It's a duck pond.
Why aren't there any ducks?
I don't know. There's never any ducks.
Then how do you know it's a duck pond?
Friday, July 18
It's 6:51 AM, and I'm awake. That never happens. The alarm goes off at 8, and I have developed a snooze-button reflex that can keep me happily at Sleepy Bobo's until 9. Fortunately I work from home much of the time, so if I get out of bed at 9:00 I'm at work by 9:05.
Today I'm awake at an hour of the day that has no right to exist. So naturally I'm grouchy, and I'm going to take it out on some anime that not only doesn't make my top 25, it doesn't take my top N, for any non-transfinite N. Let's go:
1. Reign (a.k.a. Alexander)
There was no question as to what show would take the honours here. I saw Reign at the Sydney Anime Film Festival last year, and oh, I wish I hadn't. I was stuck in the theatre waiting for the following screening - I no longer remember what that was - and so I sat through an eternity of Reign, an anime migraine that wouldn't go away. They screened two whole epsiodes at us, the bastards.
Reign is the story of Alexander, you know, the Great, only mangled beyond stupidity into some bizarre dream. I don't know, maybe the director had typhoid and was delirious throughout production. The artwork is astoundingly ugly; if you hate the look of Aeon Flux, you'll hate this even more.
If only that hell-horse had bitten off Alexander's head...
Recommended: You're not paying attention, are you?
Available: Who cares? Hopefully not.
2. Advancer Tina
Produced for no good reason and at minimal expense, Advancer Tina is the worst anime I have ever paid money for. I don't know what I was thinking at the time. I no longer care. If I can help just one other soul avoid this appalling waste of paint, I'll be satisfied.
To keep it short, Advancer Tina is unmitigatedly awful. There's nothing nice to say for it. It's not "so bad it's good"; it passes right through that and back to bad again. The only fun to be had is watching to see them re-use animation sequences. Yes, there's Tina, running down the same corridor, being chased by the same tentacles.
Recommended: For those interested in working in anime, this makes a great counter-example. Don't do this, and you'll be fine.
Fanservice: No, not even that going for it.
3. Neon Genesis Evangelion
I can hear the flamethrowers starting up already. Well, I don't care.
The first time I watched this, I made it through four episodes before losing any semblance of interest. Whine. Whine whine. Whine whine CLICK. I came back again - everyone says it's wonderful, perhaps, for once, I'm wrong - and got as far as episode two before my brain cried for mercy.
Please, someone put that wretch Shinji out of his misery. And his psychotic father, while you're at it.
Recommended: Beer can. Tooth picks. Ha. Ha. I give up.
Fanservice: Yeah, probably. If you're desperate enough, you can find boobies in the most unlikely places.
Available: Make it go away!
4. Now and Then, Here and There
I expect cries of anguish at this pick.
All I have to say is that unless you're a manic-depressive on the upswing, and need to come down in a hurry, avoid this one. Bleak hardly begins to describe it. There may be a good story there, but I'll never know.
Note: If taken accidentally, administer Catgirl Nuku Nuku immediately.
Recommended: If you need a hole in your head and can't afford it, this makes a good substitute.
Fanservice: Only if you're really weird.
Available: Yes. Why, I don't know
5. Clamp School Detectives
30 minutes have passed. Nothing's happened. Are you sure this tape isn't blank?
Recommended: Lively fare for zombies.
Fanservice: In a word, no.
Available: Was. May still be.
6. His and Her Circumstances
Uh-oh. Now I'm in trouble.
Look, I watched the first few episodes. Her, I quite like. Him, I'd quite like to see buried face down in the mud. So if you've seen the whole thing, and it turns out that he dies horribly early in the series, let me know and I'll give this one another try.
Recommended: If you want to form a we-hate-what-his-face club, go for it.
Fanservice: Not so's you'd notice.
I'm sure I've seen worse, particularly worse than Now and Then, Here and There, or His and Her Circumstances - which aren't necessarily bad as such, I just hate them. But right now my brain refuses to dredge up any such memories.
Good brain, have a cookie!
If you're wondering what I'm up to, I've filled in the details for entries 16 to 20 of my Anime Top 25. The remainder will come later today.
Then I'll start in on movies - which I've excluded from this list, except where they are connected to a TV or OVA series - and some of my favourite minor works, including Iria, Ruin Explorers, and Luna Varga.
Update: Nuku Nuku! Elf Princess Raine! Dragon Half! Ok, this may run for a while...
Thursday, July 17
It was going to be a top twenty, but it's too hard deciding which ones to exclude. All of these are well worth your time.
Note: OVA stands for Original Video Animation, in other words a made-for-video release as opposed to a TV series or a film. These are very common and there is no stigma attached to them; rather the reverse, since the production values tend to be higher than for a TV show.
Also, with the exception of Slayers, which is firmly established in first place, the rankings are somewhat arbitrary. Ask me on two different days whether I prefer Fushigi Yuugi to Captain Tylor, and you're likely to get three different answers.
(This draft post will be updated in the next day or so. Yes, I know a few things are missing, thanks.)
