The Spring 2010 Anime Preview Guide
Tim Maughan

Apr 1st 2010

Tim Maughan has been writing about anime and manga for over two years now, but watching and reading it for nearly 20. As well as his running own site – probably best known for it's argument starting list 10 Anime Films You Should See Before You Die – he has also written for Colony Drop, is about to have an article published in the latest issue of Protoculture Addicts, and has started writing for more mainstream publications in the UK, where he lives. He's a regular podcast guest – mainly as people love his crazy British accent – and spends way too much time on Twitter getting himself in trouble.

After being introduced seriously to anime by Akira in 1991, he became a Katsuhiro Otomo fanboy, a Studio Ghibli fanatic and a Mamoru Oshii obsessive. His favourite subgenres are sci-fi and realistic mecha, and if he did have a dakimakura hug pillow it would be of a Shinohara Heavy Industries ARL-99 Helldiver Paradrop Labor. But he doesn't.


Rainbow

Rating: 4

Review: It's unusual these days to see an anime start with a warning about explicit content, especially one that says the creators felt the need to keep it in to prove a point. Graphic content in anime these days seems to be there largely – whether it is sexual or violent – to titillate, and to be fair that's the last thing that Rainbow's first episode does. Whether it succeeds in what it is attempting to do, however, will be a matter of great debate.

Set in the 1950s, it is the story of six teenage delinquents arriving at Shōnan Special Reform School – and from the very first scene it is steeped in brutality. In it's 20-odd minute duration we see the characters being ostracised from society, facing public demonization and then institutionalised sexual humiliation, as well as being the subjects of numerous beatings. At first it can all seem a little too extreme.

But it is worth remembering that until relatively recently this was exactly the way that penal systems were believed to be the most effective, and tragically it is a belief still held to be true by many regimes across the globe. Certainly the image of hooded, chained together convicts is still a powerful one during the age of Guantanamo Bay and Abu Ghraib prison. While anime usually indulges us in violence as escapism, arguably with Rainbow Madhouse is trying to show its audience violence as tragedy. Its something the studio attempted with Gunslinger Girl – and just as that show did, I can't help feeling that this is a series that will split audiences down the middle.

It's certainly a hard show to watch at times. Not just what it depicts, but how it depicts it – is brutal to the core. The vast majority of the show uses a single, cold palette of greys and dark blues – a strong contrast from the vivid colours of almost every other show this season. Similarly, due to it's setting, there is little scope for a variety or warmth in it's background art, giving the feeling of watching an intense, minimal stage-play or independent movie rather than the usual visual stimulation associated with modern TV anime. The tone is unrelentingly serious and oppressive throughout, with only the final scene giving a the tiniest glimmer of positivity - and ironically, this is perhaps the episode's weakest moment, it feeling slightly tacked on or even over-sentimental.

Rainbow was perhaps my most personally anticipated show this season, but I've found it extremely difficult to review based on this single episode. Many will feel alienated – or even bored – by this intense opening. Again like Gunslinger Girl before it, while it is clear Rainbow's aim is to shock, whether it can achieve something more than merely that remains to be seen. Perhaps, as anime fans, we should just feel lucky that someone is at least trying to.


SD Gundam: Legend of the Three Kingdoms - Brave Battle Warriors!

Rating: ?

Review: You know what this season really needs? Another adaptation of Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Because – truly – no season is complete without at least four. Or is it five? I lost count.

What SD Gundam: Legend of the Three Kingdoms - Brave Battle Warriors! does uniquely though is – wait for it – tell exactly the same story but with super-deformed mechs from Gundam playing the roles of all the characters. And no, I don't mean it retells the story in a Gundam style sci-fi setting. No, this is ancient China. But with super-deformed Gundams inexplicably substituted for all humans. And horses.

The type of reaction you have to this concept could perhaps - in an unfair, judgemental world - be used as a personality test as to determine what kind of anime fan you are. For example, you might go “Oh what? Japan makes comes up with some crazy ideas! Crazy Japan! And your crazy ideas! You're so cool!” and just harmlessly enjoy it. This would make you a slightly naïve – but oh so adorable – otaku kid.

