Meido Flu Strikes Millions: Details on CNN

By bluemist on February 24th, 2006

‘Maid’ in heaven for geeks

This is more or less the first time I’ve ever seen CNN run an otaku-based feature on cable television (news article in the link above). I’m quite sure there ‘were’ more I have not seen, because really, the report seemed to emphasize not only on the recent “maid cafe boom”, nor the otaku, but also the unknown fact that this so-called “otaku economy” is a 4 BILLION DOLLAR industry! Investors… we’re talking to you.

That aside, this seemed like a pretty lighthearted feature. Less emphasis was made on otaku being the social misfits. Otaku = geek is a bit right on the money, as opposed to anime = pr0n (media people know more stuff than politicians sometimes). Casual viewers of CNN may have been in shock seeing geeky people being served by skimpy-outfitted maids, but I guess this is one way of showing the world that there is this whole reverse side of Japan other than being the ‘cool’ nation of Asia. But who knows, as maid cafes go mainstream in Japan, maybe these otaku stuff will also become ‘cool’ to other cultures around the world… and even follow suit. Densha Otoko wasn’t a wasted show after all.

So what would be purpose of the report, other than people going to Japan, wait 30 minutes on a maid cafe queue and try to be otaku for a day? Me? No matter how much I like anime and those other semi-otaku stuff, I just couldn’t/can’t/won’t fit in that kind of crowd. I’d laugh all the way through inside the cafe. Even if I don’t intend my genuine laugh to be insultive, those otakus will transform into yakuza gang members and give me a heavy beating. Wouldn’t want that to happen right?

unless……
(I was half-hoping Atika Shubert to try one of those maid outfits during the report… so… er… just kidding.)

Da Capo Second Season

By bluemist on February 19th, 2006

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It’s always hard to have a sophomore outing. It always gets compared to the first. The entire Da Capo game franchise seemed to escape itself away from this dilemma, by bombarding the audience with all things Da Capo. With the possibly annoying array of versions, revisions, sidestories, and fandisks of the Da Capo games alone, coupled with multiple manga and anime serializations, comparing each is no use. Just enjoy the Da Capo mythos. But in case of the anime versions, we need to look at the first season as reference to Da Capo Second Season, because it is not a version or revision of the original, it is a sequel.

With DCPS ending, the Da Capo anime has now become the longest running anime franchise of the bishoujo game genre. 52 episodes of fun with rainbow-colored hair and cute girls. Each season had its own unique share of positive and negative traits, but overall a worthy watch, especially if you had been looking through your mountain pile of Da Capo games. And the heat rises further, as Da Capo Second Season adds more girls into the already crowded fray of multiple hair colors and different personalities. You’re really bound to like at least one of them. The main guy actually has a literal change of character art in the new season, but who cares about the guy anyway?

Ironically, one new main character didn’t actually come from the games. Aisia, a new girl with mysterious powers, was derived from a manga serialization called Da Capo Second Graduation. The other new characters came from the Da Capo Plus Situation game. Some DCPS characters actually didn’t make the cut, one is really missing, one remains a cameo, and another one… hmm… let’s just say that she is there but not really.

The story carries over from the first season, two years later. The mysterious power within the cherry blossoms are gone, main girls Nemu and Sakura are abroad, and all seems certain that Kotori (arguably one of the most favorable Da Capo girls) will take the limelight and shine. One problem though, Aisia steals the limelight more often than not, plus with (ooh spoiler) Nemu and Sakura returning once again, it is now a whole new battle for the love of this one boring male lead.

I hope to fully put the entire season in perspective, but really, everything that happens in Da Capo Second Season involves Aisia. I hope I was correct in saying that. Even when there were episodes that feature the other new characters, Aisia plays a vital part in each of their stories. This I think is where the second season is weak as compared to the first. There is little room for character development or focus for all the other girls. While you may argue that some have already developed (because of the first season), for an anime of the bishoujo genre, characters are more important than plot. I would have preferred more Mako episodes myself. Along with character development, Aisia was granted the key to open the door of the main plot of the second season. What convenience, Aisia gets all the attention. As I said, viewers may think that this season is all about Aisia AND Kotori (as implied in the OP sequence), but it turns out that Kotori stays to be coincidential rather than central to the plot.

