The Spring 2007 Anime Preview Guide

by The ANN Reviews Team, Apr 22nd 2007


Welcome to the Anime News Network Spring 2007 Anime Preview Guide! If this is your first time reading one of our guides, please heed the disclaimer below. If not, you already know what to expect, right?

A few important disclaimers. These are NOT INTENDED TO BE SERIES REVIEWS. They are simply overviews of the first (or the first few) episodes of a new series, intended to give you a taste of what the show's like, present you with our early take on the show's quality and then let you decide which ones might be worth your time. That's all there is to it; these are not blanket damnations or sweeping statements of praise meant to discuss the show as a whole. Think of it as a wine tasting, minus the pleasant buzzed feeling and free liquor.

Also, bear in mind that there are literally a ton of new shows and we simply don't have the time (or the patience or the sanity) to watch every last one, so what's included here are highlights, lowlights and a few inbetweens.


iDOLM@STER: XENOGLOSSIA

What's it about?
Haruka Amami receives the chance of a lifetime when she passes an audition for the Idolmaster Project, guaranteeing her the opportunity to become Japan's next big singing star. Nervous about moving to Tokyo, her nerves are calmed when she meets another girl who's also joining the program. Things go awry when they reach Tokyo and manage to get horribly lost. Along the way, they catch a glimpse of a mecha. Called an iDOL, its job is to obliterate any comets that are in danger of colliding with Earth. Unsurprisingly, it seems to have a special connection with the members of the Idolmaster Project. Haruka's life is in for another surprise when she and her friend are ambushed by two women. Before she even realizes it, she comes into contact with a mecha called Prometheus, a mysteriously self-activating robot that seems to have some sort of special bond with her.

Is it any good?
For a show starring teen idols, Xenoglossia is pretty sinister. It takes every chance it has to dash all its cutesy scenes on the rocks by slipping in shots of robot heads and spooky Big Brother-esque monitors that follow Haruka's every move. To call it jarring would be a bit of an understatement. To backtrack a bit, the characters that grace Xenoglossia take their roots from an Xbox 360 and arcade game called iDOLM@STER. The only difference is that the game is entirely about building your own franchise of boppy tween sensations—Xenoglossia takes those same girls, shoves them in cockpits, and makes them destroy asteroids. It has absolutely nothing to do with the game, but it still tries to retain that same sense of cuteness and frivolity by donning the girls in frilly outfits and giving them silly character quirks. As a result, the series comes off as very unpolished, especially as both the girls and the robots are without exposition and backstory, and feel as though they were randomly tossed into an anime story-generating machine. There's always the chance that as the characters are developed more, the series will settle into its groove, but right now, it's little more than just an awkward amalgamation of every robot and idol show ever created. -Bamboo Dong


MOONLIGHT MILE

What's it about?
Gorou Saruwatari is a 27-year-old with a taste for adventure. His latest endeavor: climbing Mt. Everest, which is about as extreme as it gets. Yet as he scales the peak with his American buddy "Lostman" Woodbridge, Gorou wonders just how far he can really go. Up on the world's tallest peak, Gorou and Lostman can only think of one place higher: space. Luckily for them, 16 nations have banded to form the International Space Agency (ISA), with plans to put a power plant on the moon and make the next big jump in space exploration. Lostman may be just a fighter pilot right now, and Gorou is in an even more humble position as a construction worker, but they've got the physical skills—and determination—to make it as real astronauts.

Is it any good?
Don't let the goofy space-opera junk in the opening scenes fool you. Okay, so it'll probably become a major plot point later on and ruin the series, but for now, Moonlight Mile is turning out to be something much more human, kind of like Planet ES: the Early Years. In fact, the entire first half of Episode 1 is basically about Gorou's climb up Everest, showing both his toughness and kind-heartedness as he tries to help a less fortunate climber. Yes, there are space scenes as well, but they're mostly there to establish the mood and the setting at this point, and the political interludes help to move the plot along. Because of its authenticity to real space science, some might call Moonlight Mile "hard sci-fi," but it's actually a very accessible story, devoid of confusing technobabble. Visually, it also stays authentic, with moon and space shots that could pass for NASA footage (except animated, of course). The art and design is up to OVA quality, although the animation could be smoother, and the music hits all the right moods without getting in the way. Can't go wrong with The Pillows on the ending theme, either. It'd be nice if it had a stronger plot direction—the first episode tends to meander from scene to scene—but that should be corrected in the following episodes, as there's only one direction for Gorou to go: up, up, into the stratosphere of great sci-fi anime. -Carlo Santos


SAINT BEAST: KOUIN JOJISHI TENSHI TAN

What's it about?
This is a prequel to the original Saint Beast which focused on four saints: Gou, Shin, Rei, and Gai. Their task was to prevent two former saints, Yuda and Ruka, from taking revenge against the Heavens that banished them. Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan takes place thousands of years before its predecessor, before Yuda and Ruka were banished and sealed away. Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan promises a more in depth backstory for all of the saints, showing their friendship before things fell apart.

Is it any good?
Kouin Jojishi Tenshi Tan is like watching the preview for a movie where the only thing good about the movie is the preview itself. The movie shows great promise with all the pretty faces and an all-star cast, but don't be fooled. The minute and a half spent showing scenes that promise something wonderful is a rip-off; get out of the movie theatre and get a refund, now.