Alternatively you might say “Bah. This is just a cynical marketing ploy on behalf of Sunrise to sell more crap Gundam toys to kids that are far too little to appreciate the finer political statements of the original UC franchise. In many ways it is similar in that sense to the Clone Wars TV series (the crappy CGI one, not the Genndy Tartakovsky one – which I like) that Lucas made simply to sell Star Wars toys to a new generation of children and that I despise.” This would make you an old, bitter (and possibly British) anime cynic.

A third possible reaction would be to say “GUNDAM! MORE GUNDAM! I MUST SEE THIS! Where is my notepad so that I can tick off the different models of mech as they appear? I will also make notes on discrepancies in designs so that I can argue about them on a forum later.” This would make you a Gundam fanboy.

Whatever the result, when you sit down to watch it you might be slightly surprised at how professional it looks, and well paced it seems to be. As well as amused at how extremely seriously it takes itself. Before maybe spending too long thinking about what they feed the Gundam horses.


Heroman – Episode 2

Rating: 4

Review: Having rescued Lina and her grumpy dad from a car crash last week, Joey finds himself continuing down the well-trod Stan Lee Path Of The Hero (TM). First there's trying to get his head round the whole thing, swiftly followed by the standard 'with great power comes great responsibility' stuff to consider. And then BANG! - aliens arrive. The surprisingly unimpressed inhabitants of Small Town USA think it's just another movie shoot (but then I guess they must happen pretty much all the time all over America, right?) until the intergalactic visitors start tossing cop cars around. No prizes for guessing who comes to the rescue.

Which is where Heroman makes it's first refreshing change from the norm. I was expecting the usual: Joey has to cope with the burden of Heroman's power on his own – unable to reveal his secret to anyone. But no, here we seem him kicking alien butt in front of some of his closest friends – as well as some more unwelcome onlookers. It was a pleasant surprise to see Heroman make this break from the formula, signalling that the show won't necessarily be bogged down with the predictable 'if only they knew I was really a superhero' type teenage angst that can make comic book stories so tiresome.

That said, if next week the aliens end up wiping everyone's memories, I'm going to be sorely disappointed.

After watching this second episode I can't help thinking that I might have been a little harsh on Heroman previously. Yeah, it's still very much a kid's show – but damn if it isn't a well made one. The animation is great, and when the action starts up it manages to deliver the expected goods while still feeling reasonably fresh. There's even the hint of some surprisingly cool sounding electronica in the background music. The real challenge for Heroman now is to carry on the potential and momentum it's set up in these first two episodes without resorting to cliché or predictability. Let's hope it can.


Senkō no Night Raid

Rating: 4.5

Review: Something was bugging me while watching Senkō no Night Raid, and I didn't work out what it was exactly until about a third of the way in: it's basically Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex set in 1930s Shanghai.

Not that it's a bad thing – far from it. GitS: SAC is one of my favourite shows. Senkō no Night Raid takes the same set up of a tightly knit, shadowy secret team of covert agents and transposes it to the past rather than the future, and instead of giving the agents cool cybernetic abilities it equips them with individual psychic and supernatural powers. It's a great formula and here it seems to largely work straight away – this first episode shows the team working together on a mission, using an action-driven plot to introduce each character and they're unique ability. It is suitably tense, well paced and genuinely thrilling to watch.

Along with GitS: SAC's strengths, it also inherits one of its slight weaknesses. The two are both based around deep, complex political intrigue – and as a result they both feature pre-mission briefings based around a lot of lengthy exposition dialogue. At times this can seem a little clumsy and hard to follow, meaning that Senkō no Night Raid can be a challenging watch at times – it's not another lightweight show to just to sit and veg-out in front of – it needs you to invest some concentration.

And really, it is completely worth the effort. Production values are gorgeous, the whole show dripping in a convincing noir atmosphere. Character design is refreshingly mature and intelligent, and the action scenes exhilarating. So far Senkō no Night Raid is the highlight of the season, and if you're willing to put a little bit of effort into following it's complex narratives you'll be rewarded with what looks to be a stimulating and thrilling series.


Big Windup! Season 2

Rating: 3.5 (4 if you love baseball/watched the last season)

Review: Well, I've learned something about myself by working on these previews: I apparently like sport anime.

