Created: 26-05-2011
Last update: 30-11-2022


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AnimeCon 2010 - "Masters and Servants"

Well. This was quite the experience. Having gone to last year's con while weak from illness, I went to this con in an even weaker state ("must-attend-con!!"). A room in the overflow hotel was out of the question, so the organisers kindly found me a spot in the Theaterhotel itself: one of the gophers shared his room with me. As a bonus, the room was at a bend in the corridor just past two luxury suites, and had a great view. After some initial keycard trouble (we checked in separately, and when guest 2 checks in, the keycard for guest 1 becomes invalid, prompting a quick communal trip to the front desk) I dumped my baggage, rested until it was time to join the ticket line, and grabbed copies of both the timetable and the con booklet as soon as they became available.

The timetable layout this year was a work of genius, lining up the entire three-room video programme with all activities in other rooms, even incorporating the bag room and shuttle-bus times. That other con staple: the salmon teriyaki, was a bit disappointing this year, with mean, stringy bits in it - due to the financial crisis? - but there were three tomato-based salads that amply made up for it.

To finish off the experience: although I'd scribbled notes between shows, the actual write-up was done in the last days before the next con: yes, in a day I'm leaving for AnimeCon 2011, even more ill than last year, this time with room of my own that, out of gratitude for 2010, I'm sharing with a gopher. So I'm working off year-old scribbles and a patchy memory. Let the quality of the shows be reflected in how much I still remember of them.

Xam'd Lost Memories, the earliest show at the con, starts dramatically. A priestess-type woman with a dinnerplate for a hat takes a green bit of glop from an altar. She wraps it up several times in foil and takes it to a small semicircle of girls that all remind of Rei Ayanami. One steps forward and, under a speech of being the chosen one and bleakly solemn music playing, slowly and deliberately swallows it. Cut to a small Japanese town showing scenes of daily life: an ordinary schoolboy takes martial arts lessons from a friend who decisively beats him, has to take packed lunches from his mother to his (divorced?) father who is the village doctor and sleeps in a messy bachelor's house with adjoined practice, and pedals for all he's worth on a rickety bike to make it to the bus that will take him to school. There, he sees the white-haired girl at the end of the line, lacking the identity band that all students must have to get on board. He slips her his, and pretends to the driver to have left it at home. This is a kindness he will regret, for the glop is a kind of living dynamite that blows up girl and bus and enters his arm. Still, he's more worried about his friend, who also sustained injuries.

Introduced next: a rowdy crew on a pirate/rebel vessel? A smoking big-boobed captain who reads novels and complains about the disobedient attitude of a cheeky redhead, who goes off on her own to check on monsterglop victims, and who brings the boy aboard and starts doing scientific stuff to the glop in his arm, a dumbass who gets kicked in the nuts by everyone, including two very annoying children who found a "nekomata" and "can we keep it please please can we can we?" Some secret scientific/military base trying to divine the nature of Xam'd, saying it has "memories". The boy with the glop-arm finds he is now able to change into a supermech, which means he has to say his old life and friends goodbye and join the rebel crew. His country is regularly attacked by grotesque, glop-powered biomecha that do an unbelievable amount of damage (they can basically destroy a city's infrastructure in a single jaunt) and that may, like glop-boy himself, be transformed humans: one of them is shown transforming from a traumatized woman into a... blob-bug? I gave up on this. It tries to combine too much: comedy, monstermechs, future dystopia - and ends up with a huge regular cast that is annoying through its over-the-top characterization.

I'd seen bits of Real Drive in 2009, and expressed disgust at the gaggle of teenage bimbettes it revolved around, despite the otherwise interesting universe it was set in. This time, I had a chance to see it from the beginning. Time to give it a second chance. This universe revolves around the Meta Real Network or Metal, a network consisting of information from people's stored memories; basically, the collective human consciousness on harddrive. This network is not accessed through a modem, but by "diving".

In the beginning, a grandmother says to a little girl that the sea connects everything. The little girl, Aoi, is now a fifteen-year-old student with a new part-time nursing job, looking all over the place for her assigned patient Haru Masamichi, who she assumes is a woman. Haru is a grumpy old man in a wheelchair who sits by the sea while his cyborg assistant Holan is fishing for something. Rebuffed by her patient when she finally does find him, she flops down in that spread-legged, knock-kneed anime chick posture and lets out a moan of despair. Feeling a touch of pity, he tells Holan to reel in so they can leave. Haru is a Japanese Rip van Winkle: a diver by profession, he somehow became involved with the Metal as a young man, lost consciousness, and woke up in hospital as an old man, with no memory of what had happened between. He is fishing - or rather, letting his assistant fish - for memories.

Aoi also has a connection with the Metal. Some rogue divers are doing something bad to the network and/or some others are trying to repair it; it goes badly for the divers, and Aoi, noticing power outages on dry land, races towards wind turbines on electric rollerskates and intuitively does what needs to be done to start them working. I don't know what she's doing, but she certainly does! Why couldn't she stay like this for the whole series, instead of becoming a gawking teeny-bopper interested in buying baubles and going out with friends? Haru is also involved in the rescue, as a diver - and the image of him diving is that of the young man before he lost his memories - but he is unwell and unable to hold up for long. Tests show that diving on rescue missions really is becoming too dangerous for him now; it seems he will have to retire. He is very bitter about this, but again, Aoi saves the day: they find "Dream Brothers", a company that offers a safe diving experience. Here, Haru can work on recovering his diving skills and, consequently, his job. He insists that Aoi become his assistant and diving buddy (ie. he dives, she gives him directions from above), they move into an office under "Dream Brothers" and from there starts the series that would be cool if not for the shallow teenage tripe that is supposed to lend it a "cute" note.

