Category: impressions

Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei (Comic)

I’m currently creating a fansite for Kumeta Koji’s comic, Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. For now, it’ll be a fairly simple affair, with reviews and reference information about each volume. Since one can find most basic information about the series from Wikipedia and fanart on any of a number of fanart sites (e.g., Danbooru or Safebooru), I’ll focus on my own impressions of the series, and some more detailed information than what one finds on more general sites, like when different memes or characters are introduced, or how the different translators have dealt with the source material.

For now, here’s a draft of my overview of the series as a whole:

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So, introducing Kumeta Koji’s Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei. Though much of what I’ll present on this site is plain, factual information, perhaps I’ll say up-front that I adore Zetsubou-Sensei. With the sole exception of Yotsuba&! (its spritual opposite, I suppose), it’s my favourite comic series, and the anime adaptation is one of my top five. So, though it’s not my style to go over-the-top fanboy, almost everything about the series appeals to me so much that I can only write from the viewpoint of a fan.

With that disclaimer, I’ll start with a few words on the series as a whole. The title means “Good Bye, Mr. Despair,” possibly a reference to James Hilton’s Good-Bye, Mr. Chips. That is a literal translation, so why the North American publisher, Del Rey, decided to use the Japanese title here confuses me. The fansub I have of season one of the anime uses the title “So Long, Mr. Despair,” which has a decent ring to it, I think, better than the unwieldy (in English) “Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei,” and gets the meaning across just fine. At least the average anglophone can look at it and know right away what it means. That said, Del Rey did mostly redeem themselves by adding the subtitle “The Power of Negative Thinking.” The twist on Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s classic The Power of Positive Thinking fits the tone of the comic very well. I don’t know if they consulted Mr. Kumeta, but I imagine he would probably have approved the addition.

Regarding the comic itself, Kumeta uses a satirical tone throughout the series, and almost every chapter revolves around roasting some societal problem or personality quirk, like shut-ins (hikkikimori), perfectionists, stalkers, media hype of all kinds, comic conventions – there’s even a page on TV Tropes dedicated to listing the tropes Zetsubou-Sensei undermines!

As one would expect, Kumeta definitely favours a dark sense of humour. The protagonist’s rampant cynicism is the comic’s hallmark joke, which leads him to attempt suicide multiple times per volume. He even tells a student in chapter four that the true love is best expressed by double suicide.

Kumeta also keeps up a frenetic pace. Text fills some pages like wallpaper, and jokes come fast and often, not only in dialogue but in the background art and text lists on the sides of panels. Luckily, the minimalist art style prevents the panels from feeling too chaotic. There’s no unnecessary detail, and no colour. Literally, black and white dominate the palette – even shades of grey are kept to a minimum. The art does its job well, though – the characters are distinct, the action is clear, and overall I find it quite stylish and appealing.

The series does have the fault, though, of falling into a pattern after the first two or three volumes. Most chapters begin in the classroom, a topic is introduced,  Sensei declares that some aspect of that topic leaves him in despair, there’s some dialogue, then everyone goes into town and finds examples of that topic. Though the solid material usually holds up the unimaginative presentation, the series could use some more variety in its later volumes.

On a final note, I’ll mostly cover what’s available in English, and at least for now I’ll focus on the comic rather than the anime. Though both versions are excellent, the comic is currently more easily available, though once I get caught up with the comic I’ll probably look into adding a section for the anime, as well.…

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Oh, the Things I Watch

So, armed with my new subscription to Crunchyroll, because like the rest of my generation I’m impatient and can’t wait a week for new anime episodes, I’ve set to watching this season’s new shows as they come out. What do I settle on first?

Yeah, Cat God. I know it wasn’t that long ago I declared moe dead to me, but this show pushes too many of my buttons. I can’t resist catgirls. I love shows like Oh, My Goddess! and Spice and Wolf with goddess girlfriends/roommates/traveling partners/whatever. I love shows dealing with the supernatural in general, really.

The show’s pretty average, actually. Episode 1 was too chaotic, but episode 2 fixed that. The jokes aren’t too bad. The animation meets par, but won’t blow anyone away. Call it ‘Mostly harmless’, I guess.

I think I can redeem myself by also watching Gainax’s new show, The Mystic Archives of Dantalian, this time via Nico Nico’s streaming. All I really want from the show is Gosick but with better writing. Two episodes in, I have high hopes. I can tell I’m not the only one, since most of the discussion I’ve seen of it so far has been praise for not having the annoying habits of other shows, and Gosick in particular. Dantalian has, of all things, a competent protagonist, a girl with a sharp tongue but not unnecessarily bitchy, and mysteries that don’t require not just a suspension but outright termination of disbelief.

I especially love the show’s artwork and atmosphere.

