Monday, January 28, 2008

Lovely Idol 4

It’s been a while since I watched “Lovely Idol,” and I’d kind of forgotten what the show was about. Luckily, I had my reviews to rely upon, and quickly got back up to speed. I’m quite sure they’re the only English language resource of their kind, which makes us the English Speaking World’s Number One “Lovely Idol” Resource. I can’t speak for what the Japanese have about “Lovely Idol.” I’m sure someone had erected a golden statue of Mizuki or something. If you’ve forgotten who she is (and you probably have), go read my reviews again.

Tomohiro (the girl’s manager) is talking to a recording engineer of some sort, and extolling the virtues of his new set of girls. Everything is going swimmingly, until his sister, Ruri, shows up, ostensibly to deliver an umbrella, but I think she’s just being nosy. The recording engineer takes them down to the recording studio, and they see Yui, one of the older idols, doing some…recording for her newest drama CD. The engineer also gives them a bag with a DVD of the latest episodes of “Magical Girl Sunny,” who fights monsters or something. Yukimi, another of the older Idols, is one of the voice actors. Tomohiro and Ruri also get a big stack of scripts, so that the girls can all practice their anime voice acting.

Tomohiro and Ruri are walking outside, and Ruri is complimenting Tomohiro about how hard he works for everyone. She promises to help him as much as she can, but Tomohiro suddenly becomes very concerned and starts to tell her about the thing she has to work on most herself. He sort of trails off and doesn’t tell her, and Ruri gets self-conscious because now she doesn’t know what’s so terribly wrong with her. At that moment it starts raining, and that provides a good distraction for Tomohiro to run off and leave her alone, despite the fact that she’s the one with the umbrella.

Back in the studio, the girls are perusing the scripts. Even Mizuki (remember that she’s the one singing for revenge). Ruri encourages them all to practice reading. Ruri decides to act as the cute dog. She has the cutest habit of referring to herself in the third person. It’s not annoying at all. So the girls start reading aloud. Mizuki is the evil villain, and she does sound pretty evil, if being evil means having no personality she’s got it nailed. The other girls all vary. Some are terrible; others not so bad. Ruri barks pretty well. They discuss their notes and touch upon the subtle vagaries of the performing arts for a while.

Back at the Tomohiro/Ruri homestead, Tomohiro wants to tell his sister something, but, again, he just can’t bring himself to say it. I don’t see how this guy can handle the cutthroat world of pop-star management. Ruri goes to her room and works on something secret. The next morning Tomohiro, still in bed, gets a call from Ruri. He’s come down with a bad flu; the girls can head over to the recording studio on their own and he’ll meet them there. Ruri tells him not to bother. She’ll take care of everything. She’s even made a business card of her own! She hangs up on her confused brother, but I can see precisely what’s happening. She’s going to supplant him as manager. Now we can see which child was loved more.

On the street Ruri tells the others that Tomohiro isn’t coming. They say that they can’t go without their manager, but Ruri announces that now she’s the manager. I’m starting to like her now. Cue commercial break.

At the studio the girls listen in as Yukimi and the others record for the latest episode of “Magical Girl Sunny.” Ruri and Aneki, the manager of the older groups, are bickering about Tomohiro. Ruri adores him; Aneki thinks he’s a moron. They leave that debate unresolved. Back to the recording. All the voice actors are in a big studio reading together. I kind of thought that voice actors recorded alone, and then everything was mixed together, but I’ll let this slide for the sake of drama. Mizuki notices that the script being read is not the same one that the girls practiced with the day before. It’s an old script (they didn’t notice, presumably because no one must watch “Magical Girl Sunny;” everyone I know says it’s terrible). They get the new scripts, and the recording engineer says that they need someone to voice the little dog.

The new girls line up in the studio, except for Ruri, who’s being a manager. One by one they woof a bit, to see who’s the best dog. Awful. The last girl meows. She doesn't even get the concept. The recording engineer kind of sighs and says that they’re no good. Ruri asks for another try for the girls, but he tells her, quite rightly, that they won’t get any better. Now Aneki (that other manager) starts to pile on too, castigating Tomohiro (who isn’t even there) for bringing on a bunch of stupid amateurs. Okay, I added “stupid” myself, but I’m sure that’s what she’s thinking. The recording engineer listens nervously. Aneki insults Ruri some more, until finally Ruri demands to try being that damn dog herself. Miku smiles, as if this is what she was planning the entire time. I mean, you’d obviously want to get rid of a younger, prettier, more ambitious rival manager, wouldn’t you?