Amaenaideyo! is an unfunny innuendo-fuelled series about an adolescent Buddhist priest in training who lives and works at the shrine of his grandmother, with six adolescent Buddhist nuns in training. Translated: a dull, insecure boy henpecked by his grandma is stuck with six bouncy-boobed bimbettes with whom he has to share a shower. They all trample him and order him around, but his secret gift is that sexual desire gives him superpowers. So while he constantly runs into "oops!" situations and has to endure endless dumb conversations from the girls (as does the audience!), they occasionally have to flash him some panty to power him up in the face of danger. Blergh.

Slayers Revolution: it's Lina Inverse time. Not with Naga, but with her usual sidekick Gourry, the male version of a dumb blonde. Ready to take on any challenge, she attacks a ship of pirates, which reunites her with her old friends Zelgadiss and Amelia - and introduces her to a funny old codger called Inspector Wizer. Who arrests Lina for... being Lina Inverse. An accusation that, her friends agree, can't be argued with. She yells at them not to be idiots, so Wizer comes up with a more substantial accusation: she has stolen the kingdom's magical tanks. Only by recovering them can she prove her innocence. The attempt leads her into battle with a small creature whose long floppy ears end in green fists, and whose power quite matches her own. It tells her that it made the tanks, the kingdom stole them, and it is simply recovering its property.

It takes two more, similarly wacky adventures - saving a fish-girl abducted by pirates and constantly tearfully moaning how she'll end up as dinner, and rescuing pets from a crazy scientist who changes them into chimaeras as part of a plan to seize power - for Wizer to drop the crazy inspector act and confess that he was pressuring Lina into solving a case that could not be solved through official channels. The second adventure ends on the complete destruction of a town. The third, on the happy reunion of the stolen pets with their owners - never mind that the pets are now all monsters.

Oblivion Island, rendered in 3D, was shown twice on different days, so I had two shots at watching it, and even so I managed to miss the beginning. Which I assume would have shown the heroine losing her mother's mirror and throwing a teenage tantrum. What I walked in on was the girl with a small bat-eared pig-like creature, called Teo, on the train to Oblivion Island. This hidden, forbidden realm - humans are not allowed there, so she must keep her mask on at all times - is a colourful patchwork constructed entirely of rubbish that humans throw away. And that its collectors don't always know what to do with; the chair she is offered at Teo's house is an overturned record player that she puts the right way up, and even finds a record for. She also shows him how the rubberband toy aeroplane works: twist the propellor as far as it will go, then release. Her mission in this colourful junkyard is to recover a hand mirror with flowers on the back. She shows a drawing of it to a trader who says that a mirror like that is a powerful magical object, which means that it would be in the possession of the island's ruler, Baranis, who lives in a floating fortress and who, according to Teo, has very bad taste. What Baranis really looks like is revealed only at the end of the film, where nobody recognizes him; his everyday disguise is a pseudo-aristocratic mask and spidery fingers. The mirror quest draws his attention, Teo is pressured into betraying his friend, but rescues her using a lifesize copy of the toy aeroplane, and there is a wall-of-mirrors scene in which she recovers that one mirror and she returns to her own world to make up with her father, who apparently she threw a tantrum at. Which must have been a contrived scene, as the whole part of the film that I saw showed her to be brave, intelligent and enterprising. At no time did she act like a twitty little girl.

Shikabane Hime Kuro sounded vaguely familiar to me, although the story was new. A dead girl, the "black princess" of the title, comes back to life to fight the Seven with her teenage male supporting act, although she remains bonded with the monk who died fighting them. They remind me of Shiki and Mikiya from Kara no Kyoukai (see lower down) in that she is dangerous and possibly evil and he is the nice guy who will always believe in her, even though the company they fight with would rather see her doubly dead. The part worth watching about the show is the villains. As implied, there are seven of them. One comes with a bunch of balloons and collects energy from humans that he kills through a happiness overload. Another can multiply himself and take on anyone's likeness - such as that of the much missed, much loved dead monk. One is impossibly vain. The most frightening of them all is a white-haired giggly girl with no apparent weak spot, who jigged my memory a little with her back story. She was raised as a human sacrifice, knowing that she lived only to be killed. Immediately after her sacrifice, she revived and killed the group of men that had sacrificed her, just by touching them, laughing in delight all the while. Her kind are dead people come back to life as demons because of a deep regret that they can't let go, and become a personification of. It is their obsession that makes them monsters, yet is also their weak spot. The white-haired girl was brought back by the horror of being a human sacrifice, so she personifies death. And, as the black princess finds out when battling her, that makes her invincible.

I was sure I'd seen something similar at a con long ago: a doctor hiding his wife who returned from the dead because of their love, only, she was now a hideous monster. It was the job of some special task force to kill such monsters for good. The male support act tells a very similar story: his mother dies in childbirth and returns with an all-consuming wish for babies. The scene is shown of a ghastly demon on a hill, holding all the babies she has snatched from their cradles and that cry and starve for lack of care, while her actual infant son huddles near, snarled at whenever he tries to ask for loving attention, feeding on the corpses of her victims for lack of anything else. I don't recall whether he died and returned to cannibalize babies due to an all-consuming wish for food, or whether he simply lived the life of a demon without being one. In any case, he is in a good position to understand and sympathize with them.