Not that Big Windup! gripped me quite as much as Giant Killing did – but that was largely down to it being about baseball. And to be honest baseball is about as alien to me as I'm guessing soccer is to most US anime fans. There is a lot of discussion of baseball tactics and terminology at times, most of which just went right over my head. It doesn't help that it's the second season, and I struggled at time to work out who was who, or even which team they were on. There's no re-cap as such, with the show just assuming you are a returning fan.

Which is a shame, because there's clearly a lot of depth to enjoy here. For a start it's very funny – and in a similar way to Giant Killing the humour largely comes from a tight script and some believable characters. There's one scene with a team coach grilling another player in a restaurant for information – which while I had no idea what they were talking about when it came to the actual sport – had me in stitches on several occasions. Production values are also high, with a nice summer palette that seems to fit the subject matter perfectly. Despite most of the protagonists being teenagers the whole thing feels far more mature than a lot of what I've watched so far this season – and along with Giant Killing it makes me wonder if perhaps sports anime is an interesting niche that I should be investing more time in.


Giant Killing

Rating: 4

Review: There was a moment in this first episode – where two of the Japanese characters get freaked out and run from a mob of over-enthusiastic English football soccer fans – that I just fell in love with Giant Killing.  The surprising thing is that – unlike pretty much all of my friends here in the UK - I actually have no interest at all in football soccer usually, but that scene just made me smile. It's a sight I've seen on more Saturday afternoons than I can possibly count, and the high street it happens on looks so much like it one of any of the provincial English towns I've lived in that I couldn't help but laugh.

Giant Killing is the story of East Tokyo United – a failing football soccer team struggling to keep their heads above water in the face of financial problems, dwindling fans and a seemingly unending losing streak. Enter black-sheep Takeshi Tatsumi, son of the club's owner and former local hero, who has been away making his name managing a team in England. With expectant and sceptical eyes watching him, it's up to him to see if his return can turn the club's fortunes around.

Despite my lack of football soccer interest, Giant Killing had me gripped. The combination of drama, dry humour and a tightly written script reminded me – bizarrely – of the original Patlabor TV series. Here we have a show that is funny through subtle writing rather than shock humour, and naturally dramatic through a cast of believable characters rather than over-emotional melodrama. I wouldn't be surprised if at some point in its run it manages to get romantic and sexy without resorting to fan service. There are some fantastic visuals going on here too – I especially appreciated the slightly sketchy look of the character designs, which I'm guessing mimics the manga on which it is based, and serves to give the anime a gritty feel.

There's also something personally tragic about Giant Killing for me though.  In a football soccer obsessed nation like the UK this could be a massive hit given the right marketing or TV slot. People here watch live action football soccer dramas that aren't as tightly written or paced as this, and I'd love to recommend it to a lot of my friends. It's just a shame I won't be able to do so legally. There's no way this will get licensed here in the UK – as our industry seems only able to afford to pick up titles that have already been picked up in the US, and there's no way I can imagine a US company touching this at all. I hope I'm wrong.

 


Mayoi Neko Overrun!

Rating: 0

Review: Nnnnngghh. My brain. It hurts.

Let's get the obvious out of the way: Mayoi Neko Overrun! is an otaku show, made by otaku, for otaku.  I am not an otaku. I'm an old(ish) guy from Great Britian that happens to love anime when it's good. These are not the same thing.

You know Mayoi Neko Overrun!  Is an otaku show because it opens to a teenage boy being woken up by a panty-shot. Then there's some plot in there somewhere – something about a cake shop. I dunno, it doesn't seem important  - really it's just a stream of images from a check-list of stuff otaku like and will by merchandise of: maids, in-jokes about other anime, in-jokes about cosplay, panty shots, cat-girls, large breasted sisters, bitchy girls, otaku and bishojo/moe girls. Oh, and cats. Now I actually do like cats. A lot. Cats are my weakness. But I barely noticed the cats in this show, as they just sort of flashed up on the screen and did nothing, as someone in a production meeting at the studio checked them off his list. Plus at the time I was trying to pour hot wax in to my ears to blank out the squeaky voices and the OH MY GOD ITS SO ANNOYING inane music.

But hey – you're an otaku. You love moe. I'm wrong. Enjoy!


