Thursday, October 29, 2009

Review | Anime | Toradora!

TORADORA! : As a new school year rolls around, Ryuuji Takasu is faced once
again with the unfitting title of the school "delinquent" because of his
fearsome facial appearance. In class with him is his best friend Yasaku
Kitamura, and Ryuuji's secret crush, Minori Kushieda. Also in their class is
Minori's best friend Taiga Aisaka, who holds the school label of "The Palm-Top
Tiger" because of her terrifyingly fierce and stern demeanor despite her small
physicality. It just so happens that Taiga has a secret crush on Yasaku. Ryuuji
and Taiga begin seeing each other as a valuable ticket to their own respective
crushes, and agree to support one another in their pursuit of their love.

I had previously done quite a bit of research into this anime (and watched quite a few AMVs) and was expecting no more from Toradora! than just another shojo anime stuffed tightly with fanservice, ecchi, and just a hint of fanservice. I'm pleased to say I actually stand quite corrected. I'm happy to acknowledge that there is actually not as much of such content in this anime as there are in many shojo animes I've seen.

Toradora! is ranked #61 on's highest rated animes of all their thousands of listings, superceded by the Miyazaki classic My Neighbor Totoro, which stands at #60. Fan fiction and fanart suggest that this anime is borderline hentai (though, nowadays, you can't really hold any credibility to those), but this anime is not even ecchi. The only ecchi you're likely to encounter is from busty supermodel Ami Kawashima; you can thank her for any such reputation you take away from Toradora!

Toradora opens with the life of Ryuuji Takasu; living in a small apartment with his single mother and playing Mr. Mom by completing all chores and doing all cooking (eventually, we discover that he could even be bordering on OCD, as he'll lose the battle with his urge to clean any mess he encounters...especially unsorted socks). Ryuuji's a very determined and well-behaved student; however, he is feared by his school because of his "murderous eyes", and is therefore labeled a "delinquint" despite being a diligent student. For some time, Ryuuji has had a crush on his eccentric schoolmate Minori, after Ryuuji's best friend Yasaku introduced them. He has never had the nerve to tell her, and thus keeps his feelings to himself.

At the start of the new school year, he accidently runs into (literally) a girl in the hallway, and realizes it's Taiga Aisaka, the fearsome "Palm-Top Tiger". Though she is nearly half his size, she has no problem pounding Ryuuji for running into her, followed by a "watch where you're going."

Ryuuji returns home, and while rummaging through his school bag, encounters a letter addressed to his friend Yasaku, signed by Taiga Aisaka. Tempted and curious, he opens it. No sooner does he tear the envelope open is his apartment infiltrated by Taiga, armed with a kendo sword, determined to get her letter back after placing it in the wrong bag. His apartment, his belongings - and nearly his body - are thrashed by Taiga, before he finally calms her by telling her that her envelope was empty. Taiga tells him that she has a major crush on Yasaku and is embarrassed by this fact. Ryuuji steps in and assures her nothing is embarrassing, and does so by showing her a box full of mementos of Minori, and reveals his crush to Taiga, not knowing that Minori and Taiga are best friends. Taiga eventually goes home by walking onto Ryuuji's balcony, climbing over his railing...and climbing into her apartment window?!

The next day, Taiga and Ryuuji walk to school together (being next door neighbors and all), and along the way they meet up with Minori. It is at this moment that Ryuuji discovers how close Taiga and Minori are, and Taiga looks back at him with an almost evil smile curled up on her face. Ryuuji translates this smile as: "You scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Help me with Yasaku, and I'll help you with Minori." The adventure begins.

Though this may not hold a child's attention, I'd thoroughly watch Toradora before you make your decision. Ami Kawashima is certainly no help to the rating factor; she's seen several times in revealing clothing or bikinis, and boys make suggestive comments about her and/or what they'd like to do with her. One male character hears a scream and jumps out of the shower to investigate; other male and female characters look over and see he is naked, covered only by a towel he holds limply in his hands, and a girl jokingly takes pictures on her cellphones (calling them "scandalous nudies") right before he accidentally drops his towel (a male character grabs it and holds it back up before it fully falls; the girl mentions that "she thought she saw something black", the second male character quickly covers by saying she may have saw a seaweed ghost, as she saw a prank earlier involving a pile of seaweed hanging from a string.). A girl is embarrassed about being "flat" in a bathing suit, and so a boy creates fakes to go under the suit.

Armed with a bubbly and bouncy theme, Toradora! delivers a cross-pollination between Azumanga Daioh and Love Hina as Ryuuji and Taiga pursue their dreams of happiness - with disasterous results. It's up to Ryuuji to keep the peace before Taiga's ticking time bomb goes off and she inevitably destroys the setting around her in relief of her rage. Despite the satire and blunt comedy within, this anime also manages to show a sentimental side, perhaps even more than a comedic one.

