Monday, July 28, 2014

Antique Bakery

Antique Bakery (or "Gaycakes" as gg so lovingly called it) is a 12-episode shonen-ai series that ran through the summer of 2008. It follows a man named Tachibana Keiichiro as he leaves his job in high finance to open a western-style sweets shop. Alongside his friends/coworkers Ono Yuusuke, Kanda Eiji, and Kobayakawa Chikage, they laugh, cry, and work hard to make the bakery a success.

LtR: Ono, Tachibana, and Eiji looking like heroes.

First off, let me say it now that if you don't like yaoi or boys' love, STAY FAR AWAY FROM THIS SERIES. It's not called gaycakes for nothing. However, the series isn't TOTAL guy/guy fluff, and actually has moments of real character development, thankfully. This series is too good to waste on just being mere whipped cream. Non, with the dark sub-plots and complex relationships, it comes out more like a rich Hazelnut Torte.

Yep.

The plot, while simple and episodic on the surface, has many twists and turns hiding underneath, the most obvious of which is Tachibana coming to terms with a childhood trauma. We also see Eiji's frustration with giving up his dreams, and Ono and Chikage's love and hurt amongst one another. It ends up being layered and compelling, drawing on your need not only to see more hot guys in action, but also on the need to see something of a resolution.

Despite the fluffy exteriour, there are some real issues to be worked through here.

The art style was at once elegant and amusing. It refuses to take itself seriously during the silly moments (and I mean really, REALLY refuses to take itself seriously), ending up being something between cute and My Neighbors the Yamadas. However, on the opposite end of the emotional spectrum, it retains the same seriousness and elegance one would expect from a bakery of this caliber. The use of CG is somewhat heavy-handed in the backgrounds, but since it's not used all the time, it blends well enough. The show even takes some bold style risks in the opening (and briefly during the ending) by using real-world objects combined with stop-motion animation. While sometimes this just seems strange, here it worked perfectly (and left me drooling over the doll-sized Victorianesque furniture).

An interesting style choice that paid off.

The soundtrack, though recycling the same tune over and over, managed to make this concept work for it perfectly. When I say recycling the same song, I mean it is LITERALLY the same song for the opening, ending, and several moments in the series....just played in different keys, with different instruments. For what it's worth, it's a great song, one that fits the series well. However, I must admit that probably my favourite tune to hear off the soundtrack was a toy piano version of Bach's Minuet in G Major, it made me crack up every time.

This face is the appropriate level of dorky for that song.

Overall, Antique Bakery was a joy to watch. I had been meaning to for a long time now, and I savored every moment much like their customers savor the cake. Surely, this series isn't for everyone, but given the lack of overtly sexual scenes (it has an ecchi moment once or twice, but most of it is merely implied), you could show this to a 12-year-old and not be afraid. Conversely, if they're into it, this would be a great series to show to older people as well, who might appreciate the slower pace and calming, cozy feel.

Yeess....feel free to get drunk off the cake.

Gaycakes is available from gg subs, Yoroshiku Fansubs, Sarulandia Fansubs (Italian), and Heterophobia Fansubs (Turkish). There is also a subtitled US release by Nozomi Entertainment.

Yeah, I'm not sure it could ever take itself seriously.

4/5

Monday, July 21, 2014

Sailor Moon Specials

In December of 1993, almost 2 years after the series premiered on television, Toei released Sailor Moon R: The Movie (which became Promise of the Rose in English). Coupled with it and shown before the main feature was a short, entitled Make Up! Sailor Senshi. This would be the first of the 5 Sailor Moon OVAs, the rest being part of the Super S season. They are slightly akin to the shorts released before many of the Pokemon movies, such as Pikachu's Vacation and Pikachu & Pichu. As of yet, none of them have been released in English, even as a part of the three movies.

When I think about it, it doesn't feel nearly as long ago as it actually was.

The first, Make Up! Sailor Senshi, was released on December 5th, 1993, coupled with the R season movie. It functioned as an introduction into the Sailor Moon franchise for those who were unfamiliar, such as parents who may have been taking their children to see the movie. It has nothing in the way of plot, and actually comes off more like a 15-minute commercial. However, it was still well put together and I can see the functional value of such a short before the movie at the time, considering Sailor Moon was still new and not as well-known as it would come to be.