The best thing about the first episode is the opening. The song is great and could be put on repeat quite a few times without getting tired of it. The boys look gorgeous and are voiced by very well known actors (Akira Ishida and Hikaru Midorikawa just to name a few). There are even a few action sequences where the boys show off their powers. Then, unfortunately, the music stops and the episode actually begins. It's like playing that part in a RPG where the characters arrive in Generic Village Five Hundred and Twenty-Seven, and everyone in the village is doing various activities and players feel the need to talk to everyone just in case they have important information. After spending twenty minutes listening to everyone in the first episode we learn this: life sure is peaceful here in Heaven. That's it, that's the entire episode in a nutshell. This could've been done in a 30 second flashback. If this trend continues in future episodes then this series will officially be the biggest waste of time in Spring 2007. -Briana Lawrence


LUCKY STAR

What's it about?
Kona is a normal high-school girl who is good at sports, has a small group of friends and an overriding obsession with video games and anime of all sorts. Why isn't she on a sports team? 'Cuz it would interfere with watching all of the new anime shows of course! Her social network is dominated by warriors, sorcerers, and heroes dead-set on saving the world from evil. Just too bad none of them are real. She has a slightly unhealthy interest in girls with "moe" characteristics, and a suspiciously in-depth knowledge of pornographic video games, but manages to live a fairly normal life with her three friends: sisters Tsukasa and Kagami, who are obviously related because they have the same color hair, and class brain Miyuki, whose glasses and clumsiness make her the target of the moe-loving Kona's envy.

Is it any good?
Being based on a four-panel comic strip, featuring a cast of high-school-age girl friends, and utilizing meandering slice-of-life humor, Lucky Star immediately invites comparisons to Azumanga Daioh and its "cute girls doing cute stuff" peers like Strawberry Marshmallow. Just without the wit or visual appeal of either. Make no mistake, it's sporadically funny and occasionally quite cute, as with the "Lucky Channel" TV spot at the end of the episode in which a hyperactive uber-kawaii idol makes a series of rocky transitions between her bubbly pop persona and her true lazy, sarcastic self, or when it contrasts Kona's cute appearance with her dark otaku obsessions. But unfortunately the bulk of the run-time is consumed by unfunny gags that aim for "gently humorous" but instead miss and fall into the Bottomless Swamp of Failed Quirkiness, including, I kid not, an epic six and a half minute dialogue on the finer points of eating. It was obviously intended to be humorous, but instead resembles an interminable anime comedy sketch directed by the chatty half of Quentin Tarantino if he were lobotomized with a sticky-sweet lollipop. The fact that characters' varied hair color is the only thing separating the show from Attack of the Moe Clones, and that the animation quality—despite incongruous flashes of quality—rarely rises above average, means that it can't succeed on a purely visual level either. -Carl Kimlinger


ROMEO X JULIET

What's It About?
A long time ago, in a land forgotten to memory, there existed the floating continent of Neo Verona. The Capulet rulers are overthrown by the upstart Montagues, who kill all of the Capulet family they can find. Toddler Juliet, the Capulet heir, is rescued by one of the loyal Capulet retainers, who secrets her away. Fourteen years later, Juliet spends much of her time masquerading as the boy Odin (and the masked hero Red Whirlwind) and hiding out at a playhouse since the Montague forces still seek her out. A chance encounter with the young nobleman Romeo, who rescues “Odin” from a tight spot, stirs questions about love in both. Juliet does not know that Romeo is the son of the Montague leader, nor is Romeo aware that Odin/Juliet is the long-missing Capulet heir, but when their paths cross again at a grand masque held by the Montagues fate is sure to intervene.

Is It Any Good?
Gonzo brilliantly and dramatically reimagined The Count of Monte Cristo as the sci-fi masterpiece Gankutsuou, so it stood to reason that they would also have a bold new vision for Shakespeare's timeless tale of star-crossed lovers. In their hands Romeo and Juliet becomes a quasi-fantasy piece where, instead of feuding, one family has been soundly defeated by the other, leaving one of the heirs forced into hiding. This Juliet is a tomboyish action figure instead of a pampered noblewoman, and the meeting at the masque is hosted by the Montagues instead of the Capulets (and with Juliet crashing the party this time). While the details may have changed, though, the names are the same and the essence of the story remains: destinies being shaped by love at first sight between two young people who, unbeknownst to either, should be at each other's throats instead. In blending together the classic and the new, Gonzo has produced a near-perfect first episode, one which clearly establishes both the pedigree and the nature of the reinterpretation and throws a guest appearance by William Shakespeare himself in for good measure.

As one would expect from Gonzo, the visuals so far are great, especially in the richly-detailed (and sometimes CG-enhanced) backgrounds and solid animation. Character designs and renderings may not be the sharpest, and while Romeo looks appropriately studly, Juliet is neither overwhelmingly cute nor overly pretty, but neither are they completely generic. A truly special opener certain to stand amongst the year's best fronts an effectively dramatic musical score, and the closer isn't shabby, either. The one potential weak point is a minor propensity for light-hearted goofiness, but the original Romeo and Juliet did have its playful moments, too, so that can be forgiven if the rest is done right.