Bakemonogatari alternates an estranged narrative with flashes of text that I wouldn't be able to read even if I could understand the letters. The estranged narrative comes from Koyomi, a lanky, emotionally dead teenage schoolboy who likes to hang around in - when does this ever happen in reality? - a totally empty park. He speaks to the vice-president of his class, only his hands showing, when the subject comes up of a girl who used to be fit and athletic, but who, after a protracted illness, has become quiet and withdrawn and, in the vice-president's opinion, beautiful with fragility. Koyomi catches her once when she happens to fall down a stairwell and is amazed that she weighs next to nothing. Infamous for (oh, the criminality!) not speaking to anyone, she confronts him with an arsenal of common office supplies, notably a stapler and a xacto knife, threatening him with dire injury if he should reveal her secret. For good measure, she staples the inside of his cheek. He shows her how quickly the wound heals, a reminder of the short time he was a vampire, and offers to take her to a homeless priest who healed himself as well as the vice-president (a comparatively cheerful, chubby girl, not the kind of person that springs to mind when thinking about vampirism) and who may be able to help her out. As emotionally dead as he is, and despite her reputation of silence, this girl constantly offhandedly insults him, to the point where he asks her if she knows what emotional abuse is; most of this series is either dry dialogue or the dully tortured monologue of Koyomi himself. She says she has lost her weight after meeting a crab. The priest asks her to dress in "pure" (traditional) clothing and conducts a ritual to evoke a crab deity that relieves people of their emotions, which are supposedly represented by body weight. The evocation almost turns into a fight, but then the girl remembers the source of her trouble. To cope with her illness, her mother sought comfort with a cult. The cult leader tried to "heal" (ie. rape) her, and she fought him off, so the cult punished her mother, so the relationship with her mother cooled to freezing point, and she wanted to lose her emotions. Now, she implores the crab to give them back.

Apparently Koyomi saves one problem case per episode, and the next is a little primary-school girl who has lost her way in his rather ghetto-like suburb. He tries to help her, but she badmouthes him at every turn and he even ends up hitting her. This one must have been a two-parter, because I didn't see the end of it. I would have liked to, though. I'd like to see the whole series from beginning to end. Monologuing, hanging around in empty parks, pondering on the unbearable existential agony of living while manifesting no emotion whatsoever. I love it.

Kampfer must have been made to show how good the Japanese are at speaking German! And as an excuse for big-boobed chick fights! And, well, to keep an audience amused better than paint chipping off the walls. This starts (and probably continues) as such a run-of-the-mill bunch of cliches. A boy who has a crush on an idol finds himself changed into a booby-possessor, sorry, girl one day. Let's face it, all these anime boys changing into girls are just a male fantasy of having boobs at one's direct disposal, just as all those anime chicks who have an invariably rude and aggressive male alter ego are women's fantasy of finally being able to drop the demure act and punch someone's lights out. This series unites both fantasies: the boy-girl is told by his plushie (!) that he is a Kampfer ("fighter"), a necessarily female warrior whose specialty is being a Zauber ("magic"), and that his transformation was triggered by the presence of another Kampfer. This Kampfer, a foul-mouthed, fiery-tempered redhead, crosses his path again and challenges him to a fight right in the middle of the street, during which he discovers that they are on the same side (they both wear blue armbands) and her type of Kampfer is a Gewehr ("gun"). He meets her again while they are both in normal form, which for her means that she is a hopelessly shy bookworm who constantly makes freudian slips. Without a male alter ego, even. The only saving grace of this series is the talking plushies, Hara Kiri Tiger and Seppuku Rabbit, with bits of gut hanging out, from the Entrail Animal product line. Every child deserves a suicide bunny!

K-on is about four high school girls in the Light Music Club (since joining clubs is a mandatory part of the high school experience). It starts with one girl who wants to join the club, only to find that it's closing down for lack of members. She quickly drags in her friend. A third girl accidentally stumbles into the room and is talked into staying. Now the club needs one more member to prevent it being disbanded. Enter the useless klutz. The club now consists of a vivacious redhead, her quiet dark-haired friend, a disingenuous rich blonde and the klutz, who is shy and dreamy. To play music, they will need instruments. The klutz, who can't play any instruments, spots a guitar in a music store that she instantly falls for, but that has a prohibitive price tag. The girls all take temp jobs like counting cars, but she still doesn't have enough money. The rich girl's family owns the store, so she gets it at a discount. She takes it home with her and gazes at it dotingly. Has she started playing it yet, the other club members ask. Uhh... play it?

In both form and content, this is a slightly less funny version of Ichigo Mashimaro (2006, "cute girls doing cute things"). But, as this is just the beginning and the girls are forming a band (J-pop! idol singers!), I see plenty of potential for comedic improvement.

Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto: Natsu no Sora starts with an image of luscious tomatoes and other signs of happy country life in a rural part of Japan. Sora lives in the small town of Biei, but, sharing her father's gift for magic, plans to travel to Tokyo and attend a magic school there. Unlike the abjectly submissive protagonist of the similarly named Mahou Tsukai ni Taisetsu na Koto (2004), this country girl gone to the big city is a chipper lass, who on her first day saves someone from a falling truck. And comes in late for class. Her classmates include a magic-impaired youth with whom she lives in the same building, a snob who wants to be best at everything, and an intellectual who bests the snob every time, whether at building ice sculptures or any other manipulation of magical forces. I remember this show not only for its humour, but for its sharp, crisp, beautiful (computer-generated?) backgrounds, both of her lovely countryside home and the entrancing big city (did I mishear, or was that Scottish fiddle music in the BGM?) where she gawps in delight over shops and street performers.

Genius Party Beyond is, indeed, pure genius. It consists of five independent parts in separate styles, created by animators whose assignment was to let their imaginations run riot and produce a masterpiece.

Part 1: in the jungle, a huge capsule falls out of the sky. The jungle's human inhabitants, and what a numerous and ethnically diverse lot they are, come to investigate and then destroy it with weapons and fire. But nothing can damage it. A boy, his elf-like female friend and a cat run to the settlement's wise man, who says that the capsule must be made to feel welcome with music. The formerly hostile humans transform in a huge orchestra of many sections. The capsule shudders and bits break off, dropping onto the old man who falls into the boys hands transformed into a wooden panel and says "I leave it to you now". Three huge instruments come out of the sky and circle around the capsule, played by the boy, the girl and the cat, as the capsule heaves and splits until finally a giant pair of leaves emerges. The last scene shows a little boy in a perfectly normal suburban setting, happily showing the seed that sprouted in his little cup of soil.

