The Fall 2007 Anime Season Guide

by The ANN Reviews Team, Oct 21st 2007


Welcome to the Anime News Network Fall 2007 Anime Season 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 high-class clientele or pleasant buzzed feeling.

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.



SHAUKGAN NO SHANA II

What's It About?
September has come, and everyone is up to their normal routines, including Wilhelmina escorting Shana to school, Margery Daw struggling with a hangover, and Bell Masque apparently scheming something in the background. But why are cherry blossoms falling at this time of year, and why does no one but Yuji hear the bells in the background or notice that key events of last season seem to be repeating themselves? And what was it that Shana said to Yuji before the full release of Alastor at the end of last season, the words that Shana spoke when it looked like both of their existences might end, but which he could not hear?

Is It Any Good?
Given how strong the first season started, it's no surprise that the second season intro seems blasé by comparison. Oh, it certainly makes an effort, and the gimmick that J.C. Staff uses to work in flashbacks to key events of last season (and especially how Yuji figures it out) is a clever one which the Next Episode preview suggests will have long-term ramifications, but it lacks the enticing flash and compelling narrative hook that made the first episode of the first season so involving. In fact, it feels entirely like a “business as usual” approach.

That isn't necessarily a Bad Thing, of course, as all the likeable cast members featured in the first season are back in their regular roles and we get to see more of Shana's cute little quirks, like her melon bread obsession and “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!” refrain. The character design style and artistic merits remain the same (for better or worse), and the soundtrack works as hard as ever to be creepy, dramatic, or high-spirited, with a sharp new opener and more mundane new closer bracketing the episode. It just doesn't taste quite as meaty so far as the first season did.

Fans of the series should be satisfied, but this start won't win any new converts. -Theron Martin


MYSELF; YOURSELF

What's It About?
At age 11 Sana had to move away from his hometown, leaving behind a posse of good friends that included the violin-playing Nanaka. Five years later he returns, for specific but as-yet unspecified reasons, to attend high school. He quickly discovers that former friend Aoi has grown up (and filled out!) quite a bit in his absence, which leaves him wondering about Nanaka. On the first day of school he meets other old friends and discovers that the miko who had been shyly peeking at him at the temple the day before is, in fact, Nanaka, she clearly hasn't forgotten him, and initially seems very angry with him.

Is It Any Good?
The series comes billed only as a romance, and indeed the first episode does seem to establish the nascent rumblings of future romantic complications. While it has some humor (one clever joke about spoilers should make anyone laugh) and light-hearted content, it does not quite give off the vibe of a full-blown romantic comedy; the “love tap” Sana gets at one point is anything but high-spirited or light-hearted. It does, however, look like fan service may be a regular element and begs an important question: if you had returned to your hometown for the first time in five years after an amicable departure, would you wait until the first day of school to look up old friends?

Most of the episode focuses on establishing Sana and Aoi, who fills the “girl with glasses,” the “passionate talker,” and the “klutzy girl” roles. The brief screen appearances by Nanaka indicate that something has happened over the past five years to change her, and that coupled with her atypically severe demeanor suggest that she may not play out like your typical romantic drama heroine, but at this point it's too early to tell.

What can be said for certain is that it features good background art, average character designs, and an oddball musical score whose opening and closing numbers are much more distinguishable for their visuals than their music (the opener shows all the main cast playing in a band). The storytelling does not excite so far, but this one may just need a couple more episodes to establish itself. -Theron Martin


YOU'RE UNDER ARREST! FULL THROTTLE
 
What's it about?
Get ready for another round of action with the butt-kicking cop duo of Miyuki Kobayakawa and Natsumi Tsujimoto. Miyuki's been away for a year of training in America, while Natsumi's been polishing her skills with a military task force. On the plane ride back to Japan, Miyuki meets a young boy who is more than what he seems—as evidenced by the yakuza who start chasing him as soon as he arrives at Narita airport! Using her evasive driving skills, Miyuki must transport the boy to safety, with Natsumi and the rest of the police force stepping in to help too. Looks like the two of them are back to doing what they do best.
 
