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Summer 2009 Roundup 1: Bakemonogatari, Umineko no Naku Koro Ni, CANAAN, Sora no Manimani

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Oh my. How long has it been since I actually blogged about anime? Well, here’s a look at the four most promising shows I’ve seen so far this season: SHAFT’s Bakemonogatari, the successor to HiguarshiUmineko no Naku Koro Ni, Nasu’s new turn CANAAN, and the blogger fangirl favorite so far, Sora no Manimani.

Bakemonogatari

I’ve come to the conclusion that SHAFT/Shinbo’s bag of Anno-like tricks is a mixed bag at best. Because SHAFT/Shinbo is way more prolific than Gainax ever was during its Anno-led heyday, we see an awful lot more of this style per season: whether it be put to use in surreal comedies like Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei (now in its third season this time), or more serious shows like the ef dramas, we get SHAFTed a lot more than other studios. (You may all groan now.) It was, for me, starting to get ho hum, especially when Maria+Holic failed to grab me in the way I thought it might and ef-a tale of melodies didn’t satisfy the way the first series did.

What a pleasure to find a show where the stylistic quirks actually work.

The dramatic shot choices, the red and orange color palette, and the extreme angles: they all accentuate a show that is both strange and original. This is not the usual kind of story, in that we are talking about an ex-vampire and a nearly weightless girl seeking salvation through some kind of supernatural means–it’s certainly much more specific than the rather generic title (“Monstory” might be a rough translation?) suggests. The first episode features a lot of fear, suspicion, and surprise, and this is the sort of thing where the stylistic quirks can work in the service of storytelling rather than being an arty indulgence imposed on the show.

The first episode is a bit hard to follow at first–it’s definitely another in media res kind of deal. However, I was able to get the gist of it by the end, and I’m told episode 2 is even clearer.

This is definitely one of the highlights that I’ll be keeping a close eye on.


Umineko no Naku Koro Ni (When the Seagulls Cry)

It’s too early to tell whether this will be a worthy successor to the horrifying, intelligent, and utterly compelling piece that was Higurashi no Naku Koro Ni. Several signs are very promising, however.

First, they establish the show’s tone right away: there’s a large cast of characters, there’s a supposed witch, and it’s going to be as much a interfamily drama and mystery as it is horror. This is a murder house waiting to happen, and when the patented insane eyes start breaking out in episode 1, you know that things are going to get ugly even faster than they did in the first arc of Higurashi. This time they rely on the old horror trope of the little child knowing and seeing things more than the others, but the way she says it at the end of the first episode is actually pretty chilling: the eerieness happens right away. That’s the spirit.

It’s not known yet whether the show will take the same approach and do multiple arcs with different “endings”–anyone know? To tell you the truth, I’m not sure such a strategy can quite work the same way again. It was novel when Higurashi did it, because for the first time the structure of the original game was actually turned into artistic advantage, and even given a not-terrible explanation in the second season. (Though I did feel that a few too many things were explained, draining it of its dark power and mystery. But I digress.) It’s like if they tried doing a gimmick like episode shuffling, or maybe repeating the same thing continuously with small variations, for the second season of Haruhi Suzumiya; it’d just seem tired and ho–wait a minute…. 🙂

But Higurashi did not succeed because of the gimmick. It succeeded because it expertly built up tension and terror over each arc, and developed characters in meaningful ways while exploring the nature of evil. Who knows how much Beatrice, the supernatural agent of this series, is actually going to figure into the story–the little kid seems to think she’s there at any rate, and we get tantalizing hints.

Another one to watch closely.


CANAAN

Nasu + Black Lagoon + Bee Train. Animated by PA Works, of True Tears fame, and just as we would expect, the animation is fluid and beautiful. There’s way more action than a Bee Train show actually delivers, and as befitting something by Nasu, we have yet another girl with strange eye powers. I have to say, though, it does not have the feel of a Kara no Kyoukai or Tsukihime yet. While the story seems rather complex, with a large cast of characters that I haven’t yet begun to identify easily, it feels much more like an action-oriented piece rather than the darkly contemplative work I’ve come to associate with Kyoukai. That may not be a problem; I gave Black Lagoon high marks way back when. But in my original tweet I mentioned it doesn’t quite feel very Nasu yet, aside from the eye powers.

I find it hard to talk much about this show just yet; it feels like a complex story that is just beginning to take off. More details to come with the next episode, I hope.


Sora no Manimani

I was confused at first–it was billed I think in some season previews as a shoujo romance, though it is not really drawn nor does it quite feel like one. It feels more seinen to me, and the viewpoint character is still the male. Then again, that was true of Honey and Clover, where I completely forgot about whatever arbitrary gender classification it falls under and focused instead on how great the writing and the characters were.

I suggest the same might apply to this comedic gem of an anime. The characters are very likable, intensely so, especially the main girl Mihoshi. Mihoshi is best described as the love child of Haruhi Suzumiya and Nodame from Nodame Cantabile: a bundle of energy who uses outrageous physical techniques to subdue/chase after her main man, “Saku-chan” and run a club by forcing people to join. The ostensible subject the show revolves around, stargazing, is probably going to be an excuse for warm and fuzzy starlit romantic scenes more than anything else (though they can surprise me if they get the amateur astronomy stuff right! Perhaps Moyashimon for stars?). I laughed out loud several times, even while knowing a lot of the situations were a bit hackneyed and overplayed: childhood friends meeting up, love triangle established, etc. They’re just so likable and easy to watch. I do like how Saku’s not ashamed of being a bookworm, too. I wasn’t so different in high school, or so I’d like to think. I just didn’t have a Mihoshi following me around!

I think this will be the “easy to watch” show of the season for me, something to relieve stress and feel better about. All those other shows are either dark, weird, or both.

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