Part 2: a caricatural band of treasure hunters - turbaned guy, platinum blonde, tall bitchy woman and dumb guy - find a map, have it translated, try to buy and then steal a balloon to get to the location, and find out that the map has led them to a tourist trap.

Part 3: a moving collage of bits of coloured paper, in which a little boy in an ogre mask is chased up and down, under and over blocks of colour by a real ogre, and helped by what looks like a little black terrier. He then finds the terrier dead on the lawn, cries, and wakes up to be comforted by his parents.

Part 4: in a greenish-grey, yellow-lit interior of a grubby house whose squalor is drawn in great detail, a young woman with a couch full of dolls and plushies pulls a bag of something from the freezer, paddles it around while it thaws, then injects it in a frog doll. While waiting for whatever she's done to take effect, she watches TV munching on red, blue, green, yellow crisps - the only things to have colour in that greyish setting - and regularly kicks away the bunny doll that tries to climb on her lap. An inspector knocks at the door with two assistants, whose heads are glass jars with brains in then, the lids banging as they walk: he's had reports from the neighbourhood that she harbours "things". He means the dolls that she has injected with some life form to animate them. She seizes her latest treasure, the frog, and makes her escape, one of the assistants getting knocked around in the process and breaking the jar so that the brain falls out, but the now brainless assistant still pursues her with the others. They catch up with her and "Kermit" shows his true form: a collection of coloured fractals, making surprised noises. Just as they worriedly decide they'll need backup to defeat one this big, a train runs over it, leaving shreds of fractals to fizzle out.

Part 5: this one, like the one before, has suspenseful background music. Here, the music has two extra functions: it's shown as an oscillograph produced by a robot and held in one hand by a middle-aged woman, and a ponytailed girl dances to it in lamplight like a shaman in a trance. In the derelict countryside where she has her home, a strange character in a high mask walks up the middle of the road. A car almost hits it, two angry men get out and the mask smiles at them with glowing red eyes and mouth. The men are not amused and beat up what, under the mask, is a boy of the girl's age. Meeting her makes him forget his bruises and they chase butterflies together in silent scenes voiced over by her childishly rambling monologue, which suddenly ends on: "Cheese." And then, out of the blue, she says: "I hate you now." The effect is dramatic. He seems struck dead, open-mouthed, seems to lose weight, to be only empty skin, and blows away like a leaf on the wind. Growing to a huge size, his bleached, peeling skin drifts past buildings where people look at it as if it were a natural phenomenon. The images of robot and woman flash by, and of him pulling away from some point as if he were a giant elastic band, trying to literally break free. In the end, his lifeless form revives, and the part again ends on: "Cheese."

Mahoromatic is a very theme-relevant series of a robot maid, but of course nobody knows that as she is exactly like a human, and has an unrequited crush, and knows that time - in this case, her battery pack - is running out for her. Yes, like Video Girl Ai. I caught a glimpse many cons ago of a purple-haired big-eyed anime chick in a frilly maid uniform, standing at someone's grave, and was instantly repulsed by her sickeningly emphasized selflessness. An attempt to give it a second try was aborted when I saw the object of her affections surrounded by other, more aggressive girls, the worst being the teacher who pits her adult big boobs against her pupils' adolescent little ones in an effort to get into his heart and pants. And of course, when it comes to getting a part of his attention, the humble Mahoromatic unselfishly stands at the end of the line.

Keroro Gunso was not as funny as I'd hoped. It promises slapstick. A round-eyed frog-like alien tries to invade Earth, or "Pekopon". Botching the attempt to infiltrate through stealth, he will have to settle for a Japanese family's basement. It's dark and musty, and they don't dare come there because of a ghost, but the frog transforms it into a regular generalissimo's headquarters. I'm reminded of Earth Defence Force Mao-Chan, (2004) but this time starring aliens. What's creepy rather than funny is that the family treats this admittedly ridiculous alien, who does however want to conquer and subdue them, as an eccentric house guest. They don't seem to get it even when he ties them all up and hangs them from the ceiling.

Summer Wars sounded promising because it is about a virtual social network, Oz, which is invaded by a hacker. I was hoping for something like Dennou Coil (2008), but this time completely on the virtual plane. I was completely disappointed. By the time the hacker enters the story, I've been put through the following:

At the end of a day of being "approved" by grandma and verbally aggressed by the girl's jealous cousin, Kenji - the nerd - is emailed a mathematical puzzle. He solves it and mails back the answer. Next thing he knows, there's a hacker in Oz which uses his mouse-like avatar, making it smile in a sickly evil way. Oz is the kind of network that controls everything from credit card transactions to traffic lights, so this is a problem. The jealous cousin, who is a cop, arrests him for cybercrime; his innocence is soon revealed (the puzzle that the hacker used was mailed to more people, and he didn't quite get the answer right) but so is the fact that the girl lied about him. Cue family wailings and remonstrations. Ahem, there are more important issues. There's a hacker AI loose in Oz, disrupting all forms of traffic throughout the world. The Japamerican proudly announces that this AI was developed by him, using money his grandmother lent him. She grabs an archaic weapon from the wall, and tells him to get out.

