Sunday, April 7, 2013

April 7, 2013 -- Spring Fever

Well now that we've survived Walpurgisnacht's rampage and been spared the wrath of fellow PreCure fans, it's time to get back to familiar territory. For those of you who've only just joined me during my Madoka Month adventures and decided not to read my modest backlog, what I do is watch the first episode of three different anime series and give my impressions.

This week I'll be looking at Saki, which is a show about how friggin intense mahjong is. I'll also be looking at Toradora, which you might be surprised to know I haven't yet seen. Then I'll wrap things up by watching Ef - A Tale of Memories.

Which shows are easy on the pallet? Find out after the break!



Clearly I've lost you.  Mahjong is a game that originated in China, but has a number of variations depending on which part of the world you choose to play it in. Typically it's played by four players, but in some areas of Japan and Korea, there exist variants that can be played with three players.

You're probably thinking, "No, dummy. Mahjong is only played by one player," because you, like me, are more used to this version of mahjong.

This is mahjong solitaire, and if you ever have fifteen minutes to kill, it can be a relaxing way to kill time. Big boy mahjong, however, is serious business. It's a game that is often played for high-stakes gambling and its players are typically viewed as vice-driven lucre-suckers. It exists in a seedy underworld of monetary sacrifice.

So naturally, Japan made a moe anime out of it.

Hail Caesar.

Here's where things get a little strange. Originally I was going to watch Saki Episode of Side A, which is actually a spinoff series based on one of the secondary characters from the original series. When I tried to watch it, I found it an extremely infuriating experience. Clearly it was poor decision making on my part to try and watch a spinoff of an established brand before watching the work it was derived from (Though honestly, I'm tempted to believe that Episode of Side A is a legitimately bad series because of how awful the writing was and how poorly paced the first episode was).

However, to avoid another Working! incident, I've decided to alter my plans and watch the original series, Saki, instead.

The show wastes no time in introducing us to its protagonist, the eponymous Saki, who is reading a book on the side of a creek. She is distracted from her task when a beautiful girl walks by, who catches her attention immediately due to

Damn the torpedoes!
This is going to be one of those kinds of shows, isn't it?

No really, one of the first things this show gives us is a close up of some girl's ginormous blowfish. I get that anime fans go for this sort of thing, but they're so big that one begins to worry about this girl having back problems in the future. At some points it looks less like she's well-endowed and more like she's wearing a bunch of sweaters.

And this show was based on a seinen manga. It's target audience is the 18 and up crowd. Why is this show trying to sexualize a 1st year high school student? Actually, you know who would really like this anime?

"Finally! A show that I don't have to think
too much about!"

Her friend Kyou scares her out of her breast-fueled reverie by asking her to take him to the cafeteria to buy him the ladies lunch.

But whatever you do, don't order the ladies dessert.
Saki notices Kyou playing a mahjong game on his phone, and the conversation quickly turns to the subject of the most important tile-based gambling pit ever developed by man. I've always wanted to learn how to play actual mahjong. Maybe this show will help me learn the basics.

Actually, the nature of the show probably makes it one of the worst animes to watch subbed. Because mahjong is probably an unfamiliar subject for most people, that means that there's a lot of translator notes at the top of the screen. So at some points, not only will you have to read the subs, but you'll also have definitions of all the mahjong jargon to read in addition to that. It doesn't sound like a huge problem, but it can really make you miss out on important information on the show if you aren't used to those types of notes.

Actually, as strange as this would sound, it would almost be better if you knew Japanese as a second language so that you could listen to the show and read the mahjong terminology if you, like most people, didn't know what a "fan" or "yaku" was.

Saki mentions that she doesn't care for mahjong even though she knows how to play it. Evidently, lingering memories of playing the game with her family prevent her from fully enjoying the game.

Kyou interprets this as her way of asking to come play mahjong with the school mahjong club. He drags her to the attic of the old school building, which is where the club meets.

She's hesitant to play until she learns that Soleil Moon Frye is also in the mahjong club.

*sigh* Last week I was writing about the duality of hope and despair. Now it's back to boob jokes.

The girl's name is Nodoka. The year before, she won the national middle school championships in mahjong. She's a mahjong machine. Kyou and Saki have a short conversation when

Oh fuck me, Rie Kugimiya is in this show. Dammit! Where can I go to be free of that screeching dilettante  Fortunately, Nodoka seeps just as upset about her arrival as I do.

