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Animecon 2009 - "Mental Maniacs"



This con was marked by a happy first: the hotel having built an extra wing, it was the first time I had a room in the con hotel itself! No more time wasted travelling up and down to Hengelo! Not that I watched more anime as a result, firstly because on the starting day of the con I was spectacularly ill, literally having to drag myself to Almelo (but by the evening, I'd recovered enough to enjoy the salmon teriyaki), and secondly because the ratio of anime shown to live action and other events is declining. When anime was new to Europe, it was so rare that anime convention visitors were content to sit and watch anime until their eyes bugged out; now, it's so widely available that today's rather spoilt con-goers read through the timetable and say: "Seen that, seen that, oh, I don't want to see that, what else is on? Para Para Dance Revolution! That sounds fun." In other words, convention content is increasingly shifting from animation to activities, and growing numbers of visitors come chiefly for the cosplay event. Being unwell, I'd started my journey early so I could crash in the hotel room and not miss anything - the con officially opens at 16:00, but the earliest shows start at 15:00 - but still lost an agonizing quarter-hour standing in the ticket line. This year the timetable sheet was handed out before the con booklet, so there was no waiting for booklets like last year.

A less happy first was that, still being unwell after the con's end (and in fact leaving a few hours early), for the first time I made no effort to scribble down any first impressions. As a result, I had to do a lot of websurfing while writing this to jog my memory about characters' names and plotlines. This did serve as a quality filter for the shows I watched, some of them standing out clearly in my mind while others made me go: "Huh? I watched that? What was it about?"

Having liked the first show centering on this adorable very young schoolteacher and the situations with girls that he gets himself into and that would be very embarrassing if he wasn't only ten years old, I thought that Negima!? would be a continuation. It was, as the booklet warned, a re-telling. This happens to anime series sometimes, where the same set of players get a different character and story - an example I've heard of being Mai-Otome which was a remake of Mai-Hime - and it strikes me as extra character milking that potentially ruins the show for fans of the original. In this case, the innocent innuendo of the first show turns into a kind of panty humour when poor Negi, teacher at a school which serves to keep a vampire trapped, has to kiss one girl after another to bond with them and use their superpowers against supernatural menaces. They're terribly squeamish about this rather meaningless kiss, and the more bonded girls he accumulates, the more jealous the firstcomers become. Their superpowered forms are a slapstick affair, giving the show a humour that lacks the original's charm. As usual, when the goodguys of a show are chewed too thin, attention turns to the villains: in this case, a vampire punished by spending eternity as a young schoolgirl, having to redo the same class every year, and her cyborg sidekick. Eternal school as punishment? I can relate to that.

In Soul Eater, a school that is truly and deliberately a nightmare is attended by two screechy- and scruffy-looking teens, first shown hunting "bad" humans so that Soul Eater, the albino and routinely teeth-baring male half of the duo - the "weapon" - can swallow the offenders' souls. The plan is to have the boy ingest 99 human souls and the soul of a witch, to turn him into a more advanced weapon, a Deathscythe. When they finally find a witch, not only does she flirt with him - to the fury of Maka, the girl, whose father, a real Deathscythe, is a womanizer and has made her lose all confidence in male fidelity - but she turns out to be a cat with magical powers, hence, useless for their purpose; she's a good sport about it, though, and has no bad feelings. Their school is clearly the kind that expects pupils to learn on the job, as they are often sent on assignments, where they clash with the rival team of an incredibly mouthy boy with a blue star on his shoulder and his complementarily shy, but much less ineffective female partner, and sometimes get some scary private tuition from Franken Stein, the most deadpan of the teachers, who has the irresistible urge to dissect people, including his former partner, Maka's father. When a third team is introduced consisting of a boy in black with three black bars across his forelock and an extreme obsession with symmetry, and his lamentably asymmetrical pair of female weapons, the suspicion is confirmed that this show is not completely serious. This boy, who almost loses his life in an Egyptian tomb because he focuses solely on the asymmetry of its contents, is the son of the school's headmaster, Shinigami (ie. Death) who has cubist gloves for hands, and makes appearances as comic as the derangedly grinning sun and moon hanging over the city of eternal Halloween.