Sure, it was basically a commercial. But it was a funny commercial.

The second (chronologically) would actually be the set of three shorts which kicked off the Super S season in April of 1995. The first of these three is An Elegant Metamorphosis? Crybaby Usagi's Growth Diary, which served as a recap of the previous seasons. In it, Usagi (Serena in the dub) and Luna tell Chibiusa (Rini) of Usagi and the Scouts' past adventures and personal growth, much to Usagi's chagrin. It also doesn't have much in the way of plot, but is still quite cute and serves as a massive dose of nostalgia as I relived the old moments of the first, second, and third seasons.

The nostalgia is heavy with this one.

The second of the trio is Super S Special: Haruka and Michiru, Again! The Ghostly Puppet Show. It opens with a performance by a ventrilloquist at a hotel, which Michiru (Michelle) is in the audience for. Poor Haruka (Amara in some dubs) is sick in bed upstairs in their room. Michiru goes back to her to let her know that she senses something evil, but before they can react, it is upon them in spades. Thankfully, they manage to win the day and go on refreshed and strong. 

We get to see their badassery in action.

This was the first of the shorts to actually have something of a plot, and it accomplished it quite well. It was fun seeing just the two of them in the centre spotlight, as the other scouts usually tend to take a backseat to Moon herself, especially the outer scouts. Sadly, this marked the last appearance of Haruka and Michiru in the anime, outside of a brief appearance in the Super S movie and late into the 5th season.

Rare moment of Michiru in a ponytail? Rare moment of Michiru in a ponytail. -w-

The third and final short of the Super S season trio was Super S Special: Chibiusa's Adventure! The Dreaded Vampire Castle. A new girl transfers into Chibiusa's class, just as mysterious events start happening to other students. Chibiusa and a classmate follow the girl to her home and find out she is secretly a vampire, just in time for the other scouts to step in and help Chibiusa dispel the demon taking over the girl. Afterward, the girl wakes up and remembers nothing, to which Chibiusa mentions it was merely a long dream. 

DORAMA

I enjoyed this one quite a bit, not just for the interesting plot, but also for the focus on Chibiusa's life and the character designs. The villian in this, Ririka, was quite beautifully rendered (pre-transformation) and her classmates were cute, distinct, and interesting. Chibiusa certainly gets a chance to prove herself here, as more than just a mascot or sidekick style character.

I'm pretty sure it's been done before, but I like the concept of elementary kids solving supernatural mysteries enough for it to be a separate series.

The final short of the 5 was released December 23rd, 1995, alongside the third and final Sailor Moon movie, Pretty Soldier Sailor Moon SuperS: The Nine Sailor Soldiers Unite! Miracle of the Black Dream Hole. Despite the ridiculously long title, both the movie and the short were quite good, although the plot mirrored an earlier episode of the Super S season. It follows Ami (Amy) in her feverish efforts to crush an exam rival known only as Mercurius, who she eventually attributes to be a demon haunting her. In reality, the rival is a dorky-looking friend of Umino (Melvin)'s. Despite the mirrored themes of an earlier episode, this short was still distinctive and adorable, and even featured an original theme song (that I swear I've heard before.....so maybe this WAS dubbed..?).

Maybe because it was bundled with a later movie, the animation on this short is actually superiour to both the first short and the TV series.

If you hold the specials up to the movies or main series, it is a mere shadow of what Sailor Moon has to offer, however, within the context of the series, they were worth the time I spent on them. Though the first two were rather dry and bland, they would be very useful tools in introducing someone to the series, especially since they don't really have much connection to the rest of the series (though the second will be MAJOR spoiler fuel if you do).

As a fun fact, the final short features Sailor Mercury using an attack, Mercury Aqua Mirage, that is never seen elsewhere.

I didn't look long, so maybe I missed them, but I couldn't find any torrents of them at all. On the upside, they're on youtube, subbed in English......though you shouldn't expect them to be excellent quality. The first one, don't expect anything above shit quality.

Yes, Usagi, we are.

