Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Ouran High School Host Club

The Ouran Host Club is where the school’s handsomest boys with too much time on their hands entertain young ladies who also have way too much time on their hands. Just think of it as Ouran Academy’s elegant playground for the super rich and beautiful.

With those opening remarks, it’s pretty clear that Ouran High School Host Club seeks to enthrall by entering into the wonderful world of rich people. And when I say rich people, I’m talking about that swanky, pompous breed of aristocracy; the kind who would come off as snobbish and contemptible, if not for the series’ snide parodical slant on anything and everything affluent.

Haruhi Fujioka, a sharp-as-steel, upstanding honors student gains acceptance to the distinguished Ouran Academy and is able to attend due to a scholarship despite not being nearly as wealthy as the rest of the student-body. One day, Haruhi stumbles upon a supposedly-abandoned music room only to find the quirky members of the Host Club and ends up accidentally shattering an expansive vase. Consequently, this lowly commoner is forced to become a host in order to work off an 8 million yen debt. Of course, the striking oddity is that Haruhi isn’t what you’d call host-material seeing as…well…she’s a girl.

Ouran is a comedy shoujo-series at heart but the comedy is so sharp, brazen, and well-written that it manages to break ground even when all it’s working with is the rank reverse-harem formula. The humor is indeed impressive and it’s far and away one of the funniest shows I’ve ever seen, but there’s much, much more to it than that.

With Studio Bones at the helm, stunning art direction is a given. The lavish interior of Ouran Academy is lathered in fluorescent pink and the visuals are outstandingly clean and vivid. In other words, exactly what you’d expect from classy nobility. The animation is equally as polished as there are tons and tons of visual gags (Tamaki incessantly spiraling spectacularly into despair or Haruhi’s “not-amused” expression whenever she’s dumbfounded by yet another idiotic aspect of the host club, for instance) that would have sorely missed their mark had the attention-to-detail been curtailed in the slightest.

As for the audio, the sounds accompanying slapstick humor are a riot and the background music consists of soothing classical tunes. Harsh orchestral clangs serve to punctuate comical moments of distress or self-aware melodrama, but for the unfunny tender moments, the series sticks to its soft, sentimental arrangements.

While Ouran’s a spot-on parody of many of the staples of shoujo romance, it also includes and puts a fresh and clever spin on the set-pieces that school-based shoujo-romance is famous for. Yes, it’s side-splittingly hilarious in its unforgiving lampoonery. Gags run the gamut from conventional (yet never tiresome) such as how girls feverishly swoon over the merest glimpse of glittering manservice , to refreshingly clever and self-aware such as how all of the hosts expertly fulfill a specific fetish of the intended audience. From regal, airheaded poster-boy (Tamaki) to titillating twincest (Hikaru and Kaoru) to a strong-and-silent/shotaro pairing (Honey and Mori), to suave, silver-tongued sophistication (Kyouya), all bases are covered. And once meta-otaku-extraordinaire Renge shows up the series is absolutely relentless in its incisive onslaught and nary a single hackneyed shoujo trope escapes unscathed.

As I mentioned, however, Ouran is more than just an ostentatious platter of laughs. Occasionally, the series does work its way through a traditional dramatic subplot and the knife-edge emotional suspense will leave you speechless. It’s these genuinely heartwarming moments of tenderness sprinkled throughout the series that make the boundary-pushing Ouran both a superb satire of and a wonderful homage to shoujo-romance.

Does Ouran stop there? I’ll be the first to admit that the series has earned its right to sit back and take a breather, but like a true visionary, Ouran doesn’t stop to rest on its laurels for one second. It soldiers forth by pitching some of the best character development in shoujo.

I’ll start with the main mademoiselle, Haruhi Fujioka. Summing up our resident reverse-harem lead in one word is simple: tough. She’s the toughest customer around these parts and her determination is a force to be reckoned with. She’s intelligent, assertive, level-headed, and blessed with a quick-wit, sharp-tongue, uncanny astuteness, and unshakable sincerity. She rarely shows weakness and likes to be brutally straightforward. In other words, she’s everything a traditional reverse-harem lead is not. And because of that, she’s awesome and one of my personal favorite characters in anime.

