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Errinundra's Beautiful Fighting Girl #133: Taiman Blues: Ladies' Chapter - Mayumi


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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 5:21 am Reply with quote
The next housekeeping review from 27 January 2015 continues with the academia and magical girl themes. I've edited the pictures slightly but kept the spoilers. Although I'm sticking with the rating, I haven't managed to re-watch this yet.

Revolutionary Girl Utena



WARNING: There be spoilers herein.

Reason for watching: It's reputation; how much I enjoyed Mawaru Penguindrum; and the chance to buy the Hanabee special edition set (essentially a repackaged Nozomi set) from JB Hi Fi at a reduced price at their annual Boxing Day sale. It is coincidence that director Kunihiko Ikuhara's Yuri Storm Bears is airing currently, though it has been fun drawing parallels between the two.

Synopsis: Schoolgirl Utena Tenjou must fight a series of sword duels in order to prevent the shy and beautiful Anthy Himemiya from falling into the hands of those who would take advantage of her. If Utena can remain undefeated she will also gain the power to revolutionise the world, whatever that may mean. What Utena must learn is that the looming apocalypse is intimately tied up with her own past. To emerge victorious she must not only reject the roles that have been thrust upon her but also the one she has chosen for herself - to be a prince - so that she can tread a new path that others, including Anthy, may follow.


Prince Utena and the tautological Princess Himemiya.

Comments: It's always a revelation and a pleasure to watch for the first time an old anime series that has a formidable reputation and find that it fully lives up to one's expectations. With a formulaic structure in each of its first three out of four arcs, repetitive duelling scenes, initially opaque plot and themes, and slow-to-warm-to characters Revolutionary Girl Utena does throw up hurdles in the way of the viewer. Happily, Ikuhara's stylisms, theatrical sensibility, non-stop visual games and his acidic irony carry the show through to its magnificent final arc where all the themes and games and formulae fall into place in one of the best and most satisfying conclusions I have yet seen in an anime.


Visual games: vulvar and phallic imagery are a constant throughout the series.

Though Revolutionary Girl Utena has many layers, I feel that the best approach is an intuitive one rather than an analytical one. Having finished it yesterday morning I know that its concepts and imagery will be percolating in my consciousness for days or even weeks to come. It's one of those shows where insights will pop into my head suddenly. I'm sure a re-watch will provide further revelations. For the moment I'll concentrate on what appears to be the main theme of the series: the choices available to people, particularly women, as they approach adulthood.

The narrated opening of the anime sets the parameters of what is to come: as a child suffering from a tragic turn of events Utena is visited by a prince who gives her a ring, urges her to maintain her strength and nobility and promises to meet her again one day. The narrator then comments:

Quote:
Perhaps the ring the prince gave her was an engagement ring. This was all well and good, but so impressed was she by him that the princess vowed to become a prince herself one day. But was that really such a good idea?


From the very start two characteristic aspects of RGU are presented to us: an examination of traditional roles and an ironic sensibility. More on the latter later but everyone within the show is playing a role and everyone is constrained by that role. Characters play the role expected of them, Utena excepted. For her part, despite adopting the role of prince and displaying a tomboy exterior, she will find that even that will fail her at her moment of crisis in the last arc. Sometimes the prince cannot save the princess; sometimes the princess doesn't want to be saved. Even Utena's own emotional foibles (she falls in love with the villain) will get in her way. Indeed, all the major characters will learn how much their inner emotional lives will be in conflict with the roles they play.

The character in whom this is most broadly examined is Anthy who plays several roles, some even at odds with others (which makes for some disconcerting behavioural jumps). She is innocent bride, victim of abuse, self-sacrificing angel, friend and confidant, seductress and witch. Common through Anthy's various personas is her lack of agency along with an existential despair that is hidden at first but becomes more overt as the tale unfolds. At the moment of crisis the princess finally takes control by spoiler[killing the prince]. It is a liberating act: Anthy may well find herself alone but, for the first time, she will tread the path of her choosing.


Anthy Himemiya: here embodying both victim and seductress.

The catch is, Anthy's action is necessarily calamitous for Utena, who, ironically, has brought about the revolution that allows Anthy to spoiler[kill her]. But it's somehow kind of satisfying. Utena has failed as a prince but succeeded as a revolutionary. The beneficiary of the revolution is Anthy, who vows to find where Utena has gone.

It's powerful stuff but it took a fair while into the series before it struck me with full force. That's not to say the series isn't rewarding in other ways. You could say that the RGU's strengths work against themselves. The emotional force that slowly develops is held back by Ikuhara's ironic approach to his characters and material. That irony runs the gamut from subtle commentary to a bludgeoning hammer. If a character is being a cow then expect them to turn into a cow, as happens to the deliciously overbearing but idiotic Nanami (who also gets to lay an egg - or so she thinks). The irony can be amusing, as with the shadow puppet girls' twisted representations of events. It can also be incisive. For example: in a series drowning in vanity it is the male characters who are the most narcissistic. RGU shows how the dominant roles adopted by men are largely self-serving.


Akio, aka The End of the World, aka the Big Bad: male vanity shamelessly displayed.

The catch with so much irony is that the viewer is distanced from the characters. The connections start to happen, though. For me it began with Juri, the capable ice-queen of the school student council who secretly loves her female protege, Shiori (who isn't deserving of Juri's love). Then, as with Penguindrum's Ringo, it was the fruitcake character - Nanami - who next gained my sympathy, not because her idiocy was endearing or entertaining but because she began to show some emotional integrity. (Still, lacking the central role Ringo has in Penguindrum, she remains a minor character). Finally, and most importantly, Utena's own integrity (despite her affair with the engaged big bad) and idealism shine through. By the end I was won over by her. Being a prince may have eluded her but she does become a hero.

RGU has many other themes. It oozes symbolism and visual games. While I suspect much of it is just silly, part of the pleasure for me is the anticipation in returning to indulge in further play with Ikuhara.

Rating: Masterpiece with some reservations. When something concludes so well it's easy to forget its earlier shortcomings. Re-watches are definitely in order. I'm intrigued whether I'll find the early episodes a chore or whether I find more themes and games to mull over.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 3:52 am; edited 1 time in total
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Aylinn



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PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 7:56 am Reply with quote
errinundra wrote:


Akio, aka The End of the World, aka the Big Bad: male vanity shamelessly displayed.


Such images remind me of this AMV
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Mon Oct 12, 2015 2:28 pm Reply with quote
^
Oooh. Perfect.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 17, 2015 9:29 am Reply with quote
Reaching for the sky again.

The Wind Rises

Reason for watching: It's Ghibli and it's Miyazaki. Ghibli films always get a general release in Melbourne - Madman is based here, after all. After one false start - I forgot I was supposed to see it with my sister and nephew - I viewed it with subtitles at Cinema Nova in February last year. I've had the DVD sitting around for months so I finally got around to watching it again, this time sub and dub.

Synopsis: Follows the professional and private lives of Jiro Horikoshi, most famous as the designer of Mitsubishi's World War 2 fighter plane, the Zero. Inspired by his dreams of the fantastical aircraft of the Italian aeronautical engineer Count Caproni and the German technological advances of Hugo Junkers, Horikoshi uses Japan's limited resources to bridge the aeronautical gap with the rest of the world. Parallel with this, he meets, courts and marries the consumptive Naoko. While the film accurately details the succession of planes he designs (1MF2 Hayabusa, 1MF10, A5M and A6M), the details of his relationship with Naoko are entitely fictional, being inspired by the novella The Wind Has Risen by Hori Tatsuo.


Jiro gazes into the distance, as he does. The seagulls prefigure the next image: the inverted gullwing A5M.
That's the real Nagato behind him, not a humanoid interface or moe girl ship spirit. Brutal.


