The Spring 2008 Anime Preview Guide
Theron Martin

by Theron Martin, Apr 8th 2008

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



Kanokon ep. 1

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:
The recently-concluded Spice and Wolf successfully featured a cute changeling who falls in with a human male in a relationship with potential romantic tension. This, however, is not Spice and Wolf– or, rather, it's what Spice and Wolf might have turned into if reduced to its basest form and converted to a cheap, bawdy romantic comedy (and I use the last word loosely). In this one pipsqueak high school transfer student Kouta has busty, sexy, and very aggressive brunette Chizuru falling all over him, much to the consternation of some of his classmates. When they start to get intimate Kouta discovers Chizuru's true form: she's a fox spirit, and for as-yet unexplained reasons she's perfectly willing to unite with Kouta in every imaginable way.

Despite a couple of mildly interesting twists, Kanokon seems intent on getting by primarily on the strength of its fan service. Barely a minute and a half of regular episode content passes before Kouta gets a faceful of breasts, and the latter part of its first episode is anything but timid. In fact, its sexual aggressiveness comparative to the norm for the genre is the series’ most distinguishing feature so far. It certainly will not earn any acclaim for its mundane artistic style and musical score, and one has to wonder at making the hero of a romantic comedy involving teen girls look like an elementary school student. (Not that it hasn't been done multiple times before, of course.)

If a series that could be subtitled “I Lost My Cherry to a Fox Spirit” interests you, then this one might be worth checking out. Otherwise stay far away.



To Love-Ru

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review
: Tell me if you've heard this one before: gorgeous alien babe comes to Earth, falls in with a human teenager, falls in love with him, and through a contrivance involving cultural differences misinterprets an unrelated comment as a marriage proposal (often as an excuse to avoid an arranged marriage). In some iteration this scenario has played out repeatedly in anime ever since Urusei Yatsura back in the early '80s. The scary thing is that it comes very close to working here.

Oh, don't get me wrong: this has all the signs of being yet another trashy exercise in teen male wish fulfillment. Just to make sure it has its priorities straight, it even takes time to focus on some breast jiggling in the middle of an early sci-fi action scene, and its opener graphics are almost pure fan service. Other opportunities pop up throughout the episode, too, and the male lead Yuki Rito is as annoyingly girl-shy as ever.

However, this one stands at least a small step above most of its ilk because it's actually genuinely funny. The obstacles that arise to thwart Yuki in his efforts to confess to his long-time love Haruna will make almost anyone laugh, the late encounter with Zastin is suitably ridiculous, and it looks as if sexpot Lala may actually have a personality beyond just being adorably cute. Other more subtle signs also suggest that there may be a glimmer of hope for this series. Good artistry, nice character designs for Lala, Haruna, and Yuki's sister, and an active musical score featuring a strong opener don't hurt.

Yeah, this one's strictly for the guys, but at least it has potential.




Macross Frontier


Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

NOTE: Although this episode actually premiered back in December as a series preview, this is its first airing in its regular schedule. This review is based on the recently-aired version.

Review: The year is 2059, several decades after the defining Earth-Zentradi War. Taking its impetus from that devastating conflict, mankind has spread out across the stars, with the 25th Emigration Fleet (aka Macross Frontier) headed towards the center of the galaxy. During a performance by top idol singer Sheryl Nome an enemy attacks, forcing Altoh, a flight student assisting in the concert, into desperate action.

The 25th anniversary addition to the venerable Macross franchise, Frontier naturally has the complicated space/aerial battles, transforming fighter craft, and idol singer involvement that typify most Macross series, but this one spruces up the franchise for a whole new generation of fans by delivering spectacular displays of the very latest in 3D CG visuals and animation. The cast of characters introduced so far, and the situations they're thrown into, may be typical, but the level of execution is not. How many other sci fi anime series have this level of convincing futuristic feel? How many others show the imagination to offer something as thoroughly innovative as Ranka's cell phone design? How many would have the nerve to make an idol singer conceited and bitchy? And how many achieve the level of tension in battles that this one does? A powerhouse musical score certainly helps, but it is hardly the only thing this series has in its favor.

