Monday, January 26, 2004

Rumic Theater

Genre: Comedy
Parental Guidance Recommended
2003 Rumiko Takahashi, TV Tokyo

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MarkPoa's Description:
A 13-episode series which showcases Rumiko Takahashi's manga short stories.

Chapter One: The Tragedy of P
Chapter Two: The Merchant of Love
Chapter Three: Old Man, Young Teen
Chapter Four: Hidden in the Pottery
Chapter Five: Stray Family F
Chapter Six: As Long As You're Around
Chapter Seven: One Hundred Years of Love
Chapter Eight: To Show My Appreciation
Chapter Nine: Love Song in the Living Room
Chapter Ten: House of Garbage
Chapter Eleven: A One Day Dream
Chapter Twelve: A Large Size Happiness
Chapter Thirteen: Senmu's Dog

A mixed bag of fun and wonder... >>> by MarkPoa
The main thing to remember about watching Rumic Theater is this: be prepared to enjoy a variety of styles. Rumic Theater is an animated anthology series that features some of manga goddess Rumiko Takahashi's short stories. The stories are a mixture of different genres, themes, and styles.

A majority of these stories center around ordinary people experiencing extraordinary things. Though the characters are different in each episode, you quickly get to know about them and their motivations. Quite a feat for episodes with less than 30 minutes of time. I guess one reason for this is because the characters are unique, yet you could identify with them. They could easily be your friend, your next door neighbor... or you.

Being an anthology, some of the episodes stand out more than the others, depending on your preferences. Personally, I found the first episode, "Story of P", to be a bit dragging. I liked the Family Suicide episode the best, but I also laughed out loud at the ones about the family getting trash dumped in front of their house and the gruff salary man learning to be a pleasant storekeeper (and failing).

Each story, though, is good in its own right. But for different people, the attraction to the story would really depend on what genre you're already interested in. I doubt watching one of the dramatic episodes would suddenly make you like dramatic stories or something.

One good thing about an anthology is that you needn't have seen a prior episode to enjoy a new one. The stories are all self-contained. Each story has a beginning, a middle, and an end - which is quite satisfying if you're like me who would always like to know how a story ends.

Small note: It's also fun to see some things in one story "leaking" over into another story. Watch out for the cameos, especially in the latter half of the series.

Another note for casual watchers: a majority of the stories here have glimpses into the culture of Japan. Sometimes, there are instances where the morality or lesson of the story might be something we might not agree on (such as one where the family agrees to keep a boss's mistress) or beliefs that are completely foreign (such as the idea of the spirit sakishiwarashi). But, remember that the target audience for this was originally Japanese, so it wouldn't help to complain about not getting it. Just think to yourself: it's a culture thing. And then do some research.

The animation and art are simply gorgeous for such a short series. I'd like to give particular propos to the animators for giving different episodes different moods: the serious ones are appropriately dramatic, while the comedic ones are light and filled with color. Character designs are quite faithful to Rumiko Takahashi manga artwork, which is sure to please fans of the Rumic Theater manga.

The music in the different stories are different as well. I found that each episode benefitted from minimal background music, which only appeared in appropriate places. It is especially effective in the dramatic stories, where the music plays a part in setting the mood.

The opening sequence music is weird. I don't know if it is supposed to be Enka or something, but it sounded like a traditional Japanese piece with a wailing woman singer. Still, the sequence is fun to watch. I especially enjoyed wondering which character in the opening belonged to which story. I didn't find the ending sequence to be very memorable, though.

For fans of Rumiko Takahashi, this series is a must-see; it easily shows her versatile storytelling abilities. This might also serve as a good start-up series for new anime fans; it can easily show the variety in anime in just a short 13-episode series. Casual anime fans might want to give a few episodes a try, as well. You might find something to like among the different stories. Unfortunately, you wouldn't really know your favorites until you watch the entire thing; so it's still a good idea to do so, don't you think?

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 9; Story 7; Characters 9; Sounds 7

To Heart

Genre: Romance
General Audience
1999 Ukyou Takao, Naohito Takahashi, AQUAPLUS, Oriental Light and Magic, Chiba TV, KIDS STATION, Sun TV, TV Kanagawa, TV Saitama, KSS

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Manga Cover Description:
Akari is a cute but somewhat inhibited teenage girl who attends high school with her childhood chums, Hiroyuki and Masashi. Regarding these two along the lines of siblings, Akari world becomes troublesome as her adolescent affection for the generous and warm-hearted Hiroyuki begins to grow into something more.The complications only thicken when a beautiful senior, Serika Kurusugawa, steps into the picture. Akari finds her solution in an unlikely place.An android named Multi, who happens to be training to become a full-fledged maid robot, just might be able to use her machined mind to help Akari overcome her shyness and win Hiroyuki's love!

