Hit

To my lovely readers in the United States, I hope you’re all having a relaxing Memorial Day weekend! …to everyone else, I hope your weekend is going well too. If you’re confused about the title of this week’s article, I’ve decided to take a bit of a detour, that will last from now until Labor Day at the beginning of September.

I just finished a really good book.

hit

Although I guess that depends on your application of the word “good”. Hit, by Delilah Dawson is a very heavy story, but at 339 pages I honestly couldn’t put it down. Billed as a novel aimed at young adults, it tells the story of Patsy Klein (not to be confused with Patsy Kline, of course), the teen-aged daughter of a single mother in a financially depressed neighborhood of suburban Georgia. Patsy’s mom has cancer, and no money to pay for treatments. In steps Valor Savings Bank, recently changed to just “Valor Savings”, who Patsy’s mom had previously taken out a credit card with. They promise to cover the medical expenses and excuse any other out-standing debt… as long as Patsy will take care of some dirty work for them. If she refuses, they threaten to kill both of them, and set their home on fire. She accepts, desperate for an opportunity to keep her small family together, and is presented the next day with a mail truck and uniform and a list of ten names to whom she must now offer the same set of options – pay off the debt in one lump sum, kill, or be killed. The rest of the book is spent exploring how she handles her task without turning herself into a monster.

It’s dark, and it’s heavy. And I started to feel ashamed part way through when I realized I was enjoying it. But as with most stories that fall in this sort of dystopian vein, there’s enjoying, and then there’s enjoying. I appreciated the revelation that Patsy was a self-taught knitter, and that her big yarn bombing project was one of the things that kept her sane through the ordeal. On the other hand, even though it’s a fictional story, I look at it in the light of the world economy, and my heart sinks. I don’t believe for a moment that it would ever come to something like this in my lifetime… but what if it did? That terrifies me.

Your mileage will probably vary with this one. If you’re looking for a page-turner, I’d be confident recommending it. I actually found out about it via an article someone had retweeted, and the excerpt available from Simon and Schuster hooked me immediately. The ending was left wide-open for more, and I sincerely hope that Ms Dawson revisits it some time.

Rating: 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

xxxHolic (live-action)

I remember talking to people when the subject of this week’s article was airing on television, and how shocked we all were that one of the stories from the manga circle CLAMP had been adapted for live-action.

xxxholic

I’m talking this time about xxxHolic, based of course on the manga and anime of the same name. Starring Shota Sometani (Minna Esper Dayo, Bakuman (movie, 2015)) as the awkward Kimihiro Watanuki, and Anne Higashide (Propose Kyoudai, Samurai High School) as the mysterious Yuko Ichihara, the production company stayed amazingly faithful to the spirit of the source material, no pun intended. Sadly, since each episode was only half an hour, they had to drop most of the comedic elements of Watanuki and classmate Shizuka Domeki’s rivalry, but they more than made up for it through the retelling of a few of CLAMP’s stories, along with the addition of some new material.

The first episode begins with Watanuki explaining the strange power he has, to see demons and spirits that are generally otherwise invisible to human eyes. On his way home from school, he discovers Yuko’s shop, and is pulled inside mostly against his will. Yuko’s attendants, Maru and Moro greet him, and take his hands to drag him further inside so that Yuko can be given the opportunity to decide whether to fulfill his wish.

Fans of the series will likely also recognize Watanuki and Domeki’s classmate Himawari Kunogi as they’re watching. Even though the production budget probably only allowed for a certain level of special effects, the absence of the black-furred Mokona was inconsequential. One thing I particularly appreciated was that they brought back Shikao Suga to write the opening theme song, since I’d come to associate his music with the animated series.

Please keep in mind that this show isn’t really for the faint of heart. Having the horror themes amplified by the missing comedy made for a rather scary offering. In fact, I may not have chosen to watch it, were I unfamiliar with the source material. That being said, if you are a fan of CLAMP and/or scary stories, you should definitely check it out.

Rating: 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Clue: The Movie

Following in the vein of the absurd from last week, I’d like to share my favorite movie with you. On the surface, it looks like any other murder mystery, but if you actually sit down to watch it, you discover that it’s much more of a farce, and perhaps a bit of a character study.

