Monday, July 22, 2013

President Dog Takes On... Dog and Scissors (Summer Anime 2013 Part 2)

Hello again and welcome to another edition of President Dog Takes On... continuing the look at summer 2013's new crop of anime. This time around we've got a doozy, probably my favorite show so far of the entire lot and it doesn't waste any time getting good, so get your head out of that summer reading and let's dive into reviewing Dog and Scissors. As with my previous review of Stella Women's Academy, I'm going to basically summarize the first episode and add my own remarks here and there, so once again, advance warning for spoilers.

Oddly enough on the production side, this series comes to us from the studio GONZO, and no, it has nothing to do with the weird blue Muppet of the same name. Rather, this studio is made up of former staff members from Gainax (a coincidence in my choices to be assured), whose lineup of previous works also speaks for itself, given its short span of existence in producing full animated series and OVAs. Hellsing, Full Metal Panic!, Welcome to the NHK, Rosario + Vampire and the Toonami classic Blue Submarine No. 6 are just a few of their previous creations. This studio was also highly involved in the animated sequences for the Lunar series of RPGS, Blazblue and Super Street Fighter IV, which I have all highly enjoyed, and even the music video for Linkin Park's song "Breaking the Habit." So needless to say, another studio with an excellent pedigree for their newest creation to live up to, so let's see how it holds up. 

The first episode begins with books, a big wall of them, and a girl all in black writing at a desk. On the floor next to her is a small dachshund dog with another book, seemingly reading.

 All of a sudden the girl turns to the dog and says “Hey, why don't you try dying for me?”

… okay, what?

The dog even reacts in your typical anime rage-mark-on-head fashion and... TALKS BACK TO HER.

Okay... WHAT?!

Something is very odd here to say the least, but don't worry, the rest of the first episode will explain it. We quickly get the impression that the girl is pretty morbid and sadistic by her thoughts and her dog, getting past the method it's communicating to her, is a pretty snarky son of a bitch (no pun intended). He quickly shuts up however when the girl whips out a pair of scissors (from a holster on her thigh, no less) and begins to try and stab him. 

It actually turns into kind of a funny fight scene, with the dog dodging each attempted stab and getting chased by the girl around her room. I do have to note that the room overall is very visually appealing between its rows of books, plants and different colors and patterns. As the dog is getting chased, our narration begins explaining how the dog, named Kazuhito, loves books and up until very recently was a... human?

Once again... WHAT?!?!

Like I said, this will all get explained as we go on, but this opening scene establishes pretty quickly how crazy this show can get. And trust me, this is a good, entertaining kind of crazy, which gets reinforced by the opening sequence and music. Suffice it to say, it would be hard for me to describe this in any rational thought bit by bit, but I'll just sum it up with pictures. Tons of bright colors, characters dancing in dog and cat ears, characters dancing like dogs and cats, there's even barking worked into the opening theme! It really is a lot of fun and establishes a mood very quickly that Dog and Scissors is going to be a silly fun ride from the start. 

(EDIT 8/21: I finally figured out how to embed videos into these posts, so enjoy the craziness of this intro in its entirety.)

Anyway, the story begins with Kazuhito, still as a human, running to his favorite bookstore where he fills up a pretty sizable bag of new books. So okay, he likes to read, a lot of us do. Flash forward to him arriving to his apartment. Outside of a small futon, every available surface from the floor up to the ceiling is stacked with books. Kazuhito's narration even explains how he didn't want to move with the rest of his family in fear of delays on the release dates of his books. Okay, this has clearly gone from innocent pastime to crippling hording and obsession very quickly. Oh well, people could always be obsessed with worse things...

He then begins to profess an appreciation for his favorite author, Shinobu Akiyama, a very famous up-and-coming author who has gripped the populace harder than J.K. Rowling ever did with the Harry Potter books and in every genre under the sun, also. Kazuhito mentions specifically a series the author wrote based on the seven deadly sins that changed his life, noting that the final volume, Lust, has yet to be released and says he couldn't die without reading it. We then see him in a cafe reading Akiyama's latest book, when suddenly a scruffy looking man at the counter pull out a shotgun (kind of excessive, don't you think?), aims it square at the waiter and starts to rob the cafe. 

