An Election and Three Anime Reviews

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Ok, now this isn’t going to become an anime blog (hahahaha, no, but Mahou did!), but this is the second time I’ve had a few minutes to sit down and write for the blog in two weeks, and anime is on my mind. Well, so is the city election we held Saturday, a week ago. Did you know we had one? Hard to tell if the Chronicle or any of the other so-called news agencies did, either. I mean, not one analysis article on Monday morning, telling us about the new make up of the council and what it means?

Another pathetic performance by the people who claim to bring you all the information you need to know. Make that “all the information they want you to know,” and I’ll agree. They say the winner writes the history books, but who writes the daily dialogue of our society that is used by the historians? Who decides what’s important today, what will be read by the historians of tomorrow?

And just whose best interests do they have at heart? The common man’s? You and me? I have my doubts…

Now that I have that off my chest, lets move on to the anime.

(Edit: I think I posted these reviews too quickly. It usually takes me about 24-48 hours and then rechecking some things to really arrive at a good opinion on a movie or show. You can see the beginnings of this process below, where I’ve edited a lot–and watching them all at once didn’t help! I’m going to chew them over and repost, or rewrite this post by early next week. Nuku Nuku is looking better, and my likes/dislikes on Elves are becoming more coherent and reasoned. )

All the overtime I’ve been doing the last few weeks has given me a little spare cash, and I’ve been beefing up my collection lately. Although frankly, my latest purchases can’t be labeled “beefy” by any stretch of the imagination. More a little stringy and hard to chew, let alone swallow. That’s what I get for picking up the cheap stuff and going for bulk rather than quality. I have trouble swallowing $34.99 for one DVD when I can spend twice that and get seven. But quality costs. Sigh.

Yesterday I grabbed the boxed set (thinpack) of seasons one and two of Those Who Hunt Elves, the first two DVD’s of Lost Universe, and All Purpose Cultural Catgirl Nuku Nuku, Mode One. And I watched them all in a one-day (and night) blitz that ran to 5 a.m. I’ve got to learn a little more discipline…. Eh. So here’s my fuzzy “day after” thoughts. I’ve watched each only once and not gone back to check anything a second time, so sometimes I’m a little vague or may have a quote inexact. Beware of spoilers!

In the order that I watched them:

Catgirl Nuku Nuku: from what I picked up reading some reviews, this sounds like a TV remake of an OVA. Or something of the sort. Major problem: it feels like a remake. Second major problem: all the reviews seemed to be predicated on the first series, and the differences bothered me. Not because they were different, but because they made no sense.Edit: I’ve poked around a bit on the web and skimmed through the DVD some more. I think I was a little harsh. The Chief Scientist bit below was in the original OVA, and possibly the TV series. This is a second OVA with an altered story. So maybe it was more the differences than the sense.

Ryo’s dad was supposed to be the Chief Scientist of Mishima Corp., and his (ex-) wife was the president; the whole thing boiled down to a custody battle fought with androids, thugs, and robotic household appliances. Nuku Nuku was a cat’s brain in the body of a sexy teenaged android that dad stole to protect his son. Edit: because he didn’t like the way it was being developed, then he adapted it to protect his son.

Only it wasn’t that way. In this version, the parents were still married and in love — though they argued constantly. She was a middle executive (who got promoted in the first second episode) and assigned to track down an escaped android that she somehow fails to notice that her husband has stolen — and it has just moved in with them! And even though she is an executive, she gets stuck in a combat copter to track it down in the first episode. When that gets destroyed, she’s promoted and put in charge of the project to find the android! If the husband is a scientist with the company, no one there seems to care that he never comes to work. (Edit: he’s a professor, though of what and if he teaches, it’s never mentioned in the first DVD.) And he doesn’t seem to have the company passwords to access all her functions. There is apparently a reason he’s stolen her and is concealing her in their home, where somehow she (at a supposed 19) and Ryo (at 14) start developing an attachment. Ok, from his side I understand. Poor boy practically molests a pillow while sleeping, he’s so hard up once she arrives. The time where she walks in on him in the bath, I’m still not clear if it was real or his imagination (which is in constant overdrive with her around). Oh, and he never notices the uncanny resemblance between Nuku Nuku and the “sexy lady with super powers” that shows up in town at the same time.