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I’m talking about Clue. Based on the board game by the same name (or Cluedo, for my lovely readers who live outside the United States), it’s set in a mansion in rural northeastern US, in the 1950’s. The first person the audience sees is the butler, Wadsworth, played by Tim Curry. He greets the cook and the maid, and then the dinner guests begin to arrive, eventually followed by Mr Boddy only after they’ve migrated from the library to the dining room. Mr Boddy appears to be the host, and if he does in fact know what’s going on, he’s not sharing that information. It is of course after he presents the six weapons, that things start to get complicated.

Conceptually, this movie has a surprisingly similar feel to the game experience (minus the travel time from room to room). All of the rooms on the ground floor are present with their respective secret passages, and they also added a basement, and upper floors by way of bedrooms and attic, and much of the time is spent trying to figure out who killed Mr Boddy. They took some liberties with the characters in order to round out the number of suspects and victims, but it probably wouldn’t have worked otherwise. For instance, in the game, Mrs White was the maid, but in the movie they were two separate people.

When Clue had its run in theaters, it had three different endings, each assigning blame to a different suspect. Unfortunately that tactic wasn’t very well received, and it ended up getting bad reviews as a result. We’re lucky now, though, because the version released for home viewing includes all three, the DVD actually giving the audience the choice of watching all three, or having the program choose one at random (I’ve never watched it with only one ending). Not only do I emphatically recommend seeing this film, if for no other reason than its comedic value and outstanding cast, I suggest you have as many showings as you have patience for. It’s one of those movies that’s so tightly wound on itself, that it’s easy to miss little things like the sound effect when Mrs White snaps Colonel Mustard’s suspenders. You may even find yourself wanting to try to find the evidence to support each ending!

Rating: 5th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Delicious Gakuin

Every once in a while, we have to take a break from the ordinary and delve into the truly goofy side of fiction writing. This week’s article is about a series that even though I have a queue I need to plow through, I occasionally feel the tug to rewatch.

Delicious Academy2

I’m talking about Delicious Gakuin. Having aired in 2007, it tells the story of a group of three kids who get kidnapped and unknowingly enrolled in culinary school. The team of foodies is made up of Rin Takasugi, played by Hiroki Aiba (Samurai Sentai Shinkenger, Prince of Tennis musical), Matthew Perrier, played by Ryosuke Miura (Kamen Rider OOO, Rurouni Kenshin: Kyoto Inferno), and Rouma Kitasaka, played by Takahiro Nishijima (main vocalist of AAA). When they find themselves in a classroom, their first thought is to try to escape, with zero success, eventually finding a room that’s been set up as a competition arena. With rumbling stomachs and a table full of food, they’re presented with the task of preparing a dish before they’re allowed to eat. The task is actually the school’s entrance exam, and things only get more interesting from there.

Admittedly, there are a lot of things wrong with how the plot of this show is initiated – to have three people taken from the midst of their lives is messed up. That being said, if you can take it with a grain of salt and the fact that everyone on this show is a caricature (including the teachers and other students), you’ll see the charm in watching them learn what cooking is really about.

With a lot of hi-jinks, hilarity, and a healthy dose of humility, this is one that’s not to be missed.

Rating: 5th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Revisiting Garo: Honoo no Kokuin

I generally try to stick to live-action series for this column, but when there’s an animated series that’s based on a tokusatsu franchise, it’s only fitting to make an exception.

This week, I’m revisiting Garo: Honoo no Kokuin. Now that the series has ended (although I think I saw something about more coming later), I feel like we have a much better picture of what Yasuko Kobayashi-sensei was trying to do.

Honoo_no_Kokuin

Right up front, I of course have to acknowledge how different animation and live-action are. There are things that can be done in one format and not the other, and vice versa. As I mentioned in the “first look”, Honoo no Kokuin started out with a much bigger cast than we’ve typically seen in previous offerings. It did get whittled down as the story progressed, but there’s no denying that it contributed to a lot of the elements that typically show up in Garo falling by the wayside until that happened. Even when they did surface, they weren’t explained very well, as if the audience would already be familiar with how things work. One thing that she did well, though, was the telling of Leon’s arc. Being the title holder of Garo for most of the series, and despite seeing other characters’ threads while they were all walking separate paths, the story truly remained primarily about him.

Secondly, the cinematography was also very different, in this case especially noticeable through the lighting filters. The live-action offerings are far more muted than can really be accomplished through this style of animation. In order to help convey Leon’s journey, they had to show audience a more vibrant environment for him to discover himself and his needs. In this comparison, the fight scenes were really the only elements that aligned with a typical Garo story – even though much of the early fights in the live-action were done with suit actors, they began to animate them on the computer after a while. Oddly, it was as jarring going from animation to animation as it was going from live-action to animation (think of something like Initial D, for a good idea of the distinction). That being said, expecting that leap actually helped bring it back into focus.

