Much like before, another triple batch of mini-reviews for those few I watch for which I just have less to say about.
Astarotte no Omocha (or Astarotte’s Toy) is yet another series that struggles with identity, juggling an actual story on the one hand and cringe-worthy underage sexual themes on the other. You see, the main character is ten and it is her duty as a young succubus princess to start “extracting life seed” from males in order to live (like vampires need blood, as the show puts it). How, you ask? Well, blow jobs of course.
Yes, it’s that kind of show. Plenty of panty-shots, lurid poses, and a general sexual haze around everything despite most of the characters being really too young (think 10-14) and the few adults all have comically-sized melons. It is more than a little facepalm-inducing, and I’ve only barely scratched the surface of what’s objectionable in here. And yet, honestly, it didn’t bother me as much as it normally does. Maybe I’m just getting desensitized lately, but actually I think it is because the show, despite spending a lot of dialogue time on it doesn’t ever do anything objectionable. It’s all bark and very little bite. In the end, the character designs and actual plot make for a fairly standard junior-high-ish romance albeit set in a fantasy world, even though they’d like you to believe otherwise.
Of course, that isn’t to say it is a diamond in the rough. Even if you can look past the god-awful premise, the actual story and show is only so-so. It’s a light-hearted comedy romance thing with a paper-thin cliché plot and some run-of-the-mill characters and a really dumb ending. It’s not a bad show, even ignoring the really egregious parts of the premise, but it’s just “okay”.
Which is all a shame because there are many good qualities about it, so the potential seems especially wasted. Despite having very nice animation, a surprisingly quite decent soundtrack (love the ending credits especially), and some good voice actors, nothing ever really seems to amount to much. The world of monsters, the style of buildings and flora and such, is actually kinda nice and both fits the light cutesy nature as well as showing actual effort in fashioning an interesting and distinctive atmosphere. That and all of the Norse mythology used liberally is amusing. It’s an entertaining, cute, and fun diversion and it’s not very long. I enjoyed it in the end, and it was much better than the premise suggested, but it was awfully forgettable.
Hanamaru Yōchien (or Hanamaru Kindergarten) is a surprisingly enjoyable little series that I decided to watch while away from home one weekend. I figured I’d save the big important stuff for when I had proper time to sit down and view it on the big TV, and this would just be a little something to pass the time. It’s about some young adult kindergarten teachers and several of their little students in a sort of light-hearted rom-com thing. You see, our male lead is instantly infatuated with one of his kindergarten teacher co-workers who is a bit clueless when it comes to men liking her. Then there’s one of his young toddler students who is instantly infatuated with him and runs around telling everyone how she’s going to marry her teacher when she grows up.
Thankfully, outside of a few mild boobie jokes, this is not really that perverted of a show (like, say, Kodomo no Jikan). In fact, it’s just generally a really good, solid, feel-good anime. There’s never anything objectionable really, it’s never all that frustrating, hardly any real drama, and mostly just light-hearted fun as we get introduced to lots of characters and so on. It is very well animated, well voiced, and is the first series in a long, long time that I found myself thinking I should look up the soundtrack. Plus, because it was made by Gainax, they get to put a lot of fun references to other series (particularly Evangelion). In fact, each episode sports a unique song and ending sequence that are almost always inventive and interesting and well executed, and usually parodying another series or style or something.
If I can say anything bad about it maybe that it is short and kinda pointless since nothing is ever really resolved. It’s semi-episodic and too light to really have a meaty plot. The characters are all incredibly cliché, all archetypes you’ve seen before a million times (heck the male lead is basically the same guy from Love Hina). Okay, so a few characters show glimmers of depth but the short length of the series combined with a fairly extensive cast leaves little time to explore any of them adequately. Additionally, over half the characters are supposed to be in kindergarten which becomes a double-edged sword: on the one hand the kids are often extremely sugary cute and adorable, but on the other it can sometimes suffer a bit from squeaky-voice syndrome. But, really, I just found the whole thing to just be thoroughly enjoyable and left me feeling content and happy. Most of the above nitpicks are really just reasons why this series is easy to pick up and watch, uncomplicated and easy to enjoy. Don’t underestimate it like I did!
Ghost Stories has an interesting little history to its existence. It was a fairly unsuccessful title (for reasons that quickly become obvious when you see it) but it made it to the States here anyway. ADV then proceeded, amidst a lot of hue and cry from certain pockets of the fandom, to rewrite the dialogue extensively, keeping the story and basic plot in tact but throwing in all sorts of ridiculous voice acting, one liners, sexual and racist humor, frequent fourth-wall breaking, and lots of US pop-culture references. Wait, what? Yes. It is basically an official abridged dub, and man is it funny.
It’s no wonder that the original did so poorly. It is an uninspired “supernatural horror” tale about some school kids who discover a book from the female lead’s dead mother that details various demons and ghosts around the school and how to seal them. They then go on your basic monster-of-the-week thing. The animation is pretty bad. A Y2K-era title means it is right around when digital animation was transitioning and still in the awkward stages, but also the show has an obviously low budget. The quality of the drawings, the inconsistencies, and the jerky movements would normally turn me off quickly.
Unlike almost all my anime, I watched this one dubbed. Honestly, why bother otherwise? The original is not particularly good and its only claim to fame is the ludicrous dialogue rewriting of the English release. And let me tell you it is quite worth it. What was probably attempting to be a semi-serious tale gets eviscerated into a giant goofy gag-fest. Normally the bad English voices (and they are mostly bad, still) would be like nails on a chalkboard, but due to the humor factor they end up (along with the bad animation) adding to the charm. It becomes a sort of low-budget self-aware B-movie sort of thing. It was lots of fun.
As of this writing, you can watch Astarotte no Omocha and Hanamaru Yōchien for free on Crunchyroll. For Ghost Stories, you can find a lot of clips on YouTube and other sites host the full episodes, or you could just buy the official DVDs.