I sort of forgot to mention that Tomohiro has dragged himself out of bed and shows up outside the studio in a little surgical facemask. He can’t go in because the “recording” light is on, but through the glass he can see Ruri bowing or something. Just then Aneki grabs her and hurts him a bit. She does it out of love.

Ruri gets into the studio and marches up to the microphone and barks her best bark. She turns around to see the recording engineer just smiling at her. No one says anything, so she starts to assume that he must be silently laughing at her ineptitude, but then he shouts that she’s perfect! Yukimi waggles a big stuffed bunny at her, and Mizuki starts the one-person-slowly-clapping thing at her. Everyone joins in! Ruri has vindicated the entire team!

They’re walking home that evening, and Tomohiro flashes back to the studio. Yukimi is talking to him through her stuffed rabbit. The rabbit says that the new group isn’t so bad. Okay. Then the rabbit tells Tomohiro not to forget about Yukimi. The rabbit goes away, and she looks sadly at him. What’s that about? Did he have a relationship with every single one of the older girls? Back to the present, Ruri can tell that something is on his mind, but he doesn’t tell her about Yukimi, and she seems satisfied with his terrible, terrible lies. Ruri gives Tomohiro all of her homemade business cards and states that she’s retiring from being a manager. She runs to join the other girls, and all is well in pop stardom.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Blood+ 1

Once upon a time I saw a movie called Blood+. I don’t remember much of it, but it did feature an attractive, laconic girl with a pointy sword, and the animation wasn’t that bad. There was one scene in particular, with a monster roaring on top of a building engulfed in flame, and the point of view was rotating around it, as if you were watching the scene from a helicopter above. Most animation doesn’t try movement like that, so I was pretty impressed. That might not mean much, since I’m also impressed by a big stack of pancakes.

We start off today with a bang. I can only assume that we’re in Vietnam, because it looks hot and steamy—sultry,even—and there are soldiers and peasants, and some weird bat-dog creature is killing people. Suddenly, a feral-looking girl with a pointy sword kills the monster. Then she starts killing people, like a woman with a baby. Stabs them both with one thrust. Then she cuts up a man. The soldiers start shooting at her, to no effect. She skewers a few of them too. A man with a camera takes pictures of the girl as she stands surrounded by a field of the monsters. I have no idea what any of this means; I’m sure it will be explained later. Cue the soulful intro music. This is Blood+.

A young girl, Saya by name, attempts the high jump. It seems a lot of anime include the high jump. I’m sure it symbolizes something. Or maybe the Japanese just haven’t discovered dodgeball. Anyway, she runs at the bar, attempts a classic Fosbury flop, and everything is artistic. She looks at the clouds as she sails over the bar. She lands on the mat, but the bar falls down. She failed. Failed miserably. Her friend comes over and they lay together on the mat.

Eating a big box of food afterwards, her friend hugs her again, and they watch some American planes fly overhead. We have exposition discussion: the girls live on Okinawa, the planes are going off to war, and Saya’s memory only extends back one year. That must be pretty important. A boy named Kai comes to pick Saya up for a doctor’s appointment. I’m kid of sad that Saya and her friend won’t be hugging anymore. We focus in on some shoes lying on the group; will that be important?

Kai and Saya ride through town on a little motorcycle. More exposition talk. Kai used to play baseball. Kai’s father took in Saya, and now they’re all one big happy family. Isn’t that nice? They ride past the sea and Saya gets to look at the seagulls and glistening water. Going in the opposite direction is a big black van, however, and it’s bristling with antennae and radar dishes and other electronic looking thingies.

A voice, presumably of the van’s driver, informs someone in an office that they haven’t found what they’re looking for yet. An American military officer is talking to Van Argiano, a fancy-looking dude in glasses who’s eating candy. Two of whatever they’re looking for have escaped, and they’re most likely in Okinawa City. Isn’t that where Saya is located? I don’t like the look of this!

