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simoun

My first exposure to Simoun came about 10 years ago, when many of my online friends had been discussing the series. As my friends were fans of cute, sexy girls, and girl-girl relationships of both the Ikkitousen and Maria Watches Over Us variety, at the time I had felt it difficult to genuinely gauge the series based on their positive responses. Though my wariness caused me to set aside Simoun as an afterthought, more recently it was chosen for me to review as part of the 2015 Reverse Thieves Anime Secret Santa. Having finished the series  I realize now that I had unfairly judged Simoun for its surface qualities, and that is in fact a very strong, emotionally-oriented science fiction story that fits in and exemplifies a long and evolving tradition of science fiction anime and manga.

In the world of Simoun, everyone is born a girl and choose their genders when they become adults. The main character of Simoun, a teenager named Aer, joins the Sibyllae, priestesses who fly divine vessels known as Simouns. The Simouns and the priestesses, normally meant to fulfill a religious role, are also thrust into conflict because their vehicles can be weaponized, though unlike conventional crafts they fight primarily by inscribing patterns across the sky that trigger magical effects. The key to the Simouns, and why Aer and the others are chosen to be Sibyllae, is that they can only be piloted by those who have yet to become adults. Simoun Sibyllae form close bonds with their co-pilots, signified by a kiss before they take flight.

Sometimes there will be an anime where where you can maybe argue that it’s concerned with gender and sexuality, women’s rights, and other similar topics, but that requires a fairly loose reading. Simoun is not one of those anime. It is a work, and a world, where questions about sex, gender, and sexuality are front and center. For example, while it’s not difficult to see why Simoun is labeled as a yuri series, in many ways it defies that categorization. Though everyone enters the world as a girl, the paths they make towards their ultimate choices are contingent upon the circumstances of their world, who they fall for, and how they go about navigating their lives in general. Children who fall in love as girls might both become women, or men, or any combination.

I have to stress how much this series plays with the ideas of gender and sexuality, because it’s such a major factor in Simoun. Girls, as they become adults, slowly transform into their new bodies, so a girl, even a buxom one, will only start to resemble a man after a few years. While the idea of transitioning between sexes is nor considered the norm in our world, in Simoun this is just the natural way of things, both physically and culturally. One interesting choice Simoun makes to emphasize this fact is that all characters, from children to bearded old men, are voiced by women.

Simoun features a very emotionally and environmentally robust science fiction narrative that interestingly is tied strongly to the emotional weight of its characters. Romance is a part of their world, but it’s not their entire world. Other countries attack Kyuukyoku because the Simouns do not pollute the sky like their own aircraft. The war itself is ever-present, and the Syballae put themselves on the line, but they’re shown to also be somewhat disconnected due to their positions as religious figures. The girl-girl kissing that happens before every battle might be seen as a thrilling yuri moment, but it’s not necessarily the case that the characters need to form romantic relationships to fly their Simouns.

The very power afforded those who have yet to become adults, the power of potential, is integrated into the very core of the narrative and its explorations of this alternative universe. Even the Simouns themselves have a certain bizarre quality in their designs that make it difficult to ascertain how much they’re truly divine aircrafts and how much they’re simply highly advanced technology.

Part of the reason I had my slight misgivings over Simoun back then were that the character designs are very reminiscent of more fanservice-oriented series. While I myself like the designs, and Simoun does not have a great amount of sexual allure on display, it’s enough in its promotional materials and its general aesthetic that one could,  even while watching the show, take only shallow titillation from it. This isn’t inherently bad, but I can imagine there are others like myself who approached the series with an eyebrow raised because that was all it appeared to be. Moreover, there are elements that might have come across as merely fulfilling certain fetishes, such as large age differences, incest, and more. However, they are for the most part developed well, and exist as a few of many possible relationships in the world, and just in general I do not feel like they hold back Simoun to any large degree.

Overall, I would highly recommend Simoun to just about anyone, but especially those who want to see an anime that fosters thought and discussion. It presents a unique and robust world of utopian/dystopian imagination full of limitations, possibilities, and unique characters.

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Once again I’ve participated in the Reverse Thieves’ Anime Secret Santa, where various bloggers, podcasters, etc. anonymously recommend anime to other people. This year, the show I will be reviewing is Plastic Nee-san (aka +Tic Elder Sister) a comedy series that somewhat defies description.

