September 13th, 2009

Bishoujo squad!

Finished series: Kannagi

We've finished watching Kannagi. My first episode review is here.

Jin carves a statue of a woman from a block of wood that was harvested from one of the holy trees that was cut down when the neighbourhood shrine was relocated to make place for new houses. Much to his surprise, the statue comes to life -- it is Nagi, the kami that resided in the trees! She has nowhere to go, so she ends up staying over at Jin's.
There are a lot of 'impurities' that harm Nagi (as she is the incarnation of the land), and after seeing a magical girl anime episode, she gets a 'magical' wand and has Jin help her exorcise them. Sometimes she gets possessed by her 'other' self, Kannagi, but that never takes long before she collapses.

This could be the set-up for an interesting series about supernatural adventures, but that's not the case. Instead, the series focusses on the comedy they can squeeze out of a childish god living together with a teenage boy. There's poor Aoba, a childhood friend of Jin's, who gets all sorts of weird scenarios in her mind when she finds out that Jin's living together with Nagi -- she has a crush on Jin, but he is completely oblivious to that fact...
And there's Nagi who comes to school to gain 'followers' (getting adoration means more power available to her) and the conflict with Zange, Nagi's twin sister who possessed one of Jin's schoolmates.
There's not much else there, unfortunately. And while the series is subtitled 'Crazy Shrine Maidens', there's no shrine maiden in sight -- except for the few cameo's of the sisters from Lucky Star. And while the individual episodes are nice enough -- both in content and looks, the series as a whole is completely pointless. There's no resolution, no big plot, and at the end it just sort of fizzles out.

Visually, there's a lot to like in this series. The character designs are attractive and detailed, the animation is smooth and the backgrounds have been made with care. This gives the series a very rich and dynamic feel. Voice acting is pretty nice as well. The theme music is sung by Nagi's voice actress, making it a very nice all-in-one media package. I just wish the plot(s) had received as much attention as the visuals!

Good points:
- Attractive looks;
- Mostly funny.
Bad points:
- Goes nowhere with the plot.

Clearly, it's been targetting the moe-struck otaku -- there's not much point in the series besides. But it does deliver what it sets out to do. In the end, it's all visually dazzling with little substance. I'll give it a 7 for sheer entertainment value: watching the series is by no means a waste of your time, but in the end you'll forget you ever watched this because there's just so little substance to it.
Bishoujo squad!

Finished series: Skip Beat!

We've finished watching Skip Beat!. My first episode review is here.

Kyoko dropped out of high school to follow her childhood friend Shotaro from Kyoto to Tokyo -- he wanted to become a star there. She works day and night to pay their rent, while he becomes some sort of pop-star. One day, however, she overhears Shotaro talking to his manager about her -- to him, she is nothing more than some sort of maid! Obviously, Kyoko's heart is broken, and she vows to take revenge!
And the best way to get revenge is to overtake Shotaro in his own chosen field: showbiz! Certainly not an easy ambition, as she has to work very hard to get into the audition at the agency of Shotaro's main rival: the actor Tsuruga!

It's all quite typical shoujo fare: a girl from humble beginnings who slowly starts to rise to the top, surrounded by pretty boys that she may or may not be able to get along with. Of course she has to work hard, and of course everyone she meets (literally everyone!) who could be described as a 'rival' immediately starts to act antagonistic and tries to bring her down. But of course, Kyoko manages to overcome the difficulties to advance in her carreer!
...and then the series ends -- very abruptly. Just when things were looking up for Kyoko, it's like the makes said: "Whoops! That's all the time we have -- we'll end with a little two-minute montage with a voice-over, and then roll the end credits for the last time! Thanks for watching -- read the manga if you want to know how it ends!" Suffice to say that I found that... unsatisfying.

Visually, the series is uninspiring. The character designs aren't really detailed or refined, and it all looks a bit dated -- like it was made right after Fushigi Yuugi. And, like that series, there's lots of super-deformed hijinks too. Especially Kyoko's hatred for Shotaro (and occasionally Tsuruga) is depicted quite over-the-top. However, unlike with Fushigi Yuugi (or especially Ayashi no Ceres, that other Yuu Watase creation), the super-deformed segments are never toe-curling bad like with those two series.
There's some well-known voices participating in the voice cast, which is fun. There's the typical 'pretty boy voices', but the cast is large enough to round that out with some solid other voices.

The director of the LME agency deserves a special mention. He seems to like cosplay, and really takes it to the hilt. How cool is someone who has his own attendant samba dancing show, or who brings his own friggin' cocktail party when he visits the set of a series where some of his people work!? (On the other hand, how bad is it when an infrequent supporting cast member is the coolest character of the whole series -- with a very large distance between him and number two?)

Good points:
- Shoujo anime that isn't toe-curling bad or irritating;
- The depiction of how Japanese commercials and TV-shows end up like they do is actually pretty enlightening;
- The directory of the LME agency.
Bad points:
- Ends very abruptly;
- Visually uninspiring.

All in all, typically shoujo. A fun ride, but certainly not one of the great series of last year. I'll give it a 7.

Lazy gamer

While I love RPGs and adventure games, I think I'm actually too lazy to play them as intended. I love progressing through the world and to see the story unfold, but I hate 'grinding' to gain enough levels for the next fight. I stopped playing FFX because I went 'too fast' and was severely underpowered for a critical fight. Sure, I could have gone back and grinded -- but when a game that's supposed to be fun starts to feel like work, I'm all done with it.

klik, on the other hand, is a completist. She goes for the story, but also to get all the secrets, to get all the power-ups and to see everything. Once she finished Okami, she restarted to do the whole thing once again -- to get all the Stray Beads that are hidden all through the world. Sometimes all you have to do to get a Bead is to get to a certain spot, but later in the game there was a two-hour fight to get one. And I must have done the race to Inner Yoshpet fifty times before I managed to defeat Kai -- that was actually the last Bead.
With all the 100 Stray Beads collected, you get a necklace that offers infinite ink, makes you invulnerable and multiplies your attack power by 10.

So we're playing through it a third time, but this time I'm behind the wheel. I love it: I don't have to worry about power levels, extras, money, or whatever. If the prerequisites are fulfilled, I can progress to the next part of the story. No fuss, just enjoying the ride.