Ongoing Investigations: Case #209

This week it the OI where I watch something again for the first time. These are all titles I have watched to completion before but Narutaki either never watched or only saw a little of.

I have mentioned Emma: A Victorian Romance on the blog several times in the past. I have praised in several different panels and podcasts we have done as well.  I even named it one of the best show of the 2000s. So I have little to add to plugging Emma on that front. What I can talk about is what I have noticed in my recent re-watch.

The first thing is a recent Answerman column that used Emma as an example of having lousy animation. While he praised the content of the show he pointed it out as a prime case of good story but rubbish animation. While I see what he is saying, because the animation is usually done on the cheap, I mainly never cared before and can’t start now. It is mostly a show about Victorian men and women sitting in chairs talking to each other while domestics clean in the background. You hardly need the animation form the bike scene from Akira to fully experience that. I just want to see the scenes from the manga in color. The setting of Emma is just so well researched and atmospheric who would not want to seem them animated even if minimally?

Other than that it was just nice to revisit this love story. Emma is wonderful, William is dense (like a neutron star) but loveable, Ms. Stowner is your stereotypical stern but kindly wise old lady, and William’s dad is just a jerk. I was am amused how quickly Narutaki realized that nothing but horrible things were going to happen to Eleanor Campbell despite the fact that she is undeniably nice.

I liked the new litebox version of Emma from Nozomi but I am glad I got the limited edition versions back in the day. The booklets that came with the original version were just filled with wonderful information. The Crystal Palace information alone was fantastic. I wish they had added that digitally to the new version but I understand why they did not.

This was a wonderful little series to come back to. I hope we can start the second season soon. The end to the first season is so melancholy. I really need the pick me up of the second season to balance that out.  That and Tasha being Tasha.

I can’t believe my old roommate used to think that the series should have ended with the first season. Pshaw!

I finally watch Emma: A Victorian Romance, though just the first season so far. I don’t think there was really ever any doubt I would like this series. And having completed the third season of Downton Abby, I needed a little period drama to fill a void in my heart!

There aren’t really any schemers in Emma trying to ratchet up the drama; it is more of slow and fairly simple class-divided love story. But since William has the IQ-level of a rock, he only needs himself to cause every problem in the show. Sometimes I’d often wonder why I even want Emma to end up with this idiot. But I love Emma herself so much that I will respect her wishes in this. He is willfully ignorant of his station and doesn’t seem to really do his job at all so far, but there does feel like a turning point at the end which I can hope changes him greatly.

On the other hand, my darling Eleanor better get swept off her feet by some charming rogue because really I need her away from William ASAP.
I loved Mrs. Stowner she was a really cool lady. I was glad to get a bit of her backstory as the series went on. Also she should have hooked it up with Al.
William’s friend from India alternates between offensive, weird, and mildly amusing. I definitely liked him driving the car through the house. Him falling for Emma seemed totally random but at least he is able to give William a few swift kicks over it.
As you can probably guess, I wouldn’t mind seeing this series be a little more soapy but I enjoyed it anyway. Onward to season two!

The Ongoing Investigations are little peeks into what we are watching and reading outside of our main posts on the blog. We each pick three things that we were interested in a week and talk a bit about them. There is often not much rhyme or reason to what we pick. They are just the most interesting things we saw since the last Ongoing Investigation.

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IN THE YEAR 2000(…through 2009)!

Since everyone is doing their best of the decade lists we decided to throw in our two cents as well. Instead of doing a “Best Anime of the 00’s” we focused on shows from the 00’s you might have overlooked. We did not try to pick shows that will blow your mind with how obscure they are. These are just good show that you might have overlooked. We hope you find at least one series on the list you’ll really enjoy!

This is not some be all, end all of lists of shows from the decade. This is just a little nudge to say “Hey, did you see all these goodies?” Also these are shows that we have both seen, it was just plain easier to narrow it down that way. But you’ll see at the end a personal pick for each of us. What gems did we overlook in these last ten years, I’d sure like to hear!

Kino’s Journey
(Read our full review here)

Kino’s Journey is a meaty show for people who really want to sink their teeth into what they are watching. Kino’s travels take her to a new town every episode that highlights some oddity of human nature or culture. All the stories deal with philosophical concepts in a mature manner while remaining entertaining. This is best one episode at a time so the ideas presented within can be mulled over in your head for a bit before moving onto the next.

Kino’s Journey  has this mix of hope and melancholy in addition to it’s wanderer feel. The span of the world Kino travels is vast like her indomitable spirit and curiosity. This is also one of those shows where you are sort of dropped into the middle and only see the wrapped up of a specific journey and a bit of growth by the end rather than a full conclusion of some kind. P.S. talking motorcycle

Daughter of Twenty Faces
(Read our full review here)

A high spirited adventure with the best parts of detective and phantom thief anime. Chizuko is a great, strong young woman who is thankfully not sexually exploited by the show. She really draws you into her journey and makes you root for her as she is helping Twenty Faces steal a priceless object or when she tries to solve a mystery. It has an excellent blend of action, comedy, tragedy, intrigue, and drama with a touch of steampunk.