All the elements for a truly great series are here. If quality control can be maintained, it has the potential to be a huge hit. -Theron Martin


DARKER THAN BLACK

What's it about?
A man stands at the lip of a rooftop, poised to jump. As police rush towards him, he begins to glow mysteriously, and flies off into the sky. Unfortunately, despite his cop-dodging abilities, his landing is rudely interrupted when a masked being ends his life. Apparently, a decade before the start of the series, an ominous wall appeared in Tokyo. Called Hell's Gate, it ushered in the appearance of Contractors, emotionless people who have superpowers but no emotions, and Dolls, spirit mediums created in someone's likeness. The episode pauses there to introduce Li Shunseng, a Chinese student who has just moved to Tokyo for school. Of course, he's not really who he claims to be, and he seems to have a knack for running into trouble, but at the very least, he seems to be able to hold his own against Contractors.

Is it any good?
Darker than Black has a bit of a snobby name, but it's mysterious and engaging enough that maybe the title is warranted. The first episode throws viewers into the middle of things without giving them much to hold onto, but luckily, by the end of the first 25 minutes, things started to make a bit more sense. Not much, though. While it's to be expected that the creators didn't want to throw everything in the open all at once, the pacing is a bit stilted. The first episode was so bent on being as secretive as possible, that nothing is explained. Rather, names and locations are randomly thrown into the dialogue, leaving viewers wondering what the characters are talking about, and hoping that they'll remember enough about it later on in the series for all the puzzle pieces to click into place. It also uses the age old trick of referring vaguely to nondescript subjects like “it” and “that,” as in, “Hey, do you have it?” and “He told me you knew where ‘the stuff’ was,” which is a bit annoying right off the bat. Still, the show has a lot of potential. The artwork is pleasing on the eyes, the storyline is intriguing (alright, so all their vagueness does have me a bit hooked), and there seems to be the promise of fight scenes galore in the episodes to come. The first episode may have been a bit awkwardly paced, but once the series starts revealing its cards, it definitely has the potential to turn into a really fun show. -Bamboo Dong


TOUKA GETTAN

What's it about?

This is a sequel/spin-off of Kao no nai Tsuki (Moonlight Lady), a hentai game. The main character, Touka, appears to be searching for a girl named Momoka. There seems to be some reincarnation or something going on, because Touka appears to be a girl but by the end of the episode she is a boy. Momoka also has a different appearance by the end of the episode. In all honesty, after watching the first episode, it's still completely up in the air as to what this series is about. One thing is for sure: Touka and Momoka are completely head over heels for each other.

Is it any good?
Confusion, confusion, confusion! And beautiful animation. Oh, and more confusion! The same company that brought Yami to Bōshi to Hon no Tabibito (Book, Hat, and Traveler)brings this spring's “what the hell did I just watch for half an hour” anime. It's like watching the last episode of a series without having watched the first twelve episodes: what's going on? Who are these people? Nothing that goes on in the first episode makes sense, which is exactly the point of the series. No explanations are given; viewers are tossed right into the story without any sort of clue as to who each person is and what their purpose is in the story. The story goes on as if everything makes sense, because it makes sense to everyone else… except the viewers. Moonlight Lady fans may be able to make sense of his, but I sure couldn't. -Briana Lawrence


BOKURANO

What's it about?
During a field trip at the beach, several middle-school students stumble upon a mysterious cave. What they find in there is an entire underground office: computers, desks, chairs, and other equipment. Who could be living down here? It doesn't take too long for the cave's occupant to show up—a self-proclaimed video game designer who calls himself Kokopelli. He invites the kids to try out his new game, and it certainly sounds interesting enough: pilot a robot and destroy fifteen enemies sent from another world. But when an actual giant robot shows up at the seaside that night, and the children find themselves in the cockpit with Kokopelli for the first mission, they begin to realize that this could be far more serious than just a game.

Is it any good?
If there's one annoying thing about anime versions of Mohiro Kitoh's manga, it's that his sketchy, angular style always gets watered down into this animation-friendly glop where everyone looks angry and skinny. But get past those quirks of design, and Bokurano turns out to be an intriguing entry in the mechas-and-depression subgenre. Although it definitely has giant robots in it, action is not the key point of the first episode; it's all about setting a dark, uneasy mood. The early scenes at the seashore are so idyllic that you almost think you've walked into a slice-of-life by mistake, but things change quickly: dark colors take over, the music becomes grim and menacing, and the kids soon become concerned about the dangers of playing video games with strangers. ("Hey, little girl! How about some Playstation together?") By the time the robots show up, it's definitely time for a chill down the spine—seeing them right by the seashore gives an impressive sense of scale, and the spiky, sinister features make them feel more like monsters than machines. It's disturbing, it's fascinating, it's Evangelion minus the self-indulgent neurosis and plus a stronger sci-fi horror edge. At worst, it might turn into some generic monster-battling series (Fifteen enemies! Count 'em!) and miss the whole point of playing a deadly "reality game. " But we are talking about the same manga-ka who created Shadow Star Narutaru, so expect plenty of warped, freak-out moments to come. -Carlo Santos


KOUTETSU SANGOKUSHI

What's it about?

