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Animecon 2005 - "Magic and Mystery"



That I went to the 2005 con at all was a coincidence. Having enjoyed the previous con and surfing to the organisers' site out of curiosity, I learned that the first ticket sale round had been closed, and the remaining tickets would be sold at 5 euro more. The round after that they would cost 10 euro more, and what remained after that would be sold at the door; but the organisation warned prospective con-goers not to wait that long, as the tickets would probably be sold out by then. I quickly made and paid a reservation and had the all-weekend ticket sent to me. By then hotel Almelo, which looks as if it's going to be the con location from now on, had already been fully booked and as I didn't feel like wasting precious con time travelling home and back for naps or staying awake through that dead hour in the night when nothing's playing, I looked into hotel Hengelo: also fully booked. The actual finding of a room was done on the morning of the con's first day, when people who booked rooms for two and whose partner has suddenly caught rabies or been abducted by aliens, post offers to share rooms/expenses on the forum. The con started at four, I was of course present at five-something through having again lost my way in Almelo and the person I was to share the room with arrived well past nine after what I assumed was a day of disasters. By that time, sick of missing one feature after another while waiting in the lobby, I'd left a note at the ticket booth and was drinking in my first anime of the day. But I wasn't the only one in such a state of disorganisation. At opening time, the con didn't have printed programmes, apart from the one copy taped on a door which groups of con-goers were craning their necks to read. The con rooms are manned by volunteers, and I heard that about half of the staff had cancelled at the last minute, so the rest had to do double shifts and had as much trouble staying awake as the watchers. From the anime forum, I'd already got the impression that making the con tapes themselves had gone less than smoothly. Hats off to these people for going through with it.

This con's theme was "Magic and Mystery" and as the previous write-up suggests, this overlaps considerably with last con's theme, so two features were re-shown: the totally uninteresting one about the bumbler who expected her teacher to be a woman, and the first four episodes of Juuni Kokuki. This one had been shown from beginning to end at last con, I'd kicked myself for only watching the end then, and even now I'd been stupid enough to miss the first ep. "Juuni Kokuki" means "twelve kingdoms", twelve islands laid out in a rectangle of sea like the pattern on a tapestry. Each kingdom has a ruler, chosen and watched over by that kingdom's kirin - this is Chinese mythology's equivalent of the unicorn, in fact the whole series is based on Chinese mythology but, I suspect, only loosely so. An explanation of this realm and the role of the kirin is given in the eps (shown on a later day) following the defeat of an impostor and the coronation of the real queen. For the opening eps, which are intended to leave the audience as confused and bewildered as the main characters, it matters only that in these twelve kingdoms, children grow from trees. In the storms that occasionally blow, the balloon-fruits of these trees can be torn off and thrown onto the "normal" world, at which the child in the fruit is born as a human child; "normal" humans can also be dragged into the twelve kingdoms, never to return. The bit that I missed would have shown the super-behaved super-student daughter of extremely strict parents who, as reward for her perfect behaviour, is liked by absolutely nobody. Closest to her are a sharp-tongued girl and a nondescript boy (will rescue damsels in distress, but will also cheat on them). She is attacked, and a long-haired stranger - a kirin in human form - asks her to accept his protection. Her acceptance results in all three being pulled into the other world. Here, her good manners are of necessity eroded away; she not only displays a talent for swordfighting but must exercise it against monsters that beset them; she is forced to review her compulsive "always-see-the-best-in-people" when the kind middle-aged woman who shows her hospitality, also tries to sell her to a brothel (the sharp-tongued friend was aware of the woman's bad intentions from the start) and now that (yes, she's a balloon baby) she's back in her own world, she's losing her demure feminine appearance and changing into a red-haired Amazon, to the point where her companions don't recognize her. For these first few eps, she shows how deeply she's in denial about other people's hatred towards her, believing that if she just conforms to their every wish, they'll like her; obviously false to me but, in a country where social conformism is so highly prized (in anime, "loner" is an insult), the series' morality is quite unusual! It's easy to be caught up in a series both so graphically grandiose and so un-irritating - wait, there are irritating characters, and they're all "normal" humans. In the twelve kingdoms, life simply unfolds, and there are noble and nasty characters (without any visual stereotyping: the middle-aged woman really did look friendly) and it all plays out like a novel. In the "real" world, when the main character fails to return, her mother remarks that maybe she was unhappy, trying too hard to be a good child - as if, in that despotic household, she had any choice! As irritating is the so-called grandmother of Keiki, another balloon child carried off by the wind, and a kirin; the episodes of his life and history follow like a sequel from the main story and its final all-explaining episode. He is dragged back to his world on a cold winter night when forced to stand outside in the falling snow for the crime of - dropping a glass of water!! And lying about it! (Because he didn't drop it; his brother did, and so he denied having done it.) His mother pleads for him, but his grandmother - who hates him because he once pulled away when she patted him on the head!! - says a bit of snow won't hurt a healthy child (he's in his pyjamas, barefoot), he can come in if he'll just confess and apologize, and he's such a strange child, it would be better if he cried a bit. Revealing her true nature: this respected materfamilias is a bully who wants to make children cry. What petty, hateful creatures "normal" humans are. Yet little Keiki - kirin of the kingdom Kei - misses his family even when back in his birthplace and living the life of the VIP he really is, and all three episodes that I saw are about his uncertainty and homesickness.

Gunslinger Girl was in no way magical or mysterious. Anonymous badguys break into a house and kill everyone inside except for a young girl who they probably left for dead, but who was found alive and brought to hospital. This I'm told, what I see is other ??guys (later it becomes clear these are "goodguys") breaking into orphanages and gunning people down. What they are looking for - a child to train as assassin - is in that very hospital: Henrietta, as the victim is called, is so traumatized that she wants to die. Or to have the battered parts of her body replaced by bionic bits, lose her memory and become a secret agent for the Italian government; that's fine too. Discharged from the hospital, she lets the audience know what an A student she is by staying up all night learning how to disassemble and reassemble a gun. It certainly impresses her handler, a thirtyish male with fatherly feelings towards her. More footage of tests she's put through to show how capable she is, then she does badly on one mission because she's trying so hard, and is shown crying. Back at the assassin compound, the government's other tools, who are more assertive than she is, cheer her up with tea and cake, while the fatherly handler is told by his boss that if she screws up again she'll get a more severe kind of programming which will make her more effective but shorten her life. Somewhere near the ending/opening credits there's this sentimental bit about Henrietta the gunslinger girl who is a deadly assassin but also a sensitive young woman. Woman? She looks eight! More eps were shown later in the weekend, but I had no desire to watch more super-abilities offset by adolescent drivel. For those who have seen Noir: Henrietta is a less effective, more abject version of Kirika, and I decidedly prefer the latter.

After this sentimental seriousness came Wild Arms, with Wagnerian opening credits and heavy-metal ending credits: imagine a raucous voice screaming that the stars are twinkling. A gunslinger - no, not like Henrietta, but a tough, dangerous ladykiller of a desperado - sees his macho act go up in smoke when he somehow ends up in the body of a ten-year-old. With his trusty good-hearted massive bandit friend and his furry-bunny accessory, he goes in search of his old body. He is sometimes waylaid, sometimes helped by a trio of ladies; a sexy casino champion, her cute vampire-girl friend (who doesn't suck blood but who can transform into a chibi-bat to do some searching on the wing) and their bunny accessory. All the sexy babe is in search of is money. What it comes down to: both trios are continually running into each other during treasure hunts.