You can put the lunch bag away, Rie! You can't win me over with tacos!

Rie won't shut up about how awesome Nodoka is because she's a champion at mahjong and because her parents are both lawyers. This means that Rie Kugimiya is now the Kenny Bania of this anime.

She's the best, Jerry! The best!
The club plays their mahjong games on what I can only describe as an automated mahjong table. At first I thought this was some kind of ridiculous, Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Disk style gimmick to make it seem cooler than it actually is, but apparently these things actually exist.

And I want one. I don't even know how to play mahjong but this thing is seriously super snazzy.

And now we come to a problem I have with the animation in this show. During the mahjong scenes, the show switches to this close up view of the characters hands and shows their moves using CG animation. It's not poorly animated by any means, but it's really irksome when the styles of animation shift like that when the animation of the players movements is otherwise good without the use of CGI.

I didn't like it during Love Live! School Idol Project, and I don't like it now.

Saki loses the games, but it becomes evident in looking at her score that she threw each match so that Nokoka would win each time.


Nodoka chases her out into the rain to confront her about the mahjong matches, which leads to a tender embrace between the two and

Wait, WHAT!? Are... Are they actually...

I mean, not that I have a problem like that, I just wasn't expecting this show to use this character dynamic in a way that comes across as genuine. I guess at this point, I'm not used to anime that don't simply treat homosexuality as though it were a punchline. Azumanga Daioh, one of my all-time favorite anime was especially guilty of this.

Maybe I was too quick to judge it based on the boob jokes. I mean, this manga was written by a woman, right? Maybe it will be able to handle a romantic relationship between two women in a mature and tasteful way. Perhaps there's significance in the fact that the scene takes place in the rain. Rain is supposed to be a representation of good luck and a happy future on your wedding day.

Or it could be an excuse to get Nodoka's clothes wet.

The next day, Saki is roped into playing mahjong again in exchange for some new books.

Jarring animation style changes notwithstanding, I actually really like the mahjong sequences in this show. They're fast-paced and it's fun to watch the characters interact in the context of the games that they play. Even Rie Kugimiya, who I generally can't stand, has some fun lines/reactions. Maybe it's because she's not playing a tsundere, at least not as far as I can tell.

That's pretty much it as far as this episode goes. We meet our core cast and they play some rounds of mahjong. There's not a lot of plot to spoil or cover in this episode.

As for how I feel about the show itself, it's fine. I initially found it to be a little sophomoric with the boob shots, and it certainly doesn't have as much to offer in terms of subject matter as something like Madoka, but at the same time that isn't the kind of show this is. Not every show needs to be Madoka and Saki certainly has its merits.

Again, the mahjong sequences are fun and engaging to watch, though if you don't know a lot about mahjong, you're going to be very lost very fast.

I also appreciate the character interactions. Kyou, Saki, and Yuuki can trade verbal jabs with the best of them but they never seem too mean-spirited. Other slice of life shows, such as Lucky Star or K-On! and even shows that I like such as iDOLM@STER and Azumanga have characters whose habit of poking fun at their so-called friends borders on sociopathic, so its comforting to see people trade blows in what really feels like friendly competition. The weakest of the bunch is Nodoka, who as of yet seems to have no defining character traits except for having great big... eyes.

The animation is a little inconsistent in its style, and as such can only be described as average. The soundtrack was also pretty forgettable. If you don't mind a few imperfections on the surface, Saki is a nice popcorn-anime: a relatively inoffensive way to kill about 25 minutes.


Fun Fact!: I was once cast in a fandub of Toradora episode 1 that was met with ambivalence and slight discontempt. Of course, I never actually watched the show. I was an extra, so I figured I didn't have to worry about matching the flaps.

That's probably why it turned out to be some of my worst work and why I ultimately was shamed out of going into voice acting.

Toradora is based on a light novel series released between 2006 and 2009. The anime originally aired in the fall of '08 and is now available in its entirety on Crunchyroll, though a good chunk of the series is only available to premium members. Supposedly it's quite popular and is held in high regard by anime fans. Of course, you all should know by now what kinds of things I disagree with anime fans about.