Then, like the warrior she is, she... calls all friends and neighbours in her phone book to cheer them up. Kenji and Kazuma plan to take out the hacker in Oz itself. King Kazuma challenges Evil Micky Mouse, but is crushed. Next day, grandma is dead, because the alarm system that should have given a warning when her heart goes bad is also connected to Oz. The women wail that this personal tragedy is more important than continuing to fight global disruption, but Kenji sticks to his guns. A supercomputer is brought in so they can decode the AI's key to defeat it. Surprisingly, the Japamerican returns to help them beat this creation. It is attracted to gambling games, so must be lured into an online games area. The prom queen makes herself useful for once, keeping Mickey Mouse occupied with "koi-koi", a game she is good at, using hacked user accounts as stakes. Kenji keeps working on the key, which Mickey evilly changes every time (literally: he holds a key, and makes it change shape). Hey, one of the things the AI did was target a missile at the family home, so Kenji was right and will the women go eat some humble pie now? And he's on a tight deadline. Once, he almost defeats the AI, but then the computer blacks out. Through overheating. Because idiot cop cousin thought that on a hot day like this, the ice they'd brought in to keep it cool and running was better spent on cooling grandma's corpse.

Okay, now I want this family to die.

So it's not a good ending that the nerd, the girl and the Japamerican - and King Kazuma, who extracts himself from the virtual rubble he'd been pounded into - pull a nerve-wracking last-minute victory on the AI. Or that the Japamerican says that even though he programmed it, he wasn't the one who unleashed it on Oz, and the American government must take responsibility for the damage. Because the American government always takes responsibility for damage it does in other countries. Ooh yeah. Ask Vietnam.

In Higashi no Eden (Eden of the East), after a not very well-planned terrorist attack on Japan (known from then on as Careless Monday), the main character, Saki Morimi, on her post-graduation vacation to the USA, wants to chuck a coin into the garden of the White House. Does she not realize that chucking something through the fence of the President's yard might be interpreted as an assassination attempt? She is almost apprehended, and runs off with her suitcase on wheels, helped by a young man wearing nothing, carrying only a gun and cellphone, and remembering only his name: Akira Takizawa. She gives him her jacket but then remembers that she left her passport in the pocket, and runs after him, leaving her suitcase on the sidewalk. Bimmmm-bettttte!! Never mind, she won't need it again. The boy is shown non-verbally explaining his problem to a male American by opening his jacket. In the real USA, this would result in outrage and a nationwide campaign to censor depictions of genitals in biology books, but in the anime universe, the American will of course take off his pants and donate them to a total stranger. The bimbette finds the boy in a basement, but rather than return the passport, he burns it together with the room and takes her to the embassy where he pretends that their passports were stolen. So, she returns a day late, and misses the job interview she had planned immediately after her holiday. A new interview is scheduled later and she is invited to a cafe for a follow-up, but when she waits and waits until the head waiter "accidentally" dumps a bowl of ramen in her lap, the conversation she overhears while cleaning her skirt in the ladies' reveals that the company will never hire someone who misses a job interview - stolen passports are no excuse! So, she and her band of friends, including a programmer called Micchan and an even worse bimbette called Ohsugi, decide to go independent with their product, a social search engine called "Higashi no Eden" which uses any image, like a person's photograph, to collect all information on what is in the image. No. Not creepy at all.

Akira has a much more interesting time: he discovers that he is a "Selecao" (selected one), a contestant in a game to save Japan using a cellphone charged with 10 billion yen. He can't access this money directly, but has to call a central agent, "Juiz", who will fulfill any request he has, and subtract the money for her services from his account. There are hints that Juiz is a giant robot brain. Some money is already spent, sadly he can't remember what on! Now he has to deal with his lost memories, suspicions that he was the terrorist behind Careless Monday, and other Selecao including the Johnny-Cutter, a sexual abuse victim who has her own idea on how to "save" Japan. One of Saki's friends almost ends up having his johnny cut, and is narrowly saved by Akira. Miki uses her software to help Akira, the plot thickens and the final episodes, revealing what Akira really is (spoiler: a goodguy) and why so little harm was done on Careless Monday, has them walking through a big building complex full of naked geeks hungry for laptops and the internet, trying not to attract attention. It's funny. It's a well thought out mystery with an ending that I don't see coming from miles away. But like that other interesting show, Real Drive, it's spoiled by bimbettes, even though I know the bimbettes were added to make it more charming. Saki could have been entirely removed from the series, and it wouldn't hurt the story at all.

Tower of Druaga: Sword of Uruk is a continuation of Druaga no Tou (Tower of Druaga,): the Aegis of Uruk shown (and barely watched) last year, where a young man, having failed his last party, collects a new band of adventurers around him to beat a monster in a tower. They succeeded, but in this sequel, it is shown that the king stole the credit, and they are out on their asses. The white-haired foxgirl now makes a living giving tours and selling Aegis replicas to the tourists. The army leader that helped them has resigned from the army over his disgust with the king's betrayal, and is the bellowing cook in an inn. The hero just stays in bed all day, moping. The sequel drove me off as fast as the first part. All I can say is, it's drawn in the same pleasant earth tones.

Bokurana starts with a monologue about how we were only children and didn't understand life yet, and shows said children in a group on the beach during some school outing. "Children" is an imprecise term: most of them look fourteen, some younger, two boys noticeably older. Genuinely younger is the little sister of a hostile boy who clearly hates her, even though most girls in the group dote on her. Lounging around on the beach, looking for fun and exciting things to do, they find the entrance to a cave, and decide to explore. At the end of the cave is a nerdy man with glasses surrounded by computer equipment. He laughs awkwardly and says it's just as well they're here, because he's working on a computer game and wants to know what they think of it. They agree to test the game for him, for which, just to get into the game spirit, they all have to swear an oath while putting their hand on a... panel? pedestal? Except for the little girl: her brother curtly says she can't play. Now, they are ready to enter their vessel: a huge mecha into which they can transport themselves with the power of thought. On the outside, it is metal; on the inside, there is a space with chairs of different kinds arranged in a circle. Each chair corresponds with one child, and they all choose their seats, one girl donating part of hers to the little sister. The programmer tells them he'll pilot the mecha once to show how, but next time they'll have to do it themselves. The mecha moves and changes shape as directed by the thoughts of the pilot. The target is a mecha similar to this one; the objective, to locate the sphere that is its weak point, and destroy it.