3.5-4/5

Monday, July 14, 2014

Young Animator Training Project 2013 (Anime Mirai 2013)

Going on another year, the Young Animator Training Project/Anime Mirai returned for another year in 2013. This year stood out, though not in an active way: Many fans may remember the second Kickstarter-funded anime, Little Witch Academia. What most fans don't remember is that it was a part of Anime Mirai 2013, along with Death Billiards, Arve Rezzle, and Ryo.

Um, yes, I can tell, thankyou.

We'll start off this review with the forerunner, Little Witch Academia, by the newly formed Studio Trigger. It starts off by showing us a world in which magic is a common thing, and children of all ages line up to attend the stage show of a witch named Shiny Chariot. Our heroine, Akko, is in the audience, and is completely enchanted by the wonders presented to her by Chariot. Flash forward about 10 years, and Akko is enrolled at Luna Nova Academy, a magic school. Having no magical background, Akko struggles alongside her classmates, but the time eventually comes for her to save the day.

It's a hard knock life.

The art style is very cutesy and unique; it seems to draw a bit of inspiration from western series (it's slightly reminiscent of Powerpuff Girls and possibly even Adventure Time). The animation is so fluid, too, really giving it this fresh quality that anime needs more of. The effects are all dazzling without going overboard. Trigger did well.

The Western influence is evident, since, while they're just as over-the-top, anime reactions aren't usually this goofy.
This anime strikes a chord for me, since it coincidentally forms parallels to a British book series turned TV Movie (and eventually TV show) from the 80's that became a major childhood favourite of mine. The Worst Witch also features a hapless protagonist enrolled at a witch academy who eventually steps up to save the day. It's a pretty common formula when you think about it, but it never gets old, as evidenced by studios continuing to use it. Despite this, though, I don't feel LWA lived up to its hype, and unfortunately left the other selections in its shadow. Given that this was Studio Trigger's second foray into the anime world, though, it was quite a strong punch.

Time for a bit a' the' RAZZLE DAZZLE~!

Next up is Death Billiards (which, honestly, would have sounded so much cooler as Death Pool), by my favourite anime studio, Madhouse. In it, a pair of men, one quite old, one rather young, wake up in a mysterious bar, and are challenged by the bartenders to compete against each other in the most important game of pool of their lives.

Old people can sometimes just be so chill about things.

The art on this one was typical Madhouse fare, which is to say it was excellent. Not a hair out of place throughout it all, and every inch of the background is done in rich, striking detail. The visual effect is stunning, the beauty against the pain and agony of the events. The animation, of course, was flawless.

You know it's Madhouse when even the Toilet is Pretty.
Although we didn't know what to expect going in, both me and my two friends who joined in to watch were delighted by this one. Madhouse certainly delivered (as they always do) with a gripping series with one hell of a plot twist. The contrast between the two main characters just makes it better, with the young man's desperate pleading standing out against the old man's sharp stoicism. Through it all, the bartenders stand there watching, not saying a word. Madhouse could easily turn this into a 12-episode series if they wanted to.

Stoic but not Emotionless.

Following DP is Arve Rezzle, which has more spellings than I care to list, but is otherwise known as Arve Rezzle - Mechanical Fairies. It was done by Zexcs, and replaced an intended short called TV Kazoku Channel Jacker, to be made by Pierrot. AR is based off the light novel of the same name, and is set in a not-so-distant future where technology has advanced to the point where humanity can send their consciousness into cyberspace via nanobots. However, due to an accidental overload on the network the media dubs "Early Rapture", thousands of human minds are lost to data. The story follows Remu Mikage in his efforts to get back his sister Shiki, and the person inhabiting Shiki's body due to the mind switch.

This one had a lot of potential, and still does.
The art style was strange....like something I've never seen, and yet something rather familiar. It was very wispy and liney, and the colours were often unexpected. The characters had a look about them unique to this show, something that suited the narrative very well. It was, actually, somewhat fairy like.

Even the backgrounds helped to give a nice visual contrast.

The concept was brilliant, if nothing else, but one would expect that since it was based off of a preexisting work rather than being made fresh. It wasn't my favourite of the bunch, but it enchanted my companions with its mystic mechanical tale. I do think, however, this has the potential to go much further if Zexcs would let it.

Yes...this short could be so much more.

