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.
The 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. The 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!