Okay. We begin with a scene of a boy intently trying to style his hair according to advice from a fashion magazine. He hates the way it makes him look and he throws away the magazine before beginning to clean his bathroom, which is growing mold. This is Ryuuji Takasu, whom I'm assuming is the protagonist of our story. He looks a bit like Kyon from Haruhi but with blue hair and a less trustworthy face.

He lives with his mother, who appears to be a derelict and who may possibly be a drunk. I would describe Takasu's mother as the opposite extreme version of Madoka's mother. Think of her as what would happen if Junko Kaname decided to quit her job and sleep all the time.

Takasu has a short rant about the new high-rise apartments that were just built next to their building and how it's blocking all the sun to their apartments, meaning that clothes take forever to dry and mold grows readily from all corners of their home despite Takasu's best efforts to keep things clean.

On the way to school, we get a taste of the burden that Takasu has to bear, as people seem to be afraid of him by the sole virtue of his face being kind of scary.

Hey I recognize those guys! I was those guys! In that fandub, I think I was both of those guys that gave Takasu their wallets. I would have rather been Takasu, though, honestly. If I had then I'm sure that fandub would have been much more positively received. I'm just saying, my voice is like sex nectar.

He arrives to school to find out what his class is for his second year of high school, and everyone shrinks away from him due to his face. This is a pretty relatable character trait, I have to say. Not for me, because I'm super hot and am very trustworthy, but people judging you based on looks without getting to know you is actually a pretty realistic thing to have happen to a character, particularly in high school.

He finds out that his good friend and George Ushiromiya impersonator, Yusaku Kitamura, is also in his class as is the object of his affections, the beautiful Miori Kushieda. Distracted, he accidentally crosses paths with the school tough guy, who is actually a tough girl known as "the palm-top tiger" due to her short stature, ferocious personality and, of course, her bright orange skin.

Oh sorry, that can't be right. It was just those first two things. Just as Takasu realizes the significance of the girl's nickname, she punches him in the jaw and drops him like a sack of bricks.

It turns out that the tiny titan's name is Taiga, which also explains her nickname, and she's best friends with Miori. Taiga's a little stuffed up from her allergies, and keeps blowing her nose. I can relate. This time of year I get a little stuffy, and unfortunately since it's too soon to turn on the AC I'm forced to open the window so I can

... wait... Her voice is a little stuffed up to tell, but it sounds like...

You know... I'm not a man who thinks that swearing is a good substitute for being funny. Pewdiepie, Spoony, and any other number of internet personalities have done the foul-mouthed bit to death. I try to find ways to be funny without resorting immediately to creative combinations of swear words to the point that the words cease to have any meaning.  Please keep this in mind when I say what I'm about to say.




I swear, hand to God, that I did not plan this shit. I have never planned for this to happen in all the weeks that I write these posts. I pick shows I want to watch without any real knowledge outside of some cursory research on the background of the series. I do not look at cast lists nor am I some kind of huge seiyuu buff. The only japanese VOs I'm aware of are Aya Hirano (who just sort of disappeared off the face of the earth after a surge of popularity in the mid-2000s), Norio Wakamoto, and Rie Fucking Kugimiya.

I am so. So. So so so so so so sick of hearing her shrill fucking voice and her tired "Baka baka baka" schtick that I want to stab every anime fan in the fucking brain for lapping it up like Pavlov's dogs. No. That's an insult to Pavlov's dogs. At least they're salivating because they're hungry and not because they want to bone a thirteen year old with calf-length pigtails and a penchant for slapping people for no reason.

I'm done. I'm so fucking done. I want Rie Kugimiya out of my life. I'm aware of the irony of that statement, considering what a fan of Hayate the Combat Butler, and I'm aware that this is a hypocritical thing to say after I semi-praised her character in Saki, but the reason I don't mind her in all of those shows is because she actually turned in good performances in those.

That's precisely what frustrates me so much. She's a phenomenal actress who played Alphonse in Fullmetal Alchemist and Shannon in Umineko, but nobody ever talks about those. They want tsunderes who shriek and slap and Rie goes along with it because, unfortunately, work is work and that shit sells. Fans of anime should want the medium to grow and evolve and having the same damn voice playing the same damn character in slice-of-life moe anime #486 is not the way to make progress.