Comments: Upon its release The Wind Rises raised some controversy over the claim from some reviewers that the flim's depiction of Horikoshi's ambition to build the perfect fighter plane despite its deadly purpose was yet another example of Japanese recidivism. Seeming to reinforce this argument is the apparent conflation of director Miyazaki the animator with Hirokoshi the engineer. Like Hirokoshi, Miyazaki is seen as the single-minded auteur, determined to express his vision, regardless of the cost. One riposte to this is the argument put forward by Caproni in Jiro's dreams: that engineer builds beautiful things; it's governments that use them for unsavoury purposes. Another is the way the film never depicts war in less than unflattering terms. Nevertheless, I'm going to argue that focusing on the the more entertaining and visually appealing flying sequences of the film overlooks the more thematically interesting other half of the movie - the story of Jiro and Naoko. I believe that it's in their story that the heart of Miyazaki's argument can be found.

The Naoko sequences are adapted from Hori Tatsuo's The Wind Has Risen. A summary of the story can be read here. In short, it is the reminiscences of an unnamed narrator of his journey with his ailing companion, Setsuko, to a sanitorium. The title of the novella itself is a reference to The Graveyard by the Sea by French poet, Paul Valery. The narrator of the poem similarly ponders death, but with the wild ocean nearby, with signs of life all around, he concludes,

The wind is rising! . . . We must try to live!
The huge air opens and shuts my book: the wave
Dares to explode out of the rocks in reeking
Spray. Fly away, my sun-bewildered pages!
Break, waves! Break up with your rejoicing surges
This quiet roof where sails like doves were pecking.



Sumika (Sasameki Koto), her own love seemingly doomed, seeks solace in the novella.
It was a lark including something this preposterous, but there is a connection.


The film itself, of course, is a reference to the poem, via the novella. But the sanitorium of the novella suggests more, as is made explicit in the movie. At a hotel in the mountains where Jiro is re-acquainted with Naoka, he also meets the enigmatic Castorp, a German critic of the Hitler regime. He is the most intriguing, beguiling and magical character of the film, the more conventionally magical (does that make sense?) Caproni notwithstanding. I believe that he, not Jiro, represents the moral heart of the film. His gentle, slightly comical, nature gives him a sort of innocence not shared with the other, more worldly characters. He is a watercress-eating rabbit. Yet he can see things clearly. Sharing a cigarette with Jiro, he expounds,

This is a good place. No mosquitoes. Not hot. Good watercress. A good place to forget bad things. It is a nice night. Hier ist der Zauberberg. A good place for forgetting. Make a war in China. Forget it. Make a puppet state in Manchuria. Forget it. Quit the League of Nations. Forget it. Make the world your enemy. Forget it. Japan will blow up. Germany will blow up too.

Der Zauberberg. The Magic Mountain. Castorp is also the name of the protagonist of Thomas Mann's novel. Miyazaki goes even further: Castorp later leads the clients of the hotel in a rendition of It Only Happens Once from the Weimar era film The Congress Dances about a love affair during the Congress of Vienna between the Tsar of Russia and a local glove-seller that is only ended by the approach of Napoleon's army.


Castorp. Like a fairy spirit he just disappears from the story.
His short intervention is central to understanding Miyazaki's argument.


So, is there a link between all these artists? Firstly, all the works were made between the two world wars, which could simply be Miyazaki making references to contempary culture. That said, it seems to me that all are ambiguous and humanistic in their work. Valery refused to collaborate with the French Vichy Government, who stripped him of several of his positions. Thomas Mann and Werner R. Heymann (the composer of It Only Happens Once) fled Germany upon the ascent of the Nazis to power. Erik Charell, the Jewish director of The Congress Dances, was unable to return to Germany after working in the US and was subject to sanctions in his absence. In The Magic Mountain Castorp is faced with competing ideologies; in The Wind Rises he is the voice of Miyazaki, condemning political thuggery and the wilful blindness of individuals, while extolling humanistic values. If Castorp is critiquing the ambition of Jiro, he is simultaneously endorsing Jiro's love for Naoko. If there is some Miyazaki in Jiro, then Miyazaki is critiquing himself.

That humanistic touch is also expressed in the contrast between the flying machines created by Caproni and Junkers; the former built as fantastical, baroque passenger liners made of fabric, but destined to become bombers; the latter as gothic, industrial, heavy metal bombers but passed off as passenger liners for the time being. The ambiguity remains. Caproni knows his creations will be used for war but remains undeterred. (In real life he profited from building prupose-built bombers for several combatant nations.) Jiro has no qualms at all. He enthusiastically builds the most deadly fighter planes of their time. As Castorp says, he wilfully forgets bad things. He puts modernism ahead of humanism. He works as his beautiful wife lies dying. This isn't a valorisation of Jiro, it's a condemnation. Still, the planes are beautiful also, in their way. Miyazaki shares the ambiguity of his allusions. We must follow Valery's exhortation, "we must try to live".


Naoko. "We must try to live." What could Jiro have done?
The real Jiro Horikoshi and his wife had five children.


In the end, though, while it is as gorgeous as any of Miyazaki's films, The Wind Rises is kind of dull. Visually, the flying scenes, especially those involving Caproni are highlights. As I said in my Porco Rosso review (and there are some nods to that film along the way), Miyazaki films take off when the flying machines (or paper models) take off. Caproni adds to the magic, even if his clownishness is at odds with much of the tone of the rest of the film. Other slapstick moments and the exaggerated expressions on characters' faces also seem out of place. The character designs also lack invention, being stuck in a Miyazaki time warp from last century. To counter this, I thought the way Miyazaki portrayed the ever mutating Tokyo following the Kanto earthquake was well done, while the attention to detail in the machinery is outstanding. Yet the characters weren't especially memorable (I never felt as if I had got inside their heads), especially once considered isolated from their thematic roles, while both plot threads move predictably from point A to point B. Sometimes The Wind Rises seemed just a series of vignettes without obvious connection until viewed as a whole. That's Miyazaki's style, I suppose.


Caproni: dream mentor and builder of heavy bombers for the Italian Air Force.

Evangelion director Hideaki Anno voices the protagonist in the Japanese dub. I never got used to his strangled voice, so different from any other seiyuu I've heard. In the Japanese dub some of the voice actors use the language of the foreigners. I've read that it can be pretty bad; I wouldn't know. In the American dub they mostly speak English with an accent (except the Japanese characters, of course). Given that I won't have to be subject to Anno's weird voice I expect the American dub will be my preference. The most extraordinary thing about the American dub, though, is the person who voices Castorp - legendary German director Werner Herzog. Did he ask to do it? Is it his homage to Miyazaki? Either way, his wheezy voice is far more appropriate to his role than Anno's to his. Herzog's presence as Castorp adds all sorts of new interpretations to an already thematically loaded character.

Regular musical collaborator Joe Hisaishi turns in a competent, unremarkable soundtrack. It frequently reminds me of other of his works with Miyazaki; whether homage or lack of inspiration I'm not sure. I hope it's the former, the Wind Rises likely to be Miyazaki's last feature length film, after all. Worth watching also is the short commentary from the director and voice actors of the American dub. It almost convinced me to increase my rating.

Rating: The low end of very good. I can't imagine I'm going to return to this a lot. If I want to watch a Miyazaki flying film Porco Rosso, Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind and Laputa: Castle in the Sky are all much more fun. Visually it has some glorious moments; intellectually it raises some ideas to ruminate upon; and the aircraft are nicely done. But, as his final work and supposed testomony it comes across as prosaic much of the time. Go watch The Tale of the Princess Kaguya instead. That is pure magic.


Zeroes. They hardly feature in the movie, which concentrates on earlier planes.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 4:50 am; edited 2 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 21, 2015 5:23 am Reply with quote
I had a decayed, hurting tooth removed today. Now there's a big hole in my mouth and a bigger hole ahead in my savings for an implant and crown. Happily I work for a Health Insurance Company.

Even more happily, the first season of Nodame Cantabile arrived hot off the presses from Siren Visual this morning. That will help me cheer up. What's more, the art box for my collection of Monster is about to arrive any day. Anime would be so much less interesting without Siren Visual.

With Hideaki Anno starring in The Wind Rises and now with the sweet strains of Nodame Cantabile love in the air, what better choice for my midweek housekeeping review than Kare Kano. This review was first posted 22 December 2012. I've enlarged the pictures to my 720 pixels standard width, even though the quality is poor. That's fansubs for you. I also replaced one word because, as a moderator, I do have to set a good example these days.

