Monday, July 22, 2013

Princess Jellyfish

Princess Jellyfish (also known as Kuragehime) is an 11-episode series that aired in the Fall of 2010. It follows around Kurashita Tsukimi and her band of socially-awkward female friends in their attempts to save their beloved home. Helping them along the way is the flashy and fabulous Koibuchi Kuranosuke (known as Kurako to the other girls), a handsome/sexy crossdressing politician's son. All of the girls are massive nerds, each obsessing over a particular thing. None are good around men or "Hipsters" (referring to trendy people, who actually look a lot like America's Hipsters), serving as a massive roadblock in saving their building from the likes of nasty developers who want to turn it into a high-rise hotel. Unable to bear the thought of parting with their building, however, the girls do everything they can, even pretending to be something else to fit in better.
Extreme Makeover: Anime Edition.
While this might seem like a bad message for an anime to have, Kuragehime is a very progressive anime in that regard. Each of the girls is prized for her unique abilities, and though they are often called "weird" or "freak", they never let it get them down. In the end, it even helps them. The ending theme (which is just an amazing song on its own, by the way) by Sambomaster (you may know them as the artists from the 5th Naruto opening, "Seishun Kyousoukyoku") is called "Kimi no Kirei ni Kizuite Okure", translating to "Realize You Are Beautiful". It, along with the series, presents a very pro-self message, saying that it's okay to be as you are. As such, the series squarely plants itself in Josei territory, which isn't surprising given that it's such a female-centric series.
Though the girls are up front, Kuranosuke isn't without his own problems, too.
As previously mentioned, all the girls have a very specific interest unique to themselves (even the fictional Kurako). Given their social awkwardness, their intrapersonal relationships can be a bit crazy at times, but this just serves to make them more interesting. Mayaya may be obsessed with a warrior series and come across as a tomboy, but in the presence of a hipster girl she petrifies faster than a weeping angel. Eventually the girls learn to interact with the outside world more (though not always by choice), but they are most comfortable among themselves, which helps to create a cozy atmosphere in their sweet little home.
The girls don't really take to "Kurako" at first.
The animation style is close to the manga, and very girlish (without being too overbearing). It's very pretty, but not in the way a typical Shojo series is, which helps given that this is VERY comedy. All of the characters are well-designed and distinct, which only adds to the comedy since it helps show that there are many, MANY kinds of nerds out there. The musical score is well-suited to the series, being touching and sweet (and sometimes sad) when it needs to be and going at a frenetic pace when things are getting hectic. The opening is cute and fun, much like the show, and contains more pop culture references than you can shake a light saber at. The ending, as mentioned before, is beautiful and in fact made me cry the first time I saw it due to the sincerity of the words. Every woman needs to be told she's beautiful at least once in her life.
Tsukimi in particular needs that even more given her past.
Princess Jellyfish is licensed by Funimation (and in fact recieved a dub, which I have yet to hear), and can also be found from umee, REVO, and Horrible Subs. Outside of mild sexual references, the series is quite clean, and in fact is the first anime my mother has expressed interest in watching. While this might sound biased, my mum has always been encouraging of my hobbies but has never really gotten into any series herself. I show her one episode of this show and she asks to see more. Ergo, show this to your moms and grandmas--they'll probably like it, I know we did.
Be aware that if they dislike crossdressers the way the Girls dislike men, there's gonna be a problem.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Kaze no Stigma

Kaze no Stigma, otherwise known as Stigma of the Wind, was a 24-episode anime series released from April to September of 2007. It follows Yagami Kasuma as he returns to his family, the Kannagi clan, after 4 years as a vagrant. Though he was banished for the inability to master his family's power, the Enjutsu (Blaze Technique), he has since changed his last name and mastered Fujutsu (Wind Technique). Though the family looks down upon him for this, they are eventually forced to accept him due to a need for his power.

Kazuma gets his immense source of power by being a Contractor; that is to say, he made a deal with the Wind God to use his powers. It has also been shown in the Light Novels and briefly late in the anime that Kazuma has mastered other forms of elemental magic.
Kaze no Stigma was based off a light novel series that was sadly cut short in March of 2010, after its author died the previous summer. As such, the anime only covers part of the series, and ends feeling rather unfinished, as if a second season was planned but never came to be. Though the ending was bittersweet, the series itself was nicely done, though a bit pervy at times (as is to be expected from light novels, as most of the time their subject matter runs a little hotter than the average manga). The anime covers a couple plot arcs, from a rash of murders to a doomed love story. All the while, Kazuma is partnered up with his little brother Ren and second cousin Ayano, the new heir to the Kannagi family sword after defeating Kazuma 4 years prior. Ayano at first hates Kazuma and loathes having to work with the flippant traitor, but eventually develops feelings for him (making for a rather awkward romance).
Ayano has a bit of a temper.
Kaze no Stigma has an alright soundtrack, not particularly memorable. The opening got on my nerves after awhile, but not enough to really be a bother. The voice acting is your standard fare; being distributed by Funimation, I suppose it gets caught up in their flurry of titles. The animation and art style suits the fast-paced action: lots of bright colour, triads, and characters are sometimes catagorized with a colour based on their power (Kazuma's wind powers give him lots of blue, Ayano's bright reddish-pink hair being a sign of her firey personality). As the show progresses, flashbacks are shown alluding to Kazuma's mysterious past, which are eventually talked about but not always resolved.