And what's the deal with Tsunderes anyway. People who claim to think that character is cute have clearly never met one in real life. I have. I semi-dated a real-life tsundere. It's super obnoxious. You never see the part in Aria the Scarlet Ammo where she yells at the minimum-wage Subway employee for not putting the cheese triangles on the sandwich the right way. It gets real fucking old real fucking fast.

Anyway, I just had to say all of that. I feel better now. I'm going to go back to talking like a real person and not a sailor now.

So where were we?


Anyway, Ryuuji gets called in after school by his terrified teacher asking him for his career path survey that all Japanese high school students evidently have to take. He goes back to the classroom for his bag to find the room destroyed and Taiga crouched hiding in a locker. The palm-top tiger pounces as soon as he reaches for his bag as she screams at him, demanding she give him his bag.

I'm sure there's some kind of reason for this, but because it's Rie Kugimiya, I'm annoyed.

She gives up her attack, and shouts a trademark "Baka!" as she slams the door shut. It's the Rie Kugimiya equivalent of a middle finger.

Later that night, he finds out that she had slipped a love letter into his bag by mistake. She had, naturally, wanted to give it to Yusaku (in more ways than one, hey-oooooo!) but accidentally put it in Takasu's bag. Maybe it was for the best, though, as the envelope turned out to be empty.

Even later that night, Takasu notices that the sliding glass window is open, and he didn't remember leaving it that way.

Guess who just broke into his house and then tries to beat the holy HeartCatch out of him with a wooden sword!

"Shut up! It's an endearing character trait! B-baka!"

Her attempted murder is halted when Ryuuji is able to tell her that there was no letter in the envelope, so he didn't see anything embarrassing. She calms down after hearing this, and Ryuuji attempts to make her feel better by sharing his stash of love poems and mix tapes, conveniently forgetting that he wrote Miori's name all over his poetry notebook. So now both characters know about the crushes on their respective best friends.

Oh. That's actually not a terrible RomCom premise. It's not exactly an anime When Harry Met Sally, but I can get behind this. They just have to not make it stupid.

Taiga and Ryuuji continue to argue about their situations when suddenly

Ugh. Evidently Ryuuji's beloved pet is the inbred half-cousin of the bird that Father Cornello used to pretend to resurrect Rose's fiancee in Fullmetal Alchemist.

Ryuuji promises to help Taiga with her love troubles if she agrees to get the hell out of his house and never mention anything that happened that night. She agrees, and the next day he gets a phone call from the shrieking violet herself.

Guess who lives next door to him, in the eyesore high-rise building. Not only that, but guess who lives at precisely the same level as him and can look out the window to make eye contact with him on his balcony. She demands that he come over and give her food.

And so begins what I can only assume to be a wacky romp through misadventures in romance.

Okay, it may seem like I didn't like this show what with the multi-paragraphed anger-rant that I wrote about how Rie Kugimiya irks me to the very marrow, but I think this one has the potential to be actually a pretty sweet little show. If Taiga dialed back the violent tsundere thing, she might actually be a cute, easily flustered girl with a crush who just doesn't know how to deal with her feelings.

I actually have it on good authority that Taiga gets more bearable as the show goes on, so I may continue watching this show to see where it goes.

This show's art and animation is pretty simplistic, but it's the writing where Toradora! really shines. It's clever, funny, and more importantly, it feels genuine. Too many high-school love comedies just make the main character a pervert or the kind of person everyone assumes to be a pervert, essentially making it feel like they attend a school full of grown-ups in the bodies of children.

RomComs have a tendency to be predictable, and anime RomComs especially have a bad habit of offering zero resolution when it comes to the various love interests. The Tales series is an example of poorly-handled romantic links in anime-styled stories. In fact, the only game in the Tales series with any romantic closure is the one that everyone hates.

Hopefully Toradora! ends in a way that rewards my curiosity, but I would definitely recommend it to people who want to see a RomCom-style show that isn't steeped in obnoxious fanservice.

Which, admittedly, I don't have much room to talk about.
Ef - A Tale of Memories

Admittedly, I only picked this one to review because it sounded like something I would say in place of a curse word.

"Aw Ef, I forgot to empty the drier. Now my slacks are gonna be wrinkled."

Ef is an anime based on an adult visual novel under the same title.

Oooooh~... an adult visual novel. Sounds saucy. I can't wait to see some action that is strictly for adults!

