Archive for the English Anime Category


Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon Anime (English) Guest Review By Mariko S

September 28th, 2016

caradIt’s Guest Review Wednesday here on Okazu! Today we have returning Guest Guest Reviewer, Mariko S, who will be handling a request I get here rather often, a look at the Cross Ange series.  

If you know of some media that you consider Yuri or lesbian and want it reviewed, but haven’t seen it here, take a look at our Guest Review Guidelines and consider offering to write a review. 

So please welcome back Mariko and give her your undivided attention. Take it away, Mariko!

Compared to a couple of decades ago, it has never been easier to acquire and enjoy Yuri. Before, outside of a couple of pantheon-level characters and series, we Yurifans were mostly relegated to overblowing curiously timed blushes and offhand remarks. Now there’s more dedicated Yuri content released than ever before.

Of course, the dark side of this evolution has been the ossification of the Yuri genre around the “pure schoolgirl” archetype. This has resulted in seemingly endless series devoted to a plain girl entering a prestigious private all-girls school in a world where men don’t exist, and all the girls are gay. Nothing much happens over the course of a season, and at the end you get a kiss between the leads (maybe).

Where can we turn to break out of this doldrum? Where there is a real story, with a detailed plot, and things of consequence happen to a diverse cast in a richly developed world that happens to contain lesbian characters? In search of such a thing, I have delved into the world of seinen series, home of old to various evil lesbian predators or joke Yuricrushes. And to my delight, amongst the awful dreck of your Koihime Musou and Valkyrie Drives, there is some worthwhile stuff being produced! Today I come to talk to you about Cross Ange: Rondo of Angel and Dragon, available on Crunchyroll (behind an adult themes warning.)

We are introduced to an idyllic world, seemingly free of all strife, and the magi-tech power called Mana that enables it. Our heroine Angelise is a spoiled, ignorant princess who, as it turns out, is one of the outcast “norma,” people (always female) who cannot use Mana. Her unmasking and downfall is orchestrated by her scheming brother, and as a result she is rudely ripped from her perfect life of privilege and thrown into the hidden war that enables the rest of society’s bliss.

As she finds out, when norma are discovered they are sent to a distant island where they are forced to use non-magic weapons in the form of fighting jet-robots called para-mails to battle extradimensional invading dragons. Most of the girls have been there since birth and know no other life.

The series has a remarkably good pace of character development for Ange. She has lived all her life believing that norma were antisocial monsters that must be eliminated, and it is not a quick or easy process for her to accept that she is one and how to restart her life as one. Additionally, the layers of truth and fiction surrounding the reality of the show’s universe are revealed in a gradual but compelling way. Things do not stay static long on this show.

Ok, so I will outright say it – many aspects of the show can get pretty ridiculous. The service is liberally sprinkled around: the battle uniforms are glorified fetishwear, too many conversations take place in baths, and there’s no shortage of boobs and butts flying around. However, as far as the plot is concerned, as crazy as many of the developments seem as they come out, for the most part I have to give the show credit for hanging together by its own internal logic to the end. There is only one truly horrendous asspull for which you will have to pretend they came up with a better explanation.

There are situations of violence and sexual coercion meant to emphasize Ange’s vulnerability. There’s lots of violence overall; although most of it isn’t especially gruesome, some scenes could be difficult if you are sensitive. Finally, the token male lead/love interest Tusk has a running gag of ending up face-first in Ange’s crotch at every opportunity. It isn’t funny the first time, and gets less funny every time after.

But that out of the way, unlike many of its contemporaries, this show has a brain and a heart. Ange goes on quite the journey from a weak, irritating, unlikeable brat to a strong, seasoned, fair leader. The series wants to say something about the way groups of people are marginalized and demonized to maintain a false sense of security. It brings together a diverse cast of people who are not stereotypes or tokens, but who have pasts, presents, and futures to explore. It draws a distinct contrast between the way the main villain says he wants “strong women of intelligence” by his side, but really just wants obedient servants, and the truly strong women who oppose him. It’s not a masterpiece, but it has ambition, and that is commendable.

