I am a huge fan of Macross music, especially Fire Bomber. Seeing even one Fire Bomber song performed live by Fukuyama Yoshiki was huge for me. It was also cool to hear some other classic themes like Cha-La Head-Cha-La from DBZ (huge fun heard live) and Get My Revolution from Utena. As a toku fan, the GARO theme was really cool too. Two pictures, first the group performing Little Wing from Scrapped Princess, then Fukuyama doing Fire Bomber’s Angel Voice. Sorry for iPhone photos, I actually don’t own a camera (I know, I know, I spend all my money on anime and toku stuff…)

Day 2 we checked out panels for Anime is Serious Business, two panels on tokusatsu, and the Fansubbers and Industry panel. I actually have a pic of that monumental clash below. Actually, they were pretty cordial, and it was interesting to hear the viewpoints of the industry. They’re really not “the man”. Really the problem with lag between release in Japan and the states is legal junk and the Japanese licensors’ relucatance to change anything. The industry is trying to work out a fast, online means of distribution, however.

Big events Saturday were the main AMV contest screening and the Masquerade. Some good stuff in the AMV contest this year, though a lot of 5cm Per Second. Do I need to watch that? The Death Note shoes video was riotous. I didn’t find the masquerade overall as funny as I did last year, though the girl cosplaying Link and doing Zelda tunes on the flute was good. Was she the same one who did it last year? Also, the second act was a girl of about 13, dressed as Sakura from Naruto, and singing Utada Hikaru’s Hikari. Looking out at the 1st Mariner Arena and something to the tune of about 8 or 9,000 people, she froze up pretty bad. The crowd was sympathetic and tried to encourage her. Aren’t otaku sweet?

Sunday we checked out the Hand Drawn Animation and Maryland Language Club panels before heading off to the concerts. Daisy Stripper, MarBell and The Underneath were all good, though I like The Underneath best. MarBell’s vocalist was pretty funny though, flashing her ass at the crowd and proposing marriage to all assembled.

Overall, not a bad con this year. I think I’ll finish out with a pic of the assembled loot from this year. As I often do, I actually walked away from the con with money in my pocket still. I don’t buy anything I couldn’t easily get off the net from the comfort of my own couch. No need to fight through throngs of otaku for manga I can order right from TRSI or Amazon. I will be talking about some of this swag here after I’ve had a chance to digest it.

Otakon hit list

July 31, 2008

One of the main reasons to go to an anime convention is to buy things that you would otherwise have to import youself, or that are flat out impossible to find due to being out of production. I don’t spend an immense amount of time trolling the dealer’s room, but I usually have a fair amount of money budgeted to snap up some goodies as I wander it. Here’s a list of tasty import items I wouldn’t mind finding at Otakon this year:

Yamato Queadluun-Rau (Miria colors) – I saw this a previous year but was strapped for the cash. I consider lacking the venerable Q-Rau as a major gap in my Macross collection.

Battle Stadium D.O.N. – An import game for any fan of shonen manga. Featuring a crossover of characters from three heavy hitters of Shonen Jump’s stable of properties (Dragonball, One Piece and Naruto), you engage a an all out brawl, trying to beat your opponent into submission. So just who would win in a fight, Sasuke or Vegeta? This game is still available, but I’d still like to pick it up without the wait.

Daizyujin or the original Megazord – I really don’t care if I get the import version or the MMPR one, this is an iconic robo to most toku fans in the US. Would any of us be watching Sentai if not for cutting our teeth on MMPR, despite its flaws? Finding a sealed Timerobo last year was big, finding Daizyujin would be huge.

Transformers reissue Soundwave or Soundblaster – This is a hole in my collection of Transformers. A classic and unique character that I somehow always manage to miss picking up every time it’s released. I don’t care which version, I just want to have one.

Kamen Rider souchaku henshin figures – Some particular characters I’d like to nab would be Faiz, Chalice, Kabuto, Sasword, Black, Shadow Moon, Zeronnos and Kiva Dogga Form. These are nice figures with high die cast content, and they don’t cost very much. I’d really like to build out my collection of them.

That’s about all I can think of off the top of my head. Though, finding stuff in the dealer’s room you didn’t even know you wanted is half the fun 😉

Bleach: Shattered Blade

October 17, 2007

Wow, so where have I been for a week and a half? Well, I haven’t been playing Bleach: Shattered Blade that whole time. What’s been dominating my life is .hack//G.U. vol. 3. However, I have played Bleach enough to form some thoughts on it, being a straightforward fighter.

