The Fall 2008 Anime Preview Guide
Theron Martin

by Theron Martin, Oct 4th 2008
Theron's Bio:
When not watching anime, reading manga, or working on reviews, Theron pursues other heights of geekdom by devoting copious amounts of time to board games, comic books, and playing, running, and writing for RPGs. He retains his tenuous claim on guyhood through intense interest in fantasy football (in-season, of course), yard work, and fearlessness on roller coasters, and balances out his girly giddiness over Princess Tutu with shows of more manly interest like Claymore (the only series that has ever inspired him to make a series-focused Web site). He is currently in his mid-30s, employed in the education field in addition to review work for ANN, and aspires both to one day become a published novelist and to write a grand philosophical treatise titled, How Everything Really Fits Together And Why You're Wrong About It.

Mōryō no Hako

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: No series debuting this season has a more compelling prologue: a man riding in a train hears a sound coming from an ornate box carried by a fellow passenger. The other man opens the box to reveal the disembodied, apparently still-living head of a smiling teenage girl.

Now how can you pass up wanting to know more about that?

Although this series purports to be a tale about a private investigator teaming up with an antique book seller to investigate a murder spree involving dismemberment, none of that comes through in the first episode. Instead, it seems to be a flashback about a schoolgirl who finds herself falling in love with a fellow schoolgirl who, oddly, insists that they are reincarnations of each other. Both either have, or have had, issues with their mother, and one seems to have both a strange view on life and a death wish. Little beyond that can be determined, as by the end of the episode it feels like things are only barely getting started and the bigger picture has yet to materialize. Only one of the several male characters featured in the opener prominently figure into the story, leaving viewers to wonder what, precisely, is going on. Even so, it features excellent production values, a heartfelt sense of joyous wonder accompanied by occasional creepy undertones, and good writing that is strongly complemented by the musical score, so this one is worth giving at least long enough for the long-term plot to materialize.


Skip Beat!

Rating: 3.5

Review: Kyoko was in love with the dashing Sho for years as they grew up, so when he asked her to accompany him as he moved out of the family inn to pursue acting and performing, she didn't hesitate. She even worked two jobs to help support the two of them despite rarely getting to see him as his fame grew, but that did not diminish her ardor. What did diminish it was the discovery that Sho had just been using her for support and domestic services while he got his career together, and that he never really cared for someone so unglamorous. Provoked by this, Kyoko makes a radical change in appearance and seems destined to get her revenge on Sho by challenging him in his world in this adaptation of the popular shojo manga by Yoshiki Nakamura.

The first episode seems to be all about set-up, so those who have not read the manga may not be entirely clear on where the story is going to go from here. It certainly seems destined to have major romantic components, though so far it is more an exercise in silly humor than anything. It retains every bit of typical shojo styling in its character designs and basic construction, although the “radical make-over” gimmick offers an uncommon variation on the common story of a girl who has been used and tossed aside by the man she loved. Overall the series shows some potential, especially for shojo fans.


Tytania

Rating: 2

Review: In the distant future, the immense Empire of Verdhana has within it one especially powerful clan: the Tytania Clan, a family so powerful and feared that even the Emperor hesitates to challenge them. (And with so many handsome, noble men leading it, why wouldn't it be?) In an attack on the forces of the nation of Euria, in an attempt to secure a new technology, the leaders of Tytania find a new foe of surprising merit, one that Tytania's leader finds a worthy challenge.

Yeah, this one's an epic costume space opera, done somewhat in the style of Glass Fleet or Legend of the Galactic Heroes but with an attitude so smug it approaches farce. While it does offer a wide variety of costumes, handsome guys for the ladies, and a respectable overall look, its almost painfully hackneyed writing drags its first episode down. Its attempts to display elegance fall painfully flat, its space battles are dull and uninteresting even with the predictable big reversal factored in, none of its named characters show much of a personality so far, and everything that happens seems forced; in general, it lacks a good story flow. Don't expect much for female characters, either, as the only named female character to appear even briefly has a boyish appearance. (Her being flashed to immediately after someone declares, “is there no one who can stand up to the Tytanias?” was also rather cheesy.) A tepid musical score doesn't help.

The writing on this one is going to have to improve considerably for it to be worth following.


Kemeko DX

Rating: 3

Review: Give production company Hal Film Maker credit for trying to come up with a truly unusual twist on the tired combined formulae of a) sexy alien girl hooking up with normal human guy and b) a promise made in childhood leading to romantic/marriage complications as teenagers. The twist here is that the girl, for as-yet-unexplained reasons (the implication is that she feels vulnerable outside of it), insists on operating solely from a chibi robot girl suit named Kemeko, one that must have some kind of dimensional pocket built in, as it cannot possibly contain her whole body as is. This results in stupefying scenes of machine gun-armed chibi robot battle action which involves running around in a wedding dress combating robots and a giant, disembodied mechanical hand which sprouts out of a giant rice cooker, all in the name of hooking up with hero Sanpeita. (And yes, this is as weird in execution as it sounds.) Throw in the girl friend who even goes as far as zipping up Sanpeita's fly for him and another blue-haired girl who seems like a cross between a dozen other established anime characters and you have a cast that may or may not entertain but certainly won't bore.