The robber shouts 'You two over there, stand up!' and aims his shotgun at Kazuhito. He does as he's told, but notices a girl in the other booth (the girl from the opening scene) simply writing. She appears not to notice her surroundings and doesn't see the robber or anyone else around her booth in the cafe, focused solely on her writing. The robber moves closer and closer to her telling her to stand up and getting angrier with every moment of cold shoulder he's receiving from the girl. He then shouts, aims his gun at her and begins to pull the trigger. Kazuhito shouts and charges at the robber, attempting to wrestle the gun away from him; all the while the girl continues to write. He gets knocked to the ground by the robber and the gun aimed right his head. BANG! Kazuhito gets a headshot for all his nobility. Well this is wonderful, we're killing off our main character seven minutes into the first episode. That's got to be close to a record here.

Even after the shot, the girl continues to write, as if the whole scene never occurred in the first place. We fade to black then cut to a brightly colored field of stars with Kazuhito's soul floating and his life flashing before his eyes, all his loved ones and all the books he still hadn't read, including the last Deadly Sin book he pined for earlier. Suddenly in a flash of light a book with the title Lust appears before him. He reaches out for it but it turns into a small dog and sucks him into it.
Books can turn into dogs when you follow the bright light to heaven. That's the power of faith for you.

Somehow, Kazuhito wakes up to see the bars of a cage and an older dark-skinned man with a giant afro. He's of course happy to be alive, knowing he can read again, but begins to question why the afro-man is calling him a dog. Looking around the room, he sees a mirror with the reflection of the dog we saw in the opening looking back at him. Fortunately it doesn't take him long to figure out from there he's actually become the dog. 

After a brief shot of an odd girl in a maid outfit swinging a broom around and a girl in an idol outfit singing on a TV (A.K.A., foreshadowing future characters), we cut back to Kazuhito explaining how he ended up in the pet shop after being found abandoned by the afro-man. He's even accepted being a dog but he begins to throw a fit over not having read a book in a week and has read every single thing there is to read in the pet shop.

The only thing worse to him than getting hit with a rolled-up newspaper is not being able to read it afterwards.

He sees the afro-man reading a book and begs for him to bring it closer, but he just gets food instead. Things start to look bleak for our avid reader-turned-pooch (going by the calendar near Kazuhito's cage it'd been nine whole days) until who should walk into the pet shop but the girl in black, getting a pretty cool, yet ominous floor-to-head pan up, highlighting her scissors and her crimson red eyes, saying 'The protagonist has appeared.' A real nice touch in my book, knowing what her personality is. As she slowly walks up to the counter, her black heeled boots clicking on the floor, all the animals cower in fear. 

She looks at Kazuhito and plainly asks how much he costs to buy. When told by the afro-man Kazuhito isn't for sale, her eyes narrow, she pulls out her scissors and gives the cage a flurry of cuts with an added acrobatic spin and sheathing. Somehow the cage practically explodes (slightly crushing Kazuhito with the roof of it) and she asks again, just as plainly as before, how much for the dog. 

Jump to Kazuhito somehow tied up in a bag by a rope in what looks like the girl's basement. 
Well, that escalated quickly.

Through another little scene of the girl torturing Kazuhito, he discovers that the girl can somehow hear his thoughts and read his mind (but only his, no other animals or anything), thus leading to direct communication and establishing the dialogue between the two for the rest of the series. It turns out of the last few days in the pet shop, our canine protagonist had been calling out to be saved in his thoughts, all of which were heard by the girl, who we finally find out is named Kirihime Natsuno. 

 Apparently, being a woman equals being James Bond.

Kazuhito pines for his luck, between the robbery, the reincarnation and Kirihime, the first of which makes him realize that she is the girl from the cafe he sacrificed his life to save from the robber. The first episode wraps up with some fanservice... 

Kazuhito's discovery of Kirihime's massive library...

