Itazura na Kiss

Itazura na Kiss is a charming romantic comedy. The story focuses on clumsy, average (and generally unintelligent) Kotoko Aihara, and handsome boy genius Naoki Irie. Calling Naoki a genius is really an understatement; he’s more like a prodigy. He’s good at everything. He instantly memorizes anything he looks at once, he’s good at sports, he can cook, he’s popular (not in that he has a lot of friends, but that he has many followers), top of his class, one of the best in the entire country, skilled at just about everything he attempts, and is good looking on top of all that. Poor Kotoko is…less intelligent. She’s closer to the bottom of her class, has difficulty studying, can’t cook, isn’t particularly good at sports, isn’t exactly drop-dead gorgeous, and is really the total opposite of the kind of girl Naoki would normally be interested in.

In fact, the book starts off with Kotoko attempting to give Naoki a love letter…which is rejected before it even leaves her hands. Poor Kotoko is devastated by his callous rejection, and vows to put that jerk out of her mind forever. But when an earthquake destroys the new house her father just built, they are forced to move in with an old friend of her father’s…who happens to be Naoki’s father. Naoki makes her promise not to tell anyone of their situation, but circumstances (like Kinnosuke, who is in love with Kotoko, following her home) ultimately reveal their situation to the entire school. Then rumors start spreading that they’re dating, then that they’re getting married, and Naoki is not happy. Making the situation more chaotic is Naoki’s mother, Machiko, trying to push the two together against their (or well, at least Naoki’s) will. She is thrilled to have a girl in the house to dote on, and thinks Kotoko would be a perfect match for her son.

Against Naoki’s wishes, he continually finds himself involved in various situations with Kotoko. He helps her study for her exams because she blackmails him with a childhood photo, Machiko makes up an excuse to clear out the house so Naoki and Kotoko can be alone for a couple of days, and in general Kotoko causes him unending trouble. Naoki is unused to such a hectic life, and Kotoko’s presence throws everything off for him. But for this goalless guy who has no real passion for anything, Kotoko’s enthusiasm is just what the doctor ordered.

What makes Itazura stand out from a sea of shojo titles, is its time span. The story follows Kotoko and Naoki through their final year of high school, their time in college, through internships, and official jobs. All of the characters grow and change over the course of their lives. Some of them get married and have children. It’s not just a moment in time; it’s a lifetime.

I really think I was too hard on Itazura before, when I saw the anime. I didn’t like Kotoko at all; I’m not a fan of girls who throw themselves on or fawn over guys who obviously don’t like them, or put up with such obvious cold treatment. But I’ve read Sarasah recently, which is infinitely worse, and realized that Kotoko isn’t so bad. The heroine of Sarasah really has no redeeming qualities to speak of; but I’ve come to understand that Kotoko is compassionate, caring, supportive, and an incredibly hard worker. All admirable qualities; she just needed Naoki to give her a chance. Circumstances threw her into his vision, and he was forced to see her for who she really is, and not just judge her by her standing in school. And, you know, Naoki really isn’t that bad; he’s the sort of person who is so consumed with studying, that he doesn’t really know how to properly interact with people or convey his emotions. He’s a snob, certainly, but it seems to be a wall that he puts up to avoid interacting with people. It really takes an open, passionate girl like Kotoko to pull him out, and it’s going to take all of her effort to get Naoki off his lofty perch, and down where the normal humans roam.

Itazura na Kiss is published by Digital Manga Publishing, for $16.95 (for a double volume). The manga remains unfinished due to the mangaka's untimely death, but it was finished in the anime, which used her intended ending. A copy was provided to me by Digital Manga Publishing for review (thanks!).


Goong Live Action

What if Korea still had a royal family, a ruling monarchy, in this modern time? Now that we've created the setting.... What if you saw your fiancee proposing to another woman? This is the situation Shin Chae-kyung finds herself in - Chae-kyung overhears Crown Prince Shin proposing to classmate and ballet dancer Min Hyo-rin, and then just days later finds herself in an arranged marriage with him!

Before he died, the king of the previous generation, Prince Shin's grandfather, made a promise with his only true friend. This promise engaged the current Crown Prince to his friend's granddaughter (Chae-kyung). At the time however, the Crown Prince was not Shin, but the current heir's son, Yul. When Yul's father died in an accident, Shin's father became the heir and Shin became the Crown Prince. So you can see how some problems would arise. A love quadrangle forms before you can even spit out the word "quadrangle."

Shin is the heir to the throne, but Yul isn't about to let him take that position without fighting back to reclaim what should have been his - and that includes Chae-kyung as well as the throne. Problems arise when Yul's vengeful, ambitious mother pulls out all the stops to bring herself and her son back into the palace. Yul plays along for a while, dutiful to his mother, until his love for Chae-kyung overwhelms all his other feelings. Meanwhile, Shin struggles to deal with his feelings for Hyo-Rin, which he is forced to put aside, and strange, emerging feelings for the unlikely Chae-kyung. Chae-kyung struggles endlessly with palace life, her upbeat and outgoing personality constantly at odds with palace rules and regulations. It's hard to decide which boy to root for. They're both good guys, in their way. Shin is just more awkward and less honest with his feelings, and Yul is more forward. But they both care for her - Shin does lots of little things to make her happy or take care of her, though she doesn't always notice; and Yul's stance of not letting his mother screw around with her is admirable.

There's political intrigue, plenty of drama, lots of humor, gorgeous sets and costumes, sweet romance, hot guys, beautiful girls.... What else do you need?
It's a really beautifully shot show, in terms of the environments and the costumes. They went all out. The set designs are incredibly detailed, and the use of updated traditional clothing for the royal family is superb. And apparently very expensive, though I'm sure the level of detail and realism was very helpful to actors, and it certainly gives everything a believable look.

The older actress (Kim Hye Ja) playing the Queen mother has a beautiful, melodious voice, and it sounds like she's singing a song every time she speaks. Yoon Eun Hye is amazing as lead character Chae-kyung, and she's a newcomer! In fact, (most of) the younger actors were fairly new, while the adult characters were veterans; a dynamic that transfers into the story. Shin was played by handsome Joo Ji Hoon, who later appeared in the Korean Antique Bakery film. The main gang is rounded out by talented Kim Jeong Hoon as Yul, and Song Ji Hyo as Hyo-rin.

Unfortunately, I am unable to compare this to the manhwa, because I have not read it. I've skimmed a tiny bit of it, and it looks entertaining. I did notice that the characters in the comic seem a little more animated than their live action counterparts (specifically Shin). But, you know, internal thoughts are a little hard to convey on a screen.