The gimmicky content will need to carry this one because the artistry won't. A character design style reminiscent of Ninja Nonsense gives most of the girls a very hippy, heavily-curved look and the guys a more plain spiky-haired appearance, but the visual star is, of course, the unattractive yet strangely fascinating Kemeko. Battle scenes are actually well-choreographed and reasonably well-animated, but otherwise the art and technical merits only barely deliver on the numerous visual gags. The soundtrack makes up for it, however, delivering a high-spirited and fun sound complemented by a pair of spectacular numbers for the opener and closer; the first episode is worth watching just to experience the upbeat, fully lip-synched opener and the suggestive, hard-rock-themed exercise video closer featuring Kemeko. (Both of these could easily become fan-fave video clips.)

Though in many senses a trashy work, the first episode offers enough of a quirky variation on the norm for its genre that it may be worth checking out. This could be a fun one even if it isn't very good.


Kurozuka

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: In a post-apocalyptic world, a pair of monks is beset by glowing-eyed opponents intent on killing one of them as they cross a mountainside forest. Seeking shelter and water after the fight, they find an isolated dwelling deep in the forest which seems to be inhabited by a single red kimono-clad beauty. As one of the monks descends the mountain to seek medicine for the feverish Kuro, he and the woman Kuromitsu find themselves fascinated with each other. As attackers arrive on the scene, the monk learns the truth: the Kuromitsu is an immortal, and an apparently lonely one, who offers to take Kuro into her world.

While this beginning offers a fairly typical introduction of a young man into the world of an isolated immortal, Kurozuka nonetheless executes it with the kind of style, mood, and class that could only be found in a serious, mature samurai or ninja tale. It is a very bloody and graphic affair peppered with several intense, dynamic action scenes yet framed within a Noh play, one which displays an excellent sense of pacing, distinctly above-average animation, and a musical score which mixes hard rock/metal themes with classical Japanese themes. Its character designs tend to be on the thin and gangly side, but its nice use of colors leaves no real complaints there, either. The only questionable aspect at this point: why make it a post-apocalyptic setting that has apparently reverted to 17th century Japan? Why not just set it in that time period? Perhaps that has yet to be revealed. That aside, this series is off to a strong start.


Earl and Fairy

Rating: 3

Review: Also known as Hakushaku to Yōsei, this unabashedly shojo-styled romantic adventure features Lydia Carlton as the latest in a long line of “fairy doctors,” individuals able to see and communicate with fairies who have traditionally served as liaisons between them and humans, though their status has waned as belief in fairies has. Drawn from her home in late Victorian-era Edinburgh by a letter from her Father, her and her talking fairy cat companion Nico find themselves mixed up with a dashing young man who claims to be this generation's Blue Knight Earl (a figure who holds titles in both England and the Fairy Nation) and has need of her talents to secure the Noble Sword of the Merrow so that he may gain entrance into his ancestral fairy lands. Another man opposes his efforts, however, and seeks Lydia for the same purpose.

The opener and preponderance of dashing guys populating the story strongly suggests that this one is intended to be a period reverse harem series. It certainly has the trappings down right, as Lydia's dress is positively lovely and she cuts a cross between a classic 19th century English lady and a more typical shojo romance heroine. However, this first episode tries much too hard to formulate the requisite romantic tension and play up the beauty of its male stars, to the point of cheesiness in a way that only hard-core shojo titles can accomplish, and Nico feels much too unnatural to be adorable. A bland musical score doesn't help, a disappointment after a promising opener.

While this one may hold some potential, it is probably only suited for those who normally eat up period shojo romances. Fans of the genre should find a lot to like here, however.



Casshern Sins 2

Rating: 4

Review: If you're looking for something light-hearted or fun-loving in this new anime season, this series isn't it. As its second episode resoundingly proves, Casshern Sins is as gloomy and brooding a title as they come in anime. It ruminates on how the best that some can make of a seemingly hopeless situation is to find comfort in a peaceful death with a loved one, and how even an acceptance of one's fate can be turned aside at the slightest insane glimmer of hope. It establishes peace only to tear it down and accuses the hero of being the cause of the world's destruction. On the hero's part, he must contemplate his culpability in creating the ruined world despite not remembering it and face having to strike down robots just to protect himself. Accusations are thrown at him, robots seek to eat him in a deluded attempt to achieve immortality, and he has to watch as one of the few good things he's found in the world quickly goes sour because of his presence.

What makes this episode worthy of watching is how well and thoughtfully written the content is. The action scenes may be highlights, but they ultimately only complement the hard-hitting dialogue and effective use of setting and tragedy. This episode also introduces Friender, Casshern's robot dog from the original TV series, and does offer some sweet robot love. On the downside, the artistic quality control over the course of this episode is very erratic. Designs alternate between sharp and rough depending on the scene, sometimes for visual and/or dramatic effect but just as often attributable to apparent sloppiness.

If the artistic quality gets more consistent then Mad House may have a winner here. It will not suite those merely looking for casual entertainment, however.


Rosario + Vampire Capu2 episode 2

Rating: 2

Review: If you want to fully appreciate what the second episode of Toradora! accomplished and why it's special, just look at the second episode of this one and compare. This is, unfortunately, a classic example of what anime romantic comedies more commonly do: take the lowest and cheapest possible road. That, in of itself, is not necessarily bad, as such productions can still be quite funny while appealing to viewers’ prurient interests , and this episode does have at least a few noteworthy merits, such as showing how adorable the vampire Moka looked when younger and revealing that the annoying narrator bat actually has an important role. In general, though, this episode is trashy, smashy, formulaic as ever, and just plain stupid. Sadly the series shows more creativity in the angles it uses to get its obsequious panty shots than in anything dealing with its story or characters.

