Jason checks out Hideki Ohwada's politically-charged mahjong manga, The Legend of Koizumi.
Reviewby Bamboo Dong, Feb 18th 2003
Chance Pop Session
DVD 1: Session 1
Brought together by a pop concert, three girls find their ways to a prestigious music school where they each aspire to be pop idols themselves. Along the way, they must learn to work with others and persevere long enough to attain their goals. Many challenges stand in their way that threatens to break their dreams, but they try their hardest to keep going no matter what.
Chance Pop Session is one of the most down to earth series that is being released this season and its themes of perseverance and teamwork will appeal to many people. Licensed for release in North America by ADV Films, the series follows the dreams and aspirations of three young girls who dream of some day becoming pop idols. The first volume contains five episodes on one disc, as well as a large package of extra features. Among these features is an extensive art gallery featuring character sketches as well as an equally impressive portfolio of production backgrounds for virtually every setting. In addition to these already incredible extras is a collection of Japanese trailers for this series. This may entertain some viewers, but most of the trailers are largely the same, so it's not too extraordinary of a feature. The DVD also includes the clean opening and closing themes and with the catchy music in these themes, this is a rather fun extra. As if that weren't enough, ADV also includes an eight-page insert booklet on “How to be a Popstar” which includes things like tips on skin care and makeup, which is frivolous and rather ditzy, but somewhat entertaining. The only minor issues with the packaging are ADV's apparent illiteracy with music. The front cover features notes with their stems and flags going the wrong way and the back side has a staff with accidentals that are not where they're supposed to be in a key signatures. These points are just minor trivialities, however, and serve more to amuse musicians than anything else. Altogether, ADV did a very nice job packaging the first volume, with not only a slew of extras, but also five episodes for a very convenient price.
The series itself is a mixed bag of good and bad qualities. To mention the good points first, the series is a step away from what normally characterizes many modern anime series. The story is very much reality-based and focuses on the quiet themes of friendship, hard work, discipline, perseverance, and the power of reaching for one's dreams. Combining these aspects with a story that emphasizes character relationships, Chance Pop Session is one of the most heartwarming series to come out this year. It carries a meaningful message in all its episodes, relying upon human emotion and ethos to carry its words. While viewers are able to identify with the themes of the series, the nuances associated with the plot itself are hard to understand outside of the intended Japanese audience. In Japan, there is a notion of pop idols as prestigious members of society that cannot often be seen in America. It's more believable for Japanese viewers to have a prestigious music school whose students aspire to be pop idols than for Americans who can only scorn at a distinguished Juliard student lowering herself to pop star status. In fact, given the cultural difference, if the technicalities of the plot are examined, the story seems very absurd. However, the main focus of the series is not the “wanna be a pop star?” aspect of it, but rather the trials that the girls must overcome to get there. That's the part that makes the series.
The music for the series also comes in a grab-bag assortment. Because of its pop star nature, good music is not only hoped for, but expected. Luckily, the vocals in Chance Pop Session fulfill this requirement. Unfortunately, only a few tracks were actually recorded, so viewers are forced to listen to the same songs over and over again until they are no longer catchy. When listened to outside of the series, the songs are still enjoyable to listen to, but when a smash-hit street band or a nationally renowned pop idol only have one song on their repertoire, this gets not only heavily annoying, but frustrating as well. It's nice knowing that the songs are sung by the voice actresses themselves (including the themes), but beyond that point of interest, there is none.
One of the aspects of the series that is relatively sketchy is the art and animation. The character designs are simplistically drawn and seem very flat and two-dimensional. Also, it's rather dismaying how static the characters are, such as their non-moving but ever-flowing hair, or their clothes that are frozen in a period of movement. The objects in the foreground are done very well though, such as the various Angel of Music statues that are placed throughout the series. It seems a bit awkward to have rendered statues in the midst of a 2D landscape, but given their beauty, this detail can be excused. Surprisingly, the backgrounds for the series are absolutely beautiful, giving each scene a soft feel that helps alleviate the stiffness of the characters, even though this does clash at extreme moments. Another downside of the series is the animation, or the lack thereof. The characters' movements are animated well (with the exception of their frozen hair and clothing), and the moving objects in the foreground are done smoothly. The problem is rests in the cel layers between the foreground and the background. These never change, meaning that if there's a scene involving a large crowd of people behind the characters, it will remain static, with people frozen in one expression or midst gesture. This displays very poor animation and gives the series a very low-budget feel. On the upshot, the use of lighting in the series is done extremely well. Extremely, extremely well. All of the light seems very natural, and the night scenes came out especially well. The production staff also did a remarkable way in drawing prismatic effects—something that came out very well when the story started dealing with the “mysterious blue stone.”
Another sack of randomness is the voice acting for the series. The Japanese voice actors do a very nice job of presenting their roles and bringing out each person's personality traits. The varieties of emotions are carried out well and give the thematic approach of the series the basis of execution. The English voice actors, however, are not as good. There are some characters who do an exceptional job and bring out every nuance of their role's natures. A few others were monotonous and rather deadpan, such as Akari (played by Kelli Cousins) who carried of tone of patronization that strayed away from her humble and shy character. The main issue with the English dub was the way that the sound was mixed. The voices seem like they were recorded primarily on the first track and on a louder volume, making them stand out to the point of distraction. Overall, the translation matched the original Japanese script relatively well. There were times that the English dialogue had a few lines that had nothing to do with the original story, but as this doesn't occur too frequently, this can be excused. Another point of annoyance was the way that ADV subtitled the songs. All of the songs within the episodes are subtitled with the Romaji lyrics, but no English translation was provided. This is slightly aggravating, as viewers who don't speak Japanese will have no idea what the girls are singing about.
Chance Pop Session is on of those series that can be enjoyed on the surface. The themes it uses are identifiable to viewers and very well crafted. It invokes almost a sense of happiness when the series is watched, but when the various aspects of the series are broken up, its many flaws can be picked out. Without a doubt, Chance Pop is one of the most practical series to come out anytime soon, so if you feel like you're “burned out” on anime, try this. It may just be the unique solution you've been looking for.
Overall (dub) : C
Overall (sub) : B
Story : C
Animation : D
Art : C+
Music : B
+ Pretty cool pop music...
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