Hakuōki

Rating: 3

Review: I wasn't sure how I was going to react to Hakuōki at first – seeing as it's based on an otome game - but the first scene pleasantly surprised me. As someone that's been a fan of chanbara action since discovering Kurosawa's classic works as a kid, it was nice to see some dark, violent katana wielding action. Certainly the fight scenes here are well executed - my only concern is how many we'll see of them.

Certainly as the episode moved on there was a distinct shift of focus towards it's reverse harem themes – with a substantial amount of time spent introducing the lovely pretty men, with their lovely pretty hair. It's not, ahem, thrust down your throat by any means, in fact this establishing stuff was quite subtly done, but it is clear that this is a mainly going to be a show about lovely, pretty men.

There was one element to the show that kind of derailed my enjoyment though. The main character spends the first two thirds of the episode successfully passing herself off as a young boy – although she so blatantly looks like a girl. I mean, there's no reverse-trap here. She looks like a girl. Everyone seemed to fall for it, but not me, and in fact it shattered my suspension of belief enough that I found myself yelling ‘BUT SHE'S A GIRL’ at the TV when I should have been paying closer attention to the dialogue.

Which is a shame, as otherwise the artwork and all round production values are pretty great. Worth a watch if you love lovely, pretty men – and here's hoping they don't skimp too much on the fight scenes.


Working!!

Rating: 1.5

Review: Working!! is yet another show based on a four panel comic strip, and - wow – is it obvious. There seems to be pretty much no substance here, and sadly – for something that's meant to be a comedy – even less in the way of laughs.

Otaku Takanashi Souta finds himself working in a restaurant staffed by teenagers (i.e. like pretty much every restaurant in the world), mainly as he's getting all moe for Taneshima Popura – a 17 year old waitress that looks like a much younger child. Yeah, I know. But as much creep-out potential as that sounds like it might have, it's pretty much left alone in this first episode. In fact the show is so totally inoffensive and harmless that you almost wish they would focus on it a bit – perhaps then we could have a laugh at the helpless geek. A laugh at anything would be a start.

I might be being harsh after watch Arakawa Under the Bridge – which genuinely amused the hell out of me – but Working!! just left me cold in the chuckle department. If anything it reminded me of one of those live action teen comedy shows that they used to (and maybe still do, I don't know) show on Nickelodeon: totally tame, utterly inoffensive, and completely unfunny. But if that's your kind of thing then enjoy.


Kissxsis

Rating: 0

Review: THEY ARE NOT BLOOD RELATED. IT IS ONLY A CARTOON. THEY ARE NOT BLOOD RELATED. IT IS ONLY A CARTOON. THEY ARE NOT BLOOD RELATED. IT IS ONLY A CARTOON. THEY ARE NOT BLOOD RELATED. IT IS ONLY A CARTOON.

Memorise the mantra above. In fact, bookmark this page so that you can just copy and past it when necessary. Because if you yourself in a discussion where you're actually defending this show, it's the only thing you'll have on your side.

I mean you're not going to be able to defend Kiss x Sis - a show about a teenage boy that lives with his two sexy moe twin stepsisters who are obsessed with bedding and flashing him - based on the writing. Or even defend it based on the animation – which for some disturbing reason comes over as a hentai Pokémon due to its basic character designs and low frame rate. Or that what is meant to be a sex comedy is even funny. Because it isn't. Not once.

Thing is though those two arguments at the top – which I promise you you'll here over and over again – don't really work either. We all know plenty of people with stepsiblings these, who would be the first to squirm in discomfort at the idea of bunking up with them. And it's not helped by the very first flashback scene of this episode showing that all three have known each other since a very young age, and have presumably grown up with each other. Oh – and lets not forget – that the big reveal that they are not blood related isn't made until the very end, by the father of the family. Who is angry. That they are not all at ‘it’ already. No, I'm not making this up.

Plus saying that something is ‘only a cartoon’ as an excuse for it being dire is the worst cop-out argument known to anime fandom. Just because watching a teenage girl rub lovingly rub her stepbrothers used boxer shorts against her face would be weird and creepy in live action doesn't magically make it ‘just funny’ in animated form. We are all anime fans; we should be passionate about what we love, and honest about what is clearly trash. And Kiss x Sis is trash.


