So I started in on some new anime today:
• 3 eps of Simoun
• first ep of NANA
• 6 eps of Strawberry Panic!
I read about this at Okazu and have been interested in this series since then. The background on this over at Wikipedia: Simoun (anime) tells a bit about it better than I can. To be very basic, the story happens on a different earth-like world where the people have very different technology from us - very stylized/art nouveauish in a way. Anyhoo, the people of this world are what is left of a very powerful, ancient people and they don't know how to use any of the technology that still survives today. The one kingdom that has all the technology protects it with the use of simoun, an aircraft powered by the ancient technology that is flown by a pair of pilots.
The people of this world, though, are all born female and they do not settle on a gender until they reach the age of 17 at which point they go to this holy spring to either stay female or become male. Due to the technology of the simoun (aircraft), however, only non-adults can be pilots.
I only saw the first three episodes. Basically we learn about the star lead pilot, Neviril, a girl who loses her copilot while attempting an extremely difficult defensive maneuver. The pair were definetly romantically involved - and that is NOT subtext, no yuri-goggles required. The ancient technology is partially powered spiritually -- pilot/co-pilot pairs kiss the green orb that powers their ship before taking off in order to turn the orb on. Neviril and her original partner unintentionally started the trend of kissing eachother before kissing the orb on their simoun craft. So though their kiss was genuine and passionate, not all the other pilot pair kisses are.
So far the series doesn't seem to be *totally* using the yuri angle as fanservice. Everyone is kind of ambisexual all around so there isn't that "service" tension so many other series have. The gender ambiguity is refreshing to me, particularly because even the gender of adults is difficult to determine as female seiyu voice the male characters, who are also drawn rather femininley.
The animation itself is pretty good, though I'm not a huge fan of combining traditional and digital animation unless it is seamless. I like the style as well -- the not-so-technologically-advanced peoples seem to have a kind of 1920's/30's level of technology which is inventive - I'm a sucker for old-fashioned/steampunk technology. :D
WANT MORE!!!! XO
NANA is about two girls named Nana who seem to be total opposites whose paths keep crossing, leading the two to become roomates - and most likely eventually friends as well. I only saw the first ep so it's hard to tell.
I'm not sure how much yuri content there is going to be. There's enough for the ol' yuri-goggles as far as the "normal" girl oogling the cool and dark girl but that's all I've seen so far and it's not enough to make a person watch it just for yuri content.
The animation is clean and angular, the music so far is pretty good as well. The opening credits make the series seem like it's going to be much more serious than it is - goofier than Marimite, slightly more serious than Azumanga Daioh. Both Nana's are 20, which is refreshing, although the regular-girl Nana looks younger than she is, which is getting old (WHY can't people be drawn their age?!?)
I only have the first 5 eps out of something like 26 I believe, so who knows. I'll watch the rest and then decide whether I want to bother with the rest. Wikipedia makes it sound like there's hardly any yuri to be had, and while that's not my only criteria for an anime, I certainly relate more to queer characters and I've got enough yuri-endowed anime that I could be watching instead. ;)
Fun seiyu facts:
"Etoile" Shizuma is voiced by Hitomi Nabatame (Eriko in "Marimite")
Nagisa Aoi (our protagonist) is voiced by Mai Nakahara (Mai in "Mai-HiME") who sings the opening theme
There's good and bad for this series. And mixed, too, I suppose.
First, the main "pair", Nagisa and Shizuma, are a Yumi/Sachiko, Yumi/Sei, Himeko/Chikane, any famous kohai/sempai rip off. Nagisa is like a slightly more mature Yumi but with more confidence and never cries (so far). She, like Yumi, gets chastised for running in the halls, learned piano years ago and can sort of play now, and isn't too sure about her feelings for a certain sempai but is in deep nonetheless.
Shizuma is a perfect cross of Sachiko, Sei, and Chikane. She talks JUST like Chikane from Kannazuki no Miko and has a wild mane of lion-like hair like Sei. She's happy in the presence of Yumi/Himeko/Nagisa but has some kind of sad past, sad eyes, mysteriousness - like Sei and Chikane. Also like Sachiko and Chikane, Shizuma is great at piano and is the star of the school. Similar to Sei (at least in reputation), Shizuma is a playgirl, making out with girls left and right, never keeping one for more than a month apparently.
This, and other elements, lead to total element ripoffs from Marimite. For instance:
• Nagisa's first stunned run-in with Shizuma that leaves her heart blindsided and stunned
• Shizuma fixes Nagisa's crooked tie - ever so Marimitely (except Shizuma tries to kiss Nagisa after)
• Middle-ground in the greenhouse. Just like Yumi/Sachiko in their greenhouse, and Himeko/Chikane in their secluded rose garden.
• Piano duet! Complete with Nagisa messing up her part, just like Yumi
• It's a Christian/Catholic type school, complete with prayers and a Maria-sama statue!
Shall I go on?
Despite the fact that this series is a total rip-off of so many other anime before it, there are elements keeping it interesting. Like, if you ever wanted Yumi to have more guts, then you'll appreciate Nagisa. Or if you wanted Sachiko to kiss all the girls, you'll like Shizuma. There's a ton of "loser-fangirl" service moments, too. Apparently half the school (all-girl, mind you) is sleeping with one another - there's lots of sex in the manga, apparently; the anime focuses more on relationships. But Shizuma tries to kiss Nagisa at least once per the first three or four episodes, sometimes more than once in an episode. With such a strong start, the 4th-6th episodes were boring as hell with the highlight being some of Nagisa's friends cleaning stairs and having a tea party. Yay. (sarcasm)
The animation is similar to Kannazuki no Miko only less colorful. The plot is only interesting when Shizuma is involved (well, for me). A lot of the characters are a little over-the-top -- "ohhh!"ing girls with high pitched voices, a school prince who is VERY Rei-like... It really makes Marimite shine even more in comparison. So I'm going into this focusing on the fanservice, because being shallow is about the only way to make it through this series without melting my brain.
I'll definety watch the four other episodes I have and I'd probably want the rest just so I can see where this thing with Shizuma and Nagisa go, because they're hinting that Nagisa is more than a fling for Shizuma. Perhaps high drama will ensue. Woo.
Edit to add...
Oddly, a bonus for me in Strawberry Panic! is part of the dynamic between Nagisa and Shizuma. Whenever Nagisa catches Shizuma's gaze, she completely freezes, can't talk, can't think, can't move... totally stunned. I used to think this sort of thing was silly until I had the very same experience with a girl myself -- I did the exact same thing around her (well, I could move...). It wasn't any one thing in particular about her. I generally can't shut up around people and can usually speak in an orderly, concise fashion. Not around this girl, however. I'd get around her and I couldn't think of anything to even think ABOUT, I couldn't speak - and when I'd try it came out very badly, and I am uber-concious of my body and movements. Of course, we've since had a very bad falling out and I know she's no good for me at ALL, but I can't help but still feel some of this if I'm around her. Grr. How very Phèdre/Melissande of me.
So, um, yes. Though it pains me, I relate. Shizuma better treat Nagisa right or I'll smack her both sides up and down. XO