Friday, August 31, 2012

Manga Review: Mixed Vegetables (volumes 1 and 2)

Due to an interesting sequence of events I actually got yet another library card this summer, this time for another town in my county which had some books mine didn't (and it seems like they can't simply ship books between the two systems, boo) and I was pleased to discover that they had an interesting and well-stocked manga section. So I grabbed what looked interesting (including one title that I can't remember sadly) and went to town on it.

Mixed Vegetables by Ayumi Komura

Summary: Hanayu has a problem, her family owns a bakery which she is expected to inherit but her real passion lies with making sushi, something that doesn't go well with sweets. So she hits upon a plan when she encounters her classmate Hayato, eventually become his wife so she'll now have the excuse that her husband is inheriting a sushi shop and they can't possibly do both at once. But it turns out that Hayato is interested in her for the exact same reason.....

The Good: I've seen some rather "mixed" (hey put down those pitchforks!) reviews of this series, some bad and some okay, and the series did turn out better than I expected. Hanayu has some spunk to her and a lot of drive, even if she's ultimately too fixated on just making sushi, and there was some amusing humor in there. It's not a ton but it is enough to keep someone entertained for an afternoon.

The Bad: So the plot point that Hayato also wants out of the family business was mentioned in all the advertising I've seen for the series over the years yet it takes a full manga volume to get to that reveal which honestly frustrated me a bit (partially because it was slow and then partially because it's then revealed that all of his act so far has been a lie and that means the series will be even longer since he then needs to be developed). Also, for a series that is so obvious a romance it certainly takes it's sweet time

The Art: The art here is very average looking shojo, which readers can probably tell from the cover where the characters look like they could be from any number of other series from over the years. It works but I don't remember very clearly any of the details from it (compare with House of Five Leaves which I read around the same time and remember fairly distinctly). I think the art sums up the series, it's not terrible, you won't feel worse off for having read it, but I can't recommend it knowing that there are better shojo series out there (one of which I will get to next week).

Doubt I'll be trying to find more volumes of this series in the future (the library did have more, I just already had so much manga that I decided to hold off checking out the entire series at once), next week's manga will be an interesting one to compare this to at least.

Monday, August 27, 2012

Anime Reviews: Guin Saga

The other anime I had a chance to get through this summer courtesy of the college library (unfortunately you can only check out two DVDs at a time and, since I'm not the only person in the household who likes movies, I was barely able to get through this, Paranoia Agent, and Veronica Mars before the summer was up) which was one I had been curious about since I say people talking about when it came out (fairly recently in 2009). It's high fantasy, based on a series of novels that seem to be fairly well regarded in Japan, has lots of world-building, that sounds like the series for me, right?

Guin Saga

Summary: In the middle of the night the country of Pharos is invaded by the army of the country of Mongaul* and the twins Rinda and Remus (the heir to the throne) barely manage to escape using an ancient device that seems to be one of the reasons for Mongaul's invasion. But the two do not end up where they mean to be and are ambushed again in a remote forest when they are saved by Guin, a strange man who remembers nothing of his past and has a leopard's head instead of his own. He agrees to help them escape and then regroup to take their country and they all become involved in the even wider politics of the world in the process.

The Good: I knew that this series had to cover multiple volumes in the series but I figured it was between 4 and six, which is standard for most light novel to anime adaptations. According to tvtropes this show crammed in 16 novels in 26 episodes which I'm rather impressed about, there must have been a ton of compression to make this work but the show didn't feel like it was cutting corners, rather that it was just quickly paced. I do have mixed feelings on the ending (on the one hand it was a logical place to end, on the other hand it had two rather large cliffhangers involving different characters) but they certainly couldn't have ended the show any earlier and I doubt they could have fit another few novels in. 

The Bad: One of the extra features in the second set (which I didn't see since it was on a separate DVD and I was running out of time) was an interview with the original author who mentioned that she had trouble writing female characters, something I had noticed but I would go so far as to say that she just doesn't seem to be a great character writer. This series should've had me completely hooked on it with it's big politics and setting yet I just didn't like any of the characters (except for Rinda but unfortunately as Remus began to "grow" as a character, read become an ass, her role diminished even further) and just couldn't care about any of them by the end. I will note that I have read some translations of light novels (official and by fans) and I've noticed that Japanese writing tends to make the characters more introspective, which doesn't carry over well to anime most of the time, so part of this problem might be from the adaptation but I feel like my complaint still stands. I'm completely baffled how a female writer doesn't know how to write female characters whatsoever; you write a character, give them a personality, flaws, desires, etc, and then consider what affect their culture will have on them because of their gender. She instead seems to wallow in the idea of "oh they're a woman so they're in love and it makes them indecisive so they'll never be the major mover and shaker of the story!" and even knowing this series started in 1979 it frustrated me.   

The Audio: I watched the Japanese audio since I had heard rumors at how bad the English dub got (no seriously, at one point they have a guy singing out loud his internal dilemma which makes no sense at all and the script-writers should have understood from the context) which is a bit of a shame since the Japanese dub is rather average. The opening and ending songs are rather nice however, the opening is an instrumental only piece and the ending is a nice ballad and the lyrics even make sense within the context of the story. Together with the background music they felt like a cohesive soundtrack which had several good pieces, including one which I believe was the main theme (based on how often it appeared in the show). 

The Visuals: While the visuals they weren't utterly spectacular as I would have hoped for a fantasy series (think your average, comes out and in a few years people don't remember it, fantasy film vs Lord of the Rings in terms of looks) but again it works. It's simple plain, the colors come off as too bright and flat in many instances, and even the multiple fight scenes didn't draw me in, even the most simple looking of shows should have a style or flair to them that the viewer remembers and that helps out the story in some way.

By the end I was simply slogging through the story (doesn't help that for some reason it was packaged six episodes to a disc which made it feel even longer) and I have no interest in seeing the show again, recommending it, and after finding out that the few novels that were published in the US don't cover even half of what the anime did I have no interest in reading those either. Next! 

*which, amusingly to me, is pretty much pronounced "Mongol", seemed fitting for an invader. 

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Movie Review: Tokyo Godfathers

I'd seen a good chunk of this movie before during a livestream but unfortunately due to technical difficulties I'd seen barely any of the beginning of it and wanted to properly sit down and watch it sometime. So, when the college library moved all their DVDs around (noooo, just when I had learned where everything was!) I checked out where they had put all the animation DVDs and this was one of the first things in there. I should mention this is the same place where I got Paranoia Agent, Millinium Actress and where the guy at the check out knew about The Dreaming Machine (I think that's it's title?) so clearly I'm not the only fan of Satoshi Kon who uses this library which does make me rather happy considering how few works he had.

