Kaichou wa Maid-sama

We all know this type of anime. Sweet and inoffensive. Well, almost.

The format is traditional. Poor girl wants to do as best she can in life and works her way up to school president. To keep her family finances from getting any worse she also has a part time job. She is a “maid” at a café. Naturally this does not marry up with her image at school and so her job is a secret. That is, until a boy from her school finds out she works there.

We all know where this is going… and yet Maid-sama turns something that should be bordering on the ecchi and makes it almost feminist. Ayuzawa, our heroine, is the opposite of a shojo heroine. She is not shy, or quiet or even nice. She hides her job because she is ashamed of it. At school she is a demon. The school has recently gone co-ed and is male dominated. To compensate for this Ayuzawa is not only driven to protect the small clan of girls at the school but intimidates anything of the opposite sex.

The series seems to enjoy putting her in clichéd situations, such as the stalker storyline and turn the tables. She does not need rescuing. She does not need a man in her life. She is happily independent. In doing this the show does become more parody than good anime but it’s still enjoyable even with the formulaic storyline.

This is not a Lovely Complex type anime. It’s not a sweet story. It has a harder edge to it than that, which as a woman in her early thirties I appreciated. There are sexual references and while no flesh is shown some of the jokes are very below the belt.

The main instigator of all this is Usui. The hot guy in school, who seems wholly uninterested in school life or any of the stream of girls that hover around him. The president treats him with the same distain she would any male and this is what makes him interested. Usui has many secrets surrounding him that the president is intrigued by but cannot bring herself to really show an interest in. She has better things to do. This all changes when Usui finds her at a café in a maid uniform.

At first he goes there to tease but his visits rapidly turn to a guilty pleasure. He even ends up working there.

There is plenty of character development. Both Ayuzawa and Usui change as they get to know each other.

Apart from that the series left me feeling vaguely disappointed. Yes it attempted to jazz up the tired formula with some fun characters and plot devices and there is plenty to get a romantics heart racing. I just can’t help feeling I’ve seen all this before and probably done better.

3/5

I think I’ll go back to something bloody next, or paranormal… I think anime romance is making me cynical.

Indebted Chapter 121

 

Gabriella sighed. It had been over a day and still she was under orders not to move from her room. Not just Edward’s orders but Mustang’s too. Edward had been to see her twice, but only briefly. He was busy with whatever it was Mustang had him doing as a penalty for breaking regulations. He would not be drawn on what he was doing or how he planned to deal with the scandal splashed all over the newspapers.

 

Riza had been to see her too and had walked Iggy. Gabriella had run out of nail to nibble on her fingers and had started on the skin, peeling it off in little rolls so her fingertips were now red and sore. She really did worry too much, but what else could she do? She was the classic damsel in distress, though it made her bristle that she had to rely on the men in her life to resolve the situation. She really had been here too long. If this had happened when she first arrived she would be stalking around the halls of HQ and eviscerating anyone who looked at her the wrong way. Then again, she would not have played the game and so would have even less choice over how she lived her life than she did presently. The situation was regrettable but not disastrous. She was not going to apologise for falling in love but she still could not settle her anxiety no matter how she reasoned with herself, and part of the cause was needing to rely on others to do the thinking for her. The rest of the worry came from how Edward would be affected by this.

 

He had a bright shining career and despite his recalcitrant attitude towards the military it was the closest thing to a home he probably had outside of Rizembool. This was no small matter for him, as much as he may claim otherwise. She sighed and looked at the ceiling. Her life was so complicated that sometimes she fervently wished she was back at the cottage. It had been warm, safe, secure.

 

“Boring,” she muttered to herself. If she was entirely honest she knew Edward had been right about her back then. He had spent two weeks in her company before flat out telling her she was existing –  not living. She had been scandalised at the time; how dare he judge her? But he had been right, as always. She had put her life on hold to avoid getting hurt.

 

“Then he fell into it and we have not stopped running at a sprint since,” she muttered, smiling. He may not have intended it, but Edward had changed her life and her sister’s life. It was not necessarily for the better but it was certainly more interesting. No, she was not sorry she had fallen for him but she should be facing the consequences rather than hiding in her room. Then again, she was not her old self. She was more cautious than the old Gabriella. She remembered facing the generals at the hearing that would decide her fate in the military. She had gone in there head held high; prepared to growl, snarl and preach to them all. She cringed a little to think of herself back then. It was not even a year ago and yet she felt like a different person. If she faced the generals now, she would answer their questions and listen to the arguments before deciding on a strategy. A much less dramatic approach, but she would probably have fed the press less fodder and given Mustang less power over her destiny.

 

She frowned at herself. She would do as asked but she had another battle to prepare for. Olan Venguard. With that in mind, she shuffled into the hall to use the internal telephone. Luckily Riza had given her the direct number for her apartment and she did not have to use the switchboard. She was not sure the switchboard operator would have been able to restrain herself from asking her questions and Gabriella was not up to being chewed over by the gossip hungry women who always seemed to end up in the positions where they were most likely to acquire what they needed to feed their habit. A quick request to Riza and she returned to her room.

 

Twenty agonising minutes later, during which she nibbled her index finger until it bled, her request turned up; an ancient man from the archive pushing a trolley filled with documents into her room. Some of them were old and yellow, whereas others appeared not to be written on paper at all. She frowned; just what had Riza asked for? She blinked as the old man lectured her on treating the more ancient documents with care. Gloves were provided lest the acids in her perspiration and the oils from her skin damage the vellum. The scrolls needed to be replaced in their sealed containers or the damp atmosphere and her breath would cause them to begin to degrade. The man warned that many of these documents were rarely requested and so these were the only copies. If she damaged them she was damaging Amestrisian history.

