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Richard Veino brings you all you need to know on anime and manga.

thflyer_425x55_website.jpgAgain, I'm back from a long absence. This time, I'm here to tell you about Sakuracon!

What is Sakuracon, you ask? Well, it's the largest Anime Convention in the Pacific Northwest, if you believe the flyer. I don't have any reason to doubt it, as I don't know of any other anime conventions in the area. It just happened, and I wasn't able to spend as much time there as I would have liked, but I can tell you about what I saw.

This is the third time I have attended Sakuracon, and overall, it is usually an enjoyable experience. I didn't make it to a panel this year, so I can't really talk about those. There were some interesting ones, which I had circled to go see, and they covered a wide variety of topics. There were panels with manga artists and voice actors, how to design characters and video games, and even one on bonsai trees. But like I stated before, I didn't go to any of them. Next year, I swear!

As for what I did see, I saw all the bands that were playing, half an episode of xXxHOLiC, I saw a lot of the dealers room, and cosplay, of course! You couldn't avoid it if you tried!

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The 4 bands that played are Ketchup Mania, ALI Project, The Slants, and Scandal.

Ketchup Mania - Ketchup Mania is a pop-punk band from Japan (of course). They are the first of the four bands I saw, and their music seemed to cover a wide range of sounds, from speed metal to an Irish drinking song, if you can believe it.They were vary lively on stage, and had a good rapport with the audience that was there, but, to be perfectly honest, they sounded horrible. The first half of the show sounded like white noise, and by the third song, there was a mass exodus of people out the door. As the set went on, they did start to sound better, and when they slowed down the tempo, and vocalist HIRO wasn't screaming, they actually didn't sound that bad. Overall, I could not recomend them.

ALI Project - ALI Project is the main reason I went to Sakuracon this year. I would definitely classify them as a Goth band. They have a unique sound (well, when your band cosists of a vocalist, two violins and a keyboard, I don't think you can sound like too many other bands) which is easy to identify. Their music has appeared in many anime including Code Geass: Lelouch of the Rebellion, CLAMP School Detectives, and Kamichama Karin, and they have done all the Opening theme songs for Rozen Maiden. The show itself was pretty much what I expected. Good music, a mellow pace, and a bit of stage show. Unfortunately, I did not get to see the entire show, but I would recomend them.

The Slants - The Slants are a pop-rock band out of Portland, OR, which means that they are somewhat local! More opportunities to see them! I really enjoyed their music and their show. I must admit that I can't remember much beyond that, but regardless, I would still recomend going to see these guys (and gal).

Scandal - This was the surprise of the con. After the Slants played, they started looping their DVD Single (for lack of a better term), and it involved cute little stories involving animated versions of the band members. Unfortunately, they were no subtitles, but I could understand some of it. It ended with their first single, which sounded great. When they finally came on, they really impressed me with their energy, enthusiasm, and especially their music! It is basically pop-rock, but it was very catchy, even sung in Japanese. They apparently now have a single available on iTunes (I know because I'm on their mailing list), which I will have to get. What amazes me most is they sound so polished and they only had one single out when they played!

xXxHOLiC - Well, I've actually already seen the entire first season, and I really like the show. I do wish they would have tied it with Tsubasa Chronicles, like they did the manga, but it does well on it's own. The story revolves around Watanuki, who is haunted by spirits. They just can't leave him alone. He meets Yuko, who is a witch of sorts, and he goes to work for her as a way to pay her for teaching him how to be rid of the spirits. Being a CLAMP property, there is of course a large cast of characters that he interacts with, from Himawari (who he adores more than anyone), to Doumeki (who he considers the bane of his existence), and many, many supernatural beings. The portion of the English dub I heard wasn't that bad, and that, coming from me, is a BIG compliment. If you like supernatural themed anime, this is a great one, and funny to boot.

The cosplay at the con was a mixed bag, but that's what I always expect at cons. There weren't any absolutley horrible costumes that I saw, but not too many that were amazing, either. I didn't see as many Naruto or Bleach costumes this year as last, so it was a nice mix of old and new. Two of my favorites were Fran from Final Fantasy XII (and very well done, let me tell you) and Akira from Lucky Star (very cute).