As one of the Most Triumphant Examples of the Snark Knight, Haruhi is the voice of reason and the conscience behind the Host Club’s myriad of capricious activities. While she’s often seen bemoaning the fact that she’s been forced into servitude, Haruhi quickly warms up to lovable gang of goofballs and acknowledges with a smile that she’s become an irreplaceable part of the nakama. Her flat-out rejection of gender stereotypes, earnestness, and ability to read people like an open-book is what makes her one fierce force of nature. She may dress, speak, and snark like a boy, but she’s still a beautiful, admirable maiden at heart. Oh, and she’s voiced by the irresistible Maaya Sakamoto who not only did a wonderful job making her sound tough and tomboyish, but also won the first annual seiyuu awards for her stellar performance.

Now, Ouran could have gotten along perfectly fine with playing everyone besides Haruhi as smarmy, cosmetic cornucopias of comedy. And to be honest, outside of Haruhi herself, that’s precisely what I was expecting throughout the early parts of the series.

For example, princely President Tamaki comes off as a mix of breathtaking bishonen beauty and dribbling dimwittedness. While he’s very much the central comedic relief character, he’s also been gifted with a heart overflowing with empathy. As the series goes on, it becomes more and more apparent that it’s not his overpowering dense-ness that causes a gravitational rift which attracts others to him, but rather his infectious, honest compassion.

For proof, look no further than the episode where he singlehandedly draws the twins out of their shell. Or the episode where he unwittingly breaks the usual calm and composed Kyouya and shows him the folly of his disgruntled, myopic mindset (in their first meeting, nonetheless). While he may be a freewheeling, foppish flirt, Tamaki marches through life leaving an indelible impression on every single person he meets.

Then there’s Kyouya. Again, he could have just been the poisonous accountant, elegantly waltzing through life with slicked, black hair, a clipboard in one hand, and a sly, seductive, chesire-cat grin plastered on his face. However, this “Low-Blood Pressure Demon” is not without his share of personal demons to face.

Besides having a heart of gold underneath all that scheming (as shown in his “Reluctant Day Out”), Kyouya is locked in a struggle to stop from being overshadowed by his two elder brothers. The desire to be noticed and to surpass one’s siblings is a very relatable tale and it shows the extraordinary lengths Kyouya has gone to in his bid to make a name for himself not only among his friends, but his family as well. Kyouya’s situation with his overbearing family is just as precipitous as Tamaki’s and his estranged mother. Calculating and conflicted, Kyouya is definitely much more than just a pretty face for the glasses n’ checkbooks complex.

However, by far the most compelling character development of the series goes to the Hitachiin twins. I’ve never seen a fraternal relationship between twins handled so delicately and believably.

The twincest between Hikaru and Kaoru is one of the most memorable and hilarious recurring gags of Ouran, so it’s quite jarring when the series turns their relationship from forbidden and licentious to genuinely wholesome and authentic.

The most impressive part about the Hitachiin twins is how radically different the two of them are. Hikaru is hot-headed, insecure, and flippant, whereas Kaoru is understanding and kind. The lengths the series goes to make the two stand apart as individuals while also working in a “third” personality (the twins when they’re together) is nothing short of praiseworthy. And if you want emotional turmoil, look no further than Hikaru and Kaoru.

Flashbacks reveal that the twins didn’t start out as prank-loving, mirthful misfits, but rather detached antisocial ones. All of their lives, they’ve wanted nothing more than to be told apart, but at the same time, couldn’t stand the thought of leaving the other’s side. Haruhi’s ability to instantly distinguish between the two of them and connect with them on an individual basis leaves the twins with earth-shattering implications as they both harbor romantic feelings for her. While it was Tamaki’s heartwarming honesty that persuaded them to open the door to the world, Haruhi’s presence further drives them to open that door, and consequently the gap between the two of them, wider and wider. It’s bittersweet in every sense of the word.

Did I forget someone? Oh right, Honey and Mori. Truthfully, Ouran should have done more with these two. The episode centered around Honey’s militant older brother was amusing, but any hint of development on Honey’s part turned out to be nothing more than elaborate trolling. And as for Mori’s day in the limelight, well, the Kasanoda arc did more for Kasanoda himself (in addition to the budding relationship between Tamaki and Haruhi) than it did for Mori.

It’s unfortunate, but by the time the credits roll, Honey is still a sweet-scarfing package of shota and Mori is still a stolid, stoic giant. Guess you can’t win ‘em all. Still, I’m more than willing to turn the other cheek since the rest of the cast is so brilliant.