Despite a vast incongruity in visual quality between the character renderings/animation and the rest of the visuals, Satelight (look for a hidden reference in the anime) has another winner on its hands here. This could be the “series to see” for this season. Be forewarned, however, that this one does get a bit bloody.
Kure-nai

Rating: 5 (of 5)

Review: The best series aren't necessarily the flashiest, and that certainly holds true with Kure-nai. Despite having its own very distinct visual style, it packs nowhere near the visual pizzazz of, say, Macross Frontier. What it offers instead is a subdued, earthy, mature look, a (gasp!) even-tempered teenage hero with woman troubles, and fantastically involving writing and storytelling. That not all of the details are clear at this point does not detract from how exceptionally well-constructed this first episode is.

In this story, teenaged Kure-nai Shinkurou is a Mediator, a sort of freelance enforcer who apparently has some kind of special body. Though he attends school like any normal teenager, he gets thrown for a loop by an assignment to protect Kuhoin Murasaki, a six-year-old rich girl who has been cloistered away since birth but has decided to leave her former home. For her protection she must stay in Kure-nai's dingy apartment, a prospect initially difficult for both of them.

As typical as the above summary may sound, nothing is typical in execution about this series. Neither Kure-nai nor Kuhoin fall into any easily-definable archetypes, and while Kuhoin may be cute enough in appearance, her disposition doesn't match. In fact, none of the character look, act, or sound anything like what you may be used to seeing in anime. For its style, it offers some great artistry and a perfectly complementary musical score which includes a unique-looking opener and closer.

This one is quite a ways off the beaten path, ladies and gents, but that should only give you further reason to check it out. While it may be premature to make such a claim, based on the first episode alone this one has the potential to be one of the year's best.

Vampire Knight

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: What would an anime TV season be without at least one vampire series? Last season Rosario to Vampire offered a decidedly shonen-oriented look at vampires and monsters, so this time around we have something aimed more at the ladies, something which possesses all of the style, humor, and elegance you would expect from a shojo vampire tale. Thankfully this one also seems to actually have a brain.

As a little girl, Yuuki Cross was attacked by a bloodthirsty vampire but save by a more handsome, noble one named Kaname. Ten years later, Yuuki and her foster brother Zero serve as Prefects at Cross Academy, assuring that the (human) Day Class does not mix with the (secretly vampire) Night Class, who are testing a new blood pill. Though Yuuki seeks a peaceful coexistence with the Kaname-led vampires, Zero is more embittered towards them, and the simple reality is that some vampires are still dangerous blood-suckers.

The premise seems a bit contrived, but the story execution actually works remarkably well, hitting just the right shade of serious tone – most of the time, anyway. The attempts at humor, unfortunately, do not work so well; in fact, the ones in this episode are not only numbingly stupid but also disruptive of the overall feel established in more serious moments. (That is, in fact, the only reason the first episode is being rated so low; those who actually found the humor funny can consider this a 4 instead.) Hopefully the series will either eventually learn to integrate it in better or dispense with it altogether.

With strong artistry, an appropriate musical score, and a quite cool closer (the final shot is a masterpiece) in its favor, this Studio DEEN production shows serious potential.


Zettai Karen Children

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: In a world were psychics are a reality, three powerful girl espers – teleporter Aoi, telekinetic Kaoru, and psychometer Shiho, aka The Children – are “Japan's treasures.” They work for the conveniently-acronymed BABEL to combat other esper threats. On assignment to deal with the gay esper Muscle Okama, who converts people and objects to steel with his groin blast “Big Magnum,” they encounter Kouichi Minamoto, the young BABEL agent who is to be their new keeper.

