The Spring 2009 Anime Preview Guide
Zac Bertschy

by Zac Bertschy, Apr 3rd 2009

Zac Bertschy is the executive editor of Anime News Network. He likes vodka and bunny rabbits.


HANASAKERU SEISHONEN

Rating: 2

Review:


Hanasakeru Seishōnen is a straight-up shojo soap opera that revolves around an eccentric aristocrat with an even temper named Kajika. Kajika winds up at a Japanese high school, quickly befriends another girl (after going on at length about her unnatural, undying love for Mustafa, a snow leopard she lived on an island her father exiled her to as a child… yeah, don't ask) and then has a run-in with a rape-minded local thug. But before the rapin’ begins, Kajika is saved by her handsome Chinese needle-wielding bodyguard, Li Ren, who keeps a watchful eye over her under her father's direction.

Turns out Kajika is the sole surviving heir to the Burnsworth dynasty, and her pops has her recalled from Japan back to America, where he explains that she has a really serious fate that he'll only tell her about when she picks a guy to marry, and wouldn't you know it, he's picked out three potential suitors that she can choose from. He calls it a “game”, one Kajika agrees to play.

If that all sounds really random and awkward, it's because it is. This show has some really strange elements in it and the pacing is kind of off, and obviously there's a lot more story to be told, but it's pretty clear this is intended to be a soap opera, and the audience for it probably just wants to get all wrapped up in the romance and the intrigue and the boatload of handsome guys (only hinted at in this first episode, but they're all over the show's promotional art) and won't really have a problem with how strange it all seems.  Frankly, having to explain what happens in the episode suggests that it's far more confusing and off-putting than the show really is; soap operas may be complicated, but they do operate on their own internal logic (however twisted and bizarre said logic might be) and they aren't necessarily hard to follow, it's just that if you look back and reflect on what happens in any given episode and try to summarize it, it sounds pretty batshit insane. But hey, people love this sort of thing. And that's fine. They'll probably dig this show for what it is.

I just can't really make heads or tails of it and wouldn't recommend it to anyone who ever scratched their heads at the typical labyrinthine soap opera plots you see on daytime TV.


07-GHOST

Rating: whatever (of 5)

Review:


There isn't much to say about this. It's a bunch of pretty boys in a psuedo-military environment, and they're all wearing some variation on the standard-issue "anime military" outfit. Some of them have mildly different facial structures and some of them have blonde hair. Naturally, one of them is special.

Frankly, the only reason anyone cares about this show is because they already know what's going to happen; they read the comics and this show is an animated version of something they're familiar with.

If you're a fan of the comics, all of this already makes sense to you in a way that feels meaningful. Enjoy watching the animated version of 07-Ghost, which will likely give you exactly what it is you want.

For the rest of us, who haven't read the comics, and really aren't all that interested in wasting our lives on countless episodes of an anime series that refuses to explain what in the world is going on or give us even a mild reason to care about any of these characters (nor does it even hint at why the show is called “07-Ghost”), pardon the expression but f#ck this noise.

I can't come up with a good reason why anyone should bother with this and frankly I'm quite sick of anime series that rely so heavily on their viewers knowing the storyline ahead of time that they just throw caution to the wind and write the first few episodes – sometimes even the entire first half or first two thirds of a series - like they're goddamn jigsaw puzzles.

Here's a better idea: how about writing a good TV show. You know, not one that spends the first precious 20 minutes weaving an incomprehensible plot that alludes to disjointed things that will apparently happen later, or spend a lot of time talking about how special and important the protagonist is without giving us any reason at all to relate to or even remotely care about him or what he's doing.

Still, 07-Ghost will make fans of the manga undoubtedly happy.


SENGOKU BASARA

Rating:  5 (of 5)

Review:


This show kicks ass.

It's not perfect – far from it. Basara is based on a Dynasty Warriors-style videogame series by CAPCOM that's really popular in Japan but was only released here once as Devil Kings on the PS2, which wasn't a big deal and the series never caught on in North America.

The anime series, like the game, is set in a fantasy version of feudal Japan, where a bunch of factions are all warring against eachother to gain control of the land, political power, and whatnot. Naturally, Oda Nobunaga plays an as-yet-to-be-determined role. The first episode does its best to set up the basic situation and then focuses on the two main characters; firstly, there's Yukimura, the brash young pawn of an aggressive warlord, who can control fire and is hell-bent on proving himself in battle. Then there's Masamune (the “one-eyed dragon of the North”, which sounds like a penis euphemism but it turns out the dude wears an eyepatch) who is so awesome – get this – he spouts hilariously anachronistic broken English like “LET'S PARTY!” when charging into battle and then best of all he rides around on a horse that has taped-up handlebars and twin chrome motorcycle exhaust pipes strapped to its sides.