 

With a gulp she pulled the trolley further into her room. She rolled up her sleeves and pulled on the white gloves. She put her hands on her hips and surveyed the trolley. It was quite disheartening, actually. With the military’s grip on power within the country she had expected her request to yield more recent information. This was the entirety of the material the military had on its northern neighbour. The majority of the documentation was old – very old; from before the country was even called Amestris. The modern documents were mainly battle reports. Riza had a very high level of security clearance and seemed only too happy to use it to access the records for Gabriella. Gabbie suspected Riza was not happy with Roy and giving Gabriella what she needed was her revenge. They were like an old married couple already. Still, this was what she needed to fight. She would not go into this chapter of her life unarmed. Knowledge was power; the more she could find out about Drachma, the better.

 

“Where to start?” she wondered, tucking a red curl behind her ear. The records seemed to be in no particular order if they were fifty years or older. She dug through three boxes of weather reports from the border outposts before her eager fingers found something of interest.

 

A book. It looked like a journal. The leather binding was cracked and fragile; the pages were loose within. She thumbed open the cover with reverent care. The yellowed paper was scrawled over in copperplate handwriting. Her eyes narrowed. The language was English, or rather Amestrisian, but it was spelt oddly and the syntax was unusual.

 

“My dear father having granted me permission to go on this latest excursion is on condition of my conducting a preliminary research project of the people of the vast highlands to the north that are perpetually clad, for the most part, in a mantle of white. These notes have been written by mine own hand and while on my travels, and this will then inform my experiments when I return to the mother land.”

 

“Experiments?” she mused. “This guy was an alchemist?” She searched for the date of the first entry. The journal was almost four hundred years old! Her hands trembled and she gently placed the journal on the floor to read so there was no danger of her dropping it. The old man had not been kidding about her handling history!

 

“If our brittle nation is to prosper,” continued the journal, “people gifted in the alchemical sciences must be at the forefront of developing our people and guiding them to a position of strength. We have much to learn from the people of these mountains. It is said that they practise alchemy without adhering to the rules of transformation or energy. I am sceptical this can be so thus we take this trip to find out if hearsay is correct. I, Luca Elric, will recount my findings faithfully in these pages and hopefully work towards the betterment of our infant nation.”

 

Gabriella’s heart squeezed painfully.

 

“Luca,” she whispered her eyes suddenly misting with tears. “Envy.” She sighed the name, half expecting it would summon the evil entity and she would hear his hateful drawl in her ear. She shuddered. Junji had told her that Envy had travelled Drachma as a young man. She wondered if the military knew that the author of this journal had family working for them in the present. They all had the same father, and that put Edward’s father at well over 500 years old. Just how long had he and Dante lived for? She shuddered again, not wanting to really delve into that particular part of Edward’s tragic history. She decided not to tell Edward about the journal; it would bring up too many memories for him. She sat and read it in silence.

 

Luca had been a sweet boy, more like Alphonse than Edward. He had wanted to make his father proud of him and seemed to hold Hohenheim in high esteem. The journal was unfinished. A month into the excursion Luca wrote that he was feeling unwell. The entries became shorter and the hand writing deteriorated. The last entry caused her to almost weep all over the book.

 

“I have failed,” was all it said.

 

Gabriella suddenly understood why Hohenheim Elric had attempted to raise his son but then chose to abandon him. Luca had been adorable and obviously loved. Envy had been a mockery of that life. She guessed that was also the reason Hohenheim had never been close to his other sons. Had the man ever forgiven himself for what he had turned his first son into? Perhaps he felt that his new family were better off without him when his soul was poisoning and degrading the bodies he put it into. The man had it all wrong. He should have been there for his family. Without his guidance his sons were doomed to repeat his mistakes and Envy had been manipulated by his mother into becoming a cold blooded killer. If his father had been involved, Envy may not have hated him so much; he may never have killed Hohenheim. If poor Wrath’s story proved anything it was that resurrected humans were not inherently evil. She closed the journal, feeling sad and a little dejected. Luca had seen some interesting things in his travels and she had a place to start. Silently thanking the long dead boy, she reached for another box.

 

She hoped Alphonse was out of the brig; she felt guilty about that. She found it hard to imagine Alphonse losing his temper over anything. Edward had shrugged when she had voiced that thought.

 

“You are family now,” he said simply. “We Elrics look after our own and we have a bit of a possessive streak.”

 

She had laughed at that. That was Edward all over; master of the understatement. She wondered how his pupils would treat him now his love life was all over the papers.

 

“You better really have a plan to deal with this, Ed,” she muttered between violent sneezes. The documents were thick with dust. She sighed and went back to her work. She would wait and decide what to do when she was forced to, not before. That, if nothing else, had been the biggest change in her since coming to Amestris. She had learned the value of patience.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXXX

 

Anna watched from her workbench as Winry paced. Olan had announced that morning that he was leaving. It had not really been a surprise to Anna; with the storm the man had brewed in Central about to rain down all kinds of political intrigue on the capital, he needed to be there to direct the lightning. Winry had protested of course. To her mind, he should stay another week at least. The blonde was angry; she always was when her patients would not listen to her. Anna had decided when she was qualified and opened her own shop she would not be half as stressed about her job as Winry.

