Red Data Girl: RDG

Red Data Girl IzumikoIzumiko Suzuhara has a knack for destroying everything electronic. If she just touches a cell phone it sputters and turns into a plastic and metal brick. Growing up at the Kumano Shrine is quite different from the city life the shy Izumiko wants to experience. Her long, twin braids and her lack of basic texting skills makes her the oddball in her high school.

If only her fellow students knew the truth of how odd she really is.

Yukimasa Sagara is a reluctant guardian for the awkward girl in pigtails. He is a monk in training and sworn to protect Izumiko. Never mind the fact she has no clue what she truly is and the havoc she can cause.

Red Data Girl is a fairly typical high school fantasy love story.  The story has some pacing issues; it feels a little rushed at times. There are identical triplets in the story (Mayura, Manastu, and Masami) that often swap places with each other. Sometimes this is rather confusing; Masami is a spirit his sister and brother summons to help them fight spirits.

RDG SagaraThe characters are interesting and show drastic personality changes over the course of the story. Izumiko and Yukimasa show the most pronounced changes. Red Data Girl is an interesting twist on the rather tired high school coming of age story. It is steeped in Shinto folklore and feels very Japanese. Some Western watchers new to anime and Shinto folklore may feel confused and lost. The manga was featured in Shonen Ace, but the story has a shojo feel to it. Most of the story is from Izumiko’s perspective.

So what is my weigh in? RDG is enjoyable enough to hold my attention for the duration of its 12 episodes.  The Shinto folklore kept my interest peaked. The characters were interesting if stereotypical. The high school setting negated the sense of danger the story tried to convey. There was far less threat to the characters from my perspective than the story tried to suggest. Much of the conflict felt like a soap opera rather than a serious confrontation between forces. This is mainly because the conflict was framed by high school concerns: student council maneuvers, student festivals, plays, and the like. The “villains” were far from sinister. They were teens after all.

RDG isn’t a show to go out of your way to see or avoid. It is enjoyable and entertaining, but it isn’t all the memorable.

11 Eyes

11 EyesThis high school fantasy anime had some interesting RPG-like moments, but 11 Eyes ultimately fell on its face. The story revolves around 6 high school students who are drawn into the “Red Night,” an alternate realm populated by larvae like creatures and Black Knights. The Black Knights are bent on killing the high-school students. The students each have special powers that are unlocked by their efforts to survive the Red Night and return to their own world.

Kakeru Satsuki and Yuka Minase are orphans who have known each other since childhood. Kakeru wears an eyepatch to cover his discolored and blind eye. Yuka tries to keep a bubbly attitude for Kakeru’s sake. He has been depressed since his sister committed suicide. Kakeru and Yuka are drawn into the Red Night and meet Misuzu Kusakabe, an red-haired swordsman one year ahead of them in school. Kakeru quickly tires of being chased and seeing Yuka in danger. In typical shonen fashion, he decides he must protect her at all costs, including his own soul.

11 Eye Red NightThe music is well done and contributes to the atmosphere, but the anime itself feels disjointed and rushed. The reasons behind the conflict are not very well developed, and all of the characters fall into stereotypes. The ending felt rushed and unsatisfying. The ending undoes what the anime attempts to do.

Some of the distorted feel has to do with the powers the students have. Many of the fight in the series feel like a pale attempt at animating a fight from Final Fantasy. Kakeru, Yuka, and Misuza are the main protagonists but are not that well developed. Kakeru isn’t all that likeable; Yuka is clingy and Misuza is a bit too stereotypical. Although Misuza does offer some moments of weakness that help push her character to the audience better than the one sided Yuka.

11 Eyes Yukiko Takahisa

11 Eyes attempts at humor fall flat and feel forced against the dark backdrop of the story it tries to weave. The humor is typical high school fair: Kakeru’s arm crushed between Yuka’s breasts and the like. There is some fan service (upskirt shots) of Yuka scattered throughout. The fan service hurts Yuka’s character.

11 Eyes might have fared better if it was longer than 13 episodes. The characters had the potential to be interesting. The fragile love triangle between Yuka, Kakeru, and Misuza needed more development for it to feel strained and a part of the overarching conflict.

11 Eyes isn’t something to go out of your way to watch. It has some decent moments and an interesting twist near the end, but these moments are few and far between. It is unfortunate to see another anime fail to reach its potential.