At it’s core, Bleach: Shattered Blade is just like any 1-on-1 fighting game. Each character has an array of basic moves and special attacks. As is required with any anime based game, you’ve also got a super move that triggers a cutscene. What makes Bleach interesting, though, is that this is an early attempt to translate this tried and true gameplay to the Wii’s innovative control system.

The primary gestures used are a side to side swing, a downward chop, an uppercut, and a stab. These are all meant to emulate the swords that most of the characters fight with. Holding A while performing a motion gets you a fierce attack, while holding B will trigger a special move. Blocking and dashing are managed by the C and Z buttons on the nunchuk. Shaking the nunchuk charges your spiritual energy and eventually triggers your power up form, where one or more of your special moves will trigger your super.

The effect of all this rapid remote swinging is a tired arm, but the illusion comes off better than I thought it would. I really only expected that you’d shake the controller for a generic swing similar to Zelda: Twilight Princess. The fact that you have horizontal, vertical and thrusting attacks was a pleasant surprise. Unfortunately, the revolutionary (read: difficult to program for) nature of the Wii takes its toll a bit as the game will sometimes do a completely different move than you wanted. Nowhere is this more important than during “clashes” where you compete to win the clash using a rock-paper-scissors method using slash, chop and stab. Frequently you don’t get the one you wanted, but it’s all blind luck there anyway so it doesn’t really matter.

Overall, Bleach: Shattered Blade is a decent, though not great game. The story is a little forced, and it lacks the music from the series (which is a big letdown). It’s a good early effort by a third party developer, in this case Sega, to marry traditional gameplay with the Wii’s unique controller. It makes me curious to see what Nintendo themselves comes up with for Super Smash Bros. Brawl. If you’re a Bleach fan, this is probably your best bet to fill your Bleach gaming urge (those street brawlers for the PS2 are crap in ways I can’t even describe). If you’re eager to see what a fighter is like on the Wii, you’re probably better off to wait for SSBB, but this can serve to kill you some time until December.

Code Geass

August 23, 2007

I recently, after much ado, got to see the end of “Code Geass: Hangyaku no Lelouch” (Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion). Code Geass had a strange broadcast, given there was a break of four months before the final two episodes aired as a special. Furthermore, the current series ends fairly abruptly, since it’s apparently only the first half of the story that will be finished in a second season.

Code Geass is on the surface one of Sunrise’s traditional long running mecha shows. What makes Code Geass unique is that the focus is much less on the robots (called Knightmares), and much more on the political and social machinations of the main character Lelouch. Lelouch is a prince of the Brittania, a powerful empire with control over much of the world. After the death of his mother, Lelouch seems to have gone into hiding/exile in what was formerly Japan, now simply called Area 11. Lelouch is caught up in a skirmish between the Brittanian army and a resistance cell, and winds up encountering a secret cargo. The “cargo” is a mysterious girl called CC, who grants Lelouch a mysterious power just before appearing to be killed. The power, “Geass,” manifests in his left eye and allows him to give any human one order that they will absolutely obey. Lelouch uses the power on the military unit that finds him, ordering them to commit suicide so he can escape.

Code Geass

Like other conquered territories, Japan and its people have been stripped of their culture and even their name, with the people now simply called “Elevens.” Lelouch senses that the Elevens are the most likely to be able to form a rebellion to help him overthrow the Brittanian Empire against which he harbors a deep grudge. Using the power of his Geass (and his own brilliant intellect), Lelouch assumes the identity of the masked revolutionary Zero, and forms an elite revolutionary force called the Order of the Black Knights to accomplish his goals.

With the concept of a young man using a mysterious power to enact change against the world seems to have the influence of Death Note. This is most apparent early on when Lelouch is conducting experiments to determine the limitations of his Geass, much the same way Light did with the Death Note. Fortunately, the Geass doesn’t become the deus ex machina it could have, and Lelouch has to mostly rely on his wits and strategies to succeed.

On the production side, one very notable aspect of the series is that its character designs were done by the legendary mangaka team CLAMP. Their designs lend themselves extremely well to the beautiful futuristic Baroque setting. Musically, themes were provided by JPop acts like FLOW and Sunset Swish as well as one of my personal favorite anime theme performers Ali Project. The background music is big orchestral stuff, appropriate to the setting but nothing special enough to make me want to listen to it on its own.

Code Geass is a fantastic drama, one of those rare shows that actually gets a jaded old anime fan like me excited. I can’t wait to see the second half of it. The current season has been licensed for US release by Bandai Entertainment. Highly recommended.