Illogic was bad enough. But the too-worldly six-year old next door is revolting, Nuku Nuku’s mysterious unexplained cat mannerisms (in this version it’s a mystery), and most of all, the two incompetant boobs (well, I suppose technically, it’s four boobs) mom gets stuck with are too much. Elements felt like they were just grafted on because they were in the original, not becuase they were true to the story. When that happens, fix the element or change the story/characters so there’s no relationship to the original and it’s an all new story. (Edit: I get it now…. I didn’t realize in the original, she was explained to others as his big sister… in this version they wanted to allow for a romantic attatchment between the two, which would have been weird otherwise.)

Fanservice level: moderate to above average. Fair amount of jiggly, no panty shots. (Low.) Correction: panty shots only during change sequences.
Characterizations: Mediocre. I’m not raising this because of that revolting kid.
Plot: Fairly poor Average.
Theme songs: Mostly forgettable. Intro was sorta ok.
Storytelling: Average.
Animation Quality: Average to Below Average: too many shots reused, especially the fanservice mode-change (she’s always in her underwear when it happens).
Title menu: simple, with static pictures.
DVD Extras: few.
Overall Grade: C-. I think I would have liked the original better, it sounded whackier.
B-. Gave it a bump up based on a better understanding of what they were doing with the story.
Buy the rest: Seeing as I just found out ADV has them on sale for $6 each, why not? (I would not say that for either of the two reviewed below).

(Unrelated footnote: I think I spotted a loanword here. One of the new girls mentions being transferred from the home office in Tokyo. The “home office” bit seems to come out as “homu.” Maybe it’s just my ears. This happened a lot more with the third series I watched, but I don’t yet know enough Japanese to understand more than the occasional word.)

Lost Universe, on the other hand, was meant to combine adventure, whackiness, space opera, and mystery. Oh, and comedy. It failed on all but the second, and I was only mildly interested in the fourth. One problem here was stereotyping. They broke a couple of the molds, which is usually good, but here it didn’t feel right. Another was, again, logic (You’ll see that complaint again; all three failed on it). Kain Blueriver was actually the most engaging of the three, although he was still kind of, um, cardboard. It becomes apparent that there is more to him than meets the eye and there’s a history involving him, his ship, and his grandmother that is just waiting to bite them where it hurts somwehwere in the future. The problem is… oh hell, where do I start? I never really cared. Millie’s attachement to the group was too forced. She just decided she was going to be a part of it, so Kain and Canal agreed. Canal, as the holographic AI of their ship, Swordbreaker, had a lot more potential than she was given. Mainly, she felt like Millie’s foil and the whiz-bang techo solution to all their problems (except when rescuing her was the problem).

Millie was utterly two-dimensional. Shallow, vain, utterly obsessed with being the Best In The Universe and writing her autobiography. (And shooting, she probably is the best). I felt she did not hold up her end of show. But where I think the show failed worst was in the Millie-Canal-Kain triangle. The two “women” argued constangly, but it felt so contrived. There’s a hint or two about the nature of the Canal-Kain relationship; at one point a passerby laughs at Kain still working for Canal (and she always wants new hardware); at another, Canal says something about her “plight” (she’s wanting a shiny new weapon). She laments that her “husband doesn’t even care,” and looks at Kain. But it’s unclear just how much she meant that word choice–was she just needling Kain because he was preoccupied with repairing his cloak and ignoring her, or did she feel that Kain was really “hers?” Or was this a translation thing? (FYI, unless it’s dub only, I always do Japanese language with subtitles). Did Canal’s dislike of Millie stem from her constantly blowing up the galley and being a financial drain, or was Canal jealous? Answering that question with the latter would have significantly heightened the tension level — and even a comedy series needs dramatic tension if it’s to have that vital quality that makes you care about it.