His and Her Circumstances

Reason for watching: This is a series I would never have watched but for the Best First Episode Tournament. I’ve never, until now, been an admirer of Hideaki Anno and, until recently, not given to watching romantic comedies. The first episode was, in fact, an accurate indication of how good this show is. Well… the first eighteen episodes, anyway.

Synopsis for episodes 1-18: Follows the romance between Yukino Miyazawa and Soichiro Arima, from first meeting to sexual consummation. Both are brilliant students, be it in study, sport or leadership. They are also fakes: she (Yukino) is an admiration junkie; he (Arima) is desperate to prove to himself and his adoptive parents that he hasn’t inherited the faults of his real parents. As their love for each other grows they gain a greater understanding of themselves and their self-delusions.


Yukino: learning to see the world in new, more honest, ways

Synopsis for episodes 19-26: Follows the various capers of the high school associates of Yukino and Arima as they prepare for the cultural festival. Frequent, extended re-caps remind us that, yes, Yukino and Arima are girlfriend and boyfriend without actually developing the relationship any further.

I haven’t found a definitive account on the web, but the making of this series had creative complications. Director Hideaki Anno (of Evangelion fame) quit after 18 episodes, passing the helm to Kazuya Tsurumaki. Mangaka Masami Tsuda, withdrew her support for a second season, apparently because she felt the anime concentrated on the humour, rather than the romance of her manga. There is indeed an abrupt change of tone after episode 18. Was Masami Tsuda’s issue with Hideaki Anno? Or with Kazuya Tsurumaki? Or both? Did Hideaki Anno quit because of the mangaka’s complaints? Or did he lose interest? Or succumb to his black dog? Perhaps Mike Toole could do a piece on the whole sorry tale?

Certainly, for the first 18 episodes (if considered on their own) His and Her Circumstances is one of the best and sharpest anime romantic comedies around. It’s as good as two rippers I’ve seen recently – Kimi ni Todoke and Toradora!. Anno has the marvellous gift of being able to simultaneously give us a story while providing an ironic critique of it. He doesn’t spare the sensibilities of any of his characters. By providing a multiplicity of points of view – though mostly it’s Yukino’s perspective – and wielding a scalpel sharp with irony, His and Her Circumstances is never less than highly entertaining. It isn’t just the humour. Anno has a great visual sense, even if he is prone to frequent use of stills, rotoscoping and the recycling of scenes and images. Add the constant use of on-screen text and the effect is to provide the viewer with a continuous editorial commentary, tearing apart the dishonest posturing of the characters. The forensic, albeit hilarious, examination of the protagonists’ uncomfortable growth into self-awareness makes these two essentially unpleasant characters surprisingly lovable. Yukino, especially is an outstanding creation.

Yukino and Arima are both given extensive family back-stories, enhancing their depth as characters. Both situations reveal how Yukino and Arima developed their dishonest personalities. Arima’s history is darker while Yukino has been blessed with a happier domestic environment, though not without its own trials. Yukino’s wise-for-their-age younger sisters, Tsukino and Kano, frequently steal the show while their voice actors provide hyperactive next episode previews. Indeed, when Anno is at the helm, each episode ends on a high – with those over-the-top previews and the simple but captivating roving camera live action EDs.


A foretaste of FLCL? Younger sisters Tsukino and Kano often succeed in their determination for screen dominance.

The other students are hit and miss. Wannabe girl (and boy) magnet Asaba is annoying, as is the pocket monster Tsubasa. I’m convinced that Tsubasa was the inspiration for Taiga from Toradora! Her behaviour, appearance and even the Japanese voice-acting bring Taiga very strongly to mind. Yes, anime truly eats itself. Yet, somehow, she never manages to match Taiga’s appeal, probably because I rarely felt any sympathy for her.

Unhappily, everything changes after episode 18. The quality of the episodes doesn’t warrant an extended examination: the irony mostly vanishes; the best characters (Yukino and Arima) become – for the most part – insignificant; the ramped-up attempts at comedy almost entirely fall flat; the scattergun visuals continue but their impact is lost; the various plots and introduced characters are boring; and there is no longer any strong connection between the viewer and the characters. Worst of all, Yukino, who had been one of the rare anime females whose character is enriched by love, becomes yet another simpering addendum to the male romantic figure. To put it simply, the last eight episodes are animated tedium. Where Anno’s craft had me engaged with the characters; Tsurumaki’s lack of craft left me detached from them. Really, other than an impulse for completion, there is no need to continue beyond episode 18.

His and Her Circumstances has instantly become my favourite Hideaki Anno work. It has also given me a better understanding of what he is on about with the Evangelion franchise.

Rating: the first 18 episodes would be either very good or excellent; the final eight so-so or not very good. Overall: good

Yukino went on to become Prime Minister of Australia. Politics attracts attention seekers so it isn’t
surprising, really. Arima was later outed as a cross-dressing lesbian and became Yukino’s Finance Minister.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 5:05 am; edited 2 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Oct 24, 2015 1:01 am Reply with quote
I'm about half way through Nodame Cantabile, but more on that in due course. Today's review is in keeping with the current romance theme, albeit a fantasy world away from either the blistering irony of His and Her Circumstances or Nodame Cantabile's blend of euphoria and screwball comedy.

Snow White with the Red Hair

Reasons for Watching: It's directed by Masahiro Ando, whose works always seem to fall just sort of greatness but which threaten to break through eventually. I wasn't expecting something like Canaan, Sword of the Stranger or even Under the Dog but I was hoping it could match or exceed Hanasaku Iroha. The premise of a romance between a commoner and a prince dressed up with 21st century attitude and values seemed promising.

Synopsis: Red-headed herbalist Shirayuki ("Snow White") flees her native Tanbarun and the skeevish clutches of Prince Raj. On her journey she meets and impresses Zen, the second prince of neigbouring Clarines. On arrival in Clarines she becomes an apprentice herbalist to the court, where she regularly meets Zen. Their friendship blossoms.


As we gaze through the window upon Shirayuki with her red hair we become complicit with the camera, and with Raj.

Comments: In the very opening scene the tenor of this conscientiously upbeat series is made clear. Shirayuki is collecting plants in the woods. A bell rings; she jumps a stream to get back to open her store; and explains via narration:

This is my own path. My own story. If I had my wish, I would keep charting my own path like this.

This metaphor is re-stated by Shirayuki at least once an episode as well as occasionally reinforced by her beau, Prince Zen. It promises, and mostly delivers, a romance where the woman isn't simply the subordinate half of the relationship, where she is empowered to make choices and that the choices she makes empowers her further. As well as that, her narration suggests a certain degree of earnestness, a tendency to take oneself just a tad too seriously. That could be said of the series generally, which, while demonstrating wit at times, is a straightforward romance with endearing characters and handsome accoutrements. There are opportunities and obstacles - the former always more significant than the latter - and new friends and occasional villains - the former always more enduring than the latter. Happily, the entire package is presented with a light touch.


Shirayuki, now with her locks shorn: capable, intelligent and endeavouring to chart her own path.

(Moving off on a couple of tangents. Is fidelity to the path you choose a praiseworthy ideal? What if the chosen path is misguided or evil? Prince Raj's chosen path is collecting pretty young women as his concubines. Shouldn't we criticise him then when, through cowardice, he lets Shirayuki go? On a different tangent, Shirayuki is no environmentalist. She goes into the woods and rips out the plants she wants.)

Shirayuki's intelligence, her quick thinking in emergencies, her determination to be her own woman and to make her own decisions, are all admirable. She is blessed with wit: giving Prince Raj what has attracted him - her hair - hits the bullseye and leads, in retaliation, to the most seriously vicious act of the series. Her wit is also evident in her conversations with Zen, but more on that shortly. Cutting off her hair also signals the emphasis on her female point of view. Her red hair is symbolic of Raj's measure of her worth, the focus of his male gaze. Shirayuki not only rejects that assessment but also literally and figuratively severs external appearance from inner identity. If the series is drawing such a distinction, and I believe it is, it also demonstrates a disjunct between her outward personality and her inner persona. For all her wit, independence and courage, Shirayuki's personality is straightforward, humourless and guileless. I can't remember her cracking a joke in the entire series, nor is she the focus of narrative irony. Whether this is deliberate, I'm not sure. It is conceivable that the creators are portraying her as a hidden gem, awaiting a prince who will see her true worth but, if so, that runs counter to the polemical arguments being made.