The story does move a little slow, I will admit. I think it could do to have a couple of episodes knocked off, and a few things consolidated. Shin and Chae-kyung bounce back and forth in their relationship an excessive amount, and often you just wish they would TALK to each other, because it would solve things really quick. But Shin is incredibly private and emotionally awkward, and he's constantly put off by how outgoing and honest Chae-kyung is, so it's understandable.

You can purchase Goong, known as Palace or Princess Hours in America (the DVDs are sold as Palace), from the American licensor YA Entertainment. (I got mine from Rightstuf.com.) The box set of the series comes with a bonus disc that has interviews, bloopers, and behind the scenes footage (most of which is really funny).

Head over to Comic Attack for Ludwig II, The Art of Angel Sanctuary: Angel Cage, and December 2009's Previews highlights.


Last Quarter

Oh dear! It's been almost a month since my last post. Sorry about that! ComicAttack is keeping me busy (and so is Dragon Age). But I did want to talk about a lovely film I watched recently, while waiting for Berserk DVDs to come in. This live action film is based on the manga of the same name (in Japanese, Kagen no Tsuki) by Ai Yazawa (Paradise Kiss, Nana). It is called Last Quarter, which is a reference to the last quarter phase of the moon.

When Mizuki was a child, her mother committed suicide, and her father married his mistress, with whom he had a child. Unhappy with her home life, her 19th birthday is further marred by the discovery that her boyfriend (Tomoki) cheated on her with her best friend. Depressed, she walks home alone late in the evening. As she passes by a mansion, she hears a haunting and familiar tune coming from inside. Inside, a young man is playing the tune on his guitar. Mizuki confesses that she learned piano to play the same tune, though she doesn't know the ending, and that she had never heard anyone else play the song before. The young man, who calls himself Adam, claims he wrote the song for her. Confused, but somehow drawn to him, Mizuki returns to the house the next day and stays there with Adam through the week. On the last day, on the evening of a waning moon, a disappeared Adam calls her to tell her he must leave. She pleads with him to take her with him, and Adam tells her that if they see each other before the moon fades that night, they will go together. But what it means to go with Adam, is something that will have a profound effect not only on her own life, but on the lives of those around her. The mysterious Adam leaves everyone scrambling to discover his true identity, and his connection to Mizuki, in order to save Mizuki before the last quarter of the moon fades away for 19 years.

This beautiful story will have you feeling melancholy by the end. It might even elicit a few tears. Love, karma, reincarnation, trust, desperation. All the elements for a tragic love story. Dark and gothic, this is a beautifully filmed movie. The special effects are nice (though not perfect), and the music is fitting. Mizuki is heartbreaking; Adam has an ethereal beauty and a well of sadness that makes you want to wrap him in your arms and hold him tight; and the high school students that try to help Mizuki are endearing. Tomoki...you either love him or hate him, as a character. It's a little difficult to root for him, honestly, given what he's done to Mizuki, and you kind of want to punch him in the face sometimes. All the actors hold their own and capture their characters quite well.

The film stars Chiaki Kuriyama (Gogo in Kill Bill vol. 1) as Mizuki, Hyde (the vocalist from L'Arc-en-Ciel) as Adam, and Hiroki Narimiya (Gokusen, Nana) as Mizuki's boyfriend Tomoki.

For the interested: Last week's Bento Bako Weekly was a review of Natsuki Takaya's Tsubasa: Those With Wings (er, sorry, two weeks ago; last week I (re)posted my S1 Yu Yu Hakusho review). Monday's will be a review of the yaoi manga Ludwig II.


AIR the Motion Picture

An easy (though not entirely accurate) way of describing this film would be to call it AIR Lite. AIR the Motion Picture is a very simplified retelling of the television anime by Kyoto Animation, which is itself closely based on the visual novel AIR by Key.

The first thing you'll notice, assuming you have already seen the anime series (which I would suggest watching first), is a completely different animation style. This is because while the anime was produced by KyoAni, the film was produced by Toei Animation. Toei gives the film more of a visual novel look, but skips around between animation styles multiple times throughout the film. By that I mean, there's a main style they use for most of the film, but occasionally they use completely different styles scattered throughout. The next thing you may notice is that most of the cast has been cut from the film. All of the girls except Misuzu have been removed from the story. Haruko is still there, as is Kano's older sister Hijiri, the town doctor. Some of the other characters have brief, visual cameos, but the story only follows Misuzu and Yukito this time.

If you haven't seen the anime series, there are some spoilers in the film. So I would stop reading now if you haven't seen the series, and wait until I get around to reviewing that instead (or just go watch it!).

Yukito travels to a small seaside town, where he meets Misuzu, a high school girl working on a summer school project about the history of the town. Yukito plans to stay in town to practice his mysterious puppet trade during an upcoming festival, and Misuzu invites him to stay at her house with her and Haruko, as long as he helps her with her summer project. Interspersed throughout their adventures around the town (during which Misuzu exihibits the symptoms of a mysterious illness) is a story about a winged creature named Kanna and her bodyguard Ryūya. Misuzu is following this story as part of her project, because the story is woven into the history of her town and is the basis for the upcoming festival. As the two get closer, Misuzu gets sicker, the result of an old curse placed upon Kanna's race that causes them to die when they verbally express their love for someone.

Toei's animation isn't nearly as beautiful as KyoAni's in the series. The character designs have been changed (specifically Misuzu and Yukito), both visually and in their personalities. It's not drastic, but it's a difference. For example, anime Misuzu is far more childlike than she is depicted in the film. The curse and the story of Kanno and Ryūya play out quite a bit differently as well. In the film, there is a strong romantic relationship between the two, which doesn't really exist in the anime series. It's a good film, on its own; but personally, I prefer the series. The only real upside to the film is that it focuses only on Misuzu and Yukito, instead of having Yukito running around town and helping other girls. But it wouldn't be a Key game based anime series without those extra relationships. So my original declaration of it being AIR Lite is still a decent description. By cutting out 90% of the characters and their stories, the main story is much more simplified. But that's not AIR.

AIR the Motion Picture was originally licensed by ADV Films, but the rights have since transferred to FUNimation for any future distribution. I watched this in Japanese, but I did listen to the English version long enough to note that the same voice actors from the anime were used. So if you want the consistency...because the voice actor for Yukito changes in the Japanese version. Even so, when I watched the anime in English, I was really turned off by the voices and didn't think they fit the characters, so I automatically watched this one in Japanese.

This week's Bento Bako:
Vampires in Anime/Manga, part 2 (the...lesser titles)
November 2009 Previews selections


Black Lagoon

My boyfriend was around while I watched most of this series, and he would ask me, "Why do you like this?" I think the question came because I typically don't go for over-the-top action, with lots of gun fights and explosions. Things that characterize nearly every minute of every episode of Black Lagoon. Never mind the foul-mouthed, scantily clad leading lady who likes to shoot first, and shoot later (there's no talking involved, unless she's yelling at someone about wanting to shoot them). Yet somehow this excessively violent, foul (as in vulgar), dark and hilarious anime struck all the right notes with me.

