Category Archives: Aria

A Bit of Summer to Cure Winter Blues

Somehow Asatte no Houkou keeps me going–it comes to my mind first when I write, even if I am watching plenty of other crap right now.

But here in North America it’s getting cold. Winter has always been a moody season for me and personally I find myself psychologically falling into a cycle. Spring is when I fall in love with new things, and Winter when I celebrate (or lament) on the fleeting days of the year gone by and the memories it carried. Not sure what Summer and Autumn are, yet.

Anyways, it really started with Haibane Renmei. I think when I first caught it as it was airing, it was such a lovely watch that I had to watch it as it was airing. In fact, the first 5 episodes were so good partly because of its timing. It really helps me to savor those episodes because it matched that winterly feeling, transiting from lazy Autumn afternoons into biting, Canadian-like mornings.

What’s odd about Asahou is that right now I can’t imagine watching it during Summer, and have it come off feeling the same way. It’s almost like Haibane Renmei in a way, once I got past the uncertainty of the first 3 episodes. To contrast, Someday’s Dreamers was a similar, slice-of-life show that was very fitting for a Summer viewing. Both, as you may remember, took place during summertime. The seasonal contrast is even a part of Someday’s Dreamers, as it was casually alluded to with Masami Oyamada’s magic powers and past circumstance.

There are other anime with a strong seasonal motif, too, but I think with slice-of-life type shows, it is ever front and center as the most powerful, intangible element to a show. Aria, for example, doesn’t distinguish what season it is even if it’s a visible element to the show–or rather, Summer in Venice is not like Summer in Neo Venezia–because it feels the same no matter what season it is. On the other hand, Kanon does winter right–it has to. There’s an element of play as well an element of sorrow, and I think Kanon captures that dynamic well.

Maybe the real trick is to create your own personal reality in a fantastical setting? I think Azumanga Daioh, which is much more personal to the average Japanese person in Japan than Aria, does a better job at doing seasons and feelings because it is something animation creators can relate to on a first-person basis. Which is to say, Haibane Renmei was all the more amazing as it’s spun only from its creator’s brain? Maybe. Asatte no Houkou could very well be the same, even if the setting is familiar.


Trying to Get Simoun Out of My System, Attempt #2

With the shows I’ve been following coming to an end, a quick review is in order. Maybe it’ll remind me that there’s more to life than the girls onboard Arctus Prima.

If you didn't get it, it has to do with Otome

Simoun vs. Ouran High Host Club

It’s not that I am not afraid of comparing apples with oranges, but it struck me that what is missing in Ouran Host Club is exactly what makes Simoun so good.

I like to criticize Suzumiya Haruhi no Uuutsu on the basis that Kyoani, outside of maybe Air, has generally gotten the short end of the stick when it comes to adding that “feel” to a show. I have a hard time putting it to words, but it can be said that the same effect can be replicated when you cook chicken breasts the wrong way, that they come out tasting like soft chalk. Granted, the effect is nowhere nearly as bad. FMP: TSR was as bad as it gets, and it isn’t that bad at all. Maybe it’s the consistency? Does it lack “soul”?

But I feel that is exactly what makes Ouran Host Club remind me of Suzumiya Haruhi no Uuutsu. Ouran, as visually impressive as it is, fails to reach that visceral-ness Suzumiya Haruhi did. But like Suzumiya Haruhi, Ouran is a very cerebral experience, it is very smart. The characters are both flat and round in order for the gags, both visual and mental, to work, and I think the show did a decent job of that. That’s not to mention my favorite part of the show–the direction. It’s sharp and clever. Even in its weaker moments it doesn’t fail to impress. In some ways it surpasses most anime that I can remember on the technicals, even if it couldn’t hit those “we pour love and money into this episode!” peaks that shorter, TV anime this past year did.

I can foresee that in the near future I’ll come around to enjoy Haruhi again. But for now, this show is the diametric opposite to Simoun: it’s clean, it doesn’t leave you attached, it impresses visually and mentally, but leaving you a little longing inside.