This variation on Powerpuff Girls (hey, it's a comparison any anime fan familiar with the pint-sized heroines will make) is one of those series that fans are either going to love or hate. If the idea of a little girl acting like a horny old man amuses you, then this series might be for you. If you find it tasteless, then this series is most definitely not for you, as “taste” is definitely going to be a relative thing on this one. Those who don't find this one obnoxious should instead find it to be a fun and amusing send-up of pretentious super-powered-psychic series that occasionally slips in a slightly serious note and offers a promising relationship between the girls and Kouchi (no, not that kind, damn you).

It is great stuff? No. In fact, it's actually pretty stupid, but this kind of stupidity can work. Some nice artistic merits and a suitably light-hearted musical score certainly help, and fortunately they do not sexualize these prepubescent girls beyond Kaoru's constant comments about the female form. The series may not ultimately fly, but it is worth a sample to see if its style suits you.


Itazura na Kiss

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: Some kind of improbable contrivance is usually required to make romantic comedies involving cohabitation happen, but at least this one has more meat than most. Dumb girl KOTOKO has carried a torch for smart guy Naoki Irie for two years, only to get cruelly rejected when she finally works up enough nerve to confess. Just as KOTOKO convinces herself to move on, though, misfortune intervenes, forcing her and her father to take up residence in her father's friend's house – and, naturally, the father's friend just happens to be Naoki's father.

This one has all sorts of shojo-oriented relationship tension potential, as on top of the normal “living with a sexy guy my age” shtick it also has the “living with the guy who turned me down” discomfort piled on. Naoki is, of course, a jerk about it all, and of course, KOTOKO has a male classmate (with an outrageously outdated hairdo) who is thoroughly infatuated with her to offer further comic relief. The basic artistic style and washed-out look is unlikely to win any viewers based solely on appearance, but this one is meant for pre-existing fans of shojo romantic comedies anyway. A typical opener and more enthusiastic closer bookend a decent musical score.

In some senses this one feels like a throwback to an older style of romantic comedy. Its basic, real-world story certainly offers a sharp contrast to more colorful fare like To Love-Ru and Kanokon.


Special A (aka S.A.)

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: Hikari has been rigorously trained by her father, a big pro wrestling fan, ever since she was a little kid, but the one person she has never been able to beat is the boy Kei Takisihima. A lifelong quest to defeat him at something leads her to pursue him to a prestigious high school and earn her way into the elite Special A-class, but always she fell second to his first, a fact he teases her about mercilessly. But in all that competition, could a mutual respect and attraction be developing?

Romantic comedies built on competitiveness are nothing new, and a hyper-elite grouping within a school has been a standard comedy gimmick for ages in anime, so the approach in this shojo-leaning series is nothing special. A distinctive, extremely lanky character design style makes this one stand out visually, however, and an effective – and, most importantly, unforced – mix of comedy and romantic leanings makes it worthy of at least checking out. Sure, the competitiveness and Hikari's reactions to put-downs gets a bit silly, but the antics of the primary supporting cast can be entertaining and when the moment comes that Hikari and Kei start to realize there could be something between them, the timing not only feels right but also plenty of support has been established for a mutual level of respect and attraction.

Its musical score is unremarkable, and the artistry nothing special beyond the character designs, but this one might have potential.


Allison and Lillia

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
In an alternate world of 1930s-era technology, where the continent is split between the rival nations of Sou Beil and Roxche, tempestuous blond-haired Allison is flies planes for the military of Roxche in a non-combat capacity while her more easygoing friend Wil is an ace student with a photographic memory at a rural school. A fantastic story told to them by an old man, about a treasure that could potentially end the long-stand feud between the two countries, leads to an adventure when the man is mysteriously whisked away and Allison decides to give chase, with Wil in tow.

The first notes of the gentle, melodic opener give the first impression that this is not a typical anime series, and the content supports that. Everything about this first episode – from the plotting to the characters to its overall feel – gives the impression of being the set-up for one of those classic grand adventure tales rarely seen these days. Indeed, the character designs also harken back to a much older era of animation, though the sharp background and supporting artistry and vivid use of color marks it as a thoroughly modern production. For that reason the occasional infusion of more ordinary humor probably won't be enough to make this series fly (pun intended) with younger audiences more enraptured with cutting-edge looks and glitzy content, but it may appeal viewers who don't mind a more laid-back tale. The Next Episode preview does offer the promise of bi-plane-styled aerial dogfights, however.

