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Post Anime Binge Quick Reviews

A lot of these were mentioned over on my BYOND blog, but I've since decided to reserve my BYOND blog for discussing BYOND projects and use my Digitally Staving Off Boredom blog to discuss discuss the things I've done to digitally stave off boredom.  A place for everything, and everything in it's place, right?

In that case, I've a bit of data integration to do.  Over the last two months, I've had a lot of time on my hands looking for work in an environment largely disinterested in hiring anyway, and I spent much of that viewing anime streaming over Anime Network and Crunchyroll.

Having seen the entirety of the following animes, I'm now quite ready to levy a judgment about them:
(Clicking on any one of these will open the rest of this blog entry and jump to my words about them.)

Clannad and Clannad After Story (Masterpiece)

As some animes do, Clannad originates from a dating simulation, but from this humble origin came an incredible story of true love found amongst high school sweethearts leading to a neigh perpetual roller-coaster that rides out the highs and lows of everyday life, delivered on the backs of truly memorable characters, and dusted with the stuff of miracles.

Good God, this is the most emotionally charged anime on the planet. Seriously, it's not #1 out of 3800 or so on Anime Network's top 10 list for nothing. A gripping, life-changing experience, the U.S. Army should give an honorary purple heart to anyone who has watched both Clannad series in a few sittings, as it is unlikely they'd have escaped without a few injuries on the battlefield of the heart.

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Special A (Excellent)

This anime focuses primarily on a club of the seven highest graded members of a prestigious academy, fun characters all. It is primarily played out from the perspective of the second ranking member, a regular but hard-working girl, and her perpetual childhood rival she can never seem to beat: the number one ranking member of Special A, a boy who apparently has everything and can do anything... and adores the girl (much to her knuckleheaded ignorance).

A sublime romance anime, and absolutely hilarious besides, Special A received a rarely-awarded "excellent" from me due to the relatively high frequency of laughter and heart-tugging moments. It belongs in the collection of anyone who can appreciate this kind of romantic comedy.  However, Special-A is still reasonably light-hearted, and evades "Masterpiece" rank simply because Clannad has a much higher frequency of highs and lows to be found.

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Azumanga Diaoh (Very Good)

Azumanga Diaoh is a remarkably unassuming show on the surface, exhibiting cute high school girls (including one genius ten-year-old) engaged in a wide variety of slice-of-life activities that employ an excellent mixture of Moe and innocence.

Though nothing particularly unusual occurs during the entirety of the series, the attention to details provides a wealth of entertainment, enough to keep the viewer chuckling in at least every other scene.   It's difficult to consider Azumanga Diaoh as anything less than "Very Good."

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Maria+Holic (Very Good)

The main character, Kanako, really hates boys, and has transferred into an all girl Christian missionary school looking to find her soul mate. The catch? As fate would have it, her first crush is shattered when she discovers that the most popular girl in school, Mariya, is actually a highly affluent, cross-dressing boy with a somewhat sadistic sense of humor. He moves right in as her roommate to manipulate and prevent her from divulging his secret.

Despite the somewhat risque nature of the plot, Maria+Holic is actually a relatively clean show - though there is the occasional cleavage there's not a nipple to be found. The most morally questionable aspect is that Kanako's lusting over her fellow classmates is occurring in a (relatively lax) Christian missionary school, and that Mariya plays a number of cruel humiliation games on Kanako (the most disturbing being dousing her with gasoline and threatening to ignite her) because ironically this cross-dressing deceiver of the entire school is actually the straight man who finds her behavior repulsive.

Maria+Holic pulls itself out of the typical "Good" anime and into "Very Good" territory partly because not too many animes succeed in making me laugh out loud this frequently and partly because the depth of the two main characters alone is pretty outstanding, with quite a few self-conflicting characteristics. I wonder what the reaction of a lesbian or feminist would be to this series - it's a toss up as to whether they'd be outraged or amused.

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Nanaka 6/17 (Very Good)

The focus of Nanaka 6/17 is unique: a snobby 17-year-old girl undergoes brain damage that causes her to regress to her bubbly 6-year-old state. Her childhood friend and father attempt to cover it up. While it's funny at times (and the Japanese do have a bit of a fetish for immature-acting ladies) the actual focus of Nanaka 6/17 is more about growing up a well-rounded person, and the kind of differences 11 years of life can make to a person.