 

Winry invested everything in her work. That was why she was one of the best. But it came at a price; Winry had no life outside her career. She lived her work and rarely thought of anything that did not involve oil and false ligaments. Anna decided if that was what it took to be the best then she would have none of it. She wanted to be a good mechanic but also wanted more. Home, family…

 

“Stop it, Anna!” she scolded herself mentally. “You are too old to daydream about playing house.”

 

She shook her head and dropped her eyes to her work and tried to ignore the irritating vibrations as her boss paced back and forward. No doubt Winry was mid-rant about how irresponsible Olan was. Sometimes being deaf had its advantages. A hand slapped down on the table moments later, startling her and sending cogs pinwheeling across the floor.

 

“Are you even listening?” Winry growled. Anna gave her angry boss a flat stare as a reply. Winry back tracked and began to babble.

 

“I didn’t… It’s not like I meant…” She swore and threw up her hands.

 

“You talk to him!” she said at last. “He dragged you into his little games – he will listen to you! He owes you!”

 

“You berating the staff again, bear cub?” asked Olan as he deposited his baggage by the shop entrance. Wriny growled a response that Anna did not catch.

 

“How rude!” Olan chuckled. “I might just offer Anna the position of my personal automail mechanic and get her away from her overbearing employer.” His sparkling blue eyes turned to Anna.

 

“How do you put up with her?” he asked with a smirk. Anna grinned in return and bent to pick up the cogs on the floor. She must have missed something important because when she turned back, Olan had Winry’s wrist in a firm grip and there was a chillingly stony look on his handsome face.

 

“You need to calm down,” he said firmly to the incensed blonde. Then the ice melted with a charming smile. “Besides, you would not want to damage some of your best work.”

 

The automail fingers gripping her wrist loosened and Winry snatched her hand back.

 

Anna was puzzled. Had Winry tried to hit Olan? Edward let her get away with that kind of thing, but Prince Charming was not Edward. It looked like Winry had just been firmly put in her place as far as manhandling Olan was concerned. The mechanic was still more than angry but she was containing it.

 

“Fine,” she growled, rubbing her wrist. “Go. If you get any rejection issues you can fix them yourself!”

 

Olan laughed at her, only further irritating the mechanic. Then he stepped forward and to Anna’s surprise and delight he kissed the blonde on the cheek. Winry stiffened and Anna expected her to fall into pure rage. Winry merely stood there, eyes wide, fingers flying to her cheek.

 

“It’s kind of you to be so concerned for me,” said Olan, apparently sincerely. “But I must be elsewhere or this,” he indicated to his arm, “will be for nothing.”

 

“Wh… What about your check-ups?” said Winry weakly. Olan gave her a sympathetic look.

 

“Unless you want to travel to Drachma, I doubt I will be seeing you for a service.  Other mechanics can…”

 

“Would you pay my expenses?” she interrupted. Anna’s eyes widened. Was Winry actually offering to abandon the shop in six months and follow Olan so she could service his arm? The entire notion was ridiculous! Olan seemed to think the same thing and laughed.

 

“Do you have any idea how far away I live?” he asked with a soft smile, as if he was trying to placate a demanding child.

 

“That does not answer the question,” she countered. “Would you pay me?” Olan folded his arms and gave her a hard look, his quick mind obviously reassessing Winry.

 

“Anyone can service my arm,” he said after a moment’s silence. “Why would you leave your life behind to visit me and…”

 

Winry turned to a battered shelf on the workshop wall and grabbed a note book. Anna knew that was in it. The complete, hand-drawn, technical diagrams and specifications of Olan’s arm.

 

“I spent weeks of my life designing that arm just for you, but that is not all,” Winry said absently as she flicked to a particular page. “The servomotors are my own design and this is the first time I have ever used them on a client; other motors were too heavy and would make your new arm unbalanced and uncomfortable.” She held up a yellowed diagram that showed many a correction note added over what was probably a period of years.  She flicked to another page.

 

“The transformers and internal wiring are, again, my own design and are twenty-three percent more efficient than standard copper. This was an innovation I came up with when I was twelve, but I have never had the time or capital to implement the system until now.” She shoved the specs at him. “You are effectively wearing a prototype that I have spent half my life designing but could not build. You gave me access to titanium and suddenly everything I have been planning became possible.”

 

She studied him. His expression was well schooled and held no emotion as he listened. The perfect face for a politician; he gave away nothing until he decided how to react to a situation.

 

“I thank you for the opportunity to use the metal and you are indeed now wearing my best work.” Winry actually bowed to him and Anna made a half strangled squeak of surprise.

 

“I don’t want some unqualified hick mechanic so much as touching that arm,” she said sternly. “I also want to know how the arm performs over time and make any adjustments so other clients can benefit.” She gave him a level look. “Pay my expenses and I will service your arm once a year for the next three years.”

 

Olan blinked. He put the notebook on the table carefully and then his face melted into a small smile. He offered his metal hand to Winry.

“You make a compelling case,” he said softly. “I accept you offer.” Winry shook his hand firmly. He turned and shouldered his bag. “But for that to happen I have to do my job and get the borders open.” He turned and his gaze fixed on Anna again.

 

“Oh, and I have a bone to pick with you,” he said with a frown. Anna steeled herself. “Tell your boyfriend to stop stealing my information network.” He pulled a letter covered in Cretan diplomatic symbols from his bag. “I pay a lot of money to certain individuals to keep friendly ears in Central, and  I do not appreciate Alphonse Elric using my people free of charge.”

 

Anna took the letter with a grin. Al could charm the birds from the sky if he put his mind to it. It was nice to be able to get letters from him knowing that the eyes of HQ had not been over every word.