In total contrast, Chi's sweet home is the series of short and highly simplistic episodes in the life of Chi, the kitten that loses its mother. Initially - that is, before I wandered into the video room - the kitten only wants to find its mother, but after a while, especially after a cold and scary night alone, it is content to stay with the little boy who found it at a playground and took it home to his parents' apartment, where pets are not allowed. Several episodes cover the kitten's attempts to climb onto the windowsill, and the parents' panic at seeing it behind the windowpane while looking over the shoulder of the neighbour they were chatting to about rumours of a cat in the neighbourhood. Finally, the mother hits on the idea of filling up the windowsill with stuffed animals so a kitten sitting among them won't be noticed. Two other projects are taking the kitten to the vet (a traumatizing experience - first it's locked into a dark hamper, then it finds itself in a waiting room full of... dogs!!) and cutting its nails. The poor father becomes deeply hated by little Chi for the part he plays in these abuses, and does his best to make amends. The last episode-spanning project in this microcosm of kitty joy and sadness is how to make kitty sharpen its claws on something other than daddy's expensive trousers.

D.Gray-Man is a show that just happened to be playing when I wandered out the dinner room. The scene is... seventeenth century Europe? The protagonist is Allen Walker, a boy with a shiny eye and a "weapon" arm (cybernetic? it changes into a weapon). The plot is... yet another Bleach variant. Again, the dead are among us instead of their own realm where they should be. Again, this is a bad thing because their powers are harnessed for evil purposes. The evil dead are now called Akuma ("bad spirits") instead of Hollows, and they are called to this world by people who just can't let go of their beloved dead ones. Harnessing them is the Earl who - how original - wants to use them to destroy the world. The boy in question has been "cursed" with the ability to detect Akuma and to fight both them and the Earl.

Perhaps due to his tender age, self-esteem is not his strong point. He comes to a stronghold (headquarters?) of the Akuma-exterminating Black Priest Organization with an air of "uh, I think I'm supposed to help you" and of course gets caught up in a battle at its very gates. Some of the priests are unimpressed with him, others judge him more kindly, and the series might be interesting for all the characters in this organization and the way they work together. It might also be worth watching for the Akuma who are created as follows: the Earl visits a newly bereaved human, shows a skeleton that can house the soul of the deceased, and asks the human to call the deceased back to this world. But the soul thus recalled is trapped in the skeleton and compelled to obey the Earl's orders. Not all souls are happy to do this, or to return at all, and as with the Hollows, it is amusing and touching to see the Akuma that deviate from their evil role, and/or gratifyingly horrifying to see them being destroyed.

The title Goshuushou-sama Ninomiya-kun was one of those that made me think "What was that again?". Shungo, a high school student has two sisters forced on him by his own sister, one of them with a phobia of men, who has come to live with him specifically so she can overcome this phobia. A higher-ranking student who is interested in Shungo himself has been blackmailed into becoming their maid. During a vacation on the beach... aha, that rung a bell. I did indeed recall a teenage martial arts champion being constantly besieged by shadowy enemies while also trying to have a relationship with a clumsy pink-haired bimbette while a sharp, smart, pretty woman tries continually to seduce him and, each time, hilariously fails.

The same hole gaped in my memory pertaining Toradora! about a friendly guy with the eyes of a thug, something that negatively affects his social life and chances of finding a girlfriend. Looking it up and finding something about his protagonist being a very short girl with a fearsome temper who makes his friend do her housework jogged my memory. Ah yes. The big quiet guy with pinprick pupils and the little firebrand who can't cook. Hm.

