Princess Nine – episodes one to sixteen

May 13, 2004 on 7:01 pm | In Princess Nine | Comments Off on Princess Nine – episodes one to sixteen

Given my fondness for over dramatics, sepia, fiery passion and skilled use of genre hallmarks, and coupling that with my complete ignorance of the workings of baseball, it’s no surprise that I like Princess Nine, the baseball anime about the chairwoman who dared to dream!

Kisaragi Girls High School Chairwoman Himuro Keiko wants to start a baseball team at the girls high school that she chairs, but she needs a team to prove that girls can compete in a male dominated sport. Her star choice is Hayakawa Ryo, daughter of one of the greatest high school baseball players in Japanese history (who is of course now deceased). Ryo is reluctant to accept a scholarship, as she wanted to be able to help her mother run the family Oden bar.
Upon learning that her father went to Koshien, the stadium of the Japanese high school major league, and with the insistence of her mother, she is persuaded to take on the role as pitcher for the team and receive a high school education.

It’s clear from the beginning that Ryo is going to accept her destiny as Japan’s number one pitcher and that there will be many tears along the way, but that’s good. It’s the set up for a classical sports anime saga, and baseball is one of the most romantic of Japanese sports. Princess Nine is given exactly the right treatment, and shows all the right types and scenarios. The thing about sports anime is that it’s the journey that is important. That’s not to say that they never have surprising endings; look at Tomorrow’s Joe, that classic of boxing anime. That manga’s ending was so surprising that it was postponed so that another season of the anime could be made.
Heck, even Pokémon had Ash lose the Pokémon League.
In fact, because of the almost foregone ending, the genre has to come up with spectacular complications along the way. It’s the great adversity that has to be overcome; inspiration is what it’s all about.
And, of course, Princess Nine has been shown to have quite enough of this.

Princess Nine is also highly addictive anime. I started writing this article at episode one, for instance, and now I’m up to episode fifteen (now sixteen!) … it’s very easy to get lost in the series, even if you don’t know quite how baseball works; sports anime has an ability to rise up above the mere sports that they represent, infusing them with humanity and drama. It’s enough to make the most sedentary of viewers want to run out and hit a ball, before they realise that the reason they don’t like sports is because they’re not very good at them.
This series has much going for it: two potential love triangles, although the drama doesn’t focus on romance, bitter rivalries that are tempered by respect, evil authority figures, ganguro girls who are afraid of catching the ball when it’s hit to them …
All of the characters have something going for them, and they all fit as a “type” without being too obtrusive about it.

It’s another series where the actors in each language approach the characters differently, so it’s naturally divisive. Nagasawa Miki is passionate and kind as Ryo, Kingetsu Mami is cold and almost cruel as Izumi, and Koyasu Takehito is his usual golden smooth self as Takasugi. A stand out among the nine girls is Yajima Akiko as Hotta Koharu, who is very strong and against her standard type of meek or pacifist characters. Because the nine come from all throughout Japan there are regional accents all around, and Nagasawa Naomi boasts the weirdest Kansai accent I’ve ever heard, but she grows on you.

The animation in the early episodes is odd. Sometimes characters’ mouths keep on going after they’ve stopped talking. Sometimes the perspective seems a little off. On at least two occasions, the animators forgot to colour Ryo’s pupils. After about two or three episodes, no one looks weird anymore. The series is hypnotic, and the flashback sequences are particularly well handled. In one the characters have lines over their movements, as if they’re part of a photo. The sepia; oh, the sepia.
The score is performed by the Warsaw Philharmonic Orchestra, which means that the music can be as dramatic as it damn well pleases. It’s marvellous, generally.

Admittedly for the first ten episodes the baseball team isn’t even complete; the “real” games are different to the rest of the program, as it’s no longer about building, it’s about surviving. And everyone wants to tear the team apart … but there’s never any lag. The editing is brilliant; director Mochizuki knows precisely when to stop for maximum suspense. The anime is altogether highly compelling.

Princess Nine doesn’t lack originality; its devotion to the genre, to the sport and to the characters is a delicious stew, a metaphor embraced within the series itself. It’s certainly not the prettiest of anime at times, but it doesn’t matter! Sports anime represents a triumph of the will, which is why it’s great to watch regardless of one’s knowledge of the sport.

Gundam Wing Endless Waltz

May 10, 2004 on 6:02 pm | In Gundam Wing | Comments Off on Gundam Wing Endless Waltz

Now this is some nice Gundam Wing. The TV series was at times protracted; almost to balance, this three episode OVA at times feels contracted. However, it’s highly enjoyable at almost all times.