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Ostensibly an anime about three cute girls in a high school plastic model club, Plastic Nee-san thrives on being utterly bizarre yet just familiar enough to make it difficult to label it as simply “wacky.” Even as the girls eviscerate each other physically and mentally, it can be difficult to predict where the show will go next. Episodes are extremely short, amounting to about two minutes each, and the jokes are rapid-fire while never overstaying their welcome.

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Of all the anime and manga I’ve seen, the show that comes closest to Plastic Nee-san is probably Ai-Mai-Mi! Both series utilize their settings as the absolute loosest of pretenses to engage in strange, often non-sequitur humor, revel in watching their characters suffer while generally deserving it. The key differences between the two would be that Ai-Mai-Mi! goes places that Plastic Nee-san doesn’t even dream of (Plastic Nee-san at least tries to keep things in and around their school), and that Plastic Nee-san gets more over the top with its facial expressions.

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On the Kurumi Erika scale of amazing faces, Plastic Nee-san is clearly a 10 out of 10.

Another show that Plastic Nee-san is Nichijou, particularly in terms of the Kyoto Animation adaptation. At some point on your internet travels, you may have come across the following animated gif:

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This lovingly animated moment is from Plastic Nee-san. In fact, this is how an episode starts. While the rest of that episode isn’t quite so violent, it still does a brilliant job of building from that initial shock to leave you dazed, confused, and asking for more. This is what makes the anime, strangely enough, very accessible to even those unfamiliar with anime, as the impact of the humor is unforgettable. Even if they don’t know the name of the series, it will inevitably go down as “that crazy anime you showed me.”

The last thing I want to point out is that while a number of shows have super cute girls doing obnoxious things, in the case of Plastic Nee-san this is greatly improved by the fact that just about every individual in this series gets what’s coming to them quickly and mercilessly. Unlike other series where characters never get their comeuppance and continue to expand their irritating and annoying personalities (which I know can be a deal breaker for some), Plastic Nee-san rains slapstick vengeance on them like there’s no tomorrow. In some cases, characters don’t even realize that they’ve paid their price, which makes things all the better. In this respect, it’s like Nichijou with all of the warm, heartfelt moments excised.

In short, if you were to watch Plastic Nee-san and Ai-Mai-Mi! in the same day, you’ll probably either solve world hunger or doom the planet to an eternity of plagues.

This review is a part of the Reverse Thieves’ 2013 Anime Secret Santa Project.

When anime fans throw around the term “slice of life,” they’re generally either enormously broad in its usage (anything that concerns non-fantastical events is slice of life!) or they’re talking about a certain type of slow-paced anime which due to the popularity of certain titles has become largely associated with a cast of primarily girls doing cute things. Acchi Kocchi falls more in line with the latter category, but where often such shows largely eschew the Y-chromosome, Acchi Kocchi decides that guys too can engage in relatively low-key hijinks without pillaging the secret garden of girlish innocence.

Acchi Kocchi follows a group of friends in high school, primarily a quiet, diminutive girl named Miniwa Tsumiki and her crush, a stoic boy named Otonashi Io. Though a lot of the show involves the characters doing silly things, the primary thrust of the humor is about highlighting the mutual feelings between Tsumiki and Io, and the seeming inevitability that they will become a couple (if they aren’t one by default already). Within this context, the gags can range from heartfelt to absurd, like a mix of Precious Moments cards and Roadrunner-esque slapstick. The humor never quite goes beyond the level it hits in Episode 1, so if you’re looking to experience increasingly powerful laughs it’s not going to happen but if you’re satisfied at that point you’ll remain content.

One thing of note is that the show enjoys making fighting game references. Not sure where that comes from but it’s appreciated.

Romance in this type of anime is not unusual, but it’s generally between two girls, and that’s even when putting aside the highly ambiguous shows which invite interpretation as yuri from the fans. Hidamari Sketch has Sae and Hiro, Kiniro Mosaic has Aya and Youko, Yuruyuri is…basically those combinations times ten. This is not a criticism of same-sex relationships in anime, more an observation about the perhaps surprising lack of heterosexual pairings, which Acchi Kocchi manages to not only include but accomplish in an entertaining and refreshing fashion.