Oh... That's actually kind of disappointing.
It was adapted into an anime series in October of 2007. Apparently the game was released in  English. I'd heard it was licensed by Mangagamer, but if that's the case then it's probably thirty dollars too expensive with a translation that's spotty at best. Let's see if this subbed release fared any better.


I... I just...

Guys, I have a confession to make. I really liked this show. Like a lot. I'm a sucker for these kind of stories.

I'm going to spare you a plot synopsis because to be honest it's difficult to depict what happened without seeing it in the context of the show. Instead let me compare it to another love story that I've watched this year:

Ef is the anti-Amnesia. Whereas Amnesia used a bevy of beautiful men to try and distract viewers from the fact that they were watching something really stupid and unintentionally hilarious, this show uses beautiful imagery to contrast with tragic undertones that leave the viewer breathless as they try to process what they just watch.

Even that description might not do it justice. I'll start with the point about the imagery. This is a beautiful show. Whereas Saki and Toradora! have both used simple but effective art styles, Ef makes full use of its gorgeous art to present beautiful scenes and landscapes. It goes beyond character designs, which are admittedly a bit busy for my tastes (with the exception of Chihiro, who I'll get to in a minute), and uses various visual filters and style shifts to great effect as events unfold and characters interact.

I'd almost describe it as Bakemonogatari-esque in its use of cutaways and filters during key scenes, except that this show was made before Bakemonogatari, so the comparison hardly seems apt.

Sorry, I'm bad at this.

The first episode will pull you in. You'll want to know more about what's going on in this show. It presents itself in a series of vignettes about different sets of characters who appear unrelated, but in the end are revealed to perhaps share a common link. I have to admit, this kind of parallel storytelling does a good job of leaving the viewer wanting more.

Also, the first episode had a Stand By Me reference in it. It's like it was made for me.

Now I'm going to talk about Chihiro, because she is the most adorable character in any show I've ever watched. You can keep your Taiga and your Chiyo-chan; I want to put Chihiro in my pocket and carry her around with me.

I'm actually worried that something bad might happen to her. I guess Madoka has conditioned me to believe that something really bad is going to happen to any character I take a liking to. Admittedly, Chihiro portrays some peculiar habits, such as carrying around a notebook with her everywhere she goes. That's not a weird habit to have, but I've seen enough shows like this to know that there is some kind of significance to this fact.

My Prediction, which nobody asked for and nobody needed to hear: Since she said that she can't live without her notebook, I have a suspicion that she has a 50 First Dates style condition where she can't remember events from the day before, so she must keep detailed journals to remember her interactions.

Sad stuff. Kanon made me cry buckets, so I really hope that this anime doesn't burn me in the end. Because I will be watching more of this show, rest assured.

The show is an artistic achievement and really made an impression on me with its character interactions and promise of a romance show that isn't completely dumb. I'm a fairly emotional person, so finding new shows like this is always a pleasant surprise.

Give Ef - A Tale of Memories a try some time. You'll be glad you did, I promise. Just be ready to feel things as you watch later episodes. I can neither confirm nor deny that tragedy is in the cards, but I have a hunch that certain characters will not find happiness in the end.

It's rare for me to like all three shows in a given week, and even rarer for me to find a show that leaves me feeling no desire to make jokes about it. In hindsight, it was appropriate, seeing as how spring has sprung and love is in the air. Even though it was a coincidence, finding three shows with romantic over/undertones was pretty poetic in a way.

Hmmm... Romance, huh? I wonder what other romant-ish shows are on the docket this month. The spring anime season is starting up, after all. What new shows are coming out this month?


I think I know what we're watching next time.

That said, I'll be taking next week off to finish up some responsibilities with regards to my student teaching. Graduation is fast approaching, after all.

Thanks for reading. May your mornings always be bright. It's good to be back.


  1. "only game in the Tales series with any romantic closure is the one that everyone hates."

    Graces had closure too and thats the best ever.
    You've got me interested in Ef. I'ma Hulu/Crunchyroll that this week

    1. Yeah, but in Graces it was still *technically* only implied. Heavily implied, certainly, but we never actually saw them kiss like with Marta and Emil.

      In fact, there are people that argue that that child isn't Asbel and Cheria's. Stupid people, I grant you, but still. Certainly we know they made that baby, but that's because we're smarter than the average fanboy/girl.