Next time the mecha summons them to battle, the programmer is gone and replaced by a talking, drifting mechanical head. The seats shift around in a circle until a beam falls across one to choose the pilot. It is an irrepressibly cheerful sporty boy. The enemy mecha is encountered and defeated offshore. To celebrate their victory, the children are placed on top of their mecha where they can look out over the sea, and the sporty boy lets out a whoop. The curt boy gives him a light shove and tells him not to embarrass himself; without a sound, he falls off the side. Now thinking he is guilty of murder, the curt boy becomes even more hostile, but the children decide as a group not to tell the grownups, and to pretend that they were somewhere else during the disturbance. Because the mecha battle was real; it wasn't a game.

Horror befalls them as, through the sardonic drifting head and the investigations of grownups around them, they find out the truth: their mecha is soul-powered, and uses up one human soul - this is what killed the sporty boy - per battle. They cannot retire from these battles, firstly because they swore allegiance, secondly because if they don't consent to be killed defeating the enemy mecha, they will be killed in the resulting destruction of the Earth. One by one, they live up to the day of their death, reviewing their life, taking one last shot at dealing with their problems, before entering a battle as suited to their persona as their seat: the responsible older boy, who takes care of his siblings after his father ran off, and avoids damaging the fairgrounds that they were to visit the next day. The vulnerable, neglected girl who was conned into bed by a manipulative teacher, and takes her unborn child with her. The girl who always tried to be good and respectable because her mother worked at a night club, finally discovering how admired and respected this "loose woman" was by her customers. The boy with a strong sense of intuition who fought not one but two enemies, cleverly deducing which one holds the sphere. By now the Ministry of Defence has caught wind of their battles, and assigns two officers to their case, one of whom points a gun at the drifting head, only to find himself repositioned elsewhere while his disconnected arm hangs in mid-air; he is rushed to the sick bay in agony while the head laughs. What side the head is on, is not clear; it seems to enjoy goading and tormenting the less stable of the children. One, driven to distraction, dies before his turn to pilot, and it becomes clear that there are in any case not enough pilots to fight all the projected battles. To make up for the shortage, the two officers swear themselves into the game.

This is a psychological drama. It has characters that, both in looks and behaviour, are well-rounded individuals, not big-eyed cardboard cutouts distinguishable only by their hairstyles. And, thankfully, there is no comedy. Because, in this setting, that would be too inappropriate.

Umineko no Naku Koro ni shows an old man at an open window at the top of a big house on an island, crying to a certain Beatrice that all he wants is to see her smile once more. Then he throws his signet ring out through the window. Next day, all the various members of his family arrive on the island. Notable arrivals are a vivacious youth called Battler and a nine-ish girl, radiating innocence, with a rakishly tilted little hat. They are welcomed by the two servants: the sneering houseboy Kannon and the maid Shannon, who is approached by one of the guests, her crush, who offers her a wedding ring and asks that, rather than verbally respond to his proposal, she will show whether she accepts it by wearing his gift. The little girl sees a wilting rose and thinks it is ill (not realizing that a rose is just a small part of the whole bush, and the bush is thriving) so Battler ties a ribbon around it so she can find it again later. Since the old man, head of a wealthy family, is dying, the group soon separates into the elders who want to carve up the inheritance, and the young'uns who just want to hang around, chat, and enjoy the scenery. Later, the girl wants to look for the rose again, but can't find it because the ribbon is gone. Her mother tries to talk sense to her and she insists in childish tones, going "oooh! oooh!", until her mother slaps her and she starts crying. The young'uns are shocked, but the mother heatedly says that she must stop being so childish, and do they know what the other children call her behind her back? Aha, that's the secret of her innocence: she's retarded. She stays outside in the rain, crying, without an umbrella, to search for her rose.

When she comes back inside with an umbrella, she says it was given to her by "Beatrice". After dinner that evening, she reads a letter from "Beatrice", stating that the family must find a secret treasure within a certain time, or die, her innocent features contorted in a mad, malevolent smile. Beatrice is a supposed witch and alchemist who made the family rich by creating gold, and who may now, according to the pact she made with the old man, collect the family's wealth, members and servants as "interest" - unless they discover her secret. A portrait of her hangs on the wall. The family believes her to be dead or nonexistent and the letter to be a prank, but it has the seal of the signet ring. The child afterwards goes to cry before Beatrice's portrait that no one believes in her. Their unbelief is sorely tested when a number of relatives and a servant - Shannon - are murdered gruesomely, although the survivors theorize on how it could have happened other than through Beatrice. That Beatrice, occasionally showing up as a semi-transparent golden butterfly, has a connection with the girl shows both through her malevolent smile when transmitting the witch's messages, and her arcane knowledge, for instance, when she hands out charms to protect against witchcraft to the young'uns, all of whom survive the bloodbath. But Battler says that he lost his charm and still wasn't murdered, so there's no proof that Beatrice did it.

Mysterious events and familial subterfuge follow, the shrinking group of survivors reasoning like Sherlock Holmes to discover the truth. I looked this up: the anime is based on a logical deduction game in which the main character, Battler, must constantly disprove the supernatural by solving every riddle that Beatrice throws at him. In the whole series, characters die multiple times, and the innocent little girl is a regular hell-child.

