亜人ちゃんは語りたい (jp) Interviews with Monster Girls (en) 2017 Winter TV Series, 12 Episodes + Special Genre: Comedy, Slice-of-Life, Supernatural Studio: A-1 Pictures
The Premise: In a parallel Japan, monster-human hybrids have been recently introduced in society, administered by the government via a police-based agency. These hybrids, known as demihumans or “demis,” being a recent development, are slowly being integrated into everyday life for the Japanese people. At Shibasaki High School, biology teacher Tetsuo Takahashi learns that the incoming class of freshman will have three demihumans attending. As a biologist, Tetsuo’s curiosity leads to his desire to know about them through a series of interviews, with a vampire, a Dullahan, and a snow woman. His atypical reaction to their presence in turn leads the demihuman students’ curiosity about Tetsuo, and so an exchange of information begins.
This was a sleeper hit for me, as Demi-chan was a word-of-mouth recommendation from a friend who had already seen the first episode. Somehow, in my preparation for the winter anime season, I missed this one, instead casting my attention more toward the more prominent series such as Kono Subarashii Sekai ni Shukufuku wo! 2, Masamune-kun no Revenge, and (the previously-reviewed) Kobayashi-san Chi no Meidoragon. I can’t lie and say that I didn’t begin watching this series without some set of expectations. I will fully admit to having watched a fair portion of Monster Musume no Iru Nichijou, and concurrent to this series, Meidoragon. My experience with Monster Musume was limited to the notion of monster girls being used as the basis for a super-ecchi comedy and that was the extent of my informed prejudgment of how Demi-chan might progress.
I was horribly mistaken.
Demi-chan turned out to be a warm-hearted and easy-going story, spending a lot more time on the development of the insecurities of the demihumans trying their best to make a life for themselves in a rather insular society such as Japan’s. All throughout their lives, they faced varying degrees of prejudicial treatment, and when they arrive at Shibasaki High, Tetsuo-sensei’s reaction is quite different. It’s pretty obvious that Tetsuo is standing in for the “everyman” premise, being kind-hearted, thoughtful, considerate, and respectfully curious about who they are. In expanding his own personal understanding of the nature of being a demihuman, he begins to try to help them feel more comfortable at school in order to provide them with the best avenue of success; an ideal we’d wish for any teacher entrusted with that level of responsibility.
The knuckleball pitch in the dirt is when one of the other teachers, Satou-sensei, is introduced as a demihuman herself. She’s a succubus who goes out of her way to reduce contact with anyone who might find her attractive. Satou-sensei borrows Yankumi’s tracksuit from Gokusenin order to dress down her appearance and remain as low-key as possible. Tetsuo notices this and does his best to appear unaffected by her nature, but as it so happens in anime, incidental contact carries meaning. A brief touch of the hands, or even bumping into her in the hallways made for some very subtle and understated comedy between the two. Satou believes that she may have found the only man who’s completely unaffected by her pheromones, except as soon as she’s out of sight, he shows that he is utterly affected. The manner in which this was played out in the episodes really elevated the level of storytelling being employed here.
My favorite characters out of the group were Kyoko (Dullahan) and Satou-sensei. Both exhibited a deeper dynamic to their characters, where as the others were more caricature than character. Kyoko’s depth came in her maturity over the others, and to a certain extent that appeared to be Satou’s strengths as well. I found that my favorite episodes of the series resulted in a better understanding of those characters specifically, although I didn’t hate the other two and enjoyed knowing more, it’s just that I clearly favored Kyoko and Satou’s stories more. Especially when we find out about Satou’s past and her involvement with the police detectives assigned to her case to ensure her integration into society. Tetsuo’s curiosity about Satou leads her to believe that his interest is not purely academic, and given his (apparent) propensity involving her nature, she sees him as a viable candidate as a future romantic partner. As stated earlier, there’s comedy to be had there, but I felt that Tetsuo’s obliviousness contributed to the proceedings. This factors in greatly in enjoyment of the overall series, especially the recent summer episode broadcast at the end of June.
Technically, I have no complaints about the animation style. After reading some of the manga published by Kodansha, the anime did its level best to approximate the art style depicted there. The story itself allowed a non-reader to access the plot and the characters easily, and as they developed in each episode, those identifying with Tetsuo-sensei will begin to feel an emotional attachment to the demihumans and the obstacles they face.