In any case, Da Capo Second Season as a story is an excellent follow-up to the first Da Capo. It raises a lot of questions to the conclusion of the first season, and answers them one-by-one. The first season’s ending did have some logical and moral faults, and I was glad that DCSS transcended beyond the original content toward a more “true” conclusion this time around. But with Aisia getting more screentime, I figured that they never needed a entire length of 26 episodes in order to explain the point. If anything, I really hoped that more focus should have been dealt on the new DCPS girls and Kotori herself. It doesn’t need to be this focused on Aisia alone. I admit, Aisia rocks, but alienating fans of all the other Da Capo girls… a no-no.

Despite this, I really enjoyed the run. Character animation looks more consistent, the background music again memorable, and excellent songs again coming from no other than Yui Horie (Kotori) and yozuca* and rino/CooRie.

If anything, this may be the real time to close the huge Da Capo franchise. Onwards to DC II perhaps? I think it has already proven its point, each character strong enough to remain a bishoujo anime icon. If you can stomach the barrage of Aisia-only goodness, Da Capo Second Season is a worthy watch.

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This is a Summer of Bishoujo feature

Ichigo Mashimaro

By bluemist on February 1st, 2006

Ichigo Mashimaro

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Azumanga Daioh seems oh too influential an anime nowadays. It seems like a main reference whenever a new slice-of-life comedy anime comes along. And then whenever that anime doesn’t live up to expectations, labels of “Azumanga Daioh ripoff” are placed. Many slice-of-life comedy animes have come and go since then, and only a few stand out not to be another anime’s ripoff. One of them is Ichigo Mashimaro.

With the original manga currently running in the moe~filled magazine called Dengeki Daioh (where Azumanga Daioh also ran), Ichigo Mashimaro is a story non-story of four cute young girls and a slightly older female teenager… Period. That’s it folks… bye!

Er…

Basically there is no main plot to talk about. Ichigo Mashimaro is about five girls doing the usual stuff in life. What stands out here though is in the basis of characterization. The five girls all have their own unique traits that make them cute not only physically. Nobue, the eldest of the five, acts as the nee-san of the group… but smokes cigars and has a penchant for anything cute (like cosplay, and also the four girls themselves). Chika, Nobue’s sister, seemingly has nothing special, but she acts as the sarcastic girl whenever everyone does something weird. Ana, the foreigner, has more Japanese speech and cultural knowledge than even her Japanese friends, but her English is surprisingly poor. Matsuri, the meganekko, is a soft-spoken girl who is slow in so many things but actually speaks better English than Ana. And Miu, the main troublemaker of the group, is… Miu. Nobody can completely describe Miu and the inner workings of her mind, but at least enjoy her punchlines here.

As you can see, their characteristics look bland on paper, but you have to see the anime to appreciate it. When they are mixed up, seemingly simple stories and events in life will be interesting, and very, very hilarious! Nobue usually commands the order of things, but sometimes gives in whenever it is rather “cute”. Chika acts almost the same except that she focuses on stopping her best friend Miu on doing crazy antics, because she’s the only one who can. Ana, being an extremely unique foreigner, gets center of attention especially when she talks about specific Japanese stuff even most Japanese don’t know. Matsuri always falls victim to the clutches of Nobue’s fancy for kawaii and Miu’s round of weirdness. And Miu is the center of all things weird in this anime series.

It’s 12 episodes of pure fun. The character design is of a unique style that actually succeeds in being cute (and loli). Animation is constant all throughout. The pacing of this anime, while intricately slice-of-life, never gets boring even when it goes slow. A unique thing about this anime is that there are only a select few parts where background music is played. Most of the time, it’s completely silent, which allows a viewer to focus more on the visuals and dialogue exchange of the characters. It’s very effective in bringing out that original flavor from the manga. And when the background music kicks in, it is quite memorable too.

For a character-based anime like Ichigo Mashimaro, it is important to have excellent voices to flesh out the characters. The anime succeeds by a longshot. This is for me one of the best voice work in any anime series of 2005! It is not just because all these five seiyuu are big superstars in the anime industry, but their voice fits the character with extreme precision. I was one who initially thought Ana’s was miscast but it turned out more than fine afterwards. They were able to portray each character in ways that one could not think of any other alternative.

Kawasumi Ayako (Matsuri)
Orikasa Fumiko (Miu)
Nabatame Hitomi (Nobue)
Noto Mamiko (Ana)
Chiba Saeko (Chika)

As it now stands, Ichigo Mashimaro is one great treat. Fun and funny on so many levels, not to mention loli-cute. Ichigo Mashimaro should be laid into the same pedestal along with Azumanga Daioh, as an anime that redefines the slice-of-life comedy genre.

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