The series summed up in three words: Nothing Is Sacred. First ep I saw: sexy casino girl pretends to be (yet another) illegitimate daughter of a famous painter who just died, leaving his close friend to read out the will. This happens on a huge yacht where everyone is assembled who could possibly be related to the deceased, including a woman who claims to be his granddaughter, her proof being her resemblance to a painting of one of his models. But his fortune has been bequeathed to his friend and, it turns out, lover, who is her actual grandfather. More upset over the painter's death than interested in his money, he blows up the yacht and the moneygrabbers have to scramble for safety. Second story: a young train conductor takes pride in the fact that the train always rides on time; his own father sacrificed his life to this cause. Of course the fates conspire to make the train come late: someone's having a baby, two girls (one armed) are fighting over a boy, there's a criminal hiding on board the train (he threatens to kill one of the girls, but she, jilted by her now ex-boyfriend, wants to die anyway, so he starts lecturing her that life is a precious thing) and a man's suitcase of "treasure" turns out to contain pictures of pretty women. Casino-babe becomes nun in a religious order which cultivates black pearls, and where the three male adventurers have also arrived and asked for shelter. The mother superior, who is eighty-something, decides that one of them - the good-hearted bandit - is her Romeo, come to rescue her from this barren existence, and the poor man is forced to take walks in the garden with her. She shows him the real treasure: a giant pearl-eating fish - who has been fed these pearls for nothing all these years, because it died a long time ago. Later, the same casino-babe plays against the owner of a casino who is a better player than she is, or maybe just better at cheating: the poor girl loses all possessions and, driven to win, finally gambles away her own body. Does that mean she's going to play hooker for the casino owner now? Her team thinks so, but in reality she's turned prizefighter. Episode after episode of funny, far-flung but always convincing plot twists: highly recommended.

Get Backers, on the other hand, was a bit disappointing. I'd read a cryptically praising review about the manga, which is about two street kids who met each other, became the closest friends a person can imagine and, in an attempt to put their talents to good use, started an agency to retrieve lost and stolen items: hence, "get backers". The manga is a bit "mad artist on LSD" and full of weird plot twists and loose ends. The anime is... ditto, but weakened by inconsistency. Okay, Ginji, the fair-haired one, has an electric eel's ability to shock. His dark- (and ragged-)haired friend Ban not only has a hand that can crush steel, but the "Jagan" ("Evil Eye") meaning that anyone who looks him in the eye has visions; to protect people from this gaze of Cthulhu he wears tiny glasses that barely cover his eyes. These special abilities are introduced in the first ep and then re-introduced in subsequent eps because although we, the audience, already know, their clients and opponents of course don't and must be informed in detail. Okay, so that's just repetitive, what's annoying is the random slapstick. Only just having started their agency and not being widely known yet, the two get very little work, consequently very little money, the owner of the snackbar where they hang out (and who is also their mentor, I gather) won't give them meals until they pay their tab and one ep starts with a man picking them up off the street where they're lying exhausted and starving and giving them his supply of canned food. In return (though Ban, who is the "cold" one of the two, is not happy about it) they will get back his daughter, held by a Yakuza boss, for free. They don't succeed, because she blames her father for having sold her and is perfectly happy, in a bitter way, to stay with someone who buys her everything she wants. Going back to the old man to confess their first ever failure, they see him on a stretcher being bundled into an ambulance - he's at his last gasp - and Ban gives him a vision of his daughter returning to forgive him. That sounds serious, doesn't it? Yes, and in between the serious moments, they argue, they face-fault, they comically suck up to prospective clients in a way that would be funny if their behaviour was consistent. In the manga that may work, but in animation it has the same "have your cake and eat it" feel as in L/R, and their special abilities that Always Save The Day are a three-trick pony. The series breaks out of this rut, though, in the first two-parter. A VIP (politician?) begs them to retrieve something that is being transported to another location by a group of professionals as gifted and driven as they are, one of them a skinny lad named the Jackal who can materialize blades from his body (both statements are proven when Ban whips him out of his trenchcoat to see where he's hiding his killer knives) and the other, someone who has lost a relative to Ban, consequently hates him and tells Ginji, who she captures and holds hostage for the journey, that Ban will let him die. Out comes the predictable drivel about their friendship and what it means (Ban does jump on her van just about when she says that) but what makes it interesting again that neither can use their special abilities - Ban's demon gaze works only once a day, and he uses it early in the battle - so finally they'll have to use their brains! I would have stayed to watch the second part, if it had been shown.

No superheroes in Narutaru - Mukuro Naru Hoshi (I think the con organizers were uncertain about the exact title, the translation given is "Shadow Star Narutaru"), just one perfectly ordinary girl who lives happily with her divorced pilot dad and is even happier to spend a holiday with her grandparents. Possibly because she really is a girl as opposed to a "young woman" - she's twelve - this is a perfect antithesis to the Anime Bimbette, a creature too often seen when watching any kind of anime. She thinks her granny's celery dish is divine and would like the recipe. She needs to draw a few pictures for Art class but feels so inspired that the sky will not be big enough to draw what she has in mind (she settles for a pile of paper). Since this will be her last holiday here, she swims out to a tori - a wooden gate - in the sea, despite the danger and treacherous currents; she'll face any danger, because that's how she does things. She even dives down at one thick wooden pillar until she can see, on the sea bottom, a kind of bulbous-eyed starfish staring at her. Then she runs out of air and comes round in hospital (no lectures that girls shouldn't do dangerous things, joy!) but that evening, there in her room, is the starfish-thing that called her down. She hugs it and gives it a name. Back at home, she cooks rice dishes of her own inventing while singing songs that she just made up, or goes out for takeaway. She follows martial arts classes after school, not in the "I'm gonna beat you up" spirit but just for the fun of it. What was that about children suffering from divorce? This is the happiest, most well-adjusted child of divorcees I've ever seen.

During her martial arts class, and again at the takeaway restaurant, she meets a frightened, stressed-out girl (who is taking the class to build up self-confidence) and is shown that girl's star friend, who, as opposed to her own buddy that she carries around like a rucksack, is carefully hidden away. This girl has a telepathic bond with her creature and can feel its pain, and since it's had a few crash-landings, the experience has left her a physical and emotional wreck. These creatures can fly. The main character has flown with her own little friend, standing on its back like a surfer, and has seen a girl with patterns painted all over her body on a huge manta ray of a star-creature floating through the sky one evening. So far, so good. Then two bad things happen. First, she has to pay one of those regular obligatory visits to the other parent: her mother. What femmy sexism the watcher has been spared so far, has been accumulated into one big vat that the mother now pours out over her little girl. Sounding like a bitchy schoolmistress, mum lets the girl know she's not eating properly and that, skinny as she is, clothes will never look good on her; and so on, the girl squirming in her chair obviously wishing she was a million miles away. Mum's researching into these star-creatures, so sadly we'll see more of her. Next, the wreck-of-a-girl meets the possessor of a third star-creature, a nasty boy who has shaped his friend into a squid-like, sharp floating knife, and who tries to pressure her into a partnership. He has no use for the other girl and only wants to capture her star-friend. She fights him and his killer-creation, unarmed and totally outclassed, yet continuing to resist, because, as she repeats to herself, that's the way she does things. The wreck-of-a-girl, who isn't stupid even if she is weak and defenceless, has her bonded creature imitate the target and be impaled by the floating knife - an experience she shares - to distract the boy and allow his prey to escape. But it does more than escape: looking as cute and deadpan as ever with its big round eyes, it throws from one of its arms an exact replica of the boy's weapon. The replica slices right through his guts. Exit first psycho bent on world domination. There are more; a small group of schoolgoing teens who see the symbiotic bond with these star-creatures as a welcome chance to cause misery. And they're investigating into his disappearance.