Oh, and my first name is in the episode, too. Heh heh. . .


Wagaya no Oinara-sama

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: This one will inevitably be contrasted with Kanokon, the other series this season involving a female fox spirit, as the first episodes of the two series could not be more different. Whereas the former is a racy, trashy romantic comedy devoted to fan service, Wagaya instead takes a dramatic, serious approach with supernatural horror overtones - at least so far, anyway. It is entirely possible that the serious tone may lessen now that the long-term story about a guardian fox spirit and a miko protecting two brothers that are demon magnets has been established, but that remains to be seen.

In the story, two brothers who are heirs to a weakening family tradition of worship of the Water Ki must the seek the help of the family's long-sealed guardian fox spirit when the younger brother is threatened by a malicious snake spirit. When the elder brother, who has the authority to reseal the fox spirit, refuses to do so, she seeks new employment with the brothers as their personal protector, along with the family's young guardian maiden.

The tone of this series sets it apart, resulting in a female fox spirit that is more the intimidating creature of power and mischief known in Japanese legends than the childish sexpot of the other series. This shows in the artistry as well as the character attitudes. Traditional Japanese magic and a dark, creepy musical score further highlight the episode.


Kamen no Maid Guy

Rating: 2

Review: When was the last time you watched an anime that left you utterly speechless, just gaping at the screen in horror? Kamen no Maid Guy, aka “Masked Maid Guy,” is so supremely over-the-top and abjectly idiotic that it could do just that. It also one of those series that is so incredibly stupid that it actually achieves a certain level of workable humor, provided that you can tolerate its highly aggressive fan service. (Is that a theme this season, or what?)

In the set-up first episode, busty 17-year-old kendo ace Naeke and her brother Kosuke, who have “zero housekeeping skills,” live alone in their trash-filled house due to a set of missing parents. They are the only still-surviving heirs to a grand fortune, which Naeke will inherit on her upcoming 18th birthday. Their nosy, loaded grandfather, concerned that they may be in danger because of that and also about their total lack of housekeeping, assigns two maids to their service: the more typical (but occasionally spiked bat-wielding) Fubuki and the beefy, bestial masked Kogarashi, aka Maid Guy, who gives a jaw-dropping redefinition to “domestic service.”

Yeah, this series involves a guy with a pro wrestler physique wearing a traditional maid outfit and acting more like a horror-movie version of a maid. At times his antics can be entertaining, but it's just too much. Fan service is another primary component, as the episode never misses a chance for jiggling breasts or intensive undergarment content and even includes a little actual nudity. Artistry is certainly not a strength, but the musical score does put in a good effort.

The sheer effort the series puts into being stupid fun may win it some fans, but this is not one of the brighter gems out there for the spring season.


Neo Angelique Abyss

Rating: 2.5

Review: Are you aching for a series about a bunch of pretty, dashing, stylishly-dressed guys assembling around a living doll of a girl to combat evil monsters? If so, then this one may be for you. For anyone else, the action content, pretty character designs, and lush displays of skill, manliness, and power probably won't be enough to hold your interest.

The first episode, which flashes forward to much later in the story before going back to the beginning, gives a basic explanation about how the land of Arcadia is being threatened by life-draining monsters called Thanatos, and only rare, specially gifted Purifiers have the power to exterminate them. Boarding school student Angelique comes to the attention of the Purifiers when she demonstrates a unique ability to help people recover from the effects of the Thanatos and combat the Thanatos directly - an ability made all the more unusual by the fact that all other known Purifiers are men.

Despite some interesting effects with camera angles and shifting perspectives, and remarkably effective use of depth, the star attraction of the series so far is its oodles of eye-appealing character designs. Spare scenes of brief comedy relief seem incongruous, and the musical score is not remarkable, either. While not a bad start, little about the set-up so far seems fresh or exciting unless you're into pretty boys behaving very manly.