Tsuyokiss vs. Simoun

In some ways Tsuyokiss only reached the first step of what Simoun did, but since it gambled all 13 episodes on that one thing, it came out pretty well when we look at Tsuyokiss on that one thing, and only that one thing. That one thing, well, it is probably best described as a dialogue the anime production people have with the audience. It tries to tease you, it tries to please you. It knows what it has to work with is crap and it doesn’t care even if it is the worse case of original-adaptation-cide ever. It is unapologetic about it, but in a way it expects you to know that much. In the end it delivers on a platter of something that is like a B- high school group project, but since you were a part of the group, you get sentimental over it.

Simoun, on the other hand, has gotten that bit over with when Mamiina broke out with fists and claws. Since it is twice longer than 13 episodes, it can’t afford to do the same either. Their first tour with Wauf was all about it.

Simoun vs. Blood+

Blood+ is a very clean show. The production value shines through. It is intelligent yet it has the pacing of a typical 90s anime that aims to dramatize. The story, in retrospect, is a powerful one. However, most of the power was robbed by its mechanical, one-fight-per-episode formula that is as mediocre as it gets. There is some sense of overall planning and vision, but on the ground it doesn’t please or tease or amuse anyone. It tries too hard being cool the whole way, when it could have gotten a lot farther by shedding the drama and just get things done, and offer up some twists.

On the other hand you can look at it as a sign of respect. Blood+ knows we know what it has up its sleeves, and it’s just a matter of waiting it out. However it feels like all this formalistic pretense just gets in the way of me trying to enjoy Saya’s plea.

Simoun vs. Honey & Clover 2

I hope Mamiina didn’t mistake rats with hamsters.

The concluding 12 episodes of Honey & Clover was rather good, I thought. But the break between episodes 26 and the recapping episode 27 really spoiled things. As here we were, all ready to accept things as it was with how the first 26 episodes ended (and it was a decent way to end something that “doesn’t end” I thought). Yet now there’s real closure.

Of course, by episode 26 you get a good idea how Takemoto is going to take things, and what happens between Rika, Mayama; Yamada, Nomiya; and obviously Hagu… Can’t say I am NOT surprised but somehow how it ended felt right; things ended as it should (save for the little oddness with Hanamoto-sensei that will boggle and mislead a bunch of fools).

But was it all just ending for having an ending’s sake? Is it really just a long-ass ending thing? It would certainly make Honey & Clover one hella unique anime. Not only as a romantic comedy it was rather unconventional, it has the longest ending sequence ever.

Higurashi no Naku Koro ni vs. Simoun

Satoshi visits the Spring, only to realize boycotts and local conspiracies murdered Onashia and her relatives over dam construction at the ruins. Add drugs, dogfighting, gruesome torture, and identity crisis. Tempus Spatium makes a guest appearance in the form of Mion’s tatoo.

Higurashi was great up to episode 5. From then on it tries to explain and continue to add more to the wholesome mix of loli horror, but it never quite reaches the same peak. A mostly linear downhill ride, I’d say. Admittedly this genre is fairly NOT my bag of tea but I enjoyed what little there was to enjoy about this show. The OP itself was awesome for setting the mood and all.

Bokura ga Ita vs. Simoun

One makes me feel gay, the other doesn’t? And while I think I would be pretty comfortable watching Bokura ga Ita with other, non-anime people, I wouldn’t feel comfortable with myself watching Bokura ga Ita even if I was by myself. Those times I wish I was watching Ouran High instead. Less yucky, more pretty.

But nonetheless it’s a nice, alternative take to the same genre. I’m just not sure if I can take it…period. It drives me insane.

And let’s not forget. I’d rather have other people walk in on me watching Neviril kissing some other equally “moe-looking” chick than stick-figure Yano and Bokura ga Ita’s simple visuals. It’s that bad. Or it’s that good? I suppose that’s shoujo anime in its bare form.