Midori no Hibi is not as tacky as the summary led me to expect: having been turned down by yet another girl, the slightly bad-boy, slightly delinquent (meaning: not in trouble with the Law, but a social misfit) Seiyi fears his only life companion will be his right hand. I bet he wishes it would be, when one day he wakes up to find this hand replaced with a tiny girl, growing out of his wrist like a hand puppet, who claims she's had a crush on him the last three years and wants to get to know him better. She doesn't have legs but she can float/fly, dragging him along behind her. She can scrub his back for him, which is comfortable, until she moves up to his neck, almost dislocating his shoulder. As if that were not enough, his equally delinquent older sister comes along with her biker gang and makes him treat them to the Japanese equivalent of a sauna visit out of his newly received wages. The whole gang gets drunk and wrecks the place (that's on his tab, too) after his sister rips down his sleeve to show his "right hand"; the girl pretends to be a hand puppet, but when one of the toughs checks her out too closely ("Look, it's even got tiny tits!") both Seiyi and his attachment let fly. Soaking in the tub by way of after-party, this sister fills hand-girl in on her brother's past: he was such a well-behaved, conflict-avoiding little boy that every bully picked on him, so she trained him to be tough. The little girl is enraptured to have been shown yet another part of him. This would be one of those girlfriends who doesn't boink (I don't see how she could, anyway) but who does like to talk about relationships in an earnest meaningful tone well into the small hours. Okay, she may not be that bad, but her reaction when his towel accidentally slips is significant: "Eeeek! That's a part of you I didn't need to see!" A prudery that makes me snort; she's been his right hand for the past three years, she should be intimately acquainted with that part by now.

Aoi umi no Tristia ("Tristia of the deep blue sea") is about the inhabitants of Tristia and in particular about its mad professor, a friendly, technically gifted girl who invents androids and combat robots (her best friend is an enormous combat robot) and other things to make life comfortable and bring technological advancement to the rather medieval-looking town. Since her inventions are at the experimental stage, her friends are by now used to seeing the roof of her house blow off. (One of her creations, a mechanical winged dog, sighs at each explosion.) She really isn't ambitious and is happy to just tinker away into the small hours, but she's also the pride of the town and so is begged to, pretty please with sugar on it, participate again in the inventor contest that she wins every year. Who also participates each year and is sick and tired of losing to the person who has outshone her since their school days: a woman from a rival town who looks slightly less "moe" (child-like and wide-eyed) than this girl (than most female characters in the series, in fact) and who will win this time, even if she has to cheat. The war robot she trots out poses more danger to the audience than to the other contestant. It is, in the end, crushed, but inventor girl tells her rival that war robots should be treated with more care and consideration and even lovingly reassembles it as a sign of friendship. One that is misinterpreted when she looks round and sees a screw she forgot to put in, and somewhere over the ocean a robot explodes... If it wasn't obvious from the description, this is a parody. Between eps, a friendly TV announcer voice answers letters from watchers who ask if the show is just about "moe" inventor girls, and whether a particular character - a friend of the genius girl - wears panties. A slow-motion closeup is shown which suggests, in a perfectly decent way, that she doesn't, and the TV announcer's voice sweetly says: "Yes, that did look rather suspicious, didn't it?"

A lot happens in Kumo no Muko, Yakusoko no Basho, but so slowly and with so little noise that it seems as if nothing happens at all. In an alternate universe, Japan has split up into North and South, a cold war separating both parts. I don't remember in which half the story's characters live, but their main interest, a very tall, slim white tower, is on the other side of the border. This tower was constructed as, well, what, really? Supposedly a military spying installation, but it seems abandoned, and over time this giant white pencil pointing into the sky has come to mean many things to as many people. Two young lads would really love to take a closer look. The tower might be a bit hard to navigate around, but the biggest challenge would be to cross the border without being shot down by the enemy. As they plan the perfect vehicle to accomplish their objective, the girl who hangs out with them (remarkably plain and flat-chested for an anime babe) does her "I'm a pretty girl singing and dancing among the flowers while the Men talk about Technical Things" bit. The two take a summer job constructing aeroplanes, and are allowed to embezzle a few parts for their own use. Slowly, in a supposedly abandoned building, their project is taking shape. Then the girl falls ill, having blackouts that last longer and longer until she ends up in coma and is taken to a hospital in the city. This isn't shown, the boys are just told that she's gone, and are devastated. One - the one who will be doing a fair bit of interior monologue from that point onwards - goes to the capital to work at a top-secret research centre. He feels numbed with pain at the girl's absence, but then he dreams of her, alone and standing on a white tower surrounded with misshapen Dali-esque other towers: alternate realities. This dream repeats itself a few times, and it feels very real. He goes to her room in hospital, but she's been moved again: the audience learns that her fluctuations in consciousness echo energy waves around the white tower and that she's the granddaughter of the tower's constructor. The top-secret centre is researching this tower, and it's just as well that it's located on a rocky outcrop in the middle of the sea, because it swops out realities. Yes. Within a certain radius, which expands and contracts, it replaces the matter of this reality with that of another reality. How the researchers can measure this so accurately I don't know, and the audience is given no proof that this reality-swopping is really taking place; the only tower visuals shown are of the comatose girl standing on the central one of the bunch of towers, feeling terribly lonely and estranged (and clearly not needing to eat or sleep) and waiting for the white wings that will be her salvation. On planet Earth, things are happening; after his endless moping, the young man with tower visions gets in touch with a resistance movement (via the aeroplane constructor he used to work for) and hopes they will accomplish what he knows will awaken the comatose girl: destroy the white tower. He more or less abducts her from hospital and takes her to their specially designed vehicle. There he meets his childhood friend who, believing that this is a wild goose chase, points a gun at him and wants to destroy the plane. He gets the thing flying anyway, and with the unconscious girl in the seat behind him, he flies straight towards the tower, just as the revolutionaries (whose own reason for destroying the tower is to close the rift between North and South) prepare to strike. At this point, the view switches between the lonely girl on top of the tower, the small armed group advancing under enemy fire, and the special vehicle which, to avoid the enemy radar, flies very low with flapping white wings. See it coming together? The great white bird finally appears to the lonely prisoner; the tower falls; the back seat passenger wakes up. As this film is the work of mostly one person, to wit, the creator of Hoshi no Koe, one need not expect a jubilant ending with popping champagne corks. Instead, just as she's coming round, the girl is sad at inevitably losing the intimacy that existed between them when this boy - who really did have a mental contact with her when he dreamed of meeting her on the tower - was her only link to the human world. But - they realize simultaneously - it is something they can rebuild together. Last comment: the art is amazing. There are many slow pans over exquisitely detailed backgrounds, like the brushed aluminium of the stereo (one assumes?) in the main character's desolate apartment in the city.