The plot, such as it is, involve Moka's younger sister Kokoa seeking to beat down on Moka while everyone tries to stop or hide from her rampage. Apparently Moka and Kokoa fought all the time growing up, Kokoa always lost, and she's been looking for payback (or perhaps just a return to the status quo) ever since. The witch Ruby pops up again briefly, the “Pretty Witch Love Love Succubus” sentai team (no, really) makes a mercifully short appearance, and all of the predictable plot twists happen. A few cheap laughs might be found here, but the real highlight, aside from Moka's character design, is the establishment of the first episode's great, fully-animated dance number as the series’ opener.

This episode won't be enough to drive established fans of the franchise away, but it certainly will not encourage new viewers.


To Arusu Majutsu no Index 2

Rating: 4

Review: The first episode set up an interesting premise which offered the promise of plenty of flashy power use, and the second episode certainly capitalizes on that. A fire-using mage who goes by a multitude of names has come to take Index “into custody” because the photographic memory of the apparent construct that is Index has flawlessly recorded the images from 103,000 magical books, and while she cannot use the spells themselves, that vast storehouse of knowledge could prove dangerous in the wrong hands - although who, exactly, does or doesn't have the “wrong hands” is, of course, very subjective. As the mage pulls out his fire attacks, Kamijou gets ample opportunity to discover the effectiveness of his nullifying right hand against magic, just how far that will go, and how much backbone he has when it comes to dealing with Index. When his own power proves a hindrance to curing the potentially fatal wound Index bears, Kamijou seeks help from the only source he can think of: his pint-sized teacher.

While the fire mage duel may run a bit long, it offer no shortage of flash and spectacle. The mixed blessing that is Kamijou's right hand may ultimately be more interesting, however, as it offers the series the chance to explore every aspect of a rare (in anime) and potentially fascinating power type. As useful as Kamijou's power is in a fight, it tremendously gets in the way in non-combat scenarios, which is an aspect of power use rarely dealt with in anime. The exposition on how magic works is also helpful, and darn it all, Index is just too cute and well-drawn even when in Robot Mode to deny. Good music, high general artistic quality, and strong technical merits also continue to speak well for the series, although the beer-swilling, hard-smoking childlike teacher may be a little much.

Given events so far, it may take at least a couple more episodes to see how this one shakes out. Two solid starting entries should be enough to encourage many fans to keep watching on, however.


Chaos;HEAd

Rating: 3.5

Review: The opener may give the impression of this being yet another harem series or ero game adaptation, but this series may instead qualify as the new season's weirdest entry. Based on a visual novel released earlier this year in Japan, the Chaos;HEAd anime carries over the visual novel's heavy emphasis on psychology and delusions while introducing a bevy of pretty girls. One is a younger sister, another a clumsy otaku girl who may be stalking the hero but seems to have the same anime passion, a third is an apparent murderer, a fourth is an anime character manifesting out of the hero's delusions, and the fifth's roles is unclear at this point.

Oh, yes, did I mention the murderer? Some really bizarre killings have been going down in Shibuya, but they barely register on otaku Takumi's game and anime-soaked consciousness until he gets sent a picture of one and then actually witnesses it seemingly being committed by a blood-soaked pink-haired girl, one who, disconcertingly, later appears in his class. He has enough trouble distinguishing reality from his own delusions without that, as he believes a sexy anime character hangs around with him in his odd domicile and imagines both vicious attacks on him and that he's being watched. He's such a loser that he prefers anime girls to “three-dimensional” ones and when one who shares his interests does approach him, he's reluctant to believe it since he sees it as an improbable ero game scenario. All indications are that he's about to descend into something even stranger. . . if it's all real, that is, since it could all just be one of his paranoid delusions.

The apocalyptic prologue and the intense bloodiness of one scene suggests a generally dark and twisted tale sprinkled with light-hearted moments, one which gives off something of a When They Cry vibe. (And watch for some subtleties, too, such as how the frog clips briefly visible on Yua's bag when she meets Takumi in front of the school suspiciously match the ones on the bag Takumi saw in the Internet parlor.) Mad House backs it up with respectable visuals and an eerie, highly effective musical score. It is not, in any case, standard fare, but a couple more episodes will be required to see if this series will truly establish itself in a fresh and interesting direction.


Nodame Cantabile: Paris Chapter

Rating: 3.5

Review: Shinichi and Nodame travel to Paris, Shinichi's second home, to study music in this follow-up to 2007's classical music-oriented Nodame Cantible. Some things have not changed since the last season; Shinichi is still at arrogant and inconsiderate as ever and Nodame is still as flaky, but talented, as ever, even managing to pass the demanding entrance exams despite not knowing French. What has changed is the setting, which now features numerous shots of well-known Paris scenery, and the side cast. The two key new characters, who are also neighbors of Shinichi and Nodame, are sexy Russian exchange student Tanya and Frank, an otaku who met Nodame at the entrance exams and is an apparent big fan of Shakugan no Shana. (Is is just me, or is that currently the most-referenced anime franchise by other anime titles?) Both have initial designs on the members of the opposite sex from the lead duo, though both soon come to realize that they may be out of their league.

