Sunday, July 17, 2011

Summer First Impressions - Part 2 "iluvim@s edition"

First up, favorite character Miki Miki.

Another week has passed, so its finally time to put out the other part of my summer impressions (albeit one week late). This one starts with Mayo Chiki! and continues onwards to Yuruyuri, so while I have watched Dantalian no Shoka, I won't be posting any first impressions of it (I only watched it yesterday, anyhow). This post is over three thousand words long (that's 3000), so really, use Control+F. Fun note is that a third of it is used on iDOLM@STER. So everyone should watch it. It's great. To enforce that feeling, all my screencaps will be iDOLM@STER-related. (Totally not fanboying.)

So here we go!
Next up, the first idol we meet: Haruka!

Mayo Chiki! – If anyone has watched Maria Holic, we’ve got the opposite. Extremely popular butler Konoe Subaru is revealed to be a girl to poor old abused Sakamachi Kinjirou, and to boot, Subaru serves the misleadingly beautiful and rich Suzutsuki Kanade. For some reason, as Subaru and Kanade do not want the above secret to be leaked out to the public, they team up with Kinjirou to shut him up. As I said before, it feels a lot like Maria Holic – the main character has quite the problem with nose bleeds and there is a quite sadistic girl to exploit said problem. Happily, though, the comedy looks to be less violent and boring than in Maria, and since it’s no secret that I’m a big fan of tsunderes, I’m looking to seeing a Kinjirou and Subaru relationship budding. A bit of fan service in the first episode helps too, I suppose, although I have to say that Kanade is the biggest flirt ever. Not to mention, she puts a muffler on Subaru. Interesting way of keeping her mouth shut.
As for voice acting, we’ve got Iguchi Yuka (Index from Toaru Majutsu) playing Subaru, Hino Satoshi (Yuuji from Shana, Takagi from Bakuman, Saito from Zero no Tsukaima) as Kinjirou and Kitamura Eri (Yui from Angel Beats!, Ami from Toradora!) as Kanade. Not a bad lineup, if you ask me, especially as Kitamura Eri’s voice doesn’t sound quite like the one she used for her other roles. The opening was pretty nice as well, while the ending is passable. I liked the art as well, too, although the cat girl that Kinjirou almost runs into was sort of odd. All in all, this makes for a decent comedy romance. This’ll probably be in the upper half of this season’s shows, so it’s worth a try.
In the 3 hole, we've got Makoto.

Morita-san wa Mukuchi – Well, just as how the main character Mayu Morita is rather quiet when it comes to conversations, I don’t actually have much to say either. Clocking in at three minutes an episode, it’s even shorter than the other short this season, Double-J. This means that they have even less time to capitalize on humour, and with an opening, they have even less time. It’s almost a shame, too, since they have so many great seiyuus on board, including Hayami Saori, Tomatsu Haruka, and Hanazawa Kana. The plot itself is simple enough, as Mayu and her friends interact as school, often without her saying a single word. Given how there’s nothing really to base anything on, I will leave it at that. If you’ve got three minutes, may as well check it out. I wouldn’t bet anything on it, though.
Batting cleanup, the idol-turned-producer Ritsuko.

Nekogami Yaoyorozu – I didn’t really know what I was watching when I watched this, but it wasn’t too bad. A comedy that has really little plot, the show features various gods who have come to center around Yuzu, the well-mannered girl who lives with Mayu, a cat god who was exiled because of general rowdiness. I sort of stumbled upon it randomly, having no idea what it was, so I pretty much ended the first episode pretty confused about what the thing was supposed to be out. While I wouldn’t say that the show is a masterpiece, it isn’t too boring to watch, either. The comedy is funny at times, not so funny at other times, but in my opinion the cuteness factor is pretty overwhelming. Add in the fact that there are some nice voices (Tomatsu Haruka, Horie Yui, and Taketatsu Ayana), and you’ve got a pretty nice show if you have a lot of time to burn. Otherwise, I don’t see much of a point in watching the show, unless you like that feeling of nothing happening in a show, which generally happened during this episode. It could’ve been worse, though.

