Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Anime review: "The Tatami Galaxy"

"Tatami Galaxy" is one of this spring anime that I planned to watch for months now. There are few more, but most of them were 12 or 13 episode anime, and this one has 11 episodes, so it was first to finish. Therefore, it was first from to list to be watched. This will be a bountiful year, since I saw many good spring and summer anime announced on AnimeNewsNetwork.

Reason I put it on my wish list in first place was because it was announced as "seinen", "school life" and "college" anime. Also, somewhere I found that it has some connection with "Baccano!" (I just can't remember what it was: authors, studio or something like that). So I expected something like "Genshiken" with a touch of humor from "Baccano!". I was wrong, but I'm not sorry for it.

Main protagonist is a third year student whose name we never learn. In first episode talks about how he was naive and idealistic and expected to have a "rose-colored life" on campus, surrounded with friends and "raven-haired maidens". For that reason, he joined the tennis club, but unfortunately learned that he has no talent whatsoever. For that, he will get involved with Ozuevil-looking prankster, and two of them will become known as "black Cupids", ruining other people's relationships, never admitting they can love also. But in the end, he will realize he is in love with Akashi, his year-younger female fellow student. Unfortunately, he will fail to gather the courage to approach her and end angry at himself and blaming Ozu as root of all his troubles.

This is just the first episode. Next one will be told with same characters and in the same time, but main character will join the movie club instead of tennis. And his efforts will end with similar results. Next time it will be cycling club. And so on... In every episode he will try to reach his dreams of "rose-colored campus life" and always spectacularly fail.

Somewhere around fifth episode, I thought that whole anime will be a constant stream of unconnected episodes with same theme, but different context. And I was wrong again. Every episode IS connected and they all help to create a complete picture, which is necessary to understand the last episode. And the last episode is one really great ending. It's amazing how all pieces fall in their place.

I am intentionally not talking about the characters. Except unnamed student, Ozu and Akashi, there are maybe five more important characters. Talking about them would be considered as spoilers. Every episode reveals a bit more about them. Even though sometimes information seems in conflict, last episode give them full meaning.

Jokes are usually very funny. I was more reminded of "Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei" than of "Baccano!". Only objection I have is that the protagonist sometimes talk too fast and I couldn't read all the subtitles (and I read fast). There are lots of details that you will be reward noticing for (for example, price of fortunetelling).

It is interesting how the main character always blame Ozu for his problems, without realizing that everything was his fault and Ozu just gave him the means to the ends. And Ozu is quite an imaginative prankster. They really made a bulls-eye with his look and voice.

From visual side, it looks very nice. Character design varies from super-deformed to realistic. Backgrounds and objects are done (intentionally) better than the people. Colors are very vivid, which means the most to me - I hate "Tom and Jerry"-like colors. I remember that OP and ED are very good, but I really can't say anything about SFX. Voices were nice, though. Oh yes, there was a nice song in anime, in fourth episode I think.

This is very funny anime, but with great and didactic message in the end. Definitely a good watch for fans of seinen anime and intelligent comedies.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Movie reviews: "The Proposal", "Top Secret", "The Bannen Way", "The Twilight Saga: Eclipse"

In last week I watched four movies. Since I didn't find time to write posts about them (feeling lazy) I decided to put all four of them in one post. Movies (except last, of course) are not really new, but I watched them for first time. So, in the order of watching...

"The Proposal" is 2009 movie, a romantic comedy, starring Sandra Bullock and Ryan Reynolds. I don't like Sandra Bullock and her movies, but a friend told me that this movie was a very fun watch (and he doesn't like romantic comedies and Sandra Bullock), so I decided to give it a go and watch it with my girlfriend. Plus, I like Ryan Reynolds movies.

In the movie, Bullock is a book editor and Reynolds her assistant. She is a heartless and results-only-matter boss, hated by all her stuff, while he is nice and hard-working, trying to make a name for himself in the business. After she finds out that she will be deported (she's a Canadian), she blackmails him into marrying her so that she can stay in the country. To prove that they are true in their intentions, they travel to Alaska, to his parent house, to announce their marriage. Then the fun starts....

Movie is pretty good. It has nice jokes, the kind of that doesn't make you feel stupid watching them and laughing. It also has a serious under-theme, expressed especially toward the end. Both actors are good in their roles and their characters don't feel like caricatures. It's not an impressive movie, but definitely a nice watch, especially for couples, because both can enjoy.

"Top Secret" is a 1984 (so, old as me) parody that I watched accidentally. I just got into friend's house when they were beginning to watch it. For first 10 minutes, I was thinking in myself "Why are we watching this?!?!", but after that, it turned out to be one of the funniest movies I watched in years.

Protagonist is Nick Rivers, played by Val Kilmer (his first leading role, according to IMDB), an arrogant and confident rock-star, traveling to East Germany to perform rock there for the first time. He will get involved in some crazy plot including Nazi's, Russians, French Resistance, captured scientist and so on...

Plot doesn't matter really; jokes are what this film is about. If you like old slapstick comedies and Mel Brooks' films, you will like this movies. Jokes will feel familiar, since they were copied many times in years, but nevertheless... I didn't believe how a boots-wearing cow can be hilarious for several minutes! Best to watch with group of friends in good mood.

And "The Bannen Way" is worst movie I watched since "Shoot 'em up". It is enough to say that one of the writers is also a leading actor. The main character, Neal Bannen is a con-artist, in his thirties (maybe even older), starting to bold, with absolutely none of the qualities that make a good con (he is not really good with words, he's not good looking, not very smart, determined, skillful, lucky or anything). Nevertheless, he manages with every heist he tries...