In this alternate version of ancient China, different factions are trying to control the country. To do so, the Gyoku-ji (a special orb), must be obtained. The one who possesses the Gyoku-ji shall be the one who controls the country. The main character, Hakugen, is a member of the family who protected the orb. However, as a child, his father was killed and the current ruler stole the Gyoku-ji. Now, years later, the Gyuku-ji is stolen again and Hakugen leaves his master, Koumei, to find it.

Is it any good?
So… are those two guys about to kiss in the opening? Are they embracing each other? Surprise! This series has "potential shonen ai" written all over it. To add icing to the BL cake, the two voice actors for the potential couple are up and coming voice actor Mamoru Miyano (Yagami Light in Death Note) and veteran voice actor Takehito Koyasu. Fangirls, get ready to swoon.

Now that the opening sequence is over, how is the episode itself? At best, it's decent. Certain events in the episode would've been much better if they were slowed down. Too much happens in such a short period of time, making important moments only last for a couple of seconds, at most. The animation is OK , but it's not anything to be majorly impressed with, especially when it has to compete against series like Claymore and Darker than Black. Since the story is yet another Romance of the Three Kingdoms adaptation, it definitely needs to do a better job in impressing fans since they've likely seen this done before. So far, Koutetsu Sangokushi isn't standing out very much, but it feels like it has the potential to be a good series. The character they chose to focus on seems to be a good pick; Hakugen is key to the series since, most likely, viewers will watch him grow as a character with each episode.

Oh, and the whole yaoi thing. We can't forget that!. -Briana Lawrence



HITOHIRA

What's it about?
Mugi is a girl afflicted with stage fright so acute that it renders her mute under the pressure. As such, she seems the last person to be of any use to a drama club, but (naturally) upon entering her new arts-focused high school, her voice catches the attention of Nono, the beautiful, self-possessed president of the school's "drama research club. " Later Mugi espies a spectacular dress in a storage room and utters the words "goddess of spring" which just so happens to be the sub-title for a play that the drama club (not the drama research club, mind you) is putting on, and a phrase that Nono seems particularly attached to. Meanwhile Mugi's classmate Nishida is being pursued by his older sister, a member of the drama research club who wants to force him to join. Her dogged pursuit leads to a series of encounters between Mugi and the drama research club, particularly Nono, whose developing interest in the shy underclassman leads her to convince (i.e. force) Mugi to join the club.

Is it any good?
Fans of blushing schoolgirls rejoice! It's time for yet another "young girl goes to new school and gets mixed up in mysterious business" anime! That means more cryptic hints at dark secrets, more rushing about and running into people masquerading as humor, and—you guessed it—more blushing schoolgirls. Indeed, the amount of time that Mugi spends blushing would destroy any normal person's capillaries. Of course, these types of shows thrive on shoujo-ai undertones, on the continuum of which Hitohira lies somewhere between the unabashed lesbianism of Strawberry Panic! and the gentle shoujo-ai parody of Best Student Council, with Ayako Kawasumi playing Nono as a variation on the "slightly predatory perfect upperclassman" character she played in Kannazuki no Miko. Animation studio Xebec plays things straight, with moodier visuals and an overall more serious tone than is the norm for this kind of thing. Unlike some of the previously mentioned shows, there are moments of true beauty to be had, such as the shadows cast on Nono's face by floating cherry petals, or some of the more elaborate backgrounds. Though it seems unfair to fault an obvious slow-mover like this for having a slight opening episode, it really would have benefited from a little more oomph (not to mention originality and character depth). There's plenty enough going on to keep fans of those blushing schoolgirls on the line, but fans of meaty anime may want to go fishing for substance in more fertile waters. -Carl Kimlinger



HAYATE THE COMBAT BUTLER

What's It About?
High school-aged Hayate is an industrious young man who's always had to work because his parents are unemployed wasteful good-for-nothings. His years of work have conditioned him to be inhumanly fast and tough, but that doesn't keep his parents from taking his last paycheck, squandering it, and leaving him on Christmas Eve with an enormous debt to some shady individuals. Desperate to find money when they come to collect, Hayate ultimately decides to kidnap for ransom a girl he meets in the park, but due to his kind nature he winds up rescuing her (twice!) instead and saying things that the girl Nagi grossly misinterprets as a confession of love. Drafted to be the extremely rich girl's new butler, it seems that Hayate's life is bound for a major change.

Is It Any Good?
One of the funnier manga to make it to the States in the past year has now become one of the spring season's funniest anime series, and its faithfulness in spirit, plot, and character design to its source material should quite please fans of the manga. The gleefully irreverent content generates its first laughs before the opening credits of the first episode even begin to roll and never really settles down. Rarely has a bitchy brat been more fun to watch than when Nagi is telling the mecha chasing her the five reasons why the pilot can't succeed (she gets up to “revolutionarily, cosmically stupid” before being cut off), and the good-natured, down-on-his-luck hero is played to the hilt (and beyond) in Hayate. Arguably the funniest scene in the first two episodes involves a discussion between the angels and devils of Hayate's nature taking a decidedly odd twist, and the narration adds a lot to the amusement level, but jokes are liberally peppered throughout and not always in the foreground. Those familiar with the manga will quickly notice that the anime tones things down a bit, although it even makes a joke of that in the way it covers up certain scenes to maintain “broadcast codes. ” Otherwise the first two episodes closely follow the first fiver chapters of the manga, including retaining the self-awareness that it is an anime series.