1. Slayers (3 TV series of 26 episodes each, 2 OVA series of 3 episodes, 6 movies) (Originally a series of novels in Japanese, which as far as I know have never been released in English.)
Slayers is the story of Lina Inverse, teenage sorcery genius. It's set in a more-or-less standard fantasy world (with a slightly higher than average fishman quotient), with a more-or-less standard save-the-world plot. And it's my favourite anime series of all time. Why's that?
First up, there's Megumi Hayashibara. She's my all-time favourite voice actress, and she's absolutely perfect for the role of Lina. Do not, whatever you do, do not watch the dubbed version of Slayers. It's not that it's bad, it's that you'll miss out on Megu-chan's brilliant over-the-top performance. (She also sings most of the opening and closing theme songs.)
Then there's the character of Lina Inverse: A greedy, short-tempered, red-headed sixteen-year-old girl, who genuinely is a genius at magic. She's also brave, cheerful, resourceful, and unflinchingly loyal to her friends.
Then there's the friends: Gourry, the idiot swordsman (but he's a very, very good swordsman); Amelia, the princess with a heart of gold who wants to be a fighter for justice like Lina (Amelia has some funny ideas, but she sorts things out over the course of the series); Zelgadis, the golem searching for a way to turn himself back into a man; Sylphiel, the drippy priestess with a few surprises up her sleeve...
That's in the TV series. In the OVAs, and all the films but the last, there's Naga instead. Naga is a six-foot raven-haired top-heavy lunatic sorceress who sees Lina as both her chief rival and best friend, though Lina sees her mostly as a pain in the butt. Naga also has a laugh that can strip paint.
And then there's the humour. Slayers is laced with humour, in the interplay between the characters, and in the subplots in the individual episodes. This works very well, even though the show as a whole is very serious indeed.
The characters are generally well-drawn; the heroes are not all pure white, nor are the villains pure black. Lina is a pragmatist and will work with whatever is at hand to fight her enemies, which makes for some odd and very effective associations.
And the music. As well as the theme songs, there's a very effective use of music throughout the TV series and in at least the first movie.
Slayers takes all these disparate elements, puts them together, and it just works.
Recommended: First two TV series (the third is also good, but not as good); first and sixth movies. (I haven't seen the second movie.)
Fanservice: Some. In the TV series, not a lot. The girls tend to dress practically (with the exception of Martina). Amelia is cute and bouncy - but she's also fifteen. In the movies and OVAs you have Naga, but there you have to trade off her spectacularly annoying laugh against her spectacularly, uh, spectacular figure. The first movie is the best showing of Naga, and explains why Lina puts up with her.
Available: Software Sculptors have released all of the TV episodes; AD Vision have released the first movie and the first OVA series, and have the rights to the rest. (ADV are infamous for sitting on releases for years.)
2. Dirty Pair (Original: 26 episode TV series, 10 episode OVA series, three movies; Flash: Three OVA series totalling 16 episodes. Also a number of comic books/graphic novels by Adam Warren.) (Again, originally a series of novels in Japanese, which as far as I know have never been released in English.)
Set a few centuries from now (the exact date varies depending on which version you are considering), Dirty Pair is the story of Kei and Yuri, code named the Lovely Angels. Officially, anyway. Everybody else calls them the Dirty Pair, and they hate that.
Our heroines work for the WWWA (Worlds Wide Welfare Association, I think it is), or 3WA. They're galactic troubleshooters, and they are very very good at what they do. If you give them a mission, you can be sure they'll succeed.
You can also expect a damages bill mounting into the billions.
Kei and Yuri have destroyed buildings, starships, space stations, entire cities, a small moon, and on one memorable occasion the planetary system that was hosting their own fan convention. It's rarely (if ever) their fault, but that doesn't prevent responsible governments from implementing evacuation orders when they learn that the Dirty Pair have been assigned to their case.
Contains spaceships, girls with guns, fights, explosions, more explosions, ridiculous situations, and even more explosions.
Recommended: The original OVA series, also the movies Project Eden and Flight 005 Conspiracy - which you probably won't be able to find anywhere. Dirty Pair Flash is a different show, featuring Kei and Yuri as teenagers just joining the 3WA. It's not bad once it gets going, but in the first couple of episodes Yuri is extremely whiny and annoying. All of the Adam Warren Dirty Pair comics are highly recommended.
Fanservice: You bet. Even in the orignal, the duo wandered around in very brief outfits; both Dirty Pair Flash and the Adam Warren comics provide, shall we say, even more attention to detail.
Available: Well, I've got the original TV series, but I had to order it from Japan. It's not available in the West, though I think you may be able to find a fansubbed version if you're lucky. The movies are sadly out of print. All the rest should be available, the videos from AD Vision, the comics from Dark Horse.
3. Urusei Yatsura (196 TV episodes, 11 OVA episodes, 6 movies)
Urusei Yatsura (which translates roughly to "Those Obnoxious Aliens") is the story of an alien space princess, Lum, who comes to Earth as the result of... Well, that's explored in the very first episode, so I won't spoil it for you.
