Thursday, February 17, 2011

"Do you have memories you don't want to forget?" (Ef: A Tale of Memories)

I had quite a hard time finding a fitting romance anime series I could review this month since I've already reviewed most (perhaps the best)of the very few romance anime I have (Toradora, 5 Centimeters per Second etc.) and the rest I have with me borders more heavily on a different genre, drama mostly. (recently, I've learned to enjoy drawing out my emotions on good mixes of hearty comedy and tearful melodrama) So then I settled on this anime adaptation of the two-part visual novel Ef: A Fairy Tale of the Two, which in this review, its first installment of the similarly two-part anime series, Ef: A Tale of Memories.

The story starts off as Hirono Hiro, a high school student and an aspiring manga artist, fails to attend his childhood friend: Shindou Kei's Christmas party as his bike got stolen by a girl who was chasing a purse-snatcher, Miyamura Miyako whom he later found collapsed on the street. Feeling responsible he ends up hanging out the entire night with Miyako without minding he stood up Kei who has deep feelings for him that she has kept hidden for a long time. Meanwhile, Asou Renji, another high schooler walks to his usual relaxing spot, an abandoned train station. He is surprised to find another person on the station's benches, a mysterious girl, Shindou Chihiro, Kei's twin sister. Caught off-guard, he goes into an awkward state and leaves immediately after saying a few words to Chihiro. The next day, he finds her again on the benches but oddly enough, Chihiro asked him a strange question, like she was unable to recall yesterday's events. Ef: A Tale of Memories follows the story of these teenagers as they experience and grow through the hardships of romantic relationships.

Zealous yet indecisive, Hirono Hiro chooses to juggle both his studies and work as a manga artist at the same time. Ultimately he has to choose for his future: continue with his studies to secure his future or pursue his passion, his childhood friend who cares for his future and his well-being or the new girl who supports his work and needs him more than anybody else.

Shindou Kei is our story's "Osananajimi" character archetype. Being a childhood friend to Hiro, eventually she developed strong feelings for him yet unfortunately, she is unable to tell him how she feels. Although her ending is quite predictable for most seasoned viewers of anime (especially of the harem genre), it still is interesting to see how she stirs up drama as she competes with Miyako, desperately trying to "erase" her from Hiro's heart.

Kei spends a lot of time around her "onii-san", Hiro. She even has the liberty to barge in his apartment to wake him up for school. Despite their closeness and Kei's eager attempts to show her feelings and how much she cares for his future, Hiro only sees her as a younger sister.

The lively Miyamura Miyako. Despite her bubbly and playful nature, she hides deep sadness and loneliness ever since her parents have separated and given her the feeling that she has been "erased" from everyone's hearts. She finds comfort in the company of Hiro and wishes him to stay by her side always.

Hiro found Miyako collapsed on the street shortly after stealing his bike trying to pursue a purse-snatcher. Hiro was about to call for medical assistance after seeing his bike thief unconscious until suddenly she woke up like nothing happened. Feeling concerned and responsible for Miyako, Hiro allowed himself to get dragged around and quickly Miyako's lively and outgoing nature made Hiro spend what she called a "romantic Christmas eve" with her until morning.

Hiro and Miyako later found out they were classmates and that they haven't seen each other since they both enjoy skipping school. Miyako also supports Hiro's passion after finding out he was a  budding manga artist. She even cooks for Hiro and goes out with him often in order for her to keep him by his side always. Eventually, they became lovers much to Kei's disappointment and Hiro's confusion, finding out his "sister" has feelings for him and that he had to choose between the two of them.

Hiro's bestfriend, Tsutsumi Kyosuke. He has a strong passion in filming and is an active member of their school's film club. On Christmas eve, he instantly took an interest on a running Kei (although he didn't know it was Kei at that time) and tried to take shots of her but was instantly blocked by a truck that passed by. The thought of the girl lingered in his mind so much that he quit the film club and broke up with his girlfriend. After finding out who Kei was, he instantly asked her to become the main lead to a movie he was making. Kei agrees and ends up with him following her around filming her every emotion with his camera. Eventually, he fell in love with Kei.