So far I don't know what those exhaust pipes are for, but I'm really, really hoping Masamune fires those bad boys up and jumps that horse over a bunch of monster trucks or something.

At any rate, Yukimura and Masamune meet on the battlefield and commence with a really great fight sequence, and then there's some political intrigue involving a couple other factions that will all likely factor into the story down the road. The plot is a little confusing so far, but it's based on a videogame and “all these guys want to kill eachother in order to control the country” is a storyline that's pretty easy to follow no matter what's going on.

Thanks To Production I.G, the animation is just spectacular, the character designs are surprisingly distinctive for a show like this one and most importantly, the show doesn't seem to be taking itself very seriously – it's not a comedy, but it does appear to recognize how ludicrous the goings-on are and so the tone isn't deadly serious; it seems like the people who wrote and produced this show were having fun, and that really comes across in the final product. Great stuff, so far.

 


PANDORA HEARTS

Rating:  2.5 (of 5)

Review:

Pandora Hearts, based on the manga of the same name, is basically a gothic-mystery-fantasy hybrid that walks right up to the edge of the “there's too much confusing unexplained crap going on in the first episode to be compelling or interesting” line and then thankfully takes a few steps back, showing us just enough to be mildly interesting without being frustrating or flat-out stupid.

The show follows this kid, named Oz, or “master Oz” as his servants call him, who is being watched over by his uncle Oscar in this posh neo-medieval palace where he's about to partake in a rite of passage that cements him as a member of upper-crust society. His best friend, Gilbert, is also his servant, and they have a few hours to screw around before the ceremony takes place, so they wander around the palace grounds, and ultimately wind up getting swallowed into a mysterious pit with a single grave in it, which is adorned by a gold pocketwatch. Oz picks it up and is immediately sent into a strange sort of nightmarish dreamworld with a bunch of creepy talking dolls and a witch girl who claims she's going to murder him shortly before he snaps out of it. Then, on the eve of his big ceremony, the witch girl reappears and seems to possess Gilbert. There's also this bit of backstory about a major apocalypse occurring in the area years prior, and everyone seems to know about “the abyss”, which is apparently a scary place where criminals are dragged by magic chains. Or something.

At any rate, it's no masterpiece, but Pandora Hearts manages to avoid some of the pitfalls that series like this always seem to succumb to – namely, it doesn't subscribe wholeheartedly to the “let's throw a bunch of crazy nonsensical crap, a gigantic cast of characters and a hundred different plot threads at the viewer inside the series’ first 15 minutes and then assume they're going to come back for more” thing. Yeah, there's some of that, but they do a bit of decent character establishment, and the visuals are decent (even if the animation isn't anything special), and it's juuuuust enough to make you wonder what's going to happen in the next episode.

It's not anything to write home about, but the writing and the pacing are competent enough to make you curious about what's around the corner.


DRAGONBALL KAI

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:
The first episode of Dragon Ball Kai opens up with a short recap of Goku's origin story, then briefly runs over the events of the first Dragon Ball series, up until Goku fights Piccolo Jr; it's a pretty quick run-through, but it seems like that's sort of all you needed to know about Goku up until this point anyway.

The rest of the episode basically sets up Goku's family situation, introduces his friends, and then Raditz shows up and does his thing, shows off his monkey tail, threatens Goku's friends, family and planet and then that's about it. It's quick, it's to-the-point, and most importantly, it's simple, familiar, entertaining fun.

I've never been a huge fan of Dragon Ball, likely because I never put the time in to watch the seemingly endless amount of episodes; like everyone else, I had friends who were fanatics about the series, so I've seen a fair amount of the series’ first season and then a few chunks of it here and there and knew the basic guiding storyline (superhuman alien dudes beat the tar out of eachother), but I never got into it full-bore. Dragon Ball Kai seems like it was pretty much made for someone in my situation; curious to see the entire story, interested, willing to be entertained by simple shonen action, but maybe a little intimidated by the series’ sheer length and the endless memes about how entire episodes are dedicated to watching people flex and growl at eachother before actually fighting, and then the fights themselves last for 10-15 episodes at a time. This new version – which is spectacularly remastered, featuring vibrant colors, a nicely re-framed widescreen image and crystal-clear sound, bookended by high-quality glossy new opening and closing animations set to energetic pop tunes – is hard to resist. The pacing feels right on target, the characters are all likable and at least somewhat interesting, and the simplicity of it – the lack of pretension, the idea that you know exactly what you're going to get walking in and that's it – is oddly refreshing, especially for a show that's 20 years old.