I think that often the worry with a boy-girl romance in these shows is that one will act as the audience stand-in and the other will be the ideal (or ideally flawed) potential significant other, but Acchi Kocchi is more like if both of them were their respective anime ideals for the opposite sex. Tsumiki is small and cute, often portrayed with cat-like features, and is sort of like a fusion between Konata and Kagami from Lucky Star. While this is maybe more expected, Io’s low-key personality is less about being bland and generic and more about being an almost butler-esque bishounen. A lot of the gags involving Io involve him speaking with such natural and unconscious suaveness that the girls around him swoon. They’re quite the anime power couple.

My favorite character by the way is the scientist Katase Mayoi. While I could say quite a bit about how her quirky personality appeals to me, I think this screenshot explains it well enough.

Overall, I definitely enjoyed the show, and while it never felt entirely fresh it wasn’t stale either. Pleasantly humorous with a unique take on familiar territory in a genre which thrives on familiarity, Acchi Kocchi can be a nice change of pace for those who enjoy their so-called slice of life shows but want a bit more variety.

This post is my latest participation in the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa Project, wherein fellow bloggers anonymously recommend each other some anime and everyone writes a review of one of their “presents.” Given the Christmas theme of the endeavor, it is perhaps all the more appropriate that I review an anime which takes place in a land of endless winter, but really the reason why I ended up picking Overman King Gainer out of the choices I was given is that I had always wanted to watch it but had never gotten around to doing so.

Overman King Gainer is a 2002 anime from the mind of Tomino Yoshiyuki, the famous creator of Gundam. He’s a man with a long history and resume in the industry, and when people talk about Tomino anime, they usually divide them into two categories: Depressed Tomino Anime and Happy Tomino Anime, with the amount of bloodshed and trauma varying accordingly. Featured above is a gif of Tomino during the production of Overman King Gainer; I’ll let you decide which kind of show this is.

At first glance, Overman King Gainer is a strange show, not only because of its extremely catchy opening courtesy of Fire Bomber and JAM Project’s Fukuyama Yoshiki, Gaogaigar composer Tanaka Kouhei, and both characters and giant robots alike doing the Monkey (possibly the show’s most enduring legacy in anime), but because it presents new information about its world constantly and without any prior warning, making the whole thing quite difficult to summarize.

In the future of Overman King Gainer, humanity attempts to survive a harsh and close to uninhabitable planet by living in massive shelters known as “domepoli,” but among the people there are movements to participate in “Exoduses,” mass pilgrimages to lands with potentially more opportunity and resources, accomplished through the use of massive moving cities. The main character is a boy named Gainer Sanga, a video game champion who becomes the pilot of a mysterious organic robot he dubs the “King Gainer,” and who ends up becoming a part of the Exodus despite his objections to it. There is a complex world underpinning the main narrative, but we the viewers only ever get to see a few slivers of the whole, and even into the final episode the show still keeps a lot of its secrets. In that respect it reminds me of Xam’d: Lost Memories, which shares that similar pacing of world-building = plot progression, but much like Xam’d that’s also where a good deal of its charm lies.

Watching this show, I couldn’t help but feel that, more than Ikari Shinji from Evangelion or Kira Yamato from Gundam SEED, Gainer Sanga is the true updated version of classic Gundam hero Amuro Ray. Gainer has this strange introversion to him, as well as an aversion to the situation he finds himself in, but he adds this additional modern otaku element from the way he engages in his gaming. As an aside, the fact that he engages in games instead of tinkering with machinery reminds me that the original Gundam came out in a very different era of video games.

The character designs in this show are excellent, with both male and female characters clearly showing that a lot of care was put into their creation. The designs are full of vibrancy and personality, and though not the sole character designer on the show, the influence of Yoshida Ken’ichi (who would go on to do character designs for Eureka Seven and Xam’d) is both quite obvious and welcome.  I have to wonder what material would have been made for Overman King Gainer had it appeared in a post-Megami Magazine, maybe even post-Pixiv fandom environment. The show has a large number of female characters who seem to have a fair deal of enduring popularity, and I suspect that characters such as the strong-willed Sara Kodama, the spunky child princess Ana Medaiyu, the spy-turned-humanities teacher Adette Kistler, and the eccentric Cynthia Lane would’ve won the hearts of many current fans had the show been made in the last few years.