No. 6 – Say hello to the shounen ai series of the season. While perhaps not up to the standards of recently-aired Sekaiichi Hatsukoi, the vibes are pretty strong first episode. Shion, an extremely intelligent student in the “Cronos” area of the city “No. 6”, is the focus of the show, when he meets a fugitive who is known only as Nezumi (or “rat”). They immediately hit it off, and despite Nezumi’s “I’ll kill you because I’m crazy or something” attitude, Shion’s “I’m so oblivious to obvious danger that a child could poison me with a candy cane” mentality ends up winning over Nezumi. More ominously, Nezumi hints at a larger conspiracy by the government, including the entire reason why No. 6 was built. Well, I was pretty annoyed at the boy love elements of the show, especially because this is supposed to be one of the prized noitaminA slots. I doubt that showing twelve-year-olds in a relationship is exactly going to hit well with upstanding citizens, which makes No. 6 even more shaky. Apparently the whole series takes place in 2013, which also has me worried because the world seems to have advanced a long way in only two years. While I can’t necessary blame that on the anime producers, I can blame them about how boring they managed to make the first episode, especially when most of it consisted of Nezumi and Shion joking around. The rage that I felt while watching Shion interact with Nezumi was similar to the one I felt while watching Hanasaku Iroha – a kid butting in when he or she is not supposed to, and being completely oblivious to the serious consequences his or her action might have. Lastly, it’s not like the plot is even a new thing either. A prosecuted man escaping to try to defeat a conspiracy? Heck, Code Geass had the same setup. Perhaps Togainu no Chi?
There isn’t much to say about the technical parts, either. The futuristic feel is conveyed quite well, from the two-story room to the video cellphone watches. The music is pretty forgettable in my view, nothing compared to the music from the other noitaminA show Usagi Drop. Long story short: I’m not a fan of where this is going, and I’m hoping this doesn’t turn into another Fractale. Disappointing.
...and Mami!

Nyanpire – Yeah, this is a five minute short about a cat that becomes a vampire. It’s a kids show. It’s sort of bad. Only thing worth noting is the ED.
Introducing favorite character #2, Hibiki!

R-15 – When one looks at the title, he might think of the rating. He might think that this show is a bit on the dangerous side. And he would be right. R-15 is about a famous porn writer Akutagawa Takuto who attends a school for geniuses (whether photography geniuses, athletic geniuses, or, in his case, literary geniuses) and has various encounters, the first of which is trying to interview his classmate. If this show is trying to be an ecchi show, it fails in that respect. The comedy (mostly slapstick) is alright, but there’s nothing much else redeeming about this. There’s just nothing special about this to talk about, which makes this a pretty forgettable watch (at time of writing, I’ve pretty much forgotten half of whatever the show was about). Again, unless you have the extra time and are already watching the better things, I’d skip this.
Next up, Yukiho. She's an idol despite being afraid of men. Something's not right.

The iDOLM@STER – Here we go, my tentative favorite show of the season. It’s right here, in the form of the game-turned-anime, iDOLM@STER. If you don’t already know, I’m a pretty big fan of iDOLM@STER, even before the anime started. The original game was released in 2005, later being released for the Xbox 360 in 2007. This isn’t the first time Japan’s tried to animate iDOLM@STER; in 2007 Sunrise (of Code Geass fame) tried their hand with iDOLM@STER: Xenoglossia, which totally didn’t follow the games at all and decided to make everything into mechas. Needless to say, it was a great failure. Earlier this year, iDOLM@STER 2 was released for the Xbox 360, basically continuing the story half a year after the first iDOLM@STER. The franchise has had great success in Japan, with great sales and generally causing people to actually care about the Xbox 360 again. With this adaptation, we’ve got A-1 Pictures working on a faithful portrayal of iDOLM@STER 2, which is after the three idols of Studio 961 move over to our main company, 765 Productions. So we’ve got ourselves a show. And is it awesome.
The "poor but not dirty" Yayoi. Very orange.

