Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Set in the 1930s, Senkō no Night Raid is a story about a mysterious organization that employs a group of four mysterious people with mysterious powers to handle politically charged situations.
The true mystery though is: why should anyone care?
The episode spends far too much time on dialogue that's meant to set up the who, what and why for their mission, along with a bit of banter between the two main guys, instead of focusing on the meat of the story: that is, who these characters are, why they're together and where the series intends to take them. Not only that, but the entire plot for this episode would be more interesting if it didn't feel so scripted and stale: team fails first rescue, attempts second one, discovers man they're trying to rescue is working somewhat with his captors, and guy who spends the entire episode voicing his reluctance to use his powers ends up using them anyways to save the day.
There are some redeeming factors. The animation isn't consistent, but overall it's very nice, and fight scenes are animated in a way that keeps the action fast without making you dizzy. The darker atmosphere and infatuation with politics are also reminiscent of other adult-oriented series like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex, Getbackers or Monster, so adults looking for something more geared towards them are likely to give the characters and story more time to grow on them.
More than any other show this season though, a lot is resting on Senkō no Night Raid's second episode to see if it can overcome the first-episode blues.
Kou lives by one golden rule: never be indebted to another person. However, when a strange woman named Nino saves him from drowning, he now owes her his life. She's not interested in the finer things in life… all she wants is for him to love her and let her love him in return.
This might sound like the start of a really generic shoujo series, but this episode is anything but that. In fact, it's everything that other series don't have: an unlikeable main character who has an asthma attack every time something unpredictable happens (which is every other second), a masculine heroine who's actually an alien from Venus, and a kappa who's really some creepy guy that would probably be off doing perverted things if he wasn't so busy thinking he is actually a kappa.
Arakawa Under the Bridge definitely channels FLCL, complete with characters who say a lot without really saying anything, aliens and a style of animation that sharply flips between rough and beautiful (especially when focusing on the beautifully-designed Nino, who's mermaid-like appearance and feathery hair isn't befitting of someone who lives on a primordial storm-ridden planet). It has its slow parts when it isn't focused on Kou, Nino and the heart of the storyline (can two people just “be” in love because they want to be?), and the series itself could literally go anywhere and become anything it wants to be, so it's still too early to tell if this will be a must-see or not. Even if it does become crushed under the weight of its nonsense, at least it's attempting to break free of stereotypes and take a chance on the absurd.
Unlike the other series so far this season, which are more interested in holding your hand and leading then letting your mind do a bit of heavy lifting, Angel Beats! is a welcomed change of pace. It unceremoniously drops you into its world, just as it does to the main character Otonashi, and just like him you're forced to scramble around for answers where only more questions exist.
Yuri leads a group that's dedicated to resisting “Angel,” a young girl/warrior who manages the school (which seems to be the only structure in this world) and helps the departed cease to exist there so that they can be reborn. Yuri and her mates have no interest in disappearing, as they don't know what they'll end up being reincarnated as, and as long as they resist, they're guaranteed a “life” where they cannot die. Yuri's eventual goal is to kill Angel and take over this world, but because of Angel's defensive and offensive capabilities, all they've been able to do is hold her off so that they can keep on “existing.” Is it really wise though to try and kill the caretaker of a world that they know so little about?
Visually, the animation quality can be very lovely. Scenes linger on shots, especially of the Angel, as if to taunt you by saying, “Is this an enemy… or a friend?” In a rather memorable scene, food tickets fall like glittering snowflakes around the fighters as they engage Angel, and you're given time to fully appreciate how beautiful, not to mention bizarre, the entire scene is. It's a pity that the character designs themselves are extremely plain, and the other resistance fighters are completely uninteresting. Hopefully as time goes on, these characters will at least be fleshed out a bit so that when one of them inevitably disappears, you'll actually feel sad about their departure.
For now, the show seems to follow the rules of Buddhism/reincarnation and you're lead to believe that this world is truly the afterlife. However, the fact that the resistance fighters call the drones who populate the school NPCs and that Angel uses weapons and defenses that are sci-fi in nature makes it wholly possible that there's a lot more to the world than meets the eye. It's these unanswered questions that make this episode so engaging, and the questions are likely to just keep on coming as Otonashi attempts to regain his missing memories and talk with the Angel they know so little about.
Ayukawa Misaki is an overbearing school president at Seika High, and Usui Takami is her quieter, emotionally distant rival. Pairing up two different personalities isn't uncommon in romantic comedies, but there's a reason it's done so often: it has a tendency to work.
