Thursday, April 15, 2010

First Impressions: Spring 2010 Anime Season

Man, this season actually packed with things that I can stand watching. Amazing. That said, I actually wanted to wait at least until the third week of the Spring 2010 season before previewing them, but since I'm bound for Taiwan in a couple days I don't have much choice. So all of my impressions are based on the first two episodes of each series. Not the most accurate impressions, but work with me here.

Angel Beats

The opening moments of this show pretty much sum up everything you want to know.

Aside from K-ON!!, it's probably the most hyped series of this season. From the amount of gracious fanservice (guns, explosions, a random j-pop concert, and more guns) in the first episode alone, it's certainly trying to live up to it. The plot, which revolves around Otonashi and Yuri and their attempts to rebel against 'God'  in the afterlife, is surprisingly comprehensible. However the characters definitely aren't memorable or unique, all being familiar stereotypes that we've seen before, especially Yuri.

Another problem is that Angel Beats is somewhat inconsistent. Compared to the first episode, the second episode seems rather half-baked. Everything still looks good, but it's easy to tell that they just couldn't maintain the intensity from the first episode. That said, the unique plot and stellar production values are keeping me intrigued, and I'm looking forward to seeing more action later on. Overall, Angel Beats is show that's worth checking out.

Arakawa Under the Bridge

Yea. Don't ask me.

Otherwise known in English as "What The Hell Am I Watching." Be warned though, my Japanese-to-English translations tend to be tinged slightly with sarcasm.

On a recommendation from a friend, I'm checking out Arakawa Under the Bridge. It's a Japanese gag anime, which means there's tons of Japanese puns, cultural references, and a tendency to be totally impenetrable to those who aren't Japan-o-philes. The story is about a straight-laced student who meets a beautiful girl living under a bridge, but I would be lying if I said this summary actually conveyed what the anime was about. It's akin to Gintama, if the writers of Gintama were hopped up on a few illicit drugs.

I'm sure there's a ton of stuff in Arakawa Under the Bridge that will please both anime nerds and literature majors, but I'm enjoying it because of the very charming and unique characters. Even though it's been nothing but visual gags and puns so far, I'm hoping that they actually might develop an actual plot between the two main characters later on.

Giant Killing

 Goal? GOAL!

Hell yea, you are the best anime of Spring 2010.

I'm not lying. I don't like soccer, I don't normally watch sports shonen, but Giant Killing has caught my attention like no other anime this season so far. I decided to give it a try just to break my usual habits, and I have not regretted doing so since. Underdog sports team in the ruts? Check. Cocky youngster who thinks he can change things? Check. Checkered histories and longstanding rivalries? Check. Awesomeness? Check. Giant Killing has everything it needs to be the perfect sports shonen, and then some.

Since I'm not a regular of the genre, I'm hard pressed to describe what's unique about Giant Killing. But I can say that so far pacing of the plot and action has been stellar in building up drama, even if it is moving at a somewhat slower pace than the other animes this season. Even though it doesn't have the art and animation budgets of blockbuster animes like Angel Beats and K-ON!!, it's gathered attention because it's setting up what could be a damn good story. Really, the title says it all.

Kaichou wa Maid-sama

 Sorry pretty boy. Your act ain't working here.

...and we go from Giant Killing to this. Anime has long been defined by the balancing act between fetishism and commentary, and Kaichou wa Maid-sama unfortunately falls heavily in the former category. Now that wouldn't too much of an issue, except the writing is terrible. Two episodes in and all the audience knows about the male lead is that all the girls and guys swoon in his presence because...he's pretty. That's all.

Hell, he barely even talks too, which is another problem.

So how do you prop up the creepiest, most poorly-written male romantic lead? Have the overbearing female lead have an almost unexplainable love for being a maid. No, don't mind the fact that she's the strong-willed student council president, let's make her attractive by letting her cosplay at work as a submissive maid, and let's make that the central conceit for the show.

Ugh. Next.

K-ON!! (Season 2)

How I wish this happened more often.

I hope you liked the first season of K-ON!, because it's more of the same. The only thing that's changed so far has been the ridiculous amount of money and attention they've pumped into the second season, and as a result K-ON!! is definitely the best looking show of the season. The opening sequence of cuts and shots in the first minute of the first episode actually shows some cinematic effort, and once again makes me wish that this series was about making music instead of eating sweets and being cute.

Goddamn it Japan. Make a worthy spiritual successor to Beck already. As a slice-of-life show, K-ON!! looks like it will entertain, as long as you don't mind the lack of music.


Oh god. She's so cute.

There really needs to be less exclamation marks in anime titles this season. Besides sharing a similar obsession with punctuation in the titles with K-ON!!, Working!! is also a slice-of-life series. Unlike its more popular musical compatriot though, it focuses more on slapstick humor and personality-driven gags, which is somewhat hit and miss.

My main issue with Working!! is that it's just a series of animated shorts, like Arakawa Under the Bridge. However, whereas Arakawa Under the Bridge has some pretty solid writing to back it up, Working!! is nowhere as witty or as well written. Apart from some half-hearted efforts to flesh out its characters, so far most of the cast come across as one-trick ponies. In particular, the introduction of the man-fearing Inami definitely hasn't impressed me. Really? You're a waitress in a restaurant, and you have to punch every guy you meet because of fear?

Yea. Some gags get old fast.

At the very least, the setting and mood is charming, and Poplar (in screenshot above) does make up somewhat for the annoying parts of the show. I hope the series gets better, as there's promise.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Review: Pokemon Soul Silver uses Nostalgia Attack!

It's Super Effective! 

