2008 in anime - #1: extreme fear

And so, this is it. As the year comes to an end, we've reached the top of this list. The icing on the cake, if you will. What made me happy to be an anime-loving person - I wouldn't qualify to a full-fledged otaku - and made all these episodes feel they were worth the time spent watching them. And that would be ef.
Before I go on, I guess I need to warn you : the two seasons of ef (a tale of memories and a tale of melodies) still have a firm grasp on my mind as I'm writing this. I guess I'll need a little time to completely free myself of their emotional aftershock. So this is probably going to sound a little fanboy-ish, but who cares ?

That being out of the way, which is the particular moment of the series I want to remember ? Honestly, I changed my mind a dozen of times before settling for something that's probably not very original : Miyako Miyamura's breakdown, in episode 7 of ef - a tale of memories.

If you've seen it, you probably know exactly which scene I'm talking about, and if not, I won't spoil it too much, but know that one of the female protagonist experience a really sudden and horrible nervous breakdown, and that it's depicted in a way that does nothing to soften the blow.
I don't even know if this is really the best scene of the show, but it's at least the first real big shock ef will throw at you. Admittedly, the situation itself is not the worst in an anime to date, but the text piling up and covering the screen, the increasingly distressed voice of Miyako, and the way you mostly don't see it coming make it unforgettable.

In the end, it's a prime example of how SHAFT (the studio behind ef) manages to turn a somewhat standard visual novel adaptation into something much, much more than that. Well, wait a minute, that's not totally fair, as the visual novel itself is already praised as particularly heavy on artsy stuff, so in a way SHAFT is only following the lead. But anyway, they're awesome at making it work.

But was that scene alone what made me choose ef as my favorite anime of the year ? Certainly not! The two seasons of ef have managed to make me feel things with more intensity that I could've possible have imagined a couple of year before now. It wasn't as powerful as when I saw 5 centimeter per second, and maybe not even as shocking as the end of Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto ~Natsu no Sora~ because the overall tone of the anime prepares you better for dramatic events, but it was gripping nonetheless.

As I said, the premise of ef sound particularly mundane : it's a story about people falling in love. Me ? Watching that kind of things ? I know, I know, my comments on Sora and Gouta in the previous post make this claim dubious, but honestly I used to hate stories focusing on love affairs. And ef probably wouldn't have gained the attention I gave it without the already mentioned art direction. That and its music, composed by the very, very, very talented TENMON (who, coincidentally, also did the soundtrack to every Makoto Shinkai movie, especially 5 centimeter per second). Both sound and image are used to convey points in a great variety of ways, and much more effectively than dialog alone could have achieved.

And there is a lot of meaning contained in those 24 episodes. I'll definitely have to rewatch the whole thing, because I surely missed many subtle thing, seeing how taken I was by the story itself. You can't stay all cool and analytical when you're in the emotional state ef put me in...

I'll tell you, I'm really glad to have experienced ef, and some of its characters have earned a special spot in my memories. Writing this post reinforced my wish to rewatch those two tales in the not-so-distant future. I'll probably take the time to blog about it then, in an episode-by-episode fashion, to help me better express what ef now means to me, and thus will stop praising it too much here. I guess giving it this first spot is already a good indication of how I liked it.

This concludes this mini-series of posts, and the year. I wish everyone a very happy new year, and 365 days filled with brand new memories.


2008 in anime - #2: Jaws dropping under a summer sky

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto ~Natsu no Sora~... The perfect summer anime. The best one to air this summer, all genres included, at least according to yours truly. What could more fitting than a slice-of-life-with-a-touch-of-magic show depicting the life of a young girl, Suzuki Sora, going from Hokkaido to Tokyo to learn magic for a month ? Especially with such gorgeous visuals ? Between the most photorealistic backgrounds you'll see in a while and characters with that distinct "Beck" flavor to them, the life of Sora is a real feast for your eyes. Add to that a beautiful soundtrack composed of celtic-inspired melodies and acoustic songs sung by a girl near a train station which Sora passes by everyday, and you've got something exceptionally pleasing for the senses.
And if that wasn't good enough, the story and characters themselves are very muck likeable, each one in their own way. From the innocent Sora, to the grumpy Gouta, and including their classmates, and even their teachers, you're bound to find at least some of them attaching. Thus, even though most of the series is slow-paced, it never feels boring. There's a plenty of things that make you want to come back to Shimokitazawa (the Tokyo neighborhood Sora is living in) to see how events unfold : what will Sora's next client be like ? Will Gouta be able to use magic properly ? And, as becomes evident pretty soon : when are Sora and Gouta going to go out together ?
I'll have to admit, they make one of the, if not the, cutest couple I've ever seen in an anime. And the way their relationship evolves feels completely natural, including the way they "confess", without really saying much. I couldn't help but to go "awww" when they held hands together the first time. For once, this is a show where there's no love triangle, no one ends up in tears because they were left out. Natsu no Sora is like condensed happiness for everybody involved, including the viewer.