The artistry, courtesy of Shoukukan Productions, is at its best in its backgrounds, while character renderings are much less impressive but, as noted before, consistent in style to the manga. The muted color schemes of the first episode return to what should be more typically bright form for the second episode, while the animation is sufficiently smooth to support the humor. The musical score has as much fun as the writing does, and KOTOKO delivers a nice-sounding (if also generic) opener, with a pleasant closer by MELL (who has also done themes for <i>Shakugan no Shana</i> and <i>Black Lagoon</i>). Japanese vocals do an excellent job of bringing Nagi and Hayate to life, a sufficient job otherwise.

If you're looking for a good new comedy series to follow for the spring, check this one out. -Theron Martin


SEIREI NO MORIBITO

What's it about?
The story focuses on Balsa, a wandering warrior who is a bodyguard for hire. While traveling through a village she witnesses a carriage breaking and a young boy slipping into the river below. She is quick to save the boy, brushing it off as no big deal… until she is called on by the Empress of the Imperial Family, who just so happens to be the boy's mother. Before Balsa can get a grip on what's going on she finds herself being hired as a bodyguard for the young prince, whose very own father wants him dead.

Is it any good?
Seirei no Moribito has a great opening performed by L'Arc~en~Ciel along with high quality animation that has a Princess Mononoke feel to it. The story, however, moves along at a snail's pace, but such is the case for the “wandering warrior” genre. There are a lot of scenes that focus solely on the main character wandering through the village and it takes a while for any sort of action to start up. However, the first episode did a good job starting everything up without being too laboriously dull. Viewers are introduced to the main characters and are given a basic rundown of the plot: Balsa has to protect the prince. As the episode moves on, we get a few more little details; the prince is the eighth soul Balsa wishes to save in order to atone for her sins of the past. Also, there's a small hint of the power the prince possesses, a power so great that his own father wants him dead.

The downside to this sort of thing is that the story so far feels like it could be solved in less than two hours. This might end up hurting the series as it progresses. Something has to happen to break the story away from the typical “wandering warrior getting more than she bargained for” plotline. If it continues to move down this path, it's going to get pretty repetitive by episode five or six. -Briana Lawrence


CLAYMORE

What's it about?
In a far-off feudal land, common folk live in constant fear of Yoma—demons that hide among humans and feast on them. Only one thing can defeat the Yoma: the legendary female warriors known as Claymores. Because of their half-human, half-Yoma nature, Claymores must live as outcasts of society while roaming the land and disposing of demons. In one village, a young boy named Raki loses his entire family to a Yoma, and when a visiting Claymore saves Raki's life, the village elders throw Raki out because it's too risky to keep him around. With nowhere else to go, Raki goes in search of the Claymore who saved him, hoping that she will take him along on her quests.

Is it any good?
Swords? Monsters? Blood? Sign me up! Claymore heads down a very familiar path, but it's well-produced, and nails that epic fantasy feel without being ridiculous or irritating. Look for lots of greens and browns—a subdued palette that matches the serious mood of the story—but also plenty of moody reds when it's battle time. Color and action are probably the best things that this anime brings to the series, as there was no way it was ever going to match the gorgeous woodcut look of the manga anyway. As for the story itself, Episode 1 is quick to jump into the action, with a good helping of graphic violence and an introduction to the Claymore's powers. It's nice to see a fantasy series actually showing how the world works, not just telling it with some tedious narration. There's also a good mid-tempo pace guiding the story along, balancing things out between brutal battles and thoughtful conversation. It's during these conversations that we learn more about the characters, and Raki's quiet bravery makes him a likeable main lead—not too hyper, not a crybaby. If there are any faults so far, it's that the first episode relies too much on flashbacks to fill up time, and the supporting characters all look like generic fantasy-world fill-ins. However, with powerful music and rich visuals adding to an already solid story, this is definitely an action series worth checking out. -Carlo Santos


SOLA

What's it about?
Yorito's passion is the sky. Clouds, sunsets and sunrises, blue, red, orange; he loves it all, and his photography reflects it. As with any good male lead in a harem series, his life is chock full of women: his best friend Mana, her little sister Koyori, his older sister Aono and a mysterious girl named Matsuri whom he meets at a drink-vending machine in the wee hours of the morning. Both Koyori and Aono live in hospital rooms, of which Aono keeps hers shut off from the outside world. Matsuri and Yorito meet again during a rainstorm and discuss the sky, the description of which has a curiously strong effect on Matsuri. In the meantime, an unnamed man searches for someone in some very unlikely places, eventually finding his charge—a young girl in Gothic Lolita attire—in a cardboard box under a bridge. Yorito makes a connection between a picture that Matsuri showed him and the town's church, and pays a midnight visit only to discover her in heated combat with the mysterious stranger. His weapons? Bright lights and a sword.