Oh god. The nostalgia that this game brings back from my childhood memories is amazing. What got me into gaming and anime was none other than the original Pokemon Silver 10 years ago. I was so overcome with nostalgia that I went out and bought a new DS specifically so I could relive those memories with the new Pokemon Soul Silver. Yea. A totally unbiased review coming up.

 Click to see the difference 10 years looks like.

The good? It's the Pokemon game you loved as a kid. The bad? It's still essentially the same Pokemon game that you played as a kid.

Nostalgia aside, it's actually kind of infuriating that most of the general game concepts have remained mostly unchanged for over a decade. So if you're not entranced by the nostalgia or the remade world, Soul Silver won't really have any staying power. Plus this remake hasn't fixed some things about the original, like the utter dearth of different pokemon in the first quarter of the game.

In fact, you can't even some of the newly added Pokemon until really late in the game, which makes me wonder why they added them in the first place.

All that said, it's hard not to be impressed with Soul Silver. Pokemon games have always been about the large immersive worlds with large numbers of interesting creatures, and Soul Silver doesn't disappoint. Not only are there several new areas, but also new additional gameplay aspects like the Pokeathalon mini-game events, so even old veterans of the original Pokemon Silver have something new to see. Add all of the above with a much improved art style, and you got yourself a great looking game.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Soul Silver has been the Pokewalker. Essentially a tamagotchi (remember those?) for Pokemon, it's unique since it operates off a pedometer. However, it doesn't offer anything revolutionary, other than making Pokemanics easier to spot. Luckily, you don't need to use it. The Pokewalker has its uses, but it feels really tacked on.

Honestly, if you want your kids to exercise, find another excuse.

Despite being a remake, there's enough new elements to make Soul Silver worth the money. Once you add in the sheer nostalgia that it brings, it's almost priceless. Plus it doesn't hurt that it's a remake of a very solid game. Of course, if you've never liked the Pokemon games, then Soul Silver won't change your mind.

But if you've hated Pokemon games since you were a kid, you probably hate cute animals and pretty things anyways. Just saying.

Friday, April 9, 2010

2010, Year of the Touchscreen Tablet PCs

Nuh-uh. Not the iPad. This is the HP Slate. 
The iPad might not be worth all the hype, but it sure as hell has kicked off a craze for touchscreen tablet PCs, and they all the new touchscreen tablet PCs happen to look disturbingly similar to the iPad. As much as I docked points for the iPad's lack of certain features earlier, there's no denying it's appeal to the casual user. You don't need amazing computer knowledge to operate one, and chances are most people will overlook the iPad's weaknesses thanks to how intuitive the touchscreen interface is. Touchscreen tablets have great potential to expand the market for portable computers, and this is why everybody's banking on tablet PCs this year thanks to the hype that the iPad has created.

Nope. It's the Fusion Garage JooJoo.

Besides the iPad, the other tablet PCs that I can name off the top of my head are the HP Slate, Archos 7 Home Tablet, and the Fusion Garage JooJoo. Hell, even Dell is rumored to be making one. Quite a lot of tablet PCs, considering touchscreen tablet PCs didn't really fly off shelves before the iPad was launched.

With numerous alternatives to choose from, the future computing is slowly being set into place. It doesn't matter if these tablet PCs lack the processing power and other functionalities of traditional computers, since there touchscreen tablet PCs are promoting the future of multiple-computer household. No matter how much techies and purists like me rail against how trends like these promote aestheticism over functionality, it's undeniably where the consumer culture is currently taking us.

Of course, it's not set in stone that tablet PCs will really take off, as it depends on how Apple and other companies build services around the hardware. But in one day, 300,000 of you seemed determined to make 2010 the Year of the Touchscreen Tablet PCs, so I expect tablet PCs to be here for good.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Review: Kimi ni Todoke, a.k.a. Kiss Your Masculinty Goodbye

START OF REVIEW: It's a decent shoujo romance. END OF REVIEW.

Of course, your questions aren't "Is the narrative flow interrupted when the exposition changes its focus?" or "Hey, just how good is Kimi ni Todoke Justin?". No, I believe your questions are something along the lines of; "So Justin, why were you watching a shoujo?", or "Do you secretly love these sappy romances targeted to teenage Japanese girls?", and "Hey, when are you going to watch an anime that isn't romance?"

In my defense, there was nothing decent to watch from the cavalcade of trash that defined the Winter '09 season (shhh don't mention Bakemonogatari, haven't finished it yet shhh), and I was curious to see why so many dudes liked this show after seeing all the hubub over it. To answer the second question, I hope I don't secretly like shoujos. And the answer the third question, I'll hopefully be talking about a non-romance soon since the upcoming Spring '10 anime season shows some promise.

Boring answers, I know.

Oh, you want to know more about Kimi ni Todoke? Well, if you haven't been able decipher my sarcasm, I don't blame you. As I've said before, it has its moments when the beautiful artwork in the scenery come into play, but those moments are depressingly brief and few. For the most part you'll be treated to a glacially s-l-o-o-o-w romantic developments to the point where you realize that nothing happens in some episodes. All the characters are so innocent and pure-minded that it's actually impossible for anything dramatic to happen. Well, almost all the characters are pure, barring the extremely obvious antagonist.

Heck, they're so pure that they make freshly fallen snow look dirty.

So there's the charm in Kimi ni Todoke. It's so innocent and heartwarming that it'll send you to the dentist with a cavity from it's sweetness. Those wanting some romances with exciting romantic development, I advise watching (or re-watching) Nodame Cantabile, Toradora!, or True Tears. But if you don't mind something slow to take your mind off of life's dramas, Kimi ni Todoke is a solid choice.