Saturday, August 29, 2009

Sora No Manimani

Overall Rating: B+

Summary: A romantic comedy/slice of life series, Sora No Manimani is alternately titled "At the mercy of the sky". The story focuses on Saku Ōyagi, a quiet teenager who spends most of his time reading books. At the beginning of the series, his family has just moved back to his hometown as Saku begins high school. He has dreams of a girl he knew as a child who was of a much more...wild spirit then he was, and was constantly dragging him around on adventures. The girl, Mihoshi Akeno, loved star-gazing, and Saku was often dragged along with her on starry nights. Before his family left town they went on a final star-gazing trip, but Mihoshi fell out of a tree. Saku caught her, but broke his arm, and when Mihoshi didn't visit him in the hospital he vowed never to see her again.

Of course, on his first day back at school, Saku runs into Mihoshi who is promoting the astronomy club. She is on top of the school throwing gold stars down on the students, and encouraging them to join the club. Saku tries to avoid her, but that only makes things worse. Mihoshi tackles him in hallways and is always trying to find him after class. Eventually, Saku realizes that Mihoshi didn't abandon him, but instead was in the hospital herself and wasn't released until after he was. He also discovers that the Astronomy club doesn't have enough members to stay a club. He joins up to help make amends, despite his desire to join the literature club.

Thus begins a slapstick romantic comedy centered around Saku and the astronomy club. It's not quite a harem anime, but it's close with multiple women having a crush on Saku, and he doesn't know quite what to do.

I have to say, I'm not usually a big fan of harem anime. They simply strike me as completely ridiculous. Take one awkward high school boy, add in cute girls, some slapstick comedy, and you're done! Maybe I'm just jealous since I was an awkward high school boy, and that never happened to me. As I mentioned though, Sora No Manimani isn't quite a harem anime in my opinion, and although it has some of the common tropes it's a lot more interesting and engaging than the standard fare. The characters are interesting, and that's really what drives slice of life anime. Saku is believable as an awkward teenager, and Mihoshi is hilarious. It's worth checking out for a fun, kind of fluffy series.

Friday, August 21, 2009


Warning: Not for the faint of heart. Skip this one if you don't enjoy horror.

Overall Rating: A

Summary: A three volume horror seinen manga by Junji Ito, which is set in the small Japanese town of Kurôzu-cho and follows high school student Kirie Goshima. In the first volume, Kirie finds out that her boyfriend, Shuichi ,is worried about his father, who has begun a strange obsession about spirals. He has begun to collect anything he can find with a spiral pattern, and his obsession goes so far that he stops going to work and instead simply stares at his collection. The situation becomes even more disturbing when Shuichi's father begins making spirals with his own body, and eventually kills himself by contorting his entire body into a spiral.

After his death, Shuichi's father is cremated, and the smoke from his ashes form a spiral in the sky. Understandably, all of this drives Shuichi's mother insane, and she develops a phobia of spirals. She is hospitalized, and Shuichi, scared of what she do if she finds out, has the doctors remove anatomical diagrams of the ear which (of course) contains a spiral. Unfortunately, she realizes that her cochlea is a spiral, and stabs herself with a pair of scissors. This causes her to suffer from vertigo until she dies. Her ashes also form a spiral when she is cremated, and this is only the beginning.

Soon, things intensify: a lighthouse throws out spiral beams at dusk; babies are born, only to sprout spiral-capped mushroom-shaped appendages from their stomachs, and people begin turning into snails. Can this infestation of spirals be stopped, or will it swallow Kirie and Shuichi as well?

My friend Mark recommended this manga to me, and so I borrowed all three volumes from him. Junji Ito does an amazing job of using traditional manga settings and scenarios and making them creepy by adding in spirals and horror elements. For example, in one scene Kirie is at school and things seem normal until a kid who is known for being slow shows up with traits similar to a snail. Over a few days he becomes more and more snail-like until his transformation is complete. At first the other kids bully him as they would normally, but as the transformation continues they bullying becomes more vicious, but the bullies also become scared of the creature. I won't give away what happens next, but it's both creepy and awesome. If you enjoy a really interesting horror plot that builds its creepiness until the very end, then you will probably enjoy "Uzumaki".

Wednesday, August 19, 2009


Summary: The newest movie from Hiyao Miyazaki's Studio Ghibli, Ponyo centers around a goldfish named Ponyo (who has a face like a human) and a five-year-old boy named Sōsuke. Curious by nature, Ponyo ends up stranded on the shore where Sōsuke rescues her. The two immediately like each other, and Sōsuke names the goldfish Ponyo, and promises to protect her forever. Unfortunately, Ponyo's father is temperamental and magical (though apparently he used to be a human?) He orders wave spirits to return her to him (he refers to her as "Brunhilde"), and tries to convince her to stay with him where it's safe. Sōsuke is super sad that Ponyo has left, and worries about whether she's okay.

In order to be with Sōsuke, Ponyo uses her magic to transform into a human, but this causes an imbalance in the world. Now Ponyo and Sōsuke have to go on an adventure to restore balance, and save the world.

I think we can all agree that Miyazaki films are ridiculously cute. For example, Ponyo is obsessed with ham. Adorable. If you don't like cute stories that are magical, and appropriate for children then you shouldn't see Ponyo. Also, I'm pretty sure you don't have a soul. You might want to have that looked at.