One year after the conclusion of the television series, everyone is at peace. Except for some upstarts who came from nowhere – as it always seems to go with Wing. They kidnap Relena, who still holds influence from her day as Queen, and say “Wahahahaha! We shall be the rulers of the universe with our puppet figurehead!”
Endless Waltz also details the original plan for Project Meteor and displays requests made to Izubuchi Yutaka for fetishistic uniforms.

A taut, eighty minute story follows. Very little time is wasted. There’s about three minutes of “peace”, then Relena’s “Hey, why am I the only one drinking tea?” scene comes up. Incidental events, like the conquering of Earth, are relegated to the ED animation. The story is good, and questions about White Fang and Operation Meteor are answered satisfactorily. Wu Fei at one point seems like nothing more than an obstacle created for narrative difficulty purposes, but generally everything is happy. Perhaps the character can rise above his cliché Hemingway existence. We’ll never know, but we can happily assume so.

Oddly, all of the characters get a conclusion except for Heero; even Wu Fei, who probably deserves it the least, has his own place. Heero, being “the heart of the universe” will always keep on beating the worn paths or something. Heck, even the dead characters from the Wing series get further conclusions.

The animation is awfully pretty, with excellent explosions. The Gundams have slight redesigns, with the exception of the Wing Zero, which has actual feathery wings. These stylistic changes don’t make narrative sense, but there’s not a lot that can be done. Everyone looks fundamentally the same, but just that much nicer. The “mysterious man” (given away by his credit! And his voice! And the totally obvious nature of it all) looks truly marvellous. The colours are more vibrant than the television series, and that makes most of the difference.
The only scary thing about it is the uniforms that the “Barton Youth” have to wear. Trowa and Wu Fei look like scouts in these uniforms … short shorts, odd ties … it’s shudder inducing.

There’s also a movie version, but it was not released in Australia. The OVA form was nice, as the EDs used the classic method of furthering the story. The Endless Waltz OVA is a nice addition to the end of the Gundam Wing series with excellent animation and wonderful followups on all of my favourite characters.
A fitting end to the franchise that features few of the flaws of the television series … and fortunately only one resurrection.
It’s still hard to grasp that the series and the follow up OVAs came from the same years as Evangelion.

Gundam Wing – episodes 31 to 49

May 10, 2004 on 3:07 pm | In Gundam Wing | 2 Comments

It’s finally over. Gundam Wing was a series that at times struggled with momentum and pace, resulting in something that wasn’t so much epic as it was long.

Things happen so fast and both and slow. A country can be form and dissolved in the space of a few episodes, a character can be crowned Queen and dethroned in less than one, and a character that was shot dead can awake from a coma twenty episodes after the fact. At times, it has been handled as if very little has happened despite the quite serious repercussions frequently effected.
It’s not until the episode 42 mark that the Gundam pilots actually form a team and act together, and the previous shifting dynamics become tiresome as Treize changes from “good” to “evil” with alarming frequency.

The final arc, however, fired in a positive way at all times. It was just confusing that Noin chose to dress as a space cowgirl after her previous regal efforts were no longer called for. A nice ending, and also some strong development for Dorothy, who eventually stopped coming across as a hollow villain. Wu Fei changed the least of everyone, however, and was as a result the least interesting up until his final sortie. In 49 episodes he must have received about two or three episodes’ worth of screentime: not a lot. Sally Po also had a tendency to disappear … as with the earlier episodes (and with the nations themselves), the problem had always been the lack of unification. Too much happened in too many different places, and characters presumed dead just suddenly reappeared without explanation. Those scientists, they could be anywhere!

Still, Gundam Wing was enjoyable. Nice performances all around, great costume design, some bland battles with a distinct lack of colour; but still good. The odd thing is that the main criticisms that are levelled against it were fairly invisible; there’s very little in the way of angst (some of the pilots drawing blanks a lot of the time) and the yaoi factor was very, very poorly played up – the fangirls had little to draw upon. Gundam Wing has its flaws, but the popular ones aren’t it.

It was a long journey, and generally worthwhile (particularly for the price point), but at times Gundam Wing was hard to take and sadly the pilots themselves weren’t gifted with too much in the way of character. Still, the secondary cast led rich and interesting lives … and certainly no one was the same as when the series began.
If you choose to watch two series at once, don’t make both of them long.

KO Beast II

May 6, 2004 on 1:04 pm | In KO Beast | Comments Off on KO Beast II

Comedy antics abound in the second series of KO Beast. There has been a slight change, with Fujishima Kosuke taking over the clothing design. As a result everyone looks more “RPG”, and Mekka/Tuttle has a nifty wide brimmed hat that makes him suitable for wild west adventures.