Is it any good?

This would have been a great anime project ... 10 years ago. As it stands, the new You're Under Arrest! feels old already, from its retro dance-pop opener to the bland backgrounds and characters. Sure, Kosuke Fujishima's hot-babes-and-fast-cars aesthetic is still there, but this is clearly a series clinging to the coattails of its glory days. Just look at how it lays on the "Where are they now?" shtick with the main characters, then dives into a stilted, half-baked storyline, and then mashes through the streets of Tokyo for some cheap car-chase thrills. There's nothing deep or engrossing about this, but if all you wanted was to watch some crazy fun-time driving, then it looks like this show will provide. Anything beyond that is strictly average or worse, and it's even missing a lot of the screwball humor that made the original manga so much fun. Really, the cheesecake-laden opening and ending sequences say it all: it's pure fanservice, made for the dedicated few who have stuck with You're Under Arrest! all these years and won't watch anything else. -Carlo Santos

GUNDAM 00

What's it about?
In 2301 a child guerilla dodges mecha during an apparent religious purge in the Kurdis Republic. He is saved from annihilation by the timely arrival of a shining mecha—a Gundam. Six years later, at a weapons demonstration by the AEU, the grown boy crashes the demonstration in that same Gundam and utterly demolishes the AEU's prized prototype mobile suit. He goes on, with the help of another Gundam, to destroy the mobile suit battalion guarding the AEU's orbital elevator. Meanwhile a terrorist attack on a different orbital elevator is thwarted by two more Gundams. The boy, named Setsuna, and the other three pilots are the "Gundam Meisters" of an organization known as Celestial Being. Setsuna's attack was the opening salvo of Celestial Being's plan to eliminate all war, a demonstration of the unstoppable power of their mobile suits and their resolve to punish all whose arms buildup exceeds Celestial Being's standards for peace. Naturally (this is Gundam after all) their efforts will probably be in vain, if not outright counterproductive.

Is it any good?
If Gundam Wing were an attempt to update Gundam for the then-modern teen demographic, then Gundam 00 (judging from its opening episode) is an attempt to update Gundam Wing for the current era. The similarities are there, in the main character and the basic plot, while its political flavor—with the opening religious purge—is distinctly post-9/11. With any luck it'll do something with the dramatically limp Wing akin to what Gundam Seed did with the original Gundam—namely meld its philosophical and moral concerns with a sharper sense for teen drama (or melodrama) while taking advantage of modern animation techniques. While it's too early to judge whether it will succeed in punching up the drama (or will even attempt to), the Tomino-esque density of plot doesn't necessarily bode well. The first episode kicks off in fine Gundam style, whirling names, places and events around like so much narrative debris in a hurricane. Political structures and conflicts are alluded to, flashes of obviously important characters (you can tell because they're in the opening sequence) blur past, and the episode cuts with head-spinning speed between what seems like a half-dozen different locations. To the series' credit, all of that mad activity isn't completely confusing. Characters' designs and voices make differentiating between the large cast fairly simple, the plot—for all the quick cutting—is pretty clearly delineated, and the episode takes time enough for some motive-establishing back-story for its lead. As for the production values, they're top-notch: the mecha and character designs are attractive, and the fights—especially the opening chase scene—are fluid and composed with an eye for maximum impact. - Carl Kimlinger


KODOMO NO JIKAN

What's it about?
Every new teacher has the same desire—to mold young minds and shape their growing futures, and the latest to fall prey to this fantasy is Daisuke Aoki, a dapper young man who's put in charge of a third grade class.  Things go bad when his first five seconds lead him to accidentally barge in on a room-full of half-naked, changing girls.  His day worsens when he discovers that one of his students hasn't been to class in months; upon inquiry, he discovers that their last teacher did some horrible stuff, but through kindness, he's able to coax the girl into attending class again.  Of course, things never go smoothly.  His most precocious student is a chipper girl named Rin Kokonoe, who takes an immediate liking to her new teacher.  To show her appreciation, she tries to heal his bleeding finger by sucking on it, propositioning him during a calligraphy lesson, and giving him plenty of upskirt shots. 