Every time I turn around, there’s a new TrySail track that I must acquire. High School Fleet turned me into a fan of TrySail’s, so I was enthused to hear them singing the opening theme, “Original.” Unfortunately, I wasn’t as big of a fan of the ending theme, “Fairytale” by Sangatsu no Phantasia, mostly because I felt that the composition was pretty pedestrian as far as themes go, but ultimately you’re not watching an anime for the theme songs, right? On the other hand, Masaru Yokoyama brought his A-game with the background music, however, and if you haven’t had a chance to listen to the soundtrack, you can pick it up at Amazon or CD Japan pretty easily.
In the end, Demi-chan turned out to be a solid series with emotional depth and a feel-good atmosphere. If you’re not a fan of the “monster girls” sub-genre, then I’d recommend you skip it because the premise requires a buy-in that may not be available for full enjoyment. I’ll be checking out a second season, if the rumors are true (as of this writing). Hopefully we’ll have some good news for Demi-chan fans in October!
Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid (en)
TV Series, 13 episodes + Special(s) Genre: Fantasy, Comedy, Slice of Life Studio: Kyoto Animation The Premise: It’s another day in the life of Kobayashi-san as she prepares to leave for her job as a coder. As she opens her front door, she stares into the gigantic reddish-gold eyes of an enormous green dragon, who immediately transforms into a buoyantly boisterous and buxom blonde wearing a maid’s uniform. As it so happens, the previous night after an alcohol-fueled excursion to the nearby mountains, Kobayashi encountered the same dragon. Said dragon (Touru) had fled from another world/dimension for reasons not made clear (yet). During their friendly conversation, Kobayashi invited Touru to stay with her, to which Touru readily accepted and out of a debt of honor, wished to repay Kobayashi’s kindness by offering her services as a maid (due to Kobayashi’s love of all things related to maids).
I loved this series.
A series like this with a premise like that doesn’t ordinarily make my radar, and it seems like the trend for the past couple of years has been around the “monster girl” sub-genre of stories being animated in Japan. However, Meidragon is bit different than something along the lines of 2015 Summer’s Monster Musume no Iru Nichijō, Demi-chan wa Kataritai (which I’ll be reviewing later), or the offering from this season (2017 Summer), Centaur no Nayami. In this series, rather than the characters being outwardly obvious as to the nature of their being, Touru’s transformation is done with the intent to hide that nature outright. That adds a layer of comedy to the series that’s missing in the others, all of which seem to simply accept that Monster hyrbids or Demi-humans exist and are therefore receive governmental administration in some fashion.
Kobayashi, in her natural state.
The other aspect of this show that I thoroughly enjoyed was the fact that it is a predominantly female cast of characters engaged in the overall plot. Any other similar premise would involve at least one male central character to give the hetero-normative approach typically seen in these cases. In Meidragon, however, we have an adult woman being the central character which Touru finds herself hopeless devoted to (much to Kobayashi’s chagrin) was utterly refreshing. I enjoyed watching that play out over thirteen episodes, and also appreciated the divergence from one of the tried-and-true settings of a high school or the fact that Kobayashi would’ve been hyper-sexualized in some fashion.
In fact, we see Kobayashi being a contributing member of society; doing her work and overcoming the adversity presented by her projects and the overbearing balding boss who seems to only speak in ALL CAPS all the time. Her closest work associate is a closeted otaku, Makoto, who doesn’t seem to be interested in her other than as a confidant in their shared sociologically-shunned hobbies. The relationships and conversation surrounding Kobayashi definitely pass the Bechdel test, which is pretty unusual for most anime.
As a character, I found Kobayashi to very interesting given the unusual living situation that she finds herself in as a result of her drunken expedition. She’s level-headed, kind, warm-hearted, keeps her cool in tense moments, and often is the single voice of clarity and reason. She is an ideal in terms of what’s needed for the purpose of telling this kind of story, but in that presents a strength of character not often seen in female anime characters. She is neither tsundere or yandere, she doesn’t react disproportionately violent to comedic misunderstandings (in fact, the complete opposite), she doesn’t spend a majority of the anime pining over someone else, and she is perfectly fine with living alone and keeping her own company. Over time, her typical desire to live alone is altered as she comes to enjoy the company of her new maid and friend in Touru. The development of the Kobayashi character from the beginning to the final episode had me investing emotionally, and I cared enough to see the whole thing through to the end to find out what happens.