 

She bowed her head to Olan in thanks then squeaked as the man pulled her from her chair in a one-armed bear hug.

 

“Make sure you come with your boss when she checks on me,” he said with a smile. “I am sure your sister would appreciate a visit.”

 

“That is if you manage to get her to agree to go with you,” Winry snapped.

 

“Oh, she will come,” said Olan with an arrogant tone that soured his affectionate goodbyes. “I have made sure she will.” Anna sighed. There was nothing more she could do about that. Gabriella needed training or she might kill herself. Though Olan’s motives were far from pure, it would benefit Gabbie to leave Central and with it leave Edward. Her chest tightened. She did not know what would happen between them over this but she hoped it would all work out.

 

Olan bowed at the waist with practised ease.

 

“Thank you for your hospitality, ladies; I am more than grateful to you.”

 

And that was it. He left. Winry watched him stride confidently down the dry street and scowled. Anna said nothing. She remembered another patient who had lived with her not so long ago, except they had not let him leave. She had run after him, twice. She supposed stepping into that portal had been monumentally stupid. Still, her life now was more than it ever would have been in her own world. From a purely selfish point of view it was the best decision of her life so far. She wondered if Winry was experiencing something similar. Was her decision to go to Drachma to be the one that challenged her to live rather than simply exist?

 

Anna nudged Winry with her elbow and the blonde smiled at her.

 

“Tea?” Anna offered. Everything could be fixed with tea; she was till British after all. She had a bag of imported Xingian white tea that was heaven in a cup. She had been rationing it as it was expensive, but now seemed a good time to brew a pot of it.

 

“Thank you, yes,” Winry said with relief.

 

Anna shuffled into the kitchen and thumbed open the letter Alphonse had sent as the kettle boiled. The letter merely said:

 

“Present for my girl.”

 

She grinned and flipped open the document that the letter was wrapped around.

 

The document had Mustang’s official seal on it and was written on parchment rather than paper.

 

“It is hereby confirmed that the above named soldier is to be discharged from the Amestrian military with full honours…”

 

Anna dropped the mug she had just picked up. It shattered on the floor. She stared at the letter open mouthed. Mustang was letting Al go, just as he promised he would.

 

“Are you all right?!” exclaimed Winry, waving a hand before the deaf girl’s eyes to get her attention. “Is it bad news?”

 

Anna looked up at Wriny and her eyes filled with tears. She did not even know why she wept, only that she felt so relieved and so happy that she could not do anything else.

 

“He’s coming home to me,” she whispered showing Winry the letter and demob papers.

 

Winry hugged her almost as hard as Olan had and made the tea for Anna.

 

XXXXXXXXXXXXXX

 

Gabriella woke slowly and reluctantly. Someone was shaking her. She groaned and rubbed her face in her very uncomfortable pillow.

 

“The archivist will have your head,” chuckled a familiar voice. Gabriella sat bolt upright. She looked around, not quite remembering where she was. She put a hand to her face and peeled centuries-old vellum from her cheek. She whimpered in distress when she saw the ink was hopelessly smudged. She must have fallen asleep on the floor. Documents were dispersed about her in neat piles. She had spent most of the night putting them in chronological order before beginning her study of them in earnest. Her notes had been crumpled beneath her chest but luckily she had been writing in pencil so they were still legible.

 

“Give me that.” Edward sighed and took the vellum from her hand. His real fingers brushed her cheek, removing the ink. A quick transmutation and the ink was back on the page and the lettering restored. She beamed up at him sleepily.

 

“Thank you,” she said in a small voice, grateful to him. The yellow eyes softened and he smiled in return as he crouched down to her level. His knee squeaked in protest. Gabriella frowned.

 

“When was the last time you oiled your leg?” she asked sternly. He rolled his eyes at her. She realised he looked tired. His hair was less than pristine and he had dark marks beneath his eyes.

 

“I have barely had time to sleep; my leg can wait,” he said with a sigh, scratching the back of his head in irritation. “You have no idea how much work I have done in the last two days.”

 

“I would if you would tell me what is going on,” she said prissily, pouting despite her best efforts not to. It was apparently too much of a temptation and Edward quickly moved forward and playfully nipped her bottom lip before kissing away her pout.

 

“Get a shower,” he ordered softly. “You’re covered in dust and we have an appointment.” She narrowed her eyes at him and twisted her body into a very ungraceful flounce to her feet. She nearly tripped over those same feet and growled at her tired legs.

 

“So do I get to know where we are going?” she asked in a cold tone. “Or is that not in the great plan?”

 

She expected him to get angry but instead he gave her a level gaze.

 

“Fine,” she muttered. She stepped over her night’s work and grabbed clean clothes, wash bag and towel. She walked to the door, ignoring the alchemist who was now browsing through her notes. There was no reference to Envy’s journal in there and the journal itself was shoved under the bed. She would return it when he was not around. She paused at the door, still irritated. She knew he was not telling her anything because she would likely object to whatever his plan was; she had done the same to him in the past. Bile rising, she decided to be just a little mean. She heaved a sigh to get his attention and twirled a lock of hair around her finger as if waiting for something.

 

“What’s the matter?” he asked, straightening with an adorable frown on his face. “We don’t have much time.”

 

She looked over her shoulder at him from below her lashes. Her bitten lip protruded slightly again, head on one side.

 

“I’ve not spent much time with you in over a week,” she complained, bending a knee slightly so her hips tipped a little, showing off her figure as best she could while dressed in shapeless clothes and smeared with dust. Still the effect on her alchemist was as she hoped. His eyes widened a little and he swallowed. His fingers twitched as if he was wanting to reach for her but stopping himself.