That is, until episode 10.
In one of the most dramatic plot twisting I know of, your whole perspective of the show changes. I won't spoil it here, but let it be known that this will have almost anyone feel a huge emotional shock. It's at the same time both brilliant and cruel. It does turn a fairly inconsequential slice-of-life anime to something with a much greater impact, but you can't help but to feel that it is incredibly unfair. You half-expect something like Sora having to separate from Gouta, her first love, at the end of summer, and you're prepared to feel pretty sorry for both of them, but you aren't prepared for what's happening.

If Natsu no Sora was a TV drama, the "shocking truth" would have been revealed right at the start, and the overall tone of the show would have been greatly modified. But here, because of all the happy moments you've shared with Sora, you feel robbed of something. Or rather, you feel that she's the one being robbed of the happiness that should have been hers. The last episode even goes as far as having Gouta and Sora's mother meeting, but without knowing who the other is. It's the last coincidence that makes you wish things would have turned differently.

But in a way only japanese anime do, you're left with a strange mix of emotions at the end of the twelfth episode. You want to cry, to smile, to scream it's unfair, to be happy for how Sora's summer went, in the end. So you go through a little bit of everything, and it's a feeling like no other. And that's why the jaw-dropping revelations of Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto ~Natsu no Sora~ episode 10 get this second spot in my list of 2008's anime moments.


2008 in anime - #3: Is that thing REALLY talking ?

I like dark and insane anime. Usually, I tend to love shows which begin by puzzling me, and wait a looong time before they start to make sense. It's the same with games, actually, and that surely explains why Xenogears is my favourite game of all time (and why I usually like RPGs and Survival horror games, in fact). So when, during a chat about the weirdest anime openings on the VGM Central DirectConnect hub, I saw Paranoia Agent's, I knew I would have to watch it. It was just too weird to pass. I mean, not only is the song completely crazy, how can you not be intrigued by an old homeless woman laughing while standing on a table in a fancy restaurant ? Or a conductor on the moon ? Or... well, you get it, I was eager to see what it was all about...
And I was not to be disappointed. Because Paranoia Agent is surely one of the most insane series I've ever watched. The beginning of the first episode seems harmless enough though, following the daily life of Tsukiko Sagi, a mascot designer whose previous design seemingly proved to be very popular. She's now under a lot of stress, having to design the successor of her famous Maromi, which was some kind of pink "dog" (or so they want you to believe, because well it's doesn't really look like a dog to me). One night, while going back home, she gets attacked by a mysterious figure wielding a baseball bat and going around on roller blades.
As one could expect, the police starts an investigation to try the hit-and-run assailant, while she stays at home to recover from her injuries. And that's when things start to go wrong. She sees on the internet that she's being called a liar, that she made the whole thing up to avoid her deadline for the next mascot, and so on. She throws her little stuffed Maromi (which she always carry around) on the floor, and the thing, instead of staying on the floor like any normal stuffed animal would do, GETS UP AND SPEAK TO HER. It may sound kinda lame, but trust me, when you're watching that episode for the first time, and don't know what the show is about, you're guaranteed to have a big "WTH" moment. At least I did.
And it all goes downhill from there, by the end of the first episode, you're already wondering what is real and what is not in Tsukiko's story. And further down the road, you're introduced to many peculiar characters, such as a trio who wants to commit suicide but can't really do it, a police detective playing the super-hero, and many others. Almost all have some hidden sides to them, and one of the show's main strength is making you want to get to know them and their motivations better.

Actually, I had some troubles deciding exactly what to put on this list. First, there was the scene I described above, but on the other hand, the previews shown at the end of each episode were also worthy of praise. While many shows use those previews to make the audience laugh, the ones in Paranoia Agent were almost scary. Maybe it's because of the music, or because of the old man's voice used, or maybe is it because they're some of the most cryptic around... I don't know, but more than once, watching that old man speaking gave me goosebumps.