The show itself is about a group of twelve (thirteen in the game) idols working at the relatively small 765 Productions, which can barely afford its own sign. The company has been relatively understaffed, with only one producer (who used to be an idol herself), Akizuki Ritsuko and her assistant, Otonashi Kotori. The first episode is unique in the way the story is told, by a first-person view of the cameraman who is following the idols to discover their daily lives. While it is a bit odd to have the girls talking directly back at you (you see what “you” say by reading the words on the screen), it’s the first time I’ve seen anything like it, and it wasn’t bad. Anyhow, it turns out each of the idols are different in their own way. The cast consists of: Ganaha Hibiki (Numakura Manami), who is an idol in order to get money to feed her pets, Minase Iori (Kugimiya Rie), who wants respect and recognition, Takatsuki Yayoi (Nigo Mayoko), who needs money to feed her family, Shijou Takane (Hara Yumi), who is highly secretive and mysterious, Kisaragi Chihaya (Imai Asami), who is greatly passionate about singing, Kikuchi Makoto (Hirata Hiromi), who wants to find her feminine side, Miura Asuza (Takahashi Chiaki), who is looking for love, Hoshii Miki (Hasegawa Akiko), who just does it because it’s easy, Amami Haruka (Nakamura Eriko), who is chasing her childhood dream, twins Futami Ami and Mami (both voiced by Shimoda Asami), who are just looking for fun, and Hagiwara Yukiho (Asakura Azumi), who’s looking to do away with her fear of men. Yup, it’s a big cast.
It's not anime if we don't have our Kugimiya Rie-voiced character: Iori!

I’ve spent almost four hundred words so far, so onto the impressions. First of all, it’s much better than I had expected, even with my great expectations. A-1 really did a good job on this. The first-person view had, as previous mentioned, surprised me, but in a good way. The fact that the seiyuus are all reprising their roles from the games makes it better, since it gives the the same energy and life that they had in the games. They also did a good job emphasizing the differences between each of the idols; while they were certainly made to be different, it is very clear who is who based on their desires and goals in life. This is especially important with over fourteen characters to keep a track of, so while it might not be easy remembering names, it’s not too difficult associating faces with their personalities. The characters are by far the thing to watch for here, since it is just so easy to find a favorite character (if not many favorite characters). If you haven’t noticed, my two favorites are Miki and Hibiki, since I liked them back from the games. The others are likeable, too, even Iori (unless you don’t like Kugimiya Rie). Although the series will probably progress with the focus on some characters more than others from episode to episode, every character gets some part of the episode, which makes it that much more enjoyable when your favorite character appears.
Somehow love deprived, Azusa up.

Not to mention, the art and animation of A-1 has been superb. The characters are great to look at, and the backgrounds are detailed and certainly sufficient. I didn’t really know how well A-1 animated, considering I don’t remember any big show from them, but their work so far on iDOLM@STER is impressive. Everyone has their own flair, and colour is not lacking. But alas, iDOLM@STER is about idols and music. A quick search on YouTube will show the true nature of the games, and that is the various original songs that the idols sing and dance to. The soundtrack of iDOLM@STER is, in my opinion, at least, fabulous. First of all, they use songs from the actual games, including the first ending, “The world is all one!”, which was playable in iDOLM@STER 2. The ending animation, in addition to the scenes of life that it shows, also features the actual dance from the game, adapted into anime form. It would be nice if this were the new Hare Hare Yukai, but we’ll have to see on that point. Being the first episode, they decided to opt for no opening, which means that we will have to wait for episode two to see it. There is little, if any, soundtrack music for this episode, due to the fact that it was documentary style, but we do get to see a little bit of “Aoi tori”, which is Chihaya’s image song in the game. The music is definitely where the show must excel in order for it to be a great success in my book. So far, so good.
Quiet, awkward girl who apparently never smiles: Chihaya! (Don't worry, she's pretty cool.)