Like a man in a desert finding an oasis. 

...setup for the next episode, and one final revelation: Kirihime is actually, by way of using a pen name, Shinobu Akiyama.

The ending theme and music are a bit more subdued than the opening, but in the way a jalapeno pepper would be less spicy than a habanero; there's still something plenty of spice and weirdness to go around. Flying jets shaped like scissors, the blonde idol girl from the foreshadowing moment singing another peppy song and more potential torture for our canine hero. 

 Sometimes a pair of scissors is just a pair of scissors. Other times it's a hypersonic jet. Go figure.
As for our main characters, Kazuhito is a decent enough protagonist, trying to make the best of a ridiculous twist of fate while his love of reading keeps him motivated enough to put up with it all. His wit to the situation unfolding around him definitely keeps the show lighthearted and silly enough for something with this premise. On top of that, I love his design as a dog and he gets very expressive despite his small stature; he even get made into several plush versions of himself for some of the girls in the cast to hug during the end credits. If that's not a sign of a well designed character, I wouldn't know what is.

Kirihime/Shinobu is certainly something else, in both looks and personality. She's an imposing figure to be sure, dressed all in black from head to toe, save for the bit of zettai ryouki we get from her black stockings and her red accents and eyes. Seeing her flash an ill-meaning smile at Kazuhito while inflicting her little tortures on him comes off both cruel and hilarious. Clearly sadistic and focused when we first get to know her, we find out she is actually a very well-rounded person when it comes to different skills outside of her writing, both domestically and in hobbies such as martial arts, all of which go into her writing. 

The dynamic between the two is the centerpiece of the show so far as it expands out into a small mystery in the next few episodes trying to track down the robber from the cafe and whatnot. As of episode 3 it's still building the cast up a bit, so I can't comment too much beyond our main pair here, but from what I've seen it's bound to get even crazier once we mix more in (Keep an eye out for Kirihime's book editor and the idol girl I've mentioned previously if you decide to check this out). Art style, animation and music are all solid (both the opening and ending themes are catchy as previously mentioned), as well as the pace of the story. No big issues with characterization so far, like in the last review of Stella Women's Academy, so that also bodes well. The only downside I've seen so far is that the series will only be 12 episodes long, but if the quality stays consistent or even goes up it won't be a big factor. Overall, Dog and Scissors gets a 4.5 out of 5 for me, with positive potential to grow on top of that as the show progresses. The show airs on Mondays in Japan and simulcast the same day on Crunchyroll.

Next time, unfortunately, they can't all be winners. Bring out your dead, folks, they aren't getting livelier. President Dog Takes On... Sundays Without God.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

President Dog Takes On... Stella Women's Academy (Summer Anime 2013 Part 1)

Hello and welcome to the first official edition of President Dog Takes On... To get you all in the mood for this first offering, let me tell you all a little story about the first time I ever played paintball when I was a little pup. I was in middle school at a small Catholic school, about 13 years old. It was a brand new school, I knew no one there, I wasn't even Catholic. Plus the uniforms sucked, but I digress. Trying to fit in with some of the new people there, I was invited to join a group of my fellow male students on a trip to play paintball. Wanting to belong to something, I said yes, though had no idea what I was getting myself into. Guns and ammo and masks and all the stuff for it flew over my head when I got there, which was more than intimidating enough considering the range was way out in the sticks, deep in a forest. Feeling completely lost I headed out to the range and hid, trying to avoid getting shot and just survive. Suddenly, I heard rustling and thought someone was coming so I sprayed the whole arena with all the shots I had, until I actually hit someone. Granted I never saw who it was exactly and it could've been someone on my own team, but this little bit of experience helps me connect a little better to today's subject: Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3 (Though I will be dropping the rest of the title past the comma for the sake of brevity).

So the first thing I want to let you all know about is how I'll be reviewing this group of shows from here on out. I will likely be summarizing the first episode or as much as necessary to show how the show in question is set up, gives some critique of overall aspects of it, like characterization, setting, art style, music and other components, plus pointing out specific moments that I either liked or disliked along the way. After everything is said and done, I'll sum the show up and give it a rating out of 5. With that said, let's get to the show.

