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Short Reviews: Part 2

July 18, 2009

blog review4

Seems like a slow release day for the current shows I’m following and I’m not headng anywhere until this evening (going to see Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince – may write something about that later :)), so for the sake of having something to do here’s another batch of short reviews!

Today we have Welcome to the NHK!, Red Garden, Toshokan Sensou, Detroit Metal City and Ghost Talkers Daydream.

Welcome to the NHK!: A humourous and at times trippy piece of social commentary – 4.5/5

PLOT: Welcome to the NHK is a strange beast. I really enjoyed it, but at the same time was somewhat uncomfortable with the no holds barred approach to depicting the darker side of Japanese youth culture. The main character Satou is a NEET (Not in Education, Employment or Training) and a Hikkomori (a shut-in – someone with extreme social anxiety and unable to leave their rooms). He’s a complete loser, there’s no other way to describe him – a college dropout who suffers from paranoid delusions, is completely gullible and obsessive (he gets addicted to eroge’s & MMORPGs and suckered into a Pyramid Scheme), lives on his parents hard earned cash and has also considered suicide – basically he is a waste of space as a human being. However at the same time Satou does have a fair bit of intelligence and imagination as his running inner monologue and vivid delusions show.
Satou isnt the only character with issues though; his friend Yamazaki is the ultimate obsessive anime otaku (although he’s arguably the most stable character in the show), Satou’s highschool senpai is suicidally depressed; despite being on the surface a ‘winner’, and Misaki (the young girl who claims she wants to save Satou from his hikkomori ways) is probably the most troubled of all (although thats not explored until the final arc of the show).
What I found uncomfortable about this series was the fact that I could identify with the characters at times – I can easily understand why they are like they are; I sometimes think I’m one step away from being a hikkomori myself! Its a very interesting piece of social commentary, the series appealed to me in particular since I studied social anthropology and psychology – the insights into Satou’s troubled and trippy psyche were hilarious on one level and disturbing on another. The fact that Satou’s level of Hikkomori-ism isnt as extreme as some (there is a character introduced with a more severe case than him) and that he and the others manage to remain very likeable is a triumph of scripting as it would be all too easy to despise these characters.
Welcome to the NHK is definitely muliti-leveled – the 1st part of the series is mostly comedy; it takes the cast of zany characters and lets them run riot. There is then a notable shift in tone around the middle and especially the end to dark character driven drama with an almost black comedy edge. There isnt a running plotline, rather a series of arcs that build on each other to drive the character development – this show is all about character development and personal drama, the idea of the NHK Conspiracy is the overarching theme but not the main driving force for the drama. The end is satisfying but doesnt fall into the trap of being too neat or ‘happy ending’ – it fits with the tone of the series overall and just reinforces the whole grounded feeling of the show, the characters continue on with their ordinary lives, none of them are the ‘great and good’ of this world.

ANIMATION: This is a GONZO production, and true to form the quality is decent but inconsistant at times. Some of the scenes are extremely poorly animated and some are wonderful – a mixed bag. The feel of the show is very realistic – character designs are simple and realistic (no blue hair here), the backgrounds are fairly plain too but depict locations well. The scenes where Satou is having his (rather frequent) delusions are wonderfully trippy – filled with talking furniture and odd gremlin creatures – this carries over into the 1st ED animation which was just inspired. The depictions of anime within this anime are satorical in nature and poke fun at the eroge and magical girl genres in particular. The OP animation was also quite impressive.

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: The music was excellent – the OP was fairly bland, but the 1st ED was a delight! The 2nd ED was much more sombre which fit with the shift in tone from comedy to drama. The insert music was also great, ranging from twee cheesy J-POP (puru puru pururin~) to quite melancholic numbers. Voice acting was sensational, the range of emotion and rollercoaster mood swings that the characters go through were all wonderfully portrayed by the seiyuu – excellent cast!

So all in all a very impressive and original series. Welcome to the NHK manages to say alot without being preach-y – no hard and fast answers are given to the problem of NEETs, obsessive Otaku’s, apathetic youth or Hikkomori’s, rather this is an in-depth look into the life of one individual and his struggles with these myriad problems and is done in a very entertaining manner – highly recommended.

