Sunday, September 30, 2012

:anime: Free/Low-Cost Anime Pick of the Month:: Even More Mari Okada!!

For the past two "Free/Low-Cost Anime Picks of the Month", I have highlighted a few titles penned by screenwriter Mari Okada, one of the most in-demand--and divisive--talents in the anime industry. This was largely unintentional and no, I haven't been too kind about her work, either. However, she is a hot commodity for a reason and not everything she has done has been a complete mess (maybe well-controlled messes, but still…). So I figured, why not conclude our little "Unintentional Mari Okada Awareness Special" by spotlighting two shows of her's that are actually pretty good!

Black Rock Shooter

Official Sites: Japanese, English
Additional Links: ANN Entry, MAL Entry, HD Preview
Video: Niconico

Featured as an entrant in HD's 2011-12 noitaminA preview, the inclusion of Black Rock Shooter in the block may not have been as surprising as the standout success of it. It turned out to be one of the best and most intriguing series of the year, thanks in part to Okada's signature emotion-heavy approach, of which was very fitting of the psychological narrative that was woven. Shinbou Yoshioka's dramatic direction is strong and can turn Okada's style into a thing of beauty in certain scenes, whereas Hiroyuki Imaishi's no-holds-barred direction of the show's stunning CGI fight scenes give the story and given situations the right kind of pop. The acting, score, and production work are all superb, as well.

Truth be told, however, BRS may not be everyone's cup-of-tea. It can be very cerebral at times and not all may become endeared to its troubled (and that's putting it lightly) characters. It can be as brutally honest with them as its fight scenes, which can be surprisingly graphic. It's not completely perfect--the screenwriter's habit of not explaining key details rears its head and the tight, careful storytelling crumbles towards the end--but it manages to do a whole lot right. Even at just eight episodes, Black Rock Shooter proved to be one of Okada's best…

Hanasaku Iroha

Official Site: Japanese
Additional Links: ANN Entry, MAL Entry
Video: Crunchyroll

If true tears got them noticed, and Angel Beats! put them on the map, then P.A. Works' 2011 hit work Hanasaku Iroha put the studio over the top, due in part to stalwart contributor Mari Okada's screenwork. As noted last time, she and director Masahiro Ando teamed up at the animation house for the first time since CANAAN, but its 10th anniversary project would garner far more praise and sales.

It became one of the most popular and critically-lauded titles of the year and one of its best-selling ones, as well. As expected from P.A. Works and Ando, the production values are outstanding, but the writing fares better than it previously did (though it should be mentioned that while Okada handled the series composition and most of the episode scripts, others contributed, as well). Though I've only seen the first four episodes, thus far, it has been an entertaining start and fans may want to know that a movie sequel is also in the works.

In spite of her flaws, Mari Okada is not wont for work for nothing--she actually does possess a resume with its share of quality titles and ones capable of attracting different audience types. Here are a few more that are available streamed:

Red Garden
--I often mention the eclectic horror-drama Red Garden, even recommending it as part of a special Halloween Pick a few years ago, but it is too unique a show to let go without some kind of word as an Okada show. Although, it might be a little too "unique" for some… (As much as I dislike the dub, which cuts down on the full experience of the show and is inferior to the sub, it's the only version available online, unfortunately.)

--A crime-solving mystery show from BONES, featuring a typically-sumptuous score by Code Geass' Kotaro Nakagawa, Gosick was one of a few titles that soon-to-be-defunct Bandai Ent. had planned on releasing before their sudden withdrawal from the distributing business. Though back on the licensing market, at least there is still a chance to watch it online.

Lupin the Third: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
--A critical and fan darling, the success of this very risque Lupin III prequel-of-sorts was was owed in part to the list of names behind it: Mitchiko e Hatchin director Sayo Yamamoto (director), Redline director/character designer Takashi Koike (character designs), Cowboy Bebop & Eureka 7 writer Dai Sato (episode scripts), and yes, one Mari Okada (series composition, majority of episode scripts). Who says females (Yamamoto, Okada) can't make saucy, fanservice-heavy stuff?

Hourou Musoko/Wandering Son
--Unsurprisingly, this 2011 noitaminA title wasn't a best seller among the otaku--and in general, Japanese--crowd, since it is a tale about a young boy and girl respectively dealing with sexual identity in a serious, non-fanservice-y way. Transgender topics are not the easiest or most popular to tackle, but Hourou Musoko/Wandering Son did garner applause for its handling of them and has received generally high marks, as a whole.

Blast of Tempest (Zetsuen no Tempest)
--Ando and Okada team up once again in this very anticipated mix of murder-mystery, sorcery, and apocalyptic crisis, but instead of P.A. Works, it's at the director's old stomping grounds, BONES. Her most recent work to-date (Oct. 2012).

EDIT [10/07/12]: Completely forgot that the recently-premiered Blast of Tempest was another Ando-Okada collaboration. Only natural to note it here, too…

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