An even deeper hole gaped for Kara no Kyoukai (Garden of Sinners), which I watched somewhere between Friday night and Saturday morning. I had noted the title, but when starting the write-up, could recall only that other bizarre show with garden-of-Eden connotations, Mnemosyne no Musume-tachi. So I assumed this title had snuck in by mistake, especially as I remembered nothing connected with the description of the show: a girl called Shiki who has a male alternate personality called SHIKI loses this alter ego after a car accident. So I deleted it. It was not until the following year that seeing the Kara no Kyoukai Movie parts 6 and 7 jogged my memory; part 6 shows a chain-smoking redhead giving orders to a very friendly, harmless boy and his snappish sister. She is part of a group of people that fights a villain mastermind called the Meister and, like Rin of that other series, an unflappable thirtyish woman who survives anything. Fragments of memories: the boy is sent to an apartment building that is a kind of secret base for the Meister: everything about it and its inhabitants is fake, as somehow proved by chains and machinery in the basement. The redhead faces down a foppish opponent who fights with chains, and the Meister himself, who succeeds in killing her in a gory scene (I remember guts) and tears off her head to put it in a jar, gurgling over his trophy; but somehow this was a spare copy of herself and the real one is still alive. Despite the gore, I remember it was quite funny.

Sky Crawlers is much more realistic than the whimsical anime comedies that fit so well with this year's theme "Mental Maniacs", and completely mirthless. The premise: there is peace, but people need war. To satisfy this need while maintaining peace, a fake war is held high above the Earth, like an ongoing big football game in the sky. The soldiers are immortal teenagers who, when killed, are re-cloned. Are the teenagers happy with their neverending military service? Not really. The camera steers away from the big explosions to follow the off-duty lives of two recruits in particular: an absent-minded boy and a weepy, angry, unattractive girl who snarls from afar at the pretty women dating her male colleagues. The boy, a top-rate pilot, is more confused than absent-minded, as he is the clone of a previous top-rate pilot, and struggling with hazy memories of an earlier life. Their superior scandalizes the angry girl by having a child (and a nice house, and a basset that comes running up to greet mummy coming homde from work along with the little girl in a touching wartime family scene) for it is tacitly understood that although they live forever, the Sky Crawlers are not allowed to get a life. The absent-minded boy, in his previous life, was her lover. Notwithstanding the orphan she'd leave behind, she begs him to shoot her. He does.

Running away from all this misery, I found in Monochrome Factor an anime that fits the theme again. Akira is a typical schoolboy who runs into an androgynous gentleman with long pale hair, top hat and trenchcoat and, if I recall correctly, an umbrella or walking stick which becomes an important prop in fights with The Supernatural. As in Bleach, a "normal" schoolchild is dragged into a fight between "good" people with superpowers and denizens of the after/otherworld. But where the protagonist of Bleach has a sword shoved into his hand and is kicked into battle by a surly girl who pretends to be a wide-eyed innocent schoolgirl before his friends, the poor sap in Monochrome Factor is told that the balance between the normal and the shadow world is upset and that to right it, he has to become a shadow himself, by a much more courteous character who has the goodness to remain invisible to his friends, and uses this advantage to make the occasional playful pass at him. Moreover, in saving him from nasties, the kind invisible friend takes much more damage than he dishes out, and Akira has to take him to a special medic for supernatural goodguys to save his life. Between the humorous innuendo and the rather serious battles (for once, victory is not assured, at least at the start of the series) a bond starts to develop between the gangling teen and the (from the teen's point of view) weird, creepy man following him around, as they become each other's protectors.

Where humour and grim reality are concerned, Amatsuki is somewhere in the middle. Tokidoki, a student whose history grades are low, goes to a history exhibit to improve them. The history exhibit is a virtual-reality reconstruction of the Edo period, explains an older student who hides a helpful nature under a surly expression. In this virtual-reality setting, he crosses a bridge and is attacked by a leonine monster that blinds him in one eye. What follows can be guessed by seasoned anime watchers: he has been transported to past. Finding help from some villagers including the village monk, he meets again with the surly student who has crossed the same bridge, fought the same monster - he has lost the use of his arm - and arrived in the same spot a few years before. Living with the monk is a young girl with a family ailment: she is an inukami, a were-dog monster with magical powers. So far, it's serious.

