Anime News Network 2005 Spring Preview

by Justin Sevakis, May 13th 2005
Spring is in the air, cute Japanese kids are starting their new school year, and a few new anime shows have hit the air. I have enough allergy medication to survive, and some of these shows are actually good (although there are a few that will put me to sleep, and a couple that WILL make me go postal). So, with no further ado, here are my picks, and my suggestions on what to do with them.

Keep in mind, these aren't real reviews, just some thoughts based on watching the first episode or two. Come back in a few months and see if my predictions are any good. If not, next time I'm at a con, feel free to pelt me with fresh fruit. (I could use the vitamin C anyway.)


Loveless



With the current popularity of yaoi on both sides of the Pacific, it's no surprise that more of it is getting made into anime. While last season's comedy Sukisyo was a fairly ordinary comedy, Loveless promises to be something more. Created by Yun Kouga (Earthian), the anime version of Loveless features an interesting visual look, bizarre and mysterious relationships, interdimensional fighting, light bondage themes and... cat people.

Ritsuka Aoyagi is a 6th grade boy who transferred to a new school, trying to get over the death of his brother. He doesn't like to talk about his past, which seems even more mysterious when a man shows up claiming to be Ritsuka's beloved. He will avenge Ritsuka's brother's death, but only if Ritsuka will be his sacrifice. Ritsuka is so emotionally worn that he tentatively accepts the man's love. And then, things start exploding.

Despite the slightly unsettling shota-con relationship and a token annoying female character, Loveless is, at the very least, original, in a season swimming with boring genre retreads. If this series figures out its direction and goes somewhere with it, we could be in store for something good. In the mean time, I haven't been this intrigued by a new anime since Utena came out. Besides, it has a soundtrack by Yuki Kajiura.

Justin sez: Give it a try, even if yaoi makes you squirm.




Mär (Märchen Awakens Romance)



A nerdy kid, who can't do anything in real life, always dreams about a fantasy world. One day, the door suddenly opens to a dream realm, and the realm beckons him in. Leaving his would-be love interest behind, he enters this world, where everything is like a video game, and people collect powerful weapons known as Arms. Suddenly, he's no longer nerdy, but SUPER POWERFUL!!!

Did you notice how vague and poorly written that paragraph was? It's almost like I didn't watch the damn anime in the first place. But no, I just sat through the whole first episode of this anime, and the story is so poorly plotted, the writing so forced and the characters so ill-conceived, that you could have Miyazaki direct this anime with a multi-billion dollar budget and this show would still suck. This is because cynical anime projects like this one are not meant to entertain so much as they are meant to sell toys, and retread every tired shounen anime cliché in the process. Kid who can't do anything but advance the plot? Check. Cute, poorly-developed love interest? Check. Junko Takeuchi (Naruto, Hunter x Hunter) voicing the young male protagonist? Check. Characters, environments and fighting skills that can easily be made into a plastic injection mold? Check.

Just to add insult to injury, every CG figurine—I mean, “summoning move” looks like a final project for a remedial 3D animation class.

Justin Sez: This deserves a bad Saturday Morning Cartoon adaptation.




Ichigo 100% (100% Strawberries)



Protagonist sees cute girl with strawberry panties. Protagonist wishes for cute girl with strawberry panties. Every girl in school turns out to be a cute girl with strawberry panties.

This, my friends, is apparently a plot. Is this how low we've sunk? Most hentai can do better than that. How this is going to stretch 13 episodes or more is beyond me. Heck, at a mere 22 minutes, this thing's already about to snap. Characters act as if their actions are being chosen from a menu. And since it's a TV series, there can't be any sex scenes. Therefore, this series has no reason to exist.

My soul will die a little, every time someone tells me they like this show.

Justin Sez: Burn the masters, burn the conceptual artwork, burn the fans, then burn the creators.




Magical Canon



You know how the more stereotypical Magical Girl shows pretty much all follow the exact same plot? Normal schoolgirl finds cute blobby anthropomorphic animal, gets imbued with super powers and must fight the threat to the world? Well, at least this one admits it's more for perverted otaku than for the originally intended market of little girls.

If you really need a magical girl show, go watch Card Captor Sakura. This show is so brazen about its complete lack of originality that if this show were American, the “creators” would have been sued. I mean seriously, change the character names and the hair colors, and this show is EXACTLY every other forgettable magical girl show ever made.