Is it any good?
The majority of the first episode's run-time is expended on atmospherics and introducing its stable of girl-flesh, and while the ending definitely piques the interest more than one would ever expect given the formulaic proceedings that precede it, it's hardly enough to warrant tuning in for the entire run, unless one has an inordinate fondness for things like Kanon and Air. Granted, the main character's obsession with the sky provides plenty of chances for the art team to go all-out on the golden sun-bathed town, complete with floating clouds and gorgeous sunrises, but it's balanced out by female designs that feature big limpid eyes and expressions of bovine passivity that simply scream "H-game adaptation!", which isn't surprising given that character designer Naru Nanao also worked on Da Capo. The dispiriting lack of male characters once again reminds us that these shows are all set in parallel dimensions with 9:1 female:male ratios, while the atmosphere hasn't yet achieved the success and purpose of that of its more successful peers. And of course Yorito has the personality of very dull two-by-four, while the girls fall into firmly established stereotypes like the mature-beyond-her-years younger sister character and the spunky best friend who hides her affection behind a veil of abuse. The tail end of the episode does make up for a lot of it—the implication of vampirism adds poignancy to some of Matsuri's previous behavior, and the inclusion of potential violence adds much-needed tension—but it really isn't enough to excuse all the clichéd claptrap that comes before it. -Carl Kimlinger


EL CAZADOR DE LA BRUJA ("THE WITCH HUNTER")

What's It About?
In a Southwestern setting, Ellis is a slight girl with uncanny abilities who was apparently once affiliated with an organization called Project Leviathan, but has gone into hiding. Wanted for murder, a bounty has been placed on her head hefty enough to draw hordes of bounty hunters after her. One such hunter, a cute/sexy caped young woman named Nadi, ends up befriending her while fighting off other potential bounty hunters, and makes a promise to look after Ellis instead. Though her memory is fractured, Ellis knows that she needs to go south in search of Wiñay Marka (i.e. “Eternal Place”) with a strange glowing stone as her guide, and Nadi opts to accompany her.

Is It Any Good?
The third of Bee Train's trilogy of “girls with guns” series, El Cazador bears a lot of superficial similarities to its predecessors Noir and Madlax: a taller, a curvaceous young woman who's highly-skilled with guns and working as an agent-type character is paired with a petite, flat-chested girl who has memory loss issues but significant hidden abilities. Mysterious elements, messy flashbacks, and lots of opportunities to exercise combat abilities ensue, and naturally a powerful secret organization is lurking in the background, connected to it all. Unlike its predecessors, though, this one lacks a compelling start. It has some mystery but does not immerse the viewer in it like Noir did, nor does it sweep the viewer up in fantastic action scenes like Madlax did; in general, it lacks the spark that made its predecessors so watchable. Some of the content – such as the brazenly gay bounty hunters – does suggest that this one may have a lighter tone than the previous two, and the introduction of the man traveling with the little girl is too prominent for them to not have a significant role down the road, so at least some promise exists that this one will eventually veer onto its own course. So far, though, the setting is the only distinct variation on the common Bee Train theme.

As usual for Bee Train, character visuals look good in close-ups but suffer at a distance. Beyond Nadi, character designs don't stand out much, although nice background art partly makes up for that. As with the story, the artistry and animation are hardly bad, but they aren't good enough to distinguish themselves, either. A solid musical score offers all the style you'd expect from a Yuki Kajiura production; fans of her work will probably like this one, too, even though its use of the occasional Mexican theme does not make it sound fresh. She also performs the fast-paced opener and Mexican-themed closer.

Those who like the “girls with guns” genre may find this one to their liking, but overall it is not good or distinctive enough to merit priority viewing. -Theron Martin


KAMICHAMA KARIN

What's it about?
Karin's life is terrible right now: she's living with a demanding aunt, her grades at school are tumbling, and her pet cat just died. Worse yet, some rude boy made fun of her while she was setting up her cat's grave! One day, Karin befriends a cute girl named HIMEKA, who introduces her to a guy named Kazune—and he just happens to be the rude boy from before. Right as Karin is about to punch him, the ring on her finger—a memento from her deceased mother—starts to glow with a strange light. The next day Karin is doing perfect at school, and even the weather changes according to her will . . . could Karin have gained the powers of a god? HIMEKA and Kazune might have the answers, but they've already left town!

Is it any good?
I have a love-hate relationship with Koge-Donbo. I love her cuter-than-cute character designs and story ideas. I hate when she puts those story ideas into practice, because they all end up being average to terrible. And Kamichama Karin is very, very average. The entire opening scene, for example, is so over the top with frilly shoujo-fantasy goop that it's hard to tell if they're being funny or being dead serious. ("Power of Neptune!" "Power of Uranus!") Should you happen to survive past that mess, the rest of it is just another play on the magical girl formula, a premise so generic that even the flair of Koge-Donbo's style can't save it. Transformation jewelry, mysterious new friends, and a klutzy young girl discovering her hidden powers—what is this, the 5th-generation illegitimate offspring of Sailor Moon? There are signs of hope, however, in the sweet and subtle second half of Episode 1, where Karin ponders her powers and friendships on a rainy day. If the rest of the series turns out more like that, it'd probably end up half-decent. Beware the production values, though: the color palette is bright but sloppy, the animation is just good enough for a kids' show, and the brash music score only serves to reinforce the shoujo-fantasy stereotype. It's all very average, or below average. For a better girl-turns-into-god story, why not just pick up the phonetically similar Kamichu? For starters, it's actually good. -Carlo Santos


Kono Aozora ni Yakusoku wo

What's it about?
Our main hero, Wataru, has the misfortune of being the only boy in an all girl's dormitory. The unlucky fellow also has to deal with the fact that they are all gorgeous. To add to the poor guy's misery, he has to deal with a half naked girl sleeping in his room in the very first episode. Oh no, whatever will he do to cope with such a crisis? 

