Shinseiki Cream Lemon - Escalation: Die Liebe (of 1) (Mania.com)

Review Date: Friday, March 07, 2003



What They Say
A Catholic boarding school. Plagued by the torments typical of her age, beset by loneliness, Tomoe runs into Rie, her exact opposite. Touched by Rie?s gentleness, Tomoe?s brighter nature peers through. At the same time her affection for Rie deepens. But then, just as her feelings have reached a decisive point?


The Review!
Audio:
As would be expected from a show that is just one year old, the sound is crisp and flawless. Compared to the old Cream Lemon episodes, this one sports a halfway decent soundtrack, consisting mainly of soft piano music. Definitely an improvement over the endlessly repeated electronic pap of the old series. A small word of warning for those with thin walls and attentive neighbours: this episode ends with probably the loudest orgasm in movie history, so there?s just no way you?ll be able to watch this in a discreet fashion.

Video:
Perfect, not a single problem encountered. If some areas feel soft and blurred, it was fully within the director?s intentions. The animation uses the same colouring techniques from such recent shows as ?Hand Maid May? or ?Love Hina?, relying heavily on the computer and giving everything more texture.

Packaging:
I always loved the sober packaging of the Cream Lemon series, which for the most part just shows the central character(s) against a white backdrop. It reminds me of the LD covers for the Tenchi Muyo OAV series, which in my mind were some of the best covers ever created. This one?s a bit busier than usual, with four characters standing before the school church, but the bright colour scheme lightens up the image. If the erotic nature of the show is not clear from the front cover, still shots on the back cover would soon settle any doubts.

Menu:
One extremely simple main menu, not even a different submenu for the chapter list. The one thing I did like is that, when you select the ?play? feature, a silhouette of the two main characters briefly lights up.

Extras:
Nothing much. The original trailer, a couple of pin-ups used for promotion and a gallery of character and background studies. The official Cream Lemon site ( www.creamlemon.net ) actually offers a far wider range of materials, even including some story boards, and with a show that?s only 30 minutes long, there was certainly ample room left on the disc to include those as well. The booklet unfolds to a small poster.

Content:
A small history lesson: Cream Lemon is one of the hidden pillars of modern anime. While not exactly the first hentai anime (that title belongs to an abomination called ?Yuki no kurenai kesho ? Shojo barakei?, now mercifully forgotten in the mists of time), it was certainly the most popular and influential of its time, and probably the only one which could boast any amount of real talent. It ran from 1984 till 1990, and among the upcoming artists who participated on the show were such names as Yuji Moriyama (character designer for Urusei Yatsura and Maison Ikkoku, creator of Project A-ko), Toshihiro Hirano (Vampire Princess Miyu, Magic Knight Rayearth) and Naoki Yamamoto (Dance Till Tomorrow).

Despite its popularity, by 1990 the series was a goner. It could no longer keep up the competition with new titles like Urotsuki Doji or La Blue Girl, which featured fantastic settings and more explicit action. However, ten years have gone by since then, and the demon-and-tentacles stuff, which seemed so exciting and mouldbreaking back then, has in its turn become stale. Newer erotic anime, such as Koihime or Countdown, seems to have rediscovered a taste for daily life, human characters and even, God forbid ! , consensual sex.

So after a decade Fairy Dust, which had only produced some games in the intervening years, decided to try if they were still up to the task, and in July 2001 they released ?Escalation: Die Liebe?, the first part of a new series called ?Shinseiki Cream Lemon? (?Cream Lemon for a new century?).

Unfortunately, I have never been a fan of the ?Escalation? episodes from the old series: ?lesbian S&M sex at a Catholic girls? school? is just a bit too many clich�s for my palate to handle. As far as I?m concerned, pleasure is pleasure, and pain is pain, and not even Clive Barker could convince me the twain should meet. So lo and behold my surprise as I found myself actually liking this one.

This episode introduces a new girl, Tomoe Misaki, who suffers from a severe inferiority complex. Her parents, preferring her smarter older brother, have neglected her since early childhood. Her every word and thought echo those of Evangelion?s Shinji about being ?an unwanted, worthless person?. (Here?s a thought: are there intended references to Evangelion in this series? After all, many of the Gainax cronies used to work on Cream Lemon episodes. Also compare the two titles: ?Shinseiki Cream Lemon? vs. ?Shinseiki Evangelion?.)

During a failed attempt to run away from the Catholic boarding school her parents have dumped her in, Tomoe meets Rie Komatsuzaki, one of the school?s idols and main characters of the old ?Escalation? stories. Rie is the first person to extend a helping hand at her and to listen to her problems, and Tomoe falls in love on the spot.

She is troubled however when she learns that, as class representative, it is one of Rie?s duties to physically punish unruly students. Tomoe?s feelings of guilt and self-loathing express themselves in a fantasy about being mistreated by Rie. Rie, on the other hand, tries to engage Tomoe in the school?s social life by enrolling her in the tennis club (providing the animators with an opportunity to parody the style of the classic tennis anime ?Ace O Nerae?). For awhile things start looking up, but when Tomoe accidentally discovers that Rie and the tennis club?s captain, Midori, are lovers and they have been letting her win some of the matches, everything breaks down completely.

I won?t describe to you here what happens next (after all, finding out is most of the fun). Suffice it to say Rie decides to put Tomoe through some severe shock treatment in order to exorcize her self-loathing and replace it with honest feelings of loving and being loved. In the end, leatherwear and whips are done away with to be replaced by a simple, heartfelt kiss.

?Escalation: Die Liebe? is an unapologetic girl-on-girl story. There isn?t a trace of interest in the opposite sex here, unlike in some other so-called lesbian series (?Bondage Fairies? comes to mind). However, it is also a convincing fable about how each person needs to discover a sense of self-worth through love. For that reason alone it can be enjoyed by both male and female audiences.

A well-scripted, well-animated bit of hentai, that packs a stronger emotional punch than most of the mainstream stuff out there. It?s a weird world after all?

Features
Japanese Language,Character Design and Background Designs,Pin-Ups,Trailer


Review Equipment
Pioneer DV-525 player, DC-Z73 Amplifier



Mania Grade: B
Audio Rating: A-
Video Rating: A
Packaging Rating: A
Menus Rating: C
Extras Rating: C
Age Rating: 18 & Up
Region: 2 - Japan
Released By: Other
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Disc Resolution: 480i/p (mixed/unknown)
Disc Encoding: MPEG-2
Series: New Cream Lemon