Arakawa Under the Bridge

Rating: 4

Review: Finally, something I can get enthusiastic about.

Ichinomiya Kou comes from proud, pure zaibatsu stock. Raised by his stern family to one-day take over the running of their massive company, he is more than a little uptight. For a start he is obsessed with never being indebted to anyone. Which starts to cause him problems when he falls off a bridge and nearly drowns, only to be rescued by the pretty, kooky Nino. Ok, kooky might be a bit of an understatement. Nino is a bit weird. For a start she's from Venus. Or so she claims. It's more likely that she's a mental homeless girl that lives in a camp she's built under the bridge. Either way Ichinomiya is now horrified to find her owes her a debt, which she wants repaid by him falling in love with her.

And I'm not going to say much more, as to do so might spoil some of Arakawa Under the Bridge's best jokes. I've not seen much in the way of anime comedies in recent years that have actually made me laugh, but watching uptight, over-privaleged, asthmatic Ichinomiya have his mind blown again and again had me literally laughing out loud multiple times. The script is tight and punchy, plus the animation – while looking a little low on budget at times – has a certain stylistic flair that makes it engaging to watch. So far the most fun I've had this season.


Shin Koihime Musō: Otome Tairan

Rating: 1.5

Review: Perhaps it's all the chocolate eggs I've eaten this weekend, but after being exposed to the sugary-sweet kawaii overload that is Shin Koihime†Musō: Otome Tairan the only thing I can face today is a celery stick.

Yet another reworking of Romance of the Three Kingdoms, this time based on a successful visual novel series, the show is now on it's third season and assumes you've been along for the ride from day one. There's no recap at all so newcomers – like myself – are left completely helpless as to what is going on and with little to do but stare at the pretty colors.

Oh, and how pretty those colors are, and how many there are of them. In fact my first reaction to the show was that due to it's vibrant, super-cute bishojo characters that it must be a series for little girls – but no, here come our old friends boobies and panty-shot to helpfully point out that this is yet more moe otaku-fodder. Similarly, there doesn't seem to be much connection to Romance of the Three Kingdoms either, with most of this episode centred on one of the stick like, size-zero girls worrying that she's putting on too much weight, before some of the other girls get assigned a quest to find some random objects at the end – the show suddenly very much showing it's video game roots.

Which kind of sums up Shin Koihime†Musō: Otome Tairan really; the show is kind of the equivalent of collectable figures for hardcore fans of the video games – it's just another form of merchandise. Don't get me wrong – it's well made, and the designs are pleasant despite obvious. If you are a fan of the game or this style of artwork then it'll probably hit the spot for you, but anyone wanting a little depth, substance or even excitement should probably stay clear.


Angel Beats!

Rating: 3.5

Review: Otonashi awakes in the steps of a mysterious high-school, with no memory as to how he got there – only to be bombarded with a baffling explanation by a cute little schoolgirl with a high-powered sniper rifle. Turns out he's in some limbo-like afterlife, where he needs to fight against the strange, super-powered Student Council President Tenshi. Who may also be an angel. Or they all might be angels. To be honest, I'm not quite sure.

Which is why Angel Beats! is the first show so far this season to really grab my attention. There's something quite interesting and complex going on with the setting – which as it's explained to Otonashi begins to resemble an online RPG more than the afterlife, with distinct rules, level-start style briefings and even NPCs (Non Player Characters). What also makes it interesting is its sense of humour; despite the apparently gloomy set up it never seems to take itself too seriously, with a good proportion of well-timed slapstick, and self-deprecating character stereotypes. There's also guns. Lots of guns. And I like anime with lots of guns, I'll admit.

It's not all perfect though – much of the background art and animation is nothing to write home about, with a lot of the character design looking like something you might stumble across on someone's Deviant Art page. To be fair this may be kind of the point; it's not quite clear yet whether Angel Beats! is actually trying to be a clever satire on generic anime and video-game characters and themes, or whether it's just fallen lazily into those defaults. Like I said, there's little about Angel Beats! so far that is particularly clear – and for once that's quite refreshing. One to keep an eye on this season, certainly.


Kaichō wa Maid-sama!