Red Garden:Beautifully animated and strongly character driven – 4/5

PLOT: You have no idea how much I’ve agonised over how to keep this review short – its very difficult to write about Red Garden as its got so many elements. Part high school drama, part supernatural thriller and part musical, it deals with 4 very different young women who find themselves with superpowers, forced to work together to survive, thrown into a centuries old conflict and dead into the bargain! However for the majority of the time there isnt much action, Red Garden takes its time fleshing out the four girls, watching them attempt to adjust to their new predicament and at the same time solve their own private problems with their families/friends/love lives etc. Its slow paced for the most part and then kicks into high gear for the finale where all the underlying mystery element surrounding the whole ancient conflict aspect and Herve’s (the main antagonist) true motivations come out of the woodwork.

But for the majority of the time its all character development and this, for me, is a very good thing. We get to know Kate, Rose, Rachel and Claire extremely well – we know what motivates them, see their backgrounds and watch them struggle to maintain the balance of their everyday lives and their nocturnal battles with the Awakened. The fact that the 4 are all from very different social circles and that they dont even like each other to start with is also very realistic.
Its satisfying to get so much character development in a series, but the draw back to this is that the early episodes can seem fairly dull. The limited action scenes arent overly impressive as the girls do not have instant control over their powers – much of their time is spent attempting to figure out how they do things, and the action is therefore chaotic, clumsy and repetitive. They do get their act together for the finale though and its much more impressive.

I dont want to go too much into the technicalities of the plot because that spoils the mystery element of the show – but I will say that the conclusion isnt entirely satisfying to all as its very open ended (avoid the OVA Dead Girls BTW – its complete and utter rubbish). We don’t get alot of answers to all the questions in the fallout of the final confrontation – everything is left very up in the air, but since this series has always concentrated on the experiences of the 4 main girls I didnt mind all that much. Kate, Rose, Rachel and Claire dont get all the answers they were seeking and neither do we – Red Garden is all about the characters drama rather than the ancient struggle they get embroiled in.

ANIMATION: Another GONZO production and it is an absolutely gorgeous anime. The art-style is wonderful! Red Garden is set in New York city and the characters are drawn like americans – slightly taller with more defined noses; a bit more realistic rather than the traditional stylistic anime style. Each episode is like a fashion parade – the girls wardrobes are varied and unique, reflecting their personalities backgrounds and the social circles they move in – very little is recycled. Each character is highly individual – no two look alike and you can tell that alot of attention has been paid to detailing. As I mentioned the action scenes are few and far between, but there are two memorable and excellently choreographed action sequences that stand above the rest. The background animation is also something special – fabulously rendered depictions of actual NYC locations and lots of attention to detail – overall I think GONZO did quite a good job at giving Red Garden a very american feel.

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: I mentioned there was a ‘musical’ aspect to the show – it shows itself when the director decided it would be a good idea to have the girls break out into song at particularly emotional times…….I dont think this was a good idea. :S  The seiyuu are not professional singers by any stretch of the imagination and these spontaneous musical moments are just uncomfortable to listen to.  Thankfully they are very occasional. On the whole the music is very good though – quite liked the OP and the EDs in particular. The seiyuu are excellent (when they are not singing ) – the dialogue was recorded prior to the animation so the seiyuu had more freedom with their interpretation of the script – it comes across very well and the 4 main characters have excellent chemistry.

I personally really liked Red Garden – it has its flaws and may not be to everyone’s taste; but I love character based drama and this show has it in spades. The plot may not be completely solid, if it was paced a bit better Red Garden would have been a masterpiece – as it stands its still a very good series.

Toshokan Sensou (Library Wars): likeable characters, lulzy concept and excellent animation – 4/5

PLOT: I watched Toshokan Sensou back when it was airing last Spring and remember being very entertained by it.. It’s all very light and entertaining as the series focuses on the characters rather than dwelling on the whole censorship war that is the setting. Basically the premise is that this is a world were censorship of books and the media is a big issue and two factions are perfectly willing to spill blood over books and freedom of the press. Its in this climate that Kasahara Iku decides to join the Library Task Force to follow in the footsteps of her ‘Prince’ who saves her and her favourite book when she was younger…..yeah I know it sounds rubbish, but believe me Toshokan Sensou is really entertaining! I got major Full Metal Panic vibes from the series – mainly due to the military setting and the empathsis on romcom rather than combat. Not that there isn’t any action, there is plenty, but its not the main focus. The characters are the driving force for this anime, Iku and her relationship with her superior Atsushi is deeply amusing in a Lovely Complex way and the supporting cast is also lots of fun. The only bad thing about the show is its too short. We’ve just got to know the characters and started to be interested in the background plot and then its over – with this kind of pacing it would have been better off being a 25/6 ep series rather than 12.