Don’t get me started on plot illogic. The witness protection episode was aggravating. (SPOILER WARNING) Rail, a police ally of theirs, hires their ship to take a witness to a planet for a trial. It’s dangerous, but their ship is the only one fast enough to make it. (So why did the police screw around until only the fastest ship could make it?) But it’s not explained why a ship is even needed, because it’s not a matter of getting the witness to the planet, she’s already ON the planet when they get there. So Kain and Millie argue and each sets out seperately to get the witness (a child) from the hideout to the trial site. Never mind only one of them can do it at a time if they’re not together. (Note, there is a small possibility this was just supposed to be the pickup planet and they were to take her to the spaceport, then to another planet for the trial. It slipped past me somehow if that’s it.) She grabs the kid, is spotted, and the gang comes after her. In the middle of the fight, Kain shows up with no explanation, and they lure the gang into an abandoned factory. After lots of showy Kain highlights, the girl and Millie are taken hostage and threatened. At which point the girl turns out to be Canal with an altered holo. “Ha! Our real job was to smoke out this gang!” Like Millie says, that’s not what the contract you signed said… and you’ve been making a big deal out of contracts. Bait and switch has to be better executed or it’s deus ex machina.

The Nurse Ship episode was about as bad. Kain has to disguise himself as a woman (the Lost Universe is apparently quite sexist, there’s no male nurses). His disguse? He put on a skirt. Maybe he shaved his legs, I dunno. But he never even changed his voice. Let’s just forget that the two student leaders of the class should have been jailed for attempted murder, assault, terrorism, vandalism, property damage, etc.

The obvious mystery here is Canal and the Swordbreaker’s origin, but only the last episode of the 2nd DVD addresses it. She’s Lost technology, which is established in the second episode, but one wonders why she needs modern weaponry in that case. A mysterious nemesis makes a few appearances here and there, probably connected with her origin too.

High points: The chicken-worshipper episode. It was just one gag after another as the party puts up with increasingly bizzare local customs, and even if some were predictable, they were still funny. In the beauty contest/swimsuit episode, Rail and his little secret were a plus. I’d written him off as stereotype until that came out. Fan service was low, even in the required swimsuit episode, and some time Millie spends in a showgirl costume. Animation quality was average. Lots of segments in space were CGI, and the change back and forth was pretty much not semi-noticible, except once.

Edit: forgot one gripe–unrealistic danger levels. When the characters crash into a huge carrying bucket of scrap metal from way up, but don’t get a scratch as they dig themselves out of the rubble–and then the same thing happens when the whole bucket, and them with it, is dumped, I have a problem believing that mere bullets can bother them. Or that they’ll dodge a single falling piece of metal later.

Fanservice level: low.
Characterizations: Mediocre.
Plot: Below Average to Poor
Storytelling: Average.
Animation Quality: Average
Title menu: Static pictures, but selected options didn’t “stick” so you couldn’t be sure what you just picked. Very annoying.
DVD Extras: few.
Other: Unrealistic sense of what was dangerous really snapped me out of the story.
Overall Grade: C. D+. I just never could really care. Lowered the grade two notches based on remembering that scrap metal scene. Yes, it annoyed me that much.

Those Who Hunt Elves was an excercise in hair-pulling mediocrity. They had SUCH a cool concept and they blew it. Take three totally dissimilar people from earth, and drop them in a fantasy world. Now add a soviet T-74 main battle tank. (Edit: SDB says in the comments below that it’s a Mitsubishi T-74. That makes more sense; I knew the Soviets had a T-72 , but figured the number change was so they could disavow any errors the military otaku among anime fans might complain about. I thought they did a great job detailing the tank in every scene it was in; if they were using a real domestic tank, that explains why.) That’s a great starting point for fun right there. Now get silly — Toss in a botched spell that breaks up and imprints itself on the bodies of random elf women, so the three of them have to go around getting elf babes to take their clothes off so they can look for the tattoos. Of course the elf women are all babes; don’t be silly. (Ok, one wasn’t).