Kuroshitsuji, "black butler", is about Sebastian Michaels, working for twelve-year-old wealthy orphan Ciel Phantomhive and, as the subtitles translate it, "one hell of a butler". Not only does he impeccably perform his domestic duties and compensate for the myopic maid and the bumbling gardener - who gets darts thrown at his head for his incompetence by the young master - but he also rescues his master from kidnappings and other scrapes gotten into on assignments for Her Majesty's Secret Service. Yes, Ciel has to do things like catch Jack the Ripper, for which he dresses up as a girl and ends up being captured and auctioned like a slave. In addition, Sebastian has to put up with Ciel's "friends", like his irritating fiancee Elizabeth who likes cute things and so decks out everything and everyone in frills and ribbons, and the female doctor who has a handsome but pathetically inept butler (and boy, does she inflict workplace sexual harassment on him) called Greil, who regularly wants to commit suicide over his failures, and gratefully thanks Sebastian for his courteously worded instructions on how to best succeed.

It's funny. It's dark. Sebastian Michaels is, of course, a demon to whom Ciel has promised his soul in return for service, but such a competent and reliable one that it's hard to hate him. Moreover, a moment of jokingly yaoi-ish innuendo suggests that Sebastian wants more than just the soul. From the gracious rescue of a dinner that the other servants botched to the hurled cake sailing in a wide arc that he deftly catches on a platter (the audience applauded to this), Sebastian is the dream butler of your best nightmares.

The Kara no Kyoukai Movie 6 and 7 show two sides of the universe of Kara no Kyoukai: Garden of Sinners, a series of movies that I'd seen the earlier parts of in last year's con, yet forgotten about because what I saw had nothing to do with the con booklet's description. This year's con booklet had almost the same description, and the second movie actually went some way towards explaining this. The first movie triggered memories of those at last year's con. And that's how it all came together.

The first film revolves around Azaka, who talks like an anime bimbette, but characterizes herself as "a young woman with issues". Yeah. She's in lust with her older brother, Mikiya. And that's how we move to Shiki: the kimono-clad girl her brother is involved with instead. Azaka sees Shiki, and wants her brother to break up with this chick fast! Both booklets mentioned only Shiki, who stayed in coma for two years after a car accident. Waking from her coma, she discovered that she had lost something, and gained a special power, the Mystic Eyes of Death Perception, allowing her to kill things by destroying their point of origin. Last year's booklet even specified what she lost: SHIKI, her named-in-different-kanji male side who was a homicidal maniac. Shiki the girl is also an unemotional killer, although for the sake of Mikiya, who saw her through the loss of SHIKI and the fear that came from her new gift, she will restrain herself. So, Toko, the woman with magic powers for whose agency Mikiya worked as a secretary and investigator in the earlier movies, thinks it will be safe to have Shiki assist Azaka when the latter's school is under attack by fairies. Yes. And not the butterfly-winged pretty flowergirls, either. These fairies look like shimmering golden dragonflies, and attack students and steal their memories. Shiki can see them, but Azaka, who can't, is knocked out and can't remember what happened to her. From here, it gets confusing. A student has committed suicide, driven to distraction by fairies. A teacher disappears, and is replaced. Another student, to avenge the first, tries to make the whole class commit suicide in the same way. While Azaka tries to talk sense into her, Shiki faces the replacement teacher who has made all this possible, and who reveals himself to be a henchman of an old nemesis of Toko's: Araya Soren, an old mage in a long coat. They win, sort of. The fairies are expelled.

The next film is all about Shiki, even if seen through Mikiya's eyes. Shiki lives alone in her apartment, visited by Mikiya who is also holding down a job. Murders happen in the bad side of town. A boy is seen trying to eat corpses (to hide evidence?) when Soren Araya steps up to him. Toko and Mikiya worry that SHIKI may be at it again, although Mikiya trusts Shiki and thinks she would never do anything bad as long as he takes care of her. They hear about a new kind of drug: "blood chips". It's a new form of a nasty kind of drug (Mikiya tries the normal form and feels incredibly sick) on squares of paper edged with blood. Shiki is seen wandering through the town in her kimono, slicing at attackers. A new suspect appears, asking Shiki to join him: Lio Shirazumi, a school friend of Mikiya's and the eater of corpses. In this universe, all humans and other animals (not sure whether plant life is included) have a central quality called the Origin and are the successive incarnations of that quality. Once their Origin is awakened - that is, they become fully conscious of this quality - it overtakes them, and they can no longer control it. Corpse-eating boy's Origin is hunger. To feel less alone, he tries to build a gang of followers by giving them drugs mixed with his blood, the "blood chips": this gang is responsible for the murders and also the attacks on Shiki, who fends them off but refuses to kill them. She also fends off Lio, in a fight that costs him his arm. But apparently people with an awakened Origin are not hurt by loss of limbs. When Mikiya visits him at his home, he just says it's a nuisance to only have one arm. Mikiya sees Shiki again and impresses on her the importance of not killing his old friend, even if the friend is now a killer himself, and stalking her. Sadly, Mikiya's pacifism doesn't hold up: first, Lio, now in hunger mode again, abducts Shiki and chains her up in an empty building, drooling disgustingly over her body. Then, he captures Mikiya who has gone to the same building to find her and tries to make him take blood chips. Mikiya refuses and is apparently killed with a knife to the head. All this time, Shiki wonders why she bothered to be such a good girl when all it got her was chained up. Looking up from his supposed murder, Lio sees Shiki who has freed herself by biting off her thumb, to get her hand out of the shackle. As with Lio's arm, the missing thumb doesn't seem to hurt her. As she doesn't need to honour promises to dead boyfriends, and since she is quite pissed off, Lio, aflame with love at her act of self-mutilation, is rapidly cut to ribbons. But Mikiya is alive! The attack only cost him an eye (and his glasses). Follows: touching scene where Mikiya promises to always be there for her and "carry both our sins". And the happy lovers walk off together, hand in hand. Minus one thumb and one eye.