Is it any good?
From the massive number of good looking girls with sugar-coated voices and the lack of a male cast you would never guess that this was based on a hentai game. But the game is nothing to sneeze at, it did win a number of awards, including the top prize at the Gal Game Awards. The anime, most likely, will not be nearly as celebrated. It works as a hentai game because there's one guy and a hoard of girls he can choose from, and it's a formula that's worked in the past. The animation is cute and a whole lot of the girls sound sweeter than honey. As an anime, though, it's unoriginal and predictable, making it almost unbearable to watch. I'll break it down for you: drop a generic anime boy into a building full of girls. Next, let's put a half naked chick in his room who has a major attitude problem. When everyone learns that she's a transfer student, they try and make her feel welcome, but she doesn't want to have friends. End of episode. So what will happen next? Well, she will learn to accept everyone as her friend, of course, because everyone needs friendship, right? Then she and our main hero will fall in love with each other, maybe we'll have a love triangle or two but in the end, everyone will be happy. Oh, and there probably won't be any sex involved.

This would've worked a lot better as an OAV that kept the sex in, since clearly this story works as a straight-up hentai. As it is, however, this thing will probably fail. -Briana Lawrence


 

Kishin Taisen Gigantic Formula

What's it about?
Suwa Shingo, a boy from the countryside who is expecting to go to Tokyo and compete in a “game” called Gigantic Formula, meets a girl in a graveyard who urges him to “fight and win. ” Without so much as ruffling a feather, he agrees, and sets out to Tokyo. The year is 2035. The world has been devastated by a phenomenon called “Equatorial Winter” and the UN has declared the start of the “Wisest World War,” a supposedly honorable form of battle in which each country builds a giant robot—called a Gigantic—for the purpose of one-on-one duels with other countries. Shingo, who the graveyard girl—actually a member of the research team that built Japan's Gigantic, Susanoo—refers to as “the chosen one,” easily wins the tournament he came to enter. Apparently unaware of the tournament's true purpose—to choose a pilot for Susanoo—Shingo learns first-hand that the Gigantic Formula isn't nearly so honorable as the UN would like everyone to believe when the Chinese send their own Gigantic—and a team of assassins—to eliminate him before he can even board the eerily sentient Susanoo.

Is it any good?
Never mind the G-Gundam premise, or the fact that Susanoo should be paying Yoshiyuki Tomino royalties for its design, this is the mecha show to keep an eye on. Fans of Kamichu will immediately recognize the meticulously animated facial expressions, superb grasp of human motion, and positively edible background designs as hallmarks of animation studio Brains Base, who also prove more than capable of animating massive mecha mayhem—from the distinctive appearances and almost-but-not-quite-organic movement of the Gigantics themselves, to the way nearby traffic is tossed about in the tornado jet-stream of a passing mecha. The first episode isn't pure robo-smackdown (though there's plenty of that to go around, including enough slightly creepy behavior on Susanoo's part to convince that it is certainly more than a mere puppet). The first few minutes efficiently sketch the skeleton of a future world, and anyone who remembers the pictures of ecstatic crowds heralding the much-anticipated “War to End All Wars” from their high-school textbooks will appreciate the bitter irony of the smiling faces of the UN as they announce their “Wisest World War. ” The massive damage wreaked during the brief sparring between Japan and China's Gigantics, as well as the underhanded methods utilized by the opposing side, already indicate that this war just might share a similar fate. Political structures and motivations get some small development (with more sure to come), while Shingo's unflappable personality (Supreme self-confidence? Complete cluelessness?) is surprisingly well-developed in a mere 20 minutes. The premise does owe a lot to shows like G-Gundam. Just with cooler mecha, impeccable production values...without all the camp and cheese. -Carl Kimlinger



Nagasarete Airantou

What's it about?
Ikuto is a super-unlucky, short, wimpy, nosebleed prone loser who is running away from home when he gets washed overboard. Days later, he is literally fished out of the ocean by a blue-clad girl named Suzu. Thus he finds himself on the island of Airantou, an inescapable, utterly isolated land surround by impassable whirlpools and populated entirely by young girls. As the only man on the island, poor, poor, poor Ikuto is constantly assaulted by women of all sizes, shapes and fanboy fetishes who want his body for things like dates, marriage, and human experimentation. What's a guy to do? Apparently, run around wigging out and squirting nose-blood about like a one-man blood-drive.