On the production side of things, Stella Women's Academy is yet another series from the legendary animation studio Gainax, which gave the world such classics of the medium as Evangelion, FLCL, Gurren Lagann and most recently before this, Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt. Needless to say, there's a good pedigree behind this series but whenever I hear the name Gainax, I always think confusing endings that border on total non sequiturs. Whether or not this series follows suit is hardly on the radar just yet anyway, so let's move on. Second, the overall gist of this show is that it's about a club of girls who play war games with airsoft guns, so yeah, definite points for a fun premise. It's unusual enough to be interesting, but not over the top like something like 2012's Girls und Panzer where they're driving tanks and treating it like a martial art. The show begins with the typical 'girl in a new school' scenario we've probably seen a million times before: our main protagonist Yura Yamato is looking to make a fresh start in the school she's always dreamed of attending, Stella Women's Academy, shown in the first scene as a fantasy castle in her eyes. 

 (Ooh, it's so sparkly...)

She's in awe of the whole place until she runs into some of the other girls who seem far more outgoing and she sinks back a bit into some self-doubt. We've got to start somewhere if we want to grow, I guess. After finding her dorm (Rooming with a senior, who we don't see initially) and getting settled in, Yura reaches under the pillow of her new bed to find... 

A gun?! And yes, she promptly freaks out about it.

Anyway, that's the opening to the first episode, so let me take a moment to talk about the opening, which seems pretty standard. Montages of all the girls we're going to know later on fighting to a generally upbeat J-Pop song. Animation's pretty solid, as is the whole show, no real complaints, but nothing truly stands out here.

So coming out of the break we get to meet most of the supporting cast, namely the rest of the C3 airsoft gun club, discussing about the state of said club. They're in desperate need of new members, as we only see four members at the time (despite five names on their club room), and are devising plans for recruitment. There's Yachiyo, the tiny freshman with a penchant for big sniper rifles, Karila, the brazen Rambo of the club who loves acrobatic moves and SMGs, Honoka, the strategist with a prized G36 assault rifle and Rento, who has an never-ending supply of sweets and traps. 

Anyway, back to Yura and the gun under her pillow. If you haven't figured it out, it's only an airsoft pistol, though our girl still isn't sure, thinking it's some kind of prop from her roommate and that she's in drama club or something far more innocent that many others would think. Yura begins to snoop around the room and finds her roommate's collection of movies (all big action/war movies) as well as drawers and a closet full of more guns, ammo, protective clothing and other equipment. She still thinks towards the acting excuse, though it's both a relief and odd she doesn't think worse of what she finds, especially when she doesn't know they're just airsoft and not real live guns with actual deadly bullets or anything. Just think about stumbling into that here in America. We then head back to the airsoft club where the girls start to get bored of planning their recruitment strategy and decide to just play a war game to get their minds off it. Karila asks Rento to get a gun for her from the missing club members' room, and when she arrives...

It not only turns out that the missing senior club member of the C3 club is Yura's roommate, but Yura's knee deep in all her stuff watching a Rambo movie and acting out a scene from it. Of course this leads to a pretty funny moment when Yura realizes this new girl she's never met before is watching, which leads to the C3 club trying to recruit her. At first, our protagonist thinks it's like a typical girls' club: have tea, eat a bunch of sweets, and just hang out with a bunch of older girls. But then, they actually describe the club and their war game playing ways. Yura freaks out like before and runs off.

Also at this point, it's a good time to point out that Yura like to fantasize a bit throughout the show, from her fairy tale castle version of the school at the beginning, to imagining herself as Cinderella, pre-fairy godmother, as well as several so far in the middle of the war game scenes. The effect of it is kind of hit or miss, though. It works well when played for comedy and hyperbole, but using it as emphasis for a dramatic or sad scene sends some mixed messages.