Bleach didn't seem like a comedy at first, because I walked right into a scene that wasn't comical. There's this girl in ninja-like outfit swinging a katana, fighting a huge monster while a boy, who is also under attack, transmogifies into some superpower form of himself and defeats it. The girl is a Guardian who leads the souls of the deceased into the otherworld and protects them from the soul-hunting Hollows, mask-wearing monsters of the kind he has just ripped apart with his bare hands. Her name is Rukia, and she has accidentally given him all her Guardian power, so now she's stuck in a mortal body until she can remedy the situation. Too bad; she'll just have to move in with him and what's more, he'll have to take over her job. No objections, please. He does object and is emotionally blackmailed by being taken to observe a child who will fall prey to Hollows if he doesn't protect it; and if he does, that means he's committed himself to Guardianship. What's a scruffy (the series title probably refers to his pale, short, spiky hair) but basically good-natured adolescent to do? He does the obvious thing and introduces her to his family (notably a younger sister of the pesky but tough kind, who can take things like monsters tearing up the living room) and, at school, passes her off as a student. As the opening sentence of the paragraph implies, it really is a comedy, the running gag being the ex-Guardian pretending she's a ditz in company while walking all over bleach-boy in private, and kicking him into monster confrontations while saying "c'mon, you can do it", something he's not that convinced of himself.

I only got a peek of Gokusen, an anime that would have done nicely in last con and which I was inclined to avoid: Yakuza daughter becomes math teacher to the most delinquent class in school, they try to upset her but fail, in the end she wins their respect (biiiiig yawn) and all that while under the pressure of keeping her Yakuza connection a secret. Who can blame me for not being over-keen to look, and only dropping into the video room to kill time between one "mystery" item and another? It is, however, less stuffy than the description suggests. For one thing, the art is un-japanimation: characters are drawn differently, rather than all being the same face or set of faces in different hair/outfits. They don't have the usual skinny anime build, and the teacher herself has - unusual in anime - lips. Un-lipsticked, and her thread-thin eyebrows arch lazily over jaunty un-anime eyes behind big round spectacles. No wonder the class can't get under her skin; she's as laid-back as she looks. One thing that angers her is injustice, though, and she nearly throttles the school head for sharing the police's suspicion that the recent wave of handbag thefts is the work of her pupils. Determined to prove their innocence, she dresses up like a typical victim (to the boys' embarassment, because although she thinks she looks like an upper-class female in caz clothing, she looks like a jogger with a big butt) and tells them to follow her and grab the thief when he strikes. Just as she's no torn, dramatic heroine, so they are no diamonds in the rough - they're rather stupid and ineffectual - and so they lose her, and she's alone when the thief attacks - another woman. Somewhat miffed at having put on a defenceless victim act for nothing, she collars the thief herself.

This was as much as I saw before switching rooms for Maburaho, one of the con items of which I saw every ep shown from beginning to end. We start at a magic school, where gifted pupils learn how to use magic, because in this universe all humans have magic powers, the only limit to their magic is how often (determined by their constitution) they can use it (once too often, and they burn to a pile of ashes) and at this school, all pupils are having their magic potential measured by the school doctor. The meter rings six figures over the chest of a big blonde in underwear, who asks if it's absolutely necessary to undress for the examination (no, it isn't, this doctor is as sleazy and politicially incorrect as the one in Jungle wa Itsumo Hale no chi Guu, who, to Hale's disgust, turns out to be his biological father) and lower but still quite high maximums over those of other students. The maximum of a certain Kazuki is eight (8). Whatta loser. So why is he suddenly the object of a pink-haired girl's devotions? Why does a bosomy blonde, A student and company president, try to get her hands into his pants at every opportunity? Why does a third girl, rather like Rukia of two series ago but green-haired if I remember correctly, try to behead him with her sword? Loser he may be, but he is the descendant of a blood-line that included most great magicians from the past. He may have an extremely low magic potential, but his genes don't. And as magic potential equals social status, it's his genes the girls are after.

Well, not quite. The blonde certainly wants nothing more than to have his highly magical baby. (Why not give her a test tube of white muck and send her on her way... But then the audience would be deprived of the sight of her bouncing bosom!) The one with the sword is bound by her clan's rules to marry him, but would rather kill him than undergo that shame. The pink-haired one who calls herself his wife, and tries to creep into his bedroom despite the fact that girls in the boys' dorm and vice versa are strictly forbidden, has also been told by her influential and magic-gene-craving family that she must marry him, but, as he realizes only at the end of the series, she really does love him. Just before the end of the ep he recalls the childhood memory she has cherished so long: the two of them together as infants, and him telling her that he's going to be a big magician one day, and making it snow. To show her he's remembered and apologize to her for his earlier blunt behaviour, he makes it snow again. His magic count is now down to seven (7). In the eps that follow, it somehow becomes possible for him to share a dorm with his "wife", but for one ep they must also share it with a little girl's ghost; the class president who has a crush on the pink-haired girl issues an official ban on their so-called marriage (and the loser actually swallows this, rather than telling mister prez to go stick his head up a pig - ah yes, the joys of imposed social conformism); the katana-carrying girl puts off killing him and decides to be his bodyguard, so that at least no one else will have him, and the callous bouncing-bosom company president, who for several eps pressures him into doing something I'm sure the average schoolboy (Japanese or otherwise) would have done long ago, suddenly feels the first stirrings of True Love when he rescues her from some hellish monster (just as it ripped her clothes at chest level, and magic count now down to six (6)) kept in a magically sealed room by the sleazy school doctor to provoke the loser into his latent magical abilities, but released too soon through some interfering school authority. This doctor, who is the funniest part of the comedy because he's sleazy in such a casual, deadpan way - one wonders if one has heard right when, in a perfectly serious tone, he invites the school nurse to come check out the bed in his office - is not only aware of the loser's genetic oddity but even persuaded that his magical ability far surpasses what it seems to be. (In case it wasn't clear from the description: yes, this is a comedy.) It had better, or the series will be limited to a grand total of eight eps plus funeral.

However, what I came to this room for, and why I sat through the above, was Binzume Yousei: bottle fairy. A perfectly ordinary boy has a perfectly ordinary desk in his room, on which are a few propped-up books and four coloured, wide-necked glass bottles, inhabited by four tiny, noseless, very "moe" fairies distinguishable only by their hairstyles. As the series begins, the boy leaves to go to an inauguration ceremony for his first school day. The fairies wonder what this is (so do I, actually, it sounds like the barbecues or other activities organized by some schools before the school year starts) and act out their fantasies of what it might be like: the first carries out a Shinto ritual waving two fans and chanting around a second laid on an altar, but loses concentration because she's hungry, and starts chanting names of dishes. The third decides it must be like this: a battlefield before an erected facade labelled "school", and one fairy as mortally wounded soldier begging a comrade "please... go to... the school..." Finally, they ask his younger sister, a primary-schooler who claims to know everything. She doesn't know, and pretends that this is a very difficult question, one that has defied Science and puzzled great minds. There are ghosts involved! Do they still want to know? The fairies, white with fear, hastily reply in the negative. They don't always rely on her knowledge, though; the books on the desk include a dictionary which they may consult, or rather try to, as it takes all their strength to pull it out and open it, and it may topple sideways, typically on top of the four fairies. This is a useful series for foreigners wanting to learn more about Japan, for every episode is about the fairies trying to understand an aspect of Japanese culture and getting it hilariously wrong. In the episode that centres around "June brides", they are each married to something that is either a marionette or a nutcracker, and remains quite wooden towards their advances, although sometimes it will send them into a tizzy by flopping over on its side. The national obsession with "cute" is touched on through a cute stuffed kitty with wings which, according to the paper slip inside the wrapping, is on a quest to avenge the death of its mother. (??) Taking this quite seriously, the fairies sprinkle fairy powder on it, making it come to life, and cry earnest wishes of success on its mission. It aimlessly circles in the air (something it will continue to do in later eps) and the foursome look at each other: "It's not really getting anywhere, is it?" They get to grips with the national holiday "Golden Week" and believe that growing up involves getting a disease that makes them become lethargic and apathetic. Until the schoolboy comes home with a bag of doughnuts. Doughnuts? Uhhhh... All cured!