Golgo 13

Rating: 2.5

Review:
Takao Saito's manga about the taciturn assassin Duke Togo, aka Golgo 13, has previously seen an OVA and movie adaptation, and now, surprisingly, gets a 12-episode series, too. The plot is typical fare: an American domestic flight gets hijacked by a fugitive hiding plastic explosives in a cell phone. While refueling in Dallas, the FBI and CIA call upon the imprisoned Golgo 13 to snipe the hijacked, a seemingly impossible feat given the distance to the nearest cover, having to shoot through three inches of glass, and having to do it in only one shot. Nothing involving shooting is impossible for Golgo 13, however, who must also deal with men trigger-happy over one of his previous jobs.

The choice of city for an episode in America about taking someone out with a sniper shot is an interestingly (and probably unintentionally?) edgy one, and the episode content relies on some improbable contrivances involving the competence level of SWAT team members and flight rules at a major airport, but that aside, this is a series specifically aimed at adults. No cutesy characters or teen heroes here; this one is all about sexy women and burly, broad-shouldered men. It features sex, graphic violence, and just a touch of nudity, and the closer visuals suggest that the format seen in this episode will be the norm.

Whether or not this makes for a compelling series is another story. Golgo has all the personality of a blank piece of cardboard, and the storytelling lacks edge. Even for fans of mature, hard-boiled anime series, this one offers little worth recommending.


Penguin no Mondai

Rating: 1.5

Review:
See, there's this kid named Naoto who attend elementary school and is sweet on the girl Yumi, although his friend Beckham keeps accusing him (rightly or wrongly) of stalking the girl. Thing is, Beckham is a penguin, and his main skill seems to be getting into some kind of trouble that he has to work his way out of, with occasional brief observations from a Mohawk haircut-adorned kid in a locker.

Does this nearly 10-minute-long exercise in silly humor sound like a little kid's show? Sure looks and feels like one, too, despite some occasional stylistic elements that might be appreciated more by adults. It also looks like something that someone threw together on their PC in their spare time, as the artistry and technical merits are, at best, crude. Admittedly, the opening number is somewhat catchy, but attempting to evaluate this one on normal qualitative aspect simply won't work. That leaves only the content, which is very basic gag-reel stuff likely to fall well beneath the tastes or interest of any anime fan who isn't normally into kiddie fare. Previews for the next episode do not show any indication that upcoming content will be any different than the two-themes-an-episode format seen in this one, either.

Comparative to other kids’ shows it may not be bad, but most anime fans will find little to entertain or appreciate here.

 


Himitsu – The Revelation

Rating: 4

Review:
Of all the series to debut so far this season, this one may have the most intriguing concept. In response to an upsurge in violent crime, Forensic Investigation Office Seciton Nine has developed a supercomputer that, if hooked to a human brain within 48 hours of death, can read the last images seen by the victim using a process called MRI (i.e. Memory Reproduction Image), which becomes a thoroughly invaluable tool in solving violent crime. While concepts similar to this have been explored in other sci fi and horror media, this series goes a step farther by indicating that seeing the victim's entirely memory is a nearly unavoidable side effect of the process, which raises thorny but juicy moral issues over its propriety.

Ikkou Aoki, a newcomer to Section Nine, confronts that issue head-on in the investigation into the murder of a housewife. After his first experience with the MRI, he asks himself whether they should really be doing something like this, even given what's at stake. If the series has the guts to keep dealing with that issue, it could become quite a fascinating show.

The look and content decidedly slants the series towards older audiences, although it does carry some not-so-vague homoerotic intimation involving Aoki and his young-seeming new boss. Quality character designs and a soundtrack which sounds like a sampling of assorted suspense shows contribute to a mature look and feel. The writing isn't entirely smooth, hence the first episode not being rated higher than it is, but overall this one shows serious potential.