Rock (Rokuro) Okajima is Japanese salaryman, on business for his company. The ship he is on is attacked by a group of mercenaries/smugglers known as the Lagoon Company. In an effort to first recover, and then to cover up a disc containing classified documents, Rock's company abandons him to his fate. He somehow manages to survive, but refuses to go back to his calm life in Japan, instead choosing to stay and become a member of the Lagoon Company. This band of misfits includes large and tough Dutch, the owner of the Lagoon Company and captain of their smuggling boat; easygoing and peaceful Benny, the company's mechanic and technology expert; and foul-mouth expert dual gunslinger Revy "Two Hand", the company's...well I think it's pretty obvious what she does. Rock joins on as a diplomat, the negotiating voice of the company, and he also serves to keep the short-tempered Revy in check. The story follows the group from one dangerous situation to another, including raiding an old sunken WWII German submarine, running various errands for Russian Mafia branch leader Balalaika, fighting off bounty hunters, and various other situations that typically involve getting shot at and blowing things up.

The city of Roanapur, where the company is located, is full of many other colorful characters. Roanapur is mostly controlled by the Russian mafia group Hotel Moscow, and the local branch of the Chinese Hong Kong Triad. Hotel Moscow is run by former soviet captain Balalaika, whose former troops make up most of her elite squad. The Triad is run by Mr. Chang (one of my favorite characters), an ex-law enforcement officer with an easygoing attitude, who is highly skilled at wielding dual pistols. They maintain a delicate balance of power within the city, often with the aid of the Lagoon Company, which frequently works for both sides. The Church of Violence (more commonly referred to as the Rip-Off Church) poses as a Catholic church, but secretly runs an illegal arms smuggling operation. A one-eyed, tough talking nun runs the operation, along with a smart mouthed, trigger happy woman known as Eda (who also poses as a nun). Eda and Revy are frequently at each other's throats, though they also fight well together when pressed. There are also plenty of bounty hunters around; such as the Taiwanese knife master Shenhua, who speaks in hilariously broken English; the constantly high Irish getaway driver Leigharch; and the voice-box talking, chainsaw wielding, pint-sized girl Sawyer the Cleaner.

The relationship between Revy and Rock is one of the most interesting in the series. At times he is able to calm her down, but at others he only makes things worse. When he once lectures her for what he perceives as grave robbing, she threatens to kill him if he ever tries to force his morals on her again. Rock's naivety and innocence from living a normal life often make Revy uncomfortable and angry, but there are times when she does her best to protect that innocence from the evils of the world she lives in. It often bothers her that Rock lives between the light and the darkness, while she has always lived and always will live in the darkness; she even tries to convince him to go back home, but he feels more at home with Lagoon Company than he ever did in Japan. So as you can see, there are some more serious themes in the show, and the characters are more complicated than they appear on the surface; it's not all explosions and massive shoot-outs...though there's certainly plenty of that to go around.

Originally released by Geneon, you can now find the series re-released by FUNimation. The 24 episode anime is sold in two 12-episode sets - Black Lagoon, and Black Lagoon: The Second Barrage. There's also a manga, distributed by Viz Media, and a light novel that is currently unlicensed. A third season should be out in 2010. The show features excellent animation from Madhouse, great music by Edison, and a totally rockin' intro theme called "Red Fraction" by Mell. The normal discs come with standard DVD extras (clean credits and the like), but if you buy the sets (each season comes in a lovely steelbook) you get a bonus disc in each with things like interviews and music videos. Though the only thing I really found worth watching was the fantastic "Red Fraction" music video. The English voice over is pretty solid, though I was bothered by the sometimes heavy, sometimes missing Russian accent for Balalaika. Shenhua's (Saffron Henderson) broken English comes out hilariously, though. Megumi Toyoguchi is very distinctive as Revy, but Maryke Hendrikse also does a good job.

If you're a fan of shows like Cowboy Bebop, Trigun or Outlaw Star, this should be right up your alley.

This week's Bento Bako Weekly is a re-do of my Midori Days review. I'll be out of town next weekend, so I don't think I will have a Girl G33k post. But if you go over to ComicAttack.net, you'll get the first half of my two columns highlighting vampire anime and manga.


Skip Beat!

I was working on a Black Lagoon anime review, but got busy with various things. If I don't get it up later this week, it will go up next week instead.

However, I did do a review of one of my absolute favorite shojo manga, Skip Beat!, over at ComicAttack.net. You should head over there and read it.



This week we'll be looking at Noir. This 26 episode anime series was directed by Kōichi Mashimo (Dirty Pair: Project Eden, many .hack// series), written by Ryoe Tsukimura, produced by Bee Train, and released domestically by ADV.

Mireille Bouquet is a professional assassin who goes by the name "Noir." One day she receives an email from a young girl named Kirika Yuumura, who seems to have some connection to her past. Mireille hunts her down, but the two of them are attacked by unknown assailants. After dispatching them together, Mireille learns that Kirika has amnesia. She knows nothing about her past, but does have a familiar looking pocket watch that plays a familiar sounding tune...one that Mireille knows very well. Having seen Kirika's incredible skills with a gun, and seeing her as a connection to her past, Mireille decides to team up with the mysterious girl in an attempt to unlock the secrets of both their pasts. As they dig deeper into the secrets of an underground world, controlled by the mysterious group known as the Soldats, they discover that they have much more in common than they thought. They also discover what it truly means to use the codename "Noir."

For one of the top assassins around, Mireille's not that great. She's a really good shot, but that's about it. Kirika, some random, amnesiac girl she picks up in the street, is 10x the assassin she is; and she doesn't even have any memories to back up her obvious training. In fact, compared to Kirika and another young assassin they meet later, Mireille kind of sucks. Kirika, on the other hand, is a complete badass; 5 years younger than Mireille, she manages to make the woman look like a complete novice.

Animation is average for...basically anything that moves. It's clear they had some amazing scenic painters (backgrounds and environments are detailed and beautiful), but the animation is mediocre at best. For a show from 2001, it's not that impressive visually. They do pay a lot of attention to the eyes, but only on closeups. And for a show filled with so much violence, death and shooting...there's almost no blood. That's possibly an aesthetic choice, or something to keep it in a lower rating (so it can air during the day); but it is a little odd, and it makes it hard to tell when the main characters have been injured (or how serious the injury was).