In sweeps a samurai lord with his followers, yelling that the drying laundry is in his way and threatening to rape the girl until she demonstrates her off-putting inukami nature. This samurai embodies everything that is bad about authority and the feodal system. Using his modern scientific knowledge, the half-blind student, helped by the villagers, rigs up some special effects to give the samurai a good scare. That's the funny part.

The samurai's accusation of witchcraft brings an investigator to the scene who, after being reassured that it's all science and no magic (otherwise, the shogun would have had them executed), sends the two students and the inukami to a mysterious "princess" who, after they have crossed some real magical barriers to arrive at her hidden village (since the inukami has set off alarms) meets them in the form of a talking wooden doll. And now the series veers into the fantastic.

The boy's blind eye, with which he can see "demon" things - again, standard anime fare - has a significance in the conflict between humans and a few colourful and, occasionally, funny gods, notably a winged young man who is a tengu, a bird-like spirit that stirs op trouble. He is connected with the curse of the princess, who dies at the end of each day and whose spirit is stored in a wooden doll until "she" (actual gender uncertain, suggestion: male) revives. But "conflict" may be a strong word; there is something going on, but it's not clear who is on which side, let alone what the sides are.

Jumping from the past to the future: Real Drive/Sennou Chousatshitsu would be interesting if it wasn't for the dumb main female character who exists mostly to emote, be disingenuous and ask silly questions: in short, she's there to make all other characters look less dumb, even the android secretary/bodyguard (later to enter into combat with a crazed prizefighter in an ep revolving around an exclusive pair of sunglasses) who explains without a trace of embarrassment that she was created with an ideal body type and that few Japanese women have a bosom as large as hers. What does the future hold in store: all human memories are merged to form a global virtual world, a psychological Internet, called "Meta Real Network", or "Metal" for short. As in the real thing, some people just can't handle the freedom of this virtual anything-goes playground, and have to be rescued by "divers". The dumb girl lives at a divers' agency and is the grandchild of one of these divers, an old man in a wheelchair who regains his ability to walk when diving. Since the main character is so clueless, it follows that the episodes can be exasperatingly dumb, such as the aforementioned ep revolving around said pair of sunglasses. For those who don't mind shallowness, the series is still interesting for the way in which people enter the Metal: even though that place is virtual, they physically enter a cable cab that takes them to an underseas city. Since the diving agency is already close to shore in what could pass for a breezy tourist resort, this form of virtual reality takes tourism one step further.

Aria the animation is about tourism plain and simple. Akari is a gondolier in training. She works on a planet called Aqua, in the city of Neo Venezia. The gondoliers, called Undines and employed by the Aria Company (hence the name) look like Sailor Scouts in long dresses with their multicoloured hair and vaguely naval outfit. Being a beginner, Akari spends little time on the gondola and mostly takes calls from tourists who want a ride, although when she does get to hold a paddle, some sort of adventure happens, like an animal that needs rescuing. From her constant happiness at being a gondolier and desire to improve her gondolier skills, it is clear that this girl is more than slightly dippy. For those not irritated by her attitude or the stupid cat creature following her around (of which I still don't know which blobs are the eyes, and which the eyebrows) this series is very relaxing eye-candy for its lack of drama and lovely views.

When I saw the third main character, a quiet, narrow-eyed youth, in xxxHolic Kei, I was reminded of Toradora!, but this series is much, much more interesting. The second main character is a younger, more naive, and therefore larger-eyed (and he has glasses, too) youth who works for what I consider the first main character: a mysterious woman who spends most of her time lounging, preening and elegantly drinking tea. That she qualifies as "witch" is obvious even from the way her house (shop?) is disguised: from the outside, it looks like a shopfront with nothing behind it. But she is not the evil kind, more a decoratively supernatural teacher at the Lessons of Life school. The younger boy starts working for her as payment for a wish: his older friend having been hurt by a spider spirit, he wants to draw the wrath of the spider on himself instead to save his friend. This friend then makes another wish to re-route the spider's wrath to its original victim out of the same noble motive, which culminates in the spider taking and swallowing the younger boy's eye... Obviously, the main lesson is about the gratuitous self-sacrifice that is always being glorified in anime. That said, the series is not preachy but lightly and refinedly (mostly due to the first main character) humorous. The two youths are unfazed that they are working for a witch, they don't freak out at poltergeist phenomena, and when their books are suddenly under attack from a bookworm - an entity that sucks the print off the pages - they are more concerned with finding a way to save the books than with screaming that this can't be happening.