Tokyo Godfathers

Summary: It's Christmas time but that doesn't mean much for the homeless Gin, Miyuki, and Hana (a bum, a high school runaway, and a transsexual respectively) who are just trying to stay warm and stay fed in a Tokyo winter. So it's to their, and the viewer's, great surprise when they come across an abandoned baby in the trash one day and set out to try and find who she really belongs to.

The Good: This is the least surreal of any of Kon's films I've seen so far, although considering it's premise and the old luck that follows the characters around for the whole movie it's not quite realistic fiction either (although it does come close). The movie does a fantastic job at fleshing out it's three leads and having a really fun plot in the process, even though it gets heavy and sad when it talks about legitimately sad issues (from what I've read elsewhere Japan really tries to cover up the fact that it has homeless people at all and the scene with the teenagers really happened around the time the movie was made). All in all this is my favorite of Satoshi Kon's works, unless Perfect Blue is even better once I get around to seeing it, and I think I could recommend this movie to someone who might be a casual anime fan or even someone who enjoys a Disney/Pixar film and is in the mood for something Christmas themed.

The Bad: I said the movie is almost realistic fiction but not quite, I'd advise having that mindset going in if you tend to be a stickler for realism since there are quite a few coincidences, call them miracles, throughout the movie that play with the realm of possibility. I had no problem with them, I found them amusing and the movie did hint at a reason for their occurrences, but I'm sure it would bother others so I thought it worth noting. That's pretty much it, the plot wouldn't progress the way it does (or at least at the speed it manages) without these miracles but that seems to be a staple of Christmas movies everywhere so I really can't hate it for that.

The Audio: I do wish they had included some subtitles during the Spanish speaking bits (I watched this movie with my mom who was able to translate a tiny bit of it which helped) and, while I understand why there weren't subtitles at that point I still would have liked them. I watched the Japanese dub of the movie (it appears that there is an English dub of the film but it was done by Animax Asia, ie I don't think there's an American/Canadian or even British dub of the movie) and it worked well. The characters sounded a bit less stereotypically anime than usual, which worked well since this didn't feel like an average anime movie, and I really liked how Miyuki sounded like a real, grumpy, teenaged girl with a lower voice than most female anime characters have

The Visuals: As I noted last week with Paranoia Agent, Kon's films all have a distinctive art style and I'm not talking about the surrealism, I mean that the characters all look like they were created by the same person (Miyuki for example looks a bit like a younger sister or cousins to Paprika from Paprika). Thankfully Kon can design more than six character types so this isn't a problem and I thought the art worked just well here. Due in part to it's movie budget the film looks good with plenty of detail and looks consistently good throughout the entire movie.

This was a very solid movie and I was happy at how much I ended up enjoying it, I hadn't expected to like it quite this much and I think I'll try to pick up a copy of it for myself sometime. It probably won't be immediately, since I have quite a bit of anime (gah, why does everything come out so close together) to buy at the moment but I'll keep an eye out to see if I can snatch it up during a sale somewhere sometime. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Book Review: The Replacement

This one came up on my radar a while back, I believe I saw an interview with the author over on The Enchanted Inkpot, but really it was the cover that caught my attention again when I came across it at the local library. So that was it, I found a book in the library and simply read it, so onto the review!

The Replacement by Brenna Yovanoff

It's certainly an eye-catching cover, it's practically everything you wouldn't put over a baby carriage in real life, but the scene is described and explained in the book so it makes sense as a cover (and if you know your folklore then the reason there are a bunch of metal objects, including a horseshoe, over a baby's bed should be abundantly clear from the first glance).

Summary: The town of Gentry is like many other small towns in some ways but very unlike them in others, a fact that non-human Mackie knows all too well. He's a replacement, a changeling left in the crib of a human child and raised by the child's family who are all too aware that he is not the baby they gave birth to and the world of iron and churches is slowly killing him. And so it's when he's becoming weaker and weaker that he learns of the underground world he came from and he becomes drawn in when he hears of another child taken and is determined to help save her. 

The Good: As I've said before, since America doesn't really have a mythology to call it's own (if you're not Native American anyway) so I'm always curious to see how authors try to create one, oftentimes drawing on fables and fairy tales from western Europe, and it worked very well here. I'm assuming it's set in the US, since Halloween is mentioned often and I'm told that outside the US no one celebrates Halloween, but it uses a bit of Irish myth and a lot of European fairy tale folklore to create a setting that works very well. But, even better than the setting in my opinion, is that none of the multiple side characters in a book is an idiot. They all have a pretty good idea what is going on before Machie confides in them  and it was those moments which really made the setting work, there are few things I find as infuriating than a setting which does not influence it's characters or characters who never once think about how strange the world around them is. 

The Bad: The story is a bit slow to get going and Mackie isn't the most adventurous protagonist I've seen in situations like this (it probably doesn't help that I read another book later that has a similar mix of mythologies but with an more interesting lead, it won't come up for a while but people should be able to figure it out when it does). It really is a strong story overall though, apart from a bit of complaining about how the pacing wasn't perfect, and there was a subplot with Mackie and music which I felt like was dropped partway though, I have nothing really worth writing about.

Again, not much to say to wrap up here. It was solid and good, even if it wasn't the most original story it did have some original twists to it which made it work. Think I saw another book by the same author a few days ago but I believe this book is a stand alone, I honestly can't think how a sequel would work since it all wrapped up so neatly in the end. 

Manga Review: House of Five Leaves (volume one)

Another series which I was introduced to when I saw it's animated version that aired during the noitaminA timeslot (and has also been picked up by NISA for Region 1 distribution) and it's also rather character driven. That last pat isn't so surprising though, typically shows that end up on noitaminA are more character driven than plot driven which is hardly a bad thing, although as this title shows off it's not to everyone's tastes.

House of Five Leaves by Natsume Ono 

Summary: Masanosuke is an unimposing ronin who, even though he's so meek he can barely hold down a job, still retains his pride and refuses to take day labor jobs even though he really needs the money. So when he's approached with the offer of being a bodyguard for a few days he readily accepts, only to find that the people he's helping are the kidnapping group "Five Leaves". Initially he rejects helping out the group even more but as time goes by and as he slowly gets to know the other members he discovers that they all have difference reasons for getting involved and Masa is drawn further and further in.

The Good: This is an entirely character driven show and has very solid, well-paced, character development and balances it's small cast well. It is going to have a very limited audience because of this, frankly I'm amazed that the anime clicked with me in the first place and even more so that Viz published the entire series here. But, if this series ends up being anything like the anime was, there will be huge payoffs for all the characters and already the story has begun to hint at what some of their deeper reasons for the kidnappings are. 