Zen, for his part, is more entertaining. Where Shirayuki tends to approach life as a set of problems to be solved, Zen has more gusto, more verve. He knows that his role as second prince requires intricate problem solving, but he is going to enjoy the pure act of living in the process. She is cerebral; he is physical. She is a herbalist; he is a soldier. On a narrative and polemical level Zen is almost too good to be true. He is the white knight in shiny armour who values the heroine for her inner qualities and who allows her to make her own decisions. Again there is a disjunct. His role as romantic hero for a presumably female audience is occasionally at odds with his portrayal as mild, liberated modern man. He will kiss her without seeking her consent first, because that is what romantic heroes do, although he does promise to act differently in future.

Zen is also interesting in his role as second prince. His sincerity in dealing with his subjects is proven by his intuitive pleasure in dealing with people and his natural optimism concerning their potential. His relationship with his coterie - Kiki, Mitsuhide and Obi - further demonstrates the faith he has in others and the loyalty they return to him. Where there is a conflict within him, and the anime explores it nicely, it is how his desire for just outcomes can be at odds with the means to achieve them. He is in awe of his older brother, Izana, who is adept at using all sorts of schemes to achieve his ends.


Zen: I like the mischievous, conspiratorial expression.
He's the true Snow White. Just look at his hair.


In any good romance there are three principal elements: the two lovers and their relationship. While Shirayuki and Zen are pleasant enough, their relationship is a strength of the series. Both characters improve as people and as entertainment when they interact. The bases of their success are their shared values, their ability to communicate acutely with each other, and how the differences in their personalities are no obstacles to their understanding of each other. Indeed, one of the pleasures of Snow White with the Red Hair, is how little conflict and how little misunderstanding there is between the two, things that other anime romances depend upon. Their relationship develops naturally and realistically. If I have a complaint it is that, even after they acknowledge their love in the castle forest, they continue to be self-conscious about it. There's altogether too much blushing and stammering. Other than that, the lack of melodrama is most welcome.

Their verbal interactions are especially revealing, both to the themselves and the viewer. From the moment in the first encounter where Shirayuki defies Zen by injuring her own arm (to prove she won't poison him) Zen finds, for possibly the first time, someone who treats him neither as lord nor kid brother. It's a new experience so he challenges her to continue down that path. Shirayuki is astonished by his candour and encouragement, so responds in kind. Soon the two have their own dialogue that enables them to express themselves and explore the other. This isn't verbal jousting in the style of Spice and Wolf but, rather, that ideal we all have to be able to communicate clearly with the people most important to us. As I said earlier, this is a conscientiously upbeat show. That said, one concern I have is that, in almost all their conversations, Zen is placed higher in the frame than Shirayuki, so that she must constantly look up to him. Yes, he is taller than her, but once I noticed the dynamic I began to realise that it was a characteristic of the series. Again it is a case of the romance tropes undermining the feminist message.


Shirayuki must always lift her gaze to look Zen in the eye.

Beyond the leads, the most interesting character, if not necessarily the most appealing, is Zen's older brother, Izana. As with every character Shirayuki meets to varying degrees, he is initially intimidating. Alarmingly so in his case. At first I thought he was going to make himself out as the villain, opposing their relationship by all means possible. He may yet fill that role in season two. For the moment he is presented as ruthlessly pragmatic although tempered by a genuine concern for justice and for the wellbeing of the people of Clarines. Izana is the type who, if he thought Shirayuki should interfere in Zen's performance of his official duties, wouldn't hesitate to dispose of her. Zen admires him enormously, not simply because of their kinship, but also because Izana has that precious political ability to slice through the crap and active decisively and effectively. There's a question mark hanging over Izana for the next series: will he support or oppose a marriage between Shirayuki and Zen?

The remainder of the recurring cast are pleasant enough without being memorable. Of the court herbalists, team leader Garack is kindly and a little clownish behind her brusque exterior while Shirayuki's immediate supervisor, child genius Ryu, is so understated to be nigh on superfluous to the narrative. Better are Zen's three retainers: Kiki, Mitsuhide and Obi. As with Ryu, Kiki hardly does anything useful other than to look on approvingly or disapprovingly, as required. As Zen's loyal but subservient buddy Mitsuhide gets to share those man moments with his master whenever the latter needs some manly encouragement. Most interesting is Obi, a sort of ninja come scout come assassin who is appointed by Zen as Shirayuki's bodyguard. As an outsider he gives us an impartial set of eyes through which to view the Clarines court. That his judgement upon Zen is favourable helps us form ours. He also comes to appreciate Shirayuki's inner strengths, so that by the end it is clear that he too is sweet on her. There's also two mildly amusing guards who provide a commentary on affairs in the castle.

Visually the series is a sweet confection. What animation there is, is done very well, but I would expect no less from Masahiro Ando, one of anime's most dynamic directors. Typical of current fashions, the character designs do what is required of them. The long-haired version of Shirayuki could be described as beautiful but that's the intention, and we're supposed to see beyond that, after all. The best drawn character is Izana, at once capturing all the ambiguity of his personality and responsibilities. The layout of the backgrounds is, upon close examination, less complex that it appears at first blush. What stands out is the gorgeous palette, utilising colours midway between pastels and primaries and with high luminosity. Likewise the background music is lush, with a sophisticated orchestration, yet I can only recall one melody, and only then because it reminded me of something else.


Some of the confection on display.

Rating: I found the weekly broadcasts bland so rated it initially as decent. Re-watching most of it yesterday I found it much more engaging so I've upgraded the rating to good. It's an unpretentious, straightforward romance with an optimistic approach, a worthy heroine and an impossibly nice hero who, together, share a convincing and idealistic rapport. Like the backgrounds Snow White with the Red Hair is pretty without being glorious; and admirable without being remarkable.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 5:49 am; edited 2 times in total
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PostPosted: Wed Oct 28, 2015 6:22 am Reply with quote
This housekeeping review was first posted on 23 September 2012. Since then I've upped the rating for the first season to very good while leaving the second at good. I've altered the format to suit this thread as well as upgrading the images.

****

Kimi ni Todoke seasons 1 & 2

Reasons for watching: Enjoyed immensely the first episode during the Best First Episode Tournament; Carl Kimlinger's reviews; had a yearning for a happy romantic comedy

Synopsis: Thanks to her scary appearance, Sawako Kuronoma has never been able to make friends at school despite being a cheerful, friendly soul and actually very pretty. She meets and falls in love with the popular boy Shota Kazehaya when he thanks her for help (most people run away or apologise). Unbeknownst to her he has been equally captivated by her smile. With the assistance of Kazehaya and her new friendship with two savvy schoolgirls, Chizuru Yoshida and Ayane Yano, she begins to blossom, finding ways to earn the affection of her classmates and discovering emotions she had never previously experienced. Standing in the way of Sawako and Kazehaya realising their love is her cluelessness when it comes to social interactions, Kazehaya's diffidence, a rival who schemes to win him for herself and the meddling of various others including an egotistical homeroom teacher and a playboy student. Happily, Chizuru and, particularly, Ayane know when to provide encouragement and when to let things take their natural course.


How her classmates see Sadako Sawako.

Comments: Sawako could be described, with accuracy, as a do-gooder. Her aims in life are to do well in school, be a normal girl with a circle of friends, and make the world a better place for everyone. When she goes jogging in the morning she takes garbage bags with her to collect litter; she happily takes on all the chores other students avoid; and lovingly tends the school's garden. Rarely has such a goody-goody been so endearing. More often than not such a character will set my teeth on edge: think of Shirou from Fate / Stay Night. Sawako couldn't be further from the Shirou mould. Partly it's the sympathy she engenders thanks to the raw deal she gets but its also thanks to her innate qualities. There's not a whiff of any holier-than-thou attitude about her: she's self-effacing; sees any problem with others as a shortcoming in herself; and she strives to meet people's expectations. Her reaction to her classmates' belief that she can summon ghosts isn't irritation or bravado. Instead she is worried about their disappointment when she can't live up to their expectations. For all that she's anything but a dour character. Her underlying optimism, her comic naivete and her sheer radiance in happy momnts ensure that she is one of the most lovable characters I've met in anime.