Anyone who is a big fan of the original series should be pleased with the way this new season starts. Since it begins with a dramatic change of venue, being familiar with the original, beyond basic character profiles, is helpful but not necessary, as the personalities of the main characters, and the nature of their relationship, are straightforward enough, and well-defined enough, for a newbie to easily figure out the state of affairs. This episode offers a satisfying mix of classical music, humorous moments, and well-defined characters, as well as a story interesting enough to be worth exploring. Nodame's behavior does get irritating at times, and the artistry is less than impressive, but it's hard to go wrong with a musical score heavy on classical music.


Toradora! episode 2

Rating: 5 (of 5)

Review: Episodes like this make wading through a hundred mediocre series worth it.

Episode like this - ones that truly step beyond the bounds of genre formula and create something truly affecting and special - come along only once in a blue moon, and when they do they should be treasured. And widely-watched.

If the first episode of Toradora! showed potential by getting on base, its second episode hits a grand slam. Instead of going down the path of least resistance or playing the “I want to confess my feelings” shtick up like a typical farce, the writing sets up Ryūji and Aisaka to gradually come to an understanding about things even as everyone else is misunderstanding them and the  relationship they're forming. When their scheming to hook up with the people they really want goes awry, they don't keep beating a dead horse of a joke, but instead vent their frustrations in a post-kicking scene that may stand as one of the great individual scene highlights of the new season. And when the moment finally comes for Aisaka to work up the courage to confess, she takes charge of matters and is treated fairly and considerately. The humor that gets worked in along the way complements the more serious content and does not distract from the sincere emotional appeal the content builds, and the musical score flawlessly supports the mood. Ryūji and Aisaka aren't really in love here, but they are building a strong and balanced relationship worthy of respect. They are a duo you can cheer for without reservations.

Whether or not the series can maintain this kind of quality level remains to be seen, but this episode, at least, does everything right. It is one of the year's best individual episodes, and I'd rate it higher than a 5 if I could.


Bihada Ichizoku

Rating: 1

Review:  If it wasn't for the Japanese language being spoken, one might almost mistake this insipid 9.5-minute production for an Adult Swim original effort. The artistic style certainly look like something [as] would produce (although the animation is a little better), and this production is just as brainless as [as]’s worst efforts. Even the novelty of a live-action actor introducing the show at the beginning is not enough to give a spark of interest to this blessedly short production. Omnibus Japan, its creator, has made some technical contributions to several anime movies over the years but is otherwise known almost exclusively in anime circles as a recording studio. They should have stuck to what they're good at.

The plot, such as it is, involves twin sisters from a storied family who finish #1 and #2 in the prestigious World Beautiful-Skin Competition. The winning twin, Sara, by dint of her success earns the right and responsibility to inherit and protect the Bihada family's Seven Bihada Books. Only someone isn't exactly pleased with that arrangement and interferes.

Um, yeah. If this was supposed to be funny or satirical, or even dramatic, it's not. It is, instead, just a ridiculous waste of time.



Vampire Knight Guilty

Rating: 4

Review: As a direct sequel to Spring 2008's Vampire Knight, Guilty is not suitable for newcomers to the franchise, although it mentions enough details about what happened in the first season that anyone who saw at least the first couple of episodes of the first season can probably piece together enough to get by. For those who fell in love with the first season, the first episode of Guilty does nothing to discourage your ardor. Everything that made Guilty a strong and classic example of the shojo romance genre is there: beautifully drawn (if heavily shojo-styled) character artistry, angst-ridden male leads, multiple romantic options, and of course the coolness that is vampires. It even manages to toss off lines like “you're only able to protect her because my blood runs in your veins, so in essence I'm protecting her, not you” without batting an eye. Most importantly, the first episode puts everything together well, in the process getting the second season off to a strong start.

Dense and busy storytelling for the first episode certainly helps, making this much more than just the time-killing continuation second seasons often are. Yuki has continued in her duties keeping the human students and vampires separated, but she has to do it alone until Zero suddenly reappears to join her. Tension still lingers between Zero and Kaname over Yuki and events that happen in the first series, and Yuki seems willing now to accommodate Zero to keep him out of trouble, but bigger problems arise in the Vampire Council's execution order on Zero for his supposed killing of Shizuka. New revelations about what was going on in the previous season also arise as a sleeper awakens and a Hunter lingers in the background

Guilty probably won't win over those who don't normally like shojo romances anyway, but if you are looking for one then you could certainly do far, far worse.


Kemeko DX

Rating: 3

Review: Give production company Hal Film Maker credit for trying to come up with a truly unusual twist on the tired combined formulae of a) sexy alien girl hooking up with normal human guy and b) a promise made in childhood leading to romantic/marriage complications as teenagers. The twist here is that the girl, for as-yet-unexplained reasons (the implication is that she feels vulnerable outside of it), insists on operating solely from a chibi robot girl suit named Kemeko, one that must have some kind of dimensional pocket built in, as it cannot possibly contain her whole body as is. This results in stupefying scenes of machine gun-armed chibi robot battle action which involves running around in a wedding dress combating robots and a giant, disembodied mechanical hand which sprouts out of a giant rice cooker, all in the name of hooking up with hero Sanpeita. (And yes, this is as weird in execution as it sounds.) Throw in the girl friend who even goes as far as zipping up Sanpeita's fly for him and another blue-haired girl who seems like a cross between a dozen other established anime characters and you have a cast that may or may not entertain but certainly won't bore.