I’m also using Crunchyroll to continue Hanasaku Iroha from last season, and for Fist of the North Star for some old-school action.…

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ToraDora Graphic Novel

I love the ToraDora anime. The show ranks as one of my all time favourites, and I also own the first novel of the original novel, albeit mostly as a reminder that I remain barely literate in Japanese. So, when I heard that Seven Seas would publish the comic adaptation I knew I had to grab it on day one.

I didn’t have much to say about the first volume. Zekkyo, the artist, did a respectable job adapting the story, the art was good, and overall the book was enjoyable, just not anything to write home about. However, Zekkyo used most of the early chapters setting up Taiga and Ryuuji’s relationship. The other two main characters, Minori and Kitamura, received hardly any attention.

However, I expected that to change with volume two. We do get to see a little more of Kitamura, and Zekkyo also introduces the fifth and final main character, Ami, in the last couple chapters. Once she appears, Ami receives a lot of attention right away, and becomes a focal point for the last two chapters. Minori, though, continues to stay mostly on the sidelines. In the anime version, she appears frequently and often steals the show, especially in the first half, but it seems Zekkyo wants to focus on Taiga and Ryuuji. That’s understandable, of course. They are the protagonists. However, one of the anime’s strengths is how every character, even those with only a handful of lines, feels like they have a life and story of their own outside of how they interact with Taiga and Ryuuji. I would love to see Zekkyo accomplish the same here, because ToraDora has such a likable cast of characters.ToraDora Scan

Even without comparison to the anime, though, I suspect that the graphic novels would still feel claustrophobic, as Lissa Pattillo described volume one over at ANN, partly because of how verbose it gets. Flipping through the book, several pages suffocate under a tangle of speech bubbles. All the dialogue and monologue feel all the more oppressive in part, I think, because of the often dull backgrounds. Now, to be fair, Zekkyo does a fine job drawing the characters themselves, and there’s often not much to work with as far as settings go. Most scenes take place in school corridors (as on the right), walking down city streets, or at a restaurant that reminds me of Denny’s.

A few final points. As I said above, the characters are still likable, and I like how expressively Zekkyo draws them.

I also like the perspectives and panel layout, though navigating the myriad speech bubbles becomes unnecessarily difficult in some of the talkier parts.

Page 97 seems to have a printing error, where the top tenth of the page is reduplicated over the second tenth or so. I didn’t notice any such problems in volume one or in Gunslinger Girl, the only other Seven Seas release I own, so I’m hoping this is just an isolated slip-up. Let’s not turn into ADV already, please!

 …

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More Sweet Zetsubou

Volume 9 of Kumeta Koji’s Sayonara, Zetsubou-Sensei just came out here in the US, and of course I bought it as soon as I could. It’s all standard SZS stuff, if you’ve read any of the last eight volumes you know what to expect. I love Mr. Kumeta’s fast-paced, satirical humour, and as a whole it’s one of the most quotable series I know.

I did notice that Kodansha has started publishing the series themselves, rather than licensing them through Del Rey. The layout’s almost identical to Del Rey’s; they just swapped out the logos on the spines.

The spines of zetsubou senseiGood for them; I’d have been irritated if they’d totally redesigned the thing and made them look weird on my bookshelf. There’s also a new translator, Joshua Weeks, taking over from David Ury, who himself took over from Joyce Aurino at (IIRC) volume five. Without reading the original I can’t vouch for accuracy, but Mr. Weeks seems to do a pretty good job keeping everything coherent for us anglophones, though I do have a couple nitpicks. Neither he nor Mr. Ury seem to use Zetsubou-Sensei’s standard formula ‘I’m in despair! (whatever) has left me in despair!’ as often as Ms. Aurino did, though Mr. Weeks uses it sometimes, which disappoints me a little. They use ‘hopeless’ or ‘I’ve lost all faith in (whatever)’ instead, which I’ll admit is just as technically accurate (AFAIK) and, perhaps more importantly, generally sounds more natural in most of these cases, but ‘despair’ is a stronger word. For what it’s worth, it’s also what fansubbers generally used in the TV show, so it’s what a lot of fans expect.

I’m also a little disappointed in the relative lack of translator’s notes. Ms. Aurino used a lot of them, Mr. Ury used fewer, though still more than most other series, and now there’s really just a few pages worth. Again, I don’t blame the translator (or editor or whoever decides these things). Most people probably don’t read them and, as the saying goes, ‘It’s not funny if I have to explain it’. Still, as someone interested in Japanese culture and translation, I always read the notes and usually find them interesting. That’s especially true of a series like Zetsubou-Sensei, which packs references so densely. I’d at least like to know the references in the chapter titles, most of which (again, AFAIK) refer to classic works of literature.…

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Pokemon Twelve Years Later

The last Pokemon game I bought was Red back in 1998, which I played so thoroughly over the next year or so that the resulting burnout has lasted over ten years now. A few days ago, while at work, I felt a strong urge to play again. Who knows why? The next day, though, I bought a copy of the recently-released Pokemon: White Version (not Black, because I prefer to hang around Pokemon that look like me lulz). Anyway, I thought the impressions of a prodigal Pokemon fan may interest those who’ve kept up with the series, so I’ll share my thoughts so far.