All things considered, fans of the main Garo franchise will probably not like this series much, unless they have the patience to sit through the first half. It is far more recognizable after that, but the plot depends on that first half to form a basis of understanding for how it reaches the climactic ending. People coming in to Garo through the anime will hopefully be able to grasp the various live-action series without having much of an explanation as to why things are the way they are in this world. It certainly doesn’t help that it takes place in an alternate universe.

Rating: 3rd Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Shuriken Sentai Ninninger and Kamen Rider Drive: Haru-yasumi Gattai Special

Last weekend, we saw the second occurrence of a special event that was started between Super Sentai and Kamen Rider last year – the “haru-yasumi gattai special” (roughly translated as “spring break combination special”), a full hour of programming featuring characters from both series, and spanning the duration of the regularly scheduled Sunday morning time slot. Interactions between the two franchises have generally been limited to movies, which are typically alternate universes to either story, and even that has only begun to happen relatively recently through the “Super Hero Taisen” movie series. Last year brought us Ressha Sentai ToQger vs Kamen Rider Gaim, as a way to break up the growing tension in Gaim and show what would happen if the two groups had any influence over each other. Among the English-speaking adult audience, it was largely viewed as disruptive and a major distraction from each series’ main story.

krdriveninnin

Nagi, Kasumi, Takaharu, Shinnosuke, Yakumo, Fuuka, and Go

So imagine the surprise when a second iteration was announced, this time for Shuriken Sentai Ninninger and Kamen Rider Drive, specifically to serve as a tie-in to the “Super Hero Taisen Grand Prix” movie. It was entertaining to watch the very science-oriented Shinnosuke Tomari and the rest of the Special Investigation team try to wrap their heads around the mythology-focused ninjas, especially when they continually escaped incarceration. It’s also always nice to have side-by-side transformation sequences and roll calls. Unfortunately the combination didn’t entirely come off as smoothly as the train pulling into the local station last year, though. We also had a rehashing of the gag from last year when the antagonists are in a tall building and someone sees the sentai team’s giant robot go past the window, and someone else in the shot (who happens to be facing away from it) refuses to believe them. The episode-specific monster was probably the most interesting part.

We may have witnessed the creation of a new type of episode, and I’m not entirely sold on whether that’s a good thing. While it allows for some in-series alternatives, it also removes a week from both shows, causing them to be forced to tell their full arcs over a shorter period of time. It’ll be interesting to see where Toei goes with this as they continue to move forward.

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Parenthood (2010)

I’d intended to touch on this week’s topic much closer to when it ended, but unfortunately I felt it was necessary to let a few other things through first. This series holds a very special place in my heart, so please excuse me in advance if you feel like I’ve gotten up onto the proverbial soap box.

Parenthood

Parenthood aired its final episode on January 29th, 2015 after a six-year run. Based very loosely on a 1989 film by the same name, it tells the story of the Braverman family living out their day-to-day lives. It had a large ensemble cast that would be too cumbersome to list here, but everyone was really good, and they worked well together through the happy moments, the sad moments, and every time in between. At the beginning of the story, the grandparents Zeek and Camille, who had been empty-nesters up until that point, found themselves housing their daughter Sarah again with her two teenage kids Amber and Drew after her marriage failed. Their son Crosby’s life was about to change drastically with the introduction of a son he didn’t know he had, along with the boy’s mother. Their son Adam and his wife Kristina were on the verge of finding out their son Max was on the Asperger’s spectrum, which would throw theirs and their daughter Haddie’s lives for a loop. It seemed for a while as if the only stable situation in the clan was their daughter Julia, with her husband Joel and their daughter Sydney.

Once the wheels were set in motion, it was truly amazing that nobody fell through the cracks. Every character had part of their story told every week. Of course, it helped that it was all one big extended family, which allowed a lot of threads to overlap or run together or run at odds. With characters entering and exiting the picture at varying intervals, there was never really a dull moment, and they had the courage to touch on a lot of sensitive subjects. I admit I started watching this show as a knee-jerk reaction to the distaste I’d felt from watching “Brothers and Sisters”, but as events unfolded I realized it was well worth the effort. Where the other show was about politics and trickery in addition to family, “Parenthood” was purely and simply about communication, and it was refreshing.