Is it any good?
To say that Kodomo no Jikan is controversial is maybe the biggest understatement of the century.  It was canned from two Japanese networks, and frankly, what ended up airing isn't even worth the air time, considering how heavily censored it is.  Everything dirty has been replaced by an image of a character spinning the “no” hiragana from the logo.  This includes all the panty shots, all the nudity, and all the lewd written text; all the promiscuous audio has been replaced by sound effects.  While it's debatable whether or not Kodomo no Jikan was ever suitable for broadcast is almost moot—this level of censorship makes the show frustrating to watch—not because of what it cuts out, but because of how jarring all of the edits are.  Even so, what viewers can insinuate behind the censors is a little uncomfortable at times.  While in the OVA, it was clear that Kokonoe was the one instigating all the lewd behavior and contact, there are moments in the first episode that are a lot more discomforting.  For example, the teacher allows his finger to be sucked several seconds too long, and later on, even imagines his student in the nude.  With scenes like that, it's hard to argue that he isn't enjoying some of the interaction, which is a dangerous line to cross, and is, in my honest opinion, kind of gross.  Even as appalled as I was at some of the scenes, though, I was still much more irritated by the glaring censors they slapped onto the screen.  At times like that, one has to ask: if the networks are acknowledging that the material they're airing is inappropriate, why is it still being aired?  Sure, the characters are a cute as a button, but that's all the more reason they should keep their clothes on.  Even the censors agree.  -Bamboo Dong


GOSYOSHO-SAMA NINOMIYA-KUN

What's It About?
High school Shungo Ninomya, who lives with his action-heroine older sister, is something of an action hero himself, but a rather put-upon one. Trained to fight bears bare-handed or dislocate his shoulder to escape from being tied up, he is harassed to unbelievable degrees by classmates who love to “see his troubled face.” His world becomes even more complicated when pink-haired Mayu Tsukimura and her older brother Mikihiko arrive on the scene and inform him that his sister has arranged from them to live with her and Shungo. It might not be so bad, except for two enormous problems: cute, busty Mayu suffers from androphobia (a fear of men) while at the same time also possessing a power that overwhelmingly attracts men to her. Although Shungo seems to be partly resistant, he needs further training to help Mayu with her problem, for kissing her could be fatal because of what she is.

Is It Any Good?
You have to give AIC Spirits (previously responsible for titles like Aquarion, Girls Bravo, and Tokko) credit for at least trying to breathe new life into tired, fan service-laden harem concepts. Making the very moe female lead a pathologically man-shy succubus with no control over her power to attract and compel the opposite sex (no, I am not making that up) is an utterly absurd, but also quite inventive, central gimmick. That degree of absurdity abounds throughout the first episode, which can make it a very fun view as long as you don't stop to think about it for even a millisecond. It still, of course, has all the normal trite tricks, and it does feature a pathetic female lead whose appearance, voice, and behavior are clearly modeled off of Mikuru from Melancholy of Haruhi Suzimiya, but at least the older siblings are amusing to watch, some saucy potential exists amongst his classmates, and Shungo isn't entirely a stereotypical romantic comedy male lead. The harem side of things does not come into play in this episode, but looks like it will in the next one.

Character designs feature huge, oddly-colored eyes and the kind of occasionally bizarre hairdos you could only find in anime. Mayu's design stresses her figure and places her in a pretty white dress ideally made for fan service, although not all female characters get such a buxom treatment. Nonetheless, the first episode misses few opportunities for further fan-pandering displays. Unimpressive animation accompanies decent overall artwork and an active musical score which features a catchy, peppy, synthesizer-based opener.