We just wrote about Daughter of Twenty Faces so you shouldn’t be too surprised to see it on the list since in encompasses exactly what we are all about! The setting is really catching with its post WWII feel but intermixing steampunk. Everyone wants an adventure like this, it has that classic familiar feel to it, but its mysteries and quirks are deftly handled.

Planetes

One of the best examples of hard sci-fi you will find in anime; it takes the the best parts of the genre with an utterly believable future filled with commonplace space travel. At the same time it avoids making it dull by connecting you to the characters and their stories. You will find yourself rooting for the underdogs of the debris section as they reach for their dreams. A more mature anime with an adult storyline that does not have gratuitous sex or violence.

There is a sad lack of sci-fi anime of late and Planetes focus on a more probably and mundane future makes it a further anomaly. But within that mundanity of the job are a cast of characters each with their individual dreams, fears, and a connection to space. Think of it like an office sitcom, only better. And since this is really a story about people an interest in space is recommended but not required to enjoy this show.

The Story of Saiunkoku
(Read our full review here)

Don’t let certain people on the Internet make you avoid this show because they say it is a reverse harem. A cast of attractive male characters does not a reverse harem show make. The men all don’t dream of Shuurei. If fact almost none of them do. This a great blend of drama and politics in a unique fantasy setting. The comedy and drama is strong but Shuurei’s deft dealings with politics and adamant determination to improve the nation is what will keep you watching.

Don’t go look at The Story of Saiunkoku promotional material, just don’t, it doesn’t help our case. The story while focusing on Shuurei has a huge cast of characters giving it the feeling of literally telling us the story of an entire country. The romance of the first 10 or so episodes soon takes a backseat to Shuurei’s rise in the government and all the politics, problems, and people that come along with it.

Akagi

Don’t let the fact that you don’t know how to play Mahjong keep you from enjoying one of the most intense anime. The sheer suspense and the players reactions tell you everything you need to know. Every game is a intense life or death struggle where Akagi puts everything on the line and you can’t help but get swept away with his madness. Akagi could be playing old maid and the it would still be as captivating.

First you will watch the opening and shrug, but by episode three you will have the song on your MP3 player. Akagi himself will blow you away with his bad-assery, even at age 14 or precisely because he is only 14, and you will know his chuckle that means “you fool” well. Never has Mahjong been more intense as Akagi goes around challenging the unsavory underworld with stakes that give even the worst of them pause. And yes, Akagi would mop the floor with anyone from Saki.

Paradise Kiss

High fashion and dramatic romance combine to create a visual symphony for the eyes and an emotional one for the heart. A mature look at romance and relationships that is long enough to be an excellent character study but short enough that the melodrama does not wear out its welcome. And the whole time everyone looks stunningly sharp while it is going on.

Paradise Kiss may sell you on its awesome opening alone. If not, then consider Yukari’s dramatic journey from unsure young girl to determined young woman who learns what it is to step out on your own. Between its colorful cast of characters and its very mature romance, Paradise Kiss delivers on all fronts. It also has a hip, modern style paired with its bittersweet coming of age tale.

God Soul Combination Godannar!!

Any mecha fan will tell you that Gurren Lagann is constantly making sly little  winks at the audience to see if they love old giant robot shows as much as they do. Godannar shouts its love for robots outside your window with a boom box playing the Mazinger Z theme. It has comedy played totally straight to great effect alongside well done character drama between the pulse pounding robots fights. It can be easy to miss all of the with the super gratuitous fan-service but don’t let that turn you off from a truly spectacular show.

Alright, there is little to no way you can watch this show if fan-service deters you. But even so you should atleast watch the first four episodes. Godannar is this wicked combination satire but played extra serious making it even more funny! It will leave you holding your sides from laughter but also cheering for giant robot action. And just try not to sign along with the opening. Recommended for viewing in groups.

Le Chevalier d’Eon
(Read our full review here)

It combines real life personalities from pre-revolutionary France and adds a layer of supernatural intrigue. Plus you get zombies, magic, politics, cloak and dagger, and the hottest version of Robespierre ever. The best part is that we get to see the mystery behind the conspiracy in Le Chevalier d’Eon at just the right pace so we are never bored or info dumped. Plus the actions scenes are well choreographed and dynamic.

If I had to pick one show on the list that is simply amazing, it would be La Chevalier d’Eon. It is a well-plotted globe spanning mystery with a great use of subtlety and nuance in addition to its twist on history. Everyone in the series is engaging and all have a little secret making it impossible to always know people’s motives. And best of all this show genuinely surprised me in its final revelations.

Cromartie High School

I really enjoy dry humor when it is done effectively and Cromartie High School pulls it of in spades. Even though the student body is filled with stand up comedy delinquents, a robot, a gorilla, and Freddie Mercury it is all kept in check by making the humor very subdued. The jokes could easily wear thin if the comedy was spastic but the jokes are allowed the correct amount of slow build to make this series a delight.

I always thought Cromartie High School would have done well with the Adult Swim crowd. The series is played so dry and straight as if having these scenarios occur is just a part of life. It’s a riot and you’ll wish you could go to a delinquent-filled Japanese high school too!