The plot is drawn out, predictable and dull. You can see every plot "twist" and reveal coming from a mile away. By the time they get to the moment of some great "secret," it's not interesting anymore. In fact, the entire story in general is not even remotely interesting until disc 4, and then it comes and goes. There are too many episodes; really could have been half that and it would have been fine. 13 instead of 26. I found myself fast forwarding through some of the really slow parts (and ceaseless flash backs) out of impatience. It somehow made me think of Ryoko's Case File...and how I'd rather be watching that instead (even though there's really nothing related about them; it's mostly a genre thing). It's not that I hated it, because I didn't; it was just...uninteresting.

The music is by Yuki Kajiura, who I've mentioned before in my Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle review. I'll say the same thing I said then: her music is beautiful, but it's all basically the same from show to show (or game to game). Actually, in the case of Noir, it really overshadowed the show.

English voice acting is average. I've heard some of these people in other shows, where they did better jobs. Neither vocal track is really notable, other than some pretty outrageous accents in the English dub.

DVD extras include production sketches, clean credits, and interviews. DVD menus are uniquely designed, but they're kind of a pain to navigate.


Ouran High School Host Club

This delightful show is easily one of my favorites. A shojo romantic comedy that pokes fun of shojo romantic comedies, Ouran High School Host Club is a fantastic riot that should have you crying with laughter. FUNimation has released the series in two box sets, each containing 2 discs, splitting the 26 episodes into sets of 13. The show is based on the ongoing manga of the same name by Bisco Hatori (Millennium Snow), which is published in America by Viz Media.

Commoner Haruhi Fujioka has been accepted to the prestigious Ouran Academy on an honor's scholarship. While searching for a quiet place to study, Haruhi comes across what should be an empty music room...but turns out to be the home to Ouran's famous Host Club. Flabbergasted by a room filled with beautiful, extremely forward, superficial rich boys, Haruhi stumbles backwards into a very expensive vase and smashes it into pieces. The tone of the host club immediately changes, and Haruhi is roped into working as their errand boy to pay off the enormous debt that breaking the vase has created (8 million yen, or 80 thousand dollars). Oddly enough, the seemingly nerdy Haruhi is a natural at talking to the girls and keeping them interested, much to the surprise of the other members of the club. But there's something the frumpy dressed, ambiguous Haruhi forgot to mention - this seemingly male student is really a girl!

The Host Club is comprised of 6 extremely handsome high school students, each representing a specific type of male character to cater to their clients: third-years Mitsukuni "Honey" Haninozuka (boy lolita) and Takashi "Mori" Morinozuka (strong, silent type), second-years Kyoya Otori (a cool megane, and my personal favorite) and Tamaki Suoh (the princely leader), and first-year twins Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin (little devil type). Throw in Haruhi as the "natural" type and you have quite harem. Of course since Haruhi is really a female, this makes Ouran a reverse harem.

The anime follows the club through an average school year, exploring culture festivals, holidays, summer vacation, character relationships, and various commoner activities as well. The members of the club (particularly Tamaki and the twins) are obsessed with the aspects of a commoner's life...specifically Haruhi's life, which causes her unending frustration. The boys of the club are fairly stereotypical (though there's certainly nothing "average" about them), but also pretty overboard, which somehow makes them interesting and unique. Mori has almost no lines at all, Honey is cute almost 24/7, Kyoya is constantly cool and calculating, the twins are always mischievous, and Tamaki is always an idiot (though a kind and intuitive idiot). Haruhi however is about as far from the stereotypical female heroine as she can be, which is the entire point. In fact, she's about as uncooperative a heroine as you'll ever see. It's hard to have a romantic comedy when your heroine shows absolutely no interest in furthering the plot in any interesting ways. But that's what makes the show so great, and the characters themselves recognize her eccentricities and do their best to work with them.

It's hard for me to describe just how entertaining this show is. I laugh out loud every time I watch it, and I've seen it through several times. I love the art style and character designs (which are based on Bisco's art). The manga is hilarious too, but I prefer the way things flow in the anime, and the way the jokes play out. The manga is actually a mess as far as a timeline goes, with chapters drawn based on when they came out in LaLa magazine rather than a set time frame for the story (which is a bit problematic since Honey and Mori basically never graduate so they can stay in the club...which is a bit of a joke in itself); the anime streamlines everything and puts the chapters it uses from the manga into sequential order based on the anime's timeline. It creates its own ending (using some events from the manga, and creating others), but leaves it open in a way. Basically, the major issues are resolved, but there's no reason the story can't continue.

I was worried about the English dubbing at first, because it contains two of my least favorite voice actors - Greg Ayres as Kaoru, and Todd Haberkorn as Hikaru. I was also rather skeptical at Vic Mignogna's ability to hit Tamaki properly. In the end, I was rather impressed. Caitlin Glass voices an amazing Haruhi (the difficult to replace Maaya Sakamoto is the Japanese voice), and did an excellent job directing the entire cast. J. Michael Tatum is lovely as Kyoya (oh, be still my heart!), and both Travis Willingham and Luci Christian are great as Mori and Honey (respectively). Ayres and Haberkorn didn't bother me as much as I thought they would. Only Mignogna felt off somehow, using the same voice he uses to voice Fay in Tsubasa: Reservoir Chronicle. It's not that he was bad; he's a very good voice actor. There was just something off about him that is difficult for me to put into words. If, like me, you dislike English do-overs of theme songs, you'll definitely want to switch to the Japanese dub during the credits. I was not at all pleased with the English versions, but the Japanese versions are good songs on their own.

DVD extras include limited commentary, clean credits, English voice over outtakes, manga previews, and clear cases with double sided sleeves showcasing individual characters (so you can put your favorites on the outside).


Yu Yu Hakusho Season 2

Several months ago I reviewed the first season box set of Yu Yu Hakusho, which covered episodes 1 through 28. This second season release from FUNimation covers episodes 29 through 56.

The first season introduced us to the main characters, and included a tournament segment to decide who would be the heir to Genkai's special technique. It left off on the introduction to the Dark Tournament, a tournament for teams of demons (or the rare highly skilled humans) to compete against each other for a grand prize. This second season follows this tournament, but does not conclude it; you'll need to buy season 3 for that. It covers most of it, and ends at the beginning of Yusuke's team's final round against Team Toguro.

Due to the season's focus on this tournament saga, there's not a whole lot of (over arching) story or character development. Each of our heroes grow in power, but there's not a whole lot of individual character progression. The exception here is Genkai, who has her big moment within the season; we learn about her past and why she chose to disguise herself to attend the tournament. We also say farewell to the aging master, as her past comes back to haunt her.