Asou Renji, is also a high-schooler who has troubles choosing his career path after graduating. He often stays in an abandoned train station to ease his mind on its peaceful tracks. One day, he was surprised to find another person sitting on the station's benches since he is the only person that comes and goes there.

Shindou Chihiro, Kei's younger twin sister, unknowingly surprised Asou Renji as they met on the abandoned train station which Renji frequents resulting in a quick and awkward first meeting. The following day, Chihiro and Renji met again on the station but this time Chihiro asked him a strange question if they've met before, like she can't recall yesterday's events. This takes Renji's interest in the shy and mysterious eye-patched girl that suddenly popped out of his secret hideaway.

Even in the following days that Renji and Chihiro met, she always asked him if he was Renji from yesterday. Later on, Renji learned that she has a memory defect caused by an accident four years ago that also gave her that eye patch, that her memory lasts no longer than thirteen hours and that she gradually loses an hour's worth of memory every hour after that. Therefore, she makes up for it by religiously writing down her memories for a day on a diary that she reads every morning for her to keep track of yesterday. Renji, who fell in love with her eventually had to face the consequences of her illness. But Chihiro wants him not to since she doesn't want to be a burden to others. Things take a turn for the worst when one day Chihiro, stressed out from keeping track of her days with Renji, passes out for an entire day and loses 24 hours worth of memories and wakes up confused with only her memory of when she was 12 years old. Seeing this, Renji begins to question himself if he can still continue with his relationship with the girl tied down to 12 years and thirteen hours worth of memories.

A mysterious recurring character in the series is Amamiya Yuuko. She appears around Otowa (the story's setting) most of the time inside a Church. Whenever a character in the story contemplates on their problems she appears to them, giving advice and suddenly disappears. It is revealed later that she has ties with Chihiro's guardian, Himura but their story isn't revealed yet in this series. (in the second installment I believe.)

The first thing that really caught my eye while watching previews of this show is the unorthodox style and visual elements used in this series which is very prevalent when portraying character emotions or drawing out emotions on scenes. Shin Oonuma, who directed the series, used certain art styles like unnatural lighting, flat-colored images, scenes in black and white, split screens, strange camera angles and alternating shots. In my own opinion, the art style is superb and definitely accomplished its goal of portraying emotions in different scenes (especially with one certain scene that was really intense) and the character designs and backgrounds were very well drawn. Although, It appealed as a win to me, I believe it may not appeal to some, especially to those who are more used to and prefers the traditional animation style, and might get turned off by the first few episodes.   

This is one of my most favorite parts of the series. What looks like a bunch of crawling japanese characters and a small watermarked silhouette of Miyako is actually a gradual buildup of emotional intensity portrayed, in my opinion,  in the most unusual yet effective of ways.

The thing that excited me the most was the competition that went on between Kei and Miyako. Although I was expecting them to begin pulling at each other's hair, the execution on each one's emotional outbursts (especially with Miyako's) were better. Also I loved the way Chihiro's character was created. It was very different from the clichéd "girl with amnesia" since 50 First Dates and other similar romance stories. All in all, everything was very good, save for some scenes where the characters movements were animated rather awkwardly (especially with Renji). Definitely one of the best romance/drama series you'd ever hope to find.
Friday, February 4, 2011

"If she says she'll kill you, don't take it lightly." (My Sassy Girl (2001))

Years way back, when this movie was still a big hit all around Southeast Asia, I remember having a glimpse at some scenes from this movie, but can't bring myself to watch it because of all the hype and its extreme popularity. I got to thinking, "hmm.. another mushy chick-flick" hence, I overly underestimated the movie's potential and shoved the idea of watching it since romance wasn't even my thing to begin with. Which is something I am in deep regret of after watching the movie just recently. Oh, and the funny thing is, the thing I liked the most about this movie was not the girl. But the guy. I just can't help but burst into fits of laughter just seeing the guy's comic reactions. LOL

The perfect facial expression for disgust. Tae-Hyun Cha plays Gyeon-woo, our main man. Darn, I love how this guy provided so much comic relief in this movie. Definitely the perfect guy to play the role.