Justin sez: Give me 5 days and I'll completely forget this show even existed.




Damekko Doubutsu (Useless Animals)



Ahh, super-deformed anime. It's one of the few genres of anime that's always cute, often funny, and never gets creepy and loli-con. For this alone, we must rejoice. Damekko Doubutsu goes one step further, for these are not super-deformed people. Nor are they super-deformed animals. No, this series is about super-deformed people in animal suits. Damekko Doubutsu follows the adventures of a clinically non-confrontational wolf, a chain-smoking thug bunny, a slow and clumsy cheetah, a slightly sadistic alcoholic unicorn, and a small army of other misfit animals in a forest where even the ones who don't fit in are welcome.

A daily five-minute series, there's not much room here for anything but cuteness and sight-gags, both of which it has in spades. The painterly backgrounds are nice, and the humor stays funny and fast-paced. This series is obviously for kids, and while a little commentary on being yourself instead of what's expected of you is nice, it's clearly played down. While this is a slight missed opportunity, the show is just too fun to pass up.

Justin Sez: Recommended!




Victorian Romance Emma



Back in 2002, director Tsuneo Kobayashi (Midori's Days) got together with Studio Pierrot and made an anime series, the sleeper hit The Twelve Kingdoms (Jyuuni Kouki). It still came as a surprise to see a trans-economic-status love story set in Victorian England announced as his next project. What's even more surprising is that, for once, an anime actually does justice to Western culture and history! Indeed, Emma is meticulously researched and gorgeously rendered, to the point that if the characters weren't speaking Japanese, one would think this was a very well-produced European production.


Emma is a housemaid under the employ of a retired private tutor in London. She knows quite well how lucky she is for a working class girl (the old lady has taught her how to read and write), but is so modest in her dreams that she barely allows herself the luxury of wishing she had a lace handkerchief. When William Jones, the teacher's eccentric former student stops by for a visit, it's love at first sight. Unfortunately, this young suitor is of a very rich family. In a time when the rich and the poor co-mingling was as unthinkable as interracial marriage was 100 years ago, their thoughts for each other are doomed. Emma knows this instinctively, and tries to push the young man away. William, however, doesn't particularly like his position in society either.

Two things immediately struck me about this series. First, English names and words are spelled correctly. Second, the look and feel of the period is captured as brilliantly as any live action period piece ever has. It's likely that a good deal of this research came from the original manga by Kaoru Mori, as did the complicated and unforgettable characters, but Kobayashi's exquisite sense of subtle body language and timing come through even clearer here than in Twelve Kingdoms. Even at this early stage, I won't hesitate for a second in calling Emma an instant classic; a true masterpiece that shows the true potential of anime as an international art form. This will not be the most popular show of 2005, but it has a very strong head start at being my personal favorite. Hell, the rest of the series could be M.D. Geist and I'd still love it.

Justin Sez: Spend your life savings on R2 DVD's!




Basilisk ~Kouga Ninpouchou~ (Kouga Ninja Chronicles)



“You're into Annie-May?? Have you seen Ninja Scroll!?” In the near future, we may be replacing this tired annoying-newbie bait with Basilisk, the newest offering from the digital animation pros at Gonzo.

In the dawn of the 17th century, the Tokugawa Shogunate period of Japanese history kicks into full gear when two warring ninja clans are about to repeat history, when the young heirs to their respective thrones fall in love with each other. But neither side trusts each other, the grandparents are remembering when they too fell in love, and both sides are preparing for a war that always seems to be starting. The support of the new government is at stake.

The story at this stage is still a little on the muddy side, and the first episode seemed fairly self-contained, so it's hard to say where it'll go from here. Still, there's blood, amazing visuals, and memorable (if disgusting) characters. Truth be known, it's been a while since we've seen a well-animated, bloody samurai/ninja anime that didn't resort to slapstick humor and/or bishounen in every other scene. While it's possible this one could collapse under the weight of it's own plot, future generations of otaku will still be talking about it for years to come.

Justin Sez: Watch it before it's newbie fodder!




Sōsei no Aquarion (Holy Genesis Aquarion)



Shoji Kawamori's starting to lose it, but at least he's bringing Yoko Kanno along to make more music.