From the magical pen of Rumiko Takahashi (who is also responsible for Maison Ikkoku, Ranma ½, and most recently Inu Yasha), Urusei Yatsura is a science fiction romantic comedy adventure like nothing you've seen before. Lum is a heroine like nothing you've seen before.
Lum is as cute as a bug. Lum can fly. Lum has her own spaceship. Lum has access to an amazing variety of super-science alien gadgets - many with disastrous side effects - though it is unclear where exactly she keeps them as she spends almost the entire series wearing a tiger stripe bikini. (Lum is also an oni, a traditional ogre from Japanese folklore. The entire series mixes folklore with science fiction, to produce something uniquely weird.)
Lum falls genuinely in love with the world's biggest loser: the luckless lecherous lout Ataru Moroboshi, whose only good feature is indestructability. (Did I mention that Lum can give people electric shocks when she's angry?) Lum moves into Ataru's life, and everything changes.
Lum is the catalyst for everything, for 196 episodes of inspired insanity. Her friends, relatives and enemies all show up at various points, but the story continues to revolve around Lum, and Ataru, and her love for him, and his slowly (very slowly) growing sense of responsibility.
Add to the mix Ataru's parents, Lum's parents, Ataru's old girlfriend Shinobu, the immensely rich Shutarou Mendou and his crazed sister, Lum's space princess friends Benten and Oyuki, a demented monk by the name of Cherry and his niece Sakura, and you have... something. Definitely something. Not to be missed.
Recommended: Start at the beginning. The OVAs and movies are set quite late in the internal chronology, so see as much of the TV series as you can before moving on to them.
Fanservice: Not as much as you might think, given that Lum spends the entire series in a bikini (and her friend Benten is similarly attired). The style of the artwork and the nature of the series makes this seem to be a natural thing. Lum wears a bikini? Of course she wears a bikini. That's what she wears. There's little in the way of deliberate fanservice with the occasional exception of Sakura.
Available: At least 100 episodes of the TV series, all 11 OVAs and 5 of the 6 movies are available from AnimEigo. Also, a large number of graphic novels are available from Viz.
4. Tenchi Muyo (Original OVA: 6 + 1 + 6 episodes; Mihoshi Special; Tenchi Universe: 26 episode TV series; Magical Girl Pretty Sammy: 3 OVAs plus 26 episode TV series; Tenchi in Tokyo: 26 episode TV series; Tenchi GXP: 26 episode TV series; 3 movies)
Tenchi Muyo ("No need for Tenchi") is about a teenage boy (Tenchi Masaki) whose life is thrown into chaos when dreaded space pirate Ryoko escapes from a cave/crashes her spaceship nearby/is already in the story from the beginning. His life is soon filled with space princesses (Aeka, Sasami), space police (Mihoshi, Kiyone), cabbits (Ryo-ohki) and the greatest scientific genius in the universe (Washuu).
After that, things get complicated.
Look, it would take me half an hour just to explain Tenchi's family tree as found in the original OVA series, never mind the other ten versions. So I'll talk about Magical Girl Pretty Sammy instead.
Magical Girl Pretty Sammy (also known due to a sudden brain failure at Pioneer as Magical Project S) is about a magical girl called Pretty Sammy. Who just happens to be the space princess Sasami. Or possibly a perfectly normal Earth girl. With either a single mother or two loving parents, depending. (Yes, there are multiple mutually contradictory versions of Pretty Sammy too.) Pretty Sammy is born when Sasami is chosen as the representative of Tsunami, the Queen-Elect of Juraihelm. Tsunami gives Sasami a magic wand and a talking cat (neko?) and asks her (Sasami) to be her (Tsunami) representative on Earth.
With me so far?
Anyway, Sasami goes to school like a normal girl, only her teachers include Mihoshi and Kiyone (the space police, now demilitarised) and Washuu (scientific genius, not demilitarised at all). Aeka and Ryoko turn up as schoolgirls. Tenchi puts in an appearance too.
But Sasami/Sammy's biggest worry is Pixy Misa (woo!) the evil magical girl created by runner-up in the Queen contest, Ramia. Pixy Misa causes constant trouble for Sasami/Sammy with her (Pixy Misa's) Love-Love Monsters created with the power of her (Pixy Misa's) own magical wand.
And so on. It's a kid's show, really, but it's a very good one. It's frequently laugh-out-loud funny, it's a wonderful send up of Sailor Moon, it takes enormous and hilarious liberties with the characters originally created for Tenchi Muyo, and it has Pixy Misa in it.
Recommended: Start with the original OVA series, then follow with the standalone episode The Night Before the Carnival and the second OVA series. (You might find these all packaged as a single 13-part series, which is fine.) From there, you have a number of choices, but if you have a reasonably high tolerance for cuteness, I'd recommend the Magical Girl Pretty Sammy OVAs and TV series.
Fanservice: Some. The girls tend to spend a lot of time in the bath (we're talking a Japanese communal hot spring here), though only Ryoko tends to show anything.
Available: The original OVA series, the OVA specials (except the third Pretty Sammy OVA), and the Tenchi Universe, Tenchi in Tokyo and Magical Project S TV series should all be available from Pioneer. Tenchi GXP is yet to be released.