Because of her lack of close friendships she understands neither her own nor other people's feelings and motives. As her friendships and her love for Kazehaya grow, the new feelings she experiences are a source of wonder and perplexity to her. Being so guileless with others she can startle them when she says things as she sees them. Her demolition of her rival Kurumi, when the latter's scheming is revealed, is unintended but total. With Kazehaya, as much as she admires him, Sawako just doesn't get what he's on about until late in the second series. This is reflected nicely in the title of the franchise - Kimi ni Todoke. The English Language release translates this as "From Me to You". "Sending to You" or, as Wikipedia puts it, "Reaching You" would be closer. This fits the main theme more appropriately: the difficulties Sawako and Kazehaya have in reaching each other, verbally or emotionally.


Sawako and Kazehaya.

As far as appeal goes, Kazehaya can't possibly match Sawako. For sure, he and Sawako totally deserve each other. He's a nice chap too, but doesn't have the range of neuroses that make Sawako so appealing. I suppose it's also because he is the shojo object of desire, as filtered through the eyes of the point of view character. It's a role that, by its nature, sets limits on his character. He also doesn't understand Sawako but he, at least, grasps that she is misguided about him. His consequent forbearance with her is one of his charms, even if it is counterbalanced by his own fear of rejection. Of course, much of the humour of the franchise lies in the viewer knowing what the two protagonists cannot or will not see.

If Sawako is a great creation and Kazehaya acceptably nice, the show has two of the best support characters around in Chizuru and Ayane. Like Sawako, though not as badly, they are outsiders: Chizuru for her tomboyish ways and Ayane for being so comfortable with her sexuality. They immediately grasp her integrity and are then won over totally when Sawako stands up for them. Their individual stories enhance Sawako's. Chizuru's brave handling of her doomed crush on Toru Sanada and her growing acceptance of the right boy, classmate Ryu (Sanada's younger brother), is matched by Ayane's alarming appearance with a bruised face after dumping her emotionally stunted boyfriend. The two young women are sharp, funny and brave. Chizuru's tomboyishness is sweetly balanced by her susceptibility to displays of emotion, while Ayane's romantic savvy means that she is usually the only one who gets the big picture. The two support Sawako to the hilt. Having such supremely likeable and reliable allies adds to the optimism of the franchise. Even when it feels at its most drawn out, they manage to keep things nicely on track.


Ayane and Chizuru.

The first of the villains - arch-rival for Kazehaya's affections, Kurumi - is the archetypal conniving woman. Ever popular with students of both sex, she manipulates everyone to make sure that no other girl gets Kazehaya's attention. One of the strengths of the series is that, despite her unpleasant behaviour, she engenders considerable sympathy by the end of the first series. After being caught out in her scheming it becomes apparent that she is as genuine and as anxious in her feelings as anybody else. We also learn that she has her own crosses to bear. In the confrontation mentioned earlier, when Sawako naively tries to understand her motives, Kurumi finds herself crushed by Sawako's raw honesty and by her own meanness. It's a beautifully realised scene. And it's matched by an analogous scene in the second series when a wiser Sawako realises that thanking or apologising to Kurumi is inappropriate, something that even Kurumi acknowledges. Kurumi also, unwittingly, provides a catalyst for Sawako to finally express herself honestly to Kazehaya. Finally, and I know it's unfair, but every time Kurumi opens her mouth all I hear is Haruhi Suzumiya's strained enunciation. I guess it's a major problem for a seiyuu when she is immortalised playing one character.

The villain of the second season - Kento (is he meant to be American?) - is much less convincing. In large part it's because he has a prominent role in the most contrived arc of the franchise, so the plot itself does him no favours. I could never figure out whether he was seriously trying to seduce Sawako, whether he was sadistically trying to create disharmony, or whether he was genuinely but misguidedly trying to help. Perhaps he was doing all three? Whatever he was doing, he didn't enhance the franchise. The rest of the characters were mostly functional, as needed. Homeroom teacher Pin could be funny at times but, just as often, he was annoying, though he did have his moments of unexpected insight.

I haven't decided if it was a good or bad thing, but the franchise sure took its sweet time getting Sawako and Kazehaya to admit and acknowledge their love for each other. I suppose romance and sex is mostly about tension and release but, boy, Kimi ni Todoke is one long tease. I guess it all depends on whether you prefer the build up or the arrival. It got irritating when too many superfluous episodes at the end of the first season and forced conflict in the early parts of the second season acted as a sort of coitus interruptus. The two leads also become unconvincingly and tiresomely self-delusional in the second season. This development doesn't sit well with their earlier guileless honesty. Happily the scene with their final admissions - through a partially closed classroom door - is worth all the wait. This is followed by three ecstatic episodes where the two lovers explore and firmly establish their new reality, and are accepted by their peers. Indeed, the school festival takes on the role of a metaphorical marriage, with its public declaration of vows.


The most wondrous smile in anime.

This may be a shojo romance but the truths it espouses - personal integrity and honesty in communication - along with the complexity and appeal of the major characters would do credit to any josei or seinen romance. It drags out the romance far too long, introduces unnecesary complications, forces the two leads into increasingly uncharacteristic behaviour before getting back on track, and has a couple of irritating support characters but with Sawako, Chizuru, Ayane and, to a lesser extent, Kazehaya it has four lovable characters. How many anime can match that? It's like drowning in honey.

Rating: the high end of good.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 6:02 am; edited 2 times in total
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 03, 2015 5:48 am Reply with quote
Last weekend I was furiously combatting a zombie holocaust over at NationStates. Things are more or less back to normal now so here's this week's housekeeping review, originally posted 15 October 2012. As usual, I've upgraded the images. A little after that original post Hanabee released the second volume of Toradora! with episodes 14-25 and some OVAs, all in a box. No longer must I rely on fansubs for the second half of the series. My comments on the OVAs, from 22 December 2012, are at the end of the review. Some time after that they re-released the whole shebang with a new American dub. Toradora! is a fine series but not good enough to buy twice, so I've passed on that. I haven't changed the rating since my original review.

Toradora!

Reasons for watching: 1) after enjoying Kimi ni Todoke so much, I wanted to watch a romantic anime based on shounen source material; 2) volume one of Toradora! (episodes 1-13) is the first release (along with Dream Eater Merry) from the new Australian anime distributor Hanabee Entertainment. I dropped into the local JB Hi Fi the day after the official release and picked up a copy (and, yeah, I downloaded fansubs of the rest).

Synopsis: Ryuji Takasu may look like a yakuza thug but he’s actually a thoroughly domesticated, nice guy living with his single mother who makes ends meet by working a variety of low status, casual jobs. Taiga Aisaka is a pint-sized ball of rage, estranged from her wealthy divorced parents, living alone and relying on convenience store food for sustenance. A misplaced love letter reveals them to be neighbours and that they each have a crush on the other’s best friend. When Ryuji’s mother welcomes Taiga into their house, Taiga finds herself relying more and more on Ryuji’s generosity. They agree to help each other with their crushes but it quickly becomes apparent to their friends and to the viewer that Taiga (= tiger = tora) and Ryuji (= dragon = dora) are a perfect match for each other. Problem is, they lack the self-awareness to see what everyone else can.


Ryuji's actually a sweetie-pie.

Comments: What makes this series so thoroughly satisfying is that it takes a slew of standard anime tropes – both in character types and plot situations - and, against the odds, does something special with them. On the character side we have, among others, a mild-mannered hero and tsundere heroine, a genki girl, an aloof transfer student, and a Nazi school president. On the plot side there is a swimming pool arc, a beach villa arc, a high school festival, a student council election, a Christmas Eve party and a school camp. You could be forgiven if you thought Toradora! revels in anime cliché but, in each arc there is, unfailingly, a moment where it elevates what might be banal into the exceptional and, sometimes, the sublime.

