The Summer 2010 Anime Preview Guide
Theron Martin

by Theron Martin, Jul 5th 2010

Asobi ni Iku yo!

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: Although this may not be the best series of the new season, it is almost unquestionably the most surprising. The advertising artwork and plot blurbs for the series pitch it as a romantic comedy with a typical “sexy alien girlfriend” shtick, and indeed the first episode certainly showcases some of that, complete with the expected scene of featured catgirl-alien Eris waking up, provocatively clothed, in central boy Kio's bed. Unlike in nearly every other like case, though, Eris isn't doing it because she's already hopelessly in love with Kio; she just sees it as a comfortable spot to curl up for the night. In fact, there's no indication by the end of the first episode that she's actually in love with Kio at all. She came to Earth “to research the planet and have fun at the same time” and cheerily goes about doing exactly that.

But that is far from the biggest twist the first episode delivers. The prologue scene is actually a hard-core action scene involving a young woman (other than Eris) in combat armor, but that wouldn't be so unusual; To Love-Ru started out with an action scene, too. No, the even bigger twists come after the episode starts looking like it's going to settle down into more mundane romantic comedy territory, when we start discovering that, while Eris is happily frank about her identity and intentions, everyone else around Kio is not who or what they appear to be. Some people, it seems, cannot handle the notion that mankind's first contact with aliens is with someone as ridiculous as Eris, and they intend to resort to lethal measures to rectify that situation.

In other words, what we have here is a legitimate attempt to - gasp! - actually do something different with one of the most trite anime gimmicks of the past decade. In fact, AIC PLUS+ seems to be actively toying with the conventions of this subgenre and trying to turn them on their head. It certainly has the artistic chops in its favor, too, as it provides clean, appealing artistry complemented by some nice animation in action scenes, though it does conspicuously avoid showing any blood.

So far this approach works wonderfully well, as it provides both fan service standbys and plenty of pretty girls to look at while doing its weird plot twists, but can it keep this unexpected level of freshness up over the long haul? If it can then this could be one of the year's landmark series.

Asobi ni Iku yo! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Occult Academy episode 2

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: Whatever direction you might have thought this series was going in after the first episode, the plot developments in episode 2 are probably not it. Turns out this is actually a “save the future by sending an agent into the past” tale as well as being a story about occult dealings and doomsday prophecies, and it isn't above throwing in some fan service and levity to complement the deadly supernatural danger, either. Just seeing what the series comes up with next is enough reason alone to keep watching.

Mr. Naked, aka former child psychic Fumiaki Uchida, who descended from the sky at the end of the first episode is actually a time traveler from 2012, a time when the Earth has been ravaged by alien invaders who originate from an event which took place at Waldstein Academy on July 21st, 1999. Fumiaki is the sixth in a line of agents sent back in time to locate Nostradamus's Key, which is believed to be the trigger for the event which obliterated the Academy and brought out the aliens. Maya is understandably skeptical at first, until she realizes that Fumiaki fit's the role of a prophetic figure. One supernatural attack while bathing later (in which Fumiaki tries to come to the rescue) and one journal discovery later and Maya now considers working with Fumiaki to unravel the deadly mystery. If only her temper doesn't get the better of her first. . .

Yeah, if this wasn't already clear from episode 1, Maya is apparently a full-blown tsundere type, complete with a predilection towards throwing objects at people who displease her. That is the only disappointment in what is otherwise turning out to be a good-looking, fun romp through all kinds of weirdness, though. If the series can keep up the lively quirkiness it has shown in the first two episodes and build on Maya and Fumiaki's spirited relationship then this should continue to be one of the season's most entertaining series.

Occult Academy is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Highschool of the Dead episode 2

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review: Aside from establishing the setting and circumstances, the first episode mostly concentrated on Takashi (the guy with the bat) Rei (spear girl), and their friend/boyfriend who ultimately got zombified, but it did also give us brief glimpses of other potential survivors. The second episode focuses at least as much on them and on bringing the eventual sextet together. Arrogant, pink-haired “genius” Saya finds herself accompanying chubby otaku Kota, while champion kendo student Saeko comes to the rescue of busty, clumsy Dr. Marikawa, the one surviving adult. Along the way they discover some potentially useful things about the zombies but also learn that the scale of the problem is as great as they had feared.