Tomino is often known for having rather stiff dialogue, and it’s easy to put Overman King Gainer in the same category, but I feel like that doesn’t quite tell the whole story, because it doesn’t take into account for its usage as a comedic element. The awkwardness of the phrasing and the responses they engender from other characters feels like this constant revolving tsukkomi, and when you take that sort of interaction and apply it to a diverse range of characters, including crazy Koyasu Takehito (see current anime JoJo’s Bizarre Adventure for reference), it makes for a fun if confusing anime which exudes a strange sort of energy that’s hard to find in other anime.

Another element of the anime that really stands out from other shows is its mechanical design, which both Yoshida and Yasuda “Akiman” Akira of Capcom fame worked on. The robots in Overman King Gainer come in two categories, the more basic and grunt-like “Sillhouette Machines,” and the “Overmen,” strangely powerful robots with a variety of abilities from invisibility to lightning bordering on the super (natural). Between their organic appearances and elements (artificial muscle tissue in the limbs for instance), as well as their striking appearances, probably the part of the show which most clearly describes the aesthetics of the anime, and that’s putting aside the whole Monkey-dancing thing.

I know I’m talking more about the components of Overman King Gainer than I am the overall feel of the series, and it’s something I normally prefer to avoid when I write reviews, but again I have to point out that the show kind of messes with expectations. Overman King Gainer is an unusual hodgepodge of elements which perhaps shouldn’t work together but do, and it defies categorization in the sense that it’s hard to say whether the anime is extremely straightforward or extremely obtuse, but which ends up being fun and clever.

For the 2011 edition of the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa, I was given three excellent titles to choose from. Given that I have been hearing good things about Planetes for a very long time though, I felt that it was the right and proper choice to make. After having watched through all 26 episodes, I find the series to be one that is difficult to pin down because of how it handles so many of its elements extremely well, and asks a great deal of its viewers without making it necessarily a “challenging” watch.  It is a show which eases you into its difficult, mentally engaging portions but also doesn’t let up on them either.

Planetes takes place in the early years of space colonization, when mankind is utilizing resources found outside of the Earth and has established cities on the moon and on orbiting satellites. In this era, space travel is naturally common, but decades of collected junk (old satellites, garbage launched into space, etc.) around Earth’s orbit have made it potentially dangerous. Even a seemingly harmless object becomes deadly when controlled by the unrestrained laws of motion. In order to combat this serious issue, mankind has developed the profession of “debris hauler,” a job which is absolutely vital to space travel but is treated with about as much reverence as a janitor. The story of Planetes focuses primarily on these debris haulers, especially the brash-but-serious veteran Hoshino “Hachimaki” Hachirota, and the new recruit filled with lofty ideals for people and space, Tanabe Ai. Together, they work for the Debris Section of their company, derisively referred to as the “Half-Section” for being perpetually understaffed.

Though I cannot comment on the accuracy of the science in Planetes, I can say that it plays a large role in the series, particularly how inertia works in space. It is taken seriously, and though the show feels light-hearted, the seriousness of their respective positions is also made immediately apparent. As space debris is dangerous, so too is the work of a debris hauler, as they have to be prepared for the fact that every time they are out on the job could be their last.

The challenges of space travel are not simply limited to the tasks at hand, either. When it comes to expanding humanity further into the universe, there are very real consequences. Space development is seen as a way to benefit all of mankind, but the truth is that the wealthiest nations, the ones that have the funds to develop space programs, are the ones that profit the most. The gap between nations grows ever wider. Planetes is an anime that questions progress and development, the interaction of politics and science, personal motivations, the nature of human interaction, and even the way we view ourselves individually.

The beauty of the series, however, is that it does not give a clear winner in the conceptual battle of “cynicism” vs. “idealism,” nor does it say which side is which. Planetes does not push one side over another, as if to say that once you weigh all of the advantages and disadvantages of space travel relative to the state of mankind, you can figure out which is right. The answers are as myriad as the the show’s cast of characters, all of whom are fantastically developed and who contribute heavily to the unlikely combination of feel-good comedy, political intrigue, and genuine speculation, balanced in a way that very few works of science fiction are able to accomplish. Even when you disagree with them, you cannot deny their convictions.