5. El Hazard (Original OVA Series: 7 episodes; TV Series (Wanderers) 26 episodes; Second OVA series: 4 episodes; Second TV series: 13 episodes)
El Hazard is another series from the creators of Tenchi Muyo. This is obvious at first glance: the character designs and background art are strikingly similar. The plot, though, is rather reversed: Schoolboy Makoto, his friend Nanami, and their teacher Fujisawa-sensei are transported to a mysterious world by a mysterious woman discovered in archeological digs under their school. (The Wanderers TV series has an alternative and much weaker version of events.)
There, they are just in time to rescue Princess Rune Venus from the menacing Bugrom, whereupon they are invited back to the palace, join forces with the good folk of El-Hazard, and save the day.
Which sounds simple, but it's really not. The seven part series packs in all sorts of complex plotting (and sub-plotting) to quite remarkable effect. Like the first Tenchi series, it's a blink-and-you'll miss it affair, and it rewards close attention.
The second OVA series follows directly on from the first, and has some good points, but also pokes an unwanted hole in the tight structure of the original series that reduces the emotional impact of one of the relationships. The second TV series follows on from there.
The first TV series is a re-telling of the original seven part OVA. It removes half the plot and spreads the remainder out over 26 episodes, with the result you might expect.
Recommended: Start with the original OVA series. Continue with the second OVA series and the second TV series if you want. The first TV series has a few good moments, but is much weaker than the original.
Fanservice: Some. Alielle, for example. Shayla-Shayla is nice eye candy, but doesn't really allow herself to be used for fanservice purposes, and would roast you alive for the suggestion.
Available: All available from Pioneer.
6. Azumanga Daioh (TV series of 26 episodes, one very short movie)
Azumanga Daioh is the story of a group of high-school girls: Chiyo, the genius who has skipped several grades; Sakaki, the sportswoman and cat-lover; Tomo, the trouble-maker; Yomi, the quiet and studious one; Osaka, the... well, the airhead; Kagura, the... other troublemaker; and Kaorin, the one who always gets left out. And their teachers, Yukari-chan and Nyamo-chan. (Note that teachers are not commonly given the honorific "chan" by Japanese students.)
As I said the last time I mentioned this series:
They don't dress up in combat suits and battle alien invaders. They don't transform into mini-skirted magical maidens and save the world. They don't even fall into a parallel universe and find themselves forced to examine their own identities.It really is that good.
They just go to school, like more-or-less normal girls. But that's more than enough. Azumanga Daioh was originally produced as 130 5-minute shorts and has been resewn as 26 half-hour episodes, though you wouldn't know it except for the sub-episode titles and the unflagging pace. Frequently rib-crackingly funny, sometimes poignant, never dull, Azumanga Daioh is a delightful study of high-school life.
Recommended: Whatever you can get your hands on. Right now, that's probably nothing, since the fansub has been withdrawn pending the commercial release - which hasn't happened yet.
Fanservice: Not much, really. There are swimming lessons and a couple of days at the beach, but it's all pretty tame.
7. Fancy Lala (TV series, 26 episodes)
Mahou no Stage Fancy Lala (Fancy Lala of the Magical Stage). Doesn't sound like the kind of thing that would interest you?
Boy are you missing out.
Fancy Lala is to a great degree a remake of the earlier series Magical Angel Creamy Mami. It's about a young girl named Miho who is given a magical gift that allows her to transform herself into the beautiful teenager Fancy Lala. So, it's little-girl wish fulfillment time.
What makes the series special is its heart. Miho is a real little girl with real little girl problems and dreams. She takes on the opportunities offered to her as Fancy Lala the way a real girl would. She's in over her head, but determined to make her way.
The best episodes are the ones concerning her family, particularly her mother, a successful TV executive, and her sister, a teenager about Lala's age. Miho is growing up fast and learning a lot, and you are truly priveleged to be sharing in it.
Fanservice: You pervert!
Available: Yep. Um, don't remember who. (If that sentence is still there when I post this, someone remind me to look it up.)
8. Cowboy Bebop (TV series, 26 episodes; one movie)
Take a cop show set in New Orleans in the 1970s. Add a dash of spaghetti western. Stir in a healthy dollop of golden-age science fiction. And you'll have something that kind of resembles Cowboy Bebop, but probably isn't half as good.
Cowboy Bebop is the story of a group of bounty hunters in space: Spike and Jet, partners in not-quite-crime; Faye Valentine, mysterious, beautiful, and a capable bounty hunter in her own right; Ed, the child genius who... well, no, I won't tell you that. Oh, and Ein, the data dog.
They travel the solar system in their spaceship, the Bebop, rounding up criminals and bringing them to justice. Or whatever, as long as it pays well. And, unavoidably, each of them runs into his or her past and has to deal with it.
A truly outstanding score by Yoko Kanno helps set this series apart. Megumi Hayashibara provides the voice for Faye Valentine, so again I'd recommend the subtitled version, though in this case it's not as vital as it is for Slayers.