(13 episodes)

I don't get it... >>> by MarkPoa

Okay, I finally got around to writing this review. Honestly, I'd have preferred to rewatch the entire series before going on and on about something I disliked when I first saw it. I saw To Heart a few years back, but I still remember some of my feelings for it. I really really REALLY wanted to rewatch the series before writing this, just to give it a second chance. But, I can't seem to bring myself to do it.

To Heart is an anime based on the shoujo dating game of the same name. In case anyone living in a cave asks, yes, it's a hentai game. I've seen the screencaps, but I digress...

The story basically follows the "exploits" of Hiroyuki, a guy who can be described as a slacker. The basic premise is that, in each episode, Hiroyuki meets a girl in their school, gets involved in their lives, and, by some magic caused by his mere presence, helps the girl out with some problems. The fact is: Hiroyuki barely does anything.

The girls are various shades of cute. Unfortunately, I found them to be too... two-dimensional. I reserve my deepest regret for Akari, the main girl interest. I can summarize her character with two traits: likes Hiroyuki and is cute. Heck, all of the other girls are cute as well, with only one or two traits.

...Well, except for one. I thought that only Akari's friend Shiho had any good character development... and that was only during the series' last few episodes.

Part of the problem may be that each episode focused on one girl and developed her story from there. So the animators had one episode to flesh out the character (this doesn't really excuse Akari, who appears in all episodes). But I've seen series which developed characters in one episode as well. That's not really a good excuse. It merely makes it appear that the developers assumed that the viewers will already be familiar with the characters based on playing the game... which would be weird, because, as previously said, the game was a hentai game. I hadn't seen the hentai game before seeing this, but I'm pretty sure that if I had, I wouldn't have a wholesome image of the girls while watching this.

The show is lighthearted, cute, and fluffy and... that's it. I happen to like lighthearted, cute, and fluffy. I said so for Azumanga Daioh. But in that one, I liked the characters as well. Here, the series seems to try to get me to like the characters and take them seriously, but I didn't care for the characters here at all. In effect, I wasn't inspired when Aoi won her contest, I found Multi annoying, and, although I thought she was the cutest girl in the series, I found the psychic Kotone to be dull. I didn't even bother to watch the resolution of the Akari-Hiroyuki love angle in the last episode.

If there is one thing that amused me when watching the series, it was those little episodes with the cast in Super-Deformed mode. At least, those didn't even try to make me know more about the characters and were really funny.

Okay, one good point: To Heart's art is its best feature. The character designs are clean and good-looking. Animation is consistently good, despite this being a TV series. The animation's mood was appropriate for the series' serious and dramatic points. But good art and cute girls do not a good anime series make.

Aside from the opening music, though, I didn't find anything special about To Heart's music. I'm not particularly averse to teeny-bopper idol music like the one featured here (I listened to Sailor Moon soundtracks, for gosh sakes), but it just didn't catch me. Maybe it's simply because I didn't enjoy the series, so even the soundtracks sounded lame.

I know I might be the one dissenting voice in a sea of good reviews (believe me, I've searched the Net and all I've found were good words for To Heart), but these are my thoughts. Maybe it's the shortness of the episodes. Maybe I'm just expecting too much from the series. Maybe I just didn't get it. But I really can't bring myself to watch it again. And for me, that's already a big blow against it.

Sidenote: My younger brother is an ardent To Heart fan and this leads to a lot of "discussions" between me and him. "Discussions" meaning he tries to tell me To Heart's virtues and convince me that it's a wonderful anime and I just shaking my head and pointing out the points I made above. So please don't try to tell or convince me about this series' good points. I already have someone doing that at home.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 9; Story 6; Characters 5; Sounds 7

Thursday, January 1, 2004

Dragon Ball Z Movie 11: Super Warrior! I am the Warrior!