Crystal Blaze

Rating: 3

Review:
You won't have to look for any metaphorical meaning in the name of this one, as why it's called Crystal Blaze becomes apparent within the first minute: a young woman gets turned into crystal and, well, blazes. (What a stretch. . .) Said blazing girl seems to be only the latest in a string of such victims, and before the episode is out a small-time detective agency gets wrapped up in circumstances apparently in some way connected to said crystallized girl. The old “simple courier mission becomes an unexpectedly big hassle when the cargo turns out to be a naked woman” gimmick (geez, what does it say about anime that you can actually say that it's an “old gimmick?”) comes into play here, too. Naturally said detective agency is going to get shanghaied into protecting this young woman, who has some odd powers and dangerous people looking for her.

The approach here seems to be aiming for a more mature, sexy (emphasis on “sexy”) mystery/thriller approach tinged with comic relief, although the Manami character quickly grates on the nerves. It might be interesting to see what a DVD version of this episode looks like, as this broadcast episode pulls a lot of shady tricks to avoid showing full-blown nudity, and some of the tricks look as if they might have been edited in. Despite that, fans of fan service will find no shortage of juicy content. The music and artistry both do their jobs, and the sound effects involved in silenced shots being fired are particularly good.

Hard to say at this point exactly where this series is going, as the tone seems uncertain. This one may require a couple more episodes to fully shake itself out.

 


Amatsuki

Rating: 3.5

Review:
Amatsuki takes an old concept - the high school student is mysteriously transported to an alternate world or time - and tries to spruce it up by mixing in the modern element of virtual reality simulation to further muddle the issue. Although the mechanism may be iffy, the execution has been remarkably effective so far.

High school student Tokidoki, who has always felt distant from other people, fails so miserably at a Japanese history test that he is assigned to participate in a reconstruction of Edo-era Japan that mixes a physical setting with glasses-based VR simulations. The problem comes when the simulations seem to be real, resulting in a pair of demonic creatures attacking him. After being rescued by a sword-wielding female warrior and subsequently collapsing from injuries, Toki wakes up to find himself actually in the Edo period in the care of swordswoman Kuchiha. He isn't the only one there, either; school delinquent Shininime has also been sent back.

Nice-looking artistry, good characterizations, and respectable action scenes have been the standard so far, and the story has just the right touch of mystery and mysticism. Whether or not this will ultimately continue to build into a solid story or retread tripe remains to be seen, however, as the story could easily go either way at this point. It may take a couple more episodes before the quality of this one gets established.


Monochrome Factor

Rating: 1.5

Review:
The basic format – fighting-oriented high school student makes an arrangement with a supernatural entity, becoming a supernatural warrior himself who fights spirits and can't be seen by normal people while doing so – invites all sorts of comparisons to Bleach which ultimately work out decidedly against Monochrome Factor. Despite some shonen ai overtones (if guys kissing other guys, or blushing in response to other guys, makes you uncomfortable then this is probably not a series for you) and an apparently broader basic story than Bleach, it lacks the pizzazz, the dramatic action, and especially the sense of comic timing that make Bleach work. Despite a concerted effort to work in humor, only rarely do the goofy bits in the first episode inspire even the hint of a smile. Normally a failure to adjust the tone of the music or a lack of effort causes the supposedly funny scenes to fall flat.

In this case Akira Nakaido is the perpetually bored slacker/delinquent who gets approached by girly-man-without-a-shadow Shirogane to combat some as-yet-undefined shadow creature threat. Kengo is his wimpy best friend, while Aya Suzino is the kendo practice sword-wielding girl who seems to regard herself as the school's moral police and regularly pops up to harass Akira. The genius boy Haruka, whom Akira saves from being harassed, also gets introduced, but at this point it is unclear what role he will ultimately play.

Shirogane cuts a striking figure with his lipstick, brimmed hat, and long white ponytail, but otherwise the series offers little to impress visually or audibly. It makes extensive, usually throwaway use of superdeformed scenes in an apparent attempt to be funny, although just as often these are a distraction as entertaining.

Hopefully this one will get better, because right now it isn't working.


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