Posts from November 2009

3 Episode Taste Test: Fairy Tail

Casting Aya Hirano as the lead character is not the worst thing that Fairy Tail does, but it comes close. Her voice is so identifiable and her status so confoundingly overwhelming that it overshadows many of the other more accomplished actors such as Rie Kugimiya (Alphonse from Fullmetal Alchemist) and Tetsuya Kakihara (Simon from Gurren Lagann). The worst thing Fairy Tail does however is through a concerted and continuous effort, wringing all aspects of originality from itself; one would have a more rewarding experience staring at a beige rug than watching the first three episodes.

poor characters can't be rectified by multiplying the number of them

Lucy is a seventeen year old wizard whose uselessness is matched only by her peppiness. No back story is given to her, no parents or family members mentioned, a blank canvas to scrawl childlike motives on in crayon. Living in a world where every gawping twit can buy magically imbued items, she of course wants to join a most notorious and powerful guild, the titular Fairy Tail. After being duped onto a boat and subsequently kidnapped, she is saved by a powerful but sloppy member of the guild, Natsu, and by the end of the first episode she is unceremoniously inducted into the supposedly elitist group. The following two have her run errands for the group. Hilarity ensues.

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3 Episode Taste Test: Tegami Bachi (Letter Bee)

Visually at least, Letter Bee is remarkably striking: washes of indigo and pinpricks of grey-whites make it aesthetically strong; however in the perpetual twilight of the fantasy world it portrays, appreciation turns quickly into indifference. The motif of particles drifting softly from the sky is overused to the point where its original implication is questionable; sepia flashbacks are replete with translucent stars while during the initial two episode journey, spores and whatever else constantly accompany the bland dialogue and sloth-like storyline.

The first of what is likely to many other ridiculously named comrades is Niche

The first three episodes describe Lag Seeing's - just one of a number of absurd names - journey towards becoming a Letter Bee - essentially an armed postman. Lag is initially found tethered to a monument next to the charred remains of a village, from there he is taken by Gauche - a current Letter Bee - across the mountains, encountering terrible CG beasties along the way. The set up is painfully typical and Lag spends the majority of the opening episodes leaking from all of his facial orifices and whining incessantly, compounded by the addition of a surly, alien looking toddler who, by some kind of perverse skill, magnifies Lag's annoying mannerisms. Dull, plodding and lifeless, Letter Bee is impossible to enjoy and difficult to tolerate.

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3 Episode Taste Test: Kobato

The CLAMP powerhouse whirs back to animated life after the juggernaut of Tsubasa Reservoir Chronicle and the most recent xxxHolic, this time with a protagonist that has a more than coincidental likeness to a certain green-haired girl created by Kiyohiko Azuma. Kobato is an undeniably twee production but, unlike other outputs by the all-female studio, lacks a more engaging overarching story.

whereas series like Chobits had a dearth of possibilities, this seems inspirationally barren

The titular character Kobato drifts down to earth in a swirl of cherry blossoms and flowing hair, finally exclaiming that she will "do her best". Not the most original of introductions but the opening melody by the superb Maaya Sakamoto is reason enough to continue. What follows is relentlessly saccharine as the protagonist is set on a mission - by her gruff and obnoxious stuffed dog Ioryogi - to heal people's hearts and collect the fragments - shaped like kompetio - in a jar so that she can obtain her as-yet undisclosed wish. Surviving on a mixture of luck and the grace of strangers, Kobato's mission introduces her to a medley of shrill voiced people, all with faces easily recognisable to those with even a passing familiarity with previous CLAMP works. Calling this a kids show would be redundant, but that it feels mildly derivative and frequently vacuous is surprising given the creators.

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3 Episode Taste Test: Sasameki Koto (Whispered Words)

Sasameki Koto takes place in a land of almost perpetual sunsets, golden skies and scenery aflame with oranges, all the while impressionable young girls stand in front of illuminated classrooms blushing with possibility. The series lays in thick and fast and doesn't ever prevaricate as to what the majority of it will be about: unfettered romance. Dainty piano melodies and smooth words flow from the opening leaving no doubt as to the position the series takes on its subject matter.

they feel like characters rather than porcelain dolls butting heads

Sumika Murasame loves her best friend Ushio Kazama who is infatuated with cute girls, unfortunately for Sumika she is tall, athletic and bookish preferring to dress in muted polo necks than frilly skirts. While she pines for Ushio a male from her class, Masaki Akemiya, has fallen in love with her and expresses this by cross dressing and posing for a fashion magazine. Things take a turn for the complex when Sumika and Ushio catch two other girls kissing, and from the hints dropped in the first three episodes, it's safe to assume that other potential love interests will be introduced in short order. The story is typical romance fare with the added twist of same-sex relationships but the plights of the cast produces a level of empathy that is wholly unusual.

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3 Episode Taste Test: Fuyu no Sonata (Winter Sonata)

Beginning Winter Sonata without knowing its lineage is opening oneself up for confusion. While superficially Japanese, the series originates in South Korea, adapted from a non-animated drama series of which Winter Sonata is the second of four which are collectively known as "Endless Love". The original television cast are brought on in voice acting roles and not re-dubbed which means that when broadcast in Japan, subtitles are included. Past the initial puzzlement as to the difference in language, the first episodes of the series turn out to be little more than a straight-faced romance story, albeit with a nostalgic twist.

a show that resolutely belongs on daytime television, aimed squarely at the unemployed and housebound

The first episode - commonly termed Episode 0 - is billed as a prelude to the main series and wastes no time pouring on the floaty piano music and longing gazes out onto cityscapes ravished by the weather. Joon Sang Kang is in New York suffering from a hematoma behind his eye which makes him permanently introspective and liable to fall over at inopportune moments; meanwhile Yujin Jung writes about the past in cosy Parisian coffee shops while thinking of Joon. With some stunning backgrounds and a genuine eye for emotional detail, the series gets off to a slow but determined start.

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