 

“It can’t be helped,” he said, inhaling. “Things have been difficult…” he trailed off lamely.

 

“Oh, farm boy,” thought Gabbie to herself with wicked glee. “You may be a genius but you still have a lot to learn. You really do make this too easy.”

 

She turned around and leant against the door frame, picking at the paintwork with a pointed finger. She moistened her lips before she spoke and nearly laughed when his eyes dropped to the carpet.

 

“If you find my appearance so disgusting,” she said in a husky voice. “Perhaps you should come with me to make sure I clean everything to your satisfaction.” The golden eyes snapped back up to her, wide with surprise.

 

“Gabriella!” he exclaimed. “Those are public showers! Anyone could…”

 

He trailed off when she could not keep her face straight anymore.

 

He gave her an unamused scowl and crossed his arms.

 

“If I had taken you seriously that would have totally backfired!” he snapped.

 

She shrugged as she chuckled.

 

“What would be wrong with that?” she asked with a throaty laugh.

 

He said something in one of the many languages he had at his command and she found herself pinned against the door frame with a very amorous pair of lips on hers. She kissed him back hungrily, making his breath quicken and hitch. The lips tore from hers and pressed her ear.

 

“Go and get a shower,” he breathed. “I’ve missed you too, but we cannot be late or my plans will fall apart.”

 

She nipped his earlobe in retaliation then ducked under his real arm to escape into the corridor.

 

“All right.” She sighed with a good dash of melodrama. “Reject my advances and spurn my love.”

 

“Gabriella!” he snapped, finally losing patience. “Get in the shower or I will drag you in there myself and scrub you with a yard broom!”

 

“Oh, you’d love that, you pervert,” she said with a giggle. She laughed and side stepped as her pillow was thrown at her. With a titter she dashed down the hall, not wanting to push him further. There was a fine line between teasing and just being annoying and she did not want to overstep it much when he was tired. She could hear him chuckling and grinned. She liked to make him laugh.

 

Faster and rather colder than she normally would opt for, she quickly showered and dressed. She tried not to worry about what Edward’s brilliant mind had cooked up this time.

 

“Screw it,” she muttered looking at her bitten fingers. She was tired of worrying. So she might get jeered at in the corridors and bullied by people jealous of her. She could always threaten to melt their faces off. She grinned at herself in the mirror and went back to her room. Edward was lost in her paperwork. Apparently he could not help himself and had started sub dividing her carefully categorised notes.

 

“OI!” she squeaked. “Hands off!”

 

He looked up.

 

“It’s more efficient this way,” he declared, then grinned. He breezed past her and grabbed her hand tugging her along and closing the door behind them.

 

“So where are we going?” she asked, hoping he would answer her.

 

“To the mess,” he replied casually. Gabriella dug her feet into the worn carpet and skidded to a halt.

 

“The mess?” she half shrieked. She glanced at her newly restored watch. It was not only shift change – it was breakfast time. The mess would be heaving with bodies from every part of HQ.

 

“All part of the plan,” he said in response to her protest. He gave her an encouraging smile.

 

“Trust me,” he said gently. “This will make everything right and no one will dare bother you about us again.”

 

“Oh, dear God; I’m doomed.” Gabriella whimpered.

 

“Thanks for the resounding vote of confidence,” replied Edward sarcastically. He pulled on her arm again and she trotted after him with a whimper.

 

(AN In which… chapter heading suggestions welcome. This will go on FF in a day or two. Any mistakes, let me know.)

Anime review- Lovely Complex and added ramble

So, as a detox to Guilty Crown I again went against my tastes and stepped into the strange world of pure Shoujo. Again I am not one for cute and cuddly but I was recommended this one on twitter and gave it a whirl.

Story is simple enough. Tall girl Riza has love/hate relationship with her school pal, short boy Ootani. They start out hating each other, earning instant celebrity around the school as a real life comedy double act. Finally Riza matures enough to realise… she fancies the pants off Ootani. Enter a string of comic episodes that had me laughing so much I choked.

Anime humour does not always translate well, but this I found cringe-worthy but very funny. Riza, our freakishly tall heroine is a typically dippy shoujo girl, but brash and prickly rather than cute and demure so I did not mind her dizzy character. The object of her affections also falls into the same tired role. Ootani has a temper but is nice under it all. The show livens things up by throwing the odd serious bit in and this gives a nice balance to the comedy. At times I actually said “awwww” at the screen as Riza tries to awkwardly grapple with her hormones and her wholly inappropriate crush. I also squealed like a sixteen year old over certain sweet moments. I felt absolutely no guilt for enjoying the show. It is well written and takes time to build character.

The anime does not rush the plot either and takes the time necessary to cultivate the relationship between the oddball couple and throws in plenty of obstacles. Riza and Ootani are well matched and their friends constantly push for them to get together, just like in any other high school around the world. (Seriously why do people do that? Never match make people it can all go so very wrong!)

So, a nice 24 ep light relief from the blood and guts, but it was not really anything deeper. 3/5.

The reason I unashamedly enjoyed something so far removed from my taste is because it struck a chord with me. OK, I was not a cry baby as a teen. I would not be caught dead crying at school… the rest of the story however is fairly close to my own experience.

I was Riza once and watching Lovely Complex brought it all back. So I am going to tell you a story, about me and how life can imitate anime . (Clichés are clichés for a reason.) Yes this is self-indulgent but its good practice to write about yourself instead of fictional characters all the time. I am going to use a little creative license to shorten things and avoid personal details. Apart from that the story is mostly true and the anime inspired me to write this tonight. Besides, this is my blog, if you don’t like it then click the little X and be gone.