I never did watch the original series in the right order, so I don't know whether Evangelion Shin Gekijouban: Jo is a redo like Negima!?. This series starts when Shinji is recruited as an Eva pilot, which brings him to the base, the kind, pretty and slovenly female officer who more or less adopts him, and his cold father, who orders him into battle shortly after he arrives and, when he doesn't feel up to it, sends in an obviously wounded Rei instead. In a later battle, daddy dearest shows his callousness by refusing to let Shinji retreat even though the attacking Angel is giving the poor boy the illusion of being on fire. Redo or not, the Angels are visually interesting, especially the one that keeps changing shape to penetrate one defence mechanism after another.

To Love-Ru has the same premise as Urusei Yatsura: a normal schoolboy encounters a female from another planet and mistakenly makes her fall in love with him; he then has to humour her while trying not to upset the girl he is in love with himself. This boy is no lech like Ataru, and his one true love doesn't even know about his feelings yet; this only makes the slapstick come out stronger.

The female from another planet is Lala, a pink-haired girl in a cream jacket with puffy sleeves and ruffled tails and a large, disturbing headdress; it is disturbing because it has two batwing-type decorations on the side and two swirls on the front, like the eyes of a dizzy anime character. The outfit is so futuristic that it reshapes itself at her command. She arrives on this planet in a dumpy little spacecraft with, if I recall correctly, a furry sidekick, crashes, runs from two avid pursuers, crosses paths with Yuuki who, seeing her distress, immediately helps her escape and almost ends up vacuumed up into a big bag. Her captors have been sent by the Emperor, her father, who wants her to return home and marry one of the many candidates who have lined up for her. Yuuki gives an impassioned speech about only marrying for love, which Lala takes as a love declaration. This is reported back to her father, who decides that, yes, he will accept this boy's proposal, if he can defend himself against all the other candidates. If not, he isn't allowed to marry her (fine, fine) and planet Earth will be destroyed (ulp). While Lala stays at Yuuki's house, waiting for him to prove his worth, and Yuuki wonders how he will ever be able to confess to his true love with that pink-haired thing clinging to him, the pursuers also lounge about the house, now in the role of bodyguards. It's comedy every second as Yuuki, appealing to the furry sidekick for help, tries to wangle his way out of the engagement without having his home destroyed.