The central female character – Taiga – illustrates how Toradora! works so well. Before I was even familiar with the series I was aware that Taiga was a tsundere pin-up girl and that Rie Kugimiya was the go to seiyuu for the character type. I like tsundere characters. Some of my favourite anime characters could be classified as tsundere – Rin Tohsaka from Fate / Stay Night and Holo from Spice and Wolf to name two. In the second episode there are two defining moments for Taiga. In the first, Ryuji sums her up thusly,
Quote:
The Palm-top Tiger snaps at everything but, even so, no one could deny she worked so hard it made her look silly, leaving you inclined to silently root for her.
So far, we have her tsundere nature placed firmly within the moe trope. Shortly afterwards she vents her rage upon a lamp post and, in one of Toradora!’s signature transformations, we see that her fury is a product of her history and her circumstances in a way rarely evidenced in anime.
Quote:
Why don’t they understand? We’re nervous wrecks here, and none of them have a clue. Honestly they’re… they’re all… they’re all, they’re all…! PISSING ME OFF! Pissing me off! Pissing me off! Pissing me off! Why do you call me the Palm-top Tiger?! I’m not okay with that! Stupid Minorin! Stupid Kitamura-kun! Why won’t you listen to me?! Not Mum, not Dad, not anyone! Nobody understands me… What’s wrong with being small?! What’s wrong with having a weird name?! Screw you all!
It’s noteworthy that she includes her best friend (Minorin) and her crush object (Kitamura) among her frustrations. Over the course of the series we learn how this fury was born. Her parents are divorced, remarried and have children with their new partners. They are pre-occupied with their own emotional needs and neglect hers. Taiga doesn’t get along with her stepparents and she envies her half-siblings. Her rage leads to violent behaviour, gaining her the reputation and nickname she finds so odious, creating a feedback loop she cannot escape from. Add to that her sheer effrontery, her determination to succeed, her social and physical ineptitude and hidden veins of optimism and generosity, and she comes across as just about the most complete pure tsundere character I’ve yet encountered in anime. I found her a thoroughly sympathetic character – moeru for the thinking viewer.


The first and last scenes with Taiga: from tsun tsun to dere dere. I love the red uniform.

Incidentally, Rie Kugimiya in tsun tsun mode sounds like a Megumi Hayashibara clone, while in dere dere mode she comes across far too childishly. Mind you, matching Megumi Hayashibara is something to be proud of. On balance, her voice acting is highly effective.

Taiga is nicely matched by Ryuji. He isn’t your standard bland, set upon harem protagonist but has a memorable personality, his own agenda and his own neuroses. With a ditzy mother forced to work unsociable hours to pay the bills he does the cooking and all the household chores, both of which he enjoys immensely - Taiga quickly learns where to go for a satisfying meal. His impoverished life and his gangster appearance have left him with his own issues, which he bears far more stoically than Taiga hers. What his tribulations do is give him an insight into Taiga, enabling him to accept her in a way no one else can, something she latches onto instinctively. Add to that his bottomless well of generosity and his capacity to absorb any amount of abuse from Taiga and the two quickly develop a co-dependent relationship.

Toradora! has not one, not two, but three stand-out characters – the third being Ryuji’s crush object, the obtuse-reasoning genki girl, Minori Kushieda (or Minorin as her best friend Taiga calls her). Her energy and superhuman toils are façades, covering her inner conflict between her loyalty to Taiga and her regard for Ryuji, her disappointment at her lack of opportunities as a talented sportswoman, and her bemusement at her possible bisexuality. As she herself points out, she confronts obstacles through sheer willpower, determined to find happiness on her own terms. She has a knack for making seemingly impenetrable analogies that actually make sense on further reflection. She also has some of the best lines in the series, including the unforgettable,
Quote:
If you trip while running down the hallway, you’ll get a nosebleed. If you trip in life, you’ll cry.



Minorin: Crying is a nosebleed of the heart.

Ryuji’s best friend (and Taiga’s crush object) Kitamura is cheerfully and forgettably bland. Transfer student and teenage model Ami Kawashima is initially repellent, as no doubt she is intended to be. Her issues are straightforward enough but in the second half of the series she displays an unexpected depth to her character that goes a long way in repairing the earlier impression. That she and Minori are left as the big emotional losers of the story is but one of the reasons it seems fans love to ship them. And, (with apologies to Key) Ryuji's apoplectic parrot is mostly a nuisance, but his mother Yasuko makes up for that with her determination to provide the best opportunities for Ryuji, despite her seeming airheaded shortcomings. She even manages to provide the occasional invaluable insight to Ryuji and Taiga. I liked her but someone should have shot the parakeet. I’m with Taiga on that one.

Earlier I mentioned the standard shounen scenarios. Another of the pleasing things about the series is that the initial banality of the tropes is invariably transformed through some action or development. It may be a simple comment from one of the characters or a moving revelation or an unexpected plot development. To whit: the swimming pool arc and Taiga’s screamingly funny comment to Ami on the starting blocks and her emotional public declaration over Ryuji’s body; or the seaside arc with Minori’s bizarrely apt speech about ghosts and UFOs; or the high school festival with its equally bizarre pro-wrestling drama and with Taiga’s subsequent total humiliation; or the school council election with the extraordinary confrontation between Taiga and the president Sumire Kanou; or the Christmas Eve party with its many surprises, especially the Santa Bear and Taiga’s belated admission of her true feelings. The series surprises because, time and again, I would suddenly realise that the writers had cleverly led me up to these moments, even when things had seemed at their most banal. Having said that, large swathes of the arcs are indeed standard shounen high school fare. I’ll be clear: the arcs aren’t superlative from start to finish – they just have great moments that take them to another level. Yes, there are stretches of banality. Some of the early episodes could even be judged mediocre, not helped by visuals that are barely better than functional. It even takes until midway through the second episode (the lamp post scene) before the series begins to hit its stride.


Sumire Kanou after her confrontation with Taiga. Her adversary copped it just as badly.

That said, the last two episodes wrap up the romance in a completely satisfying way, even if it may be somewhat disappointing in a dramatic sense. Ryuji’s and Taiga’s inability to recognise or admit their love for the other derives from their lack of self-awareness, their immaturity and, behind it all, their resentments towards their families. When their own mothers decide to run away from them, they realise their plans to elope are simply perpetuating the same old problems. That both Ryuji and Taiga, each in their own way, resolve to proceed with their relationship by building a bridge to their families and to their past demonstrates that their love is a possible source of growth, rather than escape. It’s entirely convincing and, as I said, a very satisfying way to end.

Toradora! has a number of parallels with Kimi ni Todoke, from the scary appearance of the main character, to the inability of the central couple to acknowledge their love (where Ryuji and Taiga refuse to acknowledge that they love the other, Sawako and Shouta refuse to accept that the other loves them in return), to the loyal support of their friends. Of the friends, only Minorin is capable of matching Ayane and Chizuru, while, of the two main pairs, Shouta cannot hope to match the incomparable Taiga. What’s more, Kimi ni Todoke has too many episodes that drag out the development of the romance. As much as I enjoyed it, I doubt I’ll ever sit through the entire 38 episodes again. By contrast, I’ve already watched Toradora! three times.

It’s also interesting to compare Toradora! with director Tatsuyuki Nagai’s subsequent anoHana: the Flower We Saw that Day. For a start I’m convinced Nagai has a thigh fetish. That aside, I prefer the older series because the central characters of Ryuji and Taiga are so much more convincing and entertaining, and also because Toradora!’s ending is satisfying while anoHana’s ending strains credibility. Perhaps it’s simply because I’m a bloke: one series is aimed at a male audience and the other a female audience.

Rating: very good

Bonus: Courtesy of Hanabee's facebook page, here's a great link to a Google map updated by one Seichi Junrei that compares scenes from Toradora! with their real life inspirations

****

Toradora! OVA and Toradora!: SOS!

Hanabee Entertainment has now released the second half of Toradora! As an extra, there is a disk containing a normal episode length OVA that tells a tale of how Ryuji tries to impress everyone with his Bento creations, and four short chibi episodes where the main characters pig out on various cuisines at Jonny’s restaurant. Neither adds anything to the original series. Oh... one thing - the freaking parrot gets spoiler[eaten by a cat]. I only wish it could have happened sooner. The chibi tales also have a couple of hilarious one-liners that I may use in the quote guessing game.