Where Kobayashi’s appearance is low-key, Touru’s is not. Between the two central characters, Touru is definitely sexualized in that she’s busty and curvy, as you would imagine an anime dragon-girl to be. In fact, three of the five dragons transform into super-sexy human analogues. The other two are a butler-looking guy (Fafnir) and an elementary school-aged girl (Kanna). Over time, though, even that visual becomes less of a factor for me (until Lucoa shows up and she went with a structurally unsound level of endowment). The comedy surrounding the physical attributes is more in line with the comedy I’d find in a series like Oruchuban Ebichu than anything else.
Touru and Kobayashi’s relationship form the core of the series, and in this it begins as a standard fantasy component of the meet-cute between two people. Touru’s upbringing as a dragon often serves as the basis for most of the comedy, which is fantastic because it shows the aforementioned cool-headed nature of Kobayashi in dealing with a dragon’s solutions to everyday human life in urban Japan. In the very first episode, Kobayashi’s meeting with Touru before work results in her being late. Touru’s solution is to reform into a dragon and fly Kobayashi straight to work, while casting an invisibility spell to prevent those on the ground from looking up and seeing a huge green dragon flying overhead. The visual tickled me and Kobayashi’s thought-process is revealed as she’s coming around to seeing the virtue of having Touru around.
Speaking from a technical perspective, I enjoyed the animation style a lot. I thought it matched the style of the story perfectly, and the direction remained on point in presenting each episode’s halves. The overall feel of the average episode reminded me of Azumanga Daiou, which forced me to go online to find out if Meidragon was also a yonkoma (four cell manga or newspaper comic strip). It turns out that it’s not; it’s (still) a monthly running in Monthly Action. I loved the interstitials they used to separate the individual stories, like the animated version of the horizontal line to make it clear that this is a line of demarcation.
Musically, I loved the opening and ending themes. Upbeat numbers both, beginning with the opening song “Aozora no Rhapsody” (music video) by the band fhána, and matched with the ending theme of “Ishukan Communication” (ending animation) by the seiyuu of the series, Yūki Kuwahara, Maria Naganawa, Minami Takahashi, and Yūki Takada. The slate of background music for this series delivered as well, composed by Masumi itou.
While this is supposed to be a “slice-of-life” genre series, the nature of the life being sliced changed from episode to episode. I felt that at its core, Meidragon was almost a love letter to its manga fans, as a lot of the (sub)titles of the episodes seemed to indicated in-jokes to stories presented in that format. Even under those circumstances, this was a highly enjoyable series, and accessible to wide variety of fans looking for an off-the-wall concept grounded in a sound premise.
I’ve decided to resurrect an old series of posts called Boku no Anime no Omoide (My Anime Memories), discussing the various series and movies I’ve seen throughout my life that has had an impact on my fandom of this genre of storytelling.
Way back in the days of my budding anime fandom, a dear friend of mine pulled me aside and said he had something to show me. It was called ‘Bubblegum Crisis,’ and he was positive that I would enjoy it. Now, of course, I had my doubts as to the veracity of his claim. After all, it was kind of a ridiculously absurd name and did not really pique my interest all that much. In response, he simply told me to ignore the name and try not to judge an anime based on the title. I was too tired to put up much of a fight, and after work we ended up at his place and settled in for an afternoon of anime watching.
Yeah, I was taught a rather valuable lesson that day. Had I gone with my instincts of begging off, I would not be the same person I am today. I think, along with many other early titles I watched, Bubblegum Crisis is a staple of anime fandom. At least, it’s a staple of my personal fandom. I’m not talking about the remake from Pioneer/Geneon in the late 90s, either. I’m talking about the late 80s produced original, where you could tell it was all hand-drawn and not computer-assisted. Along with classics like Urusei Yatsura, Choujiku Yosai Macross, Uchuu Senkan Yamato, Kimagure Orange Road, and many others, Bubblegum Crisis is a must-see for any anime fan out there. It’s a common frame of reference, a point of contention between fans over what constitutes a bad dub, and if you haven’t seen it, you’re punched right out of the conversation, I guarantee you.