Even if you’re not necessarily into watching slice-of-life dramas, I encourage you to give this one a chance. It was a relatively wholesome hour of television every week that it aired, and with such a large cast there’s bound to be someone you’ll find yourself identifying with. In fact, watch it with someone, because you’re likely to get different things out of it.

Rating: 5th gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

Tumbling

High school drama, especially of the sports and slice of life variety are incredibly common in Japanese television, of both the live action and animated varieties. Usually they tend to be aimed at a specific demographic, but hopefully this week’s topic will be able to interest everyone on some level.

tumbling

Tumbling is about rhythmic gymnastics, let’s just get that out of the way right now. But it’s also about delinquents and a little fighting, and yelling, and teamwork, and rivalry, and figuring out that there’s more to school than studying. Yusuke Yamamoto (Great Teacher Onizuka [2012], Kamen Rider Kabuto) plays Wataru Azuma, the rowdy leader of a group of troublemakers. One day his teacher tells him that because he missed so many days of school, he either needs to take extra lessons, or join a club to make up the time. Given no other options and running the risk of not graduating, he decides to try to find a club. Most of his attempts end in failure, until he discovers that the new female transfer student in his class is joining the women’s gymnastics team. He wants to catch her attention of course, so he makes an attempt at joining the men’s team. Team captain Yuta Takenaka , played by Koji Seto (Kamen Rider Kiva, Lost Days), doesn’t think he has the discipline required to be successful in a sport that demands such precision, so Wataru sets out to prove him wrong.

There are a lot of interesting dynamics going on in this series, and to be honest I wasn’t expecting the characters to be yelling at each other so much at the beginning. It does go away after a while, though, as they figure out what each team member brings to the group, and how to adapt to each other’s skills and personalities. Not only that, but Wataru is also eventually able to bring his closest associates into the group, and Yuta and the team make such strong bonds that they’re willing to help stand up for their new friends.

Of particular note is the fact that Yamamoto and Seto had previously appeared together in the drama Atashinchi no Danshi. Also, Yamamoto would later appear in Great Teacher Onizuka with Ryohei Kurosawa (aka AKIRA), who in Tumbling played the teacher Yutaka Kashiwagi. It’s always entertaining to see the shifts between characters, when a pair of actors is already familiar with each other. There was also a Tumbling stage play, with one of the members of the team from the drama reprising his character, this time as the coach of a new team.

Tumbling definitely follows a lot of the sports drama tropes, even though the sport it follows is not often given much attention (a detail to which it gives particular acknowledgment). It also hits a lot of notes with regards to breaking down social barriers, and showing how two very different people can find something in common. But the best part is that the students performed all of their own routines.

Rating; 4th Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

A Clinic on the Sea

Every once in a while, mediaphiles come across things they decide to watch just on a whim. Usually it’s something that falls generally outside their typical viewing genre. At the beginning, they may question the decision, only to keep going anyway and eventually discover that it was entirely worth it.

This week’s subject is A Clinic on the Sea (also known as Umi no Ue no Shinryoujo), which I had specifically started watching because I saw that Shouta Matsuda (Hana Yori Dango, Liar Game) was in it, playing the desperate doctor Kouta Sezaki. I had seen him previously in Sennyuu Tantei Tokage, which is a whole other conversation, and figured this story would at least be interesting if he was in it. The female lead, nurse Mako Togami, was played by Emi Takei (Rurouni Kenshin, W no Higeki). There was also a third actor I was not expecting to see, who caught me completely off guard, and that’s Sota Fukushi (Kamen Rider Fourze, Starman – This Star’s Love), who appeared in a supporting role.

Clinic-on-the-Sea-Umi-no-Ue-no-Shinryoujo_9475_poster

At the beginning of the series, Doctor Kouta (because that’s what he insists on everyone calling him) has taken a job on a floating medical clinic that travels between the various small islands of an inland sea. His goal, aside from professional duty, is to find a woman who will marry him, who he can take home to meet his mother. Every time they pull up to a dock, he meets someone, and proceeds to tell the crew that he won’t be coming back to the boat, much to their collective disgust and eventual frustration. Each time, the woman has some story or another as for why they can’t be together, or he’s able to come to that conclusion on his own. As the story proceeds, though, he starts to make connections with the other doctors, nurses, and members of the boat’s crew.

