Girl’s High (Joshikousei)

(12 episodes, 2006)

My previous exposure

It was mentioned in passing in a recent ANN column as “the anti-MariMite”. Okay, bring it on.

What’s it about ?

It’s a slice-of-life show featuring six girls attending a girls-only high-school. The high concept is that they’re crude and make tons of sex-related jokes (despite most of them having no experience whatsoever, obviously).

The plots alternate between standard slice-of-life fare (the sports and culture festivals), some more risqué material (the love hotel episode) and more character-focused drama.

What did I think of it ?

This is a very decent show struggling under the weight of very pervasive and immersion-breaking fanservice. The pervert camera is on full-on mode here, oggling the girls and never missing an opportunity for a panty shot. This is more than a bit annoying, especially considering how the ED sequence manages to show the main cast sexing it up while still remaining tasteful (and looking like potato sacks teenagers). Fortunately, the fanservice does get a bit lighter later on, with a couple of episodes even having no panty in sight whatsoever.

Similarly, the gross-out sexual jokes of the initial episode quickly get phased out in favour of character-based humour… with some dashes of utterly random slapstick (such as drama queen Kouda’s instant bizarre cosplay shtick) and various parodies. It also gets sometimes into some weightier subjects (bullying, a rape attempt…) that get dealt with an appropriate mix of seriousness and levity.

Once you get past the adolescent pubic hair jokes and exaggerated personalities, there’s something surprisingly genuine about those girls’ portrayal. The series is at its best when it lets them act like actual teenagers. I especially liked the flashback to Himeji’s eating disorder, which is treated as a joke throughout, but still looks very real.

Thus this is something of a mixed bag : a fun little gag series burried under tons of creepy fanservice. But hey, at least it cheered me up.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 13.

Le Portrait de Petite Cossette (Cossette no Shouzou)

(3 36-minute episodes, 2004)

My previous exposure

After the success of Bakemonogatari and Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Akiyuki Shinbo barely needs any introduction, and his name should be reason enough to revisit his earlier works. Especially after stumbling onto The Soultaker last year in my half-joke “Spring 2001 in review”, which showed that his directing skills were already impressive more than a decade ago.

I’ve had mixed luck with Shinbo’s back catalog in the past (Soultaker was impressive, Negima!? okay, but I couldn’t get through more than a few episodes of Pani Poni Dash and Hidamari Sketch), but this is a short OVA series, so why not try it out ?

What’s it about ?

Our generic male protagonist mans his uncle’s antique shop while the latter gallivants the world. One day, he stumbles in his inventory onto a cupboard hiding the portrait of a girl. Also, one of the glasses inside allows him to see the image of said girl… and to talk with her.

From that point starts a very creepy relationship, to the increasing concern of his few friends and the local psychic. And that’s before the bodies start piling in.

What did I think of it ?

With the routine use of peculiar angles, the thoughtful composition of every shot, and the use of editing as punctuation, there’s an hypnotic quality to Shinbo’s directing… and by this I mean it often makes me drowse and lose focus if I’m not quite hooked by the story. In his good series, there’s usually a sudden jolt in the plot that forces me to pay attention (Bakemonogatari‘s sudden child abuse flashback, Soultaker‘s descent into insanity, Sayonara Zetsubou-sensei‘s social commentary, everything in PMMM). Here, it’s the twist about the portrait… but that’s in the third episode. So I’m left with two episodes of creepy atmosphere that I couldn’t make much emotional attachment to, and a very good ending that puts a completely different spin on the previous happenings but still makes perfect sense.

So I’m a bit conflicted about this one. The ending was very good indeed, and Shinbo’s craft shines throughout, but I can’t ignore I couldn’t quite care about the first two-thirds of it.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 13.

Moyashimon (“Yeast Monsters”)

(11 episodes, 2007)

My previous exposure

There’s a sequel airing this Summer, and since it’s on noitaminA it’d have gotten on my radar sooner rather than later anyway.

Beyond that and the notion that it’s about cute microbes or something, I knew nothing of it.

What’s it about ?

