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Animecon 2008 - "10th anniversary"



There is some evil spirit that doesn't want me to watch anime. Two cons ago I missed the first shows because I was waiting for the person I'd have to share hotel rooms with. Last con I missed them through being bogged down in traffic jams during the Night of Hengelo. This con I had everything sorted out and was early enough to make it to the con at opening time - 16:00 - and, having the options of travelling by public transport and waiting for the con's own shuttle bus, decided on the latter. STUPID mistake. The bus drivers ignored the printed timetable if they came at all, and after several HOURS of waiting I asked for one of the con booklets that had been dropped off at Hotel Hengelo's entrance desk and read through it to see what I was missing. The first show, Serial Experiments Lain, which fell under the con theme of "anime of 10 years ago" since it was the Animecon's 10th anniversary, started not at 16:00 but at 15:00, when I was still waiting, not for the shuttle bus, but for the shuttle bus tickets to arrive at Hengelo. And when, many missed shows and events later - once purely about anime, the con has incorporated more and more events like cosplay, dance workshops and even a j-pop concert - we did arrive at Almelo, the bus had to stop several streets away from the con hotel because it didn't fit in the hotel's driveway. I was lucky where bus times were concerned; some con-goers' expensive dinner vouchers went to waste because they missed dinner. The dinner buffet was Japanese cuisine again, the same as at previous cons, and I'm rather happy about that because every new con draws first-time visitors, and con veterans like me know what to expect and where the good stuff is. The salmon teriyaki, folks. To die for.

After so much frustration, Sayonara Zetsubo Sensei, even if I just burst into the middle of it, was a good con opener. The main character is a ragged-haired young man in glasses and traditional wear who teaches at a girl school. His real name is Itoshiki Nozomu, but a chipper young lass from a Buddhist family combines the kanji of his name into "zetsubo", despair, and as that name suits him to a T, it sticks. She later does this to his brother, a doctor who strongly resembles him, going to his practice because she feels feverish, combining the kanji of his name into "death", and then going home because she doesn't feel so ill after all, leaving "doctor Death" pounding his head against the wall. More notable members of this class are a very young illegal immigrant who innocently believes she can buy the identity of another, deeply depressed schoolgirl - has the Buddhist girl been at work again? - and a speechlessly shy girl who, when the teacher kindly gives her his mobile phone number to open up a communication channel, reveals herself a spammer and hatemailer who terrorizes the class: the "meru meru!" notifications buzzing on the many mobile phones take on an ominous sound. The only person unaffected by this telephone terror is the immigrant girl, who can afford nothing better than... a pager!

With running gags like the hatemailer, who crumbles each time her victims are out of range, and opening credits that sing "bure bure bure" over images of twisting hands and schoolgirls hanging in bondage gear - fully dressed, there's no fan service... yet - this series is comedy in the same vein as Pani Poni Dash, and likewise the teacher gets little teaching done, although he does find time to take his class to spa resorts. The humour, which is absurd to start with - the teacher contacts every shop in the neighbourhood to not sell things to a man he suspects of physically abusing his daughter, the shopkeepers imagining every item he wants to buy as an instrument of torture, even a simple rubber, and it turns out she's in bandages all the time because she likes playing with lions - takes a deep dive into absurdity when the class is invited (and/or abducted) to a marriage ceremony at his parents' house: they are to stay on the premises for 24 hours and whoever he lays eyes on, he has to marry. "Zetsubo-sensei" is a master at avoiding eye contact, for which reason his parents have procured a multi-eyed monster whose stare he can't avoid. It's just as well that his devoted class rescue him (they want him for themselves) and the monster ends up betrothed to one of the men hired to lure him into a trap.

