Posts from July 2010

3 Episode Taste Test: High School of the Dead

There's definitely a space between "High" and "School" so why High School of the Dead dropped it for the canonical abbreviation H.O.T.D. is unknown but this is just one of many oddities the first three episodes of the zombies-invade-Japan series contains. It plunders recent genre movies with gay abandon but still feels unique; it lays on the gratuitous - blood, breasts and banter - but never feels protracted or beyond the pale; it has a punk rock opening and ending themes but steers clear of banshee-strangling or ALI PROJECT dirge. What the series so ably does is nail the necessities and leave everything else to sort themselves out: characters are stereotypical and bland, the storyline hackneyed, but damned if it doesn't fire full bore with the action while keeping the pace quick and letting the tension build.

carnage, combat and cleavage blend together into a heady cocktail that stimulates all the right areas of the lizard brain

It is another uneventful day at Fumiji High School: Takashi is loafing about, Saya is berating him, Rei is in class, and no one has any idea of the apocalypse unfolding around them. A single zombie inadvertently bites and kills a teacher at the school gate and from there, panic and terror spread until the entire school is either the walking dead or in hiding. Takashi and Rei meet up with other survivors including the kendo club's champion, a firearms enthusiast and the ditsy school nurse; together they manage to procure a bus and escape from the school, but with the city in ruins and discontent brewing in the group there is the important question of whether they will ever see their families again. If they want to survive they'll need to put aside whatever quibbles they have with each other and find a way to exist in the now ruined world.

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3 Episode Taste Test: Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu (Legend of the Legendary Heroes)

Intentional or not, medieval fantasy series always fall under the shadow of Berserk. Densetsu no Yuusha no Densetsu doesn't do itself any favours by featuring an effeminate, silver haired leader or an desirable, unusually powerful ally. There are certainly other parallels to be drawn but the first three episodes prove wholeheartedly that the series has its priorities straight by focusing first on characters, then on narrative and some way down the list on the mythos-specific idiosyncrasies. In short, it's forging its own path and being thoroughly entertaining while doing it. Its title may be outlandish but the strength of the cast and its willingness not to cower before gore or tragedy means it is a promising start to an intriguing full-length series.

The opening episodes don't pull any punches [...], capturing that dark fantasy vibe bubbling under a fa├žade of sky blue and sunset amber

In the kingdom of Roland, ravaged by war and rotten with corrupt nobles, a magical academy that takes in orphans and the children of criminals has two particularly special students. One is Ryner, a slovenly and unmotivated boy who has cursed eyes known as Alpha Stigma which give him immense magical power. The other is the charismatic Sion who was subjected to ferocious bullying while young due to his birth as a bastard child of a noble father and common mother. Now though, he has the support of a shadowy and lethal family of bodyguards as well as the conviction to ascend to the throne with the aim of purging the country of its ruinous ills. Both will be instrumental in the upcoming turmoil - war and civil unrest - and the old legends of powerful demons and heroes may yet play a part in that.

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3 Episode Taste Test: Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi (Ookami and her Seven Companions)

Playing fast and loose with fairy tales, Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakamatachi is a surprising comedy that straddles the line between familiar and fresh, whimsically mashing up elements pluck from its contemporaries. Certainly the protagonist's hair colour and demeanour could have been lifted wholesale from Toradora, her pugilistic attitude and deviant sidekick are another matter. So it is with the rest of the cast, just when the measure of a character seems to be had, a tangential quirk is revealed turning them on their head. The strength of the show then is defying expectation and in three episodes it proves it has the legs and the occasional comedic timing to pull off its crazy take on well loved stories, but whether it will be able to maintain that for a further ten is up for debate.

though the outcome is predictable, this is definitely a case where the telling is more important than the ending

Otogi High School has its share of interesting clubs, the "bank" though is different and specialises in doing favours for people in times of need. The only catch is that person owes them a favour to be collected at a later time. So it is that Ryouko, the eponymous Ookami, and her diminutive companion Ringo become part of the bank and carry out some of the more physical jobs they have to deal with. Surrounded by other oddballs such as the cross-dressing president, a bespectacled and thoroughly bonkers scientist, and a boy with social anxiety disorder who wields a mean slingshot. Together they deal with the variety of cases that come to the attention of the bank: from a girl who doesn't want her senior in the tennis club to leave to someone who wants desperately to win the school's beauty pageant; regardless of the problem, Ryouko often needs to brandish her iconic cat-shaped boxing gloves to achieve a solution.

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3 Episode Taste Test: Amagami SS (Gentle Bite SS)

Amagami SS parades hollow, vacuous simpletons around in a grotesque approximation of a romance plot; cretins drawn with all the grace of a gorilla with a crayon shoved up its nose, splattered wholesale into a story that is as if the plot of a romance novel were faxed to the writers but was horribly smeared and distorted in the process, leaving just a grim and disfigured estimate as to what was intended. These are not even characters but amalgamations of the most tired, staid and all-round tedious aspects of archetypes that have mutated into a hideous, cringeworthy diorama of what sociopaths believe realistic or dramatically engaging human interaction is. There is no merciful release from these mannequins pretending to be people, only the grim realisation that there are twenty four episodes of uninspired, stupidity inducing drivel to come.

delights in emasculating her sycophantic barely-male toy that one day latched onto her like an unwelcome parasite
The plot as it stands concerns Junichi who after being slighted by an as yet nameless girl doesn't take the honourable and budget saving route of giving himself over to a psychiatric ward and instead constructs a pithy home made planetarium in his cupboard out of marker pen and tears of rejection. Through the abject failure of natural selection, the doddering halfwits he associates himself with haven't murdered him out of boredom or compassion and continue to potter about their own superficial lives. His hormones eventually determine he should pursue a girl one year his senior but whose mind is the colour of bitumen and has all the personality of a long deceased lemming. While he kowtows to her every whimsical desire, humiliating himself in front of his sole male acquaintance in the process, she remains fickle and obtuse and, with any luck, is plotting a gory end to his pathetic existence.

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High School Royale

High School of the Dead recently began airing and has brought the irrepressible zombie to a media which has peculiarly ignored their archetypes in favour of more culturally relevant afflictions such as demonic possession and the like. Based on the manga of the same name, in only two episodes the series has shown a remarkably sympathetic hand for including genre sensitive elements - is that the signature tune for 28 Days Later at the end of the first episode?

it says volumes that the only females to survive are curvaceous and beautiful

Widely credited with the creation of the zombie movie genre, George A. Romero's Dawn of the Dead is one of his earliest and most widely known movies and champions a lot of the situations and scenarios that High School of the Dead apes. More interestingly though, Dawn of the Dead and its mall setting is a scathing commentary on the decadent consumerism and hedonism of the period which is still just as relevant today. Like the best fantasy and sci-fi its fiction was a critique of society and culture, a relevance which very few zombie movies have managed to achieve since.

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