Here, the first episode wastes no time establishing the two main characters, Misaki's home life and family, and the greatest “shame” she has to deal with: the fact that she's a giant hypocrite for noisily reveling in her femanazi ways at school while working part-time as a maid on the side. Usui discovers her secret, but instead of using it against her to take her down a few notches, he keeps it a secret when he learns that she's doing it to help out her family. The “why he starts to fall for her a bit” isn't overtly stated (perhaps later it'll be revealed that something from his past makes him empathetic towards her troubles, perhaps not); it simply is, and at least in Misaki's case, his involvement in her life is a good thing if only because it softens the edges of her raging personality into something a bit more likeable. It will be interesting to see how they change as they continue to grow closer.
As far as first episodes go, this one definitely knows how to pack in the right amount of information, drama, and questions left unanswered to make the episode satisfying enough where you'll want to stick around for more. Solid animation makes watching Misaki and Usui's budding romance all the more enjoyable, and character designs are simple and realistic (save for the maid costumes, but at least they're all pretty).
It's unlikely Kaichō wa Maid-sama! will stray very far from the tried-and-true romance formula by doing something new or unique, but as long as it remains entertaining and keeps Misaki from spending too much time in her irksome demon mode, it should become one of the must-see series of the spring season.
Conceptually, Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaō is pretty sound: Sai Akuto has trained his entire life to pass the admittance test and attend the Academy of Magical Arts to become a high priest, but is instead informed by a prognosticating bird that he's destined to become a terrible demon lord. A series of misunderstandings, fueled by classmates who obsess over reading into every little thing he says or does as being evil, ties self-fulfilling prophecy into the question of fate vs. free will, though Sai's mysterious and powerful magic hint that fate has the upper hand in this battle. To top it all off, the first five minutes manage to introduce Sai and Hattori Junko very well, explaining a bit about their goals while also slipping in unique little touches like magic being used as train tracks and Hattori's sect's method of swearing friendship to another.
Sadly, things go downhill from here as the “comedy” overwhelms the storytelling. At first the outlandish reactions of the other students is humorous, but it becomes tiresome quickly as this joke is run into the ground. The only other joke this episode has to offer? Hattori's manliness paired up with a skirt that's far too short for her and attire in general that inevitably gets torn to shreds (in all the right places to keep her from being nude, of course). It doesn't help that the animation isn't very good, the fight scenes are dull and unimaginative, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to the magic system or how it's cast (Is it with casting circles? Is it Naruto-like ninja moves utilizing chi? Is it internal energy?).
Still, Sai himself is extremely entertaining to watch and charming in a strange sort of way, and there are enough unique details (it's morally okay to experiment on a zombie, but not okay if the person is still alive) and splashes of true humor and irony (the chain-smoking bird that can tell how healthy you are) to keep this series from completely falling into the growing junk pile of useless harem shows.
Stan Lee has boldly gone where few Americans have gone before (and got to make his trademark guest appearance as an anime character, no less), but it's disappointing that all he has to show for it is a very average series that screams, “Please make lots of toys based on me!”
Joey, an orphan living with his grandmother in a lower-income household, dreams of something more for his life yet does nothing to prevent his rich classmates from walking all over him. When said classmates throw away a broken Heybo, an expensive voice-activated robot that does animal tricks on command, he decides to fix it up, and a lightning bolt from nowhere transforms it into a supersized robot that can do things like rescue people from smashed up cars upon Joey's command through a hand/arm device. Oh, and there are space insects coming to take over the world.
The first episode moves very briskly and is perfect for someone who likes to sit back for a fast ride (aka: kids, who oftentimes have a hard time staying focused for more than five minutes), but it does so at the cost of character and story development. Sure, Joey is cute with a cute cheerleader as a girl-space-friend, and there's really no reason to not like the “good” characters and dislike the “bad” characters, but there's also no reason TO like the characters either. Likewise, while a lot happens in the first episode, are the events anything more than empty calories? And must these calories come in a box decorated with a giant American flag and awkward patriotic undertones?
That's not to say though that the episode is a complete loss. The animation is pretty “standard” for BONES, which is to say that it's clean, beautiful, and is the main reason why it's so easy to just let your brain go into auto pilot while your eyes absorb the pretty lights and colors. The music is unusual and unique, sometimes so much so that it distracts from what is going on, and the same can be said about the character designs, which are laughable at first but quickly grow on you for how eccentric they are. Finally, Stan Lee has a history – one that makes it easy to believe that while nothing makes sense now as the scenery speeds past, once you arrive at the destination, it will all be worth it.
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history