The movie looks and feels like a bigger, longer episode of the TV series, which is no bad thing because the TV series is first rate.
Recommended: Every minute.
Fanservice: Mostly provided by Faye Valentine, whose regular outfit consists of gold short shorts and a matching halter-top thingy. And suspenders.
9. Trigun (TV series, 26 episodes)
Vash the Stampede, the Humanoid Typhoon, the $$60,000,000,000 man. He's caused more damage than anyone else in history.
Meryl Stryfe and Millie Thompson of the Bernadelli Insurance Society have been tasked with finding this man and trying to minimise the damage. It's costing too much in insurance claims, y'see. It's a tough assignment, but they're tough ladies.
And so we begin our travels across this strange world, littered as it is with giant lightbulbs; the towns, few and far between, connected only by the giant sand steamers that cross the deserts.
The first half of Trigun is generally lightweight fun, with a serious side to it. We meet Vash early on... or maybe we don't. But he keeps turning up wherever Vash is supposed to be. But he can't be Vash the Stampede.
The second half is rather more serious, and for me it didn't quite come together. It's still a very good series, quite different from most of what's on offer, and well worth a look.
Recommended: Yes ma'am.
Fanservice: Not really.
Available: You bet.
10. Oh My Goddess (OVA series, 5 episodes; one movie; Mini-Goddess TV series, 48 mini-episodes)
Oh! My Goddess (Aa! Megami-sama, originally translated as Ah! My Goddess until someone pointed out the pun) is the tale of an ordinary college student, Keiichi, who one day dials a wrong number while trying to order some lunch, and finds himself connected to the Goddess Help Line. (Their number's always busy when I try it.)
Pretty soon, he has the goddess Belldandy (from the Norn Verithandi; OMG borrows heavily from Norse mythology) at his service full time. This is not without its problems, mainly in the form of Belldandy's sisters, Urd and Skuld.
The OVA series only runs for five episodes; it's very good, but it's over very quickly. The Mini-Goddess series is a collection of 5-minute cartoons; it's enjoyable fluff that plays with the same characters, but it doesn't really go anywhere new.
If you truly want to get into Oh My Goddess, there's nowhere to turn but the manga. I'm not sure exactly how many volumes there are; I think I have sixteen, though I may be off a bit, and I'm almost certainly not up to date. There's a lot, a lot more to the story in the manga version than there is in the OVA series.
As for the movie (oops, almost forgot): it's good, but it introduces a lot of stuff very quickly. If you haven't read the manga you may end up feeling rather lost. If you have read the manga, well worth a look.
Recommended: OVA series, then the manga, then the movie. Mini-goddess series for fluffy fun.
Fanservice: Urd! Peorth! Hild! And every now and then you get a glimpse that lets you know that Belldandy really is Urd's sister.
Available: AnimEigo for the OVA, Dark Horse for the manga, ADV for Mini-Goddesses.
11. Maison Ikkoku (TV series, 96 episodes)
This is Rumiko Takahashi in its purest form: a romantic comedy without any other elements to confuse things. (Most of Takahashi's work involves romantic comedy, however, this is the only major series that doesn't have some other key plot element as well. Ranma ½ has martial arts; Urusei Yatsura has Lum's - in effect - magic; Inu Yashu has the pursuit of the Shinkon Jewel.)
Meet Godai. He's failed his college entrance exams, and has moved out of home for a year to study and try to get in next time around. Unfortunately for him, he's moved into a room at Maison Ikkoku.
Meet Kyoko. A young widow, she has come to Maison Ikkoku as the new manager, to try to build a new life for herself.
See Godai meet Kyoko. Know exactly where this series is going to end up. What you're here for is the journey, though, as much as the destination.
One of the features I liked about Maison Ikkoku, is that unlike Ranma ½ or Urusei Yatsura, time passes. Godai isn't an eternal ronin (the name given to students in his position) as it turns out; he does eventually pass the exams. He does get into college. He eventually graduates and gets a job. Time passes, things change, but the centre remains the same.
I haven't seen the series to the end, because (last I checked) it still hadn't been released in English. The original dubbed version that I was following was not a big enough seller for Viz and they canned it after forty-odd episodes - about halfway. How's that for annoying? It looks like they will release the whole thing on DVD sooner or later, but in subtitled form only. So despite my affection for the show I haven't been following this one recently.
Recommended: The TV series and the manga, whatever you can get, whichever you prefer. The story is very largely the same.
Fanservice: Kyoko is very cute, but doesn't wear revealing outfits. Fortunately, we've got Akemi for that.
Available: From Viz.
12. Fushigi Yuugi (TV series, 52 episodes; 3 OVA series of 3, 6 and 4 episodes respectively)
Fushigi Yuugi, the Mysterious Play. The tale of two girls, Miaka Yuki and Yui Houngo, who are transported through the pages of a magical book, The Book of the Universe of the Four Gods, into another world. There they encounter excitement and adventure - and love and loss and suffering and death and betrayal and redemption. The story and many of the characters are drawn from Chinese astrology, with four gods of the four compass points, and 28 celestial servants.