Saya lays in a hospital bed with an IV stuck up her arm. A helpful radio voice talks about some unsolved murders, but why should Saya care about that? She’s the star of the series. She’s looking at a bird outside the window. A blonde woman with glasses tells Saya to just stay still until her IV is done. The woman leaves, and Saya muses on the futility of attempting to defy fate. Afterwards she’s walking down the street. A crowd is gathered around a cellist playing his baroque cello music. Intriguingly, one of his hands is bandaged. Saya suddenly closes her eyes and begins to, I don’t know, remember things. She’s wearing a pretty dress, running down a hall toward a stone tower. She’s unlocking a door, and, back in the here and now, shouts, “NO!”

She falls over into some bushes. The cellist, a rather handsome fellow with long hair, stares are her, and Saya gets up and stomps away. She’s quite mortified. We can tell because her face is as pink as a cherry blossom. Saya rushes home and catches the other members of her “family” playing catch in the park. Apparently that’s illegal, and she suddenly decides to be lawful and chastise everyone. It’s all in good fun. Inside, she discovers that she forgot her shoes! She has to rush back to school to retrieve them. She makes her dad and Riku, her little brother, promise not to eat dinner without her. Just as she’s running out, David, a friend of her father, enters. He needs to talk to the old man.

Saya trots off after looking through a window at the two guys. She doesn’t notice the man with a huge cello chase staring at her from the park.
David accuses Saya’s dad of keeping her around to replace his dead daughter. His real daughter, because when someone dies you want to replace them right away with a stranger. David seems to work for something called “The Syndicate.” Original, huh. He drops off some money and leaves.

At the school, everything is dark and wicked in the night. A teacher sits alone in an office. A moth casts a huge shadow on the wall. She runs toward the tree where she and her friend were sitting, but the man with the cello emerges from the shadows and approaches her. She doesn’t run away, because rapists and murders never emerge from shadows, I hear. “At last we meet,” he intones, quite woodenly, and brandishes a nasty knife. Now she runs.

Saya bumps into a teacher. They look around the tree, but the cello man is gone. Saya is near-hysterical that she’s seen that serial killer the radio guy was talking about earlier. A huge hand suddenly grabs the teacher’s head and he gets yanked up into the air. We hear lots of crunching and snapping sounds. Saya, again, doesn’t run away, but looks out. “Teacher?”

His body drops back to the ground. A weird bat-dog monster drops down after him. Saya takes off. Two still shots show her face, the monster jumping after her.

Meanwhile, guys in front of electronics state that they’ve found what they’re looking for. Some helicopters take off. Also meanwhile, Saya’s friend brings back her shoes, and Saya’s dad calls Kai and tell her to get Saya. It looks like Kai is in some kind of alley, and that maybe he’s been beating guys up, but I could be wrong. I really have no idea what’s supposed to be happening there.

Saya runs into a library and locks the door. She lets out a sigh of relief, but the monster breaks through and she falls to the ground. She gets up, she’s been cut all over, and limps away. Saya turns the corner and waiting for her is the cello rapist guy. He tosses a knife at her head, but it misses at the last moment and hits the monster thing instead. Another knife stabs the monster in the eye! An eyestab!

Kai arrives and finds a dead teacher. The cello guy throws the monster away and carries Saya up some stairs into a science lab. Of course, we have some long, panning shots of the science lab. Cello man tells Saya that the monster is a “chiropteran.” It’s a blood sucking fiend. He opens a compartment on his cello case and takes out a sword. He also removes the bandage around his hand and reveals a twisted, curled set of claws. I would want to hide that too. He takes the sword and cuts his clawed hand so that it starts to bleed. Saya starts to feel uncomfortable, sort of like how I’ve felt throughout this entire episode, and tries to back away as the cello guy comes close and drips his blood all over her. He holds it up to her mouth, suggesting something. He really needs to work on his technique. He’s not smooth at all.