Make no mistake, this is a series with Yuri, and plenty of it. But also, make no mistake, this is a seinen series through and through, and wears its fanservice badge proudly and frequently. For the first half of the series, lesbian attraction and lesbian sex serves primarily as titillation. To the show’s credit, there is never any “but we’re both girls” or a sense that it’s a stand-in because men aren’t around. Some of the sex is about power, some is about genuine attraction. The only character who thinks it’s “wrong” is Ange herself, and that is part of her character development.

In the end, while she does not return the feelings of the girl who loves her, she accepts them and even chastises her for feeling that her attraction is “weird.” Her response was pretty amazing to me for a show like this: “Who says it’s weird? That’s the ridiculous world we’re going to destroy together, isn’t it?”

In fact, there are three canonically lesbian characters who are all fully developed and have arcs both including and apart from their sexuality. They are not by any means one-note side characters or jokes. And that, whatever other shortcomings this show has, makes it worth any Yurifan’s time and money.
Ratings:
Art – 7
Story – 8
Characters – 7
Yuri– 8
Service – 10

Overall – 7

Thank you very much, Mariko!





LGBTQ: Steven Universe, Season 4 (English)

September 15th, 2016

sulogo-300x194I consider Steven Universe, Season 1 to be good, Season 2 to be excellent, Season 3 to be compelling. So it should come as no surprise to hear that Season 4 of Steven Universe is sublime.

To begin with, Season 4 starts with something we haven’t had before – a plot that is not driven by character development. A full-blown rollicking action adventure, as we learn of  “The Cluster” at the center of the Earth which is about to destroy the planet.

Which is not to say that there is no character development, just that the plot itself is as much classic sci-fi with gadgets and robots as it is character development. We get our very first glimpse of a real Diamond, (Yellow Diamond, voiced perfectly by Patti Lupone, swoon, I always do fall for the nasty ones). Peridot is put on the gangplank and her reaction…is not what we might expect. But Steven has a surprising effect on people and Gems.

Having saved the Earth again, we are rewarded by the most absurd handwave in cartooning – a character being so rich that money is never an object. Hey, if it works for Batman, why not?

And yet, nothing that you’d expect happens with this handwave. I know that if I were to come in to 10 million dollars, I wouldn’t change a thing about my life at the moment. I’d travel more often – and first class – but that’s about it. So, while this handwave might affect everything…it actually affects very little. I appreciated that. But it does make the rest of the season possible.

Because, what follows are two of the most amazing cartoon episodes ever. In “Mr. Greg,” wrapped in a facile and silly musical episode, Pearl – thinking she’s alone – sings a heart-rending ode to the loss of her love, Rose. She uncovers the seed of her resentment for Greg and in doing so is able, finally, to let it go.

The season could rest there, but no.  In what has to be one of the most extraordinary episodes ever (throughout which I kept saying “holy crap,” over and over) the story takes on the tangled web of Lapis Lazuli’s history of a forced fusion and an abusive relationship with Jasper. “Alone At Sea” deserves an Emmy.

Once again, having uncovered pain, the plot can move forward. And so, we turn once again (as we have over and over) to Connie and Steven who are now fighting in tandem and becoming stronger. So much so, that Amethyst’s low-self-esteem becomes an issue…again. By the time the season ends, we can see that Amethyst isn’t the only one who feels inadequate to the task. Steven is keenly aware that he’ll never be Rose Quartz. And Jasper is still out there and will have to be dealt with.

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story- 10
Characters – 10
Service –  3 Pearl in a tux is definitely a kind of service
Yuri – 9

Overall – 10

You should be watching this cartoon.





LGBTQ: Steven Universe, Season 3 (English)

September 12th, 2016

sulogo-300x194Season Three of Steven Universe is some of the most amazing animation I’ve ever sat though.

With one exception, every episode of Season 3 is strong…and they build on each other to an amazing extent. Which is a why the first episode of the season is so damn annoying.

In Season 1, we’re introduced to the characters, and start to get a feel for their personalities and back stories. In Season 2, even as we start to truly understand the alien nature of the Crystal Gems and the war for Earth’s independence which isolated them from the Gem Homeworld, we come to appreciate their essential “humanity.