Rating: 4 (if you like this sort of thing)/0 (if you are me)

Review: Misaki Ayuzawa is the fascistic, semi-tsundere, man-hating Class President of a school that is made up of 80% male students, and she rules the corridors with a rod of iron as she lays down her Judge Dredd style approach to making the other kids adhere to the school's petty policies on ear-piercings and reading manga.

But, really, we should all feel sorry for her. Because her family are poor, meaning that after school she has to work in a Maid Café to make a few more Yen, and she only hates men because her father walked out on her tragically sick mother. Plus by the end of the series she will have learned the true meaning of Christmas how to be a far nicer person to her fellow students from a combination of falling in love with the school's sexy bad-boy Takumi Usui and her mom probably being hospitalised and/or dying.

DISCLOSURE: Kaichō wa Maid-sama! Is the perfect example of my own personal anime hell. It's basically a shojo romance that is also hoping to hook in some of that otaku money by playing with tsundere stereotypes and maid fantasy (Imagine – otaku – if the bitchy popular girl at your school was working part-time at a maid store in Akiba! You could go and humiliate her everyday just for the price of an over-priced cappuccino!) Neither of those genres are ones I particularly enjoy, but I'm not a fan of putting stuff in boxes, and love when a show can prove my preconceptions wrong. Sadly, based on this first episode I don't see that happening with Kaichō wa Maid-sama!


Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaō

Rating: 2.5

Review: Do you know what I'd do if I had a time machine right now? I'd travel back about 10 years and tell a younger, poorer JK Rowling that what her billion dollar cash-cow Harry Potter franchise really needs is a lot more up-skirt panty shots.

Akuto Sai is transferring to the Constant Magic Academy when he manages to grab a couple of good looks at hot-headed Hattori's thong-clad lady bits while she gives him a good kicking, after making the common mistake of thinking he was mugging her gran. Not to worry, as that's all cleared up pretty quickly when the two make up on the anti-grav version of the Hogwarts Express, enjoying a little light background exposition along the way. You see, Akuto desperately wants to be a High Priest – which is a Very Good Thing – so he can help people and stuff. Imagine his dismay then, when during a routine physical a holographic AI-spirit predicts his future and tells he will in fact become the Demon Lord – which is a Very Bad Thing – and will probably bring a new dark age to the world. Or something.

Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaō's only real crime is that it is painfully dull. I almost lost track of what was happening plot wise about two thirds of the way through this episode because it started raining here in Bristol, and that seemed a bit more interesting. There is nothing new or original here at all – at first I was interested in the show's depiction of it's ‘magic technology’ concept that combines the supernatural with near future, augmented reality type tech, but then the big magical battle scene at the end reminded me that the whole aesthetic had been ripped of from Final Fantasy and a hundred other JRPG imitators. There are a few laughs to be had at the other students' reaction to finding out that Akuto is destined to become the harbinger of doom, but really I've little interest in watching much more. Unless, that is, the poor lad is going to go full-demon and it's all going to suddenly descend into Urotsukidoji: Legend of the Overfiend, but somehow that seems unlikely.


B Gata H Kei

Rating: 1

Review: At some point over the next few weeks someone on the forums or someone writing on their blog is going to try and tell you that B Gata H Kei - a show about a slightly mental 15 year old girl that wants to sleep with 100 boys – is a charming coming of age story. That it's really about what it's like to be going through puberty, and understanding how your body changes. That it's a satirical look at how teenagers are sexualised, and feel pressured by their peers and the media into becoming sexual active.

And to a certain extent they will be right. The problem is that watching this first episode left me with the exact same feeling the first episode of Chu-Bra!! left me with – that all of that seems to have been just tacked on as an after thought in order to justify a butt-load of smut. Certainly by the mid way point a couple of scenes had me feeling somewhere between fairly uncomfortable and positively creeped out.

Yes, it's about teenagers, and teenagers are obsessed with sex. And as a ballsy teen-sex comedy B Gata H Kei does actually work on a certain level – I did laugh on a few occasions. But it's not quite funny enough, the jokes being a bit too puerile even for me (and hey, I'm British remember), and it's being shown at 1am – suggesting that perhaps teenage girls struggling to come to terms with their sexuality is not it's primary target market. No, the show seems to be aimed predominantly at sexually immature otaku men-children, who wish they knew a hot 15 year old girl that wanted to sleep with a shy virgin, and are old enough that they should know better.

