W Change! (Manga) Review

Rating: 7.5/10

Plot: Maki Kisaragi is the heir to a well-known and feared Yakuza clan, and she holds the Kisaragi’s blood that grants her with the unique power of having dual identities. One is the mild mannered Maki who wants nothing more than to escape her life as a child of the Yakuza and become a normal bride, the other is a violent Maki who loves nothing more than violence and fighting and would love to take over the Kisaragi group. Maki is also deeply in love with another yakuza heir, Tatsuya Fukama of the Kokushin group, who seems to want to pursue a life in the yakuza. Maki has to deal with her shifting personalities and trying to shake off her yakuza ties to achieve her dreams, but not everything turns out as you plan.

Breakdown: This is a somewhat unique story as it has an interesting combination of slice of life, romance and crime stories. A good chunk of the first half is mostly about Maki and introducing us to her perils in dealing with both ‘violent’ Maki and her yakuza family. I was actually somewhat worried that the whole yakuza thing was tacked on to change up a romance manga, but the second half really takes off with the whole yakuza plot points and makes for a really interesting and exciting gang war story while also keeping in plenty of character development and romance.

Maki herself is a little annoying in that her only goals for a decent part of the series is to be a normal bride, notably to Tatsuya. I can understand how a teenage girl would be apprehensive to join organized crime, even if she was raised in it, but just the fact that her only goal is to get married and be a ‘normal bride’ irks me.

She develops a lot over the series and even changes her goals quite a bit. She became a much more likable character in the last half even if there was a spot during the middle that seriously made me roll my eyes about her.

Tatsuya is one of those perfect guys who is a model student, incredibly handsome, a great fighter and of course sometimes plays the hero. He’s also very good at his job in the yakuza and is also best friends with a regular gang leader named Tachibana who has ties to his family’s group. However, he does have flaws as he gets injured several times in the course of the manga and makes mistakes concerning Maki. Despite his goals being the polar opposite of hers, barring the marriage thing, he still deeply loves her as well.

Their relationship is also very well handled. There’s no real BS or drama about their relationship barring one part during the middle that contributes to the note about eye rolling I made about Maki. They’re a very likable and cute couple, and they have plenty of chemistry and beautiful moments.

Later, they also go to school with another yakuza heir. Basically yakuza are everywhere. The only ‘normal’ person in the regular group of characters is a girl named Tomoka, who is Maki’s best friend from school. She knows about Maki’s personality problem as well as all of the other yakuza stuff with Tatsuya and Tachibana, making her a bit of a straight man.

The yakuza storyline is very interesting and kept me on the edge of my seat. While the activities in the yakuza weren’t super dark or anything over the course of the show, the story did take several dark turns.

The first actual murder that occurred blew my mind because they had been mostly about beating each other up and basically gang violence no worse than your average shounen show. But then they brutally murder a character that I really liked and damn it hit hard. Near the end they basically take the gloves off and start the real bloodshed, but that first murder had a lot of impact.

How they wrapped up Maki’s issue with her personality shifting was also pretty well-handled and even tied into what happened with her father who also possessed the Kisaragi’s personality shifting powers. It wasn’t particularly corny, and it created a bridge to a change in her character that actually made a lot sense instead of forcing it upon her.

I will say that the final chapter is pretty predictable and somewhat cheesy….I mean, really? (Spoilers) Maki’s grandfather decides to make the group into a charity and elderly nursing organization? I mean, yeah it kinda makes sense, but he was all about yakuza and keeping the Kisaragi group in power. (end of spoilers) but it’s also a nice ending with a basically believable ending, law and romance wise.

Art: The art is very well detailed and visually appealing, however, there’s not a lot that makes it stand out from other common anime art forms.

Bottomline: If you like romance and crime, or even one or the other, give this manga a shot. It’s well-written, fairly funny, exciting and changes up your average tales of romance and even crime. It’s no masterpiece, but it’s definitely worth a shot. There’s a sequel called Change 2 which is actually a short prequel to the story if you want to check that out first. Though I haven’t read it, it seems like a telling of how Maki initially found out about her other personality.