Lastly, is Ryo, by Gonzo. Like Buta of the previous year, Ryo is another samurai series, this time set in the Meiji Era, and much more realistic, action-packed, and dramatic. It follows three people who each have Ryo somewhere in their name. The main character is a boy whose parents were killed in a British raid on their hometown, and eventually becomes the bodyguard of Ryoma Sakamoto and a woman named Oryo, who give him the name Ryo.

Despite the bodyguard angle, Ryoma is actually a really nice, fun-loving guy.
Realistic anime are more common than some of the other uncommon styles, but they still are infrequent enough to be striking, and Ryo is one of those. The faces, swords, ships, everything is much more seriously toned than your typical anime, affirming this OVA's position as a drama. That said, it's also very beautiful, with care and patience taken for the backgrounds, to really give it the old-world feel they were going for.

SO MUCH DORAMAAAAA

Ryo starts off in such a way to leave the viewer confused but intrigued; the ocean waves striking the side of the ship, the screaming out for answers, all send a very powerful message of vengance that has yet to come. You can feel Ryo's pain at the start, and again when closure (or lack thereof) comes at the end. Couple that with the middle, which could be easily padded out, and Ryo could make for a damn fine samurai series, which are rare enough these days, even without the quality and care given to this one.

It wasn't afraid to have a comedic moment or two, either.

Though not as wow-factor as one would expect, 2013 was still a glowing example of what this project is all about. All four studios gave it their all, and all four studios delivered something to be proud of. Whether you're into the genres displayed or not, one can't deny the good standing of these entries into the project.

Yes, Madhouse went there.

In line with 2010, getting these episodes isn't always the easiest task, and indeed I got Little Witch Academia and Ryo from [gg], Death Billiards from Deadfish Encodes, and Arve Rezzle from eraser. Exiled Destiny, Deadfish, Sabishii (Spanish), Nanikano Fansubs (Spanish), Bakari Subs (Spanish), and NanaOne (German) also did Little Witch Academia (and, weirdly enough, Commie subbed the "making of" documentary and provided the soundtrack); [gg], NanaOne, Sabishii, Final Subs (Spanish), and Lateralus Manga (Spanish) did Death Billiards; Nanikano, Rorikon Fansub League (German), and Fudo Subs (Italian) did Arve Rezzle; and Sabishii, Dac Fansubs (Arabic!) and Lateralus did Ryo.

LOOKIT DAT FACE

Little Witch Academia - 3.5-4/5
Death Billiards - 4.5/5
Arve Rezzle - 4/5
Ryo - 4/5

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Space Dandy Season 1

Starting on January 4th, 2014, Space Dandy is a 24-episode anime series by Studio Bones following the misadventures of an alien hunter named Dandy and his two hapless cohorts Meow and QT. To bump this series up, it's directed by Watanabe Shinichiro, the genius behind Cowboy Bebop. But what really puts this series on the map is that, for the first time ever, the English Dub aired in simulcast (on TV, to boot) alongside the Japanese airing. The English rendition even premiered a day earlier than the Japanese, giving this show yet another notch on its belt.

The show used A LOT of special effects and art styles to render a very psychedelic space story.

Dandy (or Space Dandy, as he likes to be called) is a suave, pompadour-styling guy who spends his days hunting for rare aliens. While this seems all well and good, what it usually translates into is waking up at noon, going to Boobies (a spiritual successor of sorts to Hooters), and surviving mostly on chips, beer, and girly magazines. Sure, this sounds like a godawful way to live, but Dandy makes it work, and actually manages to have a spectacular time in his day-to-day life.

Yeeeahh.....you'd definitely back away slowly.


If you were to encounter a man like this in real life, you'd probably write him off as a slacker creep and edge away as fast as possible. However, because it's set in space, with limitless possibilities, Dandy ends up as actually a rather engaging (though chauvinistic) guy. It's a very episodic series, which suits the show well since it allows everything to start fresh each week. Combine that with all the not-so-subtle nods to various past works and Bones' penchant for crazy, and the result is a stellar mix of colourful and funky with action and adventure.

ACTION BUREAUCRAT!! 

