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Short Reviews: Part 1

July 17, 2009

blog review1

So I’ve written a number of short reviews for the TSR AniSoc before – but they’re all mixed into the one thread and I’ve been intending to copy all of my own reviews into a separate file for ages. Since I haven’t got any original ideas for a blog post at the moment I thought I’d start posting some of those reviews up… I’ll post up a few at a time until I’m up to date. I’ll probably exclude some of the crappier early reviews when I didn’t have much of a clue how to write! Anyway onto to reviews!

We have Clannad, Last Exile, Simoun, Whisper of the Heart and Yakitate! Japan today.

Clannad: nice mix of romcom and slice of life with pretty animation – 4/5

PLOT: Based on a Key visual novel the plot is pretty standard stuff. Main lead with comedy sidekick is surrounded by pretty girls who all seem to fall in love with him. But Clannad manages to avoid most of the pitfalls of the harem genre and proves its self to be really entertaining! It doesn’t make the mistake of trying to cover every girls arc from the visual novel, instead Nagisa is quite obviously the main girl from the start – Tomoya only really has eyes for her and the other girls quickly release that and so there are no irritating love triangles. Instead Clannad plays up the comedy and slice of life side of the story – and its really well done. I enjoyed most of the episodes (apart from the pointless Fuuko retarded-moe moments! >.<) and found the characters likeable. In particular I found Tomoya to be a likeable lead – he’s got a bit of depth and his own backstory, plus I found him to be well scripted. Of course his comedy sidekick Sunohara often stole the show with his antics – but he too wasnt a paperbag character and also was given a bit of depth. Kyou was my favourite girl, but she didnt get much screen time unfortunately – I wasnt fussed on Nagisa and hated Fuuko with a passion, but the others were fine. 🙂
Since Clannad has a sequel (Clannad: After Story) it doesn’t end solidly at all, its completely open ended so you sort of have to watch AS if you want the whole story of Tomoya X Nagisa. There is also a special for Tomoyo’s arc and another for Kyou’s arc ^_^.

ANIMATION: Well its KyoAni so the animation is excellent and the characters are typical moe-blobs. It’s very pretty to watch, lots of cherry blossoms as this is Key’s Spring visual novel (Air being Summer and Kanon being Winter). There can be no complaints about the animation quality – KyoAni are in their comfort zone with this type of series.

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: The music is wonderful – the OP is really catchy and the ED is just insanely cute (Dango, Dango, Dango, Dango, Dango Daikazoku~) ^_^. The background music is also pretty nicely put together. The voice acting is also wonderful – a very good cast worked on Clannad 🙂

Overall Clannad is a very entertaining show – its not going to win awards for being the most original or groundbreaking show ever as its KyoAni/Key playing to their strengths. But it has a nicely written script and likeable characters – recommended to anyone looking for a nice easy to watch romcom, its not my favourite of the KyoAni/Key stuff though, I prefer Air and Kanon (2006) over it .

Yakitate! Japan: Hilarious baking antics and great characters – 4/5

PLOT: A shounen series with a twist – instead of martial arts the characters fight it out with epic bread making contests! As odd and uninspiring this concept sounds, Yakitate! Japan is anything but dull – its been a while since I’ve enjoyed a comedy so much! Each episode is a riot – sure its formulaic and a touch overlong, but even though you know how things will turn out, its still a really fun journey to get there. Incredibly OTT most of the time, this is a series where a bite of bread can literally send you to heaven! (you get better though 😉 ).
You also get a bit of lesson in baking/food science in this show – all the methods that Azuma & Co use to produce their delicious breads are thoroughly explained and based on actual bakery practices. There is even a recipe given for a bread that Azuma makes in a rice cooker! The little sequence after the credits called ‘Seed of Knowledge’ is also quite informative – a bit like the Bacteria Theatre segment of Moyashimon.
The characters are what really make this series fun though. Azuma is more or less the typical excitable male shounen lead but he manages to never gets really irritating thankfully – I quite liked him.  Of the supporting cast the best are probably the bread judges – Kuroyanagi and Pierrot, as their reactions to the taste of various breads are just priceless! As a lot of the jokes are based on elaborate puns (even the title is a pun – Ja-Pan (literally Japanese bread) some of the humour is hit or miss – thankfully the subs I got had fantastic translators notes so I didn’t feel left out of the loop. There were also some priceless parodies of other shounen shows etc which generally reduced me to tears of laughter.
The only criticism I have of the series is that I think it went on a bit too long – the final arc didn’t have the same excitement that the previous arcs had, as they really got bogged down in a set formula and a lot of the supporting cast got shunted off to the sidelines (particularly poor Kowachi :S ). That’s not to say that that arc was bad – it was still very entertaining, but lacked the freshness of the previous arcs. Also some may find the long technical explanations and elaborate word based puns a bit dull and incomprehensible after a while.