This offering is probably ultimately only for fans of harem series, and may disgust some with its shenanigans, but it is certainly not boring. -Theron Martin


MAJIN TANTEI NOGAMI NEURO
 
What's it about?
Neuro is a demon from the underworld whose only desire is to solve difficult puzzles and riddles. His search brings him to the "upper world," where he takes on human form and starts up a detective agency. But here's the twist: Neuro poses as the assistant to a gluttonous high school girl named Yako Katsuragi, letting her take all the credit as a teenage genius detective while he does the brainwork with his supernatural skills. Their first case takes them to a restaurant that's been receiving threatening letters, and when the sous chef is murdered, Neuro and Yako face a simple but challenging puzzle: find the killer!
 
Is it any good?
Think of this as Case Closed with spirit powers. The first episode of Neuro is a surprisingly accurate homage to Gosho Aoyama's detective classic, with its main character operating behind a disguise, a closed-room murder-mystery, and a convoluted yet fascinating solution to the case. Studio MADHOUSE (Death Note) handles animation duties, so look forward to vivid colors and slick visuals—Neuro's transformations as he makes use of his powers are downright impressive. The mystery presented in Episode 1 is some solid storytelling, although the fate of the killer is perhaps too melodramatic and bizarre to make much sense. Yes, it can be tricky walking the line between serious sleuth drama and supernatural spell-fest—as well as balancing all that with the occasional joke about Yako's food obsession—but this show seems to be headed in the right direction. A hard-rock opener by Nightmare (also of Death Note fame) and graphic violence show where the series' heart truly lies: among the dark shadows and mysteries of humankind, which Neuro plans on solving one by one. –Carlo Santos


GENSHIKEN 2

What's it about?
The biggest doujinshi event of the year is coming up, and this time, the members of Genshiken have the chance to make and sell their own book.  Accepted to Comi-Fes for the first time, there are tons of questions that Sasahara, the new club president, needs figure out, like how many pages to put in the doujinshi, which printer they should use, and how many copies they should make.  The last thing they need is unsolicited advice from Haraguchi, whose motivations can only be sinister, but Sasahara definitely has the guts it takes to stand up to him. Plus, Genshiken can definitely handle the work themselves, especially with the addition of some new members, including Ogiue, a talented artist who's more than willing to draw erotic female images, just for the chance to get published. 

Is it any good?
For fans of the first Genshiken series, this second season is a godsend.  It takes place later in the manga series, referenced by the fact that there are a few new characters.  If you haven't read the manga, it's a little odd to see new faces suddenly appear without any introduction, but the series is so good about portraying character traits that by the end of the episode, you already feel like you've been introduced.  It's nice seeing old faces, too, and the strong sense of camaraderie between them makes the hiatus between the seasons seem like nothing. So far, the first episode is every bit as entertaining as the ones in the first season.  If you aren't familiar with the series, though, it's probably best to start at the beginning.  It's entirely possible to jump into this cold, but considering how character-driven the show is, having a solid sense of everyone's personalities and quirks definitely helps.  Also worth noting are the visuals—the backgrounds are incredibly detailed, and for those well-versed in geeklore, seeing all the familiar models and posters in the background is pure nerd ecstasy.  Seriously, if you consider yourself a fan of anything relating to anime, you will probably scream in glee a this show. Genshiken is one of the best properties ever created about fandom, and you're doing yourself a big disservice by not watching it.  If the first episode is any indication, this is going to be a great season. -Bamboo Dong


BAMBOO BLADE

What's it about?
Kojiro-sensei is in a bit of a pinch. He's just made a bet (for a year's worth of sushi) with a former upperclassman and fellow kendo club advisor that his girl's kendo club can beat his upperclassman's more experienced club. The problem is that his kendo club only has one member, an upbeat blonde named Kirino. After some fruitless searching, he meets his dream kendo ace when he is saved from a convergence of rocketing balls and plummeting teachers by a girl wielding a bamboo broom. Unfortunately quiet, blunt-spoken Tamaki has no interest in joining a kendo club. It turns out that she's the only daughter of a kendo master and regards kendo much the way a teenager does household chores. But Kojiro may have an unexpected break when Tamaki's uncharacteristic fixation on television "heroes of justice" leads her to join the club in order to give an ill-tempered male member a taste of justice's blade.

