Category Archives: LAB Notes

LAB Notes #5 – Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha

Nanoha Movie BoxTarget: Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha – Mahou Shoujo Ririkaru Nanoha
Studio: Seven Arcs
Genre: Science Fiction, Action, Comedy
Notable Themes: Magical Girl, School Life
Episodes: 13
Fanservice Level: Heavy*

Reasons to Watch:
Visually dynamic, high action magical combat
A quintessential ‘Magical Girl’ experience

Reasons to Not:
Heavily reliant on anime tropes and stereotypes
Low episode count makes the pacing a little manic

Similar to: Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Cardcaptor Sakura, a long list of other Magical Girl shows.

Review:
Magical girl (Mahou Shoujo) series are a long time staple of anime.  Most Americans in my generation got their first taste of anime either from Dragonball Z, or from Sailor Moon, probably the most iconic magical girl show to cross over to the States.  The genre ranges from the uber-commercialized product placement, like Pretty Cure, to some of the most interesting critiques of anime as an art form, like the much lauded Puella Magi Madoka Magica.  These shows have huge appeal in their target market, 6 to 11-year-old girls, but also tend to be popular in the 16 to 30-year-old male and otaku demographics.  The same cross-demographic appeal is what has made the My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic reboot so successful.

In contrast, Magical Girl Lyrical Nanoha was written almost exclusively to appeal to the older male demographic.  It uses tropes and storytelling tools more commonly associated with the giant mecha genre and characters pulled from an H-Game.  At the same time it retains much of the subject matter typical of other magical girl shows.  The combination of high action mentality and magical girl sensibility produces a uniquely fun series that escapes the worst of both of its parent genres.  So we end up with a show that packs in some fantastic action sequences right alongside significant social dramas and resolves both with giant lasers.  What more could a fan ask for?

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Lab Notes #4 – Kiddy Grade

Kiddy Grade Cover 2Target: Kiddy Grade
Studio: Gonzo
Genre: Science Fiction, Action
Notable Themes: Politics, Mecha, Superpowers, Fanservice
Episodes: 24
Fanservice Level: Heavy

Reasons to Watch:
Strong primary story arc
Surprising political and economic commentary

Reasons to Not:
Slow to get to the main story
Female cast is heavily sexualized

Similar to: MADLAX, Vandread, Mai-Otome

Review:
I’m probably going to take some flak for this one.  Kiddy Grade is the frequent target of some heavy criticism, both from inside and outside the anime fanbase.  There’s an unusually high level of fanservice for a show from the first half of the Aughts and the series takes a while to really hit its stride.  In spite of these flaws, the show has a lot of redeeming features for those who can stick with it past the first few, admittedly vapid, early episodes.

Kiddy Grade is set in a far-flung future where humanity has expanded out to colonize the galaxy.  The use of terraforming and genetic manipulation has enabled the human race to occupy a vast variety of planets.  This human diaspora is overseen by twin organizations: the Galactic Union (GU), a political body similar in role to our UN, and the Galactic Organization of Trade and Tariffs (GOTT), an enforcement organization used to police interplanetary economics.  The protagonists, Éclair and Lumière, are special agents of the GOTT.   Gifted with superhuman abilities, they work to ensure that the galactic economy is preserved from greedy governments, criminals and warmongers.

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LAB Notes #3 – Scrapped Princess

Target: Scrapped Princess
Studio: BONES
Genre: Fantasy, Adventure
Notable Themes: Mystery, Science Fiction, Post-Apocalyptic
Episodes: 24
Fanservice Level: Average

Reasons to Watch:
A mysterious story that transcends genre
Broad appeal without sacrificing substance

Reasons to Not:
Main characters are somewhat one dimensional

Similar to: Turn-A Gundam, Last Exile, Avatar: The Last Airbender

Review:
It kind of baffles me that Scrapped Princess doesn’t get mentioned more often.  The series is a nearly perfect example of how anime can tell interesting stories that would do well on U.S. television.  It has action, mystery, comedy, drama, cool concepts, and solid characters.  Combine that with the above average production values and decent dubbing and I just don’t understand why this wasn’t picked up by some U.S. network during the anime boom in the late Nineties and early ‘Aughts.  Regardless, Scrapped Princess is one of those rare series that has something for everyone and doesn’t really compromise to get it all packed in.

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LAB Notes #2 – Kids on the Slope

Target: Kids on the Slope – Sakamichi no Apollon (lit. Apollo of the Slope)
Studio: MAPPA with Tezuka Production
Genre: Slice of Life, Drama
Notable Themes: High School, Musicians, Youth Politics
Episodes: 12
Fanservice Level: Low

Reasons to Watch:
Brilliant soundtrack and musical direction
A touching romance with strong historical ties

Reasons to Not:
Somewhat clichéd storytelling
Uneven and inexplicit time skips make viewing confusing

Similar to: BECK: Mongolian Chop Squad, Nodame Cantabile

Review:
If I were writing these reviews in the 90s or the early ‘Aughts, I would have started this one by lamenting the condition of real Slice of Life dramas in the U.S. anime market.  The problem was that Slice of Life shows aren’t easily monetized and didn’t have a huge appeal to the original baseline Otaku.  The genre is still rarely brought overseas, but most anime fans can identify it when they see it now, and have one or two examples of the genre to call up if asked.  Another, separate issue is that Slice of Life concepts are frequently combined with other genres, such as comedy, supernatural horror or harem scenarios.

Kids on the Slope is none of these.  It is a drama in the purest sense, and one that is firmly rooted in the reality of 1960s Japan.  It is a skillful examination of the social politics of the era, while still being, at its core, a touching story of friendship and young love.  The show is bound together by the jazz music that helped define the youth culture of the era.  It is the heart and soul of the series and, ultimately, is what really makes the show worth watching.

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LAB Notes #1 – Xam’d: Lost Memories

Target: Xam’d: Lost Memories – Bounen no Zamned
Studio: BONES
Genre: Action, Adventure
Notable Themes: Mecha, War, Religious Persecution
Episodes: 26
Fanservice Level: Mild

Reasons to Watch:
Top quality animation from Studio BONES.
Strong, original story that doesn’t feel like a retread.
Great characters and very strong character development.

Reasons to Not:
Lots of obscure terminology that is never explained.
Very random ‘final-boss’ ending with little real resolution

Similar to: RahXephon, Eureka Seven, Laputa: Castle in the Sky

Review:
There isn’t a good reason for why I started this new anime review series with Xam’d: Lost Memories.  It isn’t my favorite series, though it probably sits in the top twenty-five.  It is a rather good exemplar of the kind of things I like in shows, anime or otherwise: strong main character development, good storytelling over the entire arc and fun action sequences that don’t dominate the rest of the show.  Xam’d doesn’t feel as polished as some of the real classics in its genre, but still manages to stand above the crowd as a show that provokes thought and emotion.

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