Saya tries to stumble away and begs for some mercy. Please! Put her (me) of her (my) misery. The chiropteran walks through the door. We zoom in on its wounded eye, which is healing up quite nicely, thank you. The cello man quite calmly drinks the blood pooling in his own hand and saves Saya from a swipe by the monster. He embraces her tightly on the floor and presses his lips against hers. It’s a very tender scene as blood starts to drip from their lips. Just then Kai runs in and illuminates them with his flashlight. I bet he’s assuming the worse. Then he hears a roar and shines his light on the monster sitting in the corner. Cello guy sits over Saya and tells her to fight. Fight for her life!

Her eyes go wide and she has a wicked flashback to her time in ‘Nam, when she went crazy and cut up all those monsters and people. Yes, she was that girl in the opening sequence. She remembers the cello guy standing over her. She remembers running down that stone corridor and unlocking a certain door, which, now, she realizes is something she shouldn’t have done. What could be behind that door?! Her eyes turn red. Cue end credits for another anime premiere. A young, hot girl with a sword. Sexually charged violence. A convoluted back story which I’m sure will be awkwardly explicated over dozens of episodes. Par for the course.

At least I liked the moth shadow flapping on the wall in the darkened school.

Elfen Lied: Episode 9

We open on the music box, playing the melody of the theme song. Li'l Lucy gives Li'l Kouta the stink eye and the two stay quiet for the moment. Li'l Kouta closes the box and Lucy admits that she likes the song. Kouta seems pleased that she's pleased at things, but is distracted by her horns. Lucy starts to get angry and considers killing everyone. Really, everyone. Her vectors hover across the ground, but before Lucy can get a kill-shot, Kouta practically attacks her with giddiness. Her horns are the best things he's ever seen. Kouta extends his hand in friendship, saying he's staying with family and has to go home in few days, but would like to hang out until then. Lucy gets a flash of the Random Girl from last episode who sold out Puppy of Imminent Doom, and scoffs at Kouta's friend request. She walks off with Kouta yelling that he'll be back to meet her the following day at the same spot.

News Lady on the TV reports that there are no clues regarding the child murders that took place that morning/last episode, and they're looking for a child believed to be 'involved.' Li'l Lucy is taking a shower, with the sun, apparently:

She calmly walks out, turns off the TV, and heads to the 'fridge, revealing in the foreground three dead bodies on the floor. This... isn't her house.

The next day, Li'l Lucy stands in the rain at the path where Puppy is buried and looks to the sky. Either the bird she sees sounds just like Li'l Kouta, or she's remembering how Kouta said he'd be back to see her. Either way, she doesn't see Kouta. Suddenly embarrassed by her icky feelings, Lucy looks down at Puppy's grave and tells him that she just, "wanted to be by [his] side." Aw. Before she can add, "No, really!" two police officers walk out of the forest. They talk about how it sure does suck that there was another murder and all. One of them even adds, "This is no time to be looking for a missing girl..." It isn't? I know we know the missing girl and the murderer are one in the same (Li'l Lucy), but the police don't. Isn't "crazy, child murder on the loose" a great time to be looking for missing kids? If only to use them as bait, even. One officer stops as if he's found Lucy off to the side of his peripheral vision, and Lucy raises a vector. But, it's science-fiction, so no one really has peripheral vision. He was only stopping to note the rain was started up again, and they walk off.

Li'l Lucy sits in the rain and Li'l Kouta appears from nowhere to place a ski cap on Lucy's head. "If you don't like those horns, then just keep them hidden." I guess murder was a little drastic. The two go to sit in a mountain-side shrine to get out of the rain. Li'l Kouta tells Li'l Lucy that he happened upon her after sketching a landscape in his sketchpad, and, well, she was looking all sad and stuff. Then when he found out she liked the music box melody, and oh, it was like it was meant to be! The two listen to the music box for a while in silence. Again.

Out in town, Li'l Kouta tells Li'l Lucy they'll play again and runs home. Li'l Lucy actually looks a little happy for once. But that can't last, so two more police officers ride up on bicycles and tell her to go home because it's dangerous outside this late. "And hey, you wouldn't happen to know the whereabouts of a little girl who looks just like you and is suspected of being involved in that child killing, would you? Nah. Go on home unescorted." As Li'l Lucy walks off, she realizes that if the police know there was another murder, then they've found the last place she was staying, and can't go back. She comes to a house with a happy family talking and playing inside. It physically hurts her to hear it. The mother inside the house tells the kids to behave and wait for their father to come home.