I'll reproduce the description from the booklet to explain why the next show I went to see was Darker than Black: "In Tokyo, a bizarre field appears that is impossible to analyze. Coinciding with this "Hell's Gate" is the appearance of humans possessing new forms and new powers. Thess criminally insane beings are fearfully called "Contractors" and sometimes brutally murder others." The criminally insane murder stuff didn't interest me but mysteries - a bizarre field, impossible to analyze! - are a challenge. And here goes. In a scene that uses the standard anime character designs, a young woman falls sobbing into the arms of some morose young man who hires a scruffy room. She came here to research something and, to pay her bills, started working at a night club, to which she slowly became addicted. And now she just wants to get out of here and run away with him. Which may be a good idea as people are on his trail with evil intent, and I'm in suspense as he goes back to the room they're homing in on, but when they arrive the room is empty and the bird has flown. That's it. Maybe it would have made a difference if I'd watched the series from the start, but much as I like a mystery, a little explanation shouldn't be too much to ask for. And, please, no dipshit girls who need to be saved from the addiction of showing their boobs. With characters like that, I have low hopes for the mystery element. Next!

Dante, half-demon from Devil May Cry, is another morose young man - white-haired, albino? - who, named for the poet who so vividly described the torments of hell, lives the life of a pizza-loving demon hunter with a permanent cashflow problem. Not only that, but a kick-ass babe (expect plenty of those in a grim series like this) regularly comes round to either collect money from him or force him into dangerous missions. His first mission, forced on him not by the kickass babe but by some man (police officer?) who threatens to stop the pizza deliveries, is transporting a little orphan who turns out to be a wealthy heiress, to the house where she must collect what she's entitled to within a certain time, before which time, of course, she's targeted by every demon in the city. She is about eleven or twelve, the age when girls can be incredibly snooty brats, and annoys the heck outta him (and outta me) by insisting on manners and nice behaviour. Unfortunately she isn't killed in a grisly scene but she wasn't the real heiress after all, just a decoy chosen for having the same name, and rather than going back to the orphanage she finds it necessary to stick around and decorate his house with ribbons. Okay, the demons are cool, and I realize the money problems and the prattling brat are attempts to introduce some humour into an otherwise grim show, but I would rather have it all grim. Next!

Dennou Coil was my discovery of the evening. The situation and animation remind me of My neighbour Totoro: young girl with even younger sister move to countryside with their father. In this case, "countryside" is a small town and as the two wait, the young'un insisting that their dog do some trick like a handstand to amuse them, dad sends them a message that they won't be picked up by him but by grandma, which dismays the older sister as she really dislikes grandma. This dog is a cyberpet, and the con booklet has already explained what cyberpets are. In this rather mild, humdrum vision of the future, people wear goggles that allow them to see cyberspace, a computerized 3D overlay over the real world, and incorporating it. This does mean that this cyberspace has to be kept updated all the time, or one may step into a hole because the outdated VR seen through the goggles still displays an intact floor. In this cyberspace live cyberpets, advanced kinds of Dogz that can be seen, heard and even touched. Although, being computer programs, they are supposed to have no will or emotions, they are of course exactly like ordinary pets, the ugly but sweet and loyal cyberdog even breaking down and crying in a dustbin after a day of nerve-wracking events including abuse from the intensely irritating younger sister.

The story takes off with the older sister accidentally catching a lost cyberpet. A schoolgirl her own age, a self-appointed hunter of lost cyberpets, offers her a reward for it and snatches it away, to the anger of a competing boy. She will later give this reward back to have her own dog saved when it jumps through some sort of VR gate, and be brought to the leader of the cyber-gang, who is - surprise - her granny! Who also takes care of the dog after it has been invaded by a cybercreature made by a super hacker who, after some heckling, becomes the leader of the competing gang formerly headed by the ruffian boy. Both sides go in search of "bugs", visible as gems through the goggles and found in piles (though most of them of little worth) in deserted places where the integrity of cyberspace is compromised. In the town itself, cyberspace integrity is guarded by the bug-destroyer Satchii (short for something, which I've sadly forgotten) who targets anything impure, including the poor cyberdog after its infection and the cyberpet hunter for her equipment, which is of shady legality, like most items from granny's shop. A monstrous big yellow egg-shaped blob with little chicken feet sticking out at the front and pockets for hovering eyeball cameras in its sides, this cybercop materializes out of walls, happily announcing "Boku Sat-chiii!" It can't enter school buildings and stops short at the entrance gates of temples, not because of any spiritual property of the latter but because Satchii belongs to a different municipal department than Education and Religion. In fact, if one really must cross its territory, there is one simple way: take off one's VR goggles. The girls do so and look like extremely myopic people without their glasses: they haven't had their goggles off in years!