Additional Information and Notes: W Change was written and illustrated by Hiro Matsuba. It was published by Comic Blade.

Volumes: 6

Year: 2006

Recommended Audience: 10+

One-Year Blog Anniversary!

Today, it has been exactly one year since I started The Anime Madhouse!

Come on, reader. Don’tcha wanna party with us?

While this may not seem like a huge deal, I have started many a website, blog and forum in my life, and they’ve all usually been abandoned and died of neglect a mere month or two after creation. Many never got off the ground at all. So, I’m pretty excited that I’ve been able to keep a fairly steady stream of updates for this place over the year, if not just for the achievement in relative consistency. It’s not the most popular spot in the world, but I have had several great conversations and comments with interesting people, learned a lot and I’ve discovered plenty of great blogs around here too! That’s all I need to enjoy the fun of blogging. 🙂

Here’s to another year of anime insanity!

Ef: A Tale of Melodies Review

Plot: An extension to the series, Ef: A Tale of Memories, Melodies is a look into the lives of two couples, Yuu Himura and Yuko Amamiya, and Mizuki Hayama and Shuichi Kuze. Melodies is seen as darker and more tragic than Memories, but there is light within the darkness.

Rating: 9/10

Breakdown: It really breaks my heart that there aren’t more episodes of the Ef series….This has to be my favorite romantic drama anime ever. The biggest problem I had with Memories was that, despite having a wonderful pairing and story with Renji and Chihiro, the love square with Hirono, Miyako, Kei and Kyousuke was annoying and dragged the show down. Luckily, there’s none of that bull in this series.

It is a lot darker than Memories, though, dealing with rape (perhaps pedophilia depending on the ages of the characters when it started) self-harm, suicide, mental instability, abuse, impending death of a main character and more. However, that’s not to say that it’s a total depression-fest. There are plenty of romantic, funny and light-hearted moments to brighten things up. And yes, we also get semi-frequent cameos from the Memories characters. However, you might not be as familiar with these characters, even though they were in Memories, so let me bring you up to speed.

Yuu Himura:
Yuu’s role in Memories was probably the most significant out of the Melodies main cast. He is Chihiro’s caretaker through Memories and frequently spoke with Renji about his relationship to Chihiro.

In Melodies, most of his story takes place in the past as we learn of his backstory and his connection with the mysterious girl, Yuko. Yuu’s a bit of a rough character, but he has plenty of likable traits.

Yuko Amamiya: Yuko’s role in Memories is mysterious. She frequently popped in and out of the story to give advice to the characters when they needed to talk. Throughout Memories you don’t know who or what she really is, nor why she is speaking with these kids.

In Melodies we learn that she used to go to the same orphanage as Yuu and always wanted to refer to him as her big brother. They go several years without seeing each other, but then suddenly meet again in high school where Yuko seems to have picked right back up with her affection for him. Yuko’s story gets incredibly dark and you can somewhat predict what’s going to happen to her if you pay close attention, but she’s a bright and hopeful character for the most part.

Shuichi Kuze: Kuze is a violinist and a good friend to Yuko, Yuu and Nagi in high school. He eventually becomes a famous violinist, but gives it up due to a severe illness that has little in terms of hope for survival. Throughout Memories, he’s mostly comic relief. He’s a womanizer who has a thing for girls in costumes.

In Melodies, however, his stance drastically changes. His illness and thoughts of his impending death make him into a dark almost cold character. He creates a relationship with Renji’s cousin, Mizuki.

Mizuki Hayama: Mizuki’s role in Memories was rather small. She is Renji’s cousin and a good friend of Kei’s. She mostly just plays the part of a best friend through the series and is shown to be a big fan of Hirono’s manga.