So far it seems like they did a nice job with this, and if you have any sort of interest in (or tolerance for) the series and either never gave it a chance or didn't get around to watching it but always meant to, this is the version to see.


ASURA CRYIN

Rating: (of 5)

Review:


Let's try to recap everything that happens in the first episode of Asura Cryin'’, shall we?

So this kid named Tomo has a near-death experience and starts seeing the ghost of a teenage girl with red hair who follows him around. Cut to 3 years later and high-school aged Tomo is conveniently moving into a giant new house, all by himself (well, he and his ghost girl sidekick), because his mother booted him out to live with her boyfriend. He has a rambunctious, girl-crazy comedy-relief best friend who also happens to be obsessed with the supernatural. Then out of nowhere a mysterious girl with black hair and a silly coat shows up and gives him this heavy silver suitcase, doesn't tell him what's in it, and takes off without explaining anything. Then that night another girl in a shrine maiden outfit with two different colored eyes shows up, breaks into the house, strangles Tomo and demands to know where the ‘extractor’ is. We see a brief flash of an imposing-looking dude in stereotypical anime wizard robes.

For those of you who have already figured out that this is a big load of garbage and isn't worth wasting your life on, here's a picture of a bunny. Please enjoy it and move along.


So anyway, the next day at high school, where it turns out all of these girls attend, including Girl Who Knows Everything But Doesn't Explain It, Shrine Maiden (who when she's at school has normal eyes and a super-passive moetastic personality!), and then MORE girls are introduced, like Tomo's non-supernatural spunky sidekick girl and a typical tsundere character. Tomo is lead to the “Chemistry Club” (which is decorated like the “Occult Club”), and Girl Who Knows Everything tells him if he joins the Chemistry Club (instead of track & field like he wanted to) he'll find all the answers to his questions, like why he's being followed around by a ghost girl (personally I'd like the bitch to explain how any screenwriter can justify introducing eight goddamn characters before the first goddamn commercial break). He says he'll sleep on it, and goes home, only to be ambushed by the Imposing Anime Wizard we saw earlier and his henchmen, who are called the “Inquisition Forces” (I think, at this point my field of vision had been reduced and the room was spinning), who tie Tomo up and demand to know where the Extractor is. So then Girl Who Knows Everything shows up with some kind of super-shadow-knife attack, frees Tomo, tells him to go get the suitcase, and then yet another faction of magic-using freaks shows up, this time in sensible business attire, and there's a Mexican standoff while Tomo activates the silver suitcase, which of course, turns out to be a giant robot.

Here's the deal: Asura Cryin'’ is based on a series of light novels that I can only assume were written by a teenager who did not have an editor nor did anyone tell him his ideas were crap. It's like watching the anime adaptation of some horrible Tokyopopworld manga” where the author said “I want to become a mangaka!” and then just tossed a bunch of stereotypical anime elements – robots, cute girls, ghosts, magic, high school – into the Mediocrity Blender and hit puree. The generic character designs and subpar animation really only heighten this effect; particularly in profile, the characters would look perfectly at home on some deluded DeviantArt user's website, where it's not totally amateur but you can tell they never took an anatomy class and learned everything they know about drawing from reading manga.

In all fairness, however, there is probably an audience for this, people who would genuinely enjoy the ridiculous plot and insane amount of characters and don't mind how utterly clichéd it all is right out of the gate; I just don't know who those people are, and I'm absolutely certain I'm not one of them.


PHANTOM ~REQUIEM FOR THE PHANTOM~

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review
: In Phantom ~Requiem for the Phantom~ ~There are Phantoms in this~ ~So Many Phantoms We Needed To Mention It Twice in the Title of the Show~, a mysterious young man wakes up in a mysterious building, mysteriously missing his memory. His movements are being tracked by a mysterious scientist, who keeps making vague, mysterious references to his ‘awakening’. An encounter with a mysterious masked assassin girl triggers his latent assassinating skills, and it's pretty clear he's supposed to be the tool of whatever mysterious shadowy organization is behind all this. The masked girl, meanwhile, tells him his name is “Zwei” (her name is Ein – creative!) and shoots him with a tranquilizer dart just in time for the aforementioned mysterious scientist to show up, praise Zwei's skills in combat, deliver a little tiny bit of exposition. Then there's some stuff involving an even shadowier, more mysterious organization with a master plan for a ‘new world order’ behind all of this, and Ein and Zwei are their puppet assassins, travelling the globe to take out their enemies… or something.