Yusuke's growth is mostly dependent on Genkai. In the last season, he went through intense training to get ready for the tournament, which gave him the ability to use his spirit gun more than once per day (he also developed some new ways to use it). This season he goes through yet another training period with Genkai to learn her special technique, and finally hatches his spirit egg (from the beginning of season 1). Kuwabara gets some help from Kurama and learns new ways to use his spirit sword. Kurama's biggest secret is revealed, as is his true power (and his incredibly sexy true form). Hiei struggles to control his Jagan Eye and the overwhelmingly powerful hell fire he can summon. The girls take a back seat, almost literally, as simple spectators of the tournament. Keiko, Kuwabara's sister and Botan all travel to the arena to watch Team Urameshi, providing some commentary and proving that it's not just the contestants in the tournament whose lives are in danger. Koenma also attends, as the "owner" of the team.

Things are a bit more serious this time around (though the fantastic cheese and comedy still abounds). The gang truly struggles with mastering their individual power, and fighting in a tournament that is continually stacked against them. It takes a lot of hard work and some self sacrificing to get to the final round of the tournament. Along the way we're introduced to all sorts of combatants, and several of them make return appearances later in the tournament, and will return again during other sagas in the other seasons.

DVD extras once again include season appropriate character profiles and clean credits. DVD sleeves are reversible (with tinted sketches instead of color pictures on the reverse side) for the box's 2 cases (which contain 4 DVDs).


Scrapped Princess

Finally got to finish this one, and it was worth the wait. Scrapped Princess is based on a light novel series by Ichiro Sakaki (published in America by Tokyopop, along with a short manga interpretation). It was made into an anime by Studio Bones (Cowboy Bebop, Full Metal Alchemist), and is licensed in America by Bandai Entertainment. It's available in an Anime Legends complete collection, individual limited edition boxes (with figures), and as individual discs.

The series has some great English voice talent, including Kari Wahlgren as the title character (FLCL, Samurai Champloo, Witch Hunter Robin), the lovely Crispin Freeman as her brother Shannon (Witch Hunter Robin, Last Exile, Hellsing), Bridget Hoffman as her magical sister Raquel (Serial Experiments Lain); and a host of others including Michelle Ruff, Liam O'Brien, Wendee Lee, and Steve Blum.

At first glance, Scrapped Princess appears to be a fantasy show set in the Middle Ages, like Lodoss War. For the first disc, the story maintains this setting. It becomes clear fairly quickly however that things are not what they seem in this world.

The same goes for the Scrapped Princess herself. A prophecy of Grendel, read before the princess was born, predicts that a child will be born that will become the "poison that will destroy the world" by her 16th birthday. As a result her father, the King, ordered her killed shortly after she (and a twin brother) was born. But Pacifica survives, and is adopted by the Casull family. After the death of their parents, Pacifica and her adopted brother and sister, Shannon (a stellar swordsman) and Raquel (a powerful wizard), embark on a journey to escape those who wish to kill the Scrapped Princess, and find somewhere safe to live.

Looking at Pacifica, and given her friendly personality, you wouldn't think that this was the person who is meant to destroy the world. You may have, as I did immediately, reservations about just what exactly she is meant to destroy. The Church of Mauser maintains that the Scrapped Princess must be killed for the preservation of the world, but frankly the Church of Mauser is a little suspect. The way they basically rule everything, force their faith on people, and treat those who think differently doesn't exactly present them as saintly people. It's clear very early on that something about this whole mess is off somehow, but it's going to take a good portion of the 24 episodes to find out just what exactly is going on behind the scenes.

If that all sounds rather serious and depressing, well...it is. Fortunately comic relief is frequently provided (not only by Pacifica) by a wandering apprentice knight named Leopold. Earnest but rather clumsy, Leopold falls in love with Pacifica at first sight, and joins them on much of their journey to help protect her. The show can be very light and goofy, but there's always a lingering shadow over everything.

The cast is full of interesting, complicated characters. Shannon and Raquel aren't just side kicks, along for the ride - they're fully fleshed out and have their own problems, particularly Shannon. Pacifica is a strong heroine for the most part. She is a little whiny, but most of it is just "Wouldn't everyone be happier if I were dead?" or "I don't want people to die because of me." It's good that she recognizes this, but she does say it a bit too often (though in her defense, the whole world hates her and is out to kill her because they think she's going to destroy them). The upside is her strong desire to live despite her depressing thoughts. Otherwise she's very cheerful and just wants to be friends with everyone they meet. Even their enemies, the god-like Peacemakers and the elite army unit Obstinate Arrow, are more than simple antagonists.

The show is very well made, with good animation, an excellent opening and closing, good music, good story, and good voice acting. DVD extras include...not much. Clean credits, and nothing else that I can recall. But the figures that come with the limited edition boxes (I personally own two of them, a large Pacifica and a smaller Shannon) are pretty nice.

Image (left to right, top to bottom): Leopold and Winia, Zephiris and Christopher, Shannon and Raquel, and Pacifica.

Oh! By the way, I'm working for a website called ComicAttack.net now! The majority is American comic books, if that interests you. If not, as well as co-editing the site, I'm also writing a weekly column called Bento Bako Weekly about all things anime and manga. I plan to make it a bit different from what I do here, which is just straight, individual reviews; and instead explore things from a wider angle. It starts this Monday (which, er, is today)!


Mushi-Shi Live Action

Still having trouble with Scrapped Princess deliveries, I bumped up the Mushi-Shi live action DVD. FUNimation has also titled it as Bugmaster, which is a pretty literal translation, though not exactly accurate. As I (think I) mentioned before in my anime review, the mushi are not strictly insects even though they often take on an insect-like appearance; they are life spirits. The film is directed by Katsuhiro Otomo (Akira, Metropolis, Steamboy), which should say a lot about its quality.

The handsome Jo Odagiri (Shinobi: Heart Under Blade) stars are Ginko, a traveling Mushi Master. The basic plot does not differ from the anime (I can't speak for the manga, but I would assume the same, for the basics at least), and indeed a few instances are woven into the film, including the sound eating mushi, the man trying to capture a rainbow, and the young girl who seals an ancient mushi by writing down the stories told to her by traveling Mushi Masters. The film also explores Ginko's past, so keep that in mind before you decide to watch it. His past, and the circumstances surrounding it, make up a good portion of the film; but Ginko's origin isn't explored in the anime until episode 12, and the girl who writes about mushi appears in episode 20. The film goes beyond what is in the anime however, and Ginko's past comes full circle. It's a fairly complete story from beginning to end (as opposed to just being a random chunk of the story as a whole).

The movie is very well made. There's almost an old fashioned look to it, like a thin film laid across the screen. The costumes and scenery are lovely. Everything fits, and the special effects are well done. The Ginko in the film is a bit different from anime Ginko. Anime Ginko is pretty laid back; live action Ginko is more quiet and very traditional and respectful in his mannerisms. Not to say it's a totally different character, or that anime Ginko is loud and rude; I just think anime Ginko is a little bit more lively. Regardless, Odagiri does an excellent job. Though I do miss the constant cigarette hanging from his lips. Live action Ginko smokes a pipe every now and then, though it's never explained what it is that he's smoking (if you remember from my previous review, it's a special herb that helps keep mushi away).