The Bad: I was surprised that none of the flashbacks I remembered from the anime were included in this first volume and I was a bit sad since those were a great way to add some more mystery to the show (so kudos to the director for thinking of rearranging the story in such a way). As I mentioned earlier, this story is only going to appeal to a certain niche of people and it has rather deliberate pacing, ie it's on the slow side so if someone who doesn't read more character-driven stories tries this one out I'm afraid they're gonna be turned off. 

The Art: Ono has refined her art style since Not Simple and now, rather than feeling like she's simply a beginning artist, the art has flair and is eye-catching in a rather odd way. Much like the plot I feel like the art style gives the series a limited audience, I can't think of any similar art styles to compare it to, but I'm really happy that Viz published the first few pictures in color (since she also has a rather distinctive coloring style it turns out) and that the volume is slightly larger than your average manga volume (both because it shows off the art better and also because I thought it fit into my hands a little nicer as well).

One of the downsides of non-plot-driven stories is that there's simply less to talk about (without getting into very detailed/spoiler territory that is) so there's not much for me to say here. I still recommend the series in any case and plan on buying the rest of the volumes since I believe all (or almost all) of them are out in the US now (and planning on picking up the anime as well when I get a chance, it's not selling as fast as Bunny Drop however so it's lower on my to-buy list). 

Monday, August 20, 2012

Anime Review: Paranoia Agent

Despite my love of strange shows I had never actually seen this one until this past summer (which did surprise some other anime fans who knew me when we saw a few episodes of it in my school's anime club), honestly it's just because the series is out of print in the US and I do try to keep my pirating down to as little as I can. But the college near me had the first three discs in their library, not a full set but close enough, so that gave me the incentive to go try the series out. After all, I had seen and liked PaprikaMillennium Actress, and what I had seen of both Tokyo Godfather and Paranoia Agent so this show was right up  my alley, right?

Paranoia Agent

Summary: Starting with an artist at a popular design company, Tokyo has been struck by a wave of strange crimes, all involving various people being injured by a boy on golden roller blades with a baseball bat (Shonen Bat in Japanese, Lil' Slugger in the English translation). There seems to be a tenuous connection between the crimes but soon the crimes grow and expand and the line between reality and fiction begins to blur.

The Good: Fans of Satoshi Kon's other works, especially I feel those who would list Paprika as their favorite of his works, should check this one out since this show has his stylistic fingerprints all over it. Nothing is as it first appears, or even as it later appears it turns out, and it is truly a show that can be defined by the word "mindf*ck". I can easily see why it appeals to so many fans out there, while there are many shows that could also be called mindf*cks this one is strange in a way that's different from most of them (it reminded me a lot of the little I've seen of Serial Experiments Lain, although that's not necessarily a good thing).

The Bad: By about half way through the show it was clear, I just really didn't like this series. I don't know what went wrong, in the first few episodes I was hooked and really liked how each story had a duality through it and thought that would be connected in the end. But by the time they caught (?) Shonen Bat I had just lost interest and slogged through hoping the show would recapture it and that simply didn't happen. By the end I still didn't have a clue what had really happened (my earlier theories involving people with dual sides having been shot down), many of the characters didn't seem important in the end, and my beset guess is that it had to do with some kind of mysticism/power of thought and I'm really picky about those themes in shows*. In the end this show was a complete bust for me, which might be a good thing since now I don't have the urge to track down the horribly overpriced, OOP DVDs. 

The Audio: Right, I know that the opening theme here is one that many anime fans just adore but I really don't like it. I'm not sure why but it just rubs me the wrong way and I fast-forwarded through it nearly every time. The ending theme did grow on me a bit 

The Visuals: One thing that amazes me is that Satoshi Kon's works not only has distinctive themes but also a distinctive art style to them. It's not an over the top style, if anything it leans slightly more realistic than un- but many of the characters have the same eye shape and facial structure across series. I thought the art was okay, at times it seemed a bit lower budget (which easily could've been my computer messing with me), however it worked well whenever the visuals became the most important part of a scene and I have no complaints here.

Perhaps I would have liked this show more if I had a chance to discuss it with people between episodes, instead of watching it in chunks over about a month, but as it stands I really didn't not like this movie. Thankfully the library had some other Satoshi Kon to balance this out later with.

*EDIT: Just checked tvtropes and it looks like I was on the right track actually, although there are still holes in that you could drive a truck through.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

TV Series Review: Veronica Mars (season one)

I had my way I would've started watching this show right after Life on Mars just for the fact that both shows have "Mars" in the title but sadly neither my school library nor Netflix streaming had the show available for me. But the college library near my home did so I spent all summer watching the show bit by bit (curse their two-dvds-at-a-time limit) and wow do I wish I had watched this show years ago.

Veronica Mars (season one)

Summary: In the town of Neptune there are only two kinds of people, the millionares and the people who work for them. Well, and Veronica Mars, daughter of the town's sheriff which gave her an in with the popular crowd, until her boyfriend dumped her, his sister/her best friend was murdered, and her dad was driven out of office by going after their father and he rallied the town against them. Now Veronica is stuck between those two worlds and instead of being on the pep squad she now assists her dad with his private detective business while she takes on cases of her own from classmates on the side. But recently some new things about her friend Lily's murder have come to light, among others things, and Veronica is finding out that her town has even more secrets that she would have bargained for.

The Good: This show does an amazing number of things right, from the balance of when Veronica is at school and when she's out (I've seen so many stories forget that high school students are, you know, in school for almost 40 hours a week), broke plenty of stereotypes and tropes all over the place and made the show feel a hell of a lot more realistic that way (from the cult one to the episode involving a substitute newspaper teacher). Veronica is an interesting, I'd even say  likable, character but it's very obvious that she's already broken by the time the series starts and that she's trying to figure out how to put herself back together, which I personally prefer to a story that spends more time breaking it's characters than putting them back together. The other reoccurring characters were surprisingly well fleshed out, there are adults who don't stay on the sidelines in order to let the younger characters tell a story, Lily's death has affected over half the cast (one or two of which might be even more broken than Veronica) and Lily herself ends up being very well fleshed out for being, well, dead before the story even began. The show also does a very good job at weaving in details about the overarching mystery in the smaller cases Veronica and her dad take on and it all ties itself together in the end very well.