ANIMATION: Well its Sunrise so as you would expect the animation quality is of a pretty high quality and remains consistent over its 69 episode run. The character designs were nicely put together and distinctive and the backgrounds were nicely detailed – especially those of actual locations, like during the Monaco World Cup and the Paris training arcs. Of course this show really shone during the ‘reaction’ sequences which were hilarious to watch – the physical comedy was really excellent.

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: All the OPs & EDs were pretty decent, and the BGM was really expressive too. The voice acting was just brilliant though – triumph of casting in this show. The standout performance for me was Takehito Koyasu as Kuroyanagi though. Although everyone was equally good……even if it did take me a wee while to get used to Yumiko Kobayashi’s performance as Azuma – it was a bit grating at the beginning.

So yes a very good comedy show – who knew baking could be so exciting!? Highly recommended if you want a good laugh and don’t mind a slightly quirky premise.

Whisper of the Heart: Heart-warming slice of life movie – 4/5

PLOT: A very down-to-earth tale of a young girl who likes to read and her attempt to find her path in life, Whisper of the Heart is a lovely heart-warming film that just makes you smile. There is no exciting action sequences or grand epic setting, its all very low key and normal – you could find these characters anywhere and its easy to relate to them. More than anything else this film is a character study – we follow Shizuku as she goes about her daily life, struggles with schoolwork, devours books, falls in love and tries to find out what she wants to do with her life. She is a very sympathetic lead character and has a rich imagination – the only whimsical sequence with real Ghibli hallmarks in the film comes from a scene in the story Shizuku writes. The film feels a bit slow and some may find it dull due to the absence of action, but I was drawn into the film completely and found it enjoyable and refreshing.

ANIMATION: While not stunning the animation has its own charm – the backgrounds are especially noteworthy, the attention to detail is astounding. The characters are very plain and ordinary, which just reinforces the down-to-earth, ordinary feel of this film.

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: The music is lovely – the song “Country Roads” is a recurring theme throughout the film, which kind of made me laugh a bit since I tend to associate that song with being drunk and singing off-key at the end of a night out! But the rest of the music is really evocative and sets the tone extremely well. Voice acting was nicely done too.

Overall a lovely little film if a bit slowly paced. Not my favourite Ghibli move but still a good example.

Last Exile: A beautifully realised world and a gripping plot – an easy 5/5

PLOT: Oh where to start! Last Exile is set in a highly original and engaging world were two huge empires are at war with each other, following strict rules of chivalry and overseen by a mysterious organisation named the Guild. The thing that sets Last Exile apart is the fact that the majority of the action takes place in the air. The armies of Anatoray and Disith engage in battles using massive (and I mean massive) floating battleships with lots of cannon fire, lines of regimented musketeers (with steam powered muskets!) and just plain ramming into each other – its all quite pseudo 19th century navel battle-esq. In addition to these massive floating battleships there are also much smaller two-man vessels named vanships, mostly used by couriers and for racing. Our protagonists Claus and Lavie are two childhood friends who form a pilot and navi team and fly in their deceased fathers vanship on various courier jobs and occasional races. Claus is an exceptional pilot, stubborn and impulsive (yet extremely likeable) and Lavie is somewhat hot-headed but a bit more logical than Claus (although she got on my nerves every now and then)…………anyway I’m rambling, its way too easy to get caught up describing the world setting – its really wonderfully realised.
The plot really kicks off when Claus and Lavie meet Alvis Hamilton and transport her to the rouge battleship Silvana which is captained by the mysterious Alex Rowe (who is just cool) and get sucked into the massive political upheaval their world is going through and the war with the technologically superior Guild led by the extremely creepy Maestro Delphine.
The story is definitely made up of two halves. The 1st is really all about building up the characters, establishing the world and getting all the basic groundwork laid – much of the early episodes are centred on the characters (and everyone is given a distinct and well developed personality) and the odd stunning airborne battle. The latter half of the story is where the major plot starts to come to the forefront and the focus shifts from Claus and Lavie’s personal issues to the bigger issues their world is dealing with.
I normally moan about GONZO and their problems with pacing, but Last Exile has no such issues – its measured and absorbing storytelling was just perfectly done, and reaches a natural and satisfying conclusions (although there are some mysteries left unsolved its nothing major really). Much as I would love to wax lyrical about the subtleties of the plot that would be spolierific and I would not want to deprive anyone of the Last Exile experience. But I can safely say that its been a while since I watched a series that captured my imagination so much.