Genre: Action / Fantasy
Parental Guidance Recommended
Akira Toriyama, Toei Animation, Fuji TV

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MarkPoa's Description:
Android 18 has come to collect what Mr. Satan owes her for throwing their fight, but someone has also come to challenge Mr. Satan. Goten and Trunks stow away for the fight, but they discover something more sinister than they ever expected: Broly is alive! How did this happen? And what's happening to him?

NOTE: Some of the reviews were written sometime in 2004 and was recorded in the classic Otaku Fridge as ??.??.2004. Unfortunately the database would not accept non-numerical values, so this review is now dated January 01, 2004 by default.

Worst. Dragonball Movie. Ever. >>> by MarkPoa (??.??.2004)

I really wanted to like this movie. I really did. But some things about it really grate.

Let's start with the good points.

First, the focus of the movie was a surprisingly refreshing change. Rather than having Gohan or dad Goku as the main protagonists, this movie gives Goten, Trunks, Android 18, and even Krillin a chance to shine. Goten and Trunks, when not overplayed, are very interesting and fun characters.

Second, the visual quality is fine. No complaints here.

Now for the bad points.

First of all, Bio-Broly is a real poor imitation of his former incarnations. He was great in the first movie as an unstoppable menace. I even liked his second appearance. But this is just silly. You could have just put in a generic villain and it wouldn't have made a difference. You would have just had to remove the phrase "It's Broly!" from the characters' dialogue.

And c'mon. Why resurrect Broly again?!? He's like freaking Doomsday from the Superman comics. (Hmmm.... Maybe not that far off an analogy...)

Next, the fight was as boring as can be. Since Bio-Brolly in his mutated form is a moving pile of blob, most of the fight degenerated to him simply standing still and unaffected by the protagonists' blows as they rush him. It just dragged. When I watch a Dragonball Z movie, I half expect it to be action-packed within the first few minutes.

So, no, I won't recommend that you see this. There are other DBZ movies you can watch and enjoy. Unless, you're a completist like me who just has to watch everything in a series, stay away.

Art: 7; Story & Plot: 4; Characters: 6; Sounds: 6

Dragon Ball GT Special

Genre: Action / Fantasy
General Audience
Akira Toriyama, Toei Animation, Fuji TV

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MarkPoa's Description:
Many, many years after the events in Dragonball GT, Son Goku faces the daunting challenge of living up to his grandmother Pan's expectations and his great-great-grandfather (and namesake) Son Goku's legacy. But a sudden sickness that caused his grandmother to collapse started young Goku on a quest to find the fabled Dragonball, which is his only hope of curing Pan. Can this timid boy find the courage inside of him to face his fears? Can he save his grandmother Pan's life?

NOTE: Some of the reviews were written sometime in 2004 and was recorded in the classic Otaku Fridge as ??.??.2004. Unfortunately the database would not accept non-numerical values, so this review is now dated January 01, 2004 by default.

Dragonball for a new generation. >>> by MarkPoa
Surprisingly, this is the only "special" that was produced for the Dragonball GT series. When you think about it, though, it's not that surprising since the animators were given pretty much free reign on the TV series itself. It could also be a sign of Dragonball's waning popularity as it entered its last years. I'm not sure if this is a good thing or not, as this feature was quite good, but a lot of them could very well bring the franchise even lower.

The special episode focuses on a new, yet visually familiar, character. Son Goku looks and sounds every bit like his namesake predecessor (of course, he had the same voice actress as the other Son males). What's different about Goku is that he has lived his life in times of relative peace (after Goku and co. wiped out every evil...). He's naughty, lazy about training, and afraid to fight. In short, a regular kid. This is certainly a departure from the gung-ho adrenaline-filled protagonists of Dragonball Z and GT.

The only familiar character is Pan, Goku's granddaughter by Gohan, whose role in this special is the "aging master who imparts great wisdom and sends student on quest" archetype familiar to kung-fu movie fans. Her sickness leads Goku to embark on a quest for his great-great-grandfather's memento (ah, I hear old-school Dragonball fans nodding their heads), which he believes could help his grandmother.

For an old-time Dragonball fan like myself, Goku's quest is very reminiscent of the old Dragonball stories with Son Goku as a kid. The story is very straightforward, plot-wise, and is very light-hearted and hopeful, even with the pall of Pan's sickness over it.

In short, very good fare to show any young person. I did not have qualms about letting my six-year old sister watch this. And, even though my copy was in Japanese, she had no problems picking up the plot through the visuals. And she enjoyed it as well.