The Bad: Since this caught me really off-guard I'll say it up front, the ending to this season is a bit abrupt in places and, according to wikipedia (I was convinced something was wrong with my disc so I had to look things up) the remaining threads will be wrapped up in the next season. So while everything comes together, what's revealed in the final episode isn't itself wrapped up (and for once I was mistaken about the episode count so the show was even able to catch me off guard with the ending). That's my only real complaint about the series, since Veronica will still be in high school in the next season there's more than a chance that various side characters will show up again and get more character development (I was confused why wikipedia listed Mac as a main character when she didn't have a lot of screen time compared to many other characters), overall the show made very good use of it's runtime when it came to developing characters. 

The Audio: The show's catchy opening theme is actually the shortened version of an already existing song "We Used to be Friends" by The Dandy Warhols which surprised me, the lyrics fit the show so well ("we used to be friends/a long time ago") that I had assumed it was created specifically for the opening. The rest of the music didn't stand out to be as much, although I did like the music used in the ending credits as well, but given how catchy this opening is I think I can be excused.

The Visuals: The actors do look a bit old to be highschool students but only people who are around high school students on a regular basis are going to notice that, I didn't until I saw someone who looked very similar to Lily Kane and realized that she was technically older than Lily is in the show yet looked much younger.

I could have written even more things about this show I loved (like how Veronica likes multiple guys and she's NOT portrayed as a whore, or the subplot involving her mom) but I didn't want to go on even longer, let it suffice to say that I fell hard for this show and I was wondering why I didn't try out this show earlier. A look at the show's air dates clears that one up, it would've started airing late middle school/early high school for me and even if I had seen the show then I don't think I would've connected with it as strongly. But in any case, this is a great, engaging, gripping, smart story that I really recommend to anyone who has any tolerance for realistic fiction/stories involving high school students. I should probably include a trigger warning for rape so just be careful if that applies to anyone (I'd be willing to post in the comments which episodes to look out for if anyone wanted me to).

Book Review: Spirit's Princess

 (Apologies that this is late, moving into a new apartment and all that whatnot) Another book I got from Random Buzzers, this time through a visiting author on their forums (I have no idea how this one works, do the authors choose who gets a book? The mods? Is it random? Based on the question asked? Doesn't really matter for me, I can always get the books later if I don't win one there, but I am curious) and I've been interested in this author's works for a while now (probably because one of her protagonists shares my name) and was happy to finally get a chance to read them. Like the other books she's written this one will be a duet and is based on a real, historical female figure from ancient times and I suppose I should just get to the review at this point.

Spirit's Princess by Esther Friesner

Summary: Himiko is the daughter of a chieftain in third century Japan and ever since her birth some people in her village have believe she was destined for greatness. She feels drawn towards the path of village shaman but encounters resistance from her father because of his own past experiences. Despite that however she's determined to learn even more and starts to realize that her destiny lies outside of her small village after all.  

The Good: It may be an odd detail to point out but I think this is the first time I've ever seen a polygamous relationship portrayed in a positive light in fiction and, considering the popular culture in the US generally makes it out as something terrible that will never work, I just liked how it was included and felt rather natural in the story. I also loved the setting, despite all the anime/manga I consume I rarely find anything that's set more than a few hundred years ago and certainly nothing almost 2000 years ago which made the setting here fascinating and it managed to feel real through it's details (and even some of the weirder ones, like creating sake through chewing rice, I've encountered elsewhere so I know that's a real detail). And it really was those details that let me enjoy the story, they helped the story stand out and they made the setting work (and I do consider the setting the most important part of the story for it's overarching effects on every character and their actions, which it did wonderfully here).  

The Bad: Himiko, despite all of her character development comes off as just a bit flat at times. Hopefully as she continues to grow in the next book she'll feel a bit more rounded (I think the problem is that most of her complaints are too reasonable or can be written off by the fact that she's rather young, she's almost too normal in a way) and she certainly wasn't a flat character, just not as rounded as she could've been. I do wish they had touched more on the spirit world in this volume, there were only a few scenes focusing on it which left a lot of things unanswered, but again I expect that to come up in the next book so I'm not overly worried about it.

A solid read but not one where I'm dieing to read the next book immediately (thank goodness since this was an ARC, the hardback is out by now but it's going to be a little while before the next volume is out), although it has reminded me that I need to go check all of my libraries again and see if they have any of Friesner's previous works in, they've certainly had enough years to do it!  

Friday, August 17, 2012

Manga Review: Bunny Drop volume 1

As a quick note, the anime version of Bunny Drop just got released here in the US and it sounds like it's been selling fantastically so far, although this might be a case where the limited edition runs out a bit quickly, sounds like they've already gone through the first printing, so if you want the set with the book better go get it soon (and leave a copy for me please?).

In any case, as I inidcated above there has been an anime adapation of the series (summer noitaminA 2011) which is how I know about it and I was always curious how it compared to the original manga. I know that the anime only covered the first half of the manga, which is all I'm interested in, and when I saw it listed in Barnes and Noble's big comic-con sale I decided to take a chance and blind buy it (although, does it count as a blind buy if I already know the story....)

Bunny Drop (Usagi Dropu) by Yumi Unita

Summary: Daikichi is a 30 year old bachelor who is taking time off of his incredibly busy job to come home for his grandfather's funeral and has quite a shock, his grandfather fathered a little girl so, even though she's 25 years younger than him, little Rin is technically his aunt. The family is ashamed by her and makes excuses, half legitimate and half clearly from their own selfishness, that they can't take her in and in frustration Daikichi says he'll take her and Rin agrees. And thus Daikichi begins the difficult path of parenthood and tries to find out more about Rin's past in the process. 

The Good: It's a rather sweet story about learning how to raise a kid and the effect it has on your own life, the story even made me remember a number of little details about my childhood that I had forgotten. The story hasn't had a chance to really dig into the characters yet but it still has fleshed out Daikichi's parents a bit and they seem much less heartless than their first appearance. And, even having said all of that, the story does start to flesh out nearly every character that has more than a few panels of page time, which is rather impressive, and already they character manage to not feel like stereotypes. So for people who enjoy slice of life which spends most of it's time focusing on it's characters and their development is what guides the story, this is definitely the series for you. 

The Bad: I feel like the anime evened out the pacing and actually, it's such a faithful adaptation that there's not much new here if, like me, you check out the manga to get more out of the story. That's not a bad thing on the story's part but while some manga just have more to them than their adaptations, the anime really captured this one well, but I'd probably recommend this manga more to people who are completely unfamiliar with the series than those who've already seen the anime. I feel like the manga hasn't quite hit it's stride yet which might put some people off but it's really not a bad little installment.   