ANIMATION: In a word – stunning. The character designs are very simple, but eyecatching (Range Murata’s designs can be seen currently in Shangri-La). The battle-ships and vanships are extremely well thought out pieces of technical design and the way the landscapes are drawn are very simplistic but somehow extremely real feeling. It’s just a really gorgeous piece of work. Of course it does suffer from conspicuous CGI (well it is GONZO) but its not completely off-putting and makes the aerial action scenes so much smoother and jaw dropping.

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: Ah the music!! I’ve downloaded the soundtrack because I loved it so much! The OP “Cloud Age Symphony” really sets the tone for the show. With its odd mix of bagpipes, electro and great vocals I never skipped over it in 26 episodes! The ED was a beautiful haunting ballad that I also never skipped over as it was just perfect for easing you out of the tense drama filled atmosphere many episodes created. Background music didn’t disappoint either – fitting perfectly and enhancing the visuals effortlessly. The soundscape of the action scenes also needs to be mentioned – such attention to detail!! The whine of artillery shells, the trembling whirr of vanship engines and the various different sounds of the wind all added up to a wonderful sense of realism – I was completely sucked into the world acoustically.
The voice acting was pretty damn good too. An impressive ensemble cast, everyone seemed well cast and put great effort into their roles. I particularly liked Dio and Delphine…..mainly because I quite like their type of yandere personality. The english for the episode title eyecatches was also quite impressive.

So yeah I adored Last Exile – I’m aware that I’ve wrote a lot more than I usually do and yet don’t seem to have said very much! Its the type of series that you have to see for yourself as there isn’t much anyone can really tell you about it, other than the obvious “its fantastic”. So yeah – go watch!!

Simoun: Beautifully put together original melodrama with tons of character development – 4.5/5

PLOT: Simoun has a highly original concept and a really interesting setting. The idea of a world where everyone is born female and can then choose their sex at the age of 17 is an interesting idea and its very well executed in Simoun as the characters all agonise over if they should become men or remain women. The plot focuses on a group of priestesses who can fly the titular simoun – aircraft that can draw patterns in the sky that can be used for attacks or as prayers, the priestesses are young girls who have not yet chosen their sex. Since their country is currently at war with its neighbours, these priestesses are used as frontline soldiers as the Simoun are highly effective weapons.
The plot is mainly concerned with the characters, the war setting merely used to provide the drama. And is there ever drama! Each of the girls receives quite a lot of development over the course of the series – some more than others, but all are highly individual with their own set of problems. Conflicting personalities, confusion caused by the war, grief of losing friends to war or adulthood, romance, the mysterious nature of the simoun – its all in there and it all adds up to gripping viewing.
I loved this series – yuri isn’t really my thing, but the romance aspect is dealt with in a mature fashion and isn’t just there for the sake of fanservice. The characters are all likeable, the setting is wonderful and the drama enjoyable. The only criticism I have is that there are plot holes – not everything is fully resolved, although more time is given to the epilogue than normal, it mostly deals with the individuals rather than resolves the overarching plotline – not that that’s a bad thing, after all its the characters that are the focal point of the show.

ANIMATION: Although inconsistent at times, the overall animation quality is wonderful. The character designs in particular are beautifully executed – lots of variety and I really liked the colouring of the eyes. The set design was gorgeous too – striking and original, it helped to really set Simoun apart from its counterparts. The design of the simoun themselves was fantastic – they are really pretty machines. The CGI was well handled – its a bit obvious on the simoun, but made the battles pretty interesting to watch. The eyecatches in the episodes were really pretty stills too.

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: The music was pretty – it sounds vaguely french, filled with accordion motifs. At times I sometimes felt that this style of music didnt fit with the tension and drama of some of the battle scenes, but it isn’t jarring and the score is very consistent and ties the series together well. I loved the OP – have it downloaded, the ED is pretty too.
Voice acting was excellent – an entirely female cast, women voice even the adult males. This took a little bit of getting used to, but makes perfect sense when you consider the world setting.

Overall a highly recommended series – I took away 1/2 a point because of the minor plot holes and animation inconsistencies, but Simoun was still a wonderful series!

I think five reviews at a time is enough!  I’ll put up another few in a few days until I’ve got all my current stash up :p  I am so lazy.

One Comment leave one →
  1. A concerned child permalink
    July 19, 2009 2:45 pm

    kekko kamen

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