Dragonball Z fans might be disappointed by the relative lack of action here. I found it a good stroke as this was more like a "quest" and coming-of-age story than a Slam-wham-bash special effects extravaganza. The story's strength lies in the growth and struggle of its protagonist. Fact is, I know a few of us, as kids, could relate to his fears and desire to be stronger. Add to that the daunting aspect of living up to your namesake's heroic image and you can imagine how hard it must be for the little guy. It was fun watching Goku grow from a person who was bullied by his schoolmates to someone who could stand up to his fears and protect others.

I was disappointed by how much Dragonball anime recycle their sound effects, though. Would it hurt them to come up with some new tunes and background music? The stuff here are very familiar to a regular Dragonball watcher. Dragonball GT fans might get a good kick out of hearing the familiar opening and ending themes, though.

Overall, as a standalone story, the Dragonball GT special has a simple, heartwarming plot that's pretty good to show young viewers. Casual viewers who have never seen Dragonball or Dragonball Z before could still pick the story up quite easily, but their enjoyment may vary.

As for me, I'm wondering if I should buy my sister another copy before she ruins my DVD with constant replays.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 7; Story 8; Characters 8; Sounds 6

Mahou Senshi Rui

Genre: Fantasy / Adventure / Comedy
General Audience
2001 Ryo Mizuno, Yoshitaka Koyama, WOWOW, JC Staff

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MarkPoa's Description:
What's three lovely adventurers (a priestess, a swordswoman, and a thief) to do when they find a problem that only magic can solve? Find a magician, of course! It doesn't have to be a powerful one, a competent one would suit them just fine. Preferably female.

Too bad. All they got was Rui...

(24 episodes)

NOTE: Some of the reviews were written sometime in 2004 and was recorded in the classic Otaku Fridge as ??.??.2004. Unfortunately the database would not accept non-numerical values, so this review is now dated January 01, 2004 by default.

Rui Pun-chi! >>> by MarkPoa (written ??.??.2004 posted 01.29.2005)

I was actually expecting a Slayers clone when I first saw Mahou Senshi Rui being shown in WOWOW. This is not the case, however. While Mahou Senshi Rui is also prone to slapstick humor and occasional forays into silliness, the series is played out more seriously. Action is more realistic and there is less emphasis on magic spells and special effects.

And that's basically the difference between Rui and Lina Inverse, Slayer's heroine. Rui might be a magician like Lina, but he's a magician who is more brawns than brains. More often than not, Rui has one solution to every problem: his fist. Still, he has a kind-hearted simplicity and fiercely stubborn determination that makes him likable despite his cockiness (and stupidity). Hey, he'll need it especially since he's more prone to bash his opponent on the head with a magic wand instead of casting a spell.

That said, Mahou Senshi Rui's strengths lie in its characters. With a largely female cast and one main male protagonist, one might even imagine hijinks similar to Tenchi Muyo! However, this is not the case. The other female characters are strong characters in their own rights and each have been given enough exposure in episodes to show their backgrounds and motivations.

The art and character designs are simply gorgeous. This is on par with other fantasy works such as Record of Lodoss War, though a little less realistic. I'm speaking less realistic in terms of the fanservice quotient sense, though, so it's all good.

The series' episodes are mostly episodic. After the first few episodes setting up the girls and Rui as a team, the succeeding episodes alternate between the adventures of the group as they try to find ways to increase their wealth and reputation and adventures that highlight the individual characters and their backgrounds. Through the series, though, there is a working conspiracy that is slowly revealed in snatches and comes to a head only around the last three episodes.

However, the episodes themselves are usually entertaining and enjoyable. Humor in Rui is not as frenetic as Excel Saga or Slayers. It's more similar to that of a situational comedy. Character quirks and fanservice are also played out for laughs.

Sounds and music don't have much special going for them. Both opening and ending songs, however, are upbeat and feature interesting visuals to accompany them. "Twinkle trick", the opening song, is pretty fun, while "Love and Pain", the ending song, brings to mind a good action series from its wailing lyrics.

Fantasy adventure and casual anime fans might want to give Mahou Senshi Rui a try. Don't expect anything deep or thought-provoking, though. Sometimes, it takes a simple-minded straight arrow like Rui to remind us that there are things in life that should just be enjoyed.

Individual Rating: Art/Animation 9; Story 7; Characters 8; Sounds 7

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