A common complaint leveled against the first episode is that it's pretty stereotypical zombie fare. A good amount of what happens in this episode is unlikely to change that impression, but there are a few surprises along the way. The personalities, for instance, don't shake out quite the expected way, especially in the cases of Kota (who shows surprising mettle in a tight spot) and Saeko (who is far milder in nature than her fierce disposition might suggest). Saya might also offer a surprise or two if watched closely in the scenes where the group finally assembled. Fan services comes in a mix of the occasional panty shot and the emphasis on Dr. Marikawa's jiggling bust, and minor snippets of humor pop up, too. Those looking for action and bloodshed will find no shortage of that, though the goriest scene, which seems to involve the application of a sawlike power tool to a zombie, gets censored by shading.

Although the first episode looked pretty good, the second episode outdoes it in both the crispness of its artistry and its satisfying animation; viewing it in HD is highly recommended if your system can handle it. Combined with strong writing and a solid musical score, episode 2 is another winner, one which starts to show signs that this one could have a bit more substance than just a typical zombie flick.

Highschool of the Dead is available streaming on Anime Network.


Legend of the Legendary Heroes

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: Really, a character named Lieutenant Milk? Who thought that was a good idea?

Occasional ridiculous names aside, Legend of the Legendary Heroes is a light novel series adaptation which has a similar feel to fantasy RPG-based series. (There is apparently an associated PSP game released earlier this year, but that is a parallel development.) It seems intent on laying out a grand scale to its story, as its first episode establishes two distinct but somewhat related plot threads which are filled with potential intrigue, idealism, magic, bishonen and bishojo, and even occasional bouts of silliness.

In the series’ setting, demon lords supposedly once ravaged the lands but were, in time, beaten down by equally mythical “legendary heroes.” In one of the established plot threads, the prospective wizard Ryner Lute, who possesses the singular magical analysis ability Alpha Sigma, is on a quest to finds relics of those heroes of bygone eras, with beautiful, no-nonsense, dumpling-obsessed swordswoman Ferris along as his bodyguard. Naturally the two run into both magical and mundane trouble, including the aforementioned Lieutenant Milk and her Taboo-Breaker Pursuit Squadron. (That Milk is incompetent and surrounded by bishonen subordinates is apparently supposed to be a joke.) Meanwhile, back in Ryner's home country of Rolan, young Hero King Sion Astal is working fervently to reform his kingdom into a more idealistic place after taking it over a couple of years prior, but despite the enthusiastic support of his underlings a long struggle against the power of the country's nobles looks to be in the making.

Legend clearly wants to be the kind of series which can smoothly transition between action, intrigue, and goofiness while developing a good deal of depth along the way, but as of the end of the first episode that balance still needs some work. There is potential here, as the foundations for some good storylines are present and there are pretty characters for both the ladies and the guys, but at this point it is difficult to take the series as seriously as it wants to be taken. The art and animation, courtesy of ZEXCS, is nothing special, and the music does not impress either.

This one could end up being good, but right now it's just average fare overall.

Legend of the Legendary Heroes is available streaming at Funimation.com.


Shiki

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review: In the anime spectrum, Shiki is a shade somewhere between Ghost Hound and When They Cry. Its look blends different visual styles, it uses various audio gimmicks to promote a vaguely creepy and discordant feeling, and it plays with horror-laced elements without being clear (yet) on whether or not they actually are horrific. In short, it is the new season's least typical, and most experimental, anime so far.

In a rural area of Japan where a couple of old people dying can result in a depopulated village, Megumi stands in stark contrast to those around her, a point which frustrates her to no end. She is a big-city fashion plate stuck in Hicksville, with her only interests being to get out of the village of Sotoba, spy on a certain boy (who want to have nothing to do with her), and check out a Western-styled mansion built on a nearby hill, in that order. When she suddenly disappears one August night, though, a search party must go out to find her. When combined with the sorry state of some deceased senior citizens and the overnight arrival of the mansion's new inhabitants, a dark mystery seems to be afoot.