The three make a great team.
If I had one beef with Kaze no Stigma (besides the unfinished nature, but that's not really the series' fault), it would be the relationship between Kazuma and Ayano. I realize that in an action series with plenty of fanservice it helps to have a romantic angle, just to balance it out, but making them cousins (even second cousins) just creeps me out. It didn't work with the Sailor Moon dub and it doesn't work here. If anything, it serves to distance the viewer from the series due to the awkwardness of it all (unless, y'know, that's your thing).

Kazuma enjoys teasing Ayano, which is cute and funny when it stays that way.
Kaze no Stigma is available from Funimation in North America, or from Exiled-Destiny, Shinsen Subs, Reimu, Shinobi Fansubs, Z-Z, a-S, AMF (Spanish), Jisedai no Fansub (Spanish), and Zone Underworld (Spanish).

This happens quite a bit.

Monday, July 8, 2013

Video Girl Ai

Video Girl Ai is a 6-episode OVA series that came out in late March to late August of 1992. Released by Jump Video, it was based off the manga of the same name from Shonen Jump. It focuses on Moteuchi Yota as he rents a tape that inadvertenly spawns a girl from the TV. While this may make some readers flash back to Yamamura Sadako climbing out of the TV in Ringu, the girl, Amano Ai, is cute and perky, and her sole purpose in life is to cheer up the miserable Yota. However, Yota's faulty VHS player causes Ai to come out "broken", leading her to lost several capabilities she was set to have, such as cooking and bust size. Over the course of the series, Yota must decide if he loves Ai, or the girl he was originally fawning over, Moemi. Not helping matters is that Moemi has admitted to being in love with Yota's best friend, Takashi.
Because while freaking out over TV girls, it's important to stay hydrated. This is the first of a long line of references to various drinks and a fellow Shonen Jump title.
Video Girl Ai is somewhat long by OVA standards (most OVAs being 1-3 episodes each), but still is rather short, covering only about volumes 1-3 of the manga. Despite this, the OVA has a pretty coherent plot (well, at least until episode 6), leaving nothing feeling unfinished or rushed. The reason I call episode 6 out specifically is because even with a coherent plot, the ending made no sense. While suspension of disbelief is necessary in all fictional series, this one pushes the limits with its trippiness. And while we see a resolution to the series during the end credits, like Midori Days, it is thinly done at best, being a dialogueless montage of a scene showing the characters together. Many questions are left unanswered, such as what ever became of the other characters' relationships, both with each other and with Yota and Ai.
Ai looks just as cute in the anime as she does in the manga.
It was noted on Wikipedia that the animation stayed very true to the manga in style. This is definitely true, and is at times simply beautiful. The amount of detail is not present in a lot of series today, and the shape of the eyes and style of the hair cements this as an EARLY 90's series. Considering the time and effort on the part of Production I.G. on getting the characters right, you'd think that the visuals and audio would be lacking in other areas, but they're really not. The animation is fluid, and the soundtrack in particular shines, with each episode having its own insert theme. The background tracks are also nice, though as with all 90's series (and Midori Days), there is the token music box track.
The series has a lot of animation tropes that really only 90's anime viewers will recognize. If you've seen a 90's series, you know what that trail of sparkles coming from a girl leaving means.
The series was imported to North America by the Ocean Group in 1999, and most series of this era were plagued by horrible dubbed voice acting (I'm looking at YOU, I My Me! Strawberry Eggs). Ocean, however, simply nailed it with their choice of dub voice actors. The voice cast is better than a good chunk of voice acting choices of today's anime, actually. The jokes are close to the original and still quite funny, the emotion is correct and doesn't really feel forced, despite the horror stories Google dug up about Viz's fabled Wordfit System. On one occasion the dialogue felt out of sync with the mouth movements, but if that's the only gripe in that area, they're doing damn good.
Every odd-numbered episode has a bonus Omake theatre segment at the end.
While Video Girl Ai might seem dated in the context (always funny to hear "Isn't Modern Technology Great!? while holding up a VHS), it still has a lot to offer to today's market. The jokes are still fresh, the soundtrack isn't terribly old-sounding, and the art is nice and crisp. Combined with the cute story, it's worth viewing if you like Sci-fi or romantic comedies (or both). If I could find one fault with the series, it would be the trippy-ass ending, but if I could find another, it would be the opening. The song is cute, but I remember hearing at an anime convention once that it is very self-indulgent, featuring no characters besides Ai (unless a puppy counts as a character). It's a small beef, but a valid one, being that it's little more than a hodgepodge of various clips of Ai doing things. It says little about the series or its occupants.
Just a montage of Ai. I should mention this freaked me out since I started watching this series alone on a sunday while eating a miniature peach pie after doing some laundry.

Video Girl Ai is available from SNS, Kagura, a4e and Simu. It is easily available at BakaBT. Though it was dubbed by The Ocean Group back in 1999 and distributed by Viz Media in North America, it's not hard to imagine that it is long out of print. Despite the difficulty, it is worth tracking down, if only because it is so short.