Anime You Might Not Have Tried/Heard of #3: Ufotable Edition

Hey guys, no one ask for it, but I'm back. Anyone who is still a student, hope you are enjoying your new semester. Anyone who isn't students, well, um, hope you are enjoying your work as usual! This is actually originally planned to be #4, with #3 as a thread with no specific studio. But since there is an anime I want to write about is still unfinished, I decided to switch them.

Before we start, let's give FellowMusicFan, Chaosbirdomaid and Sneaky Spy Guy an applause for getting the right answer.

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I wonder how you got it right, I assume it's from the hint "an adaption of a famous JRPG in a famous series. It's also the one that arguably popularized the series in the west."?

Now, despite this thread has the same nature as the last one, it won't be as long as the one about KyoAni, since Ufotable isn't really a studio with a long history or rich background. However, it is definitely one studio you should pay more attention to start from today.

Ufotable

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Now, I won't be surprised that if most of you have never heard of them. They pretty much keep themselves in the lowest profile possible since they were founded (which is 2000) and wasn't too visible until around 2007. Unlike other anime studio you know, Ufotable don't just do anime, but also other animations such as 3DCGs and claymation. If you have watched Gundam Seed, you will remember the battleship made in 3D, Archangel. Yep, the creator of the model is right here.

Having been an unheard studio for two years, the first time they made their name in the industry is the 3DCGs in Gundam Seed in 2002. After that, they started to get more crazy independent work such as Dokkoida?! and Ninja Nonsense and slowly climbed upward.

Despite not being a famous studio at that time, they were rather picky for adaptions. With the two anime that was previously mentioned, they are also known for making a crazy adaption of Futakoi Alternative, a sequel to a romance drama. The reason why they picked this specific title is due to the fact that the original work doesn't have a specific settings with any 100% set characters. If you have watched it, you might already have what I am talking about: that anime is anything but "romance drama", random explosions everywhere, little girls fighting giant aliens, you name it.

Fast forward to 2006, they finally get a chance to make the original anime that they want to make for a long time: Coyote Ragtime Show and Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight. Meanwhile, they also expanded to other fields by creating a new team Tartan Check who focus on manga and created an "anime manga" series that was serialized in the official site of Jump Square. While they are known by a few within the industry, they are still not a studio that was very well known to the audiences, until their next project.

After the production of Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight, which is the year of 2007, they stopped making any TV anime and decided to full force and focus on a new adaption they got, 7 film adaptions of the famous novel Kara no Kyoukai - Garden of Sinners. The first film was released in 2007, the year where everyone who watch anime just went "HOLY SH*T LSDKFJKJ DAT ROOFTOP SCENE" at this film (if you have watched it, you know what I mean by "rooftop scene"). The film was a huge success, and the animation quality with well directed scenes pretty much impressed anyone who had watched it. After their first success, they pretty much put the next two year fully into the series. In a way, Kara no Kyoukai is a big turning point in Ufotable's history (by big, I mean "they take Production I.G.out of competition" big). The rest of the story it's pretty much the same; they got new works, they made new works, their new works impressed everyone. And so, here are the works that impressed everyone:

Tales of Symphonia THE ANIMATION

Tales of Symphonia THE ANIMATION: Tethe'alla Episode

Tales of Symphonia THE ANIMATION: The United World Episode

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Year: 2007(1st), 2010-2011(2nd), 2011-2012(3rd)

Genre: Fantasy

Episodes: 4+4+3

Director: Sotozaki Haruo

Adapted From: Video Game by Namco

Localized By: Currently none

Cast:

Konishi Katsuyuki as Lloyd Irving

Mizuki Nana as Colette Brunel

Orisaka Ai as Genius/Genis Sage

Tachiki Fumihiko as Kratos Aurion

Toma Yumi as Refill/Raine Sage

Okamura Akemi as Sheena Fujibayashi

Onosaka Masaya as Zelos Wilder

Kuwashima Hoko as Presea Combatir

Ohtsuka Akio as Regal Bryant

Story:

4000 years ago, an evil race known as Desian started a great war. In the same time, a hero known as Mithos make a contract with the goddess Martel, seal the Desians away and ended the war by sacrificing himself. 4000 years have passed, and Desians have rise and threaten the world by sucking all the mana away again. In order to restore the world, the Chosen must complete her journey to replenish the mana in the world. Knowing that, Lloyd Irving, the childhood friend of the Chosen, Colette Brunel, decided to accompany Colette in her journey of restoration, and slowly uncover a huge conspiracy behind the whole journey.