After this refreshing comedy, I used the first of my expensive meal vouchers to grab at the buffet what would have been an expensive lunch in any case, picking a ground cherry (Physalis edulis) off a dish before it would be thrown out as a bit of garnish. Then, I took the shuttle bus to the hotel in Hengelo for a shower and a few hours of rest - I'd had about three hours of sleep the night before - and amused the driver, who had no idea what this anime stuff was all about, with a short account of the bottle fairy show. Scheduled to run hourly, the shuttle bus had been alarmingly delayed by traffic, and between these delays and the fact that I was missing four shows just by sneaking off for a snooze, I decided that next con, skint or not, I would get a room at the con hotel itself. (Staying up round the clock feeding on a bag of cough sweets, which was how I survived animethons as a penniless student, loses its charm after a while.) I was back on time and even slightly too soon for the next show that I would realistically be able to watch (counting four hours of sleep and two journeys), so Dead Leaves was still playing when I entered the room. Proof of age is required for this adult show, but either the sex and violence were already over or I looked so old and tired that no one felt the need to ask. Two sisters, drawn in the style of, well, those American kiddie cartoons that aren't really meant for kids, are fighting each other with firearms and martial arts kicks (but like true toons, nothing kills them) in a giant laboratory or space station? It looks like one big, undisputably weird junkyard. One of the two goes into labour and produces: a fully armed baby who floats while firing rounds of ammo. His quest: to destroy the giant caterpillar that starts to undulate over the screen. To indicate its size: its pinprick head is bigger than the flying baby, who enters its mouth to blast his way out. The baby turns to a grownup and to an old man to, as one sister remarks in awe to another, die in the day he was born. The thrashings of the caterpillar have made the junkyard an unsafe place to be: one sister gets her block knocked off and quickly puts the living part of herself in a kind of walking TV (the screen now showing a face) before scuttling towards the escape pod lugging a body bag containing her decapitated, mutilated body for later repair. They set course towards... planet Earth? A crowd gathers to look at the space vessel sailing into view. The first cocoon to drop out of the escape pod lands on and crushes the skull of an onlooker. In case it wasn't clear: this, too, is a comedy.

There is not a moment of comedy in the following show, which was the one I'd come to see. One thing pervades the first episode of Texhnolyze: heavy breathing. An insane-looking woman is straddling a resigned-looking young man. Without a word being said, he'd requested some favour from her, and it clearly wasn't sex. Grainy flashback: he leaps at someone in a snarling rage. The info sheet tells me he's a prizefighter. He lives in an underground city called Lux and pronounced "Luxus" (both ironic as it offers neither light nor luxury) which has a mafia-esque war going on between a bunch of hooligans who want to grab power and, among others, the elite few who have been provided with "Texhnolyze" limbs to replace their own; bionic improvements that the maker doesn't even attempt to give a lifelike appearance. Into this bleak society descends a kind-looking fiftyish man who follows a little girl with a cat mask (her own face, revealed when she lifts the mask, is just as feline and mask-like) and somehow prevents the attempted assassination of the mayor, her grandfather, which she foresaw with her second sight. She can't see the future; she sees one of a number of possible futures. The heavy breathing continues, and now the mad woman - seen in the reflection of the resigned man's eye - decides to spice things up a little by pressing one of her sharp nails (and her fingers are oddly jointed, as if made of wood) into the reflecting eyeball. Whether she seriously means to blind him I don't know, but he is more than justified in whapping her off him. She rolls into a corner, sobbing and moaning. This is connected with another scene of the same man being dragged to some spot by a group of thugs, the insane woman now looking impassive in a long fur coat, and having his arm slashed off. No cartoon violence, this; he screams long and loud and a worrying amount of blood pools under him. But he's not beaten yet; as they turn to leave, he scrambles up to leap for the woman's throat, so - second scream - one of his legs is chopped off too. Later he's seen hopping through the city with two crutches, trying to pay for a bowl of food with paper money held between his teeth, his embalmed dead limbs on his back. He collapses on marble stairs, seeing his identical twin descend, snappily dressed, four-limbed, looking down on himself with contemptuous pity, and comes round in a body bag in the medical lab where a young female doctor makes and attaches Tekhnolyze limbs. He tries to escape, but doesn't really have much choice but to accept her offer of bionic limbs, especially as they have already been made (using his dead mother's remaining blob of nerve tissue, no less) and his own dead limbs are useless; given the state they're in now, even Rafia couldn't reattach them. His vehement reaction to this name makes clear who the insane woman is and why she was having a good time at his expense. The attachment of limbs, whether organic or bionic, requires a little alchemy; and that means sex. As the ep goes into another bout of heavy breathing, I wonder what this would mean if he had been a woman, or she a man, or either of them way over sixty; and how many more excuses for sex I'm going to see.

Not that the series is in any way sleazy; solemn, humourless and - in that grimy, crumbling city - strangely elevated as it is, every coitus is, indeed, alchemy, or an expression of freedom, or, as with the kind man who sleeps with a disfigured whore to raise her self-esteem, an act of deepest tenderness, and the audience is shown only just enough to know that it's happening. Still, adding the violence, maybe this show should have had an age check, rather than the one before it. Coming round again after the operation (and having eye problems because the stats of his new limbs are projected onto his vision, rather like looking at the world through a transparent dashboard) the patient takes one look at the thin metal tube hanging at his side, roars "You call this my ARM??" and starts kicking and beating against the lab walls. He runs off in a rage, is almost killed by the hooligans, drops into a deep sewer and is shown dejectedly limping along on his equally thin metal leg, because, as the doctor says, the limbs weren't finished yet; she still had to put on the casings. End of ep. Next on the menu: cat-girl will find him and reveal his future to him. But through the art was stunning and the plot "mature" in all senses of the world, and there wasn't a single element of "cute" in the show (rare indeed, for anime!) I'd had enough. I wanted bottle fairies. None were available; of the two other anime rooms, one was showing something I didn't really want to see, while in the next, the cosplay event had just started. Rather than cosplay, I chose the first room.

There are series that one decides in advance not to bother with, only to tear out one's hair over the decision when nipping in to catch the end. Paranoia Agent, revolving around "Shounen Bat" - the boy with the bat, as in, baseball bat - is anime's answer to the X-Files. I walk in to the rising conflict of a young woman with three identities: sophisticated whore, skittish whore and plain unremarkable schoolteacher. The teacher is proposed to by another unremarkable schoolteacher with whom she goes on respectably romantic outings, and decides that her other selves will have to go. Her other selves are not so easily thrown out, and when she thinks she's exorcised them by putting their naughty outfits in trashbags and throwing them on the municipal garbage heap, she comes home to find their outfits back in the wardrobe and her own belongings gone. They run and work in a brothel, of which she is aware, but each time she says she's quitting, one of the two says she's coming to work again. At last they pull her out into the street for a final confrontation - to the casual onlooker, she seems pulled by invisible forces - and a shadowy boy on skeelers swings a huge bent bat and hits her squarely in the face. Shounen Bat has struck again.