While it may be too shojo for the gentlemen out there, fans of such animes as Love Hina, Negima?! and Azumanga Daioh may enjoy Toradora! just as much.

Overall Rating:
/ 5


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Friday, October 16, 2009

Review | Anime | Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni

HIGURASHI NO NAKU KORO NI : Keiichi Maebara transfers to the small, peaceful town of Hinamizawa, where he befriends four girls in his class; Rena, Rika, Mion and Satoko. His new friends tell him all about the town, including the town's fearsome guardian god Oyashiro-sama, and its fury over any who dare enter its shrine. Keiichi is doubtful of the god's supposed wrath at first, but when he enters Oyashiro-sama's forbidden shrine, he becomes wrapped up in the town's horrible secret, and falls victim to the god's deadly curse.

I watched the live action movie adaption of the series, and several of the OST songs have been bouncing around in my iPod for years...I finally decided that perhaps it was time I clamped onto the series that started - or at least fueled - the yandere craze.

Through the grapevine I'd heard warnings about its graphically violent content, and was a little hesitant at first. Repetitive, pointless blood, as I mentioned in my review of Le Portrait De Petit Cossette, is not only ridiculous, but diluting as well. While you think you're making a great show by adding a maimed head here and a missing arm there, you're actually turning a potentially good anime in a terrible one. Finally, however, I lost my fear of ultimately hating Higurashi's motiveless violence; I decided, after picking up the Kara no Kyoukai series, I could pretty much handle anything. I was actually surprised to find, upon completing Higurashi, that Kara no Kyoukai was actually quite a times more graphic.

The hit show that put a psycho killer into the image of every seemingly innocent anime character tells the story of Keiichi Maebara, who transfers to the tiny village of Hinamizawa, where everyone knows your name - literally. Keiichi befriends four girls named Rika, Rena, Mion and Satoko (and later meets a fifth, Shion), and though he has great fun with his new friends at first, he learns about a very delicate subject the girls haven't discussed: A halted dam project that supposedly resulted in the deaths of several people. Prior to the story, the people of Hinamizawa protested against the creation of a dam, which would cause the entire village to be flooded with water. The project was eventually canceled following the deaths and disappearances of the project's team members. Despite the project being canceled, the villagers of Hinamizawa carry a blind hatred of any who supported the dam...or had such connections. Inconveniently caught in the middle of it is Satoko, whose parents supported the construction, and in turn, Satoko is treated poorly by the villagers. The villagers warn that any who assisted the construction in any way are cursed by Hinamizawa's ruthless god, Oyashiro-sama. Rika's father died of a mysterious illness, and it just so happens that he gave shelter to Satoko's terrorized parents, who themselves later fell of a cliff and died. Eventually, Satoko's older brother, Satoshi (whose name alone sends our ladies into a brutal trance) disappeared mysteriously.

Naturally, Keiichi has lots of questions, but his new friends aren't willing to give him too big of an explanation...not without a fight. Finally, when new disappearances begin to occur, and more strange murders take place on the ill-fated night of the annual Watanagashi festival, Keiichi begins to suspect that his friends may play a bigger part than they let on.

Killer middle school and high school girls? Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni's overall plot is enough to make you curious. Just hearing the show's eerie theme song of the same name was enough to draw me in immediately. Much like Hinamizawa and its certifiably lunatic school girls, the songs of Higurashi take different tones throughout, providing an innocent and cheerful mood at one moment, and moving alone to a fearful and ominous tune right afterwards.

Though it is not as graphic as I was made to understand (as I stated before, Kara no Kyoukai has raised the bar rather high for me now), it is certainly not going straight to Nickelodeon anytime soon. The series opens with a boy beating two of his dead female classmates with a baseball bats (we hear crunching and see blood), several characters have their faces beaten in (it is either shown from behind or not shown onscreen at all). A girl slices a man's head with a cleaver (we see the deep wound), we see the same girl cutting up the man's body and one other body). A boy buries the body of a man he killed. A girl uses a device to rip out her fingernails (we see her severed nails again several times later), a girl threatens to torture a boy by driving nails into his finger joints. A girl beats her dead grandmother. Throughout the series characters are killed or severely injured.

Higurashi No Naku Koro Ni is every bit the credit fans give it; haunting, gruesome, and dishes out the unexpected. Demented moe school girls? Check. Blood and gore? Check. Twilight Zone little city in the middle of nowhere? Check and check. If you want to stay up-to-date in anime, Higurashi should certainly be on your list. Stuck indoors? Spend Halloween with this one.

Overall Rating:
/ 5


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Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Preview | Movie | Kara no Kyoukai 7: Satsujin Kousatsu (Part 2)

The seventh and final chapter of the Kara no Kyoukai movie series. The movie features additions to the story played out in Kara no Kyoukai 2: Satsujin Kousatsu Part 1.