13 Assassins

13 Assassins MovieI don’t normally write about Japanese films, but this remake is worth mentioning. The movie remakes a 1963 black and white film. Set just before the end of the Shogunate period in Japanese history, the storyline pits 13 samurai against a cruel lord, Naritsugu,  poised to become a part of the Shogun’s inner council.

How cruel a lord? So cruel that he kills the family of one of his samurai who commits harikari in front of the palace. So cruel that he keeps the daughter of the leader of a peasant uprising as a sexual plaything. She had her arms, legs, and tongue cut off.

The samurai are charged with the assassination mission by a senior government official. So this isn’t necessarily a rogue mission here.

13 Assassin Stand Off

The story centers around Shimada Shinzaemon, the leader of the assassins, as he gathers the assassins and prepares to make his move. His rival is Hanbei, a noble samurai who remains dedicated to Lord Naritsugu despite witnessing the lord killing his son.

13 Assassins is bloody and brutal. The main character, Shinzaemon, is a darkly jolly fellow. His nephew, a gambler and womanizer with a noble soul. Most of the 13 are quickly sketched. I admit that I often didn’t know who was who after they were covered in gore. There are many other characters, however, that you can barely tell apart. They are glossed over and lack any sort of personality.

There is a lot of dark humor in this film.

The climatic battle is intense. The fights are swift, and the 13 are not invincible. Only almost so! Thirteen people taking out over 200? It makes for nice action, but such a battle is generally eye rolling with how super human the heroes are.

13 AssassinsThe sets and costumes are believable. The sets in particular are convey a sense of gritty realism to the film. There is a lot of mud and contrast between the rural areas and the cities.

13 Assassins is something to check out if you like epics and don’t mind violence. It isn’t as gory as most American shock films are now. You won’t see entrails being spilled on the ground or anything. The movie has the feel of classic period epics.  The movie does use CGI, but it is barely noticeable. It isn’t a great film by any means. It is an entertaining, if violent, film that captures some of the feel of the time period it tries to portray.

Kimi no Iru Machi: A Town Where You Live

Town Where You Live's HaturoKimi no Iru Machi is a shonen slice of life manga wrote by Seo Kouji. To be honest, I thought it was a shojo from the way it read. The series follows Haruto Kirishima, Yuzuki Eba, Akari Kaga, and other friends as they grow up.

The story centers around Haruto and Yuzuki’s turbulent romance. Yuzuki ends up staying with Haruto during their high school years upon request by her family. Yuzuki and Haruto’s parents were friends. Haruto doesn’t really care for Yuzuki at first; he only has eyes for Nanami Kanazaki. The story focuses on Haruto’s changing love interests as he grows older and how it creates an on-off relationship with Yuzuki. Thankfully, Yuzuki isn’t another tsundere character.

Eba YuzukiBeing shonen, it is no surprise the manga has plenty of eye candy and hot spring scenes. As the character age, more nudity and related scenes creep into the story. Their concerns also change. They begin worrying about work, pregnancy, death, and other adult themes.

Jokes tend to center around misunderstandings and word play. Japanese language really lends itself to both considering a single word can have such a range of meanings.

Mishima AsukaThere were times that I didn’t like Haruto. He wasn’t exactly a player, but he is a good guy who is (typically shonen) ignorant of how his actions are understood by the opposite sex. Many of his choices end up hurting those closest to him; he lands himself into thorny situations because of his desire to always help people. Haruto’s selflessness comes off as being selfish.

In a particular arch with Asuka Mishima, I particularly did not like Haruto. [Some vague spoilers are ahead.] He acted so poorly toward the forgiving and compassionate Asuka that I almost stopped reading the manga out of disgust. I never felt much toward Yuzuki as a character, perhaps because her personality type tends to get on my nerves. Asuka, on the other hand, was the type of character that I enjoy. It riled me how the arch progressed. I didn’t like how he treated Nanami earlier in the series as well.

Haruto's Best Friend, AkariOver time, I began to enjoy Haruto as a character as he showed signs of growing up. Although, I never did quite forgive him the Asuka arch. My reaction to the arch tells me how well done the characters in A Town Where You Live are. They are very human.