You may know that there is a step between school and university in England and Wales (not so much in Scotland.) It’s called 6th form. Most large schools have a 6th form or separate college entirely for the A level students. These are the exams you need to get into university. It’s an intense two years of study. You have to be incredibly bright to take more than 3 subjects over the two years.

So, a large group of young adults all under pressure and yet at that age pupils are considered responsible enough to have their own common room to hang out in between classes. Some schools even give you the freedom to drop in and out of school between classes. It’s an interesting period of any teenagers life and it was no different for me.

I was a transfer student! (How cliché can we get people!) I’d already done a term in a much smaller school in the back of beyond. Suddenly I was in a much larger school and even had to change a subject which meant I had some serious catching up to do. On day one my fellow pupils introduced themselves to the strange country bumpkin that was now among them. (We are British we do that sort of thing. I met 150 people that day, some of which I never spoke to again in the two years I was there.)

I met my version of Ootani that day. He was short, no higher than my shoulder, had untidy short dark hair, dark eyes that were far too knowing and a cocky grin. I hated him on sight. I hid my dislike quite well, for me. I was not the most even tempered girl back then and I was well out of my comfort zone. Also, my fragile teenaged heart was bruised from an attachment at my old school, but that is a story for another time.

Anyway, it was a week before me and my Ootani locked horns. I was slaving over my first history essay. No word processing allowed back then people. 1500 words on Stalin’s rise to power. I had never written a history essay before and I had 4 days. I was on my third draft and lost in concentration, studiously ignoring some of my peers dancing on the tables to Itchycoo Park… (we were going through a retro phase on the CD player. It was either that or the starwars soundtrack.)

A shadow fell over my work.

“Bloody hell your handwriting is awful Welsh girl,” droned a voice in a mocking parody of my accent.

I looked up to see the cocky grin I had not liked last week. He had just made me lose my place among the purges damit!

I kicked him in the shin… hard… He yelped, clearly not expecting my reaction. We glowered at each other for a moment until I politely told him to piss off.

Things fell into a pattern after that. He would pick a fight, I would react with my legendary Celtic temper. We would practically be in each other’s faces, snarling at each other. ( Although I had to bend down a bit to achieve this.) Oh I hated him.

Yep I was far too stupid to realise I fancied the pants off him, just like Riza.

Also, just like the anime we became a source of entertainment for the whole 6th form. People would goad us into an argument and watch the sparks fly while they drank coffee and placed bets on who would win.

My new so called friends tried to shove us together, using very obvious strategies to get us to notice what was blindingly clear to them.

“Don’t you think he was sweet helping you with your history homework?”

“He only did that because I bribed him! I have to buy his coffee all week as compensation!”

“Don’t you think she has a lovely accent?”

“Her? She cackles when she laughs, sounds like an old woman.”

“I heard that you prick!”

“Yeah? I don’t care if you did!”

*Slagging match across the room …*

This went on for months and I actually looked forward to the arguments. I got a little thrill out of them that became addictive and the volatility between us increased. The big arguments also seemed to coincide to when either of us showed interest in anyone else. Little petite blonde eyes him up at a party.  He drove her home after. Monumental name calling by me on Monday. Me dancing with a lovely Irish lad on Saturday.  Monday he wiped chalk dust on my new jumper.

Of course, I was too dense to add all this up at the time, hindsight is a wonderful thing.

Two months before final exams things finally came to a head. I was wandering up the corridor to the common room and I heard my name called. Without thinking I turned. My face was slavered in wet warm cloth. I pulled it off my face and realised it was a towel. The perpetrator was running up the corridor in his gym shorts and shirt laughing like the idiot he was. I frowned; it was not much of a prank. That was when I realised that the towel was soaked in his sweat, not water… I was half disgusted half impressed he would go that far… my mascara and black lipstick were now smudged to hell and I smelt of boy. (It was the 90’s don’t judge the make-up. I went through a mild grunge phase. I recovered I’m pleased to say.)

I ran after the little bugger swearing revenge. He was on the tennis team, so he was much faster than I was but he could only go so far.  I remember people laughing as I passed them, they all knew who I was after. Tracked the swine down to an empty biology classroom. Threw the towel back at him and made all sorts of threats of bodily harm. He let me rant for a bit then finally shrugging and glared at me with those cursed molten chocolate eyes…

“Oh come on,” he said as if talking to a child. “You love me really.”

That brought me up short. I knew he was being sarcastic but it made me think… what was I covering up with all this bravado?

I got angry. This was not fair; this was not the way things were supposed to be between us. We could not hold a conversation without insults, but I went out and got him cold meds so he could take his maths test last month without fainting of a fever. He was the one who stayed with me and talked me down when I had an asthma attack last year, but he told me on a daily basis that I was an idiot. I was comfortable with that. We could be nice, but preferred to be nasty. He was not allowed to see through the act. He was not allowed to change the rules! They had served us well for nearly two years why change now?

I decided to be cruel. In my revenge I went for total humiliation. Next time he picked on me in the common room and got in my face I did not just shove him away, my normal response… I used the skills only a welsh farm girl picks up. I got the little swine in a head lock as if I was about to shear the fleece off him and watched him struggle. He gave up fighting me quickly and retaliated by saying he did not fight girls and I was too freakishly tall to argue with anyway. I remember the smug grin that crossed my face.

I kissed him… right there in full view of the entire sixth form.