In short, its summary is this: Four women battle against the out-of-control creations of the Genom corporation: one driven by revenge, one driven by boredom, one driven by excitement, and one driven by loyalty. Led by Miss Sylia Stingray, these Knight Sabers band together to crusade against the injustice of androids with too much power. Underground singer Priss Asagiri, Linna Yamazaki, and police data specialist Nene Romanova round out the group, wearing Stingray-designed hardsuits and kicking some serious Boomer ass through eight episodes of OVA goodness.
Can you sense my enthusiasm? Good.
There is absolutely nothing wrong with this series. It delivers action, romance, drama, and a memorable soundtrack the likes of which has never been reproduced. Every character shows a level of depth that you really only got to see in much longer series. What a story like Crisis, it would take a series such as Full Metal Panic or Gundam much more than eight episodes to provide you with a clear background, and even then it took a sequel, Bubbblegum Crash!, to really screw the pooch. Which in a sense was an additional three episodes to the story, but you see how perfect the eight was? It really didn’t even need the full eleven, right?
Though… Crash had good music. What is it with all these series that are bad, but have kickass OSTs?
Not that BGC was any slouch in the OST department. Quite possibly the most recognizable set of vocal tracks in anime history belongs to this series, which includes the perennial Konya wa Hurricane and my personal favorite, Bye, Bye, My Crisis. The latter of which is just a fun song to chairdance to. Also, it took me forever to find the music in the pre-Complete Vocal Collection days. Essentially, the entirety of the soundtrack is an homage to the girl bands of the early 80s; specifically the overall sound and vibe from The Runaways, a band that was a huge hit in Japan in the late 70s. I could write a full review on the music, itself, so I’ll cut myself short here. The bottom line is, if you haven’t yet watched this series, then crawl out from underneath your rock and get thee hence!
Character-wise, my favorites had to be Priss and Nene. Priss is singing her heart out in the very beginning of the entire series, and you’re slowly introduced to the rest of the Knight Sabers. But, I always felt that Nene got something of a bad rap throughout the series until the very last episode of the initial eight. Priss was shown to be this ass-kicking woman of power. Even Leon was unable to avoid her charms due to the sheer amount of confidence portrayed within the character. Nene had a quieter strength that was often overshadowed by her fears. In battle, she often tended to stay out of the way, or fire wildly while letting out a scream queen-esque shriek at the enemy. In her own element of research, she showed her prowess, especially in “Scoop Chase.”
There’s even a scene where Nene is showing the police chief’s niece around in one of those Mini Cooper police cars, and she catches a speeding motorcycle. A motorcycle that happens to be drive by none other than Priss. The look on Nene’s face when she realizes that she’s just caught a member of her group and friend is priceless. Given that the chief’s niece is watching with interest, she can’t just let Priss go. Especially when Priss is taunting her to not give her that ticket. Instead, she gather up her courage and issues that ticket, to Priss’ surprise and later anger.
Crisis’ writing did a great job of exposing not just the four members of the Knight Sabers, but some of the supporting characters as well. Mackie, Sylia’s younger brother, gets his introduction in the first episode as being a bit of a creeper. Later, he’s developed into a decent mechanic and even ends up with his own hardsuit. I started kind of shipping him and Nene and I got a reward for that in “Scoop Chase,” where he refuses to leave Nene behind during a climactic scene.
The two AD Police detectives, Leon and Daley, even get a lot of screen time in working things from their angle. A lot of their cases end up intersecting with the Knight Sabers, so the stories often show things from their perspectives. Leon’s unabashed interest in Priss is used as a comedic premise and foil, respectively. Daley is an interesting entry in the story because he’s openly gay, which I hadn’t really seen in an anime up until then. I enjoyed his obvious flirting with Leon to see his reaction.
Bubblegum Crisis’ story is told and retold over the course of several series. Beyond the original series, there was the aforementioned sequel (Crash!) and a prequel (A.D. Police Files). Pioneer/Geneon decided to do a reboot/retelling in Bubblegum Crisis Tokyo 2040, which was far less impressive and focused far more on the drama than the comedy. It, too, had a side-story called A.D. Police (known as A.D. Police: To Protect and Serve in the US). And then back in 2003, there was an in-universe OVA called Parasite Dolls, which focused again on the AD Police.