Continuing that thought, the art style in this show was just out of this world (pun so very intended). It's part 70's, part future, all Dandy. Every character is beyond unique, and are very charming in their own demented ways. The animation is fluid as hell and the special effects are spot-on. Bones' stylistic choices and risks just make the series that much more adventurous and appealing; it's not every day you see an entire episode look like a series of charcoal sketches.

Bones took such time with their visuals, that even the characters themselves are left in awe.

As if things couldn't get any better, Kanno Yoko was one of the composers of the soundtrack, and my god it is amazing. They took such careful time with each of the songs, as if they were to write a story in itself with them. As is typical with anime, however, they changed the opening and ending to more "American" ones for the dub release, when they really didn't have to; both are just wonderful. However, to their credit, the English openings are still quite nice, so at least they tried.

The American opening and ending were good, but the Japanese are better.

Overall, Space Dandy was a quirky, fun, occasional cringe-fest of a thrill ride. I laughed, I cried at an episode or two, and I felt all the joy and heartache they wanted me to. Sure, it's dumb. Sure, it's got more fanservice than a real-life hooters. Sure, there are moments which make no sense whatsoever and still leave me wondering, somewhat. But it was perfect that way. Had they tried to make it anything other than what it was, it sure as hell wouldn't have been Dandy.

The original version implemented a lot of fun, quirky commercial cards that I can only hope the english left in. (Having not seen it on TV, I don't know.)

Adult Swim is currently airing the second season as part of their Saturday night Toonami block, but I have yet to check if any season 1 episodes are on demand. Otherwise, various streaming sites have it and it's easy enough to find torrents of both sub and dub. I personally was using the Phr0stY blu-ray quality rips, but I know Denpa was doing torrents as well (and with the original opening mashed in there, to boot!). Horrible Subs, Commie, Noob Subs and Deadfish all appear to have active torrents of both s1 and s2 episodes, too.

Despite all his fumbling, Dandy actually is a pretty cool guy.

4.5-5/5

Monday, July 7, 2014

Young Animator Training Project 2012 (Anime Mirai 2012)

Continuing the efforts of the 2010 Young Animator Training Project, JAniCa greenlit the project once again in 2012, renaming it Anime Mirai (Anime's Future). This time around, there's Buta, Minding My Own Business, Dudu the Floatie, and Wasurenagumo. The absence of a 2011 offering was never explained, but one could chalk it up to the name change and the settling of the project into a regular event.

We got some tasty looking selections here.

To start, Buta is a short by TMS Entertainment, set in an alternate Edo period where anthropomorphized animals coexist in both peace and war. At the start, a young fox boy is given an ancient map by his father for his upcoming birthday. The map is their family's treasure, and the time has come for the young fox boy to guard it himself. Sadly, their home is raided by pirates just seconds later, leaving the house in shambles and the fox boy kidnapped, left to the mercy of fate....until he hires the samurai pig, Buta.

Sure, he's a powerful ronin, but he's no babysitter.

Buta is in a style one expects from your typical anime. Strangely enough the fox boy bears a slight resemblance to the Toei Animation cat, though i'm sure this is pure coincidence. It was very cute, which worked well with the more comedic flair the OVA had. TMS took their time to make each character unique, even those of the same species, and made sure the costumes, items, and backgrounds were all appropriate for the time period (well, mostly). It all enhances the quality of the short, making it that much better overall.

Weirdly enough, Buta sort of looked like a Don Bluth movie.

The narrative was hilarious and strong. The light-hearted nature of it was nostalgic for me, as if I were reading something off the pages of Shonen Jump. It was really nice to see a samurai series as playful as this one, since, while I know lighter ones exist, the majority of swordsman series tend to be very serious and dramatic in nature. The plot was also quite solid, leading me to believe that, given a bigger budget and more time, Buta could make for a fine movie. I don't feel it has enough material to make an actual series, but a 90-minute OVA wouldn't be out of the question.

OH THE HORROR

Next up is Minding My Own Business, by Shirogumi. This one struck me from the start (and even before I watched it) due to its bold, striking art style. It meshes well with the characters and setting, which are some 5th grade boys in what looks to be the mid Showa Era. The story follows a boy as he witnesses bullying happen and does nothing to stop it, despite feeling guilty for doing so. It eventually reveals that not everything is as we see it to be.

An excellent question.