*shudder*

You’ve never seen a boy more shocked in all your life. I seriously thought he was going to cry! This was not right! He was supposed to be angry not look as if I’d ripped his heart out and stomped on it! With reflection I suppose I knew then that I had over stepped the mark, I flounced away apparently proud of myself. The guilt hit me about five minutes later. I knew I should apologise… I had embarrassed him… but I couldn’t. Pride would not let me. I wanted to humiliate him and I had. One sloppy kiss and a headlock equated to a sweaty towel in the face and smudged make-up right? Somehow I think perhaps it didn’t.

A month later we could laugh about it, but relations were strained. We did not even argue anymore. He wrote in my leaving book that it was two years he would never forget and a kiss he would never forget… right next to a picture of a sheep.

That was it. He went off to some English uni I can’t recall the name of and I went north 600 miles to bonny Scotland and have never left.

So, sad pathetic story. Well I actually don’t see it that way. I learnt a lot about myself from my relationship with my own Ootani. I realised I was not a nice person. I covered up my insecurities with anger and bluster. I also realised I did not like myself very much at that point in my life and that was something I needed to change. So I did just that.

I should thank my 6th form nemesis if I ever see him again. He made me take a good look at who I was and made me decide who I wanted to be. I would probably stamp on his toes too, just for old times’ sake. XD.

So off I went to university to start a new chapter of my life with a new found perspective.

In my first year I met a really freakishly tall Scottish lad with a pretty face and copper hair… the rest, as they say, is history 😉

Anime Review- Guilty Crown

I started watching this after seeing one of those “top ten” fan made things on youtube. This was in the best music/opening category.

After watching the above in HD and being dazzled by the shiny animation I put aside my prejudices against the show and indulged. I usually avoid high school based things these days (too close to my actual job.) I also tend to avoid mecha type anime. (Those things would be so astronomically expensive to build, run and maintain no one would use them to blow stuff up. You would need a mechanic on hand at all times as they would constantly break down with hard use and all those moving parts…. remote fired missiles would be more effective. Yes I know this is science fiction but the whole concept of mecha annoys me.)

Anyway I immediately liked the shy and retiring boy that was the main character, Shu. He finds the lead singer of a famous internet band Egoist, in an abandoned building and she is injured. His life pretty much falls apart at that point. The viewer slowly learns that Japan is going through a period of recovery after a pandemic. This apocalypse virus causes tissues to stiffen and crystallise until the entire body is taken over and falls apart. It’s agonising and either happens very quickly or slowly, drawing out the pain and leaving people prisoners in their own bodies.

Because of this, Japan now has a totalitarian government and has pretty bad relations with the rest of the world; which are terrified of the infection spreading. So far so good, I thought and settled down prepared to be a bit bored. Oh how wrong I was.

The first episode opened with explosions and a lot of running away. I lapped it up and grabbed the popcorn. This was great! I devoured episode after episode with relish and the series kept surprising me.

“There is a resistance, duh he is going to join… wait… he went back to school? What the hell? Is he nuts?” Etc.

OK mild spoilers abound from this point so be warned! (Highlight to view, skip to the end for summary.) 

Shu accidently ends up with a genetic weapon. He can resonate with the virus cells in others, (which everyone carries but not all end up with symptoms) and he can basically withdraw pieces of their heart/soul and use them as weapons, called Voids. This was a gift for the fanservice. Shu had to plunge his hand into many a female chest and this led to many an embarrassing situation for him. I did not mind the comic episodes but felt they were a little misplaced against other eps that dealt with sexual exploitation, violence, discrimination and drug abuse.

Through his power Shu really finds out who his friends are and I particularly liked the relationship between Shu and Yahiro. Yahiro is apparently the golden boy. Friendly, kind, confident and seems to shield Shu from the other students. He turns out to be dealing drugs to make money for his brother’s hospital bills, while sampling his wares. He is very bitter and resentful under his image and when it all comes crashing down for him he turns really nasty. This gritty and tragic subplot was excellent and it was not the only side story I felt added to the anime.

Aside from the mecha and genome stuff I like the tech in this series. This is set only a generation in the future and the TV and phones look actually believable. The mobile phone is combined with a holographic ipad like device and looking at my own new smart phone I can see things easily going in that direction. It shows a lot of thought has gone into the background details and I appreciated this.

Shu does eventually end up fighting against the government to get at all the secrets they hide on the virus and thus he joins a wider, more varied cast than just his school friends. I thoroughly enjoyed this part of the anime and even the fan service did not spoil it for me (which can be a bit over the top at times. This woman is half dead but look! Her boobs are wobbling! Oh please that is really what I want to see right now, extreme boob close up goes so well with the blood.) Also this is when one of my favourite characters really shone.

Gai.

The man is BAD ASS! Shu and Gai have a very rocky relationship to start with, but eventually come to an understanding… until Shu starts to suffer from a form of post-traumatic stress and can’t seem to fight anymore. Sympathy from his fellow fighters? Oh no, get on with it Shu and kill more people for us! When he refuses he effectively gets cut off, even his beloved Inori leaves him to go back to his mediocre life. At this point I sensed a wrapping up of a story arc coming.

“Please!” I implored hugging my popcorn. “I am enjoying this, don’t get weird!”

It got weird. Very weird.

The whole ending of this arc made me scowl at the screen and left me vaguely disgusted. Were the story writers bored and feel they had to shock their audience? It was a total flight of fantasy at this point and it lost me. I dropped the series for a few days.

What saved it for me was the soundtrack. I love it. The anime has fantastic music that not only enhances the story, it defines the whole anime. Missing the soundtrack I gave the anime another chance.