Taisho Baseball Girls

Taisho Baseball Girls is a fun and bright tale of a girls baseball team trying to show that they can play on equal terms with the boys. The story moves along at a brisk but relaxed pace and every episode had something that made me laugh out loud or tear up a bit. This show remind me of a historical version of Princess Nine and that is no faint amount of praise.

Taisho Baseball Girls may win you over with just its first episode’s musical tour of Taisho era Tokyo. The series has charm in spades and thanks to a well thought of cast of girls most every moment is a gem. The humor is spry but not over the top as it its tiny steps towards feminism. It also for the most part refuses to pander keeping the themes of teamwork and friendship believable. I too got a Princess Nine feeling, maybe even a little A League of Their Own thrown in!

Kekkaishi
(Read our full review here)

Kekkaishi is this strangely unknown shonen fighting anime that corrects so many of the major flaws of popular shonen fighting shows yet goes critically overlooked. It has a vibrant protagonist, a strong female secondary protagonist, and battles where the fighters have to using their brains more than their brawn to defeat their opponents. Stop complaining about why you dislike the shonen anime you are watching now and watch this instead.

Why, why, why didn’t this show get the love it so deserved? Kekkaishi has the right combination for shonen fighting, which includes a strong female lead. Tokine starts off more capable than Yoshimori and while he grows, so does she. And let’s not forget it also boasts one of the most organic romances in recent memory, one which never overtakes the plot but is in the undercurrent at all times.

Moribito: Guardian of the Spirit
(Read our prereview here)

When done right children’s literature does not mean simple literature it means literature that can be enjoyed by anyone and Moribito is based on a great piece of children’s fiction. Balsa is a great, strong female protagonist who retains her femininity while still be an amazing fighter. Also coming from a family friendly time slot in Japan means the animation is lush and smooth. The story is complex while still be accessible for enjoyment by the whole family.

Moribito stuck out to me because of its established world setting that sort of melds historical and supernatural, its just well realized quickly. Balsa is one tough lady, even though there can be spans between fighting, the fights are nicely presented. Don’t let that it’s based on children’s literature fool you into underestimating it. After you watch this, go and pick up the first two novels!

Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo

Gankutsuou is simultaneously a unique visual marvel and an amazing re-imaging of a literary classic.  Gankutsuou takes one of  Alexandre Dumas’s most famous tales and places it in a futuristic time while giving us the story from a previously minor character’s point of view. As long as you don’t hold the original book as unchangeable holy writ I think there is much to enjoy about this adaption.

Color, patterns, and light are all played with in the extreme in Gankutsuou and splash about in every scene. This easily lends the otherworldly feel to the story as goes its futuristic historic setting. The story unfolds in dramatic bliss as revenge and love are orders of the day thrown in with more than a few twists. Some people have complained that Gakutsuou’s style is difficult to watch but it is a unique site to behold as is its take on a classic tale.

Princess Tutu

Princess Tutu is so rare and unique that it shouldn’t be missed. A a seemingly simple fairy tale about a duck who transformers into a girl in order to protect the broken pieces of a prince’s heart takes a decidedly dark and deconstructive turn as it goes on. What is explored through the series are myths, how stories emerge, fate, and a darkness in people’s hearts among other things. Ahiru is bright and awkward but with a strength all her own and a sense of duty and love that is unrivaled.  It’s just such an unexpected show!

Emma

Emma is a delightful romance in Victorian England that just feels like it should be on Masterpiece Theater. As a classic Upstairs Downstairs romance it has a charming and human cast of characters that draws you into this period piece. This is a great series to just come home to and relax with in precisely the way the slice of life genre should be. The series is immaculately researched and looks amazing. A masterpiece for anyone who loves historical fiction and well done romance.

Ongoing Investigations: Case #044

On free comic book day I picked up the Viz sample of Ultimo along with a few other things. Even with just half a chapter I can honestly say don’t bother with this series. The writing is really lame and also exceedingly annoying as it likes to tell you what is happening. Dear Hiroyuki Takei, this is a manga. That means there are pictures to tell me what is going on! You do not need to also write what is happening in little boxes all over the place. Also Ultimo is a boy? I swear I see boobs on this character design. This sample made me say “Who cares!” Which is a shame because I only read a bit of Shaman King, but I found it enjoyable enough.

I finally got my hands on Emma volume 8. The story proper of Emma has ended in book 7. The next three books are all side stories of various characters. Since Emma is one of those stories with delightful secondary characters this is a more than welcome prospect. The side stories jump around in time so we will get a little story about Kelly Stowner and her husband years before the original story and then jump ahead to look at how life has been treating characters like Eleanor and Tasha. The stories are just as charming as the main story so I was generally very pleased. I really liked The Times which we get a peek at various characters as we see how they are all connected by something as random and ubiquitous as the newspaper.  I will admit that they don’t really add anything to the main story but that is largely unimportant. One of the strengths of Emma was its wonderful depiction of Victorian England. As long as the stories remain as well written and heartwarming I look froward to the next two books as well.

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