In Hatenkou Yuugi, a girl called Rahzel is kicked out of the house by her father to "see the world" and runs into a stoic young man called Alzeido who wants revenge on the murderer of his father. What I see when walking into the middle of the story is not one but two male companions, a nondescript brown-haired one and one with the same white hair and morose bearing as Dante - themes tend to repeat in anime. I also see a very young boy - probably not Alzeido - who is desperate to kill someone as revenge for having killed someone else but is tied in an emotional double bond by a cold purple-haired person who logically reasons that if he kills someone for that reason, she must for the same reason kill him too, and he wouldn't want that, now would he? Oh, that does it. Anime tends to be as morally heavy-handed as its morals are inconsistent. One moment it is Right to massacre people and end your life to save your honour, the next moment everything has changed and the Thing To Do is forgive and live a long and happy life. I think it is Right not to dictate people's choices in life through the medium of japanimation. Next!

If Appleseed 3 was irritating, at least it was gorgeously animated. Although seeing announced in the opening credits that Deunan's outfit was created by Prada made me think "so that's what the story is really about". The main players, as in the normally animated previous film where the main female is drawn more cleanly, is less dippy and is mostly special for being ambidrextrous, ie. able to shoot with both hands, are Deunan and her cyborg partner Briareos. Deunan is an excitable little firebrand. Briareos is a huge muscular half-machine whose head has antler-like antennae and whose face is a collection of headlights. Despite his unique fighting abilities - those muscles of his are special because they are connected to a kind of superior nervous system, for which he is called 'hekatoncheir', creature of a hundred arms - he is hurt in a fight between the police unit and thugs/terrorists because Deunan rushed in too quickly. This was of course necessary to save the hostages, just as it is necessary to continually fight criminal elements in a supposedly perfect society: Olympus, run by Bioroids, artificial humans who have had all their negative emotions (whatever those are) removed. One of those Bioroids is some sort of embassador, a friend of Deunan's, who gives her the VR goggles that everyone is wearing these days, and dresses her up as a pseudo-Egyptian belle with badly fitting wig for the party that she invited her to. The other one is Tereus, made from the same genetic material as Briareos and assigned to Deunan as her partner while Briareos undergoes repairs. She is furious at this because Tereus looks exactly like Briareos before his operation, and she might just fall in love with him (he does of course have this perfect dream-date-Ken face with not a hint of stubble) so, does the patrol chief want her to be unfaithful to her partner? Not only is this highly unprofessional of her, but the two males do in fact fight over her butt, so what happened to the removing of negative emotions? The most important problem to contend with, and the reason for the trouble in paradise, is "Halcyon", which, ironically, is based on the same lofty ideals as Olympus itself, and has agents in unexpected places. The most - in fact only - amusing part of the film is when Deunan asks the two men where they want to go, and they simultaneously come up with the same destination, then change their minds and again come up with the same destination, a different one this time, then crossly turn away from each other and sulk. Deunan does not of course trade her collection of headlights for a pretty face and in deeply dramatic style, all's well that ends well. Hm. Like I said, gorgeous animation.

I saw the tail end of Byousoku 5 centimeter which is supposed to be a really deep film about the ties between humans. Two friends, boy and girl, are separated when one of them moves house. They keep in touch, but gradually the contact fades. It ends with the boy, now older, wondering how life would be if their friendship hadn't died, or if he'd had a second chance. That's what I get from the synopsis. What I see is this guy who keeps avoiding a girl who keeps popping up close to him. A noteworthy moment is when he sees someone on the other side of the train crossing just before a train thunders past; after he's gone, it turns out to have been who he suspected it was. A play on loneliness, devoid of comedy or plot.