My Sassy Girl is based on real-life events portrayed in a series of blog posts written by Kim-Ho Sik and is about a guy's encounter with a drunk girl on a train whom after he saved her life brought him loads of misfortune but entirely changed the course of his life. From Gyeon-Woo's patience and determination to heal the girl's hidden sorrows and a serendipitous reunion emerged a very touching and beautiful yet sadistic and idiotic without being masochistic and stupid story that definitely made me think twice about chick flicks (thats too general of an understatement, romantic comedy is more like it) not having superb potential.

 See "violence" painted all over her face? LOL Ji-Hyun Jun plays the role of the unnamed moody and violent girl, Gyeon Woo's love interest. Their crazy (er.. sick maybe?) chance meeting on the train got me totally hooked on the movie. The drunk girl let loose her stomach demons on a passenger then passed out but not before he called out to Gyeon-Woo, who was checking her out the entire time, and called him "Honey". Right there, he got on the receiving end of the wronged passenger's rambling and was forced to take responsibility. I agree with Gyeon-Woo. Drunk girls are... annoying. :) 

Upon helping the girl, Gyeon-Woo doesn't realize he's dragged into one heck of a ride. Gyeon-Woo carried the passed out drunk girl feeling responsibility that he couldn't leave her like that and brought her to a nearby hotel. For some reasons, (a misunderstanding perhaps) after taking a bath and not finding towels to put on, some policewomen barged in on their hotel room, sprayed mace on Gyeon-Woo's face for not raising both arms while covering his you-know-what and locked him up in the slammer with a bunch of gangsters. After that, the girl called him up in a demanding voice to meet up with her and explain things. While drinking soju, the girl, began to cry and admitted she broke up with his boyfriend the day he saw her drunk and then passed out again sending them back again to the same hotel with Gyeon-Woo carrying a wasted girl on her back again. As Gyeon-Woo watched the girl sleep, he realized that despite the girl's wild tendencies, she carries a deep heavy burden that perhaps caused her to become like that. Entranced by the girl's beauty Gyeon-Woo vows to help heal the girl's sorrow, thus begins his troublesome yet comedic romantic relationship with the girl.

 Gyeon-Woo, despite after putting him into so much trouble, was unable to leave the drunk girl sleeping in a public bench and opts to painstakingly carrying her on his back to a hotel. From my observation, the "back-carry" thing seems to be a visual cue or symbolism in Korean romantic films and TV shows that reveals two characters' soon-to-be relationship in the story. Which is ending up with each other as lovers. Well, that's just me thinking out loud but I just think that might be the thing. :)

 Gyeon-Woo almost became good friends with the same group of thieves after getting locked behind bars twice during his crazy relationship with the girl. Can it get any more troublesome than this?

 Out of impulse, the girl pushes Gyeon-Woo, who doesn't know how to swim, off a pier and into the sea to test how deep the water is. Although saved by the girl, he got traumatized since and tried to get even by getting drunk and giving the girl trouble. The plan backfires and he ends up passing out on the train, getting robbed and again, behind bars and afterwards getting beat up by the girl. Poor Gyeon-Woo.

 How can Gyeon-Woo take so much abuse? Simple. He fell in love. (Masochist perhaps?) After seeing the girl cry, confess her breakup and pass out drunk, he realized she needs somebody. Enchanted by the sleeping mantrap (LOL) he felt, that "somebody" needs to be him, and was determined to mend the girl's broken heart.