The gimmicky content will need to carry this one because the artistry won't. A character design style reminiscent of Ninja Nonsense gives most of the girls a very hippy, heavily-curved look and the guys a more plain spiky-haired appearance, but the visual star is, of course, the unattractive yet strangely fascinating Kemeko. Battle scenes are actually well-choreographed and reasonably well-animated, but otherwise the art and technical merits only barely deliver on the numerous visual gags. The soundtrack makes up for it, however, delivering a high-spirited and fun sound complemented by a pair of spectacular numbers for the opener and closer; the first episode is worth watching just to experience the upbeat, fully lip-synched opener and the suggestive, hard-rock-themed exercise video closer featuring Kemeko. (Both of these could easily become fan-fave video clips.)

Though in many senses a trashy work, the first episode offers enough of a quirky variation on the norm for its genre that it may be worth checking out. This could be a fun one even if it isn't very good.


Yozakura Quartet

Rating: 2.5

Review: Certainly can't fault this one for not clearly explaining its premise up front! During the opening exposition, we learn that Sakurashin, a town founded around connections between the Human world and the Youkai world, has over time become a place where humans and super-powered Youkai peacefully and equally exist. Naturally any town populated by individuals with super-human and/or supernatural abilities needs potent protectors of the peace, and that duty falls to the young Mayor and a trio of other youkai, along with the Mayor's assistant and a human whose “Tuning” ability can expel harmful Youkai. In this round the quartet plus one must confront a Youkai serial shooter who seems intent on scaring people and rescue a damsel (er, Youkai) in distress. . . or is she? All in a day's work, it would seem.

And despite the efforts of a cool, kickin’ musical score, that's the problem here: it doesn't “seem” like anything special. While it does offer some style and flair, the first episode does little to separate this series from any of a myriad of other ones out there featuring super-powered teenagers opposing the forces of badness. There's nothing inherently bad or wrong about the series so far, but only a scene involving a character slapping bullets aside with her bare hands offers much to get excited about. It is so concerned about establishing its setting - and throwing in snippets about a stereotypical-looking bad guy - that it has yet to get around to defining its core cast. Hopefully future episodes will correct that. Mediocre artistry and technical merits also stand against the series, though those are not big issues.

If YQ does offer something different or special then it needs to show it soon or else risk being lost amongst a crowd of vaguely similar titles.

 


Ga-Rei: Zero

Rating: 3

Review: Supernatural beasties are terrorizing the city, critters that only specialized equipment or abilities can see. To combat this threat a special operations groups has been formed, one armed with specialized weapons designed specifically for hunting these threats - whether vaguely humanoid or giant monsters - down. Naturally, there's a gorgeous female member, and naturally the male lead has had a big loss associated with past bad encounters with one of the most powerful of said beasties.

Sound like Generic Spirit-Combatting Series #2,264? Only some excellent artist merits and a juiced-up music score prevent it from wallowing in “been there, done that” mode for most of the episode. It tries almost nothing new or even interesting (well, okay, the bike whose treads leave the impression of magical runes is neat) and save for the very pretty Natsuki is not terribly interesting to watch. . . until the last four minutes, when the Crap Really Hits The Fan. Even then, the developments aren't too shocking until the very last scene, which beautifully segues into the closing credits and will doubtless compel innumerable fans who might otherwise drop the series to at least check out the next episode to find out how the series is going to work around that.

In all, this episode gives more the feel of a prologue than an actual beginning to the series. Looks like episode 2 will be key to determining whether or not the series is worth it.


Shikabane Hime: Aka

Rating: 3.5

Review: Gainax forays into dark, bloody supernatural action with its latest effort, a project which feature a literal living dead girl (i.e. a “corpse princess”) wielding twin submachine guns on a mission to hunt down and destroy others of her kind, for only by doing so can she apparently go to Heaven. But though she is the action star of the series, the first episode actually focuses more on Ouri, a teenaged boy raised in an orphanage who wakes up one night to find a talking cat running a side commentary about Makina, the Shikabane Hime, lying apparently dead in the oprhanage's temple. Secretly watching her get revived by the master of the orphanage makes Ouri realize that it's high time he found his own place, but in the process of moving he encounters Makina again as she goes on a hunt for a harem-heading man who has turned into a Shikabane himself. That Ouri doesn't seem afraid of the fact that she's dead gives Makina pause and suggests a course for future developments.

Despite a bit of silliness, this is one of the darkest projects Gainax has ever done, and the supernatural focus is a serious departure from their sci fi norm. It is not one of their better-looking efforts, with the Shikabane being given an odd artistic effect and fight animation done in a style similar to FLCL and Mahoromatic, but the musical score works very well in setting the mood and the climax of the big fight certainly packs a punch. The episode also works in time to develop some depth, at least enough so to show that Makina isn't just another cold-hearted killer and give her a convincing moment with Ouri. A supernatural action series it may be, but it doesn't look or feel like a typical empty shonen effort.