"The cape guy!" I thought when I saw Lost Universe, a title which I didn't immediately recognize but which had been shown at an animecon held before the turn of the century. This is an oldish show with japanimated "diamond-eyes" characters, and the characters are: a hyper young man with a cape fetish who needs his overcharged emotions to power his psi-blade, an AI that manifests as a hologram of a pink-haired young woman with a mark on the forehead, and a dippy brunette. The first two are some kind of space mercenary team and the dippy third is a space cop/spy who ends up in trouble whenever she finds out she's been tracing the same target that the duo were hired to catch or eliminate. I didn't like it last time, but now, having seen the show right from the starting episode which makes clear who's what, I could appreciate its rather rowdy humour.

Death Note is the kind of popular show of which people will say "Well if you haven't seen that show you must be living in a cave", which makes me want to immediately withdraw into the nearest cave. So far my only exposure to it had been a doujin called "Light Note", of which I didn't understand the jokes. Until now.

Yagami Light, successful student from happy family, finds a "death note", a notebook dropped into the human world by a Shinigami or Death God, with instructions: to kill someone, he must write that person's name and the manner of death in this book. With his scientific mindset and black/white view of justice, he soon starts experimenting, on people in jail, of course, since they are bad and don't deserve to live. After a while, the guilty Shinigami, a gaunt toothy feathery thing, drops in to see how his gift is being used, and discovers he's very partial to apples. He also discovers that this mortal, while neither evil nor overbearing, treats him as an equal - becoming quite cross to hear that using this death note has consequences that the instructions didn't mention, for instance - instead of showing the terror he's used to seeing from humans. The high death rate in jail attracts attention, as the country's justice system likes to punish crimes without unrequested help and sees a possible eliminator of criminals, not as a hero, but as a serial killer. So, a super detective called "L" is brought in - no one even knows what he looks like, let alone his real name - and a deadly battle of wits begins. Yagami has, until now, been able to access the information he needed because his father is the head of police, but since L might be able to trace him through that connection, he now also has to double-cross his family. This doesn't bother him in the slightest, as he imagines himself the God of Justice - as does L, and there's a nice split-screen showing them simultaeously indulging in their megalomania.

The Third might have been fun to watch. Might. The main characters are Honoka, 17, dressed raggedly-casually because life as a mercenary in a desert full of hostile life-forms (human and insectoid) means that pretty clothes wouldn't stay pretty for long even if she could afford them, and Bogie, her tank blessed with AI and the bad habit of commenting on her lifestyle when he would do better to keep his metaphorical mouth shut. What she does buy when she can afford it is gadgets and especially guns, because she's an avid weapons collector. Although being a mercenary (protecting people from desert pirates, mostly, and in that role she's built up a circle of friends) is not a good way to stay out of trouble in the first place, her gadget-mania gets her into more trouble because she uses "forbidden technology", an offence that, as shown during her visit at a local watering-hole, can get one dragged out of one's house by the armed forces of the Watchers, ethereal creatures observing the desert from floating forts. Without meaning to, she has become a resistance fighter in a careless sort of way, and that she hasn't been hunted down and killed yet is chiefly because one of these Watchers, in their typical cold and detached way, has feelings for her. But in rescuing an absent-minded young man with long white hair reminding suspiciously of a Watcher from some giant earwig-type monsters, she may have sealed her own doom. Not that one would think that this friendly, inoffensive man could be a cause of any sort of trouble, but of course we, the viewers, don't know what he is, and this mystery is supposed to make us fear the worst. Meanwhile, everyone makes fun of her and her new companion, including the doctor she came to visit at the watering-hole and who not only calls her into his office by broadcasting in the waiting room "Honoka, for breast surgery" but adds some contraceptives to the first aid kit she came to pick up.