Sawaki, our protagonist, is a new student attending an agriculture university. He can see microbes (bacteria, fungi, viruses, the whole lot of them), not as what they look like under a microscope, but as cute inch-tall little critters. He’s not too fond of this talent of his, and tends to keep it secret, but it turns out to be quite useful in the world of agriculture (both with the “good” fermenting microbes, and the “bad” toxic microbes).

But this is mostly a background thread, as the core of the series is a slice-of-life story involving the ensemble cast of Sawaki, his best friend Yuuki, Pr Itsuki (an ineffable microbe specialist who takes them under his wing), angry grad-student Hasegawa, never-do-well second-years Kawahama & Misato, and various over recurring characters.

What did I think of it ?

I didn’t expect this at at all. Sure, it’s very educative about how microbes are SERIOUS BUSINESS in agriculture, and the quirky “Sawaki-vision” does a lot to liven up all this exposition… but mostly it’s just a really good college slice-of-life series. Heck, the high point of the series is that hilarious two-parter with the survival challenge, and that had nothing to do with microbes.

This was well worth watching, and I can hardly wait for the second season.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 13.

Gankutsuou – The Count of Monte Cristo

(24 episodes, 2004-2005)

My previous exposure

I first heard of this one through the president of my college anime club, who was a big fan of the artstyle. I think he even showed us the first episode. I never got around to actually watching the full thing it for ages, though, as I waited until I thought I’d be “ready”.

I’ve obviously heard of the basic plot through cultural osmosis, but I’ve never actually read the original doorstopper of a novel (or watched any of the numerous movie/TV adaptations). So I was mostly fresh on the actual plot twists the series had in reserve for me.

What’s it about ?

It’s the future, but conveniently society is basically the same as early-19th-century France (well, kinda, I’ll come back to it further down). Albert de Morcerf is the young naive heir of an up-and-coming politician, engaged to the daughter of a rich banker, and promised to a bright future… until he meets the eccentric Count of Monte-Cristo on the Moon. Little does he know that his newfound friend is actually out for a (very convoluted) revenge against the three men who wrong him 20 years ago… including Albert’s father.

Let’s be honest, the SF setting is just a parlour game, as one will try and guess how each element is transposed from the original context. But it’s also an excuse for the visuals to go marvellously insane. A duel will become a battle between giant armoured mecha… because why not, after all ? The show revels in its artificiality, using psychedelic images to make its story even more grandiose and baroque, as best exemplified by the use of unmoving elaborate textures to depict people’s clothes and hair. It will either burn your eyes or make you fawn over how pretty it is.

What did I think of it ?

I loved it, as you probably can tell by now. Not only is it gorgeous, but it never sacrifices the clarity of its storytelling. This is a very well-structured adaptation, with my only little qualm being that the Count’s plots take ages to actually go anywhere. But when they finally come to fruition, it makes all the build-up worth it.

It is interesting how little this adaptation cares about the Count’s past life as Edmond Dantès. He barely gets ten minutes of flashbacks very late on, as the strict minimum necessary to explain why he became the implacable vengeance machine known as the Count of Monte-Cristo. (Not the how, though, the series doesn’t care about that at all.) The Count himself is an antagonist throughout, with only token displays of hesitation while he tramples over the lives of innocents to get at his targets.

The focus here is clearly on Albert, which is a bit tiring at times given how much he’s a naive spoiled brat who takes a lot of time to distrust the dude who looks like a vampire. (Or heck, even be aware of how much many of the adults around him are scumbags.) But then, this is not a series for subtlety, and the core goal here is to display how the Count’s revenge wreaks havoc on innocents’ livelihood. Albert, as innocence personified, is the perfect incarnation of collateral damage. The storytelling choice of making the Count’s motives distant (and unrevealed until nearly the very end of the show) only adds to the monstrosity of his actions. Yes, those three assholes probably deserved punishment (not only for what they did to him, but also for their various other misdeeds later on), but the Count’s sweeping retaliatory action was always bound to provoke more future strife in an endless cycle of vengeance.

Perfectly illustrating the pointlessness of the Count’s actions, and looking great while doing so, this is a show well worth watching.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 11.

Carried by the Wind: Tsukikage Ran

(13 episodes, 2000)

My previous exposure

Suggested in this very thread.

What’s it about ?