Wanting to give the girl a grand birthday surprise, Gyeon-Woo had something prepared for her in a theme park. But when they got there, his plans were ruined as they met up with a disturbed soldier who took Gyeon-Woo hostage. Turns out, it was the soldier's birthday, same with the girl's, but his was the worst day of his life having been dumped by his girl. The girl tried to convince the soldier by lecturing him the importance of letting go. Eventually he frees Gyeon-Woo after having cleared his head. As Gyeon-Woo ran and hugged the girl for saving his life, his surprise for the girl kicked in as the merry-go-round lights up, fireworks fly and the rides play a "Happy Birthday" tune. But instead of elation, the girl got mad again and beat up Gyeon-Woo.
Honestly, I began to lose interest as the girl kept on abusing (most of the time physically) Gyeon-Woo despite his efforts to empathize and stay by the girl's side everytime the girl gets her fits of depression and his efforts in doing favors to please her. Carrying her to a hotel everytime she passes out drunk, throwing him to the sea despite his lack of swimming skills, getting in jail because of her, breaking into a women's university just to deliver her a rose and even running around on heels just to amuse her, even ignoring her parents' pleas not to see their daughter anymore yet Gyeon-Woo still remained steadfast on his determination to ease her pains. Later on though everything made sense as to why the girl was acting so abusive and forceful towards him which surprised me very much, giving the story a beautiful major twist.

This for me is the most touching part of the story. The girl and Gyeon-Woo went on their last date. Once more the girl ordered Gyeon-Woo to do something difficult - go to the top of a mountain across from where they are to see whether he would hear her shouting from there. Gyeon-Woo did so and was waving to her from an insane distance where obviously, Gyeon-Woo won't hear anything she'd exclaim. The girl cried and shouted her true feelings and said sorry for... *snicker*.. spoiler :P

 Before they parted on their final date, they put both their true feelings in letters and sealed them both in a time capsule they buried under a tree in the mountain. They promised to meet up again exactly two years, same time, same place and read their letters. Sadly, two years later the girl was unable to come and only Gyeon-Woo was there to read the letters. Don't worry though. With Gyeon-Woo, it doesn't all end there. :)

From my analysis, perhaps the reason I loved this movie is it doesn't have way too much "mush" unlike the usual chick flick but a lot more substance, astounding twists and downright, gut-busting comic relief (care of Tae-Hyun Cha's face). In my opinion, this sets the bar a lot higher for me since its now the best romantic comedy I've ever seen.

Pardon me, but I just can't get enough of his ROFLOL facial expressions. ><
Thursday, February 3, 2011

I Heart Wakana Matsumoto! (Fujoshi Kanojo/My Geeky Girlfriend (2009))

Since its the Valentine's month, although its not really my thing to watch romantic movies (especially by myself, tch..) but in the spirit of the love season, I'll be featuring movies/anime of romance genre, the entire month, which I've watched and, well.., enjoyed. Usually I only watch romance movies by accident or when odds are inevitable, (why am I so adamant at this?) but I do sometimes watch them by choice only when critics' ratings show it's definitely worth my time OR, when the lead actress is a marvelous wonder of beauty, the latter which is the case I didn't think twice picking up this movie.

Like Suwa Hinata (played by Shunsuke Daito), our lucky guy, I was bedazzled as Shirosaki Yoriko (played by the stunningly beautiful Wakana Matsumoto) introduced herself, and for Hinata, it was love at first sight. Oh, and I must say, for a new actress, I can't help but commend her superb acting skills. Really perfect for the role.

Fujoshi Kanojo (My Geeky Girlfriend in its International English title) is a live-action adaptation of the light novel series of the same name written by Pentabu (the author's pen name I guess) that tells the story of a guy's struggles as he takes on his relationship with a Fujoshi. To keep it short, a Fujoshi is a female otaku and in this context, mostly their main interest is BL or Boys' love - a certain genre in anime and manga culture that deals with male-to-male relationships. Relatively queer, in my humble and honest opinion. LOL. Therein lies the problem. Hinata, our main character who works part-time in a photo studio, has to face the consequences and responsibilities that comes with having Yoriko, his boss and fujoshi girlfriend. Well, it doesn't matter if you ask me, as long as its Wakana Matsumoto. :)

Hinata confesses his feelings for Yoriko. Yoriko accepted his feelings though but gave him a heads-up (which Hinata sholdn't have taken so lightly). Yoriko confessed that she was an otaku. And not just an ordinary otaku. A hardcore Fujoshi. Without even letting her finish explaining, lovestruck Hinata (who had no idea what a fujoshi is) outright told her it doesn't matter.