Now, what makes the exploits of a tough-as-nails-but-heart-of-gold feisty young adventurer not funny to watch. Firstly, for such an independent girl, she sure bites whenever someone teases her about her "boyfriend". Do I sense another transformation from half-way useful character to the monstrosity known as "real woman"? She does start to break down and make mistakes from the moment this "boyfriend" enters her life. And to confirm my suspicions, the series has something even more annoying than Bogie's comments: an anonymous voiceover killing all humour by going on and on about these strange feelings she's never had before. Oh, what are they, these unfamiliar feelings raised in her heart by the mere presence of this clueless white-haired rescue case? I really can't begin to guess!

Shakugan no Shana is what was shown in the slot "Mystery Show". I've seen the opening eps of this at a previous con, with the main protagonists being Friagne, the hypervampire who feeds, not on blood, but on existence, and his devoted doll-minion Marian, who was apparently a Real Person at some time and hopes, after enough feeding on existence, to become a Real Person again. Their latest and most ambitious project, calling for much violence and special effects, is to devour a city. Shana thwarts them, seeming to succeed and almost failing and then miraculously by some plot device & extra suspension of disbelief succeeding after all, and - they die! Both of them! First the doll, then the white-suited Dracula. Darn! This had better be the ending eps or a separate OAV; the series just wouldn't be the same without them.

Claymore is the name of a big sword and, in this series, the popular term for the half-demon hybrids who carry this sword on their backs as they travel from one medieval settlement to another to find and kill demons. Demons eat people. They then morph into a likeness of their victims to eat more victims. A naive boy from a small town is appalled when one of these silver-eyed witches, as they are also called, slices into what he thought was his older brother. Since the already-eaten brother was his last relative, and out of gratitude, he accompanies the demon hunter on future journeys.

As the term "witch" implies, these hybrids are women, since apparently the hybridization process only works on women. They have some demon matter grafted onto their bodies, undergo a painful transformation process in which their irises turn silver - to light up gold when they use their special demon-conferred powers - and end up emotionless soldiers with no weaknesses and little need of food and sleep. They are directed by a secret organization in the form of a wizened man in black, who outfits them with clothing and equipment as needed, and appoint another of their kind to kill them when they feel their demon part rising to take the transformation to an undesired stage of completion. Consequently, they are typically young women, trained - as she tells her companion in her typical deadpan way - to act out various female roles, including smiling like a courtesan, and he hastily declines when she asks if he would like a demonstration.

Yes, we can feel this coming, can't we? These steely maidens must be taught to feel love. Clare, the demon-hunter who adopts the naive boy - a good idea as it turns out, because far from being a liability, he makes himself useful in her assignments and his presence somewhat dampens the ungrateful fear that people generally show towards their icy saviours - was herself adopted after being saved by a certain Theresa, a comparatively saucy character who turns rogue and takes human life when the village she has just rid of a demon is then massacred by purely human evil in the form of a band of robbers. Killing humans is dogmatically forbidden to demon hunters, even when there is every reason to. We can feel this coming too, can't we? Oh, the unfairness of it all...

Seirei no Moribito is about Balsa, a spearwoman who has to atone for her sins. What these are, I came in too late to see. She has an interesting circle of friends, including an old shaman, two orphans and a herbalist. A late addition is a very young prince whose bodyguard she has become, now that his father wants him killed for supposedly being possessed by some amphibian spirit that will cause a catastrophic drought. The first time I see the shaman, she is trying to contact a water spirit about this possession case. The emperor sends out his ninjas, not only against Balsa and his son, but also against this shaman, because there is of power struggle involving the court's astrologers, who don't want to be bested by someone outside their own field - it would have helped my understanding to have seen all this from the start. This show, much more than the previous one, is worth watching intently, not only for the (in my limited anime experience) original plot, but also for the aesthetics: when his bodyguard has been seriously wounded by the emperor's fighters and can only barely escape into the forest with him, the prince, who is not exactly spoilt but can certainly be called "soft", is given detailed instructions on how to travel across a very treacherous mountain path to get to the herbalist's house for help, and he only just succeeds. His laborious descent up and over the icy, slippery rocky ridge and descent into lush green fields is a succession of Kodak moments. As is the quest of the orphans to find the herbalist by making a tour of all the bath-houses he visits to sell his wares.