First of all, the basic gameplay hasn’t changed at all, as far as I can tell (I just got the first badge about 1.5 hours in). You wander around, catch little critters, train them, and fight them against other little critters. It’s still a great premise, and I can certainly see why the franchise has continued to sell so well.

As for changes, White and Black are more politically correct than Red and Blue. For one thing, instead of Prof. Oak we have some woman professor, and instead of having to play as a boy you can choose between a girl and a boy who looks like a girl. Enough girls play Pokemon that having a girl avatar is probably a good move (though I’m guessing it’s one that’s a few generations old now). Also, there’s a lot more talk about the special relationship between humans and Pokemon and what it means to be a good trainer. I think Red/Blue touched on this, but it wasn’t a major theme. I guess it’s a decent way to teach younger players to take care of animals, but really I just want to catch monsters and fight them.

Which brings me to Team Plasma, our antagonists who want to liberate the world’s Pokemon. They seem shady and I hear they have some ulterior motive, but… I don’t know. I always liked the original games’ simplicity. Not that White/Black is a new Hamlet or anything, but Red/Blue seemed to focus more on just catching and training Pokemon. Your rival there was Gary, who was your rival because he was a jerk and… that was it really. No motive that I can remember. He just was a jerk. Oh, and I guess Team Rocket was there too doing, ah, whatever their big plan was. Conquer the world or something. I realise that after over a decade you need to mix up the story a bit, but there’s something to be said about the almost perfect simplicity of the originals, which really captured that childlike feeling of adventure better than almost any other game I know of. I’ll wait until I finish the games to decide whether the new Pokemon measures up.…

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FLCL on Blu-Ray

I finally got hold of the long-awaited blu-ray edition of FLCL, which is second only to serial experiments lain among my favourite (and most-watched) anime. Just owning the whole series gives me sufficient cause to celebrate, since I only own vols. 1 and 3 of the previous release (plus the full series as a bootleg).

I’ve read that the Japanese edition had serious problems with video quality, so North American publisher Funimation did their own remastering. The end result looks very good. There were moments when lines became noticeably jagged or the screen looked a bit fuzzy, so one could easily tell that this show came out before HDTVs were common, but I think they do look better than the original DVD release. If you already have the old DVDs and aren’t a big fan, though, it’s probably not worth the purchase.

On a final note, this is the first post I’ve written via my iPhone, so if anything looks weird that’s probably why.…

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Ghost Hound

I finished the anime Ghost Hound last night, which an acquaintance of mine recommended to me a while back. Apparently, some of the same staff who worked on serial experiments lain, which I loved, also worked on Ghost Hound, including writer Konaka Chiaki. The resemblance was obvious, too, since both tackle similar themes and share some stylistic touches (like extreme close-ups of people’s eyes or mouth).

Overall, it’s an excellent series. Good animation, likable characters, skillful plotting, all the things one checks for. The ending should ideally have been two episodes instead of one, since it felt rushed and everything turned out unbelievably hunky-dory. Overall, though, I felt satisfied.

Even aside from the lain connection, though, it’s the type of show I tend to enjoy. Most premises built on a polytheistic or animistic mythology appeal to me. Perhaps a world populated by the supernatural offers an intriguing contrast to the materialist worldview common in the United States.…

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Last Exile

I watched Last Exile the other day, after a couple years of seeing several people whose opinion I respect speak well of it. Very seldom am I led astray by those I trust, especially when the work in question gets near-universal praise as Last Exile does. In fact, I don’t recall ever seeing someone who outright dislikes it.

Yet, I dropped it after just two episodes.

There were a few problems, but two factors especially turned me off right away. First, ugly computer-generated aircraft. CG animation almost always looks bad anyway, but looks especially jarring when used with traditional 2D animation. To the show’s credit, though, the rest of the animation looked good.

Second, the two protagonists irritated the hell out of me. Both fall into the archetype I call the ‘noble retard,’ a character who always does the right thing even if it’s plainly impossible, suicidal, and possibly not even worthwhile. Emiya in Fate / Stay Night and the male lead (whatever his name was) in Elfen Lied both fit the archetype, and dragged down both shows. Two of them together, though, is just too much for me.