I'd go into the whole post-apocalyptic storyline, but what's the point? Basically all you need to know is: 1. Big robots that attach together to make an UltraRobot. 2. Inexperienced, feral shounen Hero who is badass. 3. Lots of military and technological jargon. It's like Kawamori didn't get enough time to fully work out the plot, so he just throws lots of pretty art and expository dialogue at us, trying to keep us occupied while he works out the full mythology of the place, and tries to sound deep in the process.

Unfortunately, I'm not buying it. I will, however, be buying the soundtrack.

Justin Sez: Buy the soundtrack, forget the show.




Kore wa Watashi no Goshujin-sama (He Is My Master)



I doubt I'll get many arguments when I say that Gainax really needs to get over this whole maid fetish thing. Seriously, the studio can produce good stuff, even when Hideaki Anno isn't involved. But you'd think that whomever's libido that resulted in Mahoromatic would have been satisfied by now and moved onto another odd obsession...

Regardless, at least they're not robots this time, but rather prepubescent runaway girls, starving and desperate for work. That's when they happen upon an orphan boy their age, living alone in a giant mansion, and on a power trip to end all power trips. While they're mulling over becoming his maids, he tricks them into putting on the uniforms, and otherwise imposing his will on them. Unfortunately, they're not the type to just take that sort of abuse. Nor is the ridiculous-looking super-deformed alligator they keep in their bag. The battle of adolescent wills looks like it's going to turn into an all-out fetish and alligator war.

The opening may suggest nastiness that (so far) is not a major part of the show. That's the first relief I felt. The second relief is that, much as I hate to admit it, I did find the show amusing. Despite the subject matter, there is very real wit and spark here, and almost—ALMOST—the slightest suggestion of intelligence. I'm embarrassed to admit that I cannot give a show called “He Is My Master” a completely negative review. Now, please excuse me while I admit myself for psychological evaluation.

Justin Sez: I guess the phrase “guilty pleasure” is made for situations like this.




Ueki no Hosoku (Law of Ueki)



8th Grader Ueki's homeroom teacher is a candidate to be a God. This means that he gets to pick a student to whom he'll give special powers. Then he gets together with the rest of the God candidates to have a nice little cockfighting (or Pokémon) match with 'em. Ueki, being a sardonic and dead-pan slacker, gets a simple one: Make things grow out of trash. Quickly.

Now, you're not supposed to use these powers destructively, but Ueki is such a bonehead that he's constantly smashing things, getting into fights, or otherwise partaking in the unsavory. So, every time he does that, he loses one of his natural talents as punishment. (First to go is his ability to attract girls.)

You have to admit, that's one of the best set-ups for a shounen gag anime in recent memory. Unfortunately, Law of Ueki is saddled with some of the most cut-rate animation I've seen so far this season. There is no action—just still pans. Still, this is a funny series with a lot of potential, if it doesn't turn into a Villain-of-the-Week anime. We shall see...

Justin Sez: Let's see where this goes...




Gokujou Seitokai (Student Council Almighty)


If high school student councils were really as powerful as they are in anime, we would be at war with France right now over their superior school lunches. For the newest member of Miyagami Academy, the fact that she's broke and the apartment she was supposed to live in was burned down, coupled with the fact that school council members get free room and board is enough to get her to enroll in the council. However, when she bungles her way into catching the arsonist that's been causing havoc in town, she gets enough attention to be promoted to one of the top offices. Add to the fact that she's an orphan with a puppet permantly attached to one hand (a la Mr. Hat in South Park) and you have... um... a weird anime.

Seriously, for those who were mildly interested in Maria-sama is Watching a few seasons ago, but couldn't handle the melodrama and French honorifics being thrown around, this is a safe, stupid and non-threatening way to enjoy the all-powerful student council at a prestigious all girls' school. For everyone else, there are at least a few laughs involved, but it's too early to tell if this is going to go anywhere more rewarding.

Justin Sez: Fun, but promises to be pretty light-weight.




Speed Grapher



Out of the two new shows Gonzo is producing this season, it appears Speed Grapher is the one getting all the word-of-mouth. I'm not sure that's a good thing, because although Speed Grapher is good, it's not that good.

Despite a name that sounds like it's about a geometry whiz, Speed Grapher is actually about a photojournalist, Saiga, who infiltrates a club for the insanely wealthy, and stumbles into its seedy, bondage-cult, Eyes Wide Shut-esque underworld. Then, he gets caught. Then, the girl he's given to in the middle of the cult gives him a special power: anything he photographs will EXPLODE.