Seriously though, the plot of Ponyo is a bit strange, but the characters are wonderful and immediately lovable. It's like "The Little Mermaid" with 5-year-old kids and a nursing home for of sweet old grandmas. If you like Miyazaki films like "My Neighbor Totoro" or "Kiki's Delivery Service" then run super fast to the movie theater to see "Ponyo". It's not Miyazaki's best film, but it's still fantastic (in multiple senses of the word). After you catch your breath, buy a ticket, and then enjoy!

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Eden of the East

Overall Rating: A-
Summary: A Psychological/Romance/Mystery series created by Kenji Kamiyama. The story begins three months after "Careless Monday" when 10 missiles hit uninhabited areas of Japan on November 22, 2010. However, the apparent terrorist attack didn't kill anyone and remains a mystery. The series follows Saki Morimi and Akira Takizawa. The two meet in Washington, DC while Saki is in DC as part of a graduation trip. She decides to try to throw a coin into the White House Fountain. Unfortunately for her the throw falls short and attracts the attention of two police officers. That's when Takizawa shows up out of nowhere naked with a gun, and a strange mobile phone. Understandably, this distracts the police officers who chase after Takizawa. Luckily, he is able to lose them and catches back up with Saki who gives him her coat, scarf and hat. What? It's cold out! The two then go their separate ways.

There's something weird about Takizawa. He has lost most of his memories and the mobile phone he has is charged with 8.2 billion yen. In addition, an operator named Juiz answers the phone to reveal that his memories have been removed, and though she can't help him with that, she can help him with pretty much anything else. It costs money (which is deducted from the 8.2 billion total) but she can make it happen. To begin with, she directs him home. When he gets "home" he finds an apartment full of guns and fake passports. As he begins to wonder what kind of person he is the doorbell rings.

Meanwhile, Saki had realized that her passport was in the coat she lent to Takizawa. She managed to catch up with him at his apartment and asks for her passport back. She's headed back to Japan that day, and Takizawa decides to abandon the apartment, grabs a passport for Akira Takizawa, and leaves with Saki. After an embarrassing conversation with a police woman, they head to the airport. Takizawa gets a plane ticket to Japan from the embassy and Saki gets a crush on Takizawa. Unfortunately, the mood changes when they see another terrorist attack in Japan.

This is just the beginning for Saki and Takizawa. Who is Takizawa? What's up with his mobile phone? Is he a terrorist or a hero? Find out!

I loved this series. It's the best serious anime I've seen in awhile and I kept eagerly awaiting the next episode. The plot is well-developed, and the characters are engaging. There was one plot point I had an issue with (don't worry, no spoilers!) but overall the series is fantastic. The anime has been acquired by Funimation to be released in the US. There are also two movies planned to follow the series. I can't wait to see them. If you like your anime to have a solid plot and some mystery to it, then definitely check this one out!

Tuesday, August 4, 2009


Opening Theme

Overall Rating: A++

Summary: K-On! is a slice of life/comedy/music anime that started out as a four-panel manga by Kakifly. For anyone unfamiliar with Japanese culture, almost everyone in school belongs to an after-school activities club. K-On! centers around the light music club at an unnamed high school, and the four Japanese high school girls who join the club to prevent it from being disbanded (I know, it's a horrible pun). Not the best way to form a band, but I'm sure there have been worse. In the beginning, Ritsu (drums) wants to join the light music club with her best friend, Mio (bass). Mio...has other plans, but Ritsu tears up her application for another club, so Mio is in! Unfortunately, they need at least four members to keep the club going, and all the previous members graduated last year. Mugi (keyboard) joins accidentally as well when she's looking for the choir room, but is easily won over by Ritsu's enthusiasm (as you may have guessed, Ritsu is about 90% enthusiasm, 9% sarcasm and jokes, and 1% follow-through). However, they still need a fourth member to keep the club going, so they put up flyers around the school. Meanwhile, they drink tea and eat cakes to keep their energy up (I am assuming that's why they're doing it, but realistically who cares?)

That brings us to Yui (guitar). Yui is clumsy, and wants to join the light music club because she thinks it means "easy" music, and she wants to play the castanets. Flashback to Yui as a little girl playing castanets. She has no experience playing the guitar or reading music. Not to mention the fact that she doesn't even have a guitar. Oops, but least she's a fourth member! They convince her to join by plying her with tea and cakes, which would work on most people I think. I know it would work on me.

The show actually focuses less on the girls playing music and more of their friendship and the relationship between the characters. When the rest of the club realizes Yui doesn't have a guitar, or the money to buy one, they all get jobs to help her buy her first one. Over the course of the anime, the band (and especially Yui) gets better and better, and the girls become closer friends.

I had heard good things about K-On!, so I decided to track down some episodes. Unfortunately, it isn't released yet in the US so it took me awhile to track it down, but it was worth the effort. If, like me, you have ever wished you were a Japanese high school girl who was in a band, then you will love the show, trust me. I can't count the number of times I said some variation on "too cute" while pointing at the screen and squeeing. It's just that kind of show. In that sense it reminded me a lot of Azumanga Daioh, but with a band. Speaking of which, all of the music in the show is performed by the voice actresses, and it's all very catchy. I have downloaded everything they've put out so far, and I love it all.

In short, this is one of the best new anime I've seen, and I highly recommend it to anyone who is interested in this kind of show.

Finally, I leave you with Mio being so moe it hurts. Their adviser makes costumes for them to wear when they are performing, and so it's almost inevitable that she would dress Mio up in a maid outfit. So kawaii! Or, to steal a line from the show, "Moe, Moe, Kyun!"

Ending Theme