The Art: The art style is fairly simple and seems even more so since it doesn't use much in the way of screentones or shading, at some points the characters look half-finished since they're simply black outlines around white space. The backgrounds are moderately detailed, enough so that I can't accurately call the art "simple" but it's certainly not complex, the coloring in the anime helped flesh it out a bit I think.

I do plan to get the manga through volume four (beyond that is the dreaded timeskip), it's just not going to be terribly high on my to-buy list since right now I have more things than I can juggle (plus, I haven't actually read the scanlations on this one so that makes it a bit lower, erm, I feel like the ones I've pirated are the ones I need to "pay back" and get first). And I do plan on getting that anime set as well, there's just the small matter of saving up for that nice, and expensive, NISA set.... 

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Anime Review: Cardcaptor Sakura (re-watch)

And this is the last week of double anime updates, just wanted to get these two Clamp series before school started (and, just to give you guys an idea of how delayed that Clamp School Detectives review was, since then the Year of Clamp stream has watched all of CCS, Angelic Layer, and X, they're starting Chobits this week, that's a lot of Clamp). This is my second time watching the series all the way through and the anime has a bit of a special place in my heart since the first time I watched it, I think the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I realized that without effort I had picked up some Japanese vocabulary and figured out that I was more of an audio learner than I thought (instead of all visual) and that's why I was having such a hard time learning Latin, no one spoke it! I've heard plenty of people say over the years that the best stories are the ones that teach you something about yourself, not sure if they meant the saying quite like that though. 

Cardcaptor Sakura 

Summary: One day 10 year old Sakura Kinomoto hears a strange noise coming from the basement of her house and, when she goes to investigate, tracks down the sound to one of her father's old books, opens it, and accidentally releases a deck of magical cards which had been sealed for decades. After that the guardian of the book, who had been sleeping on the job, bestows upon her the title of "cardcaptor" and tasks her with recapturing all of the cards while they cause mischief in her small town. It's a big job but she has friends, and rivals, who'll help out and all the while she also begins to learn about the history behind the cards and their creator and how that "accident" might not have been one after all. 

The Good: This is one of the lightest magical girl shows out there and I remember seeing some trailers for it on tv when I was around nine or ten and wanting to try out the show, it vanished right after I became aware of it, and I think I would have enjoyed it immensely at that age for the same reasons I do now. Sakura really grows as a character, from a likable, and understandable, bit of a scaredy-cat to a confident girl who can handle any problem she has to face and between the mixture of fun and fantasy I would have really enjoyed it. It certainly helps that Shaoran also grows a lot through the series (Tomoyo doesn't really but her own feelings and convictions are explained as the series goes along and shows that she really was mature from the outset), actually a lot of the side characters seem to either grow or are explained as the show goes on, and even with all the filler there never seems to be a dull moment. It's cute and even though it does have some darker moments they're age appropriate so I wouldn't worry showing a nine year old this show for them. 

The Bad: While I didn't mind it the first time I saw the show, the filler did begin to bother me a little bit towards the middle of the show (it is a twelve volume series stretched to 70 episodes after all). Once the show gets past it's first arc it gets better however, I thought that a lot of the later filler episodes were fairly adorable actually, but after seeing the show in it's entirety once I didn't feel the need to see all of those parts again. And, even though the show is a very faithful adaptation overall, they did cut out one subplot which leads to the most heartwarming moments of the manga which always leaves me rather sad*. Also, some of the relationships are definitely kind of iffy in this one, I'm looking at that Rika and Terada one the most (there are two other student-teacher relationships but both of those are a bit different and the manga gave me the impression that the age gap in the last one isn't quite what it seems). I have no idea how I would have viewed any of these relationships as a kid, well I probably would have started picking up on Tomoyo's crush but not fully realized it, but I think even all of that is far enough into the background that it shouldn't be a concern for showing to appropriately aged children.  

The Audio: The show has three lovely opening (although I'll admit I'm biased towards the third one because of the lyrics) and two endings, neither of which I liked as well as the openings, and all of them are quite catchy. The show also has a number of insert songs (which I believe were actually insert songs, songs sung by the voice actors as the characters) throughout which are also quite cute and the lyrics usually made sense as well. Since the English dub of the show is terrible I watched the Japanese version and by now it's gotten to be fun to spot some of the same voice actors in the various Clamp shows (Megumi Ogata has made a few, wildly different, appearances so far) and all of the various kid characters manage to sound young and not in a "this is an adult voice actress doing a cute voice" kind of way^.

The Visuals: This is another show which was made in the 90s and later got remastered and looks absolutely fantastic. The colors pop, the lines are crisp, from the comparison screenshots I saw it looks like a lot of small lines (which pop up when you view a video but weren't drawn onto the actual cell, anyone know the technical term for them?) are gone and I'm sure that if those Japanese BRs had English subtitles on them that a number of hardcore fans would have imported them. It's always fantastic to find that a show has actually aged well and makes me rather jealous that the US doesn't get all of these great looking remasters.

It's no secret that the anime has been out of print in the US for years but, what some people don't know yet, is that it recently got relicensed in Australia (to be released in two sets) and sometime down the road I'll be sure to pick up a copy of that. I have no idea if the DVDs will be made using the remastered material, I certainly hope so, but it doesn't really matter since I love this show so much that I'll certainly take advantage of acquiring it cheaply and legally (even if I have to import it from another hemisphere).

*for those who wish to know, spoilers for the end of both versions, the anime hints at it but the manga confirms that Clow Reed never died, in the manga he instead spilt himself in two with the intention of halving his burdening magical powers that way but failed. One half was Eriol, with all the magic and all the memories, and the other half was a young Fujitaka, Sakura's father (thus technically making her an even closer blood relative to Clow Reed, Kero even comments at one point, I think in the manga only, previous to this revelation that she and her brother have a much closer magical signature to Clow's than even Shaoran's which he thought was strange). So Clow's wish is actually for Sakura to also split his magic in two, which she is able to successfully do since she is now stronger than he was, and her father gets some magic and is able to see Nadeshiko floating around and has a very touching reunion with her, all of which was completely cut from the anime and makes me sad (and wordy apparently).
^Although the first time I realized that the major love triangle in the series, Sakura-Shaoran-Yuki involved three female actresses I did have a bit of a giggle fit.

Monday, August 13, 2012

Anime Review: Clamp School Detectives

I'm quite behind on getting this review up, I finished the series right before all the spring shows finished airing so it got pushed back quite a bit) but considering this is a more obscure work of Clamp's I don't think anyone minded too much. Actually, not only is the manga a more obscure work of theirs (although it was published by TokyoPop), it was only two or three volumes long yet this series is two cour, much longer and I'd say it has a lot of filler in it except, well, there aren't many episodes that wouldn't be called filler here. 

