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Code E and Ergo Proxy Both Looking Good

Two entirely different series, but I like where both are headed.  As of ep 8, Code E is staying with exactly the same formula—very, very low-key progress though life and experimentation with shy, walking EMP weapon girl, the brainiac geek boy trying to help her live a normal life, and the hotheaded-but-very-smart rich girl after the brainiac and thus also trying to help. It isn’t exactly a speedy series,  but the characters are appealing, the underlying concept is very interesting, and the style is pleasing.

It seems to be working—very slowly—toward some espionage, as some spies have shown up who are after the girl for their unique abilities. These are mainly a pair of mostly-comic-relief German twins who make the most unconvincing high school students ever, but are fun in that despite being comic relief they aren’t exactly incompetent. Another guy so shadowy he’s only had a few lines is lurking around, presumably to fill in as the more serious villain. Again, though, so low-key that there’s barely even any tension. Not quite Someday’s Dreamers, but close.

The other interesting addition is the competent traditional girl who, it’s revealed, also has the same ability/problem, albeit in a much less powerful (and therefore unintentionally hazardous) form. She’s initially a contrast in that she’s calm and competent, unlike the easily-flustered protagonist, but also turns out to be even more interesting for being far less socially well-adjusted than she seems—frankly, the girl’s got problems. If they actually go somewhere with that, it could prove very interesting, though so far it’s so low-key that it was more of an underlying aside than meaty drama.

I also like the soft art style and cute character designs, despite the lack of noses all-around. They look exactly like something else I’ve seen recently, but for some reason I can’t think of what (and looking at the character designer’s CV didn’t help). There’s very, very little animation (tells you something that it’s perfectly watchable on a big-screen TV at 300 Kbps), but it surprisingly isn’t a liability—it doesn’t feel notably static, just not that much happens.

On the exact opposite end of the visual spectrum, I’ve run out of Ergo Proxy until I see the box set on a good sale, but I like where it’s going. In particular, the conspiracy seems to be getting more concrete rather than confusing and abstract, a huge plus. Also, the characters are far more human than is the norm for this sort of thing, including the meek-looking trainee who turns out to be a much more major character, and more interesting, than he seems at first. Setting is also interesting as we learn more about it gradually, and it’s certainly a pretty series—beautiful art, unusual, sharp character designs, and expensive animation. Plus Piro, the cute-and-cheerful-yet-somehow-subtly-creepy little girl robot is great, and appears to be set up to be an ongoing character—watching her cheerfully following a fugitive around while wearing pink bunny pajamas and carrying a large bag of ammunition is the best incongruent imagery of the sort since Lain and her bear-suit. My only complaint was an episode that starts with a chatty fever dream section that goes on a little too long for you to mentally hang onto the hints that may or may not have been dropped in it.

It’s a long series, so there’s plenty of room to screw up, but so far it’s looking like it’s doing everything right within the genre. Also unusual theme music in the vein of a lot of Pioneer series of the era, with an alt-rock (or really more atmospheric) English-language intro, and a Radiohead outro, both of which fit quite well.

At the least, it’s intriguing enough to fork out for the box set, though not enough to do so at full price.

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.