It's a long story, 52 episodes with a single continuous story arc. It's basically an adventure, splashed - particularly in the early parts - with comedy, growing darker as the story progresses. Not for kids, this one, either. Not only is there violence, and characters you care about being killed, but some of the concepts are adult in nature. It's worth noting this, because it's not obvious from the cheery mood of the first couple of episodes.
One of the neat features of the TV series is the innovative use of the closing theme. The instrumental part of it will start to play anything up to a minute before the end of each episode (it varies between episodes) and is used effectively both to signal the end of this chapter and to underline the remaining action and dialogue. It's neatly timed so that the vocals always come in with the closing credits.
As for the OVA series: I don't really like these much. The TV series ends exactly as it should; it's not a surprise, but it's the right ending. The OVAs relentlessly blow holes in the rightness of that ending until just about nothing is left, cheapening the sacrifices made by the characters in the original.
Recommended: The TV series. Avoid the OVAs, unless you didn't like the TV series.
Fanservice: Plenty of - for girls.
Available: From Pioneer.
13. Escaflowne (TV series, 26 episodes; one movie)
A girl from our world is dropped into another world where magic works and - haven't we been here before?
Perhaps, but never with such pointy noses. Um, ignore that. Never with such a fabulous score. Yoko Kanno's work, again; totally different to her work for Cowboy Bebop but every bit as good.
Hitomi must... Um, it's been a while since I watched this. I think she has to save the world from the forces of darkness. She has magical powers to predict the future. Or possibly not. It's very compelling - I watched the whole series in two sittings. But now I seem to have forgotten most of it. Go watch it, then come back here and tell me.
The movie tries to pack all of this into an hour and a half, and does some very strange things to the story. The TV series is much much better. I'm sure of it.
Recommended: The TV series.
Fanservice: Catgirls! Big bouncy catgirls! Not much other than that.
Available: TV series from Bandai. There's a hacked up condensed version; avoid that at all costs.
14. Love Hina (TV series, 26 episodes; two specials/movies; OVA series, 3 episodes)
The Hinata Lodge, once a hot spring resort, now a dormitory for college and high school girls. The manager of Hinata is heading off on a trip around the world, so she brings in her grandson (who is, surprise, studying for his college entrance exams) to look after things while she's gone.
And so the stage is set for Maison Ikkoku type romantic comedy - with a goodly helping of Urusei Yatsura chaos. Will Keitaro ever work out who the girl he promised to go to Tokyo U with has grown up to be? Will Naru ever give him a break, or will she eventually break him instead? Will Motoko settle down? Will Kitsune, for that matter? Or will Kaolla Su's mecha-turtles destroy the world first?
And what's the story with those huggy-bear things?
All of this is answered, pretty much, by the end of the series.
(Oh dear! Are you even sure you answered the questions correctly?) Underneath your confused exterior, you hold fast to your certainties and seek to find the truth about the things you don't know. While you may not be brimming with confidence and energy, you are content with who you are and accepting of both your faults and the faults of others. But while those around you love you deep down, they may find your nonchalance somewhat infuriating. Try to put a bit more thought into what you are doing, and be more aware of your surroundings.
Which Love Hina Girl Are You?
Recommended: Haven't seen the OVA series, but everything else.
Fanservice: Plenty of bath scenes.
Available: From Bandai.
15. Bubblegum Crisis (OVA series, 8 episodes + 2 music specials; Bubblegum Crash OVA series, 3 episodes; Bubblegum Crisis 2040 TV series, 26 episodes. Also AD Police (related series))
Bubblegum Crisis is the anime version of Ridley Scott's Blade Runner. Naturally Deckard's role is taken by four girls in powersuits; the action has moved to Tokyo; the androids (now called Boomers) are the product of the evil megacorporation Genom.
Not surprisingly, the Boomers are becoming a problem, and the AD Police are ill-equipped to cope. Enter the mysterious Knight Sabers, who proceed to kick robot ass.
The first time I saw Bubblegum Crisis, I watched the first episode, was not impressed, and put the series away. Later after reading Adam Warren's Dirty Pair graphic novels, I also found his book Grand Mal, his take on the Bubblegum Crisis story. That led me back to the Bubblegum Crisis anime, and I found myself asking What was I thinking? I was drawn in instantly by the action, by the rock soundtrack (which is actually relevant to the plot!), by the characters. I sat and watched Crisis and Crash right through.
The show knows its debts and pays them, too: one of our heroines is the lead singer in a band called Priss and the Replicants.
There's also a recent series, Bubblegum Crisis 2040, which is a remake, not a sequel. It loses much of the tautness of the original series, but isn't terrible.
Recommended: The OVA series. Whatever people might tell you, there is no dub version of these.
Fanservice: Not much in the OVAs, even though Sylia owns a lingerie store. A little in the new TV series.
ADV Sorry, brain-fade there. AnimEigo.
16. Irresponsible Captain Tylor (TV series 26 episodes; 10 OVA episodes)
Justy Ueki Tylor joined the Navy (the Space Navy, that is) on the spur of the moment because he thought the girl in their ad was cute. The Navy knew what they were dealing with, and assigned him to the payroll office. Tasked with delivering a pension check to a retired admiral, Tylor walks into a hostage situation, and somehow comes out as a hero. War has just broken out, and heroes are in short supply, so the Navy reponds by giving him command of his own ship - which may not be the reward it seems.