The film is good about explaining what the mushi are, what they're doing, and how Ginko is handling them. At least until the end when he starts dealing with things that aren't really explained, and some questionable character motivations (from other characters). Overall it's a fantastic transfer into a live action medium.

Now, I can't make a lot of comments on FUNimation's English voice over for the film, because I never watch live action movies in anything other than their original language. It just feels ridiculous and unnatural. I did listen to enough of it (meaning I skipped to a scene where he talked a lot and listened for a couple minutes) to notice that they brought in Travis Willingham to voice Ginko again, which is helpful. In the little bit of the English voice over that I listened to, I got the distinct impression that they were doing animation voice over, not live action voice over. Maybe to some people there isn't a difference, but when I'm watching real people and hearing anime styled voices...that just doesn't work for me, and frankly it was a little silly.

Anyway, watch it, it's a lovely movie.


Tokyopop Dismay

I had hoped to have Scrapped Princess ready to review today, but due to some very annoying shipping issues, it's very slow going. It's the same issue I had the first time I tried to watch the series, but I got one disc further along this time. Here's hoping that "short wait" tag on my Netflix list will go away quickly so I can finish it up.

I DID get the live action version of Mushi-Shi in the mail, but haven't watched it yet. I'll probably watch it later today, and may review it for next week.

So today will just be a rant day. Though I am seeking some advice. I got some extra birthday money in, and I'm looking at the purchase of one of the following three things. I can get them all for about the same price ($35), so that's not an issue. Which is the problem. Here are my options: Gunslinger Girl - Il Teatrino box set, which is out right now. Nostalgia for the DS, which comes out at the end of October. Kingdom Hearts 358/2 for the DS, which comes out at the end of September. I'm leaning towards Gunslinger Girl right now because it's easier for me to buy that for myself (though I will be ordering it, so I'll have to pay shipping too, which will make it run about $40) than to ask for it as a gift later on. The DS games are ideal Christmas gifts since they're lower in price and easier to find, though I am a little concerned about the availability of a smaller title like Nostalgia by the time Christmas comes around. Decisions, decisions.

Moving on.... I've been very disappointed with the quality of Tokyopop's manga lately. It's completely unacceptable to be asked to pay $11 for something filled with so many careless errors. Fortunately the only TP manga titles I read now are Natsuki Takaya books (they seem to have a monopoly on her works). Both series are short, and nearly over. Other than Return to Labyrinth (which isn't very good, but I got suckered in by my love for the film), which has one volume left, and the novels for Twelve Kingdoms, I won't be reading any other TP titles. They have nothing I'm interested in. Viz has better titles, better quality, and is still a dollar or two cheaper (depending on the title) than TP books. Yen press has been getting some good titles too. Tokyopop used to be a monster in the manga publishing business, but they seem to really be struggling now, and it's not just the economy.

I'll wrap up with a nice little rant to Tokyopop, which covers why I, and many others, are so frustrated with them lately.

Dear Tokyopop,
Why is your editing department one of the worst I've ever seen? Spliced frames and dialog, backward pages, poor grammar, misspellings, mixed dialog, incorrect names. The mistakes are far too frequent. You raised your prices across the board, but you lowered the quality of your paper (to some see-through crap [TP has recently stated they found some new, better paper, but they have not used it yet so we'll see later if this improves the quality...or raises the price]), and the quality of your work has gotten worse. This is not how business works. Yes, the economy is bad, yes everyone is struggling to make money. But lowering quality and raising prices do not go together. It's a slap in the face to the people who spend money on your books. They don't have to; it's so easy to find this stuff for free. But we decide to spend the money on professional quality, and support the industry.

So where is our professional quality? Why is every volume I pick up riddled with mistakes? The recent volume of Tsubasa: Those With Wings is an excellent example. See-through paper, a misplaced page, inconsistent spelling of character names and locations (both between volumes and within the same volume), dialog bubbles spoken by incorrect characters, poor sentence structure. These are not 1,000 page novels here. Is it too much to ask for some simple proof reading? My eyes catch every mistake, and every mistake breaks the flow of the story - every poorly structured sentence that I have to re-write in my head, and every incorrect bubble that I have to study in confusion to figure out which character the dialog actually belongs to. A few is acceptable, and even expected. When it's all over every volume you publish, that's a problem.

~ Your Frustrated Consumers

Oh yeah, in other news, Disney has purchased Marvel Comics. I haven't decided how I feel about this yet. The "thing" to say right now is "Oh, there will be Marvel characters in the next Kingdom Hearts!" But...I don't really want that, to be honest. Hopefully the only thing they'll bother to do with the company is fire Joey Q, and then keep their mitts off everything else.


Gokusen Live Action

Time for some J-Drama! My previous J-drama watching experiences have been few (alright, only two others - Nodame Cantabile and Zettai Kareshi), but they're well worth looking into. This time it's the Gokusen live action series. Given the nature of these things, there's really only a couple of ways to view them. You can import the DVDs, torrent the episodes from fansubbers, or (if you're, or rather, I suppose, the show, very lucky) watch them on a streaming site like Crunchyroll.com (where they are not hosted), or here, where I did find them.

I was able to watch all three seasons and the season 3 special via torrent, though they did not have the season 1 graduation special (the linked streaming site does, and I'll watch it later). Nor have I seen the new movie that came out this summer (it's not out on DVD just yet). As I reviewed the anime version of this just last week, please refer to that review for a basic summary. The live action has the same basic story. The only major difference is that while the anime (and manga) follow a single class, the live action show follows a different class at a different school each season.

The adorable and talented Yukie Nakama is spot on as Kumiko "Yankumi" in each season. A young veteran actress who also stared in the Basilisk live action film (called Shinobi: Heart Under Blade...it seems I didn't review it when I saw it, but Jay-san talked about it in one of his posts). The hilarious Namase Katsuhisa plays the head teacher/vice principal in all three seasons as well, and he and Yukie-san play great off each other. It's easy to tell he's a natural comedic actor. Several of the actors in the series have been together before in other shows, including Zettai Kareshi, Trick, Kamen Rider, and Boys Over Flowers. Several of the lead male students are also members of music groups.

The only recurring characters are Kumiko (obviously), the yakuza gang members (her grandfather and the four live-in members, like Tetsu and Minoru), the head teacher/VP, the coach from the second season (he also teaches in season 3), and Kuma from the season 1 class (who makes a surprisingly large number of appearances in seasons 2 and 3). She goes to a new school each season (about 7-8 years of time within the story pass within the three of them), with a whole new class, new teachers, and a new love interest (it's Shinohara as a detective in S1, a neighboring teacher in S2, and a doctor in S3).