The opening animation shows all the characters of the series standing here and there as if planted in the scenery, heaving with sunny, demented laughter. Who these characters are unfolds along with the story of their connection with Shounen Bat, who apparently grants wishes only to dash the wisher to the ground, and the efforts of two policemen - an older by-the-book one and a young one more capable of adjusting to bizarre situations - to understand what at first seemed a simple hooligan. The series particularly resembles the X-Files episode where, during a live broadcast of a police patrol in a coloured neighbourhood, a monster moves from one victim to another, changing shape to match the victim's worst fear, and feeding on that fear. This monster clearly feeds on desires. It has attacked a fashion designer and a schoolteacher before making the mistake of tackling a policeman. It turns out to be a schoolboy who thinks he's a hero in a video game. The younger policeman has the necessary imagination to enter into his Gameboy world and, following the game guide, finds that the game scarily resembles the real situation; it even leads them to another breakthrough, that the schoolboy is not Shounen Bat, because someone who witnessed the earlier attacks said that the victims were alone. The boy makes one last phone call to... someone... and is then found dead - suicide.The case is closed. The policemen know that it isn't over, and rack their brains thinking who the next victim will be; it seems every attack is preceded by delusions and phone calls. The next victim is under their very nose: the fake Shounen Bat hit people who were "obsessed" to drive out an evil spirit, and wasn't he caught trying to hit a policeman? This policeman, a tubby man with a permanently runny nose and a deep affection for his daughter, has been extorting money from the people running the brothel, for which some big-name criminal is now extorting money from him by threatening to destroy his daughter's dream house. Since he doesn't have the kind of sum demanded, the respectable copper is a thief by night, imagining himself a manga hero braving the yakuza when in reality he robs people of their hard-earned pennies while laughing psychotically. And so the story continues...

It was getting late, I was becoming cross-eyed with sleep again, and I'm not sure whether I saw, or just dreamed, what I am going to describe now. It doesn't quite match the description of that hour's entry, Ultramaniac: Nina, a girl from the magic kingdom, has come to Earth to collect the five stones, and is both unmasked and befriended by a girl called Ayu. What I saw was a school of the "pretty" kind - clean corridors, plenty of greenery - where one day a girl dressed a bit like Little Red Riding Hood drops out of the sky. Although she's been told never to use magic where anyone can see it, and not too often, and never cast spells too difficult for her level, in accidental ways she does all of this, and is instantly found out by one of the school's pupils who takes an immediate like to her and promises to keep the secret. This friend doesn't really ask for help, but Nina can't help noticing her sigh over a handsome boy in class, and decides to cast a spell that will make a spark jump between them. To indicate what sort of show this is: to work magic, she types spells into a little pink organizer which may then show texts like "Sorry, I can't let you do that". The spell misfires; rather than bringing the two together, the poor boy gets a massive electric shock each time they touch hands. Which of course happens repeatedly: "Hi!" -zap- "Oh no! Are you okay?" -zap- "Hang on, I'll help you to the sick room." -zap-zap-zap-zap- In following eps, magical relatives visit, impressing with their abilities to conjure up cakes and tea; even the cat knows magic. Nothing maniacal about this: just a gentle comedy with hints of romance.

My-HiME is yeah-yeah-funny, meaning, it's full of fan service jokes. Meaning, some well-meaning schoolboy is trying to reanimate a girl who almost drowned, and succeeds, and the realizes that he's been lip to lip with a female who, what's more, has boobs (cue close-up of cleavage plus "pwoingg" sound effect) and as if his own, quite unnecessary embarrassment were not enough, some anime bimbette who is his sister or girlfriend or classmate will run up and accusingly scream "hentaaaaaaiiiii!" while I think of painful ways to kill both the screamer and the almost drowned girl who will now come round and add her screams to the noise. Doesn't Maburaho have that too? Yes, and that's why I consider the sleazy school doctor the funniest part of the show: he parodies the boob-ogling element that's supposed to be the funny part of the show.

But, back to this almost-drowning case. A Very Big Ship is taking a boatload of students, including one strapping sixteenish girl in orange blazer and her sickly younger brother on the one hand, and a sixteenish boy followed around by his self-appointed girlfriend on the other. Out of the water is hauled a wild-looking little girl with cropped head and sword almost as big as she is, and which she refuses to let go of. The sixteenish duo help reanimate her. (Insert: "Hentaaaai!") They may regret this as the same girl later has a fight with a gun-toting motorbabe in the ship's hold which results in the ship doing a Titanic and all the passengers - mostly pupils all bound for the same school - scrambling for lifeboats. Except the strapping girl in orange who runs back to the cabin to get the medicine for her ailing brother. In a quite impressively animated shipwreck scene she survives anyway through the interference with the boy she yelled at earlier and who accidentally gets tangled up with her (Insert: "Hentaaaai!") and they all make it to the boarding school safely. To the displeasure of the gun-toting babe who turns up at the school again, less aggressive now, but who had warned miss Hentaaaai! not to go to that school. The cropped-haired girl has also come along, making herself at room in miss H's quarters and being quite the wild child; one almost expects her to make a campfire in the living room. Why should miss H not have gone to that school and what makes the show more than innuendo-comedy: My-Hime. This is a class of people with special powers, and she's one of them. Proof? While still on the boat, she could see a red star somewhere on the horizon. Only the My-Himes ("hime" is Japanese for "princess", for the rest I'm in the dark) can see such phenomena. Their purpose (Special Powers always have a Purpose) is probably to battle monsters and, yes, the school grounds are full of those. Funny monsters that steal underwear (leading to a comical "underwear trap" and a boy suspected of the act being sent to the school chapel where the clerics, in spite of his protests of innocence, woodenly pray for his soul) but also quite dangerous, impressive, even aesthetically pleasing monsters like the ones that lure the sickly brother out of miss H's reach, forcing her go battle-babe and save him. And in-between there's the standard school comedy stuff like clashes with class presidents. Two words describe this show: irritating eye-candy. Or, if miss H promises to not use the H word in further eps, just eye-candy.

One word will do to describe Kimi ga Nozomu Eien: CRAP. Okay, that's biased by the late hour, lack of sleep and my deep hatred of the Anime Bimbette. Several TV shows with a large fan following have had drinking games invented for them - drink one beer when a particular stock joke or predictable event happens again - but there should be a drinking game for anime bimbettes, if only to anaesthetize one's ears against their piercing chitters and view their idiotic behaviour (not to mention bouncing chests and panty shots) through the rose-tinted glasses of pleasant alcoholic stupor. Have one beer if the bimbette has a voice that will cut through glass. Drink something stronger if she takes the opposite approach, a squeaky, strangled, barely audible whisper that makes one grateful for subtitles. Drink whatever's available when she mutters something terribly significant and, on being asked what she said, goes "oh, nothing" (something anime characters are generally very good at!). Break into a liquor store and drink yourself silly when bimbettes admit they don't know squat and can't do squat, but will compensate by trying their beeeest and working haaaaard! Just insert an alcohol IV in the nearest vein when one bimbette defends another with "She may be a total waste of space and drag the average IQ of humanity way below zero, but she has a Kind Heart!". There is no recognizable bimbette in this show, possibly except the noisy waitress who brings customers the wrong order and then gets into a fight with them rather than bringing them what they did order, but there's a general atmosphere of bimbette-ness. A girl has two friends, a boy and another girl. She introduces the boy to the girl and they fall in love, or rather he acts out a romantic attachment because it's expected of him, and his girlfriend (purple-haired, vaguely Belldandy-ish) is so infantile that I can't blame him for treating her like a kind of princess: buying her prezzies and getting smoochy with her, but not really seeing her as a Significant Other. She has an accident and dies. In the time that follows, the boy realizes he actually has a crush on the girl who introduced him and who is rather more mature (though still a twit) than the beribboned purple-haired thing, and it's reciprocal. Quite some time has passed since the accident, but his and her friends consider him a traitor for cheating on his first girlfriend after her death. I suppose he should have entered a convent. (1)

