Akemi's Anime World

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Initial Impressions of Code E, Gargoyle of the Yoshinagas, Ergo Proxy, Ariel

Ran through a couple episodes each of a bunch of random stuff to see what to put on the list next, so a few notes:

Code E: Set in (at least initially) a pleasant, realistic near-future Japan, starring a pleasant girl somewhat traumatized by her being a walking EMP weapon. Whenever she gets emotional—good or bad—she essentially blows up anything electric or electronic in a ten meter radius, which in a realistically high tech country makes you rather unpleasant to stand near, and has her parents moving around repeatedly whenever people start to get suspicious of why their cell phone goes out every time she’s in the room. Thus far she’s a very likable character—afraid of her own shadow; somewhat depressed about having to move around constantly, avoid getting too excited, and never stand near electronics, yet trying her best to be cheerful; and relatively believable for the superficially quiet-girl-with-glasses moe type. Her slightly quirky parents are pleasingly not-absent. The first episodes are low key, but have some great bits of her walking around taking notes on what rooms not to get too close to and looking longingly at a cell phone store—great body language. Also like that it’s constantly tossing off technology going on the fritz every time she walks by—everything from the electronic blackboard to soda machines. I like things that mix slice-of-life and fantasy/sci-fi elements smoothly like that—reminds me of Dennou Coil, except cute and funny instead of creepy and adventurous. Geeky, crazy “science can fix this!” romantic interest looks to be one direction its going, but there’s obviously going to be more—looking forward to seeing where exactly it’s headed (particularly since the sequel jumps ahead four years and apparently changes things up a lot). I also like the soft art and character animation, though her mom lacks a nose except in profile.

What’s up with the intro, though? The soundtrack is in the funky, high-energy Read or Die/Baccano! vein, but the visuals are completely mundane and just as completely unrelated.

Gargoyle of the Yoshinagas: So far, this series runs entirely on Norio Wakamoto’s trademark overdramatic acting. You’ve basically got a somewhat crazy family (mom at one point suplexes the daughter, which scored points with me) who ended up with a sentient gargoyle statue  guarding their house. What makes this particularly funny is that A) The gargoyle is chatty and voiced by Norio Wakamoto, and B) While it can teleport at will, speak to (and translate for) animals, and shoot various destructive beams from its eyes, it is not animated—it’s completely static. The camera also almost never shows it teleporting. This leads to great scenes where someone will turn around and, boom, there he is—on a bed, behind them, wherever. Mix of mildly creepy and hilarious. Additional humor from his complete, honorable commitment to his duty to guard them despite at least the daughter not wanting to be guarded at all (he keeps frying the paper boy)—he’s Norio Wakamoto, who of course does not take “please stop” for an answer. It appears to be setting up a superhero team of sorts, consisting of inanimate superpowered gargoyle who can teleport anywhere in the city and rage-prone middle-school-girl who cannot.

The mix of crazy characters, bizarre setting, and unexpectedly not-bizarre drama (first episode features a seeing-eye dog and a girl realistically traumatized by the dog’s apparent inability to protect her from kidnappers) brings Kazoku Kyouran Nikki to mind, though this series isn’t anywhere near that crazy, or that caffeinated. (Also appears to have a somewhat younger age target, though it might just be the youthful-looking, Geobreeders-esque character designs making me think that.) Still, the premise and execution is funny enough I’m definitely willing to give it a few more episodes.

Ergo Proxy: Looks to be something like a cross between Witch Hunter Robin and Blade Runner, with some Ghost in the Shell mixed in. One of those dripping-with-style, oh-so-dark stories with a plot built around a huge, convoluted conspiracy. About a dystopian future, with the well-connected but low-ranking young female protagonist stumbling into a plot related to some kind of crazed superweapon creatures called Proxies, all of which is shadowy and involved enough that it’s entirely unclear what’s going on yet. Plusses are that it’s gorgeous—expensive, fluid animation, punchy action scenes with just a touch of Matrix style, involved backgrounds and well-lit-yet-somehow-dreary settings, and the distinctive goth-y style of the protagonist (I was surprised with how much I liked the execution of her heavy eye makeup—somewhat unusual look even for this sort of anime). Also like her personality—blunt and somewhat angry, but also human, including signs of emotional weakness that a stereotypical take on the hard-edged girl wouldn’t go near (when she has a frightening run-in with a monster, she doesn’t break down, but she is terrified). I love the assistive robots that are everywhere; the protagonist’s helper, Iggy, has no face or expressions, but the speech patterns and personality of a friendly, pleasant 5o-year-old woman… despite having a huge, muscular-looking masculine body and definitely male voice. Even better when at one point he’s instructed to turn off Turing Mode, at which point he immediately switches to simple monotone statements with no personality at all. On that note, the Japanese dialogue is well-written, and I like the acting so far.

The plot may or may not be interesting; too ill-explained to know yet. It is doing a decent job of keeping the viewer clued in about what they’re supposed to be picking up about the unfolding conspiracy, by using the protagonist’s internal monologue and relatively straightforward analysis of things (she mercifully stays away from vague dialogue). Weaknesses are frankly hard to tell; the story isn’t immediately gripping, and it’s deliberate and dark enough not to appeal strongly to my personal taste, but it’s interesting enough to watch more of, and it’s one of those series you don’t can’t tell whether it’s going somewhere interesting or not until you’ve seen a good chunk of it.