Rating: OVA – decent; chibi episodes – so-so.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 6:16 am; edited 1 time in total
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GeminiDS85



Joined: 10 Jul 2009
Posts: 391
PostPosted: Tue Nov 03, 2015 11:33 am Reply with quote
errinundra wrote:
a Google map updated by one Seichi Junrei that compares scenes from Toradora! with their real life inspirations


This gave me a good laugh Laughing

"Seichi junrei" is not a person. It’s Japanese for pilgrimage “junrei” to a holy/sacred place “seichi,” which is the way anime fans described visiting the real-life places used as inspiration in anime.

Anyways, always love reading your thoughts on the shows you watch. Keep up the good work Wink
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Tue Nov 03, 2015 4:32 pm Reply with quote
It's fine either way, but I'm not sure if your amusement was prompted by my ignorance or the content of the link. Smile

Thanks for your encouragement, GeminiDS85. You're a tough judge, so it's appreciated.
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 07, 2015 9:41 am Reply with quote
I've purchased my tickets for the three anime movies showing at this year's Japanese Film Festival in Melbourne: Miss Hokusai, The Case of Hana and Alice and Ghost in the Shell: The New Movie. More on those later because, for now, romance is in the air again.

Nodame Cantabile

Reason for watching: I can't remember what got me watching this series. I can only assume it was a combination of the featured classical music and user recommendations here at ANN. My oldest screenshots are from early 2010, courtesy of a bootleg copy I bought on-line from SE Asia. In this instance I'll plead innocence through ignorance. Of the six bootlegs I bought back then (Koi Kaze, Nodame Cantabile, Serial Experiments Lain, Haibane Renmei, Nodame Cantabile: Paris and Gauche the Cellist), the first I've replaced with an import from the US and next three have since been released in Oz. It only needs releases of Nodame Cantabile: Paris (you can do it, Siren Visual, you can do it) and Gauche the Cellist (Discotek, perhaps?) to enable me to bin the last two bootlegs. The video quality of this particular bootleg was crap, being obviously a low resolution fansub, but it did come with natty packaging. So when Siren Visual, who have released numerous noitaminA series, finally, at last, announced they were releasing the first season of Nodame Cantabile I was a happy chappy. I have to give kudos to Siren Visual: they have, over the years, released quite a few left field anime titles unavailable anywhere else.

Synopsis: Arrogant, anal, neurotic piano student and wannabe orchestra conductor Chiaki Shinichi finds himself living next door and sharing a music teacher with artless, oral, blithe Noda Megumi (aka Nodame). At first, he is repulsed by her uncongenial domestic habits; while, for her part, she is alarmed by his overbearing behaviour. What they share is a love of music and a freakish talent in its performance. Each must overcome hurdles in developing their craft, both technical and personal. With their fellow music students they work towards their graduation, hoping to work as musicians or, better yet, continue their musical studies overseas. One particular hurdle Chiaki must overcome is his fear of flying.


Nodame hasn't washed her hair for four days. Offended by the stink, Chiaki washes and dries it for her.
And, thus, their relationship begins. She thinks it's cool that he likens it to grooming a dog.


Comments: It's kind of surprising that Nodame Cantabile has never had an American release, as the central duo owe a lot to a quintessential American genre - the screwball comedy. The obvious connections are the slapstick humour, the constant sparring between the romantic leads and, of course, the attraction between two impossible opposites - the neurotic male and the crazy female. If you've ever seen Cary Grant and Katherine Hepburn in Bringing Up Baby you'll see the same dynamic at work way back in the 1930s (and, no, I'm not that old). Part of the pleasure in that sort of on-screen relationship derives from the viewer's real life knowledge that such a pairing couldn't possibly endure. A screwball comedy's script forces the opposites together, thereby milking the inevitable conflict for all its comedic worth. One of the achievements of Nodame Cantabile is that it does this while demonstrating convincingly that, not only could their relationship endure, but the two are are well-suited to each other.

Music is the key to their relationship. They each have an extraordinary, intuitive ability. She is highly expressive, but lacks discipline; he is disciplined but lacks expression. He is analytical in his approach to music; she has a freakish ear. She is the romantic musician; he is the classical. From the moment they master together Mozart's Sonata for Two Pianos in the first episode, their ability to communicate and understand each other through their music sets them apart from their peers. They will struggle verbally, of course, and their musical inclinations will lead them in different directions to a degree, but it worth noting that Chiaki's objections to Nodame's claims of them being an item aren't voiced with much conviction after the first two or three episodes. This particular romantic comedy isn't predicated on a delayed confession or admission a la Toradora! or Kimi ni Todoke or Sasameki Koto. Nodame and Chiaki steadily drift towards each other in their music, their personal development and romantically. Yes, the moment Chiaki impulsively and self-consciously hugs Noda on the road in the last episode is his admission of his love, but it's far from being the dramatic climax of the series and, in any case, their bond had been apparent from that first Mozart duo.


Rapture is a signature emotion of Nodame Cantabile.

Their musical development parallels their relationship. Each will learn to develop within themselves the abilities that are innate in the other. Chiaki might be initially appalled by Nodame's note perfect but wayward Pathetique Sonata but he is captivated by the way she plays it differently every time, as if singing - hence cantabile. Stresemann's sole mission with Chiaki - he knows technique isn't an issue - is to bring out his expressive side. Perhaps the conductor's conspicuous debauchery is a sort of lesson for his protege: obey your body, not just your head. Chiaki's early struggles conducting the student orchestra arise because he tries to constrain the musicians' energy using the musical directions of the score as a bludgeon. His later successes follow his discovery that the score is a tool for the orchestra to create a magical experience. For her part Nodame won't develop as a musician until she takes her ability seriously. Or even admit how talented she is. Chiaki gives her the first inkling that she could be much more than a kindergarten teacher - even if she had the aptitude for it. Appropriately awakened by the tempestuous Rachmaninoff piano concerto, her obsessive nature enables her to quickly master several pieces for an important piano competition, the outcome of which is typically Nodame surprising. She may not win the competition but her ability to have the piano sing makes it clear to the judges that no one else deserves to either.

Therein lies another of the Nodame Cantabile's qualities. Romances typically use the... well, romance to create the euphoria that makes them so rewarding for a viewer. The happiness, the anxiety, the tension, the release the viewer feels parallel the trajectory of those emotions as experienced by the protagonists. Their journey is our vicarious journey. In Nodame Cantabile, it's the music rather than the romance that creates the euphoria, as does also the students' triumphs as they excel in performance or competition. There's also their anxiety as the prepare themselves along with their disappointment when they fail. In other words, the anime uses other means to create the emotions typically generated by romances and is all the stronger for it. And behind it all is the music. From Bach to Jolivet (covering not quite 200 years) the music may have many styles but the pieces have been well chosen for their invariably positive tone, be it magisterial, wild, luminous, or jaunty. This is one happy anime. Nodame Cantabile has its faults and it isn't an anime I rewatch much but few others give me as much simple, straightforward pleasure. I would have liked to have heard more post-World War 1 classical music, but I suppose much of the music from that time may not have suited the tone the makers were trying to create. The downside of all this classical music is that if it isn't your thing then you may not get the same enjoyment. All I'll say is the more things you like, the more happiness you'll find. I'll immediately contradict that aphorism by saying I liked neither the opening song nor either of the two ending songs, other than the crashing piano notes and rising chords of the intro of the second ending, Sagittarius. Those deliriously ecstatic bars perfectly express the best emotion of the series. Funnily enough, the clean ending version cuts out the intro.


I've only put up pictures of Chiaki and Nodame. No one else matters.

Of the two mains, Nodame is the more interesting, simply by being more eccentric. For all his overbearing, anal behaviour Chiaki is still quite a likeable chap. It's hard not to enjoy watching people improve. I felt that too much time was spent on his development, especially in the middle episodes, so that in the later episodes Noda's own development seems rushed. I didn't warm to any of the other characters, who mostly seem there to push the plot along. I recall that five years ago I had quite an aversion to each of Stresemann, Slapfan Man, gay percussionist Masumi Okuyama and the extrovert violinist Ryuutarou Mine. Only Masumi bugged me this time. He is such a stereotype of a gay character that he goes beyond caricature to be borderline offensive.