Impression:

There are many failed adaptions in anime industry, especially when it comes to games and visual novels. This, however, is not one of them. Now I must confess, I wasn't really a fan of the story in the original game, however, I have to say I enjoyed this anime, a lot. The anime makes a few changes here and there, with some pretty big changes near the end. Usually, you will expect a crappy adaption for not perfectly translating the game into anime form, but in here they actually did a great job at deciding which part to change and delete. There are many changes, but the they have managed to keep the whole idea of the story intact, heck, the anime even did a better job at conveying the theme behind the story better than the game. And since they only have 11 episodes, there were lots of light-hearted scenes taken out, which in a way even benefit the anime more due the fact that they can now focus on the story more. Along with all the changes, they have successfully made an adaption that even people who had played the game and know the story can still enjoy the anime. My only complaint though, will be the last episode gets a little bit messy, but overall I find the anime very enjoyable. I have played and finished the game before watching this anime, so I can't say it in a newcomer point of view, but I can guarantee that if you are fan of the original game, you will definitely like this anime too. If you have never played the game, well, it definitely worth your try, I think it's a pretty great anime on it's own too.

Kara no Kyoukai: the Garden of Sinners

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Year: 2007-2009

Genre: Action/Supernatural/Romance

Episodes: 8

Director: Aoki Ei, Nakano Takuya, Obunai Mitsuru, Takiguchi Shinichi, Hirao Takayuki, Miura Takahiro, Takizawa Shinsuke

Adapted From: Novel by Nasu Kinoko (Tsukihime, Fate/Stay Night)

Localized By: Aniplex of America

Cast:

Sakamoto Maaya as Ryougi Shiki

Suzumura Kenichi as Kokuto Mikiya

Honda Takako as Aozaki Touko

Fujimura Ayumu as Kokuto Azaka

Story:

Two years ago, a girl named Ryougi Shiki was involved in a traffic accident. After two years in coma, she was finally awake, but she finds herself to be someone different than what she used to be, and now have to ability to see through "death" and the power to "kill" anything. Followed by her awakening, an old building haunted by ghosts, a girl who can bend anything, a building that repeat itself everyday, a serial killer coming back two years after, series of strange events started to occur as they slowly recall Shiki's long lost memories.

Impression:

Here it is, the anime that got Ufotable famous. Let's talk about the visual first. Visual wise, it is absolutely stunning. The first film was made in 2007, and the animation quality does show a bit of that in some scenes, but the rest of the scenes are very impressive, even by today's standard. What I found amazing though, is that how the animation quality improved along with time. With every film being release, the animation just keeps getting better and better. The visual itself is fantastic as well, with some beautifully drawn background and well-directed action scenes (seriously, DAT ROOFTOP SCENE).

Story wise, I have to say I have too much expectation for it. Of course, I'm not saying that it is bad, but I can see how some people can get bored by the first two films, which are pretty much set up for the rest of the story. Another thing that can make people turn away is the complicated Nasuverse setting. If you are not familiar with the setting of Kara no Kyoukai itself, Tsukihime or Fate/Stay Night, there is a pretty big chance that you will be confused most of the time, especially the first two films. However, things does get more clear after that, and story does gets more and more interesting when you realize how all the events in each film linked together. Paradox Spiral and Study in Murder (Second Half) are definitely my favorite with some pretty crazy and intense stuff going on in there. Another thing that worth praising is how good the movies are at setting up the mood and atmosphere.

As of the music, we have the genius who composed for Xenosaga and Madoka Magica, Kajiura Yuki. There is nothing I can say other than it's awesome, it's awesome and it's awesome.

Overall, if you are not afraid of Nasuverse, have the patient for long set up, and are up to some juicy supernatural story and action with stunning presentation, you are here in the right place.

