I watched the first arc on Chinese pirate subs, and between the WTF 12K vocabulary, the WTF HK subtitle factory translations, and the general WTFness of 12K itself, never had a high opinion of the first 15 or so episodes. The second time through a Japanese anything I always hear more, and this time had the good subs to assist, so... well, it's bearable. Just.
Youko and Yuka and Asano-kun are still wet, neurotic, and wet, respectively, but I'll admit their hysterical all-to-pieces or all-over-the-map responses to being plunked down in Elsewhere are probably more realistic than Chihiro's tense and silent gamaning. One just likes Chihiro better, is all. (And wonders what kind of loser has a thing for a loser like Asano.) Keiki... oh dear. What is one to do with Keiki, who is beautiful and impossible? and who cannot be brought to relax in the usual way one makes uptight beautiful men relax (for which see Aoki Soh's various Trigun djs.)
The odd thing is, this time through I'm hearing an underlying and shrill current of neuroticism or hysteria in the narrative, the same thing you find underneath Jane Austen's humour when your ear gets attuned to it and which is front and centre in Charlotte Bronte. In Austen and Bronte it derives from sexual and economic factors, but I'm damned if I know what's fuelling it in 12 Kingdoms. Certainly there's enough purely female hysteria, what with the two Y's at the start and the two dweebs in the middle section, but I'm even seeing it in the En-oh and Enki relationship. Whatever way you slice it, the 12 Kingdoms world is just Not A Nice Place. The various spirits and beasties in Sen to Chihiro are much more obviously scary, but the whole structure of the 12K world has a thick oppressiveness to it that's absent from outside the bath house in StC.
With one exception, of course. At the end of the first disk I was almost at the point of saying Screw this it's too damned depressing: at which enter, in the preview to ep 6, Rakushun, whom I'd somehow completely forgotten about. Rakushun is the one focus of sanity and ray of sunshine in the series, sort of the equivalent of Zeniba (except there were other rays of sunshine in StC.) He's also bloody brilliant as conceived and portrayed in the anime. I'm happy to keep watching just for him.
Whatever, I went and bought three more DVDs today, the Taiki arc just because, and the last five eps because they defeat my Japanese comprehension in the raws I possess. I'm *almost* tempted to get the middle section as well, just because they too make no sense raw; but I think I'd prefer to read the novels. I'm not interested in A Tale of Two Whiners per se, nor yet The World's Most Boring Conspiracy; but I want the background details about Sai and Kyou and the other kingdoms and I fancy those are in the novels.