The first episode, however was a misguided attempt by Cartoon Network to promote the unwatchable Uncle Grandpa. To salve our annoyance a genuine plot point is added, which moves the entire story forward in a leap.

From that point on, this season is two steps forward and one look back. We learn key backstories and by doing so, we can see just how much the Crystal Gems have changed from their days with Rose Quartz, in which they were far more alien than they are now.

Which makes it that much more poignant as the story forces every single one of them to confront their own fears, relationships and bonds. And just as they seem to come out the other side, Peridot joins the crew, which really highlights the changes they’ve gone through.

We now can say with complete confidence that Garnet is a fusion of two gems who are in love, that Pearl’s feelings for Rose go beyond a mere crush and that Amethyst is, at heart, a surprisingly fragile Gem. In the center is Steven, who is more like his mother than anyone has yet admitted – inspiring cooperation and fierce loyalty in others.

The humans in Beach City are not immune to this, either. Steven brings a little humanity to several of the town’s bored teens and we get to see a side of Greg we hadn’t really recognized – his ability to weather crises with a calm perspective. Maybe, we think, he was a good match for Rose, after all.

Let me once again wind up with Connie. Two of my favorite episodes in the series are in this season and both focus on Connie. In “Sworn to the Sword,” in Connie decides to train to be Steven’s knight. Steven’s affection for Connie brings about a shockingly raw admission from Pearl and in the resolution, we can see all three of them maturing visibly.

This is followed by “Nightmare Hospital,” in which Connie is forced to use her newfound strength to face the greatest monster of all – parental disapproval. Again, the resolution is satisfying on all levels.

At this point, I should probably note that the music for Steven Universe is as catchy as can be. I’m really hoping they just put together a soundtrack album, because I’d love to have all the music in one place. In the meantime, Season 2 has a “best of” songs episode, episode 101, “Steven’s Greatest Hits.”

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story- 10
Characters – 10
Service – Not visually
Yuri – 7 (“That’s my Laffy Saffy”)

Overall – 10

I’ve posted this here before, but it’s worth mentioning again, because once I start singing it, it takes a week to get it out of my head. Here’s “Do It For Her/Do It For Him” from “Sworn to the Sword.”





LGBTQ: Steven Universe, Season 2 (English)

September 9th, 2016

As much as I talk about Steven Universe, I’ve been remiss with reviews. With that in mind, I’m taking some time this month to get caught up on reviewing this amazing cartoon, so we can talk about things like representation and diversity in American cartoons, something I started in my review of Adventure Time.

In Season 1 of Steven Universe, we meet and instantly dislike Steven Universe, the half-magical son of carwash owner Greg Universe. Steven, his father and his guardians, the Crystal Gems, live in a small seaside town, based loosely but lovingly on Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. (A town, not at all coincidentally, which is popular with gays and lesbians. It’s a bit like a mid-Atlantic Provincetown.)  Steven appears and act about 8 or 9 years old. He’s whiny and annoying, but about halfway through the first season, you start to get a better sense of him and his obviously not-at-all-human guardians.

In Season 2, Steven and the Crystal Gems develop as characters. We spend a lot of time watching the Gems not really comprehending humanity, interacting with them awkwardly – but loving them for Rose Quartz’s sake – and watching Steven struggle with nascent and unpredictable powers. Bits of their backstory starts to filter through the noise, and we get a better sense of the Gems’ feelings of obligation for Steven’s well-being, but also watch them deal with his need to be independent of their protection.

While this tug-of-war is going on, Steven is, little by little, introduced to his mother’s legacy. But more importantly, he starts to develop himself outside the heir to his mother’s legend the Gems require him to be. And when we meet his friend Connie, Steven suddenly becomes much, much more human.

I’m going to go on record that I adore Steven and Connie’s relationship and would have watched this cartoon if this was the only relationship in the series. They are terrific together. Connie’s overprotective, overachieving parents have raised a fine young woman. Almost immediately we can see that Steven and Connie genuinely care about each other and really enjoy each other’s company. They make a great partnership even this early on in the series.