Despite my usual dislike of pirate shows, I gave Seihou Bukyou Outlaw Star a chance; after all, last con's pirate show had been a better watch than expected. In a rag-tag town, Gene Starwind, a debonaire young man whose stripy scars remind of kitty-boys, and his much more sensible eleven-year-old tech-wizard partner Jim Hawking, make a living doing odd jobs, their income being mostly spent on Gene's dates with prostitutes. What a godsend when a pretty-secretary type woman gives them an assignment that involves expensive component parts and transportation to some far-out place, but will also bring in a lot of money. Alas: the reason why Jim can't find anything suspicious when he checks her out is that she doesn't exist; when, somewhere the neck of the woods, attacks set in and the pretty gold wig comes off, she turns out to be none other than Hilda the space pirate and possessor of a mechanical arm, which is damaged in the fight. The container she has employed them to recover pops open, revealing a naked ghostly-pale young girl, and an "upload" is started. Since this process must not be interrupted, they're stuck until it's done. She offers an explanation if they repair the arm first.

The young girl is Melvina, an android built as navigator for a certain ship that Hilda also intends to steal, and then let Melvina guide it to the Mother Lode, a cosmic wishing well. Her rivals are, first and foremost, clans of space pirates who use a mixture of magic and technology, but other enemies will pop up later, like the Ctarl-Ctarl, a race of tough tiger-like humanoids, and some evil professor type. Assisting whichever enemy pays most are the MacDougall brothers, fearsome mercenaries whose only loyalty is to each other: Ron, the big burly suntanned one with a scar in one mouth corner, and Harry, the pale blue-haired pretty boy in his caribbean-cyberpirate outfit with decorative but hugely impractical bow. As themes tend to repeat in anime, they remind me of the Toguro brothers, except that the ages are reversed, and Harry does most of the killing (doing a smashing Toguro Ani impression: "Kill! Bwaahahaha! Kill!") while Ron picks up the earnings. There is even a vague Genkai reference when, after Hilda's death, Harry asks: "Wasn't that a waste? I mean, wasn't she kinda hot?" to which Ron dismissively replies: "She wasn't your type." As the question implies, when not on a killing spree, Harry is as naive and disingenuous as Melvina, which is no wonder as (surprise! yes, I Googled this) he is an android too, and even develops a major crush on her for this reason. Between this, the oriental assassin whose weak point is her sash, the Ctarl-Ctarl tigerkittygirl who joins our heroes after attempting to make them pay for her demotion, their spare-parts supplier Fred Luo, a wealthy merchant who sells at a discount and offers them odd jobs when funds are low because he has romantic feelings for Gene (but never ever at the expense of his financial shrewdness!) and Gene's own spacephobia resulting from a traumatic space trip with his dad that left him scarred and orphaned, there is much drama but even more irreverent humour, making this is the second space pirate series that exceeded my expectations.

Lucky Star is about, uh, cute girls doing things in cute ways. Or alarming ways, even to someone not brainwashed by Japanese culture. Starting with opening credits where girls of varying chest development do bouncy gymnastics, this subversive show moves quickly to a blue-haired athletic schoolgirl whose grades are low and whose achievements in athletics are ditto because she'd rather watch TV and play games. Hentai games, even, a habit she apparently picked up from her single father. The sharper of the two purple-haired twins that hang out with her says that if the police ever arrest her for something, this will come as absolutely no surprise. The dopey twin likes to sleep, and as explanation for her unfinished assignment at the end of the school holidays, a split-screen is shown of her sister getting up, eating, doing homework and pursuing various activities while she continues to sleep until deep into the afternoon. Even dopier is the pink-haired girl who, with her glasses, large chest and habit of prefixing every sentence with "Anooooohhhhh", is described in disgust by the blue-haired one as ultimate cuteness. When this pink-haired girl rings at the twins' apartment to find the dopey one still in pyjamas and a meaningless conversation ensues to cover up the embarrassment, her sister sighs: "It's like a reel of dumber and dumber."