NANA 2

August 21, 2007

I just saw NANA 2 last night, the sequel to the popular movie based on a Yazawa Ai manga. As I mentioned when I talked about HanaKimi, watching live action versions of shoujo stories tends to help them get within the boundaries of what I can tolerate watching. I tried to watch the NANA anime, but just couldn’t sit through it.

I found the first movie to be decent. I actually fell asleep on it the first time I tried to watch it, though I accredit this to trying to watch it while on the mind numbing 10 hour flight to Tokyo. Second time, I made it through and actually rather enjoyed it.

Both NANA and NANA 2 seems to bog down in the middle though, making me think the run time could have been pared down. NANA 2 suffers especially from having way too much of Hachiko moping around. It would have been better if there had been more subplots really being developed, but there wasn’t. Hachiko was prettymuch it. No development with Nana and Ren, and aside from Nobu who gets involved in Hachiko’s plotline I still couldn’t even tell you the names of the other two members of Black Stones. Not to mention the members of Trapnest aside from Ren and Takumi, I can’t even remember Ito Yuna‘s character’s name. Given the 2:10 runtime of the film, and the fact that this is now number two, I can’t excuse dragging on for so long while not developing any of the secondary characters. Hell, Nana barely gets any real development as the whole film focuses on Hachiko.

NANA 2

While I was more bored with NANA 2 than with the first film, it does have some cool concert sequences as any film focusing on rock bands should. It was also nice that Ito Yuna actually had lines in this movie aside from singing. As with the animated version, the music is a big selling point of the NANA movies. Nakashima Mika plays Nana, and Ito Yuna plays Reira. Both deliver punk rock songs, but for Nakashima this is well outside her normal type of music. Ito Yuna just rolled her Trapnest songs into her first album, but the Black Stones songs were fleshed out to a full album, “THE END” under the “NANA starring MIKA NAKASHIMA” name. I am in fact listening to “THE END” as I write, and it is a cool album. Nothing like the low key ballads Nakashima Mika usually produces (not that I dislike her usual work, it is in fact also quite good).

So, overall, if you are a fan of NANA and/or Yazawa Ai, you should probably check out NANA 2 to complete your experience with the first film. For other movie watchers, as with the Matrix, just stick with the original. It wraps up decently, and NANA 2 doesn’t really develop anything from the first film anyway.

Hanazakari no Kimitachi e

August 10, 2007

Hanazakari no Kimitachi e

Hanazakari no Kimitachi e

I have been known to get into a shoujo manga. Sailormoon is what I credit with my entry into the fanbase of anime and eventually all things Japan, and I like most anything by CLAMP. However, I find that putting a shoujo manga into the form of a live action drama makes it easier for me to sit through since the live action strips away most of the excessive flowery imagery. This lets me concentrate more on the story and enjoy something like Hana Yori Dango that I would have never consumed in manga or anime form.

However, Hanazakari no Kimitachi e really pushes my limit.

The series is about a Japanese girl named Ashiya Mizuki (Horikita Maki), who has been living in the US. While there, she idolized Japanese track star Sano Izumi (Oguri Shun). When Sano stops jumping for some reason, Ashiya disguises herself as a boy and transfers to the same exclusive private boys’ school in Tokyo that Sano attends. The school is not exclusive based on academics, but rather on how attractive you are. Hence the show’s subtitle “Ikemen Paradise”. Insert enormous eye rolling here. Ashiya’s mission is to get Sano to jump again.

This show seems to delight in every opportunity to put in a cheesy effect to give the show a sort of anime feel. Its overall color palette is also extremely bright, down to the hot pink crest on the school’s uniform blazer. The effect could come off as really fun, or really obnoxious. I haven’t decided yet.

The plot has little that’s unpredictable or even interesting, but the strength of the series is its cast of wacky characters. Mizushima Hiro and Yamamoto Yusuke appear, having played Kabuto and Sasword respectively in 2006’s Kamen Rider Kabuto. My personal favorite is Nakatsu Shuichi (Ikuta Toma). Nakatsu has developed a crush on Ashiya, leading him into a comical crisis over the nature of his own sexuality. Of course, amongst his cries of “Ore wa homo ja nai!” Nakatsu is oblivious to the fact that his crush actually is a girl, but such is the comedy of the situation.

So the series has its strengths and weaknesses. It’s really the cast that keeps me watching. That, and the infectious ending theme “Peach”, which has the honor of being a rare song by Otsuka Ai that I can listen to repeatedly. HanaKimi seems to be really popular in Japan though. I can’t understand why a show bursting at the seams with pretty boys would be so big over there…