One of the things I very much like about the series is the extremely diverse voice cast and characterization. Even before the cartoon gets into sexuality (which it will in a big way,) it’s diverse in other ways, including ethnicity and body type. But my perspective is that of a white woman, so any visible diversity seems, on the face of it, as a good thing. While Garnet, voiced by singer Estelle, reads to me as a woman of color, there’s some really terrific writing about Pearl as a PoC character, and why SU still doesn’t do black characters right. It’s all worth reading. I’m not the only one watching SU carefully for representation. That there is so much to parse is part of why I like the series.

We can summarize Season 2 as being about the humanizing of the characters – all of them, really. Greg gets fleshed out, the Gems start thinking of Steven as a separate entity from his mother, their leader, and Steven and Connie push each other to be better as people and friends. The people of Beach City start to develop as more than just background images, and suddenly you find yourself joining Ronaldo in his quest to to keep Beach City Weird. ^_^

Ratings:

Art – 8
Story- 10
Characters – 10
Service – Not visually
Yuri – 5 Pearl’s idolization of Rose is most definitely a crush

Overall – 10

By the end of Season 2, I’d forgotten how whiny Steven was in Season 1. And by the end of Season 2, I was fully hooked, lined and sinkered. ^_^





Adventure Time Cartoon (English)

August 26th, 2016

front porchI’m late to this party, I know. It was last year or so when Dreiser (the very same Dreiser who coined “AniLesboCon”) sat my ass down and did an epic description of the Marceline x Princess Bubblegum (Bubbeline) relationship across all of Adventure Time. I’d seen some random episodes of AT and liked it fine, but up to that point, my favorite character was BMO. ^_^ I loved the happy-go-lucky stories, the anime references, the goofy way things played out, but never was caught up by the story overall.

I mean, sure we all like Jake makin’ bacon pancakes, but the show was very hit or miss for me. I did like Bubblegum Princess and Marceline quite a lot. When AT did a Marceline-focused arc, I promised myself I’d sit down and really watch it, but then just never did.

Recently one of my favorite lesbian sites on the Internets, Autostraddle wrote up a passionate review of their relationship and went so far as to detail episodes one should watch, in order, to see their story. Finally, I went and did the thing.

Start here, with “Adventure Time” Lets Marceline And Princess Bubblegum Grow Up (And Old) Together  by Heather Hogan. Even if you don’t watch all the episodes, the article is A level fangirling and worth reading for itself. ^_^

In 2014, Olivia Olsen, Marceline’s voice actress, stated that she had been told by series creator Pendleton Ward that Marcy and BP had been (and she thought they ought to be) a couple, but because queer programming might offend some TV markets, it was left as subtext.

There was some kerfuffle after this. Denialists aside, at this point, it’s almost *more* enraging for fans when absurdly obvious subtext stays subtext. Which is partially why Rebecca Sugar, who had worked on AT, created Steven Universe. She saw a huge need for overt text queer representation in cartoons. So yay Adventure Time for cracking that door open. I especially wanted to give this cartoon some props for that, before taking on the new season of Steven Universe.

I’m going to say that, plausible deniability be damned, no one smells another person’s t-shirt every morning, if they are just friends. ^_^ Marcy and BP get close from time to time to saying something important, but they aren’t going to because this is a show about people for whom romance gets in the way of watching a movie or going on adventures. Nonetheless, BP’s assurance that when Marceline dies, she’d be the one to bury her and Marceline’s request that they grow up and spend their lives together pretty much indicates exactly what you’d expect.

While in Japan in the spring I came across this little tote bag and completely lost my shit. ^_^

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I had no use for it and it was way too expensive but I went back 3 times to fight with myself about buying it. ^_^

So, with Marceline and Bubblegum, we have canon, but not overt text. Very close, but not quite in the gold. Adventure Time gets a silver medal from us on presentation and general audience reaction.

Ratings:

Art – 6 Even as goofy as it is, it’s sometimes good
Story – 8 It can be hit or miss, but more hit than miss
Characters – 9 Their self-awareness and honesty can take an adult’s breath away. Thundarr was never like this.
Yuri – 4 It’s subtexty, but sometimes gets really close to that line

Overall – 8

Possibly even more importantly, Adventure Time heralded a new age of amazing American cartoon storytelling, the likes of which I had not seen in decades. We’re in a really good place for cartooning in America and I, for one, am thrilled.