Serial Experiments Lain is a bit like Ghost in the Shell in that it investigates the idea of a virtual identity. Communication over the Internet, with its nicknames and avatars, being a new phenomenon at the time, the question soon arose whether a virtual identity could exist independently within a computer network. In this series, a girl of about 14 commits suicide, but then contacts her friend via email to say that although she has lost her physical body, she is still alive and well as a 'net entity. In the spirit of fear and fascination that used to exist against such technology, the entity is a malignant one and the only part of the show I popped in for, plays an unsettling giggle. This was real theme-related material, being anime of 10 years ago, and its dated depiction of Evil Technology evokes a sense of nostalgia.

The Shinobu of 2x2 is Shinobuden is not an embittered and dying former ghost detective wanting to unleash demons on the human world to punish humans for the atrocities they have committed, but a dear simpleton of a girl who thinks she's in training as a ninja. In fact, she's the housekeeper and panties-procurer for a school of ninjas whose masks never come off, and their master, a talking yellow ball with Drama Queen Syndrome and the ability to morph into a noseless yellow human form to strike especially dramatic poses. The only resemblance is that she has black hair too, but when her much less simple-minded friend Kaede asks why, if she is a ninja, she wears a pink outfit instead of the usual black one, it becomes obvious why the yellow ball doesn't approve of their friendship. There's not much he can do about it, other than bellow, so he resigns himself to the situation and consoles himself, and his pupils, with hentai fantasies of what these girls are supposed to be doing under the shower. His fantasies generally border on the absurd, as does the show itself, the ninjas botching a picnic expedition and getting beaten to a pulp by a rival ninja school, and the yellow ball donning a "crocodile armour suit", which just happens to be a living crocodile, so the girls have to rush in and rescue him from the animal's jaws.

Themes tending to repeat in anime, the brothers Kamina (adolescent loudmouth) and Simon (sensible younger brother) in Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann remind me of the Gene Starwind/Jim Hawking duo above. They have escaped an underground village-slash-bunker into which their forefathers retreated from some surface threat, a threat that Kamina, in his typical over-the-top way, intends to challenge. He and his followers, including at least one kick-ass babe that he's making moves on (too bad he dies so early in the series, heh) move around in moderately-sized walking mecha resembling the even sillier rabbit-shaped mecha of the enemy Ganmen. Their battles against the Ganmen are silly, their battles against other human rebels are even sillier, the ambush in which the Ganmen, posing as a restaurant/bath-house, catch the females and offer to display these nude to the males in return for their surrender - Kamina, wearing only a kind of pouch, madly tries to jump a high wall to see the nekkid babes, while Simon, wearing only a drill, takes the slower but surer approach of drilling a peekhole in the wall - is beyond silly. It had me laughing, and so did Kamina's tragic death, shortly after that; sorry, I can't mourn for such idiotic characters.

Peach girl was a show I decided to skip, given the description of yet another badgirl versus lolita, with the usual inversion of character: "Momo is a high school girl with stunning skin and red hair, and she looks a playgirl. Because of her looks, she is always prejudged. However, she has a purer mind than anyone, but no classmates understand her. [...] Sae looks totally opposite to Momo; she has a white skin, and looks delicate. In spite of her looks, she is a bad girl who keeps stealing other girls' boyfriends." In fact, Sae is a school bully who finds she can make people do anything she wants by acting weak and victimized. She just happens to become "friends" with Momo who took pity on her for looking so lonely, and then proceeds to isolate her and ruin her life. Despite Sae's manipulations, Momo has one real friend who isn't fooled, although he disguises his feelings for her by acting the hentai schoolboy, and this friend so utterly exposes Sae that she is crushed into insignificance. Momo is rehabilitated and can take up her life again, make friends and start a relationship with the boyfriend that Sae was trying to steal. Unfortunately, seeing poor Sae so genuinely unhappy, Momo takes pity on her, and the former tormentor becomes a beaming, devoted slave. Momo and her clinging slave are invited to a fashion photo shoot where the cute little pale girl gets all the attention - so much attention, in fact, that she pops back into her former, evil shape. She's baaa-ack!