A short description of Mnemosyne no Musume-tachi (Daughters of Mnemosyne) that does not do justice to the series would be "lesbian horror series with gratuitous religious references". Rin Asogi, a normally sized woman, runs a detective agency with her short, lolita-like assistant Mimi, who brings her vodka every morning when she asks for water (because, after all, vodka is Russian for water) and who generally flirts with her. A shaggy old dog completes their cosy office. The assignments she gets are far from normal; the first assignment I saw was not so much a real assignment as a plea for help from a lost-looking boy who feels that he isn't real. Going to a pharmaceutical research centre where he once applied for a job, it becomes clear why: he was pressed into service as guinea pig and cloned to be used in multiple gruesome experiments; the original is dead, the boy who came to Rin's office is one of the clones. Rin is caught and tortured to death ("death by piercing") by the sadistic doctor who is about to welcome her lost clone back, but whenever Rin dies, she regenerates (which she would rather do in privacy as it is apparently a grisly sight) and so she scrambles out of a locker to unleash a horde of mutants (more test subjects) on the doctor who, when one of the mutants stabs her, screams that it hurts - apparently she never learned that what comes around, goes around. Though both freed and enlightened, the clone still feels lost, so he becomes Rin's second assistant. Life continues and in the next ep, he is a middle-aged man with a family, although Rin and Mimi haven't aged and their office still comes with the same shaggy old dog. In this episode, where every person who receives a certain stamp dies shortly afterwards, the reason for the women's immortality becomes clear: they have swallowed a spore from the tree Yggdrasil. These spores, released constantly into the air, make women immortal, but turn men into short-lived, four-winged monsters called "angels" who will attack such immortal women and eat them, as Rin says, down to the bone; something the women can barely defend themselves against, as the sight of an angel inspires them with a paralyzing passion. I've read that this is a six-ep OAV, and every one of the four eps shown contains gore, mutilation and some sort of sex, the most amusing instances of the latter being the "payment" that a secret agent demands for her information. Although the surroundings change to indicate the passing of time - the last ep I saw was about virtual reality and a self-replicating cybergirl which turns out to be a program for collecting information from people, in this case through cybersex - the main characters stay the same: Rin and her flirtatious friend Mimi; the Rambo-type woman who tries, in every ep, to kill Rin with increasing amounts of firepower, sometimes at a very inconvenient time; and a kind of dark angel who also takes an interest in Rin, when not seated at a chessboard opposite a chained, gagged woman whose back is pierced with many blades. What this interest is becomes clear when he takes the spore released by a newly died angel, eats it and remarks that it's too new to be very tasty yet: like a fine wine, he likes his spores well-matured. Despite the gore, I loved this series. Accustomed to dying one painful death after another, Rin is the embodiment of stoicism, her matter-of-fact manner neutralizing the childishly sensational blood & boobage, and her world is so strange that I like to wonder what the creators will come up with next. Only six episodes: too short, really.

The series Dai Mahou Touge is extremely violent, but it's pure cartoon violence. The supercute (dressed in pink, candy cane for a wand) magical princess Tanaka Punie must prove that she is worthy to succeed her mother, the queen, by going to the human world to train. Her furry sidekick is a rosy-cheeked, lop-eared unicorn puppy, who reminisces about his days as a tough, smoking, card-playing, barfly unicorn puppy before the princess challenged him and defeated him with one of her "joint locks" (holding him in excruciating stress positions); but one stern look from his cute, wide-eyed mistress and he's back to being kitty-faced and kawaii. Her opponents are as cute, and heartlessly violent, as the princess herself, but with her candy-cane magic and martial arts moves, she soon works her way up to top bully in school. This is a spoof of cute magical girls in the same style as Digi Charat, but more extreme. It proves that nothing, but nothing (not even a school tournament turned into a real war fought on horseback) can kill a toon.

Next, another series of which I have sketchy memories: in Ghost Hunt, Mai Taniyama enjoys telling her friends ghost stories, until she runs into Kazuya Shibuya, sent by the Shibuya Psychic Research Centre to investigate a haunted school, has to be rescued by his assistant, who gets hurt in the process, and is obliged to take the assistant's place. That is what the con booklet tells me. My memories tell me of a typical dippy anime chick working for the anime version of Ghostbusters and going to a school that abounds in supernatural phenomena, with many, mostly young, colleagues who all have some psychic specialization and who, to keep the series funny, goof around a lot. An ep that sticks out in my mind is the one where a girl at this school is ostracized for having claimed Uri Geller's spoon-bending powers. Desperate to be believed, she cheats at a fork-bending demonstration before the centre's only older researcher, who says that he is willing to believe that she did have this power before, but that faking it will ruin her credibility forever.

Kamen no Maid Guy is a series I remember more clearly, for being so utterly over-the-top. Naeka is a schoolgirl who is months away from turning eighteen and inheriting a fortune from her tycoon family. She and her younger brother are protected by two maids: a normal one and a human (cyborg?) gorilla in a maid suit who likes to yell battle cries and make imposing entries. Sadly for him - at least in the short time I watched - her main stalkers are not rivals who want to get their hands on her fortune, but perverts who want to get their hands on her underwear.