So, if it wasn’t already painfully obvious, I like the iDOLM@STER. I like the fact that it took the first episode out just to introduce each and every one of the characters, and I like the fact that it felt a little bit like slice of life. I like the comedy, and I like the characters. And I like Miki and Hibiki. So how much do I like the iDOLM@STER? Well, enough to write over a thousand words about it. Watch it, you might be surprised.
Last but not least, princess Takane. That's 13!

Usagi Drop – The other noitaminA show of the season, Usagi Drop is by far the better of the two. Based on a highly acclaimed, recently-ended manga of the same name, Usagi Drop is a lot like Hourou Musuko two seasons back, in that it deals with a pretty interesting part of society. The story revolves around Kawachi Daikichi and Rin, who Daikichi takes home after discovering she is the illegitimate daughter of his recently deceased grandfather. Due to the fact that her mother is much younger than Daikichi’s grandfather and has decided to abandon her, Rin is ostracized and seen as evidence of disgrace for the family. Taking pity on her, Daikichi surprises all his relatives and decides to take care of her, despite the fact that he has never taken care of a child, lives by himself, and works all day.
noitaminA has been known to produce gems, most recently Anohana from the spring season, and Usagi Drop is this season’s gem. The two things that stand out most are the characters and the animation. As for the characters, they are all realistic and down-to-earth. Daikichi is just a normal guy who is strongly moved by Rin, who seems to have taken a liking to him. Understandably, Rin doesn’t do much talking and is relatively shy. She’s also extremely cute, and rather smart when she goes and takes her father’s favorite flowers to put on his coffin. It was certainly a cry-worthy moment. The first episode introduces a heck lot of people, who I suppose won’t really play roles in the later episodes anyway. So the relationship between Daikichi and Rin is where it’s at. Next, the art, which takes the more simplistic approach reminiscent of the minimalistic but colourful style of Hourou Musuko. It works well with Usagi Drop, especially because it allows us to focus on Rin and Daikichi more, which is the entire show. Instead of distracting viewers with detailed backgrounds or anything, it lets us put all our attention on their dialogue and actions. It’s also suitable background considering the show is about raising a small child. Very nice touch by Production I.G.
The last base to cover is the music, which is also pretty good. The opening, “Sweet Drops” by Puffy, is catchy and its animation is perfect for the show: simple yet engaging. On the other end, the ending “High high high” by Kasarinchu is a good listen to. But the soundtrack is truly brilliant, as they make this emotion-filled anime even more powerful. There are little complaints from me about this. Though I might not like it as much as iDOLM@STER (tough competition anyhow), this is the stand-out show this season. This will be a fun ride.
Group picture!

Yuruyuri – Cleaning up the summer 2011 shows is Yuruyuri, which happens to be pretty damn cute. Like Dog Days last season, this looks to be the show I’ll enjoy just for the hell of it. The story is pretty simple, it’s just four girls and their classmates enjoying themselves in their “amusement” club. There’s Akaza Akari, Funami Yui, Toshinou Kyouko, and Yoshikawa Chinatsu, along with supporting characters like the student council president Sugiura Ayano and her assistant Ikeda Chitose. Closing it out are the two freshman student council members, Furutani Himawari and Ohmuro Sakurako. It’s pretty obvious what the relationships are after you’ve watched it, so I won’t bother spoiling it here. As the title may imply, this does contain its part of yuri (which isn’t that bad anyway), since various characters have crushes on others, and it’s all pretty great. There’s really not much to talk about, aside from how cute the show is. The animation is pretty simple, but the colours and the character designs and everything just make it for a surprisingly enjoyable watch. Combine it with a catchy as hell opening and a somewhat-less-catchy ending, and there’s a lot to like with this show. Considering how this is from a production studio I’ve never even heard of before (Dogakobo/DAX Production), this is a rather nice surprise.

And there you have it, Summer 2011 all in words. As a parting gift, here's the ending to iDOLM@STER. Enjoy.

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