Ran Tsukikage is a drifter that everyone she meets thinks is a samurai. (And she does have the skill : if she starts fighting you, you WILL lose, often in a matter of seconds.) She’s a woman of few words who rarely gives a toss about anything around her, except when sake’s involved ; in which case she’ll start rambling incoherently like a mean drunk.

Her sidekick is Meow, a very talkative martial artist who stumbled onto Ran in the first episode and stuck with her ever since. Let’s be frank, Meow is a bit stupid and gullible, which often provides the hook to involve the duo with whatever the plot of the week is. (This is a very episodic series.)

Mostly, they aimlessly roam the Edo-period Japanese countryside while getting on each other’s nerves. And the audience’s, too.

What did I think of it ?

Well, this could have gone better. While I don’t have a problem against our protagonists’ double act in theory, in practice it can get quite irritating very quickly (especially if Meow starts shouting a bit too much). While most of the time their antics reach the level of “mildly funny”, they rarely rise about it, and sometimes go down to “bloody annoying”.

It doesn’t help that I’m pretty sure I’ve already watched half of these plots, with much better execution, over in Samurai Champloo. Sure, that’s no fault of this show, but the comparison is unavoidable. Here, the directing is pedestrian, most of the characters are one-dimensional (special mention to the generic bad guys, who couldn’t sound more B-movie evil if they tried), and the strict episodic format prevents from attaining any kind of depth.

As it is, the series is cute for a few episodes, after which watching it became a bit of a chore. (I think I lost most of my goodwill with the “Meow finds a baby” episode and its questionable gender politics. And the less said about the “idiot blonde foreigner” episode, the better.) Not that it’s bad, but it just wasn’t funny enough to really be worth the time.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 11.

Kino’s Journey

(13 episodes + 3 specials, 2003, 2005, 2007)

My previous exposure

Suggested in this very thread. And I vaguely remember having heard of it before.

What’s it about ?

Our protagonist Kino travels between various countries, atop her faithful motorbike Hermès. (Who can talk. Don’t ask.)

What did I think of it ?

This is a very episodic series, alternating between several tales in a single episode, up to a two-parter halfway through. The setup is basically always the same : Kino arrives in a new town/country, learns about their customs, stuff happens, and she leaves after three days. The whole thing is an excuse for exploring human sociology, and why they do what they do, however pointless it is. In particular, there’s a great unspoken ironic parallel in the “3 men and the railroad” between the 3’s pointless task, the “country where people don’t need to work (but do anyway, because doing something pointless is better than doing nothing)” tale-within-a-tale, and Kino’s own aimless wandering.

Kino is a very compelling protagonist, despite us barely ever getting into her head at all. She doesn’t talk much and offers no inner monologue ; Hermès’s whole role is to offer a naive proxy for the viewer so as to try and understand her. A few episodes offer some explanations about her backstory, although a great deal is left unsaid. What little we do get to see, though, I really like ; the Colosseum two-parter shows she’s got a strong sense of justice and a nasty sense of humour. I also like that she sometimes completely fucks up (seriously, driving that family of androids to suicide can’t have been her intention).

Another strong point of the series is that it knows how to vary tones across its tales ; it can go from the cheerful story of the first airplane to the grim and bloody Colosseum two-parter. The soundtrack is intriguing ; along with some direction effects, it often emphasizes the artificiality of the story and injects a dimension of “something’s not quite right” that contrasts nicely with the naive character designs. This works especially well in the second special where Kino goes on her first “real” journey.

It’s a bit of a shame that the last special is among the weakest tales (with CG backgrounds that are a bit too distracting to be impressive), though. Still, this has been a great series to watch, and is the first one suggested in this thread to join my Top 30.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 9.


(10 12-minute episodes, 2006)

My previous exposure

None, beyond the notion that this is an early Studio SHAFT show, and I thought I should watch more of those.

(Also, I needed some counter-programming for Mushishi.)

What’s it about ?

A junior advertising worker drone starts housing a rookie voice-actress after her flat burns down. One thing leads to another, although their relationship is quite rocky indeed.

It doesn’t help that she then gets hired on his next project (not that he had any role in the decision), and she prefers to keep their relationship hidden so that the conflict of interests isn’t too obvious. Awkwardness ensues.