Is it any good?
Bamboo Blade isn't going to make anyone's short list of "A" titles for the season, that much is guaranteed. It is, however, a considerable amount of fun. The all-girl sports team angle has been worked until it bleeds, and arrives here complete with underdog status and a team of destined rivals. The show doesn't allow complex characterizations or unexpected occurrences get in the way of its silly story, and when it does wax serious, the tone meshes uneasily with the series' goofier aspects. Not all of its humorous elements work either, with the male kendo recruit who looks like a whiny, anemic Mr. Potato Head leading the pack of failures. Most of the time though, it has a firm grasp of how to present light, silly entertainment. Much fun is had with diminutive Tamaki's reticence and plain-spoken ways, Kojiro's fantasy about sushi devolves into a stereotypical date scene between him and a middle-aged male sushi chef, and the scene in which Tamaki knocks a falling vice-principal back through the third-story window he fell from is flat-out hilarious. The animation isn't anything to write home about, but the predominance of golden late-afternoon light lends some atmosphere to the visuals, and the smooth, round character designs strongly emphasize cuteness. The episode also does a solid job of winding up anticipation for the fight between Tamaki and the bully (a necessity in any sports series) and has the good sense to end the episode just when things are getting good.- Carl Kimlinger



BLUE DROP

What's It About?
Five years ago an unspecified calamity killed Mari Wakatake's parents and left her without her memory. Though she has lived and studied with her grandmother since that time, she gets sent to the Kaihou Academy to finish her education. Upset at being sent there and thinking her grandmother was only trying to get rid of her, Mari has difficulty accepting the change. Things get far weirder when the entrancing beauty Mari saw on the drive into Kaihou, Hagino Senkouji, not only turns out to be her roommate, but upon shaking hands inexplicably tries to kill her. As Mari soon discovers, her roommate is certainly not normal and may not even be human.

Is It Any Good?
One of the true oddities of the fall season, Blue Drop is billed as a yuri sci-fi series, but at this point it might be more accurate to call it a serious, dramatic mystery. It does, indeed, include some sci fi elements, but beyond its opening scene the entire episode takes place in purely mundane terrestrial settings. Its yuri aspect is a bit more pronounced, as Mari certainly evinces a strong reaction to Hagino at first contact, but so far that aspect is nowhere near as prevalent as in a series like, say, Kashimashi. Unlike other series with such elements, this one offers no comedy relief or high-spirited elements (although the ludicrous appearance of the Headmaster, with his flowing purple hair and matching Western-style moustache, may be unintentionally funny to many viewers), nor does it populate itself with stock characters. Mari quickly distinguishes herself as a petulant, strong-willed girl who expresses her frustration and anger over her situation with her actions without falling into typical tsundere modes of behavior; this is a character you could actually believe might exist in real life. Hagino also seems at least a bit off-kilter compared to the norm for her type, and how many other anime series actually have a morbidly obese female cast member as a regular character?

The biggest star of the first episode, though, is its musical score, which beautifully dictates the darker tone and tension of the content without ever being obtrusive. Interesting character designs and a solid (but not spectacular) overall level of artistic merit also speak favorably for the series. At a full 26 minutes it's also one of the longest-running episodes of the new season.