As for the visuals... they are about as weak as anime can get. The artwork is best described as prosaic. And the animation? What animation? Oddly enough, some of the close-ups of the musicians playing their instruments have those instruments rendered in detailed 3D CGI with the finger movements accurately portrayed. Most of the time, though, either stills are used or the hands are obscured, with only the musician's body moving in time with the music.


One of the few images that sticks out for me, in spite of the prosaic artwork and animation.
I find the way Nodame displays herself here to Chiaki appealing.


Rating: The upper end of very good and tempted to rate it higher. I think it's the best of the romantic comedies on this page. Nodame Cantabile is a romantic comedy that doesn't rely on romance to create a sense of euphoria. Instead, the trials and successes of the students as they pursue their ambitions and, above all, the wonderful music, fill that role, enabling it to transcend most examples of the genre. Now, if only Siren Visual will put out the Paris Chapter and the Finale.

Cripes, I have to start scoring the quote game.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 6:30 am; edited 3 times in total
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yuna49



Joined: 27 Aug 2008
Posts: 3804
PostPosted: Sat Nov 07, 2015 1:45 pm Reply with quote
Nodame Cantabile persists as my favorite anime romantic comedy even though eight years has passed since its release. Perhaps it's because I enjoy "classical" music, perhaps because I prefer shows with protagonists who are out of high school. I'd love to see a romance with as much nuance as Nodame with characters in their thirties or older, but I have long since accepted the fact that there are no financial incentives to make such anime.

I'm a bit surprised you didn't mention the OP and ED songs for this show. I always listen to the upbeat and tuneful Allegro Cantabile by Suemitsu & The Suemith when I rewatch this show. (Unlike you I've watched it on at least three or four occasions.) I also enjoyed the relentless first ED Konna ni Chikaku de by Crystal Kay. What you cannot hear from this clip is the lovely way the song comes up behind the ending of each episode before transitioning to the credits themselves. It's especially striking at the end of the first episode when Nodame declares her love for Chiaki. The second ED Sagittarius, also by Suemitsu and company, is less compelling.

While the musical selections are, as you say, largely "warhorses" from the 18th and 19th century, I was impressed that they chose to include the much less well-known Violin Sonata in E minor, Op. 82 by Edward Elgar in episode 15. However my favorite performance by far is the rendition of Gershwin's "Rhapsody in Blue" by the "S-Oke" with Nodame on the melodica in her mongoose costume. The anime version isn't available on YouTube, but here's the same scene from the live-action program. The pure joy of this performance always brings tears to my eyes, and it marks a turning point in Chiaki's understanding of how music can enliven the soul.

As for the performance animations, I'm pretty sure they were made via motion capture of real-life performers because the fingerings are so precise and well-timed.
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Sat Nov 07, 2015 5:32 pm Reply with quote
I was thinking of mentioning the Elgar piece in the review. The scene where it's used, bridging episodes 14 and 15, is one of my favourites and shows not only how marvellous they are as a couple but also the positive effect they have on other people. As well as that, the main theme of the piece is highly suggestive of the first movement of Elgar's Cello Concerto, which, in turn, is famously associated with Jacqueline du Pré, who, like Nodame, was known for never playing a piece of music the same way twice. She also married a conductor, Daniel Barenboim. I've always felt that the anime is deliberately making the connection.

Rhapsody in Blue was indeed one of the musical highlights. The bootleg I bought came with a music CD that includes the melodica version. The chutzpah in using the melodica fits the piece nicely and the overall joyful feel of Nodame Cantabile.

I did mention the OP and EDs - I didn't like them, except the ecstatic opening to Sagittarius, which also comes up behind the ending of each of its episodes. The episodes in the second half of the series end on a high note, you might say. Each to their own.
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notrogersmith



Joined: 06 Jun 2010
Posts: 192
PostPosted: Wed Nov 11, 2015 4:02 pm Reply with quote
I guess as far as watching Nodame Cantabile is concerned, you're lucky to live in Australia. As an 'Murican, I can't find an R1 DVD release or even a legal stream, though apparently Crackle did have Nodame Cantabile at one time.

Darn it. Looks like it was interesting. Sad
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Errinundra
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PostPosted: Thu Nov 12, 2015 7:34 am Reply with quote
^
If you have an all-region player you can import it directly from Siren Visual.

This week's housekeeping review is for a series from the same team that gave us Nodame Cantabile and is notable as the first anime aired in the noitaminA block. I've reformatted the original post of 8 February 2012 and added a couple of pictures.

Honey and Clover

Reason for watching: I came to this as an admirer of its spiritual younger sibling, Nodame Cantabile and as a fan of noitaminA broadcasts generally.

Synopsis: Follows three young men and two young women, all students at a Tokyo art college, as they develop their craft, but, above all, concentrating on their intertwined love triangles.

Comments: Although Honey and Clover has its own appeal it never matches the later Nodame Cantabile. It almost seems to me that the makers learned from their mistakes and subsequently rectified them.The major shortcoming of Honey and Clover, and it's a fatal one for a romantic comedy, is that the characters were never able to get me to care for them. Over 26 episodes I became habituated to them but that's about all. The principal male characters - Takemoto, Mayama and Shuji - are too often just dull. The most interesting - Morita - starts off in a blaze of personality excess then spends much of the rest of the series either absent or as merely a source for Takemoto's anxieties. Of the two main female characters, Yamada, like Morita, is enervating at first but, as happens so often in anime, declines as her romantic issues come to the fore. Why are so many female anime characters diminished by love? They start off strong and confident, and end up lost and incapable.

The most disappointing character is Hagu, the diminutive prodigy and major love interest for the point of view character, Takemoto. For starters, she must have one of the least appealing character designs I've seen in anime this side of the millenium. I'm sure she is meant to be cute and huggable but she just comes across as a rag doll that's been left lying around for too long. She also fails utterly to convince that she is the genius she is supposed to be. She has a shallow and immature personality and, while she may be a good technician she displays no sign of having any notable artistic vision or insights. There is no intended irony here: the creators simply fail to make Hagu convincing.


Hagumi the supposed prodigy: child, yes; genius, no.
Give me Nodame any day.


Part of the problem is that using visual arts as the series hook never, ever works. Honey and Clover isn't able to demonstrate how talented the characters are through their creations. It's a misjudgement on the part of the creators that is avoided in Nodame Cantabile. Yamada is the most convincing in this regard, probably because she is portrayed as an able technician, rather than a genius.

The most notable trope of the series is unrequited love and, boy, does Honey and Clover trowel it on thick. Constant frustration of desire inevitably becomes tedious - not only for the sufferers, but also for the suffering viewer. Unsurprisingly, the series gets duller as it progresses. Happily it extricates itself from the mire during Takemoto's bicycle trip - my favourite segment - but that's only for three episodes (and right at the end).

Nodame Cantabile avoids all the faults of Honey and Clover. The two leads - Noda and Chiaki - are fascinatingly eccentric. It avoids the trap of unrequited love altogether, focussing rather on the development of their relationship - milking its comic and dramatic possiblities for all its worth. Best of all, by using music, rather than art, it is much more convincing in portraying their abilities. Badly played or beautifully played music is much more apparent and, besides, few people doubt that Mozart or Nielsen are geniuses. Odd, isn't it? By having the characters' creativity once removed, so to speak, their talents are more easily demonstrated.

For all this criticism, Honey and Clover, is humorous and clever and it's a pleasure to watch an anime with older characters and aiming for an audience older than high school age.


I loved the visuals in the first version of the OP - especially the "saucy" knickers and the prawn fingers
The singing grates badly, though. If not for the music I would rate it as one of the best OPs ever.


Rating: decent. By comparison I ranked the first two seasons of Nodame Cantabile as very good and the final season as decent.

Should I bother with the second season of Honey and Clover?

****

Heading towards four years later and I never did bother with the second season.


Last edited by Errinundra on Sat Sep 14, 2019 6:40 am; edited 1 time in total
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