Why I didn't mind watching it after all: the animation is different from any other style at this con, neither diamond-eyed nor "moe" nor starkly realistic nor half realistic, half caricature, but just "normal"; these characters can't face-fault (the exception being Sae who gets kitty faces constantly). So the humour is not as hysterical and the situations not as far-fetched; Momo has to deal with small inconveniences like her swimsuit stitches coming apart during a race, and the embarrassment of a first kiss. Secondly, although Sae is kept around to spice things up a little, the series is clearly about Momo, the breezy beach girl who appears in the opening credits like some supermodel, and yet is such a simple, honest girl; she's a very relaxing character to watch, and I wish Sae, whose only function is to keep this feelgood show from becoming too boring, would just take a hike. It is not, or at least does not seem to be, a story of two opposites in character, where either character is also opposite to that character's appearance, who are bosom buddies despite or even because of their differences - that theme is old and hackneyed by now.

According to the booklet, I would be watching the Shakugan no Shana movie, but it took me a while to figure out that I was watching Bleach. Bursting into the middle as usual, I was treated to an anime bimbette whining and bitching and sulking at the boy who - like Yuusuke at the beginning of the Yuu Yuu Hakusho manga, before it turned to a fight-fest - assists the souls of the dead; in this anime, recognizable by the chain hanging from their backs. I've mentioned an anime bimbette drinking game before, here's another cue for breaking into the nearest liquor store and drinking everything in sight: after gaining everyone's hate by her bitchy unreasonable behaviour, the bimbette commands instant forgiveness and sympathy after having some tragic circumstance revealed. What the girl is agonizing about is that she is "dead", yet somehow revived, and has these many memories popping into her head that she tries to reconcile in order to construct a sense of identity. When she is captured by "renegades" - beings of the same kind as the boy's katana-wielding employer and her friends, but seeking revenge after being exiled - they say that she is no real human, just a collation of other people's lives and memories moulded together as a source of power for their revolt, and the "goodguys" say the same, deciding she must be destroyed rather than letting the badguys use her. Again there is a parallel with Yuu Yuu Hakusho: the scene after Yuusuke's second death and revival following the fight with Sensui, when Enma-Dayoh's elite forces (who the goodguys superficially resemble) try to eliminate him on the king's orders. Just like Koenma in this situation, some goodguys rebel against this monstrous disregard for the suffering individual and dive in for the rescue - not elimination - of this constructed entity, engaging in the sensational and fantastic combats I'm used to seeing in anime; because when, after their predictable failure, the boy checks out some of these memories, he sees that this girl has indeed never existed.

Spice and Wolf (in the Japanese title, the order is reversed: Ookami to Koushinryou) was a disappointment. I suppose I react all too enthusiastically to any title with "wolf" in it after Wolf's Rain.

The 600-year-old human-like "wolf" Horo is not a real wolf, nor an unspoiled creature of the wild. A fertility goddess with wolf ears and tail (in Japan, both wolves and foxes have been associated with fertility and good harvests, presumably because they eat the animals that can ruin a harvest), she isn't as worshipped as she used to be and, using a travelling merchant as her ticket out, shows herself as shrewd as, and slightly more of a swindler than, her companion. This is really off-putting about her. Due to the standard chara designs, she looks like an anime bimbette and, when it suits her, can act like one. She likes to drive the merchant, a young man with chin-stubble called Lawrence, to fits of exasperation. This series is based on a pseudo-historical novel painting a picture of a medieval world half Japanese, half European, and way, way before the euro; each country and city has its own currency with its own value based on the percentage of silver in the coin, and Lawrence has a jolly time teaching her the names of all the different types of dollars. (Dollars? Yes, dollars. The dollar, "Thaler" in German and "daalder" in Dutch, is originally a European coin. Although I'm not sure Europe ever had a "Tyrrhenian dollar".) This silver percentage takes on especial importance when, thanks to Horo's sensitive hearing (she can detect a coin's purity from the sound of coins shaken together) they discover a devaluation plot. And that's all from the series that's shown at this con, leaving me with no desire for more.



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