Clamp School Detectives

Summary: The Elementary School Student Council at the Clamp School wields an enormous amount of power, although generally it’s three members (the ultra rich Nokoru, ninja-like Suoh, and cheerful gentleman thief Akira) don’t let that go to their heads.

The Good: The show is at it’s best when it’s doing something silly and it knows it’s silly (such as the play episode) and, odd as it sounds, once the love interests for Suoh and Akira show up (Nagisa and Utako respectively) the show gets better and is at it’s most entertaining. The girls are interesting, and once you get over the age difference* they make pretty cute couples as well. For people who are already avid fans of CLAMP’s other work it’s fun to spot crossovers and references within the show (mostly from Miyuki-chan in Wonderland and Dukylon School Defenders, although the setting here would later cross over with X/1999) but they never become so important that it would distract a newcomer to the 'verse.

The Bad: This show has some incredibly uneven pacing, possibly as a result of the show being a 26 episode adaptation of a three volume manga (the crossovers from Dukylon and Man of Many Faces don't add that much material in). The first eight episodes are the weakest and the last arc isn’t much better; funny enough it’s when the girls appear that the series seems to pick up and when they have a smaller role in the last arc (really the only true arc of the series, there are one or two two-parters but nearly everything else is a stand-alone episode) that the show slows down again. It's odd considering they’re supporting characters at best, not show-driving characters, but I guess for a character driven show you really need all the characters you can get so that there are simply more to interact with each other.

The Audio: The show got a dub only a few years ago from a small studio called Costal Carolina (who hasn’t done much work over the years, I think this is their most recent work and it’s from 2008) and it’s surprisingly solid for a show that features three young boys as the main characters (not to dismiss US of the voice actors, but I very rarely find the “young boy voice” convincingly done in English). It’s certainly listenable and I liked it just a bit more than the Japanese, I saw about half the show in English and half in Japanese so for once I can make that comparison! Other than that, the opening theme rather infectious but the rest of the music didn’t leave a strong impression on me.  

The Visuals: Like many shows from the 90s, I wasn’t too crazy on the visuals when I first saw the show but once I saw the re-mastered version I was impressed (sadly I could only find a crappy, not-remastered image that worked for this review). The lines were crisp, there was no glow (before it was impossible to make out half of the opening because of the glow), and the colors were amazingly bright, I’m always amazed when I see just how bright the show actually was. So, once I saw the good version of the show, everything looked pretty nice from the backgrounds to the character designs (I’m more fond of Clamp’s uber-shojo style than their noodle-people style) and, while the character designs do date the show I don’t see that as problem when recommending it to people.

In the end, I think I would have liked this show much more if it had been 13 episodes long and simply cut out a lot of stuff. There's no real plot to the show, and when it gets the closest to that it drags and has a facepalm worthy resolution, so it wouldn't be hard to cut a lot of stuff and still leave the episodes where the characters get some development and the funniest episodes (like that play one) still in. And if you want to watch it yourself, it's not streaming legally anywhere online that I could find but the DVD collection is easily available online.   

*I just tried to pretend it wasn’t so big and, considering how mature Nagisa and Utako were that was easy to do, plus compared to Cardcaptor Sakura this is nothing....

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Movie Review: Eva 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance

Funny story here, when I moved home for the summer last year I noticed I had one more package on my bed than I could account for and the mysterious package was from Flower Mound Texas, or Funimation's headquarters. And in it was this blu-ray copy of Eva 2.22 and I still have no idea how I got it, I've assumed I won a contest somewhere and Funimation mailed it to me but I still don't know where that would've been. In any case, at this point I still hadn't seen the original NGE series, let alone 1.11, and didn't have a blu-ray player to play the movie on in the first place so it sat on my shelf for about a year. I finally got a chance to see 1.11 and had a BR player to watch this movie just a little while ago, although after seeing 1.11 I wasn't that keen on seeing how 2.22 fared.

Evangelion 2.22: You Can (Not) Advance

Summary: As the angels continue to invade Earth, Nerv gets a few reinforcements in the form of German Eva pilot Asuka and a former colleague of Misato whose position within the group seems unclear, Kaji. Asuka, like Rei and Shinji, has her own issues but slowly the three of them start to grow and develop, just in time for a truly catastrophic series of events that threaten to cripple Nerv for good. 

The Good: Oh wow, I actually liked this movie and thought it worked much better than 1.11. Assuming that people have seen 1.11 before hand (and really, it's a series, you watch a series in order) the world building is mostly out of the way which helps, the pacing felt a bit better, and the characters are starting to develop differently from the tv series and I really liked that. I wasn't sure how much of the film was original and how much of it was based on the tv series but I think that at least 50% of it was new material, I'm actually excited now to see if the third film has any stuff from the tv series. And that's the big thing, after the first film I probably wouldn't have tried the second if I didn't have it on hand already, but now I actually care about what the next two movies are going to do. 

The Bad: As a heads up, make sure to watch past the credits for the actual ending, otherwise the ending doesn't really work. And, similar to the previous review, this film in no way, shape, or form stands on it's own as a movie which I do consider a failing since movies are supposed to do that, even if they are in a series (if it was an OVA instead I would be a bit more lenient since those are a different case). And I am going to be that strict on it also because it's been at least two years since this movie came out in Japan and the third film still is not out yet, it's not even like Lord of the Rings where at least there was a new film each year and there's still two more films here. Quite honestly I'm not sure what could've been done to make these films more like movies but it still does bother me that they're being released so far apart yet you really need to see all the films for the story to work.  

The Audio: Something weird I did notice was that with the first film I didn't need to adjust the volume much at all during the movie but here I really had to turn it up at points (like for the first scene or two) and had to adjust it more later on. I have no idea if that's a problem inherent to the film or caused by something on my end but it did bug me some. Other than that, I continued to watch the English dub which continued to be fine (although for some reason I thought Mari sounded more "sterotypical anime girl"-ish than any of the other characters) and I still didn't notice the background music as much (well, except for the "inappropriately place on purpose" children's choir part).

The Visuals: While I didn't notice much of a difference between this film (on BR) and the previous one (on a DVD, although played through the same BR player) it still certainly looked stunning the entire way through, quite a difference from the original show which started running out of money by the end I've heard. There's not much new to say here, it's hardly like the art styles changed and like I said, the first film already looked really good, so hopefully it will suffice that I have no complaints in this department at all.

I have to admit I'm torn now, originally I thought this would be where my experiments with Eva would end but now I guess I'll see if Netflix gets 3.33 when it gets to the US (in a year and a half at the earliest is my best guess) or if it shows up in a theater near me and see where the story continues to go. 