Then comes Sebsy's (Yoriko's pet name for Hinata which is taken from the butler character in the anime Kuroshitsuji) tour of his "Ojou-sama's" peculiar fujoshi world.

 Instead of the usual "maid café" Yoriko brought Hinata on a date in a fujoshi favorite getaway - a butler café and introduced her to her similar fujoshi friends - a manga artist and BL specialist, Kasumi, and a Miku, professional cosplayer nicknamed "Milk". Due to his submissiveness to Yoriko's weird fujoshi impulses he was compared to Sebastian the butler from the anime Kuroshitsuji, thus his nickname, Sebsy.

 The unwilling yet subservient Hinata accompanied his BL-crazed girlfriend to a manga store and met unusual stares from customers who saw him on the Shoujo and BL section of the store with a girl who cant get a hold of herself after seeing new issues.

Looks like Yoriko's having a ball watching something. While in class, (Hinata is still a university student) Hinata received a call from Yoriko telling him she's at his house. Not surprising. But what surprised him was the strange sounds on Yoriko's end. Turns out she was playing an "eroge" and even defended that it wasn't an eroge she's playing but a world-famous, top-notch eroge. And to top it off, she ordered it online using Hinata's account since she says using hers was quite embarrassing.

Of course, Yoriko gets jealous at times with people Hinata hangs out with most of the time especially with guys and most especially with his guy bestfriend Koji, and was even having fantasies of them making out. LOL 

But the best part is (for me at least) she loves to cosplay too. Here's Wakana Matsumoto as the famous vocaloid character, Hatsune Miku. I second Hinata's comment: "Moe!"

There are a lot of other references to other famous anime in this movie. (which I believe helps it cater to the otaku audience) In this one, Hinata compared Koji to Char Aznable from the grandfather anime series of the Gundam franchise, Mobile Suit Gundam. Then again, Yoriko's crazy thoughts kick in as she fantasized Koji as Char and herself as Artesia or Sayla, Char's long lost younger sister in the said anime. Looks really good on her I must say.

Like most otaku, Yoriko also prefers the world in 2-D rather than real life and even encouraged Hinata to do the same. Hinata then replied that if he fals in love with 2-D characters then he'd forget about her. This depresses Yoriko but Hinata assured her that he'll show her that real life can always be better.

Initially, Hinata had a hard time keeping his gaga girlfriend in check. But eventually, and in the name of love, he grew quite used to Yoriko's "lifework". Reading BL manga, being her personal "Sebastian" and even picking up her ways of creating "queer" stories in his mind while watching other guys having conversations. But of course, at one point in a relationship, there comes the time where a couples' bond of love is truly tested. Unexpectedly, Yoriko's ultimate dream of working in London has come into fruition. Now she is caught between a rock and a hard place as she decides whether to stay with Hinata and forego London or break up with him and pursue her dream. So is Hinata, thinking whether to be selfish and follow his heart's wishes or let go of their relationship for Yoriko's sake.

Yoriko and Hinata had an argument over dinner when after a lot of stalling, interruptions and second thoughts she broke the news to him that she was given an opportunity to work in London. Why must breaking news always come in during dinner?

Even though it was a really simple story, I was quite touched especially on the dramatic parts where the two had to decide in whether to continue with their relationship or not (the part in my opinion where the movie shined the most). But I could simply say, I was satisfied at the very least. I had a good laugh and c'mon, it's Wakana Matsumoto. :)

From The Idiot Box

From the screen to your lenses to your brain to your nerves to your heart, lungs and muscles and out. Its a compilation of my take, thoughts and impressions on straight up, good stuff (mostly japanese, anime, music and geek-related) from the idiot box that I like and you might like.

... and idiocy. :)

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