The dealers room was a bit disappointing for me. It didn't seem any smaller than last year, but the amount of bargain shopping for mangas and DVD's I expected to find just wasn't there. Anything that was a good deal was completely picked through. I guess that shows me for waiting until Sunday to do my primary shopping. Their seemed to be a higher number of costuming related booths, and fewer places that carried unusual items than I remember from last years con, but that could just be my warped perception of what was really there.

Overall, I still enjoyed the con, but not as much as I did last years. Here's to hoping Sakuracon 2009 will be better!

It's been awhile, but I'm back now! This time, I'm here to tell you about another popular genre of anime. It's the Magical Girl Show! What is the Magical Girl Show, you ask? Well, it's a show about a girl (or group of girls) who find out they have magical powers, and they go on to save the world, or at least their community. Pretty straight forward, don't you think? The most well known of all Magical Girl Shows is, of course, Sailor Moon. Some other good examples of the genre are Kamichama Karen and Wedding Peach, but my personal favorite is Cardcaptor Sakura.

5 Things To Know About Magical Girl Shows...

  1. They always transform into their alter ego. For some odd reason, any magical girl MUST transform into her alter ego by incanting some really inane magical words, and in a flash, their clothes disappear, they get bathed in light, and their new outfit starts appearing on them bit by bit. Of course, since they're bathed in light, you can't really see anything except their shape, so they're not REALLY naked, right? Of course, I'm sure this has many prepubescent boys watching, but what I read a few years back, is that young girls really liked watching it, too. Why? Apparently, they felt it showed them what they're going to look like in the upcoming years, since most magical girls are around 10 to 14 years of age. Cardcaptor Sakura is the exception to this rule, but Sakura does get to incant inane magical words and causes a flash of light when she catches a card, so we do get most of the same effect.
  2. They always wear flashy outfits. It seems that you can't become a magical girl, unless you wear an outfit comprised of tights or leggings, a really frilly short skirt, shoulder pads that extend about a foot from your shoulders, and a tiara or some other head ornament. You wouldn't think it would be good to fight evil in, but apparently, it kicks evil's ass. And of course, Cardcaptor Sakura is an exception to this rule, as well. Unlike most Magical Girl Shows, where they wear the same outfit every time (well, since they transform), Sakura actually wears a different outfit every time, thanks to her rich and talented seamstress friend, Tomoya. She's only an exception because she changes it up, but that's a good thing.
  3. They always have an animal sidekick. A must have for every magical girl. From Cerberos in Cardcaptor Sakura to Luna in Sailor Moon, every magical girl has to have a fuzzy sidekick, usually there to dispense advice and guide them on their journey to save the world. I guess if you had a middle-aged man doing it, it would be creepy, so a cute fuzzy animal will have to do the trick. That, and think of the Plushie sales!
  4. They always have a magical wand. Another must have for any magical girl. What else are you going to wave at your enemies when you're shouting something like "In the name of Love, you shall be defeated!" or some other ridiculous line (I completely made that line up, I think, but it sounds like something you would hear). Of course, the magical wand will mutate as the power of the magical girl grows, so it's like getting a new accessory every season!
  5. The male rival/side kick/mysterious savior always becomes the love interest. Well, girls wouldn't watch it if there wasn't a hunk that they know the magical girl will fall in love with. The rival (Syaoron from Cardcaptor Sakura, for example) will eventually become the side kick anyways, so you could combine those into the same thing really. In fact, sometimes, I think they are all three the same person, but I'm struggling to come up with an example.

On a side note, my wife pointed out something interesting. Negi Springfield from Negima?! actually fits a lot of the requirements for a magical girl, except, he's a guy, and he doesn't transform. Regardless, I hope now that you can enjoy the Magical Girl Show!

Hello again! I liked doing the first list so much, I decided to do part two of the Harem Anime list!