Production wise the show isn't terrible - just so very, painfully generic. There's nothing new or inventive to see here at all, with everything from the character designs to the background art feeling utterly uninspired.

Perhaps, given a few weeks, B Gata H Kei will settle down a bit and start to genuinely make some poignant commentary on modern teenage life. The problem is whether anyone will notice or even care.


Heroman

Rating: 3

Review: There is one major title that stands out in this season's line-up, simply as it has the potential to become an unprecedented cross-over over between anime and the hordes of US comic book fans that populate the US and beyond. It's a show based on an decades old, established, household-name of a franchise, and a classic character created by the legendary genius that is Stan Lee. And that show is…Iron Man.

Except Iron Man has been delayed, until autumn apparently. Instead this season we have another show from the famous creator, but this time an original, new hero created specifically for anime, and his name is…Heroman.

Wow Stan, great name. How long did it take you to think that one up?

Joking aside, Heroman wastes little time in sticking to Lee's established and aging – if admittedly very successful -  formula. Our main protagonist is Joey Jones (great Marvel name), a bullied, nerdy kid at an American high school, who comes across a broken robot toy and successfully repairs it  - only to have it struck by some kind of alien lightning. Guess what? Said alien lightning means that the toy suddenly has the ability to transform into a 12 foot tall super-robot under Joey's control, and festooned with enough stars and stripes to bring a patriotic tear of joy to Sarah Palin's eye.

If that all sounds like unimaginative, predictable nonsense then that's because it largely is, but then you're forgetting that Lee has been doing this stuff for over half a century. This first episode is exactly like the Marvel origin stories he's been writing all his life, and he clearly knows how to do it precisely and with enough pacing to make it seem fresh. So far Heroman feels like it'll play out like the mutant cross between Spiderman and Tetsujin 28, which – if you think about it – has the potential to be quite cool.

I had trouble rating this one. If I was 8 years old again I'd be jumping up and down in my seat and freaking out, before running off to tell my parents all about it and explaining why they had to RIGHT NOW go out and buy me all the merchandise they could find. Thing is I'm not 8, I'm 36, so obviously a little bit of that is lost on me. But that didn't stop me from enjoying its pacing, and especially the ease of which Stan Lee is able to still put this sort of stuff together. Plus the production values are amongst the best I've seen from a TV anime for a little while, as you'd expect from BONES and the staff involved. Marvel geeks need to check it out – not only for the inevitable cameo from the man himself, but also a hint that a classic Marvel universe advisory might be making an appearance very soon..


Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor

Rating: 2

Review: First thing I should admit: I have seen pretty much nothing of the three series that precede Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor. But from watching the recap – which takes up a whopping six minutes of the first episode - I have summarised the following: it's mainly about violent high-school rivalries, boobies, frenetic fight scenes, boobies, cute girls, boobies, panty shots and magical ancient jewels. And boobies.

Not that I feel particularly at a disadvantage by not knowing what's happening – as I'm pretty sure a large chunk of those that have watched it from the very start of season one probably haven't the foggiest either.  The show is just too fast and full of seemingly random turns of event for most sane people to even care about the plot. Nope – lets be honest – if you're tuning in to this you're only really here for the action. And the boobies.

Did I mention the boobies? Because boy, Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor has a lot of fanservice, most of it based around boobies. The wisest thing that can really be said about fanservice is that it's fine if you are the type of fan it's trying to serve. Personally I'm not a huge fan of unrealistic cartoon boobies much these days – probably as I'm not a 14 year old boy any longer – but I am a fan of the other dish that Ikki Tousen: Xtreme Xecutor brings to the table: extreme, fountains of blood, high-kicking violence.

So, with that in mind, why only a rating of 2? Well, because although this first episode is crammed with annoying high school beefcake getting their noses righteously crushed into bloody pulps by tiny short-skirted girls, it's not actually that well done. In fact, you don't even really get to see much of it in reality. You get the impression of fast movement and frenetic fighting, but most of the blows seem to either land off screen or in freeze-frame. Which is a shame, but somewhat understandable – I guess it's just much harder to animate a well choreographed, exhilarating fight scene then it is to draw some static teenage girls in mid attack pose. Oh, and their boobies.

 

 


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