Based on this episode alone, Shikabane Hime has the potential to be not only a hit, but a big one.


ef: a tale of melodies

Rating: 3

Review: Though ostensibly a sequel to last autumn's ef: a tale of memories, Melodies seems to tell a story only peripherally related to the events which transpire in the first series; in fact, the commonality is more with several characters carrying over than an actual continuation of plot elements. (This may be because the second series seems to be an adaptation of Chapter 4 of the original visual novel, whereas Memories adapted Chapters 1 and 3 and parts of Chapter 2, and the Chapters were basically independent except for some overlapping characters and details.) This time around events focus on Shuichi Kuze, a professional violinist who has known Yu Himura for years. Shuichi appears at various stages in his life, most prominently at a point where he seems down on his violin playing and meets a girl named Mizuki, a cousin of Renji Aso who happens to be staying with him next door. The relationship which starts to form between them looks to be one of those girl-gradually-helps-artist-out-of-his-funk situations. In a side story, high school-aged Himura finds himself dealing with two girls, one an artist who thinks nothing of making a nude portrait of herself and the other being Yuka Amamiya, who made cryptic appearances in the first series and seems just as cryptic here.

Seeing the first series is probably not absolutely necessary for understanding this one but would certainly help. Like the first series, it uses plentiful visual gimmicks, takes a mildly philosophical approach, and can be too fickle in its scene choices. Despite seeming too serious-minded for such base elements, it actually works in some fan service, and periodically changes its tone.

Overall, ef has a peculiar style which, for better or worse, differs markedly from most other series out there. If the first series didn't work for you then this one probably won't, either.


Macademi Wasshoi!

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review: Harem romantic comedies are a tired enough genre that producers have to try very hard to come up with something fresh and new, or even just something that breaks even slightly away from the pack. This series may not ultimately succeed at it, but it certainly makes an effort by throwing in a couple of unusual twists: the guy is a fairly potent mage instead of a total wimp, and one of the lovestruck girls can't speak as long as a ribbon tied in her hair seals her own fearsome abilities. The other girl is someone he accidentally summoned during a magical test, but unlike Belldandy, she's a dangerously powerful devotee rather than a beautifully and elegantly powerful one. A sweet and charming romance, this one isn't.

The basic premise, which seems like a blending of Harry Potter and Negima,  is that Hasegawa Takuto attends an otherworldly magical academy in addition to his normal school, which allows for all manner of light-hearted weirdness like a teacher who disconnects his head so he can lecture students facing them while his body writes on the board. Hasegawa's summoning of the freakishly strong mystery girl, who at first has a “Nyuu in Elfen Lied” approach to communication, results in massively destructive battles at the Academy until Hasegawa can seal the newcomer by naming her, which has about the equivalent effect of a marriage vow. The approach the series takes to all of this is light-hearted, high-spirited, and zany, and not ashamed to wallow in goofiness or work in some fan service, including the bizarre use of Claymation to help censor the actual nudity for the TV broadcast

Despite its fun factor and stylistic eccentricities, this one teeters on the brink of being gimmicky and heavily cliché-ridden, and its artistry does not impress. Future episode will have to work hard to keep this one from getting stale quickly.


Kuroshitsuji

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: Young, eyepatch-sporting Ciel is the new master of Phantomhive, a wealthy English family whose reigning lord resides in a grand mansion. Sebastian, an impeccably elegant and skillful bishonen, attends to his every whim as the family butler, keeping the goofier and less reliable servants in line in this new, vaguely shonen ai series from A-1 Pictures, a subsidiary of Aniplex also responsible for the current Kannagi and recent Persona -trinity soul- and Birdy the Mighty: Decode. It is a visually impressive effort which prides itself on style, flair, and excellent artistry, particularly in its backgrounds and the design for the dashing Sebastien. Ciel's child-with-eye-patch design and severe manner are a little much, but “subtlety” is not a word that could ever be associated with this title. With its (deliberately?) overly dramatic score, flamboyant flourishes, and ridiculous extremes of elegance under pressure, the series clearly cares more about making an impression than being sensible.

Most of the episode bounces between extremes of seriousness seen in matters concerning Ciel and absurd silliness concerning matters involving the other servants, but late in the first episode it also throws in a substantive horror element, too, partly in connection with a macabre board game. So which side of the story is its true nature, or will it continue to attempt a balancing act between all three approaches? That remains to be seen, but the supernatural air the episode gives off towards the end suggests some potential. It closes out to a solid English-language song currently in release by upcoming American singer Becca, with Meredith Brooks (of “Bitch” fame) also listed in the credits.


Akane-iro ni Somaru Saka

Rating: 2.5

Review: Thanks to inventively rumor-mongering friends, Jun'ichi has an exaggerated and undeserved reputation as the dreaded Genokiller, a street punk of indomitable toughness and meanness. In reality he is a much simpler teenager prone to being teased even by his teacher. Aid given to cute rich girl Yuuhi while in a jam eventually results in him striking up a relationship with the girl, which swiftly produces some startling consequences.

The problem with the first episode of Akane-iro isn't that it's bad so much as that, beyond a weird (and as-yet-unexplained) prelude, it remains utterly unremarkable and uninteresting until its final two minutes, when finally Things Happen. The startling revelation which ends the episode suggests some kind of hackneyed gimmick, but wanting to hear the explanation for that  alone might be enough to inspire viewers to check out the next episode. Certainly nothing else about the episode does; the characters are so “blah“ that they can't even be called stereotypes, the character designs are not especially interesting, and the story has, so far, shown only the dull side of day-to-day life. This is one series that could have benefited from an infusion of cuteness, fan service, and/or a more concentrated dose of real humor, but sadly it lacks all three. Technical merits aren't bad, but the writing must become much less banal if it wants to keep viewers coming back past episode 2.