Gakuen Utopia Manabi Straight

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Year: 2007

Genre: Sci-fi/Comedy/Slice of Life

Episodes: 12+1

Director: Team Manabibeya

Adapted From: Original

Localized By: Currently none

Cast:

Horie Yui as Amamiya Manami

Nonaka Ai as Inamori Mika

Inoue Marina as Uehara Mutsuki

Hirano Aya as Etoh Mei

Fujita Saki as Odori Momoha

Story:

In the year of 2035, birth rate drop drastically, high school is no longer required, with the younger generation think that working after middle school when you already have a set goal in life is a better choice than high school, many high schools have started to close, high schools have naturally lost it's lively atmosphere around it. The story takes place in Seioh Private High School, a very traditional high school that is one the school that are facing the trouble of closing down. Inamori Mika, or Mikan, the only member in Seioh's student council was having a hard time recruiting new members for the student council, as most of the student are just simply not interested in school activity other than seeking for their suitable career in the future. Meanwhile, a newly and energetic transferred student, Amamiya Manami, aka Manabi, barge into the auditorium and said that she wants to be the new student council president. Along with the other new members Uehara Mutsuki "Mu-chi", Etoh Mei and the journalist club member Odori Momoha "Momo", Manabi and Mikan decided to make this school a lively a fun place like it used to be.

Impression:

This anime. It just caught me off guard and give me a surprised attack, because it is surprisingly good. When you just look up the story on Wikipedia or whatever, it sounds like a generic high school slice of life. But when you actually watch it, you will realize it's anything but a generic high school slice of life.

The story is nothing new, but it does do what it aims to be from start to finish, a story about something that adult can't, but only kids can do, and unlike other anime in the same genre, it does have a solid and concrete story and conclusion rather than just a random slice of life. The characters are very likable, and you can tell they put a lot of effort into avoiding cliches in terms of character interactions. Rather than acting cute just for sake of making them cute like many anime you see these days, the characters act like real characters and real friends and buddies that you can relate to. The character interactions, as I just mention, is definitely a highlight of the anime. While there is a main storyline, there are also a lot of fun interactions between the character and some light-hearted moment that put a smile in your face. One thing I have to complain though, it's that there are no character developments to Momo due to the fact that she is more of a comic relief, and most of the time she just doesn't really feel like part of the group. Other than that, I have to say she is my favorite character simply because how awesome and funny she is.

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Another highlight of the series for me is the director's style (is there a professional term for it?). How all the scenes and camera angle transit and come together helps to keep thing fresh and enjoyable a lot, and it really shows that it was made by someone who are just talented and thoughtful.

Overall, if you want to revisit your childhood, or at least regret your childhood and wish to see how awesome childhood can be, watch this. Well if you haven't graduate high school yet, I sure hope this anime can motivate you and show you how awesome your life can be before you regret it. Even if you are just here for the light hearted humor, you won't be disappointed either. Gakuen Utopia is definitely what I would call a brilliant anime in the art aspect.

Also, I can't spoil the story for you, so all I can say is that it has one of the most brilliant opening in an anime, you will understand what I mean by the time you finish the whole anime.

Fun fact: Most of you might not know the anime, but you might have already come into contact with it in a different way:

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Fate/Zero

This is a prequel to Fate/Stay Night, while not required, it is better to watch, or at least have certain level of understanding on the setting in Fate/Stay Night before watching Fate/Zero.

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Year: 2011-2012

Genre: Fantasy/Action

Episodes: 13+12

Director: Aoki Ei

Adapted From: Light novel by Urobuchi Gen (Puella Magi Madoka Magica, Saya no Uta, Psycho-Pass, Blassreiter)

Localized By: Aniplex of America

Cast:

Koyama Rikiya/Mathew Mercer as Emiya Kiritsugu

Ohara Sayaka/Bridget Hoffman as Irisviel von Einzbern

Kawasumi Ayako/Kari Wahlgren as Saber

Nakata Jouji/Crispin Freeman as Kotomine Kirei

Seki Tomokazu/David Earnest as Archer

Story:

Holy Grail, an treasure that will grants it's holder's wish. In order to obtain it, a group of magi had gathered together to create a ritual known as the Holy Grail War. In this war, seven magi chosen as Masters are to summoned an heroic spirit from history as one of the seven class, Saber, Archer, Lancer, Rider, Berserker, Caster, Assassin, to be their Servant and fight each other to death, with the last winning pair will be the one to obtain the Holy Grail. The story takes place in the forth Holy Grail War. Emiya Kiritsugu, one of the Master who represent the magus family Einzbern in this war wants to obtain the Holy Grail in order to make the whole into a better and peaceful place, while another Master, Kotomine Kirei, has his eyes on Kiritsugu in order to understand the emptiness he felt though understanding Kiritsugu, the man who he considered as similar to him. The two men encountered each other, both hoping that they can find their possible answers through participating this cruel and bloody Holy Grail War.

Impression:

If you have noticed who wrote the story, you can probably already guess that this is not a happy story nor heroic tale. Let's talk about the story first. The story itself, despite all the suffering, is pretty damn good. One of the best thing about Fate series is to see how all the characters from different history comes together and interact with each other and how the author decided to interpret them, Fate/Zero is no exception. Lancer, Rider and Berserker are all great characters that added a lot of substance to the story (except for Assassin. Assassin has no human rights). Emiya Kiritsugu is definitely the type of character you don't see too often in anime as protagonist even though he is always suffering. Kotomine Kirei, in the other hand, also has a very interesting character development, especially if you have played/watched Fate/Stay Night before, where he appear as a character who you just can't seems to understand too well about. Outside of the characters, the story mostly deal with the conflicts between ideals and reality through Kiritsugu and Saber's character, and it was portrayed really well, especially when Kiritsugu is a pretty well thought and developed character. The flaws I have to pick, is that many things become anti-climatic and rushed near the end, like Berserker's real identity and the death of a certain character. Nonetheless, it has a very nice conclusion to the story, especially if you have watched or gonna watch Fate/Stay Night, that ending was a perfect way to connect itself to Fate/Stay Night.

Presentation wise, it's probably Ufotable's best work after Kara no Kyoukai. Pretty much every single episode has some superb quality that you won't be able to easily find unless we are talking about studios like KyoAni or P.A. Works. The 3DCGs pretty much break through the stereotype of "anime has bad 3DCGs". Next time if someone tells you that 3DCGs don't work in anime, you can tell that he never had never watched Fate/Zero. Music, well, Kajiura Yuki.

Overall, if you want a very dark story about human nature, ideals and reality, Fate/Zero is highly recommended. Just be mentally prepare, or else you will be suffering and even Goddess Madoka can't save you.

So we are done with the titles, you might asked, how awesome Ufotable really is? Well, there is no better way to convince you other than seeing them yourself, so here are some "sample":

Berserker's firs appearance in Fate/Zero, the moment where people said "Holy sh*t I never knew 3DCG in anime can look this awesome!" for the first time.

Black Rock Shooter: The Game's animated opening, which I considered the best thing ever existed in anime industry even till this day. It perfectly translated Huke's style into animated form with some pretty crazy animation quality.

Tales of Xillia's Opening. the voice is tuned a little bit to avoid copyrights issues, but the animation is great. Remember what I said about Ufotable kicking Production I.G. out of competition? Well, I didn't mean it in the literal sense, but here is an interesting fact, before Xillia, all opening and animated scenes in Tales series are done by Production I.G., but Namco Bandai decided to use Ufotable instead from Xillia on under the reason of "Ufotable can produce much higher quality animation than Production I.G. with the same price". In other words, this opening signifies how good Ufotable has became by literally proving themselves to be better than Production I.G., who was once the king of the industry.

Tales of Xillia 2 Opening. Technically speaking, there are quite a few flaws in this video, like slow motion action scene in the song's climax, the song doesn't go along with the video in some scene, Ludgar's hand was outside of the screen when he was reaching for Elle. Though the smooth animation and that epic scene with Ludgar vs. Julius definitely makes it up for me.

The beloved opening for Disgaea 2. Remember, this is from 2006.

Opening for God Eater. Quite a stylish opening.

And that's it for now. To close the curtain, I shall whore out one of my collection, a New Year Card from Ufotable to me through my Twitter message box with my name on it(as well as advertising their upcoming film Majokko Shimai no Yoyo to Nene). It said only "selected followers" will receive this, but since I never have the luck for this kinda of thing, I assume there are a lot of "selected followers" out there.

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