In these episodes the search for Gaia continues, and first the musketeers search for a man who might be able to repair their totems. The man is actually a boar … who disguises his shortness by standing on top of his son and wearing a long flowing cloak.
A town of beasts was a good opportunity to show beasts living on a day to day basis. V-Darn tracked the musketeers by wearing a beast disguise, which was funny enough … but then he stole fish from a stall.
‘You can’t pay?’ said the owner, knocking him to the ground, ‘Then you shall pay in pain!’, and the townsfolk joined him in kicking him when he was down. At times, the humour is riotous. The town of sea-beasts was slightly less interesting, although Mei-Mer’s mother was a hoot. V-Darn and V-Sion’s “sexual tension” was brilliant, as was Akumako’s comeuppance.
The serious stuff was also good, with lots of inobtrusive exposition explaining almost everything that you could possibly want to know … with the exception of the biggest twist that the writers sprung. Even at the end, it wasn’t quite certain where one of the characters actually came from.

Gone from this series also were the recurring jokes of the first; there was no more licking … none of the main stuff other than Bud’s incredible English. This allowed for some great new traditions, such as Yuni’s glee at any sort of pain being inflicted upon anyone. The characterisation was generally strong, and Mekka’s dedication to protecting the others (as he’s not part of the inner circle) was again well developed). Although, where did the Humans get a tiny demon that feasts on souls from? It’s best not to wonder these things.

Only two problems manifested themselves with the translation: “This must be what an octopus feels like in a trap” becomes “This must be what a Pokémon feels like in its Pokéball!” and the character CC Gal is renamed “SP. Icegal”. The first seems an out of place pop-culture reference. At least it’s anime, but messing with subtitles is not cool! As for the name change, it’s very unwieldly. How is one supposed to even pronounce that?

Still, not much use quibbling over an otherwise highly enjoyable OVA from back when anything was possible. Oh, some very impressive animation at times, too.

KO Beast I

May 1, 2004 on 6:46 pm | In KO Beast | Comments Off on KO Beast I

Back in the days of my Right Stuf addiction, I bought KO Beast without really knowing why; it was cheap. Now that I’ve watched it, I have seen it for the rollicking comedy adventure that it is!

Years ago the hemispheres of Earth were at war and eventually split in two. As a result northerners evolved into beasts of varying tribes who can change into animals under certain circumstances. The southerners stayed as humans and grew really bitter because they didn’t get to live quite so well.
To the modern day, the humans have captured the jinn, totems that the beast tribes worship. Once awakened, they are revealed to be the weapons with which the deciding war was fought. These jinn are supposed to be the key to uncovering Gaia, which is the ultimate weapon which will decide the new war, or similar.

Despite being screwball comedy, KO Beast‘s story is somewhat important. The characters are really fun and the cast is excellent. Bud speaks half in English, and his Grandpa is freakin’ Uncle Sam. Koyasu Takehito says that this was the role that made him stop being so much the “cool guy” and becoming more of a comical role player. You have KO Beast to thank/blame for Ilpalazzo and a long line of slightly gay bishounen.
The rest of the characters are also great, and Yuni’s mischievous streak caused much hilarity. Mekka isn’t one of the three musketeers (in fact, he seemed just thrown in), so it’s good that he becomes like a retainer for the pink haired trouble maker.

The OP is like some sort of great and terrible song. B•O•M•B•E•R Love is its name. The point when you realise how brilliant it is is at the point that Scanch sing “Koi no missile, 3-2-1-0“. The cheerful chorus “Hello, Rock ‘n’ Roll Bomber!”, accompanied by chibi and generally crazy animation, with a rough approximation of seventies British punk/rock vocals … it grabs you with its delicious anarchy.
Turns out that this isn’t the original OP, also available on the DVD, and it is more suited to KO Beast II, but it’s marvellous nonetheless.
The ED song is unbelievably also by Scanch. It’s very simple but incredibly melodious … a glorious angel’s dance upon the ears.

Negishi Hiroshi says that it came from the heady days when crews were trying to make the most of the OVA form. He was right. As everyone knows, the Golden Age of the OVA was a golden age indeed.

The DVD is generally great, there’s only one real problem: Mekka’s name is subtitled as “Tuttle”. While that does translate his name accurately into English (“Mekka” almost being “Kame” (turtle) backwards), it’s a name. And names always sound weird when they’re clearly being shouted but are subtitled as something differently.

The drama is somewhat dramatic, the comedy is particularly comedic, and it’s got great traditional OVA animation values. Go for KO Beast. It’s good and cheap. While it should be on two DVDs instead of three (representing both OVA series), there’s always a good special going down to nullify that problem.

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