Close to crap was Elfenlied, of which eps 1 to 10 were being shown, and which I gave a shot purely for the title. No, I don't know any "elf song", certainly not one in Latin that dwells heavily on the beauty and purity of the lily as long as temptation can be avoided while the camera pans over the naked bodies of crimson-haired girls with brushed-out crotches but very shiny nipples. The clue to their nature sticks out from their hair: two tiny stubby horns that give them the name "Diclonius" (probably "dicornius" or, as botanists call it, "bicornis": horned) and are likely a reference to the Christian devil, although they remind me of Lum. These harmless little stubs are also point of exit for their many ectoplasmic "hands" which can be shields, weapons, anything they want. Start of series, after these questionable opening credits: someone wearing nothing but a metal mask walks coolly out of a high security base, killing scores of gun-firing guards and - JOY!! - an anime bimbette that just stumbled into her path. She Must Not Escape, for she is a Diclonius, the mutation that will destroy mankind (so?) and replace it. As the outer gate opens, one last attempt is made to shoot her in the head. The bullet tears off the mask and knocks her out, but doesn't kill her. She is found on the beach by two teens, but has lost her memory and can only say "nyu". Complications: the girl-teen thinks the boy-teen has a crush on "Nyu" but fortunately sees how stupid that idea is (Nyu is not only amnesiac, but a right baby). A homeless girl with a puppy (ran away from sexual abuse by stepfather) becomes a regular guest at their house. The puppy is connected with a childhood memory of Nyu, who occasionally remembers she's Lucy and hates all humans: in the orphanage where she was bullied, the bullies beat her newly adopted puppy to death with a vase, she discovered her deadly "hands" and killed them, then she killed some more people and ran away. Lucy ended up test subject in a research centre for the elimination of these dangerous Diclonii and ohhh, she's so dangerous because not only does she have a high body count, but in her head, a creature with mummy wrappings on its face urges her to kill all humans so she'll no longer feel alone and rejected. Heck, killing all humans (starting with bimbettes) is something I often dream of! Another "dangerous" Diclonius: a girl who will undergo any test no matter how painful because of her father-daughter relationship with one of the researchers, who feels guilty about killing his own Diclonius child right after it was born. She's sicked on the runaway, who meets her in "Lucy" mode and slashes her arms and legs off. The fatherly scientist, told to dispose of her, instead puts her in an escape pod with fake limbs and a huge bag of money (he will get in big trouble for this). Another scientist pretends he is Nyu's family to gain custody over her and guess what, he's a Diclonius (not red-haired, bald) and son of the head of the research institute. Why I left this series halfway through? The bimbettes, the played-out stupidity, the sentimentality ("must.. save.. the puppy...") but above all the moral double standards. Obvious minors are mistreated and locked up in a vivisection lab because they are a "dangerous" mutation (look, they even have temptresses in their heads - well, the second mutation I saw, didn't) and the owner of this lab, while urging people to kill their children at the first sign of Diclonism, has provided his own Diclonius offspring with wig and social cover and is as dangerous and as ready to kill, without the mitigating factors of abuse history or tempting voices in his head, as the escaped lab rat he hunts; in fact, he, not even a mutation himself (as far as I can tell) is the actual driving force behind this whole Diclonius takeover scheme. Yet he is permitted this megalomania within the context of the series, while every destructive act from the lab-rat girls is turned into "look how important it is to keep these creatures under control!" Or maybe the makers of this series are carefully trying to suggest that danger doesn't always come from the mutants? In either case, my reaction is HOW STUPID DO YOU THINK I AM? I don't need to be educated on the subject of human hypocrisy, so save this crap for the kind of people who still believe in the Communist revolution. Good night. I'll be sleeping to recharge energy for series that deserve my attention.

On the morning of a new and brighter day, I felt that Asagiri no Miko was such a series. Even if the main character manages, unbelievably enough, to not only crash into but onto a senior boy with her bicycle and her friends defend her against his anger with "yes she did almost send you to hospital, but she has a Kind Heart". She is a shinto priestess - "miko" - in training; her older sister who does the training is a fully qualified priestess and, as later eps show, experienced in magical battles. The younger sister, attending the kind of school where everyone has to be in a club, starts a shinto club. The club is a little low on interest and members until its president becomes acquainted with a boy whose eyes have two different colours. Suddenly club membership goes to five, because the head miko's boyfriend is soooo cute - the sight of him talking to the crusty senior almost biked to death in ep 1, immediately triggers shonen ai fantasies in the girls' minds. She has a more protective than romantic attitude to him, because those differently coloured eyes have a meaning; practically speaking, although we're not allowed to know yet why, he's a monster magnet, and she has to drive off the monsters with her funky priestess techniques. Techniques that the other club members will also have to learn, if they are to do anything more than puzzle the monsters by standing around. (Although the priestess-in-training also employs non-magical methods - that accidental bicycle attack of hers is put to good use later!) Just the first few eps offer almost constant monster-battle (and some scariness when she walks down the corridor with the strange-eyed boy who remarks that this corridor is awfully long; his eye then starts glowing red, as does the corridor, and it's clear they've walked into Monsterspace!) and - what I like about the series - comical dialogue between the members of the club, one of whom is rather an enfant terrible, as they almost accidentally defeat some very strange creatures using exotic weapons and methods like a fan dance or a vortex-inducing plaited ribbon on a stick: that's the closest I can come to describing this standard accessory of shinto priests. And little did I know that being trained as a shinto priest chiefly means getting bucketloads of cold water thrown over one's head!

Shingetsutan Tsukihime, translated as "Lunar Legend", requires (a) a love of gore and (b) more patience than I had when dropping with sleep and desperately seeking funny. This show isn't funny. The art is "grownup", no big eyes, not even visual comedy. The main character, who had been living elsewhere, is ordered to return to his old home when his father dies. The new boss around the house is his sister (so mum is dead?) who commands a couple of domestics and instantly imposes a curfew on the young man as part of the house rules. (He sees why when he slips out of the house after dark to buy a few hentai comics and is attacked by something. Of course the icy sister curls her lip at what she finds in his shopping bag.) So why are monsters after him? He doesn't have odd-coloured eyes, but he does need special glasses so he won't see lines on everything. This is treated as an eyesight defect but is, of course, his style of second sight. He kills a woman - it's shown so vaguely and rapidly that I barely noticed it - and later sees her sitting in the park on a bench, enumerating with a smile all the sections he carved her up into. Since he butchered her so brutishly (which doesn't explain why she's sitting there in one piece) he owes her one, so she decides he'll be her bodyguard. Against what, becomes obvious when in some ghostly house he's attacked by werewolves, zombies, the lot; and when he thinks he can escape them by jumping on the elevator, more are waiting for him when the door slides open.