Kyou no Go no Ni

Rating: 2

Review: Low-key, seemingly innocuous, and utterly mundane, this collection of quarter-episode shorts about the everyday life of a group of 5th graders seems an unlikely candidate for otaku interest. Boisterous boys play air (broom) guitar and have bouncing wars with super-bouncy balls that go awry and accidentally get some nearby girls involved, a trio of students must try to stay dry under a single umbrella on the walk home, and a boy must deal with the odd and eventually irritating habit of a girl he stays after school to help. No magic, super-powers, mecha, or any other kind of abnormal elements appear, the comedy seems more incidental than intentional, and the kids all act just like normal kids of that age. The technical merits are nothing special, either; in fact, the artistry, especially in the normal characters designs, is a bit on the crude side and roughly inconsistent. The soundtrack may be light and fun but is not especially noteworthy, either.

So why might anyone not into pure slice-of-life content for the younger set care about this one? Because for all its seeming mild-mannered execution it is also occasionally rather weird, and in an inappropriately creepy way given the age of the characters and seeming target audience. The artistry has an odd focus on characters’ (especially girls’) mouths, and the scene involving Aihara's tendency to chew on things could easily have much more naughty connotations read into it. The Next Episode preview suggests that wasn't a fluke, either. The earlier (2006) OVA series of the same name is described as “ecchi,” which may explain what game Xebec is playing at here. But really, do we need to have an ecchi series focusing on 5th graders? Granted, this isn't a predominant theme, and most of the content in this episode is perfectly innocent, but the suggestiveness is still there.


Toaru Majutsu no Index

Rating: 4.5

Review: One bad side effect of the high volume of anime releases in recent years is that series tend to run together, with only those that have a true spark - whether it be creativity, energy, emotional appeal, or something else - standing out from the crowd. This one, however, may have that spark.

The concept seems typical enough. In a world where science can duplicate super-human powers and psychic abilities are not unusual, a misfortunate young man name Kamijou encounters something that, even by his world's standards, is extraordinary: a curiously-garbed girl who calls herself Index, professes to be all about magic, and claims to somehow be in possession of 103,000 magical tomes, which is naturally getting her pursued by mages. Though not exactly a psychic, Kamijou also has his own curious ability which allows him to negate virtually any kind of power - including, apparently, magic - by touching it with his right hand. That does not, however, keep him out of trouble.

Misfortunate young guys, cute girls in need, and lots of super-powers being thrown around hardly constitute a novelty, but what this series offers that so many others do not is a certain cleverness in execution and an excellent balance of fun and serious content. Its flashy effects have verve, it breaks formulaic patterns with unexpected reversals, and produces occasional truly funny moments with characters that depart at least a little from staid stereotypes. Its off-kilter musical score helps greatly, too. Technical merits are only a little above average, but if the series can maintain such an involving level of quirkiness in future episodes then it has the potential to be one of the season's best.


Tales of the Abyss

Rating: 2

Review: Anime series based on console or computer RPGs tend to have a certain look and feel about them, and this one is no exception. It gives off a far less ominous vibe than its name suggests, instead opting for a brighter, lighter mood featuring flashy displays of video game-styled magic and action and a bevy of pretty (if generic-looking) characters and monsters. Like the first episodes of most of its ilk, it throws out far more esoteric terminology and world-establishing information than can easily be absorbed and followed unless one is already familiar with the game on which it is based. As a result, newcomers to the franchise may find themselves overwhelmed by the specifics while underwhelmed by the story.

The exact details are comparatively mundane and largely irrelevant: this is a world which seems to mix science and magic, has two formerly warring nations, centers on a cloistered but restless prince who is a prophesized individual, and heavily involves a young woman who comes to attack the prince's Sword Master and discovers during the battle that he, too, is something called a Seventh Foon, blah blah blah. Anyone who has watched a number of fantasy series (especially RPG-based series) will find nothing special or especially attention-catching about this one so far, and worse, overly cutesy elements seem destined to appear soon, too. The specific details may separate it from last season's World Destruction or the recently-released Ragnarok The Animation, but so far they don't seem interesting or novel enough to strike this one in a bold new direction. Series like this make one really appreciate exactly how fresh and different Moribito: Guardian of the Sacred Spirit and Spice and Wolf are.

The artistry, technical merits, and fight choreography are good enough to carry the first episode on their own, but it offers little else.


Kannagi

Rating: 3

Review: Jin, a boy who has always been “sensitive to spirits,” carves the figure of a girl out of a piece of wood as part of a district art exhibition, only to be stunned as his wooden figure comes to life as a real flesh-and-blood girl! As it turns out, the wood was from a sacred tree that had been cut down as part of a shrine's renovation, which has resulted in the figure becoming a vessel for the the guardian spirit of the land. Calling herself Nagi, the girl, after some initial misunderstandings, implores Jin to help her eliminate the impurities from the land, which have begun to arise in the absence of the guardian god she represents. That, of course, means living with Jin for convenience, which is, of course, in many ways inconvenient for a young man living on his own.