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Book Review: Crucible of Gold

Continuing with the "Napoleon Wars with Dragons" series of books, I actually got to this one in the year it came out which I'm quite proud of, in case people haven't figured out by now I can be rather terrible at reading books soon after they come out. Although, given that it's going to be a least a year until the next book comes out it might've been a good idea to wait a little longer before reading and reduce the wait time....

Crucible of Gold by Naomi Novik

Am I the only one who is getting real Master and Commander vibes from this cover? I blame the ship in the foreground and while I am a bit sad to see the covers start to deviate from the pattern they originally established I must admit that this cover is probably a bit more eye-catching than the originals were. 

Summary: Laurence and Temeraire have been called back into service in the British Air Forces, rather reluctantly on their part, for a new mission that the British apparently cannot trust to any other group (which further serves to annoy them): to travel to the great Incan Empire of South America and to convince them to not ally themselves with Napoleon. But the journey is never easy for these two, nor does it seem to ever end, and once again they will need to use nearly every skill they have to survive and to smooth over the many political scuffles that come up along their way.  

The Good: The parts of the series where Laurence and Temeraire visit other countries is rapidly becoming my favorite part and I would love for the series to devote some time near the end to showing Temeraire reforming the way dragons are treated in England (actually, I'm even more interested by that idea than the war at this point). The Incan Empire was an interesting setting, especially seeing how it differed from real world history, and I wish more of the book had been spent there instead of with the characters constantly traveling around. And the story reintroduces some characters that haven't been seen in two or so books which was rather nice (I'm all for expanding the cast but, as I've mentioned in other reviews, I am bothered when each book in a series receives an entirely new cast, it simply feels like a waste and I'm glad that's not the case here).  

The Bad: I am of the firm belief that Napoleon will be defeated by the end of the series, there's simply been too much build-up for that not to be the outcome, yet he gets stronger and stronger with each book which means that the ending will have to be more and more spectacular to pull that off. True there are at least two more books to go, and the ending to this one heavily hinted that the British will gain a new ally in the next book, but I'm now starting to lower my expectations of how the story will end since it has set up a problem almost too complex to be resolved. Also, even though these books are crammed full of plot and not much time is wasted, there is still just a lot going on in this book and I almost wish it was trimmed down (and to it's credit all the various subplots are addressed or resolved as they come up, it's still just a lot of stuff to take in).

The story certainly feels like it's beginning to enter the end game by now and I am happy to see it progressing along, even if I am getting worried if Novik can actually pull off an ending that will be worth an eight book wait. Guess there's nothing to do but to hope for the best! 

Friday, August 10, 2012

Manga Review: Gate 7 (volume 2)

Well, I'm still not convinced that Clamp is 100% sure where they're going with this story (partially because in some of the more recent chapters of Gate 7 and Drug and Drop Clamp has started to crossover even more stories and have screwed up their own timeline so much it is impossible to construct one, believe me the fans on tumblr have TRIED) it's still a pretty looking story and Barnes and Noble was having a big "buy two manga from this list and get a third from said list free" so technically this volume didn't cost me anything. So, is this story starting to get more interesting as it gets off the ground or is it still on the dull, and confusing, side?

Gate 7 (volume 2) by CLAMP

Summary: Chikahito is starting to get used to the strange new world he's found himself in, a Kyoto with mysteries and magic hiding seemingly behind every temple, and his knowledge of Japanese history is finally coming in handy, but even he can guess by the way his companions are acting that things are beginning to change. The hunt for the strongest oni begins in earnest and he's gonna meet even more people all the while trying to figure out where he fits into all of this.

The Good: Once again, thank any and all creators of the world for the translation notes in the back, without them I would be forced to read this book with wikipedia nearby in order to figure out whose who and who their allies were in real life. As it stands I might still end up making my own chart to keep things straight but these notes go a long way towards helping explain what's going on. There is more stuff going on here than there was in the first volume as the story begins to pick up and the story seems to be hinting at what Chikahito's role in all of this is (or at the least the characters are suspicious that everything starts changing once he arrives which is a good thing). 

The Bad: Even for Clamp this isn't new territory, there's nothing about this work so far that I haven't seen before (well, except for the combination of Japanese generals with the  demons but that's just a detail at this point) and between that and the confusion I'm having a bit of a hard time staying interested. In a way this series represents what I consider some of the worst of Clamp's traits, characters being overly vague (and not that fleshed out at this point), a plot we've seen before, and sadly not a lot of potential. At this point there aren't many people I would recommend this series to and it really makes me wonder just how well the series is doing sales wise. 

The Art: It's interesting to compare this work to Clamp's other ongoing work, Drug and Drop, since originally I loved Clamp's more detailed and intricate works but now I prefer their stories which use simpler designs, especially since I sometimes have trouble following the flow of panels in this story. There are a lot of complicated things in this story and the art is probably the least complicated of them but occasionally it feels like too much, especially when I noticed that quite a few of their backgrounds of Kyoto are merely photographs with a filter placed over them, something I don't think they've done in any other work.

As I was writing I was thinking about just how many hurdles this series has to jump to capture a non-Japanese fan (or non-Japanese-history-buff)'s interest and I find that fascinating since Gate 7 was originally going to be part of a new project which would be released simultaneously around the world and (logically) was probably planned with a broader interest in mind (and the original pitch was quite different in fact, it's like they kept parts of it for this and other parts got hijacked by Blood-C and the rest wandered into xxxHolic somehow). At the pace this series is coming out I can afford to keep up with it but again, I still don't know how long I'll continue to do so.  

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Anime Review: Towanoquon

I was fairly curious about this project, like Break Blade it was going to be a set of six, hour long OVAs instead of a regular tv series, and saw the first two episodes via fansubs. Then Sentai picked up the series (and Break Blade now that I think about it) and I decided to do the right thing and see if I got a chance to view it legally. And then over Memorial Day weekend The Anime Network was streaming the whole show for three or four days and I rushed to finish it (normally this wouldn't have been a problem but I had a graduation and a con to go to, both of which take a lot of time). Did have a few technical hiccups but they had a very responsive tech team (that and complaining on twitter seems to work well for these cases) and by the end everything was working well. Well, the stream was, how well did the show itself do?


Summary: In another version of Japan there are a group of people called "Attractors" who have strange powers, like the ability to teleport or talk to animals. Mainly they wish to lead normal, peaceful lives, but a secret branch of the government is dedicated to wiping them out, especially ones who are just beginning to manifest their powers and are the easiest to find and kill. But those who survive are saved by those who live in Fantasium Gardens are a lead by young looking, although clearly older than he looks, Attractor named  Quon. It's becoming harder and harder to find though as the government draws ever closer to their hideout, will they survive or will they all be killed in the end?