ANIMATION: Excellent animation as one would expect from Production IG. I really liked the thick black outlines for the characters and the use of chibi’s to enhance the comedy. The action set pieces were really well put together and the backgrounds showed fabulous attention to detail. Unremarkable, but well drawn character design too. No complaints about the production quality at all.

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: I loved the ED in particular; the OP is pretty decent too. Background music is also good. Voice acting is excellent – everyone is very well cast, especially loved Iku’s voice.

So yeah at 1st glance the concept seem a bit on the odd side, but Toshokan Sensou turned out to be a really fun show with an enjoyable script and nice character interactions.

Detroit Metal City: hilarious, crude and just the right length – 4/5

PLOT: Ah I loved this series! Its an excellent parody of the death metal music genre, has some truly hilarious moments and best of all its quite short so it doesn’t become stale when its apparent that the series has very little depth. The main character Negishi/Krauser is brilliant – his split personality is the major source of the humour and his constant neurotic narration means that he’s really the only character with any kind of depth. The rest of the characters are really just caricatures, but they are lots of fun to watch – favourite has to be the foul mouthed female manager, and the insane fans with their off the wall imaginations! DMC doesn’t have much depth and the jokes are inevitably recycled, but because of its short running time this isn’t a big problem – its over before you really notice.

ANIMATION: Nice original character designs – DMC has a style all of its own and it works really well for this series. Interesting use of changing aspect ratios too – made even quite static scenes seem exciting.

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: Well most of the music is loud raucous metal with lots of profanity, the rest of it is so sugary sweet its cavity inducing! This is a reflection of the two sides of Negishi’s personality though so its highly amusing and the music is a vital part of what made this show so amusing! This duality is further empathised by the OP and ED being so utterly different – the OP is by DMC and the ED is one of Negishi’s preferred compositions. Voice acting was brilliant too – Daisuke Kishio and Yuji Ueda switch flawlessly whenever Negishi has to turn into Krauser.

All in all an extremely amusing series, but not for those easily offended by excessive profanity!

Ghost Talkers Daydream: Odd mixture of genre’s, yet strangely watchable! 3/5

PLOT: Um, well Misaki is a dominatrix but also a spiritual medium and the 4 episodes follow her on three cases where she speaks with the dead and poses in skimpy leather outfits – that’s the plot in a nutshell!  Really this show could quite easily have been a hentai film – all the elements are there, just no actual sex!  Its quite an enjoyable watch though, mixing elements of fanservice, creepiness, action and comedy. Misaki is quite an interesting character, but we only really get hint of her backstory – I’d love to know why she works as a dominatrix, how she came to be working for a top secret government agency on the side and what on earth that ghostly rope thing wrapped around her thighs is! The other supporting characters are completely lacking depth though – Mr Glasses man who acts as her contact agent for paranormal jobs seems to only be there to provide comic relief, Ai is the token highschool girl, and then there is Misaki’s stalker/fan who is basically just a handy plot device to get random information out of thin air! Still even though there isn’t a lot of depth to this series it isn’t bad even if the nudity and fanservice seemed kind of unnecessary most of the time (although that’s really the only thing that makes this show stand out from similar shows).

ANIMATION: Mixed bag really – some scenes are highly detailed, others look like the animators really could not have been arsed that day.  Character designs are quite nice – plenty of detail on Misaki’s skimpy costumes too!

MUSIC & VOICE ACTING: Didn’t really take much notice of the music – was fitting enough though. Voice acting was very good.

All in all pretty decent OVA to pass the time with, but nothing really remarkable. It may have been better if they had more time to develop the characters and premise better, but as it is its pretty shallow and more of an excuse to have a dominatrix as a main character than anything else.

That will do for now – may have a fangirl rant about Harry Potter (one of my other fangirl obsessions) later on if I feel inspired!

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

    kekko kamen

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