So, basically, this is merely the latest in a loooong line of tales about cute/gorgeous supernatural girls/women who, through assorted contrived circumstances, come to cohabitate with a hapless young man. This one puts an odd twist on the genre (what Nagi comes up with initially as a way to strike down the bug-like impurities is priceless) and does have a certain cute appeal, but one episode is way too little to determine whether or not this own will step beyond the bounds typically laid out for such romantic comedies. While its opener may catch attention, its wholly unremarkable music and animation assure that the writing will have to carry the weight. So far it seems up to the task, but can it maintain enough of its charm over the long haul?



Rosario + Vampire Capu2

Rating: 3

Review: Let's get one thing straight: Rosario to Vampire is a monster-themed harem romantic comedy designed specifically for those who adore fan service. Focused panty shots, feeling up female characters, and breast size-related content was so much the norm that the first season rarely went five minutes without some kind of fan service shot. Toss in cutesy vampire bites, lots of monster transformations, and a buffet of female characters throwing themselves at the lame hero (the only human amongst a school of monsters), and you had shallow fan-pandering at its most shameless. The first episode of this second season, for better or worse, does nothing to change that.

Accept it for what it is, though, and this episode is surprisingly good. Tsukune willingly returns for his second term to be rejoined by the whole gang, whose members are now idolized by the crowd of incoming students. A new and seemingly powerful student - who will also clearly become part of the harem - offers both a new threat to Moka and the potential to spice things up. Sure, this is hardly a bold story move, and does not entirely sidestep the series’ formulaic reputation, but the comedy and writing seems a little fresher and the attractive character designs look as sharp as ever. This may be a trashy series, but it's good-looking trash, and it features what may be the year's best closer (a nicely-animated dance number).


Linebarrels of Iron

Rating:  2 (of 5)

Review: Gonzo's latest effort to apply advanced CG techniques to mecha battles does creates some dynamic action, but that's about the most favorable comment that can be made about Linebarrels of Iron, which otherwise struggles on nearly every front.

The set-up is about as generic as you can get for a mecha series: a basically cowardly 14-year-old boy named Hayase, who is convinced that he has special powers that will one day allow him to be a “champion of justice,” has a mecha called Linebarrel almost literally land in his lap, as well as a naked girl named Emi who seems to be associated with the mecha in some way. Other parties, most notably an organization named Juda and an opposing organization of “terrorists,” also seek Linebarrel and set up a pitched street battle over control of it. Guess who steps up, discovers his power, and gets involved, with girl and mecha in tow?

The end of the first episode does deliver a shocker, but otherwise nothing the series does is special, new, or, beyond the mecha battle, particularly interesting. This is not one of Gonzo's finer artistic efforts, especially in its character designs, and the soundtrack makes some weird choices, too. The writing is also going to have to do a lot more in upcoming episodes to prove itself worthy of continued viewing. So far, this one looks like a dud.


Casshern Sins

Rating: 3

A reboot of the original 1973 Tatsunoko TV series Shinzō Ningen Casshan (which was remade into the four-part OVA Casshan: Robot Hunter in the early ‘90s), Casshern Sins is a dynamic new interpretation of the story of a cybernetic warrior dedicated to defeating the robots who have come to rule the world. Madhouse Studios has devoted their copious skills to the project, producing a visual effort which embodies much of the artistic style of old-school animation while also giving it a sheen attainable only by current technical merits. The result is a dark, richly-animated, sometimes cartoonish creation which will probably resemble nothing else debuting this season. Backed by a potent, moody musical score heavy on dramatic orchestration, it is an impressive technical effort.

The story, however, is much too vague to determine anything concrete about it at this point. At some time in the past Casshern defeated Luna, who was apparently a leader of the robots, and ever since the robots have feared an impending, rust-driven extinction in a grim, barren world. A rumor claims that only by consuming Casshern can the robots avoid this fate, but Casshern does not understand why, nor does he know anything else except that “my enemies call me Casshern.”  He means a cute young girl named Ringo who may or may not be a robot, as well as another strange young human-looking woman who may also be a robot. . . And that's about it.

Great action scenes might carry this one a long way, but it will soon need to make sense and/or explain itself better to sustain continued viewership.


Toradora!

Rating: 3.5

Review: High schooler Ryūji faces two dilemmas: he must only fantasize about the girl he's interested in because he lacks the courage to confess, and has gotten an undeservedly bad rep because of his intimidating face. His high school life suddenly becomes vastly more complicated when he encounters Aisaka, aka the “Palmtop Tiger,” so named because of her tiny size but disproportionately (and deservedly) fierce reputation. The two hit it off (literally) as Ryūji discovers both a dastardly secret about Aisaka and a girl who may be more vulnerable than she looks or seems.

Yeah, sounds nothing more than the next romantic comedy involving a guy who's initially interested in someone else but gradually falls for the tough, rough-around-the-edges girl, doesn't it? (And naturally there's an immature adult female relative who the male character must look out for, too.) This variation on the premise, however, looks like it actually has potential. Aisaka does not give off the vibe of a typical tsundere heroine, and the oddities of her circumstances and behavior suggest a deeper and more interesting problem than the norm. Ryūji is also interesting, if more typical. J.C. Staff's artistry looks good without relying too much on stereotypical anime cuteness, delivering a pleasing look somewhat reminiscent of the spring season's Kure-nai.

It may take a couple more episodes to see how this one shakes out, but it could be a keeper.


discuss this in the forum (230 posts) |
bookmark/share with:

this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history

Season Preview Guide homepage / archives

Around The Web