While there are certainly both funny and touching moments in Nanaka, they are relatively few and far between. This is redeemed somewhat because (contrary to most animes) Nanaka 6/17 has a definitive start and finish to the story across its 13 episode story arc. This singularity deserves at least a "Very Good."

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The main protagonist, middle-school aged student Hiro, has died, rather stupidly. Fortunately, or perhaps unfortunately, he finds himself resurrected as a half-immortal blood warrior in perpetual servitude of the chainsaw-wielding, coldly-brilliant Princess Hime. As she's perpetually-besieged by her siblings in a struggle for the throne of monster-kind, Hiro finds himself dying even more to suit his new life mission of protecting Hime.

Though I would say this is more of an action and lighthearted horror anime than a harem anime, it bears mentioning that a good harem anime has a fine balance to it: if it becomes overly kinky, or the love interests act unrealistically clingy, it can insult the viewer's intelligence. Princess Resurrection deftly avoids this, partly because Hiro is just a bit too young to get into any serious romance with the leading ladies, and so the focus actually switches to a wide variety of cool supernatural scenarios mostly involving assassins after the princess.

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The central crux of this anime centers around a ridiculously powerful student council of a prestigious all girl school. Our unlikely, dirt-poor heroine arrives on the heels of a mysterious invitation with her best friend attached firmly to her hand: a hand-puppet with a mind of its own. Whether the heroine possesses a split personality or something else is going on is one of the two or three great mysteries the series gradually reveals, but such a ridiculous central premise is likely to alienate many viewers.

That's a shame, because there really is some excellent gags and characterization to be found across the wide spectrum of players in Best Student Council. While it may only garner a, "Good" due to the overall low intensity of the thing, there's nonetheless a lot of fun to be had here, and it's rare that I find myself wanting to go back and view an anime again simply to enjoy the ride in the same way I do Best Student Council.

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Sort of a cross between X-Men and Harry Potter, kids whose exceptional inborn abilities (substitute "mutation" for "alice") cause them to be secreted away in a prestigious academy that they're not allowed to leave for reasons beyond their own protection. Not all fun and games, but a kid-friendly anime.

The manga is a little darker (and ongoing some 5 years after the anime) but generally sticks to the same theme of fostering friendship between the various members of Alice Academy as they suffer injustices in containing and utilizing their powers originating from the shadow bureaucracy of the Academy. In the end, the anime is a bit dumbed-down and floaty, I can only give it a "good."

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World of Narue focuses on hopeless okatu Kazuto Iizuka and his relationship with the cute-but-weird fellow high-schooler Narue. Narue makes no effort to hide that she's a half-alien of a somewhat genetically identical race, something nobody else believes, and possesses the ability to teleport thanks to her telepathic link to a ship in orbit.

Narue's alien origin introduces both zany alien antics and a secondary plot of Narue's struggles with the intergalactic community to remain on her native born planet, the titular World of Narue: Earth, which is treated as a very special place by the anime. Aside from her alien origin, Narue is a remarkably perfect girlfriend, and the anime actually weaves some pretty solid dating advice within its zaniness.

My main critique of World of Narue is that it's far too tame, there's very little actual conflict, and no real character development. For this reason I can only give it a "good." Maybe this improves in later volumes of the manga which has been ongoing since 1999 - there's 10 volumes, 5 currently available in English, and this anime series only covers up to about the second volume.

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Primarily a story about a young heiress and her incredibly unlucky butler, both Hayate The Butler seasons were a fairly enjoyable romp, full of high profile zaniness, excellently executed characters, and not-a-few inside anime jokes. Where many animes fall into predictable formulas after awhile, Hayate relishes breaking outside of the mold, it pretends to be a power struggle anime between powerful "combat butlers" and instead delivers thoroughly unpredictable off-the-wall comedy.

Yet, in the end, I couldn't rate either Hayate The Combat Butler seasons better than "good" due to an overall lack of emotional intensity throughout. A series designed for easy consumption is best critically treated as such. I do, however, look forward to seeing a season 3 on the grounds that this is certainly an entertaining series.

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Super GALS (Good)

Super GALS offers an interesting window into Japanese pop culture.  The main character, Ran, is a highly independent teen who rules Shibuya (a district sometimes regarded as the most popular teen hangout in Japan).  The series jinks rapidly between slapstick comedy and serious teen issues, and more than a few lovely little romances are settled by the conclusion of the series.  Only the somewhat low production values and unfortunate choice to leave the later season without dubbing restrict this anime to a "good" rating.

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