And the series is off and running. The Irresponsible Captain Tylor is layered like a good lasagna, comedy over seriousness over comedy. It looks deep into the the motivations of all the major characters - and then pulls the rug out from under you when you think you know what's going on. Tylor, whatever else he might be, has a powerful effect on his crew and the people around him... Though it takes some time to determine whether that effect will be good or bad.
The series is clearly a work of love, crafted with care and attention to every detail. It is complete in itself, the ending wrapping up everything as neatly as could be desired.
Unfortunately, this makes the OVAs that follow less than they might have been. They are by no means bad, but they are unnecessary.
Recommended: The TV series. Watch the OVAs if you like, though they ass little to the story.
Fanservice: Some. Azalyn-chan, for example. Eimi and Yumi's bathroom scene... But you'll be waiting a long while for that to arrive.
17. Dominion/Tank Police (OVA series 1, 6 episodes; OVA series 2, 10 episodes)
"Why is it that the Police have enough firepower to destroy this city five times over?"
Because it's way cool, that's why. Those are the Mayor's opening words in Masamune Shirow's Dominion, also known as Tank Police. The latter name because, well, the Police have tanks. Great big wicked looking tanks. Which they drive around the city. The effects of which are shown in great detail and are much as you'd expect: great big tanks being highly destructive and not terribly manoeuvrable in narrow city streets, the Police commonly cause far more damage than the criminals they're chasing.
Enter Leona, transferring from the motorcycle division to become the first female member of the Tank Police. Predictable rivalry ensues. The turning point comes when she takes the wreckage of two of the divisions ruined tanks and...
I'll let you find that out for yourself.
Funny and filled with action. Along with Urusei Yatsura, this served as my re-introduction to anime some eight years ago, and I maintain an affection for it.
Recommended: It's all good. There are also some graphic novels available which continue the story.
Fanservice: Are you kidding? This is a Masamune Shirow production! Of course there's fan service! Primarily in the form of two big bouncy catgirls, the Puma sisters Anna and Uni.
18. Saber Marionette (Saber Marionette J TV series, 25 episodes; Saber Marionette J Again, 6 episodes; Saber Marionette R, 3 episodes; Saber Marionette J to X, 26 episodes)
Otaru (not Ataru, not even close) lives on Terra II, a far distant world settled by the crew of the starship Mesopotamia. Due to a terrible accident, all their women were somehow lost before landing, and the entire population of the world consists of clones (with some genetic manipulation, it would seem) descended from the handul of male survivors of the Mesopotamia's crew.
If you know anything about genetics, that's pure nonsense, but you're obliged to accept as the premise of the story.
Now, to replace the lost women, the men of Terra II have made themselves female robots called Marionettes. The story begins when Otaru discovers three marionettes in the basement of a deserted museum. Of course, these are not any ordinary marionettes...
The potentially creepy side of this is entirely wiped out by the personalities of the three marionettes, Lime, Cherry and Bloodberry. Lime, voiced by Megumi Hayashibara, upstages Otaru and everyone else and is responsible for giving the series life. I wasn't expecting this series to draw me in, but it is quite remarkably engaging.
Saber Marionette J Again is a pleasant coda to the first series after all the real action is over. Saber Marionette R is a prequel, a visit to see the three marionettes in the days when they were first made. (Bloodberry is much cuter in R.) Saber Marionette J to X follows on from J/J Again, but unfortunately seems to have lost some of the original's freshness and charm.
Recommended: The original TV series (Saber Marionette J) and the extension (Saber Marionette J Again). Continue from there if you like, but the remainder isn't quite as good.
Fanservice: Plenty, provided for the most part by the Saber Marionettes nemesises, the evil Saber Dolls™, Tiger, Panta and Luchs. (Luchs?)
Available: From Bandai.
19. Hellsing (TV series, 13 episodes)
Set in modern-day London, this darkly humerous series deals with the efforts of the Hellsing Organisation to protect England against the depredations of vampires and other such nasties. Led by Sir Integral Hellsing (who is, despite the title, a woman), they fight against all odds to defend crown and kingdom.
As the story begins, a SWAT team is facing an army of ghouls in the English countryside - and rapidly losing. Seras Victoria, a member of the team (it appears they have no minimum height requirements), retreats to the sanctity of a church - only to find it no protection. A mysterious figure dressed all in red appears, and offers her a chance to sacrifice herself to end the threat.
Without blinking an eye, she accepts.
The series is dark, as I said; and violent. There's a lot of blood spilled right from the start. This isn't Buffy, this is a real life-or-death struggle against a particularly nasty enemy. As the story progresses, the politics surrounding the struggle become more important than the struggle itself, and threaten to destroy the Hellsing Organisation and leave the vampire menace unchecked.
Recommended: If you don't mind a bit of grue, go for it.