Like most series of this nature, every episode very much has an “A” story which relates whatever medical event is being dealt with, and a “B” story which connects the episode to the main over-arcing thread. The ending is incredibly predictable, but it doesn’t detract from the journey.

What’s great is that every supporting role is fleshed out, and the viewer gets to see what Doctor Kouta sees because it takes place in such close quarters. Please be sure to watch the ending sequence of every episode, since most of them have unique animations that illustrate various other things about the characters that aren’t necessarily shown in the main story lines.

That all being said, your mileage will probably vary on this one, because it takes some patience to get through the first couple episodes.

Rating: 3rd Gear

[If you have a topic you’d like me to cover in a future article, please don’t hesitate to email me at Sara at otdt.net.]

5 Reasons the Berryz Kobo Final Concert Was Heartbreakingly Perfect

Berryz Kobo final concert stage

The stage for Berryz Kobo’s final concert at Budokan.

 

On the evening of March 3, 2015 in Tokyo, j-pop idol group Berryz Kobo performed its final concert at Nippon Budokan, eleven years to the day following its major debut. While the all-girl group is known for doing everything from performing a capella harmonies to dancing in fish costumes at its concerts, the seven members had a few more surprises up their sleeves to surprise and delight their fans until the very end.
An Unexpected Setlist
One of the most iconic songs in the Berryz repertoire is “Special Generation”. As the first of the group’s songs to hit the Oricon top ten, it has been featured in several concerts over the past ten years, usually near the end. Imagine the surprise, then, when it was the very first song of the night. The setlist proceeded to include several B-sides and album tracks, and the girls performed full versions of all twenty four songs with no medleys, solos, or small group numbers. The selected songs were heavy on opportunities for crowd participation, guaranteeing a completely engaging show from start to finish.
From Cinderella to… what?
After opening the concert in magical transforming Cinderella dresses, the girls stepped backstage while a brief video chronicled their adventures from their elementary school debut days to adulthood, including footage from their Anime Next and Paris appearances. When they returned, they were dressed in monkey outfits that were anything but elegant, celebrating the fun novelty songs that made them stand out from their Hello! Project peers with one final performance of “Yuke Yuke Monkey Dance”. In an ironic play that only Berryz Kobo could pull off, the girls followed that number with a spirited rendition of “I’m so cool!”
Breaking Kayfabe
Pro wrestling fans may be familiar with the term “kayfabe” which refers to the in-character story lines and personalities that we are supposed to believe about the wrestlers. The world of idols is similar, but we got a few surprises during the girls’ final messages to the fans. Kumai Yurina has long been known for her “Enjoy!” catchphrase. She explained during her speech that it came from a questionnaire she filled out early in her career. When she was asked for her favorite word, she wrote tanoshimu — and then her manager later erased it and filled in the English equivalent. In an even bigger shock, Sudou Maasa confessed that while she always said she’d auditioned for Hello! Project because she was loved Morning Musume… that was a lie. At the time, she auditioned simply because her little sister was doing it, and she couldn’t even tell two of the most popular group members apart.
Self Produced
Berryz Kobo producer and Rhythm Heaven creator Tsunku revealed on his blog that the members of Berryz Kobo were heavily involved in the production of the show, including the selection of the setlist and costumes. It’s a fitting transition from a career where their public lives, as we saw, were micromanaged by others. With two members continuing with Hello! Project backstage as advisors, and two others remaining on the front lines as “playing managers,” it appears as though the overarching Up Front Agency is realizing the wisdom of leveraging its young talents’ years of experience. The other beautiful outcome is that when we look at all of the positives outlined above, we know that they come from the members’ love for their fans and their experiences with the band.
That Final Number
For their last encore, Berryz sang “Love Together” with a live pianist accompanying them. Voices quavering, their singing seemed to grow steadier and stronger as the audience chanted for them and eventually began to sing along, a sound which barely made it through on the broadcast but was deafening inside the arena:
 
Toki ga sugi Sorezore no 
Michi ni mukatte yuku 
Dakarakoso Kono shunkan 
Takaramono da yo 
 
Wasurenai wa Kyou made no 
Suteki na kono michi wo 
Suki yo Suki Daisuki 
Mata aeru yo ne
Time passes, and we all
Head toward our separate paths
That is why this moment
Is a treasure to me
I won’t forget the road
We’ve traveled together until today
I love you, I love you, I adore you
We’ll meet again, right?
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