It's very well done, and the comedy is excellent. One of my favorite bits is how Yankumi just sort of appears randomly in the middle of her students, while they're having a discussion. They hear her voice out of nowhere, and she's just THERE all of a sudden, and it's hilarious. Yankumi's total disregard for any male other than the one she's in love with is highly amusing as well, especially when she ignores the coach's obvious advances in seasons 2 and 3.

I only had one real issue with the first season. They're always zooming in on Shin's face for reactions, but he's always got the same damn look on his face, so I'm not sure why they bother. He's only got 3 real expressions - bored, amused but still bored, and angry in a bored sort of way. It's hard to know what he's supposed to be thinking, though I guess if you want to explain it away technically, part of his character is that people never know what's he's thinking.

I didn't like the third season as much as the others. The characters were not as interesting (or as cute!), and the formula was starting to get a little dull. What I mean by that is, basically the same thing happens in every single episode (in all 3 seasons). They just change some characters around. Yankumi goes to school, one or more students is having some kind of personal problem, Yankumi tries to figure it out, the student or students in question get into some form of trouble, Yankumi has to go to the school or police station to straighten it out, student(s) mouths off, Yankumi talks with her grandfather for advice, the shit hits the fan, the boys get into a fight and get their asses kicked, Yankumi shows up to rescue them, everyone learns a lesson. That's the basic plot of every single episode. As amusing as some of the situations can be, I just don't think it holds for 3 seasons. If you don't mind formulaic stuff like that, or if you're a Bernard Cornwell fan, then this should be fine for you. But I'm not much of a fan of sitting through the same story over and over again. Fortunately the comedy remains consistent and funny.

I was also a little bothered in the third season by how no one really bothered to find out why Yankumi was the way she is. In the first two seasons the kids find out pretty early on that she's yakuza; either by complete accident, or because they're actively trying to find out. And eventually EVERYONE finds out and Yankumi has to resign (again, same basic story element in seasons 1 and 2). But in season 3, they don't really seem to care. They make one early comment about her strength, then they let it drop for most of the season, but attempt to find out about it near the end (kind of randomly). The main boys find out, and then it's never mentioned again. I know I was just complaining about how formulaic everything is, but if you're going to do it, then do it all the way. Deal with her identity completely, or just don't bother.

The show is great fun, Yukie-san is fantastic, and most of the time the students are great as well. Finding a large group of talented young men who have such great chemistry together can't be easy. There is one final thing I was curious about; in each season the classroom and the desks have different designs (like graffiti, etc). I wondered if a production crew did this, or if the actors got to customize their own desks and room, to give it their own personality (or what they felt was the personality of their character). I'm not sure how one would go about finding that out, but if anyone knows, that would be some interesting trivia.

Members of the season 1 cast above.



This is really a delightful little show. And at just 13 episodes (on 3 discs), it doesn't require a huge investment of time. It's silly, cute, charming and hilarious. For some reason I seem to have a sort of romantic fascination with the yakuza (thanks to Yoshiki Nakamura's Tokyo Crazy Paradise), so I may be a little biased toward a show like this. I should note now that the show does contain some language, and that tends to turn some people off. But it is about the yakuza after all, so what did you expect?

Well, alright, it's not strictly about the yakuza. Gokusen (based on the manga by Kozueko Morimoto) follows 23-year-old Oedo clan heir, granddaughter of the current Kumicho, Kumiko Yamaguchi. Her dream in life is to become a teacher, so with her grandfather's blessing, Kumiko heads off to Shirokin High School to teach her very first students - the troubled delinquent outcasts of class 3-D. Though her desire is to become a teacher and not the clan heir, and she hides her family from the school, her previous life has made her remarkably well prepared for dealing with such a class. Fortunately her students aren't as bad as their reputation. Though they talk and act tough, deep down they're caring and loyal. Unfortunately, they don't trust adults, especially teachers. So Kumiko must prove to them that she truly cares for the well being of each of her students, a challenge her background has made her apt for. It's especially challenging when vice principal Sawatari is doing everything in his power to to find a way to shut down the school.

The show focuses not only on Yankumi (the nickname given her by her class), but the students themselves. A core group of them in particular - quiet and cool Shin, quick to fight Minami, purple haired Uchiyama, large and tough Kumai, and Noda. Kumiko is seen most often pulling them out of trouble and teaching them various lessons. Though poor Shin, who develops a very cute little crush on Kumiko, is always being rescued by her, even when he tries to be the hero instead. Off to the side is Kumiko's yakuza family - Kumiko's grandfather Kuroda (the Kumicho), tough-looking Kyo, the enthusiastic Minoru and Tetsu, Kumiko's dog Fuji (who will sometimes provide a sort of narration for the series), and the family's lawyer Shinohara (who Kumiko has a crush on).

I really loved Kumiko's yakuza group. Tetsu and Minoru are great comedic relief, and their devotion to Kumiko is hilarious and sweet (as is Kyo's). I also thought it was great that Kumiko's students sort of become her own mini-yakuza group. The best parts of the show of course are the moments when Kumiko gets really fired up about something and forgets herself, slipping into gangster speak or becoming violent, right in front of everybody. And then does a complete 180, returning to her sweet and cheerful self like it never happened in an attempt to cover up her actions.

There's a 3 season Japanese live action drama to amuse yourself with as well, although only the first season focuses on the students from the manga/anime, and she gets a whole new class after that. There was also a theatrical LA movie that came out this July. I currently have plans to talk about the drama at a later date, when/if I get around to the second and third seasons (I recently completed the first, but as the other two are about different students, I don't have much interest at the moment).

Media Blasters released the Gokusen anime on DVD in America. Extras included clean credits and English voice actor outtakes. I watched the show in English (I think I watched 1 episode in Japanese, for comparison), and was pleased with the dubbing (though there's nothing wrong with the Japanese dub either).

In other news, FUNimation is releasing the live action Mushi-Shi on DVD at the end of the month! Hooray! I was so disappointed I couldn't go see it at the film festival last month, and thought I'd never get to see it. So thank you FUNi!


Bikes, Cakes and Promises

A live action trio of films is what we'll be looking at this week. First is Kamikaze Girls, a live action film based on the light novel of the same name by Novala Takemoto. Then we'll go to Korea to look at the Korean film version of the manga Antique Bakery (by Fumi Yoshinaga). And lastly, a Chinese Chen Kaige film called The Promise (Wu ji).