The artwork for A Town Where You Live is crisp and detailed. The artist has a great feeling for layout and framing a scene. Rich blacks provide a nice rhythm to the reading, and the way the artist handles the eyes for expression is excellent. Many frames are subtle; sometimes only the eyes of the character moves between panels, but the shift speaks more than the dialog.

So what are my thoughts? The characters of Kimi no Iru Machi are well done and enjoyable. They are not entirely stereotypical; although many of the girls have the ditzy aspect to them. The manga doesn’t shy away from difficult discussions and how life changes.

Some of the most touching scenes are between the childhood friends Haruto, Takashi, and Akari. For being shonen, the series is laced with deep emotions. It is refreshing to see the series show the characters growing into adulthood and taking on the rather routine and boring aspects of meeting rent and other obligations. If you enjoy slice of life, romance, and stories about people growing up, you should read Kimi no Iru Machi.

Antique Bakery

I started to watch this drama because I was on a bakery kick, and I liked the title… “Antique Bakery”. My overall impression was that not a lot happens in this drama. Regardless this drama is heartwarming, and I couldn’t help but cheer the characters on. I have to admit, the real reason I like this show is…. the cake! Every episode they display the most delicious treats with fresh berries, fluffy mouses and glistening sugary sauces. It makes me wish to bake something like that, which is odd for me because I passionately hate cooking… but I think if I could make something look as delicious as it tastes I would be happy to do it. This is a very lighthearted drama that leaves me with happy thoughts.

This drama has an interesting method of narrating, by typing words across the screen. It is silly, but it grew on me. I enjoyed learning about the characters. I did not like how they drag out the mystery of the personal histories of the characters. While it doesn’t make for very good suspense, it does reflect how difficult it is to be honest about things that are painful to remember.

The bakery is a beautiful building with rich art nouveau ornamentation. There are lots of awkward moments in this show, where the master chef stares down other people. He likes to convey his opinions without words, which is quite funny to watch. When I started watching the first episode I thought ‘what the heck am I watching?’ I am glad I continued to watch it.

You should watch this when: you are feeling down, and need a bit of happy in your life.

Do not watch when: you are hungry, because you will want to devour an entire cake… or if your like me, a pan of brownies.

I give it 3 stars.

You can watch this drama on Antique Bakery

Spice and Wolf 2

Spice and Wolf has quickly become one of my favorite anime series. It is just so refreshingly different. There aren’t any villains. There are just people with faults: mostly greed.

Like the first season, Spice and Wolf II is a “talky.” There is less suspense than in the first season and more focus on Holo and Lawrence’s relationship. Most of the action is done through back and forth banter and mercantile maneuvers.  That said, the dub has to be well done. Luckily it is.

The series delves deeper into Holo’s feelings and thoughts than the first season. She isn’t as mysterious…although she is still her usual wise-wolf self. Lawrence slowly admits to himself where exactly his feelings and priorities lie.Holo is more vulnerable in this season too. For some viewers, she may seem to act out of character ( there is a different studio producing this season); however, the first season alludes to how her bristly overly capable facade hides a deep seated sorrow and loneliness. Her vulnerabilities in this season develops that part of her character. The very first episode, Wolf and Amber Melancholy, in particular shows her buried concerns.

Holo shows her deep loneliness and fears in this season

Holo isn’t nude very often in this season ( too bad for those who like fan service). However, her moments of vulnerability and fear leaves her more exposed than all the proud nudity of the first season. The contrast is very well handled.

The season is divided into 2 arcs centering around political and money hijinks. Lawrence still hasn’t learned his lessons from the first season or where his true priorities are. The omnipresent church plays a stronger, but still indirect, role in the second arc.

Despite a different studio handling production, the show retains the same feel. The main problem with Spice and Wolf is its all or nothing nature. The entire story hinges on how well you like Holo and Lawrence. If you don’t care for one or the other, you can’t get into the story. However, if you greatly enjoy their characters like I do, you get sucked into the story completely. There is very little middle ground.

Spice and Wolf remains one of the most thoughtful and well done anime I’ve seen. The animation isn’t flashy. It doesn’t have to be. The dialogue is carefully handled and lacks the awkwardness most anime have. Of course, since the anime is all about the dialogue, any fault would shatter the illusion.

I eagerly await the next installment.