When it comes down to it, Ouran has an excellent handle on timing and moderation. It mostly plays to its strengths of incredibly strong humor, only occasionally straying down serious street. But when it does, the transition is smooth as silk and the resulting poignancy is eminently palpable (see Kyouya breaking free from his frame; arguably the climax of the series). The ending may be contrived and slapdash, but the unsightly skid-mark is easily overlooked due to the fact that the series nails character development with picturesque perfection.

This is hands-down my favorite shoujo-series to date and this is coming from someone who, I assure you, is both a guy and completely straight. Ouran is a riotous treat for all; regardless of gender, everyone will find something to love when they walk through the ballroom doors and allow themselves to be pampered by the incomparable Ouran Host Club.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Final Fantasy XIII Review

It’s been quite a while since I’ve played anything Final Fantasy or anything Square Enix for that matter. Heck, it’s been a while since I’ve sat down with a good old-fashioned JRPG; short, sporadic bouts of Tales of Vesperia notwithstanding. Basically, I don’t know what compelled me to spend the last four days on FFXIII, apart from the insufferable hype. To be frank, I’m so glad I did.

Final Fantasy is a franchise that’s feeling a bit old and creaky as it gets on in its years. When it came time to bust out the ideas-whiteboard for FFXIII, the developers were probably feeling so downright bored that they decided to go for broke and toss in a cornucopia of sweeping changes in an effort to inject some exuberance back into a series that was in serious danger of succumbing to stagnation.

Accessibility is the name of the game in FFXIII’s case and with it comes streamlining and maybe a unusually rigid focus on linearity to hold novices’ hands through to the end rather than haphazardly kicking them out into the middle of a sprawling wasteland à la Fallout 3. In my opinion, change is as welcome as it is ambitious, especially for an aging (but just as lucrative) cash-cow like Final Fantasy and while FFXIII was spectacularly hit-and-miss in the experimentation department, the effort to shake things up was much, much appreciated.

First off, while the gameplay is invitingly accessible, the story is anything but and definitely does toss you in medias res with no sign of remorse. The opening cinematic is as confusing as it is intense and the scattered bits of dialogue are littered with incomprehensible jargon.

So to ease the initiation, here’s the skinny. In the world of Pulse, there are these god-like beings known as fal'Cie who are universally loathed and feared by humans. People unfortunate enough to cross paths with and become “marked” by a fal’Cie become beings known as l’Cie and are forced to discover and carry out a “Focus” or goal in order to “survive.”

“Survive” in quotes because succeeding at one’s Focus is just as damning to one’s existence as failing. As such, l’Cie are quite naturally considered cursed and are not only socially ostracized but forcibly quarantined in order to protect the well-being of the population. In traditional Final Fantasy fashion, ragtag renegades from all walks of life band together to settle this conflict once and for all and maybe even save the world in the process. Oh and villainous monologues and overwrought melodrama will be thrust in your face at every turn whether you like it or not.

So in a nutshell, it’s simplistic, straightforward fantasy peppered with a trace of obligatory pretentiousness. But then again, the story’s never been the crux of what makes Final Fantasy a legendary name in video gaming. No, it’s all about the presentation and FFXIII couldn’t possibly be more breathtakingly gorgeous.

There’s an iconic, elusive, artistic panache to Final Fantasy that few other games can accomplish. As shallow and stubbornly textbook as the story may be, it is uncompromisingly engaging from the get-go which can be chalked up to the mesmerizing art direction. Character designs are distinctive and colorful and the world is just erupting with life in every possible way. Just like its predecessors, FFXIII gracefully taps into the inveterate childhood fantasies in all of us and turns them into a reality by rendering them exactly as angelically and beautifully as how we envision them in our dreams.

Of course, the audio is just as sensational. There’s a wonderful harmony between the flawless, ethereal beauty of FFXIII’s dazzling visuals and composer Masashi Hamauzu’s exhilarating, orchestral score. Every piece of music captures the mood perfectly, whether it be somber, serious, or upbeat, and even the smallest little ditty is enlivening and evocative.

And as for the problems with the story, well, those can also be easily overlooked. It’s a classic tale of triumph from tragedy and hope from despair. While nothing new, it’s undeniably familiar and ingratiating and is a perfect, sunggly fit for a fantastically dreamlike, yet brooding world. When it’s presented in such an elegant and epic fashion, I’m all in for watching a group of heroes kick destiny to the curb and put a stop to C’thonic horror du jour’s plans for world domination. It’s an invigorating, emotionally-riveting, and sprawling adventure that’s just so damn uplifting to pass up.