Druaga no Tou: the Aegis of Uruk is confusing, because I don't know whether I'm watching a fantasy in a historical setting, or a modern-day boy stuck in the world of a computer RPG (not that it matters much, in anime). In an ancient kingdom, there is a multi-storeyed tower, the Tower of Druaga, filled with demons. The king's army has already secured the first storey and is fighting the demons from ground level. Enter Gil, a young adventurer and his band. He botches an offensive in the tower, and is kicked out of the band in disgrace. Now, with hardly any money and a ruined reputation, he must assemble a new party to battle the demons and find the artifact at the top of the tower. In the short time spent watching this, I noticed the overall scenery was pleasantly earth-toned.

Kappa no Coo to Natsuyasum is about a kappa. Kappas are mythical creatures dwelling in ponds and streams and killing and eating swimmers, unless they are propitiated by an offering of cucumber or tricked by a show of politeness: if you bend down before them really low, they will feel obliged to do the same, and the water will run out of the cup-like reservoir on their heads, and they will lose their power. So far the myth.

In this film, it is the kappas themselves who make a propitiating offer. A long time ago, a father kappa and his son - his mother having been killed by humans some time before - offer a freshly caught fish to a land-owning samurai if he will reconsider his development plans which will involve the draining of their habitat. But the samurai just came walking back from a shady deal, and believes the kappa has overheard him and wants to rat on him. After yelling at his son to run for safety, the father kappa is felled by a sword. Just then, there is an earthquake and the little kappa falls into a crack. He is somehow sealed in protective rock and stays dormant for several centuries. In the modern world - the pond has been long drained and a suburb has risen over it - a schoolboy comes across a rock that splits open to reveal a fossil.

This "fossil" is revived when falling drops of rain fill the cup on its head. The boy and his parents (but not his annoying little sister, who throws a tantrum and will later blab to schoolmates about their secret guest) nurse the little kappa back to health. He thanks them, announces that he will return home and promises to catch a fish for them. On realizing his home is no longer where it was, he resigns himself to stay. Then the family finds a brochure about an amusement park which claims to be a kappa reserve. In the summer holiday, the boy hides the kappa in his rucksack and they set off on a trip to this amusement park, hoping to find other kappas there. Sadly, the park is just a tourist trap and its owner has actually offered a reward for anyone who captures and brings in a live kappa.

I left halfway through, missing the possibly tragic end of this modern fairytale (the expedition to the amusement park is particularly idyllic) because I wanted to see Wagaya no Oinari-sama. In one of those families that are targeted by spirits every generation, a very young boy is attacked by a snake-spirit after breaking out of a protective circle. Now that it has managed to make some sort of contact with him, the family's guardian spirit must be summoned before it has a chance to strike again. But the family spirit, a kitsune who has been sealed into a tomb as punishment for making mischief, is not so keen to help. Only the mention of the boy's mother, now deceased ("Such is the way of mortals", the kitsune sighs) sparks some interest. So, the family (primarily the boy and his older brother) receives in its midst a white and gold fox who, for starters, decides to choose a human form: a fox-eared girl in kimono. It soon encounters and decisively defeats the snake-spirit. Next, it must make peace with the local god to be allowed on that god's territory; this, it decides to do as a boy with a baseball cap worn backwards. The boys ask the kitsune whether it is a he or a she, to which it replies that when you've lived a few centuries, gender doesn't matter. The local god is a jovial and respected shopkeeper who pretends to be offended and sends two stone lions (or dragons?) to attack the kitsune; in fact, he wants to both test the kitsune and get some damage done to bring in workmen who will raise his profits by buying drinks at his shop. So far, although the two-faced shopkeeper-god is a funny character and the kitsune likes to make mischief, the series is more "supernatural" than "comedy". In particular, it is a cultural/religious quiz: the kitsune has to know which of the five Chinese elements the stone lions are based on in order to defeat them.

And that's when bad health forced me to leave, forget everything, start remembering bits of shows weeks later, type up a short list and expand this list into a write-up over the months, to be finished a few days before the con of 2010.



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