Blue Drop may not have the energy that the typical anime series does, but as an understated piece it shows a lot of promise. -Theron Martin


CLANNAD
 
What's it about?
Tomoya Okazaki is a high school boy who isn't too happy with his life: he finds his town boring, he doesn't think much of school, and he doesn't even like being at home because of his alcoholic father. As the new school term starts, he meets a girl named Nagisa who is having trouble making new friends after being held back a year. Along the way he also meets a few other students, but perhaps his most promising encounter is meeting Nagisa's parents at the bakery that they run. It's a far cry from Tomoya's broken home, and maybe Nagisa can provide the comfort he needs...
 
Is it any good?
Chances are, if you have even the slightest inkling of what Clannad is and who makes it, you've already decided whether to watch this series or not. But for those who might be sitting on the fence, here's the rundown: it's a polished effort for a bishoujo game adaptation, with unexpected flourishes of eye-candy (just watch when the resident tomboy lays the smack on some bullies) and a likeable sense of humor (Nagisa's family, to put it lightly, is nuts). The first episode lays out the usual material for a male romance: ordinary boy meets many, many cute girls, repeat as needed. What's different is that Tomoya is more strong-willed than the usual proto-loser male lead—he's got a chip on his shoulder and isn't afraid to admit it—and also, this episode uses quick, easy-to-follow flashbacks that gradually build up the story. Much like its close relatives Kanon and Air, Clannad has a very laid-back feel of hanging out and making friends, but the pacing isn't necessarily boring; in fact, there are enough spots of slapstick humor to shake things up. The pastel-colored visuals and gentle piano-driven background music are a treat for the eyes and ears, and while the character designs are homogeneous and ordinary, the animation itself is solid throughout. Because it doesn't take itself too seriously (at least not yet), this could very well succeed as the dating-sim anime for people who hate dating-sim anime. -Carlo Santos


MOKKE

What's it about?
Shizuru and Mizuki, a pair of sisters who live in the countryside, have special abilities. Shizuru, the elder of the two, can see spirits and Mizuki has a knack for getting possessed by them. Their parents, apparently unable to cope with the issues caused by the abilities of the two, sent both to live in the country with their grandfather, who is very knowledgeable about such things. One day, while little Mizuki is out trying to collect the last two of the "seven flowers of fall," she falls prey to a nebulous black force. She's essentially unharmed, but Shizuru, frightened and ashamed by her inability to protect her little sister, must somehow prepare herself for the eventuality of a second attack.

Is it any good?
Mokke falls, with a resounding thud, under the umbrella of magical realism. It pointedly shuns sensationalism and adventure, focusing with calm resolve on the sisters' lives and how they incorporate their supernatural abilities into their everyday existence. The show is careful not to exploit the inherent drama of Shizuru's desire to protect Mizuki too much, and even the danger posed by the mikoshi (the malevolent black shadow) is underplayed, serving as an emotional hurdle for Shizuru rather than an excuse for suspense or action. The focus on a sisterly bond lends warmth and a certain amount of genuine feeling to the show, and the relaxed rhythm of the plot is welcome. The show has a lethal flaw in its execution though. There isn't anything wrong with it on a technical level: Mizuki and Shizuru are plenty cute, the backgrounds are often very attractive—even beautiful, and the animation is fine, if not quite top-tier. However, the deployment of the various artistic elements is uninspiring and the crucial, indefinable magic they should evoke is missing. A lack of magic, as one might reasonably assume, is a serious problem in something aiming for magical realism. Without it, the limitations of this straightforward slice-of-life story become quite apparent—in short, it gets boring. However, for fans of this particular niche in anime, Mokke will do to scratch the itch until something better—say the next season of Aria—comes along. -Carl Kimlinger


MINAMI-KE

What's it about?
There are three Minami sisters. Haruka is the eldest and is a kind, gentle soul; Chiaki is the youngest and is wise beyond her years; and Kana is the middle child, a thoroughly unhinged force of nature with no delay or barrier between her thoughts and actions. They live together with no apparent parental supervision; their days spent cooking, going to school, and trying futilely to curb Kana's outrageous behavior. Everything Kana tries has disastrous consequences. Her attempt to teach Chiaki about kissing results in her molesting the poor girl's lips, a try at cooking produces an all-fruit cream stew, and her receipt of a love-letter precipitates a shounen-styled showdown.