In Melodies, she develops a relationship with Kuze. Despite the age difference, they get along rather well and eventually fall in love. However, Kuze’s illness and his change of outlook due to his impending fate greatly impacts their relationship. She is eventually shown to have a link to Yuu and Yuko’s past. Mizuki is a lot more likable in Melodies than she is in memories, which is basically the polar opposite of the way Kuze’s character went.

Nagi Hirono: Nagi’s role in Memories was really small. She’s Hirono’s older sister and a fellow artist just like her little brother.

In Melodies, her role is also not entirely significant. She’s a good friend to Yuu, Yuko and Kuze and used to be in love with Yuu. She mostly has a mentor role in Melodies, however there is one plot point with her that has a decent impact. Nagi’s a cool character.

What of the Memories Crew?

I really thought at the beginning that Melodies would build more on the lives of the main characters from Memories, but their stories really were ended in Memories, so it’s understandable that they don’t have a big role in this series. We do learn some interesting things about them, though, and there are a few plot points that get revealed about them.

WARNING: I’M GOING TO BE SPOILING SOMEWHAT SIGNIFICANT PLOT POINTS HERE. NOTHING TOO MAJOR, ESPECIALLY SINCE THEY’RE SIDE CHARACTERS IN THIS SERIES, BUT JUST IN CASE.

Chihiro: Chihiro has gone to Australia with Renji, his family and Yuu. In fact, a lot of Melodies takes place in Australia. Chihiro is still in love with Renji and eventually gives a key to the school roof to Mizuki as a good luck charm.

The major plot point about Chihiro, other than the one with Kei, is that it’s revealed that she was the granddaughter of Yuu and Yuko’s landlord. However, the one thing that really bugs me is that we never learn why Yuu became Chihiro’s caretaker after her accident. It was a passing mention that Kei and Chihiro were the granddaughters of their landlord, yet somehow that jumped to being close enough to take care of her after her accident. Also, it seems that Chihiro’s memory, while still continuously getting lost, is improving.

Renji: Renji has gone to Australia with his family and Mizuki. Not much develops with Renji in Melodies. All we know is that Renji still loves Chihiro.

Kei: I complained about Kei and her relationship with Chihiro in Memories. I said it seemed cold that Kei decided to spend her time obsessing over Hiro and acting like a jealous bitch than taking care of or spending time with Chihiro, especially since she was essentially the cause of Chihiro’s accident.

Well, in Melodies this is actually addressed. She wasn’t staying away from Chihiro because she wanted to – they were being kept apart by their family and Yuu. Every time that they’d see each other, they’d burst out crying while Kei would blame herself for what happened to Chihiro, and they’d have a constant back and forth about the guilt.

Since Chihiro forgets everything after 13 hours, they’d keep going through that day after day when they saw each other. As a result, their family separated them and they contacted each other by phone only. In Melodies, since they’ve gotten their lives together, Kei travels to Australia and they do the same thing again, only this time they both realize that the guilt is in the past and that they need to move to the future. Kei’s also eons more likable here since she has a new guy now and she’s not frothing at the mouth over Hiro. She also gives her key to Mizuki as a good luck charm.

Hiro: Hiro probably has the second to least amount of screentime in Melodies. That’s not very surprising, to be honest. He was dull in Memories, he’s duller in Melodies. About 99% of Hiro’s scenes just show him for a few seconds as he’s working on his manga. That’s about it.

Miyako: Miyako’s role is even smaller. She hardly appears at all. She’s shown to actually not be living with Hiro, but she does visit him every day.

Kyousuke: His role in Melodies is also incredibly small, but it is confirmed that Kei and Kyousuke are dating now. Despite never kissing on screen, there is a sketch of Kyousuke kissing her on the cheek in the last ending credits.

END OF SPOILERS

These two series, especially Melodies, were treats to sit through. I wish all romantic drama anime that I watch were this good. Usually they’re too boggled down in fanservice or stupidity.