Hachimaki decided to go into space because he wanted to go faster and further than ever before. Fee Carmichael, the pilot of the Half-Section debris ship “Toy Box,” is a chain-smoking pragmatist whose skills are the best in the business, but who shirks at the chance to get promoted because she feels her skills are most needed out in the “field” instead of being behind a desk. Werner Locksmith, the developer of the first inhabitable ship to Jupiter, is a brilliant mind whose emphasis on science over humanity can be shocking to those who expect empathy, but his attitude is also necessary for pushing space development technology further. Tanabe herself strongly believes that the key to everything is love, and that actions without love are lesser for it, an attitude which can be grating to those who see reality as a much harsher place. And yet it must be asked, who is truly naive, the one who believes that love connects humanity, or the one who believes that people are forever alone?

Similarly, some problems are seen as trivial when faced by issues of a larger scale, seemingly insurmountable ones which affect entire countries, but those in turn are dwarfed by the vastness of a perspective with the entirety of the universe in mind. Suddenly those “small problems” of the individual start to play a much greater role. In the end, Planetes never leaves you with a definitive answer to any of the questions it posits, leaving you to decide for yourself.

Before I finish, I feel that I must emphasize once again that somehow through all this, Planetes is fun and even a bit romantic. It takes itself seriously, but it also doesn’t neglect the personal joys that can be found in life. There isn’t anything quite like it.

Note: This is the my review as part of the Reverse Thieves Secret Santa Project.

Romance can be sweet. Romance can be exhilarating. It can be mellow, dramatic, fun, bitter, and much more. But often times the best word to describe this roller coaster ride we call love is “silly.” Not trivial, not foolish, and not frivolous, but the kind of silliness that reminds you that, as serious as love can get, it’s best to approach it with a genuine smile. That is the lesson Lovely Complex teaches over the course of 26 episodes.

Lovely Complex is the story of a girl and the boy who sits next to her in class. The girl is Koizumi Risa, an energetic high schooler who towers over nearly every guy in the class and often believes that love is beyond her long reach. Opposite Risa is Ohtani Atsushi, a diminutive fellow with lots of attitude who is very sensitive about his size. If love is a roller coaster, then Ohtani constantly feels like he can’t meet the height requirement. Though they may argue constantly and are quick to use each others’ height complexes to rub salt in each others’ wounds, Risa and Ohtani are actually friends even if they believe otherwise.

As an anime, Lovely Complex has many strengths. The characters are fun, interesting, and very human. The story moves along at a brisk pace; you never feel like it’s dragging or going in circles even when you think it might be, and the interaction between Koizumi and Ohtani is very entertaining and will have you smiling constantly. The best moments are when the two start to bicker, as even the most heated argument between the two can be defused by their shared enthusiasm for the silliest things, be it arcades, sweet drinks, or their favorite (fictional) hip hop star “Umibouzu.” Watching their bond develop is perhaps the most enjoyable part of Lovely Complex, and the result is that the show gets better and better as it progresses.

If the show has any weaknesses, it’s that not much emphasis is placed on the art. Characters will go frequently off-model and the show often sticks with a “good enough” mode of animation, but fortunately the format of Lovely Complex with its exaggerated expressions and constant style shifts is such that it doesn’t seem too out of the ordinary and it doesn’t lessen the impact of any scenes. In some ways actually helps to emphasize the characters’ personalities over their looks.

If it isn’t obvious yet, Lovely Complex is very much about the characters and I invite anyone who watches anime looking for a more down-to-earth, real sense of romance to take a look. Looking at the cast, if I had to pick a favorite character it would have to be Risa. She builds up her courage and makes a big move, and then immediately frets over it the next day. She’s tall but not “sexy,” clumsy but not “cute,” yet still has her own unique charms that make her feel less like an “anime heroine,” and more like a person. She’s a really wonderful character to the extent that I wish that somewhere out there is a “Koizumi Maniax,” because she really deserves it.

Lovely Complex: it’s a good romance anime where the drama is always cut through by good cheer and laughs. It’s silly, it’s serious, it’s a good thing to enjoy by yourself or with another.

I am participating in the Reverse Thieves’ Secret Santa Project, in which bloggers picked shows for other bloggers based on their anime preferences with the ultimate goal being a review of one of the anime picked for us.

Anyway, my show.

Lovely Complex.

Good choice, Mr. or Ms. Claus. I hear this series is shoujo at its finest, and so I’ll be looking forward to taking it on.

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