What did I think of it ?

I only noticed it too late : Shinbo didn’t direct this. So, none of his usual quirks are present, and this is a bog-standard romantic comedy with no creativity whatsoever in the photography. Oops.

Still, does it work on that level ? Well, just barely. The plot doesn’t go anywhere interesting in the very short running length, the characters don’t have much maturity or personality, and the supporting cast remain caricatures. There’s a semi-interesting plotline about the female lead’s career that feels more genuine than most depictions of the voice-acting business, but nothing to go out of your way for.

It doesn’t help that the format actively works against the story. The 12-minute length is a brutal mistress, and it’s obvious the story has been arbitrarily cut in pieces to fit it. (The first episode doesn’t even manage to establish the premise !) Also annoying are the random scene transitions every three minutes or so that are so jarring they took me out of the show.

I won’t say it was painful to watch, but there’s very little to recommend here.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 9.


(26 episodes, 2005-2006)

My previous exposure

Suggested in this very thread. Also, wasn’t this in JesuOtaku’s top anime list ?

What’s it about ?

Ginko is a Mushishi, a nomad wise man who wanders around the countryside helping people with their problems with Mushi (mostly invisible, barely alive supernatural creatures who can have a huge impact on one’s life if one’s not careful).

Each episode is a standalone tale ; a few of them deal with Ginko’s past or the general ecosystem of Mushishi, but most just center on a particular case of Mushi happening to people and how Ginko tries to better the situation a bit.

What did I think of it ?

On the one hand, this show does everything right : a charismatic protagonist, gorgeous landscapes, effective storytelling that sketches up a new cast of characters each episode well enough for the watcher to care about them, a genuine sense of wonder about the beauty of Mushi…

But dear gods, this is a depressing series to marathon through. Most of the tales have truly horrific stuff happening to basically decent people because of one moment of carelessness or pride (or just plain bad luck). Very few of these people deserve such fates, and there’s a limit to what Ginko can do to help them (especially as he often arrives when it’s too late). What makes it worse is that you can’t really blame the Mushi either, because they’re not really sentient (with a few exceptions, such as the horrifyingly effective changeling tale) and just do what’s in their nature. The overall impression is that it just sucks to live in this world.

This has been a harrowing watch, and probably worked better on a weekly format, with enough time to rest between each episode. Don’t get me wrong, this is a very good show, but it’s a bit too good at telling its stories for me to really love it.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 8.

The Tatami Galaxy (Yojouhan Shinwa Taikei)

(11 episodes, 2010)

My previous exposure

It’s a noitaminA show whose OP sequence was among JesuOtaku’s “best of 2010”. Beyond that, I knew nothing of it.

What’s it about ?

Our unnamed protagonist/narrator is a young college student who has spent the last two years in a quirky club ; he thought that’d be an occasion for socializing and having a great time, but it made him miserable and the only “friend” he made was Ozu, a backstabbing asshole who even looks impish. Well, there’s also this Akashi girl from the engineering department who might be a possible prospect… but our protagonist has by this point made such a mess of his life by this point that he thinks it’s too late to make a move, and really wishes he’d joined another club and never met Ozu.

The joke is that each episode has him joining a different club as he enters college, still meeting Ozu somehow, and still making a mess of his life in a completely different way. The series plays quite a bit on the format, first in #6-8 by having him join three clubs at once (with three different endings to about the same series of events), and then by climaxing in a tale where he never joins any club and things get really weird.

What did I think of it ?

Well, this is certainly a different anime from about everything else I’ve watched. I’m reminded a bit of some of the works of Satoshi Kon, with a stream-of-consciousness kind of storytelling that leaves a lot of room to dreamlike imagery. The character designs are deliberately cartoony, which helps when the plot gradually becomes more insane. I also love the ED sequence, which can only be described as “blueprint porn”, as rooms shuffle around rhythmically and thrust into one another along the tune.

This is a very wordy series. The characters are very talkative, and when they shut up, the protagonist takes over and never lets go. It could be tiring (and it is a bit), but the series is funny enough to get away with it. There are some great gags in every episode, the highlight probably being ep #3’s Cycling Club and its feud with the Illegal Parking Brigade.