Well, anyway, there you have it. 3rd favourite nime moment of 2008 : Paranoia Agent's speaking mascot.


2008 in anime - #4: Hime's bragging

Yozakura Quartet is the perfect example of how I'm easily influenced by promotional material. As it is the case with books or CDs - which I usually choose based on the cover artwork - I tend to pick shows that appeals to me even before I've watched any episode. It's probably not the best way to decide what to watch, but well, that's how I am. And the picture above is what made me want to pick up Yozakura Quartet this fall. Let me say right now that I'm happy to have done that.

Even if the story is pretty light-hearted, at least up until now (I still need to watch the final two episodes), it still has its moments. The music is really enjoyable, too, but what makes the show really great is its characters. Their design is really excellent, and none of the main protagonists is annoying. I had some doubts about Ao (the one dressed in white) at first, but in the end she proved to be a nice addition to the Quartet. And of course, there's Hime, the Mayor of the town and her scarf. She's clearly the main focus of the story, and is a surprisingly deep character. She's not a typical heroine to say the least, and some quirks of her personality are pretty funny.

So here's my 4th favourite anime moment of the year : Hime bragging about how cool she was during a ceremony in episode 5.
Along the course of the series, you see Hime in a lot of different situations : as a brave fighter, breaking down under the pressure, as the responsible Mayor, or as someone who has lost a dear friend in the past. Most of which are typical of many other anime characters. But, for some brief moments like the one pictured above, you see she's still a young girl, completely natural.

And like many, she can't help but to try to draw the attention to her role in the ceremony that happened a moment ago - and during which she's dead serious, of course. However, like it would happen in real life, the others get distracted rather easily, and she gets frustrated that no one seems to care about her heroic behaviour.

So, in a sense, it's a scene that contains a prime example of what I love most about Yozakura Quartet : Likable characters acting in a believable way. Not to say that the rest isn't great, of course, but I really think the show wouldn't be worth as much without its cast, and especially Hime.


2008 in anime - #5: The Diary of Tortov Roddle

We're now approaching the end of 2008, and like I already mentioned in my previous post, people like to make lists and recall what the year brought them. CCY of Mega Megane Moé had an interesting idea last year, which is to blog about the 12 moments that you'll remember from the anime series you watched during the year. The idea is to post about one of them each day during the twelve days preceding Christmas, and is a nice way to spend some time revisiting the fond memories you have regarding the shows you watched.

Now, of course, it's too late for me to join in the 2008 edition of the project, but I love the concept nonetheless, and thus will have you suffer through a series of posts starting now and ending the 31th of december. Something like "The 5 moments in anime 2008" if you will. And it probably will be more like "5 anime series" rather than "5 moments in anime", but whatever. Now that you're warned than my next 5 posts will be about anime, I can present you with my 5th favourite anime of the year : The Diary of Tortov Roddle.

This is one of the weirdest anime I've ever seen. The art style is very original, the format itself is uncommon - it's a collection of very short Flash animations - and overall the word that describes the adventures of Tortov Roddle best is "dreamy".

During the nine episodes, Tortov, the tall and very slender protagonist, travels with his trusted Dali-like pig and comes across many strange sights. From cities built on the back of giant frogs to rabbits taking a tramway to the moon, including people growing apples on their heads in a way that René Magritte probably would've liked, you'll never be able to guess what's next.

The show is for the most part a silent one. There's some background music of course, but it's more on the minimalistic side of thing, and you probably won't find yourself humming any melodies after your watching session. And as in "ye olde movies", the very scarce dialogs are presented in a written form, as if they were, well, written on the pages of the mysterious Tortov's diary.

The Diary of Tortov Roddle is undoubtedly one of the most creative and poetic anime around, and even without any real "plot", still manage to draw you in in a way many other shows can't. So it's no wonder that it finds itself in this list. Honestly, if you have any kind of artistic sensibility, you'll do yourself a favor by watching this. And it's not as if it was a long show... The whole series clocks in at about 30 minutes, so there. Go watch it ! As for me, it's time to close the pages of my own diary for now. I have to get a cup of coffee to wait for a fish that'll never appear again...


Some toughts about some games.

At the end of each year, many people like to make a list of what was best in the last 365 (or 366) days. Everywhere on the Internet, posts about "the 10 best rock albums of the year" or "the 6 greatest pairs of socks I came across this year" are bound to appear. So I've decided to not do that. Instead, here's a little babbling about the games I currently have on my to-play list. If nothing else, it will give you an excuse to laugh at how far behind I am with my gaming.