Somewhere in the beginning of the movie, he enters some office with intention to impersonate somebody else. After two smiles and three words, he manages to get the secretary to let him into locked and secured office and have a "wild passionate sex" with her, in the same time making some transfer of money, we stopped really  watching. Two people (out of five) actually went home. And we that stayed involved in meaningless discussion about it the main female actor Eva Longoria (she's not) and what unbelievable scene will come next. In short, don't watch!

Last, "Eclipse" I watched in the movies, with my girlfriend. She's a fan of series, so I didn't have a choice of not going (joking). Next, the trailer announced a much darker and action-oriented film than first two. Plus, it featured the Volturis, a vampire family that was the first thing that looked like something of a background history...

So, for you who watched first two movies (rest of you try watching first part and see if you will continue), plot is next (in very short): Victoria is back once more; someone is making a vampire-army; Jacob is determined to take Bella from Edward. For me, plot was secondary in this movie. What I liked the most were characterization (especially Jasper) and bits of history that finally try to make something of a coherent world.

Unfortunately, I think that will not be enough for most people. Fans who watched first parts for all the angst and emotional tension will find the action orientation of this movie as off-putting. For non-fans, the movie is far from impressing: bad acting (but better that before), predictable plot and many things to sneer at. I think that people like me will like "Eclipse" most: people who like vampire themes and world-building, grateful for small gems of imagined histories.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Manga review: xxxHolic

I always find it hard to review manga, because all those manga I have read were longer ones. It is much easier to review a single anime season or a single book as a part of series. In longer runs, books/anime/manga introduce new elements to the story, new characters and so on...Then you have to either summarize the plot too much or reveal spoilers.

For example, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" TV series. It has been quite long ago that I watched it, but if I remember correctly, first season or two consist mostly of single episodes (with no connection to others). It is only in later seasons that we are introduced to longer stories, encompassing multiple episodes or even seasons.

Why am I talking about this? Because "xxxHolic" is similar to "Buffy" (or "Angel" and any number of other action series) in that way. Story follows Watanuki Kimihiro, a high-school boy who is living alone, because his parents are dead. And why he is so special that he deserves a manga? Because he is able to see ayakashi, yokai and other paranormal beings that most people are unaware of. More so, he somehow draws these creatures to himself and is often forced to flee from them. This is about to change when he "accidentally" runs into shop run by mysterious Yuuko. She explains him that she is a witch who grants wishes and that only those with a wish are able to come into her shop. More, she is willing to grant him his wish to release him from curse of drawing ghosts to him. As a pay, he will work part-time in her shop after school, as a cleaner and a cook, until he pays of his debt.

His life won't get much peaceful after that. From one side, he will have his hands full with chores at the shop. On the other side, he will often be forced to help Yuuko with granting the wishes, which are mostly paranormal and mystical in nature. Connection with Yuuko and his abilities will also make him something of a "celebrity" in the spirit-world.

In his adventures, he will often be joined with Doumeki Shizuka from his school. Their relationship is quite complicated (and is often used as a source of comical relief). Watanuki can't stand Doumeki from the time of their first encounter and at the sight of him (encouraged by Doumeki's superior attitude toward him) becomes irritated (in comical way), but for some reason, other people think they are best friends. He will have to accept Doumeki as a part of his life when he finds out that Doumeki, even though can't see spirits, have an ability to exorcise them. One of people who think that Watanuki and Doumenki are great friends is Himawari Kunogi. She goes to the same school as the two of them and is also Watanuki's (not-so) secret love. She will also be drawn in Watanuki's supernatural adventures.

As I said, story at first consist of unconnected "episodes", where Watanuki helps Yuuko to grant various customer's wishes, mostly in detective-style, trying to find the source of their misfortune. He (and Doumeki, and in minor way Himawari) will learn more about the spirit world, its strange inhabitants and even more stranger rules. In later episodes, the true story will begin to unravel. And this story is really epic in its scope.

Unfortunately, reader will never learn it complete. That is, if he/she doesn't read "Tsubasa Chronicle". This manga (also adapted to anime as "xxxHolic") is connected with this in some smaller part of the story. But it is actually this minor part that is crucial for understanding events in later parts of the series. It turns out that main characters of "Tsubasa" are "important customers" of Yuuko; even more, main male character from "Tsubasa" has a complicated connection to Watanuki.

All in all, although it sounds confusing (and it is, unless you read both manga), this is actually very nice manga. "Cases" they solve (or wishes they grant) are mysterious and often based on human psychology. This is also very funny manga. Most jokes are based on Watanuki's character and his relationship with Doumeki. Also, it has very complex and detailed world, based on Japanese mythology (though I can't be sure how much of that is "real" mythology and have much have authors imagined themselves). Also, almost every chapter features some original Japanese dish, for those who like food reference (I do).

Main characters, especially Watanuki and Doumeki are great. They are much idealized, but they also have their own weaknesses. Yuuko is very intriguing character; she is also mean sometimes, especially toward Watanuki, which is always funny. Himawari is one of the main characterc, but mostly passive, occasionally giving advice to Watanuki's or serving as his object of love. There is also a lot of side characters, most of them from the spirit world.

Design of characters is unique CLAMP's, meaning unnaturally tall and elongated characters. Everybody looks nice, even the occasional bad guys.

As bad side of series, I would single sometimes confusing dialogs: conversations often wander into metaphysical discussions and have many jumps. And also, separating the stories between two series ("xxxHolic" and "Tsubasa") means you have to read both manga. And if you don't like "Tsubasa" (like I don't), you have a choice to be unaware of some important parts of the plot or to force yourself to read something you don't really like.

In short, very nice manga appropriate for both younger and older audience, also for readers of both genders. It has nice story and funny jokes, interesting world and complex characters. Sometimes a bit confusing, but a good choice if you are looking for intelligent, non-action manga.