Once upon a time in Ouran High School Host Club, a poor student in blazer and thick glasses just wanted to find a quiet room to study. Entering what seemed like an unoccupied room, this student found a group of upper-class boys in various shades of cute and foppish, who explained that they were rich boys hosting tea parties for rich girls, to... oh, for the heck of it, while an arrow pointed to a vase standing on something. The poor student sighed, expressed a lack of enthusiasm at their initiative, and prepared to leave in search of another room, the arrow madly swinging round to point at the vase all the time. Finally, after it seemed that the vase might be spared, the poor student knocked it over by accident, and was instantly informed that the vase cost 8 million yen. Not having that kind of money, he would have to become their gopher to repay them.

So, Ouran High School Host Club now consists of Tamaki Suou, the princely fop and club president, the brothers Hikaru and Kaoru Hitachiin who constantly act out a twincest relationship to the delight of their squeeing female admirers, Mitsukuni Haninozuka ("Honey") the shota bunny who sits on these same admirers' laps, his cousin, the monosyllabic Takashi Morinozuka ("Mori"), the quiet, sensible vice-president Kyouya Ootori (referred to by Haruhi at one point as "shadow government"), and Haruhi Fujioka, alias BlazerGeek Scruffypants, who brings in huge bags of teatime-related groceries. Until the club decides to test Haruhi's hosting skills, making him dress nicely and take off his glasses to reveal a pretty face with two huge brown innocent eyes. And, oh yes, Haruhi is really a girl.

Two words: romantic comedy. Like a fish out of water in the frilly social atmosphere of Ouran High School's Host Club, Haruhi amazes and delights with "his" candid, no-nonsense behaviour, is seen as a threat by a girl who tries to claim Tamaki as her own (and is expelled from the club for dirty tricks), tries to bring together two lovebirds only tenuously connected through their expertise in crockery, and accidentally dispenses a kiss that was Tamaki's to give. It is obvious that Tamaki and Haruhi will end up in each other's arms, but not until many, many hilarious hosting sessions in various settings later. Whether intentionally or not, this series is like a harem game with the traditional roles reversed: the dull geek is now a girl, the harem that inexplicably dotes on her is a group of boys who have much prettier girls they could be chasing. But this geek, at least, has a likeable character.

Tayutama: Kiss on my Deity is an anime adaptation of an adult visual novel harem game (to sum it all up in one phrase) in which a schoolboy discovers a religious object which brings girls flocking to him, said girls being local gods. I just burst into this show half-way, and didn't see any introductions or objects being discovered. What I did see was a red-haired, fox-eared supercute chick with a ribbon around one ear (how does she get it to stay there?) explaining to a boy why she had to hurt him just to make him aware of her powers (like the power of the amazing velcro ear-ribbon?) while clinging to him like every cute harem game girl to every dull nerdy schoolboy protagonist ever. What stuck in my mind is that for once, unlike every other anime wonderchild, she couldn't just pop into the school he attends as a new pupil: she needed official permission to enroll! Wow! That is some harsh realism!

Kanon was a show whose un-worth was demonstrated by my total lack of recollection. Booklet: a boy has left the town of his childhood memories after something happened that made him want to forget, but now he's coming back to live with his cousin and meets a girl with angel wings strapped to her back who starts to revive the memories. Screen: supercute animation (as in the show before) of drippy girl who can't even think to look over her shoulders to see the (pathetic little) wings on her back. A adaptation of a visual novel?

The last show I end up watching on almost every con is something grandiose that nevertheless disappoints. Heroic Age was yet another example of this. There are four sentient tribes, the booklet tells me: Gold, Silver, Bronze and Heroic. A fifth tribe joins them: Humanity, called Iron by the other tribes. What I see, though, is Age, a long-haired boy on a blighted planet, jumping into a pool with a giant squid in it and joyfully climbing back out with one of its severed arms. He takes it to an abandoned spaceship with a female voice that reacts to everything he says - though the reaction is usually "that does not make sense", the ship's intelligence is not very sophisticated - and pops it in a big food processor that processes it into wrapped food rations. Opening one of the rations to taste it, he says it's wonderful and thanks his mother, as he calls the ship, for the meal. To show his fairness, though, he then goes back outside, uproots one of the many withered saplings and tosses this to Fuuto, his tentacle-providing giant squid friend, to repay one meal with another. After this cameo of life on the planet Olone, the camera switches to a fleet of giant spaceships along the lines of Battlestar Galactica, filled with humans in futuristic uniforms and led by princess Deianeira, who personally, and against the wishes of some of the more conservative members of her staff, wants to find this boy and bring him aboard so he can fulfil his destiny of defeating the other tribes and winning back the universe for the humans. She meets him on his planet and persuades him to join her, an offer he can't refuse after the Bronze tribe descends on them and destroys his "mother", to which he responds by changing into a supermech and sending them packing. There is a touching moment as Age, reverted to his normal form, sits by the pool with Fuuto putting a comforting tentacle on his head, and he promises to return and make this planet the beautiful place it once was.

Once aboard, the spick'n'span crew look doubtfully at this primitive monkey-boy. This is their prophesied saviour? Their fears seem confirmed when he messes up the welcoming ceremony by waggling shyly onto the stage, then pouncing on the refreshments, then jumping around looking for an escape route while everyone tries to catch him, then breaking into the greenhouse part of the ship and falling asleep between rows of vegetables. After that my attention drifted (end of con, fatigue kicking in) and I vaguely noticed Age charming his way into the crew's hearts with his naive manner and the Bronze tribe, which look like giant space ants, having to be fought off. By the time I left, the princess had just been captured by the ice-themed Silver tribe.

And that was that for the video programme. This con continued the trend of extra culture-related activities, to the point that the "event" rooms - games, demonstrations, culinary events, J-pop performances - vastly outnumbered the video rooms. As a strictly video-interested guest, I visited none of them, but the con booklet told me that one of the games played at the adult game event was Zettai Fukuju Meirei - I'm sure the players had fun.

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