As for the characters, they’re unfortunately quite a bit less forgivable. Standouts of the cast are Lightning and Sazh; no arguments there. Everyone else is well…either too obnoxiously bland to stomach or just plain annoying.

Let’s start with Lightning. I could probably go on for pages as to how unbelievably awesome she is. For me, she’s a milestone for female characters in video games and if Motomu Toriyama and Tetsuya Nomura’s goal was to create a distaff counterpart of Cloud, then they succeeded with flying colors.

She’s strong-willed, merciless, and earnest. You can just see the incredible effort that went into crafting her standoffish, solitary, yet very human personality. She’s captivatingly complex; aloof, yet genuinely compassionate and, above-all-else, cool. But at the same time oh-so-tantalizingly hot. I must admit, I had to break out the Perverse Sexual Lust folder for the first time in video gaming because Lightning is just so freakin’ droolworthy with her lustrous bubble-gum-pink hair, lovingly fierce gaze, brusque kuudere-ness, and wicked Blaze-Edge wielding badassery.

Sazh is great because he acts as the voice of reason and sanity, while also playing the role of comedic relief. People have pointed out that he’s the player surrogate, humorously struggling to keep his feet on the ground even while all these crazy things are happening all around him. Compound that with an unexpectedly heart-shattering backstory that is undoubtedly more emotionally-engaging than Lightning’s (Light’s checkered past is a bit too riddled with tiresome angst; only makes her a tad less awesome, however) and it’s hard to not love Sazh, stereotypes and all.

As for everyone else, they flesh out the cast adequately, if unspectacularly. Snow’s just a blundering blowhard who admittedly comes through as charming and passionate every once in a while. Hope is a whiny tagalong whose attachment to Light does wonders for developing her character (they’re both kindred spirits who lost their families), but doesn’t do much for his own. Finally, Vanille and Fang seem more like detached plot elements who are only serving as characters to fill out the roster. None of these characters are bad, per se, they’re just mediocre and forgettable.

Okay, let’s get to the bread-and-butter of all video games, i.e. the gameplay.

The level designers of FFXIII are doubtlessly thankful that their beloved franchise is unrivaled at crafting enriching, immersive worlds full of jaw-dropping wonder and imagination because from a gameplay-perspective, the world literally feels like one long claustrophobic corridor. It’s honestly only a few steps displaced from the “snow cave that suddenly, inexplicably transforms into lava land” formula in terms of how unnatural it feels. There’s a disquieting artificiality to it all that luckily gets overpowered by the aforementioned sublime scene-setting that the series is famous for. The exception and also the zenith of the game’s environments is the Archylite Steppe, which is bewilderingly expansive grassland that is truly an eye-popping treat for weary, jaded travelers.

So the compacted linearization leaves a scorch mark on in-game immersion, but how does it do for the actual gameplay? In terms of pacing, it’s actually a marked improvement. No towns means there’s no loitering here and there, looking blindly for NPC’s who allow progression, which consequently results in no break in the action. As for the exploratory element, well, it naturally gets shafted seeing as you will only ever encounter two branches in any given area. Branch A will lead to some extraneous item or accessory and Branch B will be the path of progression. That’s literally all there is to it, so treasure-hounds will be severely disappointed.

Random encounters are plentiful but often avoidable by way of smoke and mirrors or just fancy footwork. As such they never feel like much of a hassle unless you’re backtracking, in which case, they’re a controller-snapping nuisance. Which brings up another point. Outside of teleportation nodes, there’s no easy method of fast traveling, meaning that backtracking itself is an exercise in frustration and disillusionment as the world feels more and more like a single winding corridor.

Customization and inventory management have been simplified for the sake of accessibility, but are still noticeably clunky. Characters only equip one weapon and one-to-three accessories and items are straightforward in their descriptions, making decking out your crew much less of a chore than it traditionally is.

Upgrading characters involves staring at gleaming orbs and tracing lines to allocate experience points, which is intuitive, if lacking in complexity and sophistication. It’s a tentatively welcome change, although spreadsheet-hounds may get all uppity about it.

Upgrading items on the other hand is tough to wrap your brain around at first, but somewhat intuitive after you get used to it. The problem is that both the idea behind and the actual process of upgrading items by appending animal parts or errant machinery is just so laughably callow and contrived. There had to have been a method of upgrading items that didn’t involve sifting through hundreds of components and affixing them like they were some sort of magical USB-esque peripheral.