Cut to: Father's home! He notes that it's quiet and dark inside the house, possibly because his family's been murdered. Then he sees Li'l Lucy, shadowed in the hallway and assumes it's his daughter. He starts to ask why it's so dark inside, but --

-- his head falls off. The camera pans down to show the mother dead on the floor. "This will stop the noise for now," adorable Li'l Lucy says to the bodies.

Behatted Li'l Lucy stands in the woods, waiting for Li'l Kouta, and mentions that it's 'been three days,' presumably, since she's last seen him. Just as she starts to doubt he'll ever come back, we hear gasps as Li'l Kouta jogs up the path. Li'l Lucy's happy to see him, until he tells her that he came by to tell her goodbye, but they should play all day. Li'l Lucy seems confused by this human word... 'play' is it? The two start the day off with a bus ride. Inside, Li'l Kouta has to explain what zoos are. "I really like looking at strange animals," he says. Oops.

The two walk through the zoo hand-in-hand, again, unescorted while a murderer is running around killing children and families. As Li'l Kouta tries to decode the zoo directory, Li'l Lucy overhears a couple talk about a new murder. She gets a little annoyed upon hearing this, and very matter-of-factly, voice-overs, "I need to kill someone again and find a place to hide." Realizing that she just calmly thought about homicide as a normal part of her day, Li'l Lucy freaks out, retreating into a dream world. Apparently, the same one Yuka visited in Episode 4, because the mannequins are back, this time with glowing, blue eyes. She asks herself why she's been killing, and she responds to herself, "Because you like killing people." There's some back and forth between herself and she tries to reason with the voices, embodied by Li'l Lucy doppelgangers wrapped up like mummies, but Li'l Lucy finally snaps out of it. She tells Li'l Kouta that she spaced out due to the heat, and he suggests they find a cooler place. If they were older, and this was a slightly different media, the muted porn-guitars would kick in right here.

They find a stream... somewhere, and the two start splashing each other almost immediately. After a short, yet spirited water battle, the two sit in the sun, back to back and naked, letting their clothes dry off. Lucy turns to Li'l Kouta and tells him that today was the most fun she's ever had. She even starts to tear up. He tells her that she must be exaggerating, but she responds, "I'll never forget about being with you today," and puts her head on his shoulder. It's actually kind of sweet. However, being the show that this is, you have to know that the happier and sweeter a scene is, it only means more badness will come later.

On the bus ride home, Li'l Lucy asks about a festival Li'l Kouta is going to tomorrow. After the festival, he's headed back home, so it would be the last time the two could meet up. But, Li'l Kouta already promised to go with his cousin, which for some reason means no one else can go with them, I guess. She tries asking him if his cousin is a girl, getting a little jealous, but is interrupted by a bump in the road. Too embarrassed to ask the questions again, the voices fill in for Li'l Kouta. They tell Li'l Lucy that he's probably going with a girl. and imply that it's because he loves someone else. As she starts feeling sorry for herself, the voices add, "If you want to stop these feelings, all you have to do is kill." She insists that she'd never be able to kill Kouta, but as she comes out of her hallucinatory state, she's on top of Li'l Kouta, both hands wrapped around his throat. She stops, of course, and while still confused, Li'l Lucy asks Li'l Kouta, "If I ever kill a lot of people... will you kill me?" Reasonable question from a little girl. Li'l Kouta just sort of stares at her, and the bus driver apparently didn't notice that one of the only two passengers on the bus almost killed the other, because the bus doesn't even slow down.

The two stand on some steps watching the ocean, the attempted murder forgotten. Li'l Lucy starts to sing the melody from the music box, and Li'l Kouta joins in. The two look back at the ocean and the light from the setting sun just barely makes it into frame. I'm not sure if it's the shot itself, or the fact that song has been engraved in my skull as that creepy song Lucy sings in the first episode, but this scene is both beautiful and creepy as all fuckout.

A street light kicks in overhead as the two say their goodbyes. Li'l Kouta says that he'll be back next year and that they should get together again. Li'l Lucy finally forces out the questions again, asking if Li'l Kouta's cousin is a boy or a girl. He tells her his cousin is a boy, understanding what's going on for one of the few times in the series, because we should all know the cousin he's meeting is Yuka. She tells him that she'll come see him off at the train station, and before he can protest, she runs off. To kill, most likely.