Is it any good?
Blame it on the influence of the TV drama Yappari Neko ga Suki, but slice-of-life series about sisters seem to be perennial favorites. Minami-ke may be the latest in this increasingly overworked clique of shows, but it manages to carve out its own appeal with a combination of excellent production values, cute designs, and genuinely funny humor. The humor, which is the series true raison d'etre, combines incredibly cute, yet suitably realistic character designs with some surprisingly excellent animation, executing the series' comedic set-pieces with genuine visual panache. The kissing debacle is staged as a full-throttle chase scene between Kana and Chiaki, complete with turnarounds, narrow escapes, and last-minute dodges. Kana presents a love-letter to her sisters with athletic, Matrix-like flair, and ends the episode with a confrontation that out-shounens most shounen shows. Wrap these up in a blanket of lesser minor comedy and you get a solid episode of amusement that dazzles the eye as well as tickles the funny bone.

If the description of the episodes' highlights seems Kana-centric, there's good reason for it: on top of her antics being the comic spice that livens up the series’ otherwise mundane vignettes, she's also the most interesting and likeable of the three sisters (thank your guilelessness and naiveté for that Kana). Haruka has essentially no personality at all, and precocious, sarcastic Chiaki is an abrasive stereotype and quite unsympathetic. Her manipulations of the easily misled Kana are frankly mean-spirited, and her cold treatment of the middle sister and bald favoritism for Haruka are generally off-putting. -Carl Kimlinger


EF - A TALE OF MEMORIES

What's It About?
High school student Renji Asou is uncertain about what path to take in life, but an encounter with cute, eyepatch-wearing Chihiro at an abandoned train station shapes his immediate priorities. Hiro Hirano, a budding manga artist, encounters first a mysterious nun (?) and then the beribboned Miyako when he goes out to take pictures of a church for reference. Camcorder-sporting Kyosuke, filming on Christmas Eve to finish off a film project, already has his own bespectacled gal, but gets distracted by a fleeting glimpse of KEI, sister to Chihiro and childhood friend of Hiro.

Is It Any Good?
The first episode can be summed up in five words: three guys encounter cute girls. It is, of course, not that simple, as all of the budding or preexisting relationships seem to be interrelated to one degree or another, and a prologue released for the series suggests that this will be a dedicated romantic drama. The way the opening episode plays out cannot shake the feel of an ero game turned into anime (which this is), despite the determined efforts of the series to use tone and visual gimmicks to stray from its source genre. An understated musical score, led by an opener so understated it could lull a person to sleep, defines the soft, primed-for-romance mood which pervades both the plotting and dialogue.

The visuals make the greatest effort to distinguish the series from other ero game adaptations, however. Attractive (except for Renji's weird cowlick), well-drawn character designs provide a broad array of anime standbys for the female characters, and it sports excellent backgrounds and animation and vibrant coloring, but the visual tricks stand out the most. Shifts between color and black-and-white, outlines against white or black backgrounds with patterns flowing through the solid shapes, stark visual contrasts, repeated images – take a sampling of the cleverest visual tricks from Gonzo and Gainax and you have an idea of what to expect. Despite the typical feel of some of the character designs, this could be one of the finest visual looks of any series this season. Unlike some other adaptations of its source genre, it looks like this one won't shy from fan service, either.

If a serious, potentially complex, great-looking, and relatively short romance series interests you then this one could be worth a look. -Theron Martin


SHUGO CHARA!
 