The last couple of years, I’ve been keen to stay home an celebrate the new year privately with my wife and my best bud and roommate, Shon. It kind of works out because I don’t get any invitations to go anywhere anymore (I must’ve pissed off too many people or something), as I used in the past. So, we’ll stay up to midnight, alternate between Univision and KRON-TV. Univision because Spanish Television is far more interesting than any of the major media outlets (ABC, CBS, NBC, etc) and KRON because it is the last remaining local coverage of the San Francisco fireworks left on the air. Univision’s ads for their programming is also entertaining as hell, and it makes me want to brush up on my Spanish so I can follow along. Not to mention, the women on Univision (and Telemundo) are hot as hell.
This year’s San Francisco fireworks were pretty impressive; it looks like the city really went all out this year. San Jose, on the other hand, had nothing. When I was a kid, they used to do a huge party in downtown with the big black bowler hat coming down on top of the clock tower (I’m assuming as an homage to the ball dropping in Times Square) but I guess no one wants to pay for that anymore, so the city doesn’t do it. That stopped happening a while back, actually. The only city in the Bay Area that does any kind of major celebration is San Francisco. Oakland, given their distance from the city, probably lets SF pay for their show and then everyone goes to Treasure Island for a front-row seat. I know that it was mentioned that this year, it was an unusually clear night, so the fireworks weren’t obscured in the slightest. Even through the shitty cameras of KRON, you could see how awesome they must’ve looked from the ferry building.
In years past, I used to host a huge NYE party with all of the friends that were around back then. We had built up a gamers’ paradise tradition back in 1994, where we would hunker down at someone’s house and play games all night. In those days, that usually meant bringing over your Pentium PC, or an N64, or your PlayStation (original). My buddy, Ken, had his house in San Francisco overlooking City College with this huge balcony. With the lack of visibility toward the bay, we couldn’t see any fireworks, really. But we all brought food (I usually cooked), shared a lot of laughs, took breaks watching anime or sitcoms, and enjoyed the company until the wee hours of the morning. As time went on, we lost touch with some friends, made new ones, but the parties continued through until around 2009, when we decided to do a trip down to Disneyland for New Years.
Disneyland is a whole other ball of wax. It is crowded as hell. In order to make it into the park, you need to arrive at the opening of the gates at 9am and then be prepared to hang out in the park all the way to midnight. Disney’s California Adventure is a great alternative, though, and it also happens to be the one part of the park that serves alcohol. If you’re looking to ring in the new year with a flute, then you have to go to DCA. 2009 was the first and best year we did Disney. We went again in 2012, and it SUCKED. It was so packed, you could not move anywhere by the time you got to the Hub (the big circle in the center of the park). Kiss any semblance of personal space goodbye, because you were shoulder-to-shoulder with perfect strangers. I kept my hands in my pockets, and sure enough, someone kept trying to reach in to grab my wallet… it was a pickpocket’s dream.
People were getting trampled as we were trying to get the hell out of there and over to DCA, because I knew that it would be far less crowded. Sure enough, you could breathe over there. After that, I think Julia and I made it clear that if we should happen to be down at the Disneyland Resort for New Year’s in the future, we would choose DCA over Disneyland. A lot of fun, less people, you could get on a lot of the rides. The only drawback is that after the New Year is rung in, they shut down DCA and force everyone to either go home, go into Downtown Disney, or take their chances back in Disneyland. We went back to the hotel, obviously.
Next year, I don’t know where I’ll be to ring in 2017. Maybe someone will put together a party and toss an invite, or maybe I’ll just be home again. Either way, I hope that it’ll be the end to an amazing 2016.
Beyond the fact that this is an even-numbered year and I think it’s time that the Giants emerge victorious as the World Series Champions, I’m also going to be turning forty in June. So, while the Giants are duking it out in the National League West in the heat of the summer sun, I will (hopefully) be celebrating with friends and family to usher in the new era of my life…
Holy shit, it’s weird to see that in writing.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing what 2016 holds. I’m going to try and put more thoughts down in this blog, which has been pretty dormant for a number of years. I’m hoping to put in some time and some discipline to seeing how far I can get. I’m going to be following a list of daily prompts courtesy of WordPress.com’s Daily Post. I’m kind of ignoring today’s prompt to do the setup on this renewal.
I’m not looking for any interaction, either. I mean, it’s cool if someone wants to comment, but mostly I’m just going to use this to express myself a little and talk about shit that interests me. Y’know, the usual typical self-absorbed garbage that makes up most blogs.