Simoun vs. Coyote Ragtime Show

I’d be pretty happy if Angelica hooks up with Amuria or Onashia or something. She is a pretty, enlightened, old fashion gal and I think without her the Coyote Ragtime show would be only a shadow of its current self. I enjoyed the show, that said, because it has this die hard feel to it. Too bad objectively the show kind of tanked in some major aspects. I blame it squarely on Katana, Bishop, and Mister themselves. Being such important aspects to the show they are really pretty … lame. Swamp, being the token black guy, at least did his job well enough. Considering we have three (to 4 to 5 if the Coyotes break up) narrative perspectives, at least 2 out of 3 involves something less lame, like the 12 Sisters or Chelsea and Angelica, the show wasn’t too terrible to watch. But as a proof of concept I think it fails terribly. Maybe it would have been better if Bishop and Katana had more going on rather than being sidekicks.

Simoun vs. Aria the Natural

An episode of Aria is like an episode of Simoun once you remove any trace of conflict. The girls do not kiss each other, but they might as well. I think what really makes Aria works is the SD. I hated Aria-prez when Aria first got animated a while back, and now that’s all but a remote memory–it shows just how powerful your brain is in ignoring or filtering out stuff that it really doesn’t like. And that can include those girl-on-girl kisses. It would be just as an irritant as Aria-prez’s incessant whining.

And some might even like that!


Saiunkoku Monogatari Is Not an Epic Venezian Conspiracy

The World Needs More Neviril

I think my Aria the NATURAL backlog is now fully attributed to the fact that Saiunkoku Monogatari has taken over its role as an inoffensive no-brainer. I watch it to appreciate the reverse-harem almost, but more because Shuurei is just so cute and I WUB KUWASHIMA HOUKO…?

Nonetheless I think this show is getting the right amount of attention. I really don’t think it’s so good that you should drop a show just so you can watch it, but unlike Aria, stuff happens. It keeps my wandering mind focused when I put an episode in the media player once a week, on a tiring weeknight, for the fear that if I was watching Aria instead, I’ll fall asleep.

But I went into SaiMono thinking it’ll actually have an interesting setting and story, which so far neither has been the case. We see Shuurei, the only child of the court librarian (Chief IT officer?) learning her ropes as a girl who grew up during hard times, “taming” the delinquent King. Then she goes on this women’s suffrage bit, which is empowering and interesting but kind of, well, boring. Thankfully they’ve layered up enough mystery behind every single thing in the show that nothing is what it seems and there’s probably enough unexplained back story to make an entire anime series on its own. To be fair, yes, most of the potentially “interesting” stuff has not been explained.

Now, I’ve only seen about 12 episodes, but at this point they’re just doing the usual parade of tropes–the court queer, the double agent, the double-double agent, the secret successor, various lineage tricks, the “I understand you but I must fight you” crap, gender bending, typical puppetry and manipulation in politics, etc.

Does it matter? Not anymore. It feels almost slice-of-life, yet stuff goes on! I guess the production value is overshadowing the flaws of the adaptation at this point. A good thing, probably, because out of its planned 39 episodes, it will have a lot of room to hit some climaxes. I’m just wishing those would come soon, if not already! I gave Simoun at least 14 episodes, and 16 was sweet enough to sell me out to it. I hope that is the case with SaiMono.


Tsuyokiss Aria REVOLUTION: Genre Kings x Delineation

This Picture Is Protected by OFP! ZOMG

You all have your own opinions on this, so I’ll be brief about laying the foundation and get into the meaty theoretical crap. The premise is simple: as genre is refined and redefined, people start to take cue as to what’s the best way to pitch within a familiar context, and evoking the same feel to reach out to the same demographic. The parallel is drawn from the “genre innovation” model that describes the video gaming industry and Nintendo, so if you’re familiar with that, you should have a good foundation.

