Short reviews- Rozen Maiden, Last Exile, Negima, Le Chevalier D’eon

In honor of a comment, here are some of our recent anime forays.

Rozen Maiden
Wow. Here’s a DVD that I picked up just because I thought Quandri would like it, and I was very surprised by how much I really, really enjoyed it. Q has and is a fan of ball-jointed dolls, (BJDs, or ABJDs for Asian Ball Jointed Dolls, depending on the norms of the particular community). I’d seen that this series involved dolls, and she had seen that costumes from this series were relatively popular in the BJD community, so we decided to take a look.

I confess I wasn’t too enthusiastic at first. The background mentioned that dolls were fighting to basically become a “real” girl, and that alone didn’t appeal to me. Fighting dolls? Sounded like Angelic Layer.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. Amazingly, Quandri and I both agree that the series is wonderful. The story is far more compelling that I’d thought from the cover, and the characters absolutely make the story. I started reconsidering my initial opinion as soon as I watched the opening. The song is quite good, and lyrics are strangely S&M-ishly subversive. The opening animation actually made me want to see what the imagery meant.

The story involves a school-aged hikikomori named Jun, whose obsessive Internet shopping for curiosities results in the arrival of a mysterious living doll, Shinku. (For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a hikikomori is basically a person who withdraws from the world entirely for some reason. Although a real-world occurrence, hikikomoris have been cropping up in anime for a variety of reasons.)

Shinku is, shall we say, a bit autocratic, and makes Jun her servant. Shinku herself is a Rozen Maiden, a living doll competing with other dolls in the Alice Game.

Shinku rocks.

We’ll probably buy Rozen Maiden, since I’m pretty sure it now appears on each of our respective favorite series. I sincerely hope that someone else starts distributing Geneon anime in the U.S., because they only released the first DVD of the second series before they halted all of their U.S. distribution. Although Q could just buy the Japanese version and watch it, I can’t. :P

Last Exile (spoilers)
Finally, after several years, we rented the last volume of Last Exile. It had been so long, we had to go back and go over summaries so we could remember a lot of the side characters- particularly because EVERY SINGLE ONE OF THEM has a cameo in one of the episodes. All in all, the series was decent. It probably says something that we waited so long to see the end, but that’s not so much a reflection on the series as a reflection on some of our priorities. That being said, there are definitely series that we would go out of our way to get, and this wasn’t quite one of them. Good, worth watching, but not brilliant in my opinion. Do I sound like I’m going back and forth enough? :P

It ends pretty much like you’d predict- except for the final fate of Dios, in my case. Pity, I liked him. The final episode was a bit anti-climactic, but everything was resolved.

Le Chevalier D’eon
I grabbed this one from the shelf for two main reasons, both of them because I thought that my lovely partner q would enjoy them. First, it’s a period series- specifically, the time of Louis XV in France. Second, there’s sort of a strong female lead. Sort of. After watching the series, that’s not as much of the premise as I thought it might be from the cover, but it is a part. As for my own reasons, it definitely looked like it had a strange interaction between ghosts and magic, which I usually think sounds worth checking out. ^_^

It’s a difficult time in France. Tension between nobility and commoners is rising, and a series of murders has the police- and secret police- scrambling to find the killers. A body is discovered in a coffin floating along the river- the sister of the titular D’eon, whose vengeful spirit seeks to right the injustices done to her and France, using her brother as her vessel.

We weren’t disappointed. The series is compelling and interesting, and you might learn a thing or two about French history if you’re not careful. Although I used to avoid history like the plague in my school days, I’ve come to appreciate historical stories quite a bit more. Even though this series has strong elements of fantasy and horror, the touch of history did add to the overall ambiance. If you liked the Three Musketeers, definitely check it out. All in all, recommended, and we’re going to watch more.

Ah, Mahou Sensei Negima. Before Negima, Ken Akamatsu was probably best known for Love Hina, one of my favorite of the “harem” anime, and this one sort of follows in that tradition. The anime is not *quite* as ecchi as the manga, although it occasionally comes close. In this case, prodigy 10-year-old Negima is the protagonist, teaching English to a class of Japanese girls as part of his training to become a full-fledged wizard, following in the footsteps of his missing father. He has to keep the fact that he can use magic a secret, but just about every student in that class has secrets of their own, from the vampire girl to the robot girl to the secret cosplayer to the ninja girl… etc. Fan servicey but fun, and the storyline gets better as the series goes on.

Explaining Revolutionary Girl Utena

In what has become a grand tradition, I’m going to relaunch this blog with words by qyandri, who finally got me to understand a little bit about Revolutionary Girl Utena a couple of years ago. Her explanation is still the best I’ve heard- just add a couple of years since she’s seen the series. ^_^

Person X: Exactly how did Dios turn into Akio, and how can Dios’ power still come down into Utena during duels if Dios has become Akio?

Ok, look at it this way. Utena is the product of a mental breakdown. Akio, Utena, Anthy and all the rest of the cast are all aspects of Utena’s psyche and the whole world is one created inside herself to deal with her problems. The basic problem is one of nobility in an ignoble world. Each pair (Miki and Kozue, Juri and Shiori, Saionji and Wakuba, Akio and his fiancee, Touga and Nanami) represent a skewed relationship between two people. Utena desperately wants to be more than a sum of a dangerous relationship and this is why she eventually refuses Akio and Touga. In someways, I think that Utena is the self aware Ego, while Anthy is the overpossessed Super Ego, and Akio is the Id, out for his own power. Utena choses an unconventional path to join the self aware ego and the super ego over the will of the id, honoring friendship in the face of power. It is something most people have to struggle with as they attain success: will you betray your relationships to gain more power, or will you chose those relationships in the face of hardship? This is a particularly important question in Japan as they join the world economy. They are brought up believing in the group and putting those relationships first, but as business and western values enter their society, they are more often facing the idea of big CEOs sacrificing factory cogs for their own gain. On another facet, it is about women’s power and self value. In this way, Utena choses a woman over a man in refutation of traditional gender roles. That Utena and Anthy are the same person, I think, is hinted at in their similar relationship with Akio, and in the switch of Anthy and Utena in the coffins during the last episode. I won’t analyze everything right now (its been two years since I’ve seen the series) in the terms of Ego and Super Ego and the inner world, but Utena’s healing is finally acheived at the end of the story where she goes out into the real (not so messed up) world, the conscious self, and Anthy is soon to follow her.
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