Kamikaze Girls:

We'll start with this absolutely delightful story of the friendship between two unlikely teenage girls. The film reminded me a lot of Amelie in terms of style, and if you've seen this amazing French film, you'll understand what I mean. Momoko is an anti-social young girl obsessed with 18th century France, wishing she had been born in the Rococo-era instead of modern day Japan. Her love for the period has resulted in a deep love for Lolita fashion, and actress Kyoko Fukada is adorable in the doll-like outfits that she wears throughout the film. Ichigo, played by the excellent Anna Tsuchiya, is the complete opposite of her frilly dressed counter-part - a bōsōzoku, a yanki in a female motorcycle gang (although Ichigo herself rides a customized Honda Lead scooter). The two meet when Momoko attempts to sell her father's left over knock off clothing (from his time as a low-class gangster) to help support her Lolita clothing purchases, and Ichigo shows up to buy a jacket. Both girls are taken by each others eccentricities, and loner Momoko is dragged into a friendship by Ichigo's incessant appearances and outlandish attitude. The movie is great fun, and is a wonderful example of the deep friendship that can be formed between girls, even girls as inherently different as Momoko and Ichigo. It's hilarious, charming, and has just the right mix of bright cheer and morbidity. The film is available with sub titles from Viz Media in America.

Antique Bakery:

I talked about the anime version of this manga last year, and this Korean version keeps the main story points, but changes the location (to Korea), and the names of the characters (to Korean names). As I only reviewed the first episode before, here's a bit more on what the story is about (with new character names). Kim Jin Hyeok (Tachibana) opens up a fancy cake shop for mysterious reasons of his own, considering he hates eating sweets. He hires Min Seon Woo (Ono), an excellent, and gay, pastry chef, who also happens to be an old classmate of Jin Hyeok's. Seon Woo, known as the gay of Demonic Charm, has been fired from all his previous jobs for causing romantic arguments with his fellow employees. Soon they hire a promising young man named Yang Ki Beom (Eiji), a former champion boxer who can no longer fight due to a serious injury. To complete the group, Jin Hyeok's klutzy childhood friend and bodyguard Nam Soo Yeong (Chikage) arrives to help watch over his master and work in the cafe. The film hits the major story points, though Ki Beom is often pushed aside as a minor character while the film focuses on Jin Hyeok and Seon Woo. It's well acted (with at least one completely gorgeous guy) and well made, with the exception of an early opening musical sequence that is bizarre and seems out of place. Also, near the end, the story becomes a little confusing regarding a character from Jin Hyeok's past; I wasn't sure if I was watching two different characters with similar looking actors, or the same character which would make things a bit off. The movie (for the sake of time) cuts out a chunk of the story where the characters attempt to garner publicity for their shop, and other than the aforementioned confusing character and cutting off some of Ki Beom's development, it's the same boy's love story that you'll get from the anime and manga.

The Promise:

I was less pleased with The Promise. The story had a lot of potential, but it fell a little flat for me. I do wonder though if this had to do with the fact that the American release of the film had 25 minutes edited out of it for some reason. In The Promise a little girl named Qingcheng survives by stealing off the bodies of corpses in a battle field. She is caught by a boy of about the same age who accuses her of stealing, and makes her promise to be his slave before releasing her. However after she is released, she hits him on the head and runs away. While crossing across some water, she meets the goddess Manshen, who offers her a deal - she will never again starve, she will wear the most beautiful clothing and eat the best food, and countless men will fall in love with her...but she will never experience true love herself, for if she finds it, she will lose it. Qingcheng agrees, and the goddess informs her that this agreement cannot be broken until snow falls in the summer and time flows backward. Many years later a battle rages between the armies led by General Guangming and Duke Wuhuan. Qingcheng, now grown, is swept up in a war between the Duke and her King's men (which the General leads), as is the mysterious servant of the General, Kunlun. The past comes back to haunt them, as the mysteries of the people from the Land of Snow are revealed, and the goddess Manshen's prophecies start coming true. This is a story of love, sacrifice, mistaken identity, loyalty and betrayal. It sounds like an excellent set up for an incredible film, but it just isn't as good as one would hope. For a film from 2005, the special effects are a bit substandard in quality. Something as simple as falling cherry blossoms look incredibly rendered, never mind the super fast running Kunlun. Fortunately the amazing costumes and combat that we've come to expect from these kinds of films are there and look great. In the end, I still think it was an interesting story that was underdeveloped (or edited out, possibly); but at least the acting (Dong-gun Jang, the beautiful Cecilia Cheung, and the very handsome and talented Nicholas Tse) is great.



K-On! is a simple, 12 episode (with a special) high school girls anime from Kyoto Animation (AIR, Lucky Star, Haruhi). A lot of people raved about this show, and it is a cute little thing, but there are other things to spend your time on. It is VERY cute, charming, and funny. I think it's a fantastic show for girls, and for guys who like this sort of show (like Azumanga Daioh, Lucky Star, Sasami Magical Girls Club). There's nary a boy to be seen in this one; it's pretty much all girls, all the time. But don't expect a lot of fan service. There's some (the girls dress up in costumes on a couple occasions, and go to the beach twice), but it's not cluttered with pantie shots and the like (though there is the rare camera focusing on a boob shot of the more well-endowed characters). It's good, clean fun for the most part.

K-On! follows four (and later 5 with freshman Azusa) high school girls who form a Light Music Club at their school. The club is started by bass player Mio and drummer Ritsu, and keyboardist Tsumugi (Mugi) joins soon after. Desperately in search of another member, or else their club will be disbanded, the group eagerly welcomes straggler (and often times slacker) Yui into their fold, not knowing that she can't actually play any instruments. Miraculously Yui is rather adept at guitar, and the group bands together to find her her own instrument, and teach her how to play.

The show is less about the music and the band than it is about the girls' friendships, so don't watch it expecting Beck Mongolian Chop Squad for girls. There's no mysterious story here (like Haruhi), no romance (like AIR), no otaku humor (like Lucky Star). It's just a group of cute and rather silly girls goofing off, having tea and cakes, and occasionally playing some music. So, it's more like Azumanga Daioh with guitars. There's even a fantastically entertaining teacher who becomes their club advisor.

A lot of people seemed to have compared the show to Lucky Star, and for good reason, though I personally likened it more to Azumanga Daioh (with guitars, complete with a girl who likes cats, a rich smart girl, a loud tom boy, and a goofy teacher). Although, when I saw Lucky Star, my first impression was "Oh, it's like AD," so.... Take that how you will, I guess.

The show is well animated (wouldn't expect anything less from KyoAni), and the girls are irresistibly adorable (especially Mio and Mugi), though somewhat archetypal/cliche. I wouldn't rush out to watch it, but I wouldn't disregard it either. Jay-san has some good images/wallpapers from the show over in his K-ON post. The title of the show comes from the name of their club, the Light Music Club (which is more like light pop, not orchestrations).