If you don't know what I'm talking about, then look to the first list HERE. And just so you know, there are shows like this that feature a female lead. These are sometime referred to as a reverse harem anime. The only example I can come up with right now is Ouran High School Host Club. I thought this show was hilarious, and I saw a lot of cosplayers dressed up from this show at Sakuracon, so I'm really expecting it to come stateside.

5 Things To Know About Harem Anime - Part 2...

  1. There is always a childhood promise. In fact, most of these shows start with a flashback where the male and female lead are little kids, and they make a promise to each other. It's mostly "I will be your bride" or "Please remember me" or "I will protect you," but there are some variations here. And you don't always know during the first episode as they will cut away before the actual promise is said. This really should have been in the first list, as it is always a major plot point.
  2. The beach trip/local festival/school festival episode. There are almost always episodes of the mentioned varieties. There is always an episode where they take a trip to the beach. Why? Well, they want to show the girls in swimsuits, since these shows are geared towards guys. There is always a show where they go to a local festival. Why again? Well, they like to show the the girls in Yukatas (summer Kimonos). Women's Yukatas are much fancier then men's and feature prints. And the guys like to see women in them. It's just as sexy to be dressed up as it is to be exposed. In the harem animes set in school, there are always festival episodes. There are two types of festivals featured here: the sports festival and the cultural festival. These are very important events in high school in Japan. The sports festival gets everyone involved, and classes compete against each other. It's also a good excuse to show the girls in school gym uniforms, which normally consist of a white t-shirt and shorts which look more like long bikini bottoms than anything we're used to. For cultural festivals, each class and club decides on something to do, such as have a cafe, put on a play, do a haunted house, tell fortunes, etc. This, of course, gives you many options for clothing, not to mention hijinks.
  3. The blonde girl is half-American. I'm not sure when American became a race, but apparently in Japan it is. This is actually true in a lot of anime, not just Harem Anime. I also noticed that the blond American characters are all a bit on the obnoxious side. They are not necessarily obnoxious to the point of not being likable, but definitely louder then the other characters and a little weird. They also speak kinda funny, compared to the other characters, but that can be expected of anyone speaking a foreign language, I suppose.
  4. The female lead will have a fan club. Now, you may not think this is that unusual, but the main purpose of the fan club is not necessarily just to idolize and worship her (although they do that), but to prevent any guy from getting close to her, including the club members themselves. What this accomplishes (besides comic hijinks when the club members chase the male lead around), I'm not sure. Maybe it's the mentality of, "If I can't have her, no one else can." This particular item occurs only in Harem Anime that are in set in schools, because it is a convenient place to have lots of guys worship one girl, but most of these are set in school, so this fact applies.
  5. Expect Fan Service. This is also not unique to this genre, but it's definitely heavily used here and that is understandable. For those not familiar with the term "fan service," it can mean a number of things, but there are two that I find most of the time. The first are subtle (or not so subtle) homages to other shows, like a character appearing in the background, a poster from another show on the wall, etc. The other is any shot of a female character in a prone position or exposing themselves, like a panty shot, cleavage shot, bent over, etc. You can guess that the second one is the one that we're talking about here and it makes sense. These animes are geared towards guys, so of course you're going to see these types of things.

Like I said last time, if you can accept these 5 additional things, then you too can enjoy harem anime! Well, maybe next time I'll cover giant robot anime, fighting anime, or magical girl anime. Until then, enjoy!

I bet you wonder what's up with the weird title... Well, two of my favorite anime from the past several years are finally making it stateside, and I thought I'd point them out to you.

mhsThe first is The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. This is likely the most-overhyped anime so far this century, but it is amazing enough to overcome the hype. At this point in time, I'd say it's the BEST ANIME EVER. Why is that? Well, it takes all anime conventions and tosses them out the window. For starters, it clocks in at 14 episodes (a normal anime season runs either 12, 13, 24, 25, or 26 episodes). When originally broadcast, it was intentionally aired out of sequence. What do I mean by that? Well, for starters, the first episode aired was actually the 7th episode in chronological order. What does this do? Well, it makes you remember things they discuss in the show, because they reference events you haven't seen yet. There's even one episode which is mostly, if not entirely, shown from one spot in the club room the group occupies. It gives you an interesting perspective. And since the show is not shown in chronological order, there's even a cliff hanger ending to one of the episodes which is not resolved until two episodes later. I just found this series to be very original and it kept me wanting to watch to see what happens/happened. Even without all that, the visuals themselves are stunning. And I say this, even though I watched it via a fansub, which was subtitled from a TV broadcast. I can't wait to see what it looks like on DVD!