Finally, the all-important combat. Now this is where FFXIII truly shines because the Paradigm system is genuinely as accessible as it is thrilling. Granted, you have to wade through 20 hours of the severely limited prototype version before you get to play with the finished product, but it’s oh-so-sweet when get finally get to take Paradigm for a spin.

Combat plays out using the Active Battle System to mask the fact that you’re not in total control of the characters and are just issuing orders. It’s also incredibly sleek and polished to the point where it’s absurdly compelling. There’s no mana to keep track of or out-of-combat management to deal with. Just wait for the bar to fill up, input the commands and watch blades clash and spells fly.

And as for the Paradigm system, it’s truly a blast. Basically, any character can take on three (and more as the game goes on) out of six roles and Paradigm allows you to swap all three characters into different roles with the press of a button. There’s no need to swap accessories or weapons and it means that pretty much any character can capably fulfill any role at any time and you can switch between said roles on the fly, right in the midst of battle. Going from something safe and stable such as the Holy Trinity of Tank/DPS/Healer to sneaky status afflictions sabotage, and then to a full-out assault to the deliver the haymaker is fluid, natural, and sickeningly satisfying. The new battle system is indeed a welcome paradigm that we’ll hopefully be seeing more of in the future.

If I had to pick nits with the combat, the summoning system is utterly useless. While summoning and messing with the Eidolons is a joy (and the Eidolons themselves are actually a clever, unequivocal plot point), it’s rather underwhelming when it comes to actually contributing to the battle and you’re honestly better off just slugging it out with your three characters.

If nothing else, FFXIII has proven that there are plenty of new directions that an old franchise can take. The combat turned out to be incredibly well-tuned, but there’s still a lot of tightening up to do, particularly in striking a better balance between obsessive linearity and open-ended freedom. Doing away with a truckload of RPG conventions all at once may have been going overboard. But at the end of the day, the fact that FFXIII was a wildly creative experiment yet did not for one second compromise the integrity or identity of the franchise shows that there’s still a lot of potential for innovation in the pipeline.

Oh, and please, please, more characters like Lightning. She’s truly an irresistible, divine goddess.

Monday, March 8, 2010

Rie Kugimiya

Say what you want about Rie Kugimiya, but I think she’s an absolutely fantastic seiyuu. Definitely one of the most prolific in recent history. Her name has practically become synonymous with the term tsundere as of recent and for good reason. Rie’s voice is moe-fied tsundere incarnate and is as much a part of tsundere as the inhuman intolerance for being teased, the zettai ryouiki, the distinctive twin-tails, or the nervous blush inevitably accompanied by a dismissive *hmph.*

Due to Rie’s extreme exposure over the past couple of years, her talent has become a heated point of contention. Some people have grown tired of her incessant pigeonholing while others can’t stand the sheer stridency of most of her performances. It’s something that’s honestly difficult to measure objectively and one’s mileage will depend almost solely on personal preference.

I personally find Rie Kugimiya’s voice to be moe as hell and endearingly cute. Especially due to the fact that most of the characters she voices are pint-sized powerhouses of spunk and verve, belying genuine tenderheartedness. Oh-so-huggable, but still frighteningly fearsome.

I might as well broach on the topic of Rie strutting her saucy tsunderetude first. Like many people, my first experience with Rie was by way of a little series known as Shakugan no Shana, where she made a name for herself as the short-fused tsundere loli known as Shana.

Ah, Shana. One spicy Flame-Haze wrapped up in a neat, portable package of adorable snuggliness. The zenith was definitely Rie's lusciously fluttery stammering and stuttering when the time came for Shana to go all dere. Simply irresistible.

After Shana, Rie has gone on to voice Louise from Zero no Tsukaima, Nagi from Hayate the Combat Butler and Taiga from Toradora!

Out of the four pillars of tsundere, Louise is probably the weakest as there’s absolutely nothing refreshing about her in particular. For example, apart from being the first, Shana’s obsession with melon bread gave her that spark of humanity and yet another trait of endearing cuteness. Louise is just as deliciously cheeky and vociferously prideful (and powerful) as Shana is, but it’s unfortunately not too much of a stretch to say that she’s literally just Shana minus the feverish melon bread fixation.