In all seriousness, Phantom isn't a bad show; it's more than a little reminiscent of Noir (stone-faced assassins who deliver every line in a monotone, slow pacing and a haunting score), and it seems to be a perfectly serviceable thriller. It is absolutely a product of its genre, and we've seen more than one series like this over the last 10 years or so - shows about assassins (mysterious, shadowy assassins with bad long-term memories) that tell you nothing up front, hint at a billion secrets hiding just beneath the show's surface that will be doled out in agonizingly small and confusing little lumps until the final episodes, but these shows generally tend to reward the patient. It's based on a PC game, so one assumes that familiarity with the game series is a plus when it comes to figuring out what's going on here, but overall, the production values are top-notch, what few action scenes there are are very well-animated, and the score is pretty good (particularly the opening theme).

It's just a matter of whether or not you're going to care enough to sit through all the slow-burning intrigue (and mystery – don't forget the mystery!). If the pace picks up down the road, and the production values stay as high as they are, it could be a real gem of a thriller.


K-ON!

Rating:  2 (of 5)

Review:
K-ON! Is a show about a bunch of high school girls who look like they're 12 and have stereotypical “comedy” personalities who come together to start a pop band music club. One of them is really enthusiastic and bossy, another is aloof but determined, one is the dutiful keyboardist and then there's the totally useless girl they desperately need to meet the minimum membership requirements and escape the pressure of the high school club committee. Said girl is really stupid and worthless and needs a whole lot of training, but they need her in spite of all that, and that's probably going to drive at least 12 episodes’ worth of plot.

If that doesn't sound interesting to you, and you're not already leaping into the forums to tell me how wrong I am about this show, then it probably isn't for you.

There isn't anything really offensive about it; in the end it feels like typical otaku bait, sort of a Haruhi – Azumanga mashup that's a little too obvious about what it's ripping off. It just isn't particularly interesting, nor is it particularly funny, and the characters are written with these really obvious broad strokes where you know exactly how they're going to react to every situation in every episode until the last few when they all change just enough to where it counts as ‘character development’.

At this point anime fans have seen a whole lot of shows with girls who look like this, with animation that looks like this, with plots that resemble this – it's nothing new. Frankly it isn't even very entertaining.

But it isn't terrible, either. Just pedestrian.


Queen's Blade

Rating: (of 5)

Review: Here's what happens in the first episode of Queen's Blade, which is apparently based on a roleplaying game in Japan:

A blonde chick is strolling along a medieval highway when she's intercepted by some sort of a cutsey demon girl wearing a ridiculous pink outfit whose hair turns into hands and the hands cover her giant breasts. They start fighting, since the blonde girl is apparently someone important; the breast-holding hair-hands squeeze said breasts, which shoot acid from her nipples as a primary means of attack. The blonde's clothes get dissolved (and then she's mostly naked for pretty much the rest of the episode), but she's saved in due time by another woman, a rogue “bandit” named Risty, (who also has huge breasts and a skimpy outfit) and then some angel-cherub girl shows up and briefly explains how this is all part of the Queen's Blade tournament, where 12 women fight it out to become the new Queen. Queen of what? Not sure. Don't care.

So the blonde, Leina, turns out to be the escaped sister of some cruel matriarch who, along with Leina's creepy twin sister, keeps her captive in a castle out in the middle of a lake. They apparently put a bounty on her head, hence why Risty was after her in the first place. They imprison Risty, who of course breaks out, steals some iconic armor from the castle's treasury, and gives it to Leina before that demon girl with the acid-shooting boobs shows up again and pretty much wrecks the place. Leina defeats her by mashing her own breasts into the demon girl's nipples mid-acid-squirt, which I guess isn't something the demon girl has great control over because it forces her to overflow, and she expands like a hot air balloon before exploding all over the place in a gooey, acidic mess.

Oh, and the main character, Leina, graphically pisses herself twice in just this one episode. That seemed worth mentioning.

This is an actual show that is airing on cable TV right now in Japan.

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