The next day, Li'l Lucy stands over the grave of Puppy and tells him that she finally met a person she can confide in. More to the point, if she sees him before he leaves, she'll tell him how she really feels about him. Get ready for badness.

At the festival, she finds Li'l Kouta, but before she can work up the nerve to talk to him, Li'l Yuka comes in and starts crying. She doesn't want Li'l Kouta to leave, either. Seeing that his cousin is really a girl, and that Li'l Kouta is comforting her, Li'l Lucy starts to tear up again. As she's staring at the cousins, a drunk bumps into her, knocking her to the ground. Laying in the dirt, she says aloud, "He already had someone he liked." The voices produce a Kouta clone to tell Li'l Lucy, "There's no way I would like a girl with such weird horns." He's only into normal-horned girls. She asks him why he was being nice to her, and he tells her again, "I like looking at strange looking animals." She reels back, having a physical reaction to his words. Looking back up, she sees Headless Li'l Kouta taunting her. Even Dead Puppy falls from the Heavens in front of her and bleeds all over the dream world's floor. Random Girl shows up, not only to taunt, but to show off the gaping wound in her face that Li'l Lucy had given her. Feeling really overwhelmed, Li'l Lucy turns to vomit. I hope she remembers to crack a window in the dream world. One of the Li'l Lucy doppelgangers walks in and tries to comfort her. She tells herself that she's only going to keep feeling like this until she admits she's right, "This world is not a world that I should be in. Change the world... into my world."

Back in the real world, another drunk walks up to Li'l Lucy and complains that she's in his way. Onlookers start to gather to look at the unconscious girl to ask what's wrong with her, but without really helping. She stand up, and says goodbye to Kouta. The drunk demands she move, and the hat Li'l Kouta gave her comes off. Not unlike Clark Kent taking off his glasses. Everyone in the crowd around Li'l Lucy is cut in half, with one swift movement of a vector. Everyone else nearby starts to scream and run off, thinking a bomb just went off. Li'l Lucy shows no emotion as she walks off towards where she saw Li'l Kouta and Yuka. A woman, noticing Li'l Lucy is covered in blood, stops to ask if she's okay. Then her head falls off. She's out to kill everyone. Kanae, Kouta's sister, is hiding just out of Lucy's sight.

We cut to the train station later that night, where Kanae is trying to convince her family that a little girl with horns was responsible for all the blood and screaming at the festival. Li'l Yuka stands close to Li'l Kouta during the explanation, clearly believing at least a little bit of the story. Nearby, Li'l Lucy is watching. With a voice-overed, "Liar!" we're thrust back to present day. Lucy wakes up to hear Yuka and Kouta talking about rice porridge. Mmm. We zoom in slightly on Yuka. Obviously, the main target of Lucy's rage, at the moment. Could be a can of Red Bull in a second. As long as Lucy's mad at something, she's happy.

Outside, Nana and Mayu have arrived back at Hotel Runaway. Nana's sure Lucy is back and notes that it's too quiet. Lucy may have already killed the cousins. Mayu doesn't like that idea, and runs for the door before Nana can stop her. Before she can get to the door, Lucy slides it open. She gives Nana the death stare and we cut to the end credits.

If I can ramble on for a moment, one of the things that really bothers me about fiction villains (and for the sake of argument, I'm considering Lucy a villain), is that they are often just 'the bad guy.' Big handlebar moustache and a maniacal laugh, tying any dame he sees to railroad tracks. They often serve no purpose but to be against the main character. But Lucy is very different. She's a 'true' villain; you can empathize with her on certain levels. Maybe not the severing heads level, but the parts about feeling ostracized for something she can't help, feeling powerless, alone. Twisted as her motivations might be, they're there, and they have a very basic theme to them. A villain can never just be the bad guy; they have to be humanized in order for them to feel real. In order to make them truly terrifying. This episode and the last are here to humanize Lucy and make you care for someone who can kill a dozen people with batting an eye. And, as far as I'm concerned, they did an excellent job.