Speed Grapher is visually interesting, but pretentious as hell. It's too smug and aware of just how cool both the series and the main character are, and too heavy-handed with its messages about the moral-less scum that control vast amounts of money, and that keeps Speed Grapher from being better than it is. Regardless, it is a good show, and one with potential. We'll see where this one goes.

Justin Sez: Jury is still out, but it could be fun.




Eureka 7



Ooh, Bones. They make good stuff. Eureka 7 seems to be one of their better entries (personally, I was disappointed in Wolf's Rain). Apparently, there's a Playstation 2 game on the way as well, although the plot will be quite a bit different.

For the anime arc, we follow Renton, a 14-year-old gear-head, who's pretty bored with helping out his mechanic father. Then, one day, a big honkin' robot falls out of the sky, and a pretty girl named Eureka pops out of it. In exchange for his repair skills, she promises Renton some adventures. And, well, what 14-year-old boy would turn that down?

Eureka 7 is a little slow to start, but that's a good thing in this case, as the series (helmed by one of Raxephon's episode directors) takes its time in building the characters and Renton's environment. While there's nothing much new in the way of subject matter here, the sense of realism here becomes enthralling. This one looks like it can go places.

Justin sez: This is gonna get good...




Eyeshield 21



Sports anime has always enthralled me, mostly because it allows us to get inside the head of the players while they're playing, which is something impossible to do with real sports. While Japan isn't exactly gaga over American football like they are over baseball and soccer, the rough ‘n’ tumble nature of the game lends itself well to the surrealism and elevated emotions that anime can bring.

Which brings us to Eyeshield 21, the newest entry in the sports anime category. Giving the sport a slightly sci-fi feel (thanks mostly to the monsterous faces of some of the players and the green eye visors on their helmets), Eyeshield 21 is an action comedy about a little guy named Sena who becomes his high school team's hero by being the fastest running back anybody's ever seen.

Eyeshield 21 doesn't have much new to offer in terms of story (sports anime really can't follow too many different paths, after all), but the unique visual style and level of excitement it builds puts it over many of the other, softer and nicer sports anime that we've seen lately. It's the excitement and characters of anime with the toughness of a game dominated in this country by three hundred pound guys with no necks.

Justin sez: For sports anime fans, and general shounen anime fans.




Futakoi Alternative



In a fantastic “WTF” move, Futakoi Alternative looks to have almost nothing to do with the original Futakoi. This is a good thing, because the last thing we needed was another slice-of-life harem show.

There's also almost no plot to speak of. There's a ton of cute girls (including many from the first Futakoi), who are now members of a detective agency. They show their panties a lot while shooting guns, wielding swords, and goofing off. Yes, this is a girls-with-guns action spastic comedy. There are a few love-love sentiments at the end of every episode (so far), but the emphasis seems to be on action and comedy. At any rate, the first episode has something to do with the yakuza, boxing, and the boss's pet bird (who now resides in the belly of a cat).

Since I would have rather had my intestines chewed on by wild boars than watch the first series, this ended up being a shock—it's certainly no masterpiece, but Futakoi Alternative seems like fun! It's not too over-the-top to become annoying, the girls are cute, and it's fairly funny too. Nothing original here, but worth checking out.

Justin Sez: Watch for fun and boredom killing.




Garasu no Kamen (Glass Mask – 2005)



The actresses I've known, with a few exceptions, are absolutely bonkers. Sometimes this is a wonderful thing, as Satoshi Kon depicted in “Millennium Actress.” Other times, they're just annoying drama queens.

Maya, the protagonist in Garasu no Kamen, the remake of the popular 80's anime and manga series, could go either way, but for right now she's on the annoying side. After school she helps out her mother, who is live-in help at a ramen shop, but spends so much time daydreaming about movies and TV shows that she often proves to be a liability. With nobody on her side, she is discovered by an eccentric old actress, who is intent on molding her into the next big star.

It's likely a good thing this series was remade—the original, made in 1983, has classic early 80's animation, and would likely never get discovered by today's otaku. Moreover, Garasu no Kamen was so hysterical in its complicated web of emotions than those with a low tolerance for melodrama would quickly get turned off. Fortunately, the tone of the series has been lessened, and what we're left with is a bit more conventional, but still compelling.

Personally, I am one of the few guys I know that actually liked “Brother, Dear Brother”, so I'm definitely giving this one a shot.

Justin sez: If you can't deal with these characters, you should probably just stay away from life.

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