Mirror's Edge

This game is like my number one addiction at the moment. I'm listening to its theme song (which is awesome) everyday, watched a bunch of YouTube videos and generally can't wait to play it. Granted, I don't own either a PS3 nor an Xbox360, but still. I already posted something on MASSIVE DAMAGE about how the demo impressed me. Honestly, I so want to play it...

The whole setting is just great. I mean, who wouldn't like to be an outlaw messenger, making his/her way through an impressive urban landscape, jumping/running/sliding through/under/over/around obstacles/things/ennemies ? I know I would.

Though, as obsessed as I may be, perhaps I'm just as excited to play...

Persona 4

I only recently (well, 6 months ago or something) discovered the Persona franchise, and frankly it's one of the most refreshing in the J-RPG world. The somewhat realistic and contemporary setting, the fact that your actions and social connections influence the game or the original music, almost everything is right in those game. Of course they're not absolutely perfect, but still, so much is good about them that every RPG fan should try them.

Even if I'm still not done with the third episode, it looks like Persona 4 is even more awesome. It just came out in the USA, so I'll either have to import it or wait for it to be released in Europe, but still. I read a bunch of reviews, and it appears that it is as if Atlus kept the good things from P3 and throwed away or fixed all the bad ones. And seeing how I loved the previous game (well, up to the point where my poor choices got me stuck, unable to defeat a boss...), that makes me believe a whole lot of fun will come out of it.

Assassin's Creed

Yeah, I know... Well, it's the lack of console, you see... Though I tried it once, and it was great. Hence it being on my to-play list. Once, I only enjoyed RPGs, then I came to like Survival Horror titles. But it was still about the plots. Now, my approach towards gaming is much more liberal. I like games that are fun to play. And Assassin's Creed IS fun. And if it looks as its plot is at least decent, then it's icing on the cake.

Note : don't get me wrong, plot is still the number one factor I choose my games from. It's just that now I can appreciate a game with a stupid story if its gameplay is really good.

Dawn of War II

One word : Tyrannids.

Several other words : I think Dawn of War The First is one of the greatest RTS I've ever played. Not only do I love the universe (being a Warhammer 40K player and all), it's actually really fun to play. Also, the sheer number of races you can play makes it really cool, not to mention interesting, as each race has its strengths and weaknesses. It's only lacking my favourite faction, and that will be fixed in the second opus.

So shiver, Imperium of Man (and you too, other pesky alien races), the Great Devourer of Worlds is coming for you !

REALLY old things (mostly)

Well, I'm writing this and I feel the list will go on for a long time if I don't summarize it. Because, well, I love games, I just don't play them enough... So, what do I still need to play ?

Project Zero (Fatal Frame) 1,2 and 3 : I play them with a friend which I don't see often, and I don't want to continue without her, so well...

Resident Evil 4 : I don't know why I've still not finished this. Really I don't. It's like really good.

Silent Hill 5 : I'm afraid of it being a disappointment, but I can't help it, I want it.

Magna Carta, Valkyrie Profile ~ Silmeria, Dawn of War (Winter Assault, Dark Crusade, Soulstorm - I've only finished the single player mode of the non-extended game), the Shadow Hearts series, and countless others probably.

I think I'm doomed.


Now I can finish my earing off in style !

People who know me know that me and my sister have a lot in common. And one of the many things we share is a love of fancy headphones. So, not that long ago, when she stumbled on the new customizable iFrogz headphones, we decided to each buy a pair for the other. Well, of course, we could have bought each our own, but you know, it's this time of year when you usually make gifts, so...

Anyway, guess what came in the mail today ? That's right ! A little leaflet with the latest promotions in a nearby supermarket. How cool is that ? Not that much, I know, but - you never saw that coming - there were also our new headphones. Ta-daaaam. Of course, I couldn't resist, and took some pictures of them to show off like the fashion victim I am. So without further ado, here they are.

Aren't they pretty ? Much more manly than hers (don't mind the misleading title of that post, as all of you will easily see her pinkish things are clearly less ultimate than my red beasts), anyway.

I must say I'm already really pleased by their size, they still encompass most of my ears, which is a good thing in this wintery weather we're experiencing right now, without being the behemots I used to wear before. See for yourself.

And don't deny it, you know you enjoy big yellow fonts.