Hayate the Combat Butler, on the other hand, is an unrelenting comedy series whereas the Shakugan no Shana and Zero no Tsukaima were a mix of comedy and action or adventure respectively. Accordingly, Nagi puts a welcome spin on the whole flat-chested-loli-tsundere schtick by sprinkling in some added flavor. She’s still spunky and dangerously-irascible, but is more of a cross between a typical tsundere and a hikikomori otaku.

Nagi is an aspiring manga artist and is reluctant to leave the confines of her mansion for trivial things such as school. The fact that she’s an otaku surrogate further endears her to the audience (although some would level accusations of pandering), and with her wealth and status, she’s also got that aristocratic air of haughtiness, much like the ojou archetype. It’s clear that the series is trying to wring every ounce of fun out of Nagi as possible and it does an admirable job.

However, my favorite Rie Kugimiya role is by far Taiga. At first glance, she’s just Shana minus the Flame-Haze-iness, but she’s so much more than that. First off, Taiga is far more openly abrasive and impetuous and even skirts the borders of being an outright abusive little Jerkass. Okay, so her tsun’s been beefed up. Big deal. Well, there’s more to it than that, obviously.

What differentiates Taiga from the other three pillars of tsundere is that she actually undergoes genuine character development. Sure, Shana transitions from being a no-nonsense warrior to a soft-hearted high school girl, but it’s all too obnoxiously textbook to be praiseworthy. Louise falls victim to the same basic problem as well. And as for Nagi, while she’s a fun character, she’s unfortunately stuck in a comedy series where development often takes a backseat.

Taiga, on the other hand, matures over the course of Toradora!, going from a high-strung, bellicose brat to someone with a modicum of self-control and compassion. The great thing about Taiga’s development is that it’s not just black and white with defined stages of progression. It’s more fluid, smooth, and natural. When it comes down to it, Shana’s nothing more than a straightforward case of Defrosting Ice Queen, albeit in a somewhat subtler fashion. Contrast with Taiga, who is dealing with all the realistic complexities of trying to slowly strip away her reinforced defensive barrier and struggling to channel her adolescent frustrations in a manner that’s productive. And she’s prone to failing spectacularly more often than not, making it impossible to not sympathize with the adorable little palmtop tiger trying her damnedest to rein in her incorrigible belligerence.

So, it’s obvious that Rie knows how to pull off the catty, yet still charmingly squeaky voice with commendable zeal, but how does she fare outside of her natural habitat? Despite appearances to the contrary, Rie is actually not in danger of sinking too deep into the pigeonhole. She can do (and in fact often does) anything and everything and has tremendous success outside of Shana and co. Case in point, the role that first cast the spotlight onto her, aka Alphonse Elric.

Yes, it was quite a shock to me when I first found out about it. Shana as Alphonse? Madness! Well, that is until you realize that Alphonse came first. Rie effortlessly captures all of the complex nuances of the character just as excellently as Aaron Dismuke, even if she ultimately lacks the unattainable authenticity that made Aaron’s performance a paragon of voice-acting. It’s still a wonderful, honest performance, straight from the heart, that breathes so much life into an empty suit of armor and makes the Elrics’ journey that much more poignant and emotionally engaging.

Finally, Rie does an absolutely bang-up job as Kagura, the crude, foul-mouthed little scrapper. Again, Rie is quite unopposed in selling the endearingly childish nature of Kagura, which is at odds with the character’s blunt, tomboyish, and undignified personality. Kagura’s more of a straight-up idiot, but Rie still nails the role, right down to the quirky speech mannerisms and proclivity for shrieking, vomiting, snarking, and even rapping, aru . Kagura is definitely a lot of fun, and even one-ups Nagi by being exposed to some fairly decent character development.

Rie’s voice is definitely not for everyone. “Urosai, urosai, urosai!” in the screechiest of voices can degenerate into nails-on-chalkboard after the umpteenth time and that’s if you even make it that far if you’re someone who’s easily put off by the stale, unrealistic, and often pandering nature of tsundere romance. I personally am not one of those people and while I’m not really a fan of shows like Shakugan no Shana or Toradora!, the sublime enthusiasm and utter moe-ness of Rie’s tsundere voice is simply infectious to me. Who knows? Maybe, I’m just a sucker for the oh-so-cuddly-wuddly, dripping with diabetes, mound of treacle that is the sound of Shana scarfing down melon-bread.

But at the end of the day, I have to admit that Rie Kugimiya is still one talented, hard-working seiyuu who has definitely earned her place as the undisputed Queen of Tsundere and as the moe-est seiyuu in the business.