Ariel: Not Deluxe; turned out that there are two episodes preceding Ariel Deluxe, both of which were also translated by USM way back when and never made it to DVD. Again the series has all the components for a really great, Shinesman-style underhanded parody: Underfunded corporate alien invasion terrified of the prospect of an audit, three sisters piloting the giant robot who really don’t want to, a competent-but-crazy grandfather who built the way-too-feminie thing (there appears to be robotic camel-toe on the box cover, though I’m hoping it’s just an odd angle), and several scenes of his not-quite-all-there applications of super technology. Having a harrier pick them up at home was a nice bonus touch—it’s not like they’re hiding their side-job as planet-savers.

And, again, the execution just isn’t quite there—the whole thing feels weirdly low-energy and way too slow, lacking almost any sense of comic timing. Yes, the humor is supposed to be deadpan—I love that sort of thing—but it feels like half the show consists of dead air between lines. Not for lack of budget, to be sure—the animation is expensive and fluid, especially so when you consider the vintage and detailed linework.

Still kind of enjoyable, but fails badly to capitalize on a hilarious concept. The jokes are right there, it’s just not delivering them right. I’d love to see a remake of this show with a director who knew what he was doing.

Deluxe Ariel: Almost

Deluxe Ariel is an old-school OAV mecha/action/comedy I picked up years ago when Rightstuf was clearing out VHS tapes for like a buck each. Watched it on a whim, and turned out to be surprisingly not-bad.

The strong point is by far the concept; it’s your classic giant robot/alien invasion deal, except the aliens are suffering from massive budget shortfall, run-down equipment, and having basically no luck with the invasion anywhere… except Japan, which has its head in the sand due to political deadlock. Its only defense ends up being a cracked secret-genius organization and their way-too-feminine giant robot (forget high heels—this one has hair). It was darn funny conceptually watching the aliens launch a completely unintentional wave of monsters due to equipment failure, then the heroes win because the baddy ran out of gas. It’s all played straight, too, making the backhanded Shinesman-style humor work.

The character animation is also very, very good—it has more frames of animation in the first two minutes of walking to school than an entire episode of Narutaru. Not just in budget, either—the visual acting is more lively and natural than the voice acting. Cute character designs (the youngest of the three random-everygirl pilots walks around for the entire episode with a goofy grin on her face because she got a love letter).  The action isn’t too bad, either, with a remarkable lack of screaming attack names (also, three tandem pilots in a non-combining mecha is rather uncommon).

Downsides are pretty much limited to weak, low-energy directing/editing/acting—hard to say in what proportion.  The dialogue has way too many awkward gaps, and feels sort of… off. Given the apparently substantial budget it really should have felt much punchier and livelier than it does. There’s almost no soundtrack, either, which doesn’t help at all (particularly after watching Godannar and its extreme overkill), plus the sound effects are quiet, poorly-timed, and kinda cheap-sounding. A bit of the blame goes to the age (coming up on 20 years… wow, the ’90s were a long time ago), but it’s mostly just rough execution.

Megumi Hayashibara appears as a likable tomboyish high-schooler (frankly, it’s one of the better casting matches for her unusual voice), and I did like some of the voices even if the execution was weak.

Already ordered myself the second tape of this one—good enough to spend twice on shipping what the tape costs, at least. I’d forgotten how awful VHS looks, though; there may not be any compression artifacts, but it’s blurry as all get-out and the subtitles look horrible.  Ah, the cover once provided by watching stuff on a budget 21″ CRT TV that wouldn’t know HD if it gave it a wedgie.

Speaking of humorous old-school giant robot series, still getting a kick out of Godannar and its over-the-top take at newlywed robot pilots and action heroes going on middle age. Basically if you took all the overblown action and scream-at-the-top-of-your-lungs drama of a classic giant robot show, cranked it to ten and gave it a big modern budget… you’d be halfway there.  You’d then need to apply exactly the same blunt overkill to the fanservice end of things.

A jiggle-factor that makes Plastic Little look static (even the robots bounce), awkward cockpit angles galore, and ill-fitting uniforms designed by the same guy who does wardrobe for pin-up calendars. The overkill and antigravity cleavage is extreme enough it’s actually sort of funny in the same way everything else is, and I did get a laugh out of one scene where the most ridiculous of the lot—mom to the young bride protagonist—pivots dramatically and sends the buttons of her poor uniform spraying around the room.

The mechanic crew are also good for a laugh, particularly their merciless hammering on the male hero’s cutesy domestic nicknames.

It has some drama brewing from the looks of it, with the question being whether it’s going to keep it at an extreme enough level of overkill to be somewhat light-hearted (so far, so good—a girl dramatically orphaned nearly works as comedy) or throw a wet blanket on itself. Points for the visual darkly comic joke of superimposing the classic “they live on as long as you keep them in your heart” speech with an image of someone from the past living on in a not-nearly-so-metaphoric sense because they’re in a tube somewhere in the basement. (Actually every episode through about the fifths ends with a shot of girl-from-the-past in a tube.)

Certainly worth watching the rest of, and if nothing else it’s got topnotch animation.