Maybe I’ll give this show another chance down the road – two episodes on a seven-DVD series isn’t all that much, after all – especially given the praise it gets. For now, though, I’ll have to put it down as one of the bigger disappointments I’ve had recently.…

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Evangelion 2.0 – My Impression

A theatre about an hour’s drive away from me was showing the first two Evangelion Rebuild films, so after some deliberation I decided to go.

I had modest expectations, going as much to support the industry and encourage studios to release more animated films in theatres as I did to see these particular works. The original series has always struck me as decent, but highly overrated, Death and Rebirth is one of the worst films I’ve seen, and End of Evangelion, though gorgeous to look at, still seems like a disjointed mess. The rebuild, though, blew me away.

The first film I’ve seen already on DVD. It’s mostly just a touched-up version of the first few episodes of the original TV show, albeit with a few new scenes and a more coherent plot. The action scenes did benefit greatly from the big theatre screen.

The second, though, is one of the most spectacular films I’ve ever seen in a theatre. I’d heard that the film is beautiful, and the praise is richly deserved. The animation is fluid, the backgrounds detailed, and the music is excellent. For the first time, I felt I had a real sense of the scale of everything – the Evas, the Angels, Tokyo-3. The visuals in this film by themselves justified the long drive and price of admission.

The characters also come across as more likable and well-developed than in the original series. Shinji actually has a bit of a spine in this version, where in the TV and End of Eva versions I detested him as much as I detest any fictional character for being such a wuss. Rei, rather too flat in the original, now shows some modest attempts at sociability, and comes across as much more sympathetic as a result. Even Gendo is less of a prick now, going so far as to give Shinji some praise – only once, briefly, but like Rei he seems far more human and sympathetic now.

The plot still seems muddy, but we’re only halfway through the series, so I’ll wait to criticise that. The new Eva pilot irritated me, just because she doesn’t seem to have any purpose. Again, though, there are still two films to go so I’ll hold back my criticism there, too.

Talking to a few fans between the films was fun, too. My main complaint is that the theatre literally just played the films via a PlayStation 3 (we saw the PS3 menu prior to each film beginning). Blu-Rei Blu-ray resolution with a good projector did, of course, give a much greater experience than what I could get with my TV at home, but it just felt a little bush league to me.

While I’ve always appreciated what Evangelion has done well, and its historical impact, with Eva 2.0 I find myself becoming, for the first time, an Evangelion fan.…

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Neon Genesis Evangelion: Death and Rebirth

I just finished watching Evangelion: Death and Rebirth, and have never felt so pissed off at a film. Yeah, I’d been warned by people I trust to just avoid this one, but like a cat curiosity got the better of me. After all, the main series was okay, and End of Evangelion may have hacked me off by trying too hard to integrate every philosophy it could think of, but at least it had high production values.

Part 1, “Death,” just recaps the TV series for an hour or so. Those who’ve already seen the series don’t need that much recapping, but it also doesn’t do anything to introduce any characters or plot points to ease newcomers into the film. Even worse, our beloved studio Gainax made this recap by simply re-editing scenes from the show while adding almost no new animation.

Then, we get a credit sequence in the middle of the film, as though this were two TV episodes spliced together, and an intermission. The film’s only 115 minutes long, though, so I’m not sure why any intermission is needed, especially in addition to the immediately preceding credit sequence. Maybe Japanese studios are just especially courteous to moviegoers who buy large drinks at the concession stand?

Anyway, we then proceed to Part 2, “Rebirth.” Here’s the highlight of the film, where we the plot finally gets moving again. End of Evangelion recycled almost all of this footage, but since that came a couple years later I’ll give Death and Rebirth a pass on that. What I won’t give it a pass on, though, is that whereas many films begin in media res, this one decides to end in media res. Literally, the end credits (the real end credits this time) start rolling right before what’s obviously going to be a fight scene, with next to nothing resolved. A couple years later Gainax recycles “Rebirth” and actually finally gives Neon Genesis Evangelion something resembling a proper ending. That one has problems of its own, but at least it begins and ends somewhere, and if you just cut out Death and Rebirth makes the series feel mostly whole.

What boggles my mind, though, is how many attempts Gainax has made at creating a decent ending for their flagship franchise. Apparently, they couldn’t do it right when the show originally aired because they ran out of time or money. Still a lame excuse, perhaps, but whatever. So they make a second attempt with Death and Rebirth, but that fails miserably, so they make a third attempt and finally get it somewhat right with End of Eva. Even that apparently wasn’t enough, though, since now Gainax has redone the whole series as a film tetralogy, their second attempt at the story as a whole and their fourth attempt at an ending. At this point, I feel I must conclude that no one at Gainax ever did know how Eva ought to end; we’ve yet to see whether or not they still don’t.…

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