Fanservice: Some. A couple of the vampire girls. Seras Victoria herself is rather cute.
20. Blue Seed (TV series, 26 episodes, also second series, not seen)
"Mysterious Tokyo, pick me up foxy night game."
With these words (what?!) Blue Seed launches into its story. This is another one that I haven't watched for some time, so details will be sketchy until I have had a chance to watch it again - or to crib some notes from a fan site.
The title refers to seeds (oddly enough, shaped like the number 9... or possibly 6) that are some sort of evil semi-sentient alien virusy thing that can take over plant life and cause untold havoc. A tiny government organisation, the TAC, is responsible for fighting this evil with almost no resources. They are joined by Momiji, a young girl who herself carries a blue seed, and Kusanagi, her sworn defender.
Which wouldn't be half so much fun if the show took itself seriously. It doesn't, though; like Slayers, a very serious story is given life by the humour shared by the characters.
Whatever you do, don't miss the Omake Theatre, which comes at the end of (I think) every second episode. It's hysterically funny.
Recommended: If you like action spiced with comedy.
Fanservice: Not a lot. Momiji is an A-cup.
Available: From ADV. No sign of Blue Seed 2, as far as I am aware.
21. Cutey Honey (New Cutey Honey OVA series, 8 episodes)
22. Ranma ½ (TV Series, 169 episodes; two movies; 12 OVA episodes... I think)
23. Revolutionary Girl Utena (TV series, 39 episodes; one movie)
24. Jungle Guu (TV series, 26 episodes; OVA series, 6 episodes)
25. 3x3 Eyes (Two OVA series, 9 episodes total; 36 volumes of manga and counting)
Wednesday, July 16
Steven den Beste has invaded my territory to talk about fanservice - a term he has only just discovered.
I know a thing or two about fan service. See my recent post Zoom! for example, which alludes to Warukyure's transformation sequence where she morphs back from her miniature form to her normal statuesque self. (Not only that, but she has nipples! Imagine that! Nipples, on a female person!)
I've seen both the series mentioned in the passages Steven quotes: Agent Aika (though not Final Mission, which is the final volume) and Plastic Little. Both have their good qualities; I liked the music in Aika (and the production qualities are solid), and the artwork and animation in Plastic Little. However, I (at least I think it was me) once described Agent Aika thus:
It's as though the director made it as perverted as possible without actually having any sex scenes - and then threw in a sex scene for good measure.(When I say perverted here, I'm just talking panty shots, though, not tentacles. Well, there aren't any real tentacles... As such.)
And Plastic Little is commonly referred to as Plastic Nipple. The artwork is by Satoshi Urushihara, who is justly famous for this sort of thing - but doesn't seem to have a website. I found one site on Geocities and it promptly went off line for exceeding its bandwidth quota.
Steven comments that in the U.S., fanservice doesn't sell domestic animation. I'd point out that there's damn little animation produced in the U.S. that's targeted at adults. The Simpsons. Um... Things like Aeon Flux and The Maxx. Of course, the good children's animation is good for adults too (Pixar's work, The Emperor's New Groove, Lilo and Stitch), but that's not the same thing.
There are a lot of comics targeted at adults, however, and if you think that fanservice isn't rife there, you haven't seen a recent issue of Spiderman. Or anything from Image. Or a whole lot of other material.
As for the suggestion that fanservice in anime is targeted exclusively to male fans, well, it just ain't so. The fanservice for the female population tends to be a little subtler (see Fushigi Yuugi for an example), but take a look into the world of manga and it's a whole different story. Very much equal opportunity. We don't see a lot of that in the West, though, for whatever reasons.
As for recommendations... Well. There's a whole range of fanservice in anime, from Ryoko's bath scenes in Tenchi Muyo (one of my favourite anime series of all time), to the aforementioned Agent Aika. (If you're curious, Steven provides a page of pictures (warning: scantily clad females.)) He neglects to mention that Aika is the owner of a magical brassiere. Well, given the plot and setting it's probably some form of alien hi-tech device, but you get the picture.
Sometimes fanservice is just the female characters flirting in a perfectly normal and good natured way. Sometimes it's exploitation, but really, that's nothing new either. Sometimes it's really just cultural differences in regards to nudity.
Maybe I should post my top twenty anime recommendations and note which ones provide fanservice? Then Steven can see fanservice in good anime rather than bad.
Maybe I should get my anime review pages up.
Maybe I should go to bed...
Update: Guess who linked to me! No, not the puppy blender...
Update: My Top 25 Anime Recommendations are now up.
Update: I've also listed six picks for Anime Bottom Feeders. You can flame me, or, if you want to be helpful, flame any shows you hate that I may somehow have avoided.
Monday, July 14
UFO Princess Warukyure*: Zero to 40D in 6.7 seconds.
If you were lost in another world, with only a Olympic-class sharp-shooter, an Oscar-winning actress, the High Priestess of the Elves, and an M1 tank possessed by the ghost of a cat for company - and you ran out of toilet paper?
Hopefully you'd do better than Those Who Hunt Elves (season two, episode two).
Mind you, one of those pichikatos could come in handy in case of an emergency.
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