By now I was not only knackered but suffering from monster fatigue. So I left and did the unthinkable: sat down to the tag end of a live-action show for the animation that would follow it. Last con had already taught me how long the tag end of a live-action show can last, and I must say, I should have stayed to watch the monsters. But at least Moonchild wasn't a ninja movie. Hyde and Gackt, two names that mean exactly nothing to me but are the summit of rock'n'roll glamour in Japan (or so I understand) star in an Asian-market-ghetto gangster film (just to give an idea of the scenery) with a vampire. A family vendetta (inside the family) is killing one brother after another; the solitary sister is dying of a brain tumour. One surviving brother's vampire friend, who loathes himself and wants to die, refuses to grant her his kind of immortality, but will put off his suicide to help the brother through a tough time. The last of the family have a shoot-out just like in the "good old days", and it seems this will be the end, but the film ends in two vampires, together forever. I still don't know which one is Hyde and which one is Gackt, but the first vampire has a slight build and a shock of (peroxided?) fair hair that both remind me of David Bowie - another rock star and occasional actor to have played in a vampire film.

End of the con: was lack of sleep taking its toll on the staff? What seemed the right tape only replayed bits of earlier shows. Two staff members spun the tape forwards and backwards trying to find the right spot, and a third had to come in and help them until, half an hour later, the opening credits of Kyou Kara Maoh rolled over the screen. It was my last show for the day, so I was pretty relaxed about the delay. Ditto the opening scene: yet another anime bimbette is indulging in the typical anime female's habit of apologetically complaining about everything and nothing just to make conversation. She's heavily pregnant, has just caught a taxi to hospital and oh, it's the middle of summer and the hot weather is messing up her make-up. The gallant man who accompanies her says she looks beautiful and that in his country, this month is called "July" (nearest possible pronunciation: Yuri). Guess what she calls her newborn.

I know "yuri" as both a girl's name and the term for lesbian comics, but this is not what (seventeen years later) her son gets picked on for: apparently his name lends itself for puns on economical terms. He is by now your average skinny uniformed adolescent schoolboy having to cope with homework and school bullies. When a gang of these tries to intimidate a friend of his into coughing up money (the friend handles the situation quite elegantly) he attracts their attention. His friend escapes (to get help, it is shown later) and by way of revenge, the bullies grab him and push his head down a toilet bowl. He's pulled in completely and emerges on the other side in an alpine meadow. Medievally dressed people run away when he tries to ask them for directions, claiming he's the demon king. He concludes that this is a theme park. This conviction is not shaken when a ginger-haired and ditto-bearded horseman tells him they're wrong and invites him home. (This is Adelbert, the villain of the show, and pictures of him that I saw later look nothing like the character I remember. Was I getting him mixed up with someone else? Never mind. It was the end of the con. I was tired.) He is rescued, not that there seemed a reason to, by another group of horsemen, who are of the opposite opinion. By now his conviction that this is a theme park is beginning to falter. Adelbert admits that Yuri really is the new king of the mazoku (one of the many Japanese mythological creatures whose name is translated as "demon", but unlike most of these, the mazoku do have a reputation for brutality) and that he was just trying to deceive him, before galloping off. Okay, so maybe he's stuck in a fairytale fantasy: what does he have to do to get back home, rescue a princess? Kill a dragon? One of his rescuers, a whitish-haired man of the "Larva" type, is shocked at the suggestion: due to overhunting there are so few dragons left, that killing them is forbidden and there is a preservation programme to prevent their extinction. What he must do, says this man whose name is Gunter (many characters in this world have pseudo-German names) is ride to the castle with them and accept his position as king. Never having sat on a horse before, he gets through the gate successfully, then his horse takes fright and he's off on a wild ride ending in a fall on the castle steps. A dark-haired man worriedly offers to help him up, when Gunter's appearance makes clear who Yuri is, and he draws back in disgust. Even more disgusted is another character to which Yuri's first reaction is "Bishonen!" and who looks like a younger, more spoiled version of Jadeite. Yuri meets them again inside the castle, after a bath in an enormous swimming pool of a bathtub which he thought he had to himself, but which was also occupied by a svelte somewhat older woman, the previous queen and mother of three: pure-blood mazoku Gwendall - the black-haired man, who sees Yuri as an impostor; half-human Konrad, who has no magical power whatsoever and is the same gallant who accompanied Yuri's mother to hospital and gave him his name (so he's to blame for the endless name-punning the boy has had to put up with all this time!) and human-hating young Wolfram. A broad-minded person, she loves all three equally, complimenting Konrad on his success with the ladies and Wolfram on his popularity with the gentlemen ("But mother, I don't want to be popular with the gentlemen," the poor boy says desperately). Not so her pure-blooded sons; Wolfram has difficulty accepting Konrad as his brother, much less a half-human as his new king. Yuri himself isn't sure about the "new king" bit, since the claim that he is king is based on his having black eyes, black hair, and black clothes; which is rather common for Japanese schoolboys. But as this human half that young Wolfram spits on is his much-loved mum, he slaps the brat in the face. Gunter begs him to take it back, but he refuses. Mother claps her hands: let courtship begin! For it seems a slap in the face equals a marriage proposal. It's hard to say who's more aghast, Yuri or Wolfram (or Gunter, who, it's obvious by now, has a serious crush on his new monarch) but Wolfram has another score to settle with him and challenges the hapless boy to a magical duel, in which a projectile aimed at Yuri almost hits one of the maids. Anger transforms Yuri into the real demon king, who gives Wolfram a run for his money; after Yuri transforms back, he remembers nothing. At the end of the ep, he is pulled back into his world and out of the toilet by the help his friend ran off to get.

The second ep reveals that Yuri's outing was not that unexpected; where he assumes his mother will never believe what happened to him, mum knows full well that her dear husband and company employee is a mazoku, married him partly out of curiosity how the baby would turn out (she's the kind of person who would spend a fortune in a fantasy items shop) and wonders if her son is up to the task of rulership. This son is sucked back into the mazokuverse when showering after baseball practice and presented with a huge pile of paperwork. Saved by the bell: he's called into an emergency meeting over yet another human uprising. There are humans in this world, and they don't get on too well with mazoku, who in turn, just can't understand their new king's pacifist tendencies. News reaches them that a village has been set on fire. Wolfram, whose opinion of Yuri seems higher now, takes him to the village with an armed escort, Adelbert almost traps them (so far, he appears to be the leader of the human resistance movement) and more anger at injustice provokes another bout of demon king possession. Between scenes like these, there's humour aplenty, like Gwendall's inventor friend Anissina who reminds me of the mad professor of Tristia, except that she also uses him as a guinea pig, and the dignified Gunter going apeshit each time his beloved king gives him the slip. At first I didn't think anything about Yuri's calling Wolfram "bishonen", because he clearly thinks in cultural icons, but by the end of the second ep I'd seen so many "gay" gags that I wonder if this is going somewhere, and whether Wolfram will end up accepting Yuri's proposal.

(Spoiler: only the end of the series will tell, but Wolfram takes the engagement very seriously and will not tolerate his intended consorting with possible rivals M/F. Since Yuri travels between the two worlds on contact with water and may therefore pop up in people's bathtubs, Wolfram has plenty to get jealous about!)



Footnote:

1. Not much of an improvement where the relationship is concerned, but it explains his friends' disapproval: she's not dead, she's in coma. The animecon of 2009 showed the sequel, Kimi ga Nozomu Eien Next, where she wakes up from her coma to find her boyfriend has been cheating on her. I took care not to watch.



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