Is it any good?
One day Takeshi Fujishiro, manga artist by trade, stood bolt upright after marathoning every single episode of Temptation Island, his synapses singing. “I have it!” he exclaimed. “The perfect romantic comedy premise!” And thus Nagasarete Airantou was born.

Or at least, that's how I imagine it. It's certainly more romantic than some guy in a cafe thinking, “Somehow I need to get one guy alone with a bunch of girls, and a bunch of money into my pocket. . . Hmm. ”

Seriously, anyone who actually needs the question “is it any good?” answered after reading that pile of— . . .er, premise, has already had their brain turned to laffy-taffy by watching too much of this garbage in the first place. This is a non-stop spectacle of wish-nerdfillment of the lowest order. The kind of thing that thinks nothing of having two naked girls play tug-of-war with a hapless loser while he does his Old Faithful impression with both nostrils. The kind of thing that thinks the height of humor is girls chasing a guy around with blow-dart guns in hopes of doing God-knows-what with his unconscious body. The last time that I watched something this painful was when a sadistic scientist tied me to a chair, taped my eyes open and forced me to watch Shuffle! while sticking electrodes in my brain. On the upside, there's a killer whale named Sashimi and a pig called Tonkatsu. Just don't laugh too hard, or the electrodes will fall out. -Carl Kimlinger


Tengen Toppa Gurren Lagann

What's it about?
In a far-off future, on a far-off planet, a young boy named Simon lives a day-to-day life digging holes. He's part of the Gurren-dan, a tribe of working-class folk who live underground. One day Simon discovers a drill-shaped amulet in the ground, as well as a mysterious robot head. What kind of treasure could this be? One of Simon's older buddies, a feisty young man named Kamina, thinks that it could be their ticket to the Surface—a land above that most people consider just a legend. When a giant monster and a beautiful girl drop in on the Gurren-dan's village, causing widespread havoc, Simon realizes what he must do—power up the robot with his amulet and defeat the monster. Somehow, he also ends up breaking through to the Surface, and so begins a new life of adventure for Simon and his friends.

Is it any good?
If there's such a thing as "traditional" space opera, this one comes pretty close, paying plenty of homage to its sci-fi roots. Simon's fashion sense is pure Leiji Matsumoto, the mecha designs and controls come straight out of the early 80s, and you can be pretty sure that the key theme will be a young boy's burning passion and spirit. But even so, it still carries that outrageous Gainax flair, mainly due to the colorful, dynamic style of director Hiroyuki Imaishi (FLCL, Dead Leaves). If all you want is action-adventure eye candy, the series' first episode brings it in spades, especially with a breathless robot battle that seems to squash and stretch and bounce in every way possible. What it doesn't bring is a particularly original story—in paying homage to the past, it seems to have gotten stuck there, happy to regurgitate classic sci-fi ideas. Just look at the character lineup: intrepid young boy meets hotheaded young man meets hot warrior girl. Boy miraculously pilots robot on his first day; defeats monster. Yeah, not exactly the most groundbreaking concept there. It looks like this series hopes to make up for its lack of substance with a maniacal style—from Imaishi's hyperactive directing to Taku Iwasaki's epic-movie soundtrack. From Episode 1 it could go two ways: a seriously fun, energetic adventure, or a generic monster/robot-of-the-week slog. Are you willing to take that gamble? -Carlo Santos


Heroic Age

What's It About?
Once there was a mighty race who called themselves the Golden Tribe. They called other “primitive” tribes out into the universe, and three answered their call: the Silver Tribe, the bug-like Bronze Tribe, and the mecha-themed Hero Tribe. But a fourth tribe came into the picture on its own. Dubbed the Iron Tribe, this was humankind. One of their ships crash-landed on a devastated planet, leaving behind a sole infant survivor. Years later, the ship Argonaut, guided by the apparently psychic Princess Deianeira, comes in search of both the lost ship and a young man the princess feels will be their savior. From what? Maybe the horde of buglike Bronze Tribe critters who attack them once they find and try to interact with the now-young man.

Is It Any Good?
The title of the series apparently refers not to a time period, but to the young man at its center. It's much too early to tell where the story is going, as the first episode provides only the mythical background for the story setting and no real details on what the whole deal is with this reverently-treated Princess Deianeira, how she (and the twins) have powers, or how she is linked to this young man. How he is supposed to be their savior becomes abundantly clear when the battle against the Bronze Tribe members (think Starship Troopers) commences in earnest. Heavy use of Greek names reinforces the feel that the series is aiming to be a mythic space epic, albeit one peppered by mecha battles and spots of levity.

While it may be too early to make a decision on the storytelling, visuals will unquestionably be one of the series’ strengths. Impressive use of CG effects, especially in ship designs and movements, highlight good-looking animation and artistry. Character designs favor longer, lankier builds, with faces that may strongly remind a viewer of Mobile Suit Gundam Seed – but that should be no surprise, given that Hisashi Hirai, the character designer, was also responsible for SEED. One mecha design takes on a vaguely Evangelionesque look, while others are more typical. The orchestrated musical score, so far, is inconsistent. It favors the grand sound of epic sci-fi anime but jumps around quite a bit in style. The first episode has no opener and a lackluster closer.

Heroic Age may have potential, but it's just too early to tell for sure. -Theron Martin

 


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