If there’s anything bad that I can say about this series, it’s that the first few episodes are a bit slow. Also, the darker tone might try on people’s nerves. Don’t worry. It has a fairly happy ending. 🙂

Voice acting:
English – The voices are great, but I have some issues. First, it only happens in one or two episodes, but Yuu’s kid voice sounds too much like an adult emulating a child. In addition, Yuko sounds so weird in the final episode. She sounds so much different than she does in the rest of the series. I have no clue what happened there. Other than that, the voices are fitting and the acting is great. Oh yeah and, if it matters to you, they still say -chan, -san, -kun etc. in the English dub. It doesn’t bother me as much anymore, but still.

Music: The music had to grow on me, but indeed it did. In fact, I’d say I like this soundtrack better than Memories‘, which isn’t entirely surprising considering its namesake. The opener sounds a lot like the opener to Memories, but I like it a little more. However, it does have weird lyrics in broken Engrish. The weirdest line being “I wish I could see your insides.” I’m guessing that’s supposed to be metaphoric (ya know, like the person wants to see your soul or something) but it really sounds like something a serial killer would say.

Art: The art and animation are even better than in Memories. Some of artsy shots may get on people’s nerves and the design on the eyes seems off to me, but I found it beautiful.

Bottomline: If you liked Memories, you’ll love Melodies. If you like romantic dramas, check it out too. There are many likable characters (There was only one character that I despised, but you’re supposed to hate him.) wonderful music, great art and animation, wonderful story and nice mixture of dark drama with hope and happiness. I honestly can’t find much to say that’s bad about it.

Additional Information and Notes: Ef: A Tale of Melodies was based on adult visual novel games called Ef: The First Tale and Ef: The Latter Tale. The games are combined with several different different stories taken from different characters’ perspectives and their own specific stories that are separated into chapters.

Melodies is comprised of the prologues of both games and Chapter 4 from The Latter Tale.

Melodies is produced by Shaft, producers of other notably stylized series such as the Monogatari franchise, Dance in the Vampire Bund, the Sayonara Zetsubou Sensei franchise and Madoka Magica.

The series was directed by Shin Onuma who is also the directing force behind C3, Bakemonogatari, Princess Tutu, Pani Poni Dash! and Silent Mobius.

Episodes: 12

Year: 2008

Recommended Audience: Surprisingly, even though this series deals with the older characters from Memories, there’s no sex scenes or real nudity. Which is odd, seeing as how there are two sex scenes (albeit brief and non-graphic) in Memories and all of them were underage. There is some nudity, but it’s nonsexual and it’s only because Nagi has this weird thing about painting her portrait while nude in the art room. You don’t see much, though. There’s no real fanservice, no swearing, however the very heavy themes are enough to deter younger audiences. Around episode, err 6 or 7 is where it really hits the fan. 15 or 16+

Dissecting the Disquels: The Return of Jafar

Plot: Iago has escaped from Jafar’s lamp, and with a new life free of Jafar, he has decided to live it up in Agrabah. After suddenly befriending Aladdin, the Genie makes his return to the palace to stay with his friends. Meanwhile, Jafar’s lamp is found by the petty thief, Abis Mal who becomes his new master. However, Jafar has other plans for him and they involve taking over Agrabah and getting revenge on Aladdin and his friends.

Breakdown: I think I’m treading into dangerous territory here. Return of Jafar was, I believe, one of the first Disney sequels ever made. It was certainly the first one that I remember seeing. Hell, I still have the VHS tape of it. However, it was certainly a sign of what was to come.

I….think this movie…is…..okay. It certainly has more substance than most Disney sequels, but I still wouldn’t call it ‘good’.

First off, the art and animation look no different, if not worse, than the TV series. That is to say, it’s nowhere near the original, fairly bad at certain areas, but not cringe worthy.

Second, Robin Williams doesn’t reprise his role as Genie in this movie. He is now voiced by Dan Castellaneta here, who is most famous for his role as Homer on The Simpsons. And, I gotta tell ya, it really does sound like Homer doing an impression of the Genie. He just doesn’t sound right.