In Minding My Own Business, the pallet is limited, the lines sketchy and thick, and the shapes angular. This might sound like a bad thing, but it works EXTREMELY well with the OVA, whose emotions run fast, hot, and high all of the time. The rough, charcoalesque lines capture the anger, the fear, the hopelessness, and the righteous fury so brilliantly that it's as if the emotion burst right out of the screen. This helps the high points stand in sharp contrast to the quiet moments, making this a true art piece.

Not quite what I meant by "Art Piece"...

The story starts off in such a way that it feels as if Shirogumi was attempting to make an art film. It also deals with a pretty heavy topic and does so in such a confrontational, real way that this short feels more for older than younger people, as children may be put off by certain aspects of it (the overt use of red, or the sketchy, violent lines, for example). However, from an objective perspective this only makes it more appealing. Not many anime are willing to be as serious and real as this short was, and though it doesn't have the potential to be anything longer than a half-hour short, I earnestly wish I could see more things like this.

Haven't we all been here?

Third on the chopping block is Dudu the Floatie, by Answer Studio. This follows a young girl of about 5 or 6, named Mika, as she goes on a magical sea adventure with a pool toy her father bought her. Mika uses the underwater fantasy as an escape from the disappointment her father leaves her with when he runs off to work rather than fulfilling a promise to take her to the beach.

Admittedly, the beach can be legitimately frightening.

This short was bright, colourful, and cutesy, as a happy ocean adventure should be. Everything looked either subtropical or squishy and plasticine, sort of elevating the idea of "pool toys" to a new level. It was rather fun, though typical, as you see a lot of anime like this. On the upside, the proportions were quite new (you don't see many people in anime of different shapes and sizes, honestly), but overall the artistic offering was rather typical fare.

Told you we had some tasty looking selections.

The story, while good, was also quite average in nature. I will admit that I had my hopes raised quite a bit too high by a gag byline planted by the sub group [gg], which I didn't realize was a gag until after seeing it. Despite this, I'm thankful for the gag, since were it not for that, I never would have discovered the Young Animator Training Project as a whole. As for how this translates to Dudu's story, however, leaves him sitting in a kiddie pool of mediocrity.

Literally!

Last but sure as hell not least is Wasurenagumo (otherwise known as Little Spider Girl), released by Production I.G. The story covers a vintage book seller and his landlord's granddaughter who inadvertently release a demon from a sealed Heian-era diary, and go off on a journey to reunite her with her mother.

Presenting Spiderman's Illegitimate Daughter.

I didn't really know what to expect with Wasurenagumo. The art style is somewhat typical, but has its painterly moments, especially the vignettes depicting the Heian flashbacks. Still, it remains on a more normal level than Dudu in that it has a less pastel, cutesy pallet and style. All the animation is nice in a "usual fare" sort of way without standing out too much.

On the other hand, I.G. really took their time with the backgrounds.

Where Wasurenagumo gets you is the plot. The story is adorable, and the ending was sheer genius, the kind of plot twist M. Night Shyamalan has wet dreams about. It was unexpected, gripping, and brilliant in the last quarter, leaving with a super-powered story you never saw coming. Even the ending was lovely, with a funky little tune (that I named "Dream Wizard" and snatched up for my iphone) and a cute, storybook style not seen in the series. When you think about it, there's even potential there for further episodes of this too, involving people and their demonic "pets", if you will. Maybe not much more material (potential to get stale is high if not done properly), but there's something bigger there.

My Little Sister Can't Be This Terrifying.

2012 rounded out to be a fine year for the Training Project, with the 4 studios bringing their A game for the most part, leaving the viewer with an interesting, entertaining sampling. The shorts this time are more varied than the previous, to boot, with two that could be aimed more at children (Buta and Dudu) and two that might appeal more to someone a bit older (Minding My Own Business and Wasurenagumo).

Well Screw You Too!

Unlike last time, [gg] did all 4 of the shorts in English, so getting them is a breeze. From what I can tell, however, no one else has done them, so [gg] seems to be not only the best choice, but the *only* choice. Kamigami Subs (Chinese) seems to have done a few from random years as well.

Indeed we did.

Buta - 4/5
Minding My Own Business - 5/5
Dudu the Floatie 3-3.5/5
Wasurenagumo - 5/5