That and Yura's trepidation about her new life are her two main character traits for the moment, though it's only the beginning and there's plenty of time for character growth. Anyway, at this point Yura is starting to get depressed about how things are starting; she keeps running into girls already finding friends and getting along well while the only interaction she's had so far is from the airsoft club, which she still doesn't have an interest in... until she finds a piece of cake laying in the hallway of her dorm. She does to pick it up and gets pounced on by Rento who, after pointing out she laid a trap with cake because she saw Yura respond after getting some, tries to get her to join the C3 club again.

This time around, it works; Yura reluctantly agrees to try out the club and gets roped into their daily airsoft game. Another nice touch of this show is that they directly explain to everyone, including the audience, how each of their war games is played with either chibi versions of themselves or paper cutouts so we know exactly what the rules are. It really is a beneficial moment for enjoying arguably the best part of this show, the war games themselves. Yura's inaugural game in the club is called Rambo War, a four-on-one handicap deathmatch with Karila as Rambo, fitting.

This fight scene has some excellent scenery and shadows in it, plus there's a lot of atmosphere from the forest they fight in to go with an excellent showing of tactics and gunplay to set the standard for the show. There's even some nice background music going on here too. I won't go into detail on the actual game and the action itself outside of saying it's truly the centerpiece of the show and arguably worth watching for these fights alone. 

Also, hooray for funny fansub typos.

Near the end of the episode, we get our first glimpse of Yura's roommate and the senior member of the C3 club, Sonora, who currently is my favorite character in the show so far. Confident, accurate and just an overall good leader, she makes a strong presence as soon as she gets mixed into the rest of the cast and takes Yura under her wing to get her better at airsoft and getting acclimated to her new school life, though some of her lessons may be a bit much, though I'll explain that after I wrap things up overall.

The first episode of Stella Women's Academy does a good job establishing its main components and characters, for the most part at least. In the setting we mainly know three places in the school to start: Yura (and Sonora)'s dorm, the C3 club's meeting room and the main forest area where they played their war game. No other parts of the school really make an appearance in the first couple episodes, for better or worse. The story seems smaller in scope like this, but doesn't have to bog itself down with school matters just yet as the actual first semester at the school hasn't started. Overall, it's a positive move. The characters seems to have just a few things about them at most that separate them in terms of personality, though Rento is currently the hardest to define as the one real set thing is that she has wide access to cake and sweets (the mentioning of traps was really in that pouncing moment I mentioned earlier). It does leave open room for character growth as the chemistry between these girls does appear to be there, it just needs to become more defined.

Speaking of character growth, there is one moment in a later episode I do need to talk about that could possibly affect the way this aspect is going, unfortunately not for the better. 


In episode 3 after fully welcoming Yura in, the C3 club goes to their first major airsoft tournament of the new year. Playing Capture the Flag, they seem to do pretty well, even with a new member, until they get near the end and run into another school's team which the older members consider their rivals. Long story short, the rest of the C3 club gets taken out, leaving Yura scared and lacking confidence in being able to win, as the other team could easily capture their flag and win. Even one of the opposing team members points this out to her leader. However, the leader, for no reason more than either having some kind of vendetta or being a bitch decides, no, we're going to take that new girl out. Yura fumbles her gun hiding, gets captured by the opposing team and surrenders instead of getting shot. Understandable to you and me, right? Unless some kind of miracle happened, she was pretty much out either way. This however angers the RL and questions why Yura didn't fight to the end. To that I have to ask, isn't it obvious? You knew she was new (they meet face to face in a scene before the fight), she had dropped her gun out of nervousness and you were right there. Anyway, she calls Yura's surrender 'despicable' and basically assures us that the RL takes this game just a bit too seriously than necessary. Of course the rest of the club comes to Yura's defense, calls the RL a nut job and tells Yura that it's alright and they'll get that other team next time. That is, until Sonora speaks up... and agrees with the RL?! What?!