What's it about?
Amu Hinamori is the aloof, trash-talking, "cool and spicy" girl at school—or at least that's what her peers think. Deep down, she'd much rather just be herself, but she's stuck with that punkish image whether she likes it or not. One day, after wishing that she could change her character, she discovers three colored eggs in her bed. Amu takes them with her to school, and the pink egg is the first one to hatch, revealing a fairy known as a Guardian Character! Guardian Characters have the power to switch Amu's personality and give her special abilties, which should come in handy, as there are now sinister magical forces after her. Fortunately, Amu isn't alone in her efforts, because her crush—the princely Tadase Hotori—has powers of his own, which he uses to help her out.
 
Is it any good?
From its bouncy, feel-good theme song to its visual motifs of plaid and pink, Shugo Chara! is a magical girl anime through and through. While it does bear plenty of the genre's trappings—transformation sequences, mascot characters, cute boys that the main character is destined to be with—there's enough of a twist to make it interesting. Just look at Amu: instead of super-cute or charming or clumsy, she's a normal girl who's been unwillingly thrust into the role of being a badass. Clearly not the average heroine! The idea of searching for one's true self, and magically altering one's personality, also addresses issues of self-identity that are deep enough for grown-up viewers to appreciate. Unfortunately, Episode 1 has to plod through the obligatory formula of introducing Amu's powers and fighting through her first mission, but as long as it follows the manga plot and doesn't devolve into filler madness like the disappointing Sugar Sugar Rune anime, things should turn out all right. Animation and technical polish aren't much to write about—it's a kids' show, after all—but the bright colors and stylish characters, coupled with an intriguing storyline, should appeal to the young and young-at-heart. -Carlo Santos

KIMIKISS PURE ROUGE

What's it about?
Mao has been living with her parents in France for some time when she decides to return to Japan. Unable to live with her parents since they're still hanging out in France, she goes to stay at the house of Kouichi, a childhood friend. When she rings his bell, Kouichi has no idea who the pretty, almost frighteningly outgoing girl on his doorstep is. Being a good spineless doormat, he lets her in, carries her luggage and generally lets himself get carried along. It isn't until another friend of his, Kazuki, recognizes Mao that he realizes who she is. Mao is enrolled in their high-school, and soon sets about getting (re)acquainted with everyone. There's Kazuki's perky little sister, film club president and self-styled ladies' man Hiiragi, and her towering, terse next-desk neighbor Kai Eiji. While she is familiarizing herself, Kouichi crushes hard on painfully shy beauty Hoshino Yuumi, and Kazuki has an encounter with Futami Eriko, an intellectual prodigy whose behavior is, to say the least, rather odd.

Is it any good?
Only one of the half dozen or so dating sim/bishoujo shows new this season, Kimikiss sets itself apart with a single deviation from the usual formula: it has more than one male in it. Okay, perhaps that's an over-simplification, especially given that it's directed by Nodame Cantabile’s Kenichi Kasai, but it's refreshing that the series sees fit to provide a believable sex ratio as well as suitably fleshed-out personalities for its male cast. It also provides potential love interests for its entire cast, neatly side-stepping the harem trap (for now at least). It has yet to display the deft blend of humor and pathos that marked Kasai's other works (the pathos is low-key at best, and the humor is occasionally quite poor), but some of his other skills are in evidence. The characters are collections of quirks and stereotypes for the time being (shy bookworm, spineless doormat, highly extroverted but romantically experienced best friend), but Kasai keeps them under tight reign—never allowing them to stray outside the realm of possibility or to become annoying or reductive. Kouichi and Yuumi's dynamic is cute, Mao doesn't fall easily into any of the usual bishoujo categories, and Kazuki has a softness to him in private that is surprising (and becoming) given the usually thankless best-friend role he is meant to fulfill. The end result is more akin to Boys Be than Kanon or Air. It doesn't hook hard—its atmosphere is too laid-back and its humor too annoyingly stereotypical for that—but its characters are likeable as well as believable, and it at least isn't painful to watch. -Carl Kimlinger




 


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