The first episode may not have the look or feel of a conventional anime series, but that's all for the better. Its distinctive art style, complete with Megumi's vaguely Gothic look, immediately makes its stand out (the dog is amusing to look at, too), and the writing throws out all sorts of interesting little suggestions and tidbits without yet showing its hand on where this all might be going. The dark edge is tantalizing for how much it is implied rather than forced upon the viewer, which combined with the events shown here leaves the viewer with all sorts of questions - but in a good way.

Final judgment on this one will have to be reserved for a few more episodes, but seeing where this one goes should be quite a bit of fun.

Shiki is available streaming on Funimation.com.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review: Although he looks and acts like a normal human, 12-year-old Rikuo Nura is actually both one-quarter yokai and the Third Heir of the Nura clan, which pegs him as the future Supreme Commander of the yokai who will lead the Night Parade of 100 Demons, so associating with yokai is an ordinary occurrence for him. He wants none of it, of course, perhaps partly because he's sweet on a girl and does not want to drag her into that world. He even tries to shield her and his friends from the very real existence of yokai during an exploration into a yokai-filled abandoned school. He has an alternate form which occasionally manifests at night, though, and could be the one to inspire true fear if it awakens.

Seem uninspired? It is. Nothing that is going on here so far is all that special, including the character designs and animation. (The background art does look sharp, however.) Last season's Ichiban Ushiro no Daimaō also brought us a young man with a seemingly evil, demon-related destiny he was trying to dodge, but at least that one played it for camp. This one takes itself a bit too seriously and paints Rikuo as a bit too earnest to avoid a family profession that, if played right, could be pretty cool and wouldn't necessarily have to be evil; in other words, the series is taking a “safe“ path rather than seizing a golden opportunity to do something different. There is some hint that not all of the yokai are pleased about Rikuo being their future boss, and that doubtless will lead to trouble down the road, but will viewers wait that long?

This isn't really a bad series, but it's not really a good one, either.

Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is available streaming on VizAnime.com.


Occult Academy

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  In the year 1999 the sprawling hilltop Waldstein Academy, an institute founded with a focus on the study of the occult, has come to be known as Oc>cult Academy due to a number of strange happenings there. None are as strange as the principal's corpse animating and going on a rampage during his own funeral, a matter which must be put to rest by Maya Kumashiro, the principal's estranged daughter, who despite a childhood love for All Things Weird has come to hate the occult as she aged. She has returned with the intent to destroy what her father has wrought, but factors beyond her expectations seem certain to complicate matters.

Without question Occult Academy is one of the best-looking series of the new season (maybe the best), including some beautiful background art, nice animation courtesy of A-1 Pictures, and character designs that certainly won't bore. Maya may bear a striking resemblance to Natsuki Kruger from My-Otome, but she dresses classier, cuts a more impressive figure, and is full of entertaining attitude. In fact, the series in general packs a surprising amount of attitude and some amusing quirks to boot, all neatly slid into a fast-moving story (at times a little too fast-moving) which barely pauses to catch its breath before the next odd development arises. A prologue piece involving a dark, violent mission of some kind hints at a Bigger Picture, too.

The end result is a good first episode which borders on being a great one. Occult Academy shows a lot of promise and offers a horror-themed alternative for those not enamored with the zombies, more intense gore, and fan service of Highschool of the Dead.

Occult Academy is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Highschool of the Dead

Rating: 4.75 (of 5)

Review: Classic zombie flick gore and mayhem meet otakucentric anime fan service sensibilities in this charged-up adaptation of the manga by Daisuke and Shoji Sato. It has been one of the most anticipated new series of the new season since it was first announced, and the first episode doesn't disappoint.

The first episode wastes no time in getting down to business. High school student Takashi is drearily contemplating the loss of his childhood friend Rei to a classmate when the havoc breaks out: a zombiefied man stumbles to the school gate and bites a PE teacher who tries to push him away. Said PE teacher gets infected, dies, and sooner than anyone can figure out what's going on he starts chomping on his former colleagues, which initiates a chain reaction of death and zombiefication which quickly spreads across the school. Takashi has the jump on the incident because he saw it happen, but even so he, Rei and Rei's current boyfriend must battle though zombie students to get to relatively safety, only to learn that their school is far from an isolated incident. A bleak future awaits Takashi and Rei (the boyfriend, predictably, doesn't make it), although they are not the only survivors.

What caused all of this? That's beyond