From a cynical perspective, it all resulted from some successes like Love Hina or Ranma 1/2, where these genre-breaking/creating masterpieces started a trend. Just like telling your friends that “Trinity Blood is kind of like Trigun” will automatically get some of them to check it out, even if it isn’t really like Trigun… When a show resembles a certain something popular it gives the creators the incentive to mimic.

And there’s nothing wrong with mimicry. But when a genre is so well-defined (enough for a wiki article but not enough for bright line rules) because of the excessive mimicking, that if you toss all the divisible elements of what makes a harem anime into a randomizer and when the result of this mad-lib returns as a familiar premise of a real show, something is wrong. It’s not just because it’s absurd, but it’s so absurd that the work stands not on a creative bedrock recognizable by law. (Or is it?)

Thankfully, there are many ways out of this trap, and I think the anime industry has long since started to climb out of. When people like myself with no prophetic powers can see that, it means others are probably annoyed as well. Tsuyokiss is one example: the harem narrative reversed on its head; a typical bishoujo game adaptation has been spun around by the anime’s core team to draw a familiar story. But even then, such an “obvious” trick doesn’t distinguish the trite attempts at entertaining in TonaGura, for example, with Tsuyokiss. When the dumb shtick slapstick becomes the defining characteristic of your show, you’re not going to go anywhere.

But I suppose what these two shows told me, more specifically, is that people are ready. Sure, shows like Shuffle and DearS may prey on the weak still, but when I see Higurashi or even Negima, the vibe is just slightly different. In as much as in a post-Love-Hina reality we no longer can do a shounen romance show without the harem taint, people are tired of that. People are looking for the same, patently haremic elements elsewhere (looking at the new round of SaiMoe for some clues)–Aria, Rozen Maiden, School Rumble, and Mai-Otome, just to name a few. We want the relationships, the characters, the lightheartedness, outside of the traditional harem context. For some it is the desexualization of the context (Rozen Maiden); or it’s the focus on mood without drama (Aria); or inversely just the drama (Mai-Otome); or even pure comedy with little anything else (School Rumble). These shows all contain, for practical purposes, “harems.” However they do not carry themselves structurally as so typically.

Here is where we’re at a loss. This MMORPG dude says where things are going for them. Where are we going?


Summer in Neo Venezia

Aria is the name of my friends’ newborn (well, she’s a month old now). Isn’t that something? Now every time I visit them it’ll remind me of … Aria. Or even when I get their voicemail.

Subs Are Voiceovers!

This summer, life isn’t as peachy as a hazy day living at a watery planet’s clone of Venice on planet Earth. To me Aria is a mood piece. It’s like The Brilliant Green’s older CDs. I just can’t quite get into the groove unless I’ve spent a hard day doing hard work. YMMV, of course, but that’s how it is for me. It’s super-duper good at destressing.

But summer for me is often a time where I am not stressed. It’s not to say the pressure isn’t on (it is especially on this year for a variety of reasons) for me but I just spent too much time watching anime, going to cons, writing about watching anime and going to cons, and dwelling on thoughts about writing or watching or going to anime and/or cons. Work was not so exciting nor productive. All that…dwelling and thinking and going and watching took the edge off.

I mean, I’m buzzed on not just Simoun, but stuff like all the crap coming out of C70. Like Eufonius @ Narcissu 2nd, IOSYS’s craaazy Touhou album, or the new DJ Sharpnel’s PRETTY GREEN ONIONS. Well, all these things can be enjoyed while being buzzed in the head I suppose. (I haven’t tried it, that said.) Now that STC’s crew is back on track with those Aria fansubs, I’ve been so derailed from not watching them that I have a hard time sitting down and watching through an episode.

So, yep, we heat it up, but we also get down. Hottest Otakon Ever. Someone should do an Aria watertaxi cosplay/reenactment next year.

This blog entry is brought to you by Shanghai Shanghai Shanghai Shanghai Hourai Hourai Hourai Hourai (check the crossmix sample mp3 from IOSYS’s page)~