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Steins;Gate Review

steinsgate

Steins;Gate is a 24 episode anime directed by Hiroshi Hamasaki, based on a game and manga of the same name. Official website: http://steinsgate.jp/

Kogepan and Otaku Sensei have been experiencing anime withdrawal, the result of a harrowing semester, both of us teaching far more classes than a sane person should ever want to juggle.  Our brains were jargogled with rhetoric. We needed an Anime Night. But, what to watch? We were both so far behind on our viewing that the entire genre might have changed, or even imploded, without our ever knowing. Even our fellow fans had little to recommend, having themselves been too busy to watch much, either.

Otaku Sensei had been trolling trough Amazon recommendations and thought that Steins;Gate sounded promising (although what’s up with that semicolon?). Ten episodes in, we can say that semicolon or not, Steins;Gate is a win. The series is redolent with  visual and auditory references to Serial Experiments Lain, from the pervasive sound of cicadas to the images of wires and washed out city streets and the idea of the mysterious powers of computers, but the resemblance stops there. Confusion and lack of any kind of a comfort zone ensued with the first episode. Between the unrealiable main character and the uncertainty of whether events really happened or not, we actually watched it twice before moving on. Take a self-styled mad-scientist with a maniacal laugh who always wears a lab coat and talks into a cell phone that isn’t on; throw in a heavy dose of paranoia and memory lapses; add a cosplaying childhood friend who works in a maid café, stir in a stereotypical chunky otaku hacker boy; shake vigorously before including a beautiful genius scientist who may or may not be dead; and then wrap it all up in time-travel. The element of time travel is handled in an interesting way, shying away from relying on dramatic changes to create tension, and instead focusing in on how small changes can make big differences. That strategy preserves the suspense that comes from each time shift and lets the viewer experience the surprise with the main character. And to top it off, Stein’s;Gate is funny! Double-entendres and character antics make this series as hilarious as it is intriguing.

Otaku Sensei and Kogepan will definitely be watching the rest of this series and will add our perspectives here. In the meantime, we would love to hear your opinions!

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Otaku-hime: A Review of Princess Jellyfish

This past January, Kogepan and I were featured guests (yep, we were) at Ushicon, which is a cool little con for anime and manga fans over the age of 18. It was a small con that had just been rebooted after a few years absence. Hopefully it will continue to grow and attract more of us who enjoy going to a con without the added attraction of a plethora of pre-teen Narutos and Sasukes roaming the halls of the hotel.

At any rate, I digress. At Ushicon, we kept hearing people talking about Princess Jellyfish aka Kuragehime. It was, along with Durarara, the main anime that was the topic of conversation. They were showing it at the con, but our duties kept us from indulging at the time. So, when we returned to Dallas, we decided to have an Anime Night and watch it. It is a very short series – only one season so far – so we got through it in two settings.

Since we had somehow both missed all the hype, we knew next to nothing about the series and had no expectations for what we were about to watch. Now, here, I must stop and tell you that if you haven’t watched it yet, you may not want to read too much further, as this is likely to include some spoilers, and it is always fun to approach a new anime without knowing what is coming your way.

We were both delighted with the series, for several reasons. It is fairly uncomplicated and just  convoluted enough plot-wise.  It is funny. Very.  It plays with your standard anime tropes, in a way that is both homage and a little bit of poking fun. Well – a great deal of poking fun.  Oh, and, we cannot really offer any comments about the American voice cast (yet!) because we watched the series in Japanese with subtitles.

It is ostensibly the story of Tsukimi, a young woman who wants to be an illustrator. She finds herself living in Tokyo in an old historical building, the Amamizukan, inhabited by a group of otaku women, where she fits right in.  Not only are these women geeky and socially inept (to the point that they turn to stone when confronted by ‘hipsters’), they are nerds for the most obscure pursuits one could imagine. Banba is obsessed with trains; Jiji goes gaga over old men; Mayaya is almost totally focused on Records of Three Kingdoms; and Chieko, whose mother owns the Amamizukan, is nuts about traditional kimono. Our heroine’s obsession is jellyfish. She is a walking encyclopedia of information about jellyfish, and she draws them constantly. The reason for her passion, we learn, is that when she was young, she and her mother would go to the aquarium and watch the jellyfish, her mother promising that someday she would make her daughter a wedding dress that will look just like lacy jellyfish tentacles.

One evening Tsukimi is walking by the pet store and she notices that two different, and incompatible, jellyfish have been put into the same tank. She wants to go in and say something, but the guy behind the counter is a hipster, and she is frozen to the spot. It looks like curtains for poor Clara until a stunning, fashionable young woman shows up and takes command. She ends up buying Clara and goes home with Tsukimi. Of course she turns out to be he, or where would this story go?

Kuranosuke is a rich boy who cross-dresses mostly to annoy his family, and in memory of his late mother, who was an actress with whom his father had an affair.  He also wants to be a designer, and he has made his way into the most unfashionable group of females he could possibly have found. Tsukimi is the only member of the household who knows his secret; the others are clueless. He makes up a girl’s name, Kurako, and insinuates himself into the lives of the nerds, attempting to dress them stylishly and trying to help them ease into social situations, which generally turns out to not work at all. Naturally, there is sexual tension between him and Tsukimi, particularly when he gets her out of her sweats and into girl clothes. Add to that the plot device of his half- brother Shu, who sees Tsukimi in her girly garb and gets a crush. Brother also just happens to be on a committee that is attempting to have the girls’ apartment building torn down, and he has his own problems, as he is being blackmailed into siding with the manipulative real estate agent Shoko, who gets Shu drunk and convinces him they’ve had sex. What we have here are enough plot twists to please Shakespeare, but, thankfully, not enough to make us think of Death Note and start screaming, along with fairly innocent sexual innuendo, gender trouble, and a sly poke at the otaku culture. This is particularly funny, since most otaku (and it is not really a complimentary term to the Japanese, as it means an overly obsessed fan) tend to be male.

So, we won’t tell you any more except that “all’s well that ends well;” you have to go watch it for yourselves now. And be sure to let us know what you think about it.

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