Set for a DVD release in Japan on December 9th, 2009, subs should be available very soon around that time. We look forward to completing the chilling Kara no Kyoukai series with the 7th movie. A review will be available shortly after. Stay tuned!

Preview (raw):

Monday, October 5, 2009

Review | Anime | Pandora Hearts

PANDORA HEARTS : Oz Bezarius, the heir to one of the four
powerful duke households, is celebrating his coming-of-age ceremony upon his
15th birthday. During his ceremony, a strange group of cloaked figures intervene,
and Oz is condemned for an unknown crime and cast into a surreal underworld
known as the Abyss. To escape, he makes a pact with a "chain" named Alice, and
they both return to Oz's world, only to find that 10 years have passed. With the
help of Alice, Oz's friends Sharon and Gilbert, and an odd man named Xerxes
Break, Oz sets out to uncover the reason why he was cast into the

When it comes to anime, I'm a sucker for three things: Fantasy, cool outfits, and Yuki Kajiura. Offer me all three, and you've got yourself an anime reviewed. Though I was left hanging from a cliff, I was not disappointed to happen upon Pandora Hearts.

I almost didn't start this anime as soon as I did, because after learning my lesson having to wait a week for Vampire Knight's episode release - and nearly a month for Monochrome Factor's subtitles - I know things now. However, my curiosity got the best of me, and alas, I was back to waiting a week for releases. Since this anime was in such high demand, at least the subtitles were ready quickly.

Pandora Hearts begins with Oz Bezarius, a playful 15-year-old who loves to play jokes and explore his mansion with his younger sister Ada, and his servant and best friend Gilbert. Oz's idea of fun is to hide from his duties as a duke's heir; he would much rather play than attend his coming-of-age ceremony. Oz, for the most part, lives alone in his mansion, as his relationship with his father is very shaky. The closest thing Oz has to a father is his Uncle Oscar, who is very protective of Oz and Ada.

Oz, though dejected that his father would not attend, continues as planned. However, before Oz completes his ceremony, he is suddenly attacked by a strange army of cloaked figures; this group is known as Pandora, and they pass judgment on Oz for a crime that he was unaware of, and in consequence is thrown into a prison known as "The Abyss". The Abyss is a dark, surreal world with very little known about it. Here, Oz is constantly attacked by monsters called "Chains" that take on the appearances of a child's toy. Oz is finally too tired to keep fighting off the chains, and is ultimately saved by another chain name Alice, who alternatively has taken on the appearance of a young girl. Alice offers to help Oz escape the Abyss, in exchange for forming a contract with her to allow her to possess his body. Though reluctant at first, Oz eventually agrees when they are attacked by another chain.

Oz and Alice escape the Abyss to find that 10 years have passed in Oz's world. They arrive in the mansion of a Bezarius family acquaintance, whose daughter, Sharon Rainsworth, had attended Oz's ceremony briefly. Now at her side is a bizarre and whimsical man named Xerxes Break, and at Xerxes' side is a man calling himself "Raven"...and Raven is strangely familiar.

We finally arrive at several plot destinations: Oz wants to know why he was cast into the Abyss. Alice, who was once human, wants to revive her memories of her past life and why she exists. Oz wants to break his contract with Alice, upon learning that an "illegal contract" (which is what Oz formed with Alice), is eventually fatal. Inevitably, we want to know more about this array of characters.

The series progresses very nicely; we are not loaded with too much information (not all at once, anyway), and are also not dragging along. The series did, however, end rather abruptly, leaving a lot to be desired and many plot holes to be filled. there will no doubt be a second season, because no fan is going to stand for being left on this cliff. In the end, I'm hanging right next to Pandora Hearts' cluster of fans, desperate for details on the next season. They only recently became relieved of the stress of waiting for the release of an extended version of the Pandora Hearts' promotional video theme music, "Pandora Hearts" by FictionJunction. As upbeat and surreal as the PV's shortened mix was, even I was on edge for a longer version.

Though the show can get a bit violent at times, I wouldn't say that this series is too ridiculous for a child; I can easily name key concerns in the series. A man and a young girl become drunk in one scene (though the girl is not human), and the girl complains of the room being too hot and begins to remove her clothing to cool down (she is stopped). a girl attacks a boy when she is told he kissed another girl. Chains may be visually frightened for small children. Characters are shot and stabbed several times (the attacks are not graphic). A boy throws a girl's dead pet cat to her, and it is implied he has gouged its eyes out (no blood is seen). A man's eye is pulled out. The same man coughs blood several times.

Pandora Hearts was a lot of fun to watch, and it was definitely worth looking forward to every week. All there is now is to look forward to the second season, should there be one. Any Yuki Kajiura fan will not want to miss this show or its amazing soundtrack. In fact, any fan of anime period may just jump on the Pandora Hearts bandwagon. Curl up with some ramen and get started.

Overall Rating:
/ 5


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