Posts from July 2010

Bygones: Aria the Animation

First released: October 2005

Aria: The Animation is a holiday - from sexual innuendo, from noise, from fighting and from bustle. As it meanders along, content to show the placid toil of the gondoliers in training - geishas of the canals in everything but name - each episode becomes less about individual triumphs and pacing and more about getting lost in the tranquillity the series has gushing from it. The series may not be to everyone's taste, it is as much a holiday from drama and plotting as everything else, but for those looking to escape into a pastel coloured reverie there really is no better series; especially so for fans of gentle voices, lilting music, oddly proportioned cats and occasional time travel.

charmingly naive and has an infectious enthusiasm that elevates her above the common ultra-virtuous stereotype
Mars, once barren and harsh is now Aqua, flush with water and tamed by technology it is a utopia away from Earth - now Manhome. In the canal-city of Neo-Venezia, gondolas are the best way to travel and the water-ways are run by three companies: the smallest Aria, the biggest Orange Planet, and the oldest Himeya. After traveling from Manhome, Akari becomes an apprentice in Aria Company under the tutelage of the beautiful Alicia - one of the three Water Faeries of the city. Akari may not be the best gondolier - Undine in the series jargon - however she is affable and enjoys life, able to find happiness in the smallest of things. Along with two friends, her time on Aqua is replete with adventures both emotional and personal.

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Bygones: Strike Witches

First released: July 2008

It's easier to think of Strike Witches more as unfulfilling pornography than a more traditional, coherent series; all the hallmarks are present: copious nudity, low camera angles, paper-thin plot, a cast reduced to caricatures, fake lesbianism and innumerable fetishes. It makes it more enjoyable to watch with this in mind as no longer can it be held to the same standards as other series - were that to happen one would likely not make it past the first five minutes of hackneyed, tedious plotting and be reduced to apoplectic cursing within ten. Instead, this is a brainless, fluffy, occasionally uncomfortable but mildly entertaining series that, like porn, walks the line between guilty pleasure and stupefying incredulity.

it echoes a studio desperate for a widespread hit - and what better way than firing as much ammunition as possible with the hope that some of it will hit?

Yoshika is a witch in her native country of Japan (Fuso in the series parlance). Her powers make her a perfect candidate for the Strike Witches, a group of young girls who use magic-enhancing machinery to fight against the Neuroi - enigmatic alien aggressors who have razed most of mainland Europe. Initially adverse to the idea, Yoshika's quest to find her father inevitably leads her into the force which consists of girls of various ages from all over the world from the British Lynette - a sharpshooter in training, to the German Erica - a fantastically talented but slovenly combatant, to the ghostly and clairvoyant Sanya. Yoshika's battle against the Neuroi may have only just begun, but she may be the key to turning the tide against them for good.

Please note: the remainder of this post contains images of nudity, if you are offended by these or are otherwise unable to view these images within your municipality due to laws or moral obligations, please do not proceed.

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Stockholm syndrome and Silent Hill

The trailer for the latest Silent Hill instalment to come from Konami filled me with a rare kind of glee. However, I haven't played a Silent Hill game since Homecoming and haven't completed one since the The Room and it made me wonder why I still get excited about the franchise. The series has seen Akira Yamaoka mutate from music director to music god to game producer, but has now left the nest to join Grasshopper games, so it is certain that his iconic and atmospheric music will not be gracing the eighth entry. The music from the trailer sounds sterling though and while an unabashed fan of his music for Silent Hill, I didn't greet the news of him leaving Konami and the franchise with anything more than a "huh".

far harder is it to see a series slip into confused mediocrity than to precipitously burn out
I fell in love with Silent Hill, both the town and the game series, during the second and third iterations. The third bizarrely came out in the UK before the rest of the world and was one of the first games I got for the PS2, likewise the second game came belatedly to the Xbox and was another firm favourite. After them however the series faltered and hasn't really recovered what made it special - certainly all the individual components are present in games such Homecoming but the spark has never been seen since. And yet I still wanted to tear apart the latest trailer and put the pieces under a microscope, examining them for clues and hints as to what was to come.

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Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential

Coming from the husband and wife team that includes Brian Ashcraft of Kotaku and WIRED fame, Japanese Schoolgirl Confidential charts the rise of schoolgirls in Japan from background to brand, exploring the details and influences that surround them. Printed in a stubby, easily held format, the book is littered with photographs and illustrations that support the content, but is also adorned with a variety of kitschy, gaudy paraphernalia like faux-diamond bordered hearts as image captions and heart stickers in the corners. The format is fitting for the subject matter, keying into the peppy and sparkly fa├žade, but completely at odds with the variety and veracity of content that the book offers from start to finish. The level of research, care and attention that has been put in is gratifying for a book that could easily have been as vapid and frivolous as one assumes the eponymous schoolgirls are.

the writing is fluid and encourages extended reading with stand out chapters on fashion and the history of the uniform

The greratest triumph of the book is in debunking that mentality: that the schoolgirls, decked out in iconic sailor-suit school uniforms, are a product carried by a society that has a borderline hysterical lust for cute characters and intense consumerism. Subverting that impression to show the girls as drivers behind many of the sea-changes that happened in fashion and product development to moulding gender issues is cleverly done and achieved through example more than a stolid recounting of facts. The book is divided into eight chapters that begin by covering the history of the most obvious trait - the uniform - then moving on to idols, film, magazines, art and wrapping up with video games, manga and anime.

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Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood

A definitive list of things wrong with Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood: the second half doesn't focus on the Elric brothers enough, the opening episodes move too quickly for newcomers, some of the episode cliffhangers feel forced, the cities are unimaginatively named. With those out of the way, all that's left to say is that this is probably one of the finest, most unspeakably brilliant series to have ever been produced. Flaws are present but they are insignificant in comparison to the wealth of overriding positives - every element is sublimely constructed whether that's the story, characters or animation and for once a series has the budget and creative clout to thoroughly trounce all but the most high-profile productions. It may not be perfect, but it is the closest that any series or movie has yet reached and it transcends its media to achieve something extraordinarily special.

their hubris ultimately dooms them but it is humans and their power that defeats them

Edward and Alphonse Elric are alchemists, gifted from a young age they are the youngest to have ever joined the state military. Their past however is far from blessed, the death of their mother and their subsequent handling was not without its consequences, for one Ed lost both an arm and a leg, now replaced with prosthetic "auto-mail". Al on the other hand lost his entire body, he is now soul-bound to a suit of armour - able to move and talk but not eat, sleep or feel the touch of another. Together they are on a quest to regain their bodies, but dark forces are stirring and their foes - both human and alchemy borne - are many. Their friends are equally numerous though, and with the help of people like Mustang, the flame alchemist, their old teacher Izumi and their childhood friend Winry, they could well triumph over such world-encompassing adversity.

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