So how many ways can you go wrong with a concept like this? I don’t know, but I think the makers of this series tried to find them all:
One of the main characters was just plain shallow.
The other two lacked true depth.
One was the butt of constant abuse. Of course she develops an attachement to the abuser.
Too many plot elements were deus ex machina.
Too many logic holes you could, um, drive a tank through.
A reset. Gods, no, they pulled a reset at the end of the first season.
Stereotyping the character who was abused.
Having the characters be stupid when it suited them, even if it didn’t make sense.
Having a series that involved stripping elves naked and then having less fan service than the average harem comedy! Not even panty shots, nipples, nada! (How lame. . . )

The first thing that annoyed me was the DVD menu. I am usually pretty minimal on this score; I appreciate flash but I don’t insist on it. But I do not like confusing menus, and these were…I kept clicking on the words, and nothing would happen. I finally figured out to click in the open space to the left of the word. Which wasn’t as intuitive as it sounds, because the stupid menus were at weird angles, and left might be up, or it might be down. No extras whatsoever.

The characters deserved better, based on the reputation of their makers. I can buy Ms. Airi, the Oscar-winning actress, being the tactical genius, instead of Ritsuko, the orange-haired female military otaku. It’s different, interesting, and we all have odd talents that aren’t necessarily used in our chosen field. And I actually liked the fact that the military otaku was a young female student–the kind that would ask for an antique military compass for Christmas as a kindergardener. But Junpei was just unlikeable in my book. Simplistic loudmouth strongman who lived for three things: fighting, curry, and abusing Cecilia. Oh, four–he was madly in love with Ms. Airi, who could (and did) play him like a fiddle. His only redeeming feature was a sense of honor in combat–something that his foes were more likely to experience than his friends.

But Cecilia just made me want to alternately pity her and hate her. She was a crazy mix of temper, arrogance, humility, honor, and stupidity. The writers really needed to be sent back to the minor leagues of writing shows for three year olds, because not only did they have her botch the spell to return the others home twice in exactly the same way, they also had her screw up the transfer of the spell from someone it had imprinted on, twice and also in exactly the same way each time! This caused her to be locked in the form of an animal, meaning lots of grief for her and a reason for Junpei to heap abuse on her. . Once I could see. But not twice, not after the grief of the first time–and after she realized it would happen. All she had to do was wait until dawn, and no problem–arguably it would have solved her other problem at the time, which was turning into an animal every full moon — and don’t get me started on how contrived THAT was.

Junpei was just a heartless bastard about it both times; he was verbally and physically abusive towards Cecilia. We wouldn’t stand for it if he got into face-pulling contests with a pretty blonde, so why are we supposed to tolerate it when she looks like a panda or a yellow dog? It’s still her, dammit. Neither of the others really lift a hand to help, and even Ritsuko snickers over her predicament. I’d have blasted the lot of them to cinders and gone to find the spell fragments for myself. (She needed them to return to elf-form). Don’t ask me how she started getting hung up on Junpei. I just have visions of battered wife syndrome. Seriously. God, that sucked.

Oh, and the second spell botch? Not only was Cecilia a blonde dummy for letting it happen in exactly the same way, Junpei was just as stupid because he was the cause each time! How? Well, by doing exactly the same thing both times–except the first he did it from thoughtlessness and the second he did it through recklessness. And to top it off, the others were stupid enough not to tackle him and beat the snot out of him to keep it from happening.

Please. Don’t. Insult. My. Intelligence.

It was a very poorly done reset to enable a second season. Why Rit-chan didn’t just shoot Junpei on the spot, or Ms. Airi charm him into silence was a plot hole big enough to. . . Right. Have a villan show up and spoil it. Now you’ve got a great hook for your second season! How do you save the world in time? Get the spell fragments or go after the villan? Why does the villan want the world to be destroyed? Fun, fun!

But no. We had to go with the same lame-ass reason as the first time.