What truly makes the series remarkable, though, is that the repetitive structure works. Each episode is different enough to entertain, and through each iteration we get a better handle on the supporting cast and how they all fit together. Especially remarkable is the final reveal about Ozu : he does have a purpose and a plan beyond random mischief, and it’s actually quite endearing. The weakest link may be Akashi, who doesn’t show that much personality beyond “ideal love interest”, but there’s still enough depth in her for the romance not to be forced. (It helps that some episodes have the narrator pursue some completely different women… or approximations thereof.) The ending is a bit weakened by the obviousness of the fractal structure of the narrative being made into the actual text, but there are enough pay-offs to what initially looked like throwaway bouts of weirdness for it to work.

This is a very good show which tried to do something very different from the norm and pulled it off. And it’s a lot of fun, too.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 7.

Guardian of the Spirit (Seirei no Moribito)

(26 episodes, 2007)

My previous exposure

Heartily recommended by this thread at least thrice.

What’s it about ?

This is set in the Yogo empire, a parallel version of pre-industrial Japan with a rich spiritual world bubbling under the surface. A good part of the plot revolves on the relatively recent Yogo empire having mostly erased the spiritual knowledge of the previous civilization for political purposes, and having it biting them in the ass.

Case in point : Chagum, the young second son of the Emperor, has become the host of a major water spirit ; the Emperor mistakes it for a demon (because that’s how the faked histories describe it), and engineers “subtle” attempts on his son’s life to get rid of the menace. Chagum’s mother isn’t too keen on that, and hires Balsa, a foreign female bodyguard reputed to be very good at her job, to try and save him. Cue chase scenes and all-too-brief respites in the countryside in between.

Also among the main cast are Shuga, the high priest/diviner (and Chagum’s tutor) who leaked the news about the spirit to the Emperor and really regrets it ; Tanda, Balsa’s not-boyfriend, a skilled herborist who’s really handy to cure her frequent wounds ; and Torogai, Tanda’s teacher in all things spiritual, a wise (and abrasive) old woman who’s one of the few characters with enough knowledge to understand the significance of Chagum’s possession…

Because what Chagum is really carrying inside him is the egg of a water spirit whose rebirth is essential to the cycle of life in the world ; on the other hand, all the data Torogai can gather seems to confirm that Chagum is going to die in the process…

What did I think of it ?

This is a gorgeous show, with tremendous attention to detail. We spend a lot of time with our main characters living quiet lives in the countryside, and all of it feels real and well-researched. The (relatively rare) fight scenes are also impressive, Balsa being the most badass depiction of a spear-carrier I’ve ever seen. I also like that Chagum’s character design slightly changes in the last few episodes to reflect Balsa’s training and growing maturity.

The only false note on the production side is the score ; not that it’s bad (it’s very adept at rendering the atmosphere of a slightly eerie countryside with barely-concealed danger lurking underneath), but because it’s so strongly similar to another Kenji Kawai score from the same time period ; as a result, I was often half-expecting a redhead with a billhook to jump in at any time. That was quite distracting indeed. It’s only within the last few episodes that the soundtrack really manages to rise above this.

The strength of this series is its deep grounding in verisimilitude : all of it feels real, even when the cast is battling giant crablike monsters or sliding into the spiritual world. The society looks real, the politics are depressingly familiar, the characters feel like actual people (even the one-dimensional evil Emperor is a somewhat believable jerkass), and the supernatural elements are carefully and methodically worked in progressively so that they don’t feel jarring. I also enjoyed Chagum’s characterization ; he doesn’t whine, and he’s smart and well-learned. Actually, most of the characters are quite smart, and see reason relatively easily once they get the right information.

And this may be the part that doesn’t quite click : a big part of the plot hinges on the Emperor being a ruthless asshole as the only explanation for why the more reasonable rest of the cast spends so much time blundering about and working at cross purposes. It feels a bit like forced conflict, with the heavy-handed Message that forgetting (or worse, erasing) old knowledge is Wrong.

Still, this is a very entertaining tale that tries very hard to hit a mythic vibe, and mostly succeeds. Not my favourite genre, but it’s so well-done it doesn’t matter.

via [LTTP/WIW] Various anime from the 00s and beyond – Page 6.