The Good: I only saw the first two episodes via fansubs and was a bit bored by them, turns out the show picks up in the third episode and, while it's not a good thing that it takes a third of it's short runtime to pick up, it is good in that it turned out to be a well-done story. It's nothing new, I've seen a number of other people, who are much better versed in American comic books than I am, compare it to the X-Men and most of the tropes used are ones I've seen a lot before as well. But, once it got over that hump, it was interesting, paced well, Quon's personality and behavior were well explained and Epsilon was much better fleshed out than I expected (since I figured out what the writers were going to do with him when I saw the first clips from the series). The series also ended very well with only a single loose thread hanging (or, depending on your perspective, none at all) and was one of the neatest endings I've seen in a long time and it worked rather without feeling like a cop-out of any kind. 

The Bad: One thing that I think wouldn't have been a problem if this show had been a tv series (and therefore a bit longer) would be that the side characters would have been much better fleshed out. Their characterization is spotty overall, some characters got a lot of time to grow up and change and others never deviated from the, a bit bland, personalities they started out with. That's basically my biggest problem with the show, it also can't decide if it wants to be a "monster of the episode" or a central plot kind of episode (it's too short to pull of both sadly) and like I said earlier, the first part of the series is a bit rocky. 

The Audio: Each episode ends with a kind of cheesy rock song which I'll admit really grew on me as the series went by (I've seen a lot of people point out how the art was a bit of an homage to 80s shows and I'd argue that this song and the plot to an extent were homages as well). And after two months that's the most I remember about how the show sounded; there was no opening theme and the voice acting seemed competent. The show was only streaming in Japanese so I don't know how the dub sounds but there is one and I'm sure that someone has reviewed it. 

The Visuals: The show was produced by Studio Bones and, as usual, they make the series look really good. There's at least one fantastic looking fight in each episode (I'm always impressed when a studio manages to animate a fight where not only are the characters moving around at lightening speeds but, if you pause, almost every single shot looks on model or if it's distorted it's clearly for effect, not a time-saving measure). The show's designs, from the characters to the settings, had a clean and not overly-detailed look that was quite eye-pleasing and remained distinctive even if it was a bit on the simple side.

This show ended up being much better than I had expected, from having seen the first two episodes, but it's still not good enough that I plan on buying a copy for myself/re-watching it. I'd certainly recommend it to friends and such but it just wasn't the story where I think I'll get anything out of re-watching it. 

Monday, August 6, 2012

Anime Review: Bodacious Space Pirates

It figures that the one show I was following that started in the winter was the last one to finish airing in the spring, but with this I am now DONE with all the spring shows and I think I got these all out no more than a month after they finished airing which might be a first. But in any case, the background behind this show was a bit interesting, apparently the show was set to air last summer, was held up because of the 2011 earthquake (not entirely sure how since the show was partially done in France, I believe production company Satelight is actually partially based in France) which meant the show was completely animated before it started airing.  This did also mean however the the show went for an anime original ending, when the very initial production on the show started (I believe in 2008) there were only two or three books in the original light novel series published so from episode 20 onwards everything is brand new. So how did the show hold up, both the adaptation parts and the brand new material?

Bodacious Space Pirates (Moretsu Pirates)

Summary: Marika Kato has lived a fairly normal life up until high school when her father that she's never met dies and she discovers that not only was he a pirate but, according to the Letter of Marque he owned, she's the only one who can legally inherit his ship and continue with the family business. She's hesitant about the idea at first but as time goes by it grows on her and she turns out to have a good mind for strategy and finds the jobs fun.

The Good: Let me make one thing clear up front, this is not an all-action all the time series. It certainly has it's action packed moments but spent as much time showing the characters discussing strategy or showing Marika just talking and being a normal girl with her friends. The show passes the Bechdel Test in nearly, if not, every episode and the girls all feel realistic, especially compared to many teenaged girls in anime. So if you go into the series knowing it's not going to be all pirates all the time and that it's a bit slow paced it's much more enjoyable (especially since all this allowed for Marika to really grow throughout the series which was nice). I was also pleasantly surprised that there was no romantic subplot surrounding her (although two of the other girls did turn out to be a couple which was also a nice surprise, especially since they were actual, fleshed out characters as well). All in all the show was more of a change of pace than I expected and I liked it for that.   

The Bad: The last arc seemed to be hit or miss, most people loved it but I really didn't like it since it suddenly introduced a lot of world building that wasn't hinted at earlier on (understandable because it was anime-original, which also made me worried that it might contradict the canon and that would mean there wouldn't be room for a sequel later on) and the mood just felt a little different from the rest of the series. The pace does lag at times, especially between arcs, and sometimes the plans Marika comes up with are a little weird (climax of the third arc I'm looking at you) although nothing compares to some of the random twists they pulled in that last arc. Again, some people liked that arc more since it was more action packed than the other arcs and, conversely, if you are looking for a show that's mostly action this is the wrong sci-fi series to be watching. 

The Audio: The opening theme for this series is ridiculously catchy (even if the live action music video for it is strange, cheesy isn't a strong enough word for it) and the show switched back and forth between two ending songs. I preferred the first one used which was also rather upbeat and catchy, they were good, action-y songs that matched this action-y series rather well. The show also made some subtle changes to the animation accompanying both songs over time (mostly adding in characters at the start of a new arc) which I thought was a clever touch and I really appreciated the extra effort there.

The Visuals: The anime character designs were changed, rather dramatically for some of the characters (like Princess Serenity, a redhead with a ponytail in the book, and Chiaki who had very different bangs, glasses, and school uniform) and I do prefer the novel's design for some of the character like Marika. Funny enough I do like the design changes made to some of the spaceships (especially the Odette II's design, the novel version just looked a bit silly) and by and large all the designs are interesting and fit in well with everything else in the series. There are some times, especially as the series progresses on, where if you stop at the wrong point the characters look a bit off which normally I'd hope that a show would fix for it's DVD/BR release but, given that the show was finished before it even aired, I don't think that'll be the case.

So, since the show has been licensed by Sentai (and it can be viewed either on their website or on Crunchyroll), do I plan on eventually buying this show? I suppose yes, that last arc really did make me not enjoy the series as much and made me less keen to buy it. But I did enjoy the rest of the show, and I can easily just not watch the last few episodes, so someday I shall try to grab it on sale. Not sure if I'll see the movie that is coming out though, I've seen most fans speculating that it'll be connected to that last arc, but I hope it does well for the series regardless.