In the final episode of the first seaon, Ms. Airi establishes that the worlds are merging at an ever increasing rate due to their crossover, and there’s a danger that thetwo worlds might explode instead of merge. Never mind the fact that somehow Ms. Airi’s tactical acumen extended to figuring out that — shouldn’t magical effects be Cecilia’s domain? In the second season…. Nothing. It’s never mentioned again. I liked the capper when she alerted everyone to the changes they weren’t noticing because of the merge effects, but to ignore the effect in the second season was a plot hole you could. . .ah, you know.

Although the reset was probably the single worst element, the constant deus elements were annoying. (SPOILER WARNING)

  • Q: How do you refuel a T-74 in a fantasy world? A: potatoes you peel and squeeze for gas. (Then you accidently get it inhabited by a cat spirit. Don’t ask me why it STILL has an exhaust after that).
  • Q: How do you get toilet paper in a fantasy world? A: a cute little bears shit it. A tiny bear, no bigger than the core. I kid you not.
  • Q: How do you stop a 200-foot tall three-year old master sorceror? A: he turns into a demon tree and then one of the tiny TP shitters enlarges to an incredible size and eats him. Because the bear slept on a Dream Pillow, something that makes dreams real.
  • Q: How do you get a T-74 off an island that has been utterly destroyed by a collapsing 10,000 meter tall beanstalk? A: You don’t bother. It just shows up on the mainland with your cast next week.
  • Q: How do you get a T-74 TO the island in the first place? A: . . .

Hey, just how many bridges in fantasy worlds are rated for 50 ton tanks, anyway?

I can live with a tank that can load itself and fire more than once per second–once it becomes magic. (I’m still trying to figure out how a girl the size of Ritsuko managed it…from the driver’s spot, no less.) I can live with it somehow being able to depress the cannon to point at something only a few feet away, and elevate it to fire at something almost directly overhead. I can live with it having an incredible ability to start and stop on a dime. I can live with it meowing, and having a cat’s fears/likes. I can just roll my eyes at the infinite reloads, and the unending supply of mines, grenades, and other assorted explosives that Ritsuko keeps coming up with. But someone sitting right next to the barrel when it fires, not even getting their hair mussed? To quote Junpei, “That’s why I hate fantasy worlds!”

Yes, one of the amusing conceits of the show is that the characters occasinally break the fourth wall and know they’re in a show. “Somethings wrong, it’s only thirty seconds after the episode title and we’ve already found what we were looking for!” Response: “Cool, we can goof off the rest of the show!” You expect this sort of thing in the previews, but they pepper several episodes with it. Not so much that it’s distracting, but it’s funny when they do it. It’s also a sign the writers were low on ideas. In Excel Saga, it works because of the general whackiness of the series. Here, it’s out of place, even when it is funny.
Theme music was mixed. Second season opener was better than the first, reversing the usual trend. Neither closer was worth the time.

And finally, a mixed note. I was annoyed that the series started without explaining how Ms. Airi, Ritusko, and Junpei arrived in the world. It just started up with them there, doing their thing, and a brief bit on the original botching of the spell that had them going around stripping elves. For a while, that was the only explanation given, and I was pretty annoyed with it. I mostly forgave them after it was finally explained, but I still think that element got short shrift. Oh, and can anyone explain to me why they have the elder of the Elf tribe on their side, a famous hero for defeating an evil sorceror. . . And she can’t just tell her people to report any funny tatoos that just appeared on them? Or the three humans just ASK someone, before stripping them?

Fanservice level: Amazingly low, considering the premise. Bikinis were about it. (Stripped elves always had strategic regions blocked by shreds of cloth or an arm.)
Characterizations: Spotty.
Plot: It was there.
Storytelling: Bad.
Animation Quality: Above average. One of the bright spots, actually.
Title menu: Static pictures, but selected options were confusingly marked compared to non-selected.
DVD Extras: non-existant.
Overall Grade: D. I’d have given it lower, but I DID finish it, unlike Steven Den Beste. I guess he’s got the higher kawaii tolerance and I’ve got the higher suck tolerance. I think he wins….

Well, that’s it for now. Maybe I’ll have more thoughts after I view each a second time.

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