The story moved on into what I called the “lord of the flies” story arc. The heart of Tokyo is cut off from the rest of the country as it is declared an infection zone. The government are slowly implementing a scorched earth policy and the walls are literally closing in on Shu’s school and everyone else in the infection zone. The school is in chaos. The poor school president is trying to run things and failing. (No mention of where the teachers are btw! Oversight clearly.)

Shu winds up in charge (thanks to Yahiro, gotta love the opportunistic git) and Shu learns what it is to really be in charge and how Gai must have felt when he was running the undertakers. He tries to be a nice guy and treat everyone fairly… Yahiro keeps telling him that there is not enough vaccine to go around and they can’t save everyone. He comes up with a plan. Categorise everyone by their voids. They need voids to escape and they need Shu. The pupils with useless voids will be no help for the escape and the pupils that are infected are also nearly useless. These people could be eliminated by benign neglect and the useful pupils should have the priority for resources. Shu is rightly horrified. That is, until a close friend dies saving his life. He snaps and becomes a total tyrant. Inori stays with him even though she knows he is doing wrong and the school is ruled with an iron fist. It’s a nice parallel to the Japanese government and dissent does not take long to appear.

I won’t go into the ending, but let’s say Shu has an epiphany and ends up having to fight his sister and Gai again.

So, to sum up…

While I abandoned my popcorn after the first arc I did like the series over all. There were many interesting sub plots and the main story was quite engaging. The fanservice was in bad taste at times and some of the twists were unbelievable and designed to disturb for the sake of being disturbing rather than adding to the plot. I felt the anime was trying too hard to be edgy and unique. The story would have done this for it if it had been told properly.

On the plus side the animation is gorgeous and the characters for the most part are likable and easy to identify with. Inori is beautiful and while she can seem flat and emotionless at first there is a good reason for this and she really changes towards the end. Shu is a fantastic character and the trials he goes through really fit his personality changes. Gai is all kinds of epic but I really feel he should have stayed in the first arc and not been brought into the second. There are some touching moments that really got to me, this is an anime that knows how to use angst and dialogue to its advantage. The music is incredible and I have bought the soundtrack.

There is a possibility of a second season, or rather the writers were working on the basis of two seasons. There is no guarantee however that there will be a season two from what I have read.

Recommended, but has flaws. A story this complex needs more time to be told and the writers were clearly rushed in the second story arc.

4/5

Review- Anime- Jormungand

As I approached the end of term my life became quite hectic. I had not watched anime for months, so decided that the best way to prepare for the summer holidays was to get back into doing the things I enjoyed before work took over my life. After a bit of surfing about I came across a 12 ep mini anime that grabbed my attention. I admit, I am shallow enough to judge it by its opening on YouTube.

OOOOO! I thought and dug a bit deeper. Turns out this series is about an arms dealer and a child soldier. Interest grabbed I watched it.

First point, this is not an anime for fluff bunnies. The violence is ever present but it is not overly graphic either. Jonha’s story of how he becomes a child soldier and later enters into the service of an arms dealer, (Koko) is an interesting one. Jonha is not the main focus of the story. Jormungand is one of those anime that seems to lack an overall plot and is instead a collection of short stories about certain characters of the group. This can work well, but with a large cast I found myself getting irritated when the story moved away from my favourite characters.

I am clearly not the target audience for this anime either. There are a number of “teenaged male” draws here. A lot of the girls are very well endowed and the two main women are gay and it is implied in a relationship with each other. There is a liberal dusting of fan-service but not enough to make me sneer at it. There are many cheeky jokes, as you would expect but it’s nicely played against the fact the Jonha is oblivious to half of them and for what he does understand he does not really care or react.

Jonah himself appears cold and emotionless at first. His fierce loyalty to his employer seems baseless. As the series progresses and his story unfolds he starts to show signs that he is actually a child and Koko’s determination to “melt his icy heart” is actually working. Jonha also has something he desperately needs to do so being part of Koko’s team suits his purposes.

Koko is not your average heroine. She is a master manipulator, frighteningly clever and has absolutely no fear of her own death. Again it is intimated that she has some sort of purpose that drives her to excel in her business even though she is aware it will claim her life one day. She is not classically beautiful or even particularly pretty to my mind and her being so young is explained as her father and brother are both in the arms trade. Her brother (Casper) explains the situation well. They were both born on a container ship. They have no loyalty to any country and all they have ever known is the family business. Koko is utterly insane but knows her business and is ferociously competitive.

The other men in Koko’s group get less screen time and this was why I was left with the impression that the series was trying to cover them all but did not quite have enough time to establish their characters.

The fight scenes themselves are well choreographed and never seem to fall into the “bleach” mode. (I.e. the characters shout at each other for a while then fight a bit, then go back to a nice wee chat, then fight a bit more with the next superpower up the food chain.) The weapons are real and the fights, while typically anime (everyone having such high blood pressure that it fountains everywhere when spilt and there are 20 pints of blood in a person,) show that the capability and limitations of each weapon have been taken into account. Strategy gets Koko and her team out of many a tight spot rather than brute force.

This attention to detail also filters into Koko’s business deals. I actually found this side of the story to be more interesting than the blood and gore. Koko also has competition, there are others, including her own brother who want to make a profit too. Also the CIA are stalking around the background trying to extort money from Koko by trying to catch her breaking international regulations. While I am sure this is not official CIA policy I can well believe secret agencies need “alternate” funding from time to time.

So over all this was enjoyable but to be good needed more time. As it stands it is a clever little oddity but not much more.

3/5.