Next, the music. They do a reprisal of “Arabian Nights”, which is….nice. I mean, I really like Arabian Nights, but they couldn’t have some up with anything new for this movie? Also, this version sounds less epic and slightly faster than the first one.

The next song is a song called “I’m Lookin’ Out for Me”, sung by Iago, which means yay Gilbert Gottfried singing….Granted, it’s actually a fairly memorable song, which, again, is more than I can say for other Disney sequels, but it’s not really that great of a song and it has little point. I mean, did we really need musical accompaniment to learn that Iago’s selfish? Also, the song has “written for a direct-to-video movie” written all over it. Which can be said of all of the other songs, to be honest.

The next song is…..*sigh* “Nothing in the World like a Friend”….This song is painful to me. The other songs may have a degree of lameness to them, but this one’s like ultra-lame. This one is sung by Genie and while he’s a better singer than Iago, the lyrics are still lame and cheesy. The song is a little memorable, but not really. Also, this is yet another song with no point. We know Genie treasures his friendship with Aladdin and the others. Of course he missed them while he was away.

After that, we have a song called “Forget about Love” which is, again, sung by Iago, but later by Aladdin and Jasmine. This song’s the best of the movie, IMO, but it also serves little purpose. Aladdin and Jasmine have a fight about Aladdin lying about Iago being in the palace and him now being a friend. Even though it wasn’t Iago’s fault, really, Genie pushes him into making up through this reverse psychology song where Iago convinces her that love sucks, but she makes a case against it. This song is relatively pointless because it’s not like they were gonna break up just because of that. They had a small tiff and made up. Whoopdeedoo.

The final song is the ‘villain’ song, I guess. It’s called “You’re Only Second Rate” and it’s sung by Jafar. This song is the second best IMO, and it does serve a point, in a way. It’s meant to show that Genie’s lost a good chunk of his mojo since he was freed and Jafar has all the power in the world because he’s still imprisoned in the lamp. (I’ll get to this later) It’s basically him showing off his powers while the Genie can do nothing about it.

While this would make for a cool villain song, it’s ruined by the sheer comedic tone. We actually see Jafar as a granny and Genie in his underwear during this song. Only one point in the song is really dramatic and, of course, that’s the best part of the song.

Now for the story. Basically I guess Iago was such a fan favorite that they really wanted him to be on the side of good during the upcoming Aladdin TV series. Even though Iago has shown himself to be nothing but selfish and evil in the past, he’s good now. Yeah, of course they have that moment where it seems like Iago has betrayed the good guys to go back to the side of bad, but he redeems himself in the end.

Jafar’s plot doesn’t really make sense if you ask me. First of all, it’s never adequately explained how Abis Mal and his cronies got into the Cave of Wonders. I seriously doubt HE’S a diamond in the rough. They also don’t explain how they found Jafar’s lamp and made it out alive seeing as how Aladdin barely managed that in the first movie. They could have refrained from stealing anything, but really I doubt these idiot thieves have more restraint than a klepto monkey.

Second, Jafar is constantly touting that he’s more powerful than Genie because Genie was freed. Freed genies have less power because they’re no longer tethered to their lamp, which must somehow grant them more power. However, one of his drives during this movie is freeing himself from the lamp in order to be unrestricted by its rules….well, wouldn’t that make him….less powerful? Like Genie?

Nothing really interesting happens until the final 20 minutes of the movie. Other than that, it’s mostly filler. The last 20 minutes are a fairly decent continuation of the first movie, but it’s nothing particularly epic, in fact it’s fairly predictable.

Oh and Aladdin and Jasmine haven’t gotten married yet in this movie. Yeah, it seemed like they were going to get married soon after the end of the first movie, but the writers were like ‘booooo married people are boring, we can’t have that in the TV series’ and kept them as fiances until the end of movie three.

All in all, this movie was just meh. Not a horrible Disney sequel, but not a particularly good one either.

Rating: 5.5/10

Recommended Audience: 0+