What's it about? Well, it's hard to say too much about the show without giving away the major surprises, so we'll start with Haruhi Suzumiya's introduction in class (if you didn't know, when a student transfers into a class, they are always introduced to the class by standing in front of it and saying something, usually "It's nice to be here" or some other common greeting). She declares to be interested only in aliens, espers, and sliders ("sliders", I believe, refers to time and dimensional travelers), and other unusual types of people. No one else need bother her. From that point, she assembles a group of people, creates a club called the SOS Brigade, and searches out aliens, espers, and sliders.

I'll let you know now that I am an anime snob, and I almost always watch anime in Japanese with subtitles. Why is that? Well, early on in anime's history in America, dubbing was really bad. You basically had 5 voice actors that did all the voices for every anime, or so it seemed. Things have gotten better now, but I still do prefer the Japanese voices. Why do I mention this? Well, at Sakuracon, I got to see about 5 minutes of the English dub and I was horrified. It sounded awful. It sounded like the same 5 voice actors again. I'm hoping that it was just because it was on the dealer room floor and I couldn't hear it that well, but I'll get the DVD and review it and tell you what I think in a few weeks. tsubasa.jpgThe second series is Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE. I don't know why they mix the case, but it's always shown that way, so I'll be consistent. This anime is based on the CLAMP manga series of the same name. For those of you who don't know, CLAMP is a manga group that started as a doujin (fan-comic) group and eventually turned pro. Their best known work in the U.S. is Cardcaptor Sakura, which was unfortunately butchered badly into the show Cardcaptors. They also did Chobits, xXxHOLiC, and X/1999.

The series starts in the Kingdom of Clow, where Sakura, who is a princess, is promising to tell Syaoran, an archeologist and her childhood friend, something important the next time they see each other. Of course, that "something important" is that she loves him, but before she gets the chance, her memories are scattered across the dimensions as magical feathers. The problem with that, is that if she doesn't recover them, she will die. The king has Syaoran and Sakura sent to visit the Dimension Witch Yuko to figure out a way to recover the feathers. They are joined there by two others, Fay and Kurogane, and the Dimension Witch gives them the capability to travel dimensions to recover the feathers. Of course, everything comes at a cost, and Syaoron's price for the ability to recover Sakura's feathers is that she will never remember him, no matter how hard she tries, or how many feathers they gather. It's your tragic love story with lots of action, as the group hops dimensions searching for the feathers to keep Sakura alive.

The story itself was enough for me to be interested in the show, but being a big CLAMP fan, I get a bonus! Since they are traveling dimensions, they run into characters from all the CLAMP worlds! In fact, Syaoran and Sakura are characters from Cardcaptor Sakura, although older version of them. Each dimension basically contains the same people, but sometimes they will have different personalities. Yuko the Dimension Witch is from xXxHOLiC. The King is Sakura's brother in both Tsubasa RESERVoir CHRoNiCLE and Cardcaptor Sakura. Characters from X/1999 and Chobits show up as well. It's fun picking them out for me.

The visuals are also amazing, and the landscapes vary so much, from a bustling city environment with skyscrapers to a desert kingdom to a thick forest near a lake. The soundtrack is possibly the best I've heard in a long time. It was done by the same person who did the .hack//SIGNS soundtrack, if I'm not mistaken, and it does a great job of setting the mood. They screened the English dub at Sakuracon, but I did not get to see it. Whether or not that was a good thing or not, we'll see shortly.

If you get a chance to check these two series out, please do, as they are among the best the genre has to offer. Until next time!

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