I have several objections to this plot point for different reasons. First, we had established over the second episode that Sonora has had the attitude to let Yura grow her own way and make her own choices in the club while under her guidance, letting her get acclimated at her own pace. This moment however just feels jarring, as just as the RL talked about the game like it was actual war, Sonora starts talking about it the same way saying Yura 'made all her comrades sacrifices be in vain by running away.' She should know better than anyone that she's not the most confident player just yet and despite the positive traits she's established so far it makes Sonora come off as bitchy as the RL was, not to mention completely wrecking Yura emotionally by the hands of her mentor. Second, none of the other club members know how the whole scene played out, even though Honoka points out that the other team has a easy shot to get their flag and win. Confidence levels were exactly too high to begin with here. It's not like as soon as Yura was the only one left she immediately gave up. She was cornered by the opposing team and in a compromised position, left unarmed. To attempt to escape or try to regain her gun would've led to being shot by the RL who was right on top of her position. By not giving Yura a chance to explain and the bad word choice of 'forfeit' instead of 'surrender,' it really wreck a chance for redemption. Instead we get a hot spring scene to try and ease the tension, but it doesn't really work and it just sends Yura into mental tailspin about relying on others. Which for some reason leads to her chopping off most of her hair and getting the other C3 girls to stop calling her the nicknames they've been calling her for the past 3 episodes (something I considered so unimportant that it wasn't worth mentioning until here). This is not how you do character development at all, especially for someone lacking in confidence and skills as Yura is so early in the show. Not only that, it wrecks the strongest, and in my opinion most likable, character by giving her such a bad attitude to something so minor. 


Now that this sidebar's been covered, let me get back to wrapping things up about the show overall. The ending theme is excellent. Catchy, bright animation to go with it and shows a lot of personality. Definitely better than the opening by simply standing out from everything else the show throws at you. Voice acting is solid enough from what I hear from Japanese dialogue, but I'm not the biggest stickler for it unless it's really obvious. As a whole, Stella Women's Academy seems to be like a fun show with some good action and a lot of potential from its premise, but the characterization so far is hit-or-miss and the way character development is going to be handled on this show may eventually be a deal-breaker, but it's still to early to judge that. After three episodes, I give it 3.5 out of 5; I'll keep watching and recommend others take a look at it, but it's not flawless by any means. If you're interested in checking it out, the show airs on Thursdays in Japan and can be found online soon after but some major sources for simulcasts like Crunchyroll air it the following Tuesday.

Next time, sharpen up your scissors and break out your favorite book (hopefully not while reading my review, of course). President Dog Takes On... Dog and Scissors.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Welcome to the Blog!

Hello everyone and welcome to President Dog Takes On... my own little review blog for whatever is buzzing about my head. I have a passion for animation, video games, and pretty much any kind of media and want to share my voice with the world. Let me just warn you all about a few things while reading this blog.

1. Be prepared for eclectic tastes. I've accepted this and it's a major reason why I want to share my views.

2. Be prepared to disagree with me. With the state of said personal taste, I know many won't share it and I look forward to rational debate and arguments.

3. I am open for new things to try and review. I am not made of money by any means, but I will listen to suggestions for subjects and even improvements to the blog itself.

With that out of the way, let's head into my first review, or in this case, first in a series of reviews. Since it's close to my big annual immersion into the world of anime, namely working Otakon, the eastern United States's biggest anime and Japanese culture convention, I felt it would be good timing to get back into watching some actual anime for a change. Thankfully a brand new crop of shows just started in Japan earlier this month and I feel like the timing could not be better to check them out and share some thoughts. These are all going to be first impressions since these shows, at the time I'm writing this, have anywhere from one to three episodes available, so be warned. Also, these may possibly contain spoilers if I find the need to mention specifics.

First of all, if you want a good overall list of the new anime I'm pulling from, the gaming website Kotaku provides one here:  

I won't be reviewing everything on this list, as some on here are later seasons of series already going and I only felt like starting fresh with brand new shows at this point in time. Also, if I leave out a show that you like, keep in mind this is a multi-part series of reviews, but if it wasn't good enough to get me interested in even checking out the trailer, I'm not going to bother. Anyway, we'll be starting with the first show that caught my eye from this list, so let's lock, load and check out Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3.