Wednesday, August 1, 2012

WO Reviews: Kashimashi: Girl Meets Girl

It has been said that growing up isn't easy, but this was probably said before anyone ever heard of Hazumu Osaragi.

Why do I say that?

Picture this - Hazumu, a young boy in love finally confessing his feelings to the girl that he loves, Yasuna, only for her to turn him down. Very gently, but still turned him down none the less. And rather than bitch and rage on the internet about being “friendzoned”, Hazumu decides to do a little mountain climbing to get his mind off of things, and otherwise get over it.

Pretty good so far you would think. But this is anime remember, things are never that easy.

Cue the crashing alien spaceship that kills poor little Hazumu.

Yup, the hero of this little story gets killed in the first episode. But again this is anime so Hazumu doesn't stay dead for long. These being the friendly alien types, manage to save Hazumu, but at a very odd cost. Our hero is reborn, rebuilt, regenerated—whatever you wanna call it—as a girl, right down to the DNA level.

Now for most people, finding out that they've had their gender irreversibly changed forever would illicit some level of shock, possibly even downright anger. Hazumu on the other hand, seems to not really be phased by this development at all. Heck, she seems to be happier because of it.



So with this out of the way, our young heroine now sets out to resume her life, while adjusting to her new found womanhood. A difficult thing in itself, and probably made a lot more difficult because those same said aliens that saved Hazumu, also announced their presence, and told the whole world what happened. So what would have been a more quiet transition is now public knowledge to every single person on the planet.

Someone is in for some fun times (and that is said with complete and total sarcasm).

At first, there is a lot of intrusive hounding by news media and paparazzi. It goes away after a while though, and now comes the issue of how friends, family, and schoolmates take to Hazumu's new found female form. Her parents seems to be happy that their child gets to live on, though the father turns into the typical anime pervert because of the change. From this point on, the majority of his screen time will be attempts to take baths with his new daughter, or getting her to dress up in cute skimpy outfits for photo sessions. Thankfully the mom intervenes.


Then we have Hazumu's friends; but we shall just focus on the other two members of this love triangle. First there is her lifelong friend, Tomari, the tomboyish and athletic type, who feels a certain bit of guilt since she pushed Hazumu to make the love confession in the first place. And early on, she seems to have the most adverse reaction to Hazumu's new found femaleness. A lot of awkward reactions, as well as being the one to take charge to teach Hazumu to act more ladylike. Right down to some bra shopping that led her to find out that Hazumu even has bigger breasts than her now. She didn't take it too well.

Next we have, Yasuna, the girl who turned him down in the first place, and for reasons that are very important to the plot, as the anime goes on, I won't say why she turned Hazumu down when he was still male.

Yasuna is a very shy reserved girl, usually keeping to herself, and somehow managing to forge a friendship with Hazumu. Even after turning him down, she still stays friends with him. In fact, she starts to become more romantically interested in Hazumu after the transformation. Much to the chagrin of Tomari.

Throughout all of this, the trio of characters manage to forge an odd friendship. Hazumu eases into her womanhood and starts becoming closer with Yasuna. Tomari all the while putting on the face of being a good friend.

“Wait a minute” you say. “Tomari could have a legit concern about her childhood friend getting back together with the person that broke her heart.”

Yeah, that's possible, but then again this is a show about a love triangle. In denial, or just not quite aware of it, Tomari herself has feelings for Hazumu. This uneasy love triangle/friendship is pretty much the meat of the series.

There are other sub plots in the series, such as why Yasuna turned Hazumu down when he was still male, Hazumu's indecisiveness, how Hazumu's other friends deal with her transformation, the aliens that killed/saved Hazumu moving in to observe her and humanity as a whole; among a few others.

Eventually Hazumu does decide on which one of her two friends to pursues a relationship with. But since I don't wanna give out any spoilers I'll leave it up to you good people to watch the show and find out, or be dirty cheaters and read it on Wikipedia, or some other place like that.

Now some of you might be knowledgeable enough to know that this anime was first released in Japan in 2006, and on DVD in the USA in 2007. So it isn't new by any means. So why the review?

Well, up until last year this had been a Japanese language, subtitled in English, only release. Being in a very niche genre of anime it was quite the surprise when Media Blasters decided to go back and make a new release of this anime, with an English dub.

So how is the dub? Well... this was handled by, Arvintel Media Productions, and they don't exactly have the best track record. Responsible for the English dubs of other Media Blasters shows like, Ah My Budda, Eiken ((╯°□°)╯︵ ┻━┻ ), Green Green, and Kanokon: The Girl Who Cried Fox, I can't say the expectations were too high. The casting was odd (I'll get to that in a bit), with some familiar names, and some not-so familiar names.

First we have, Stephanie Sheh in the lead role as Hazumu Osaragi—our boy turned girl. At first I had my doubts since I've honestly never heard Ms. Sheh play a male character before, let alone a high school aged male. While her male voice for Hazumu was kind of shaky, she more than made up for it with her female voice for the character. Thankfully after that first episode Hazumu's male side is reduced to a few sparse flashbacks.

Next we have Mona Marshall as Hazumu's childhood friend, Tomari. Again I had my doubts about this; but mostly because Ms. Marshall is so known for playing young boy characters that to me, it honestly sounds wrong hearing her voice a female. But past that initial oddness she does an extremely well job, and once she gets a feel for the role she does well covering the range of emotions that Tomari goes through as the series progresses.

Then we have Karen Strassman as the quiet and reserved, Yasuna. Probably the only one of the three main girls that I had no questions or doubts about being cast. And I was right to make that assumption. I would say she captured Yasuna's character quite well, maybe even comparable to her Japanese counterpart Yui Horie, who is something of a big star in Japanese voice acting.

The rest of the casting for the show is fairly hit and miss. Decent work from other lesser known veterans, and some shaky to awful work from the unknowns. Overall I can't say the acting is the problem with the dub for this show. The problem was that this was handled by Arvintel Media Productions.

The voice actors themselves are only as good as the writing and directing allow them to be, and that really was where this fell flat on its collective ass. The minor things that other dub studios handle with relative ease, they manage to screw up. Things like matching the lip flaps, being consistent with how the character's names were pronounced, and the real kicker—the entire NASA scene from the first episode. Yes this scene was voiced in English even in the original Japanese version of the show, and it was terrible—and in what I could only call being cheap—they didn't bother to redub it so it wouldn't sound like really bad Engrish.

It is easily the worst part of the show. But thankfully it is only in that first episode. So overall the English dub is bad, but still tolerable enough for most people. For the purists, just stick to the Japanese audio.

So finally, to the question of if this is worth your time to bother watching.

Personally I have to say, I was hooked by the initial premise of the show myself. It was just wacky enough without being too absurd. I expected more comedy from the show, but like a lot of anime shows, it starts off rather comical, then gets a little more serious as it gets closer to the end (as long as you ignore that 13th episode which never aired in Japan either). If you consider yourself to be an open-minded person, then there is a good chance that you will enjoy watching this. So I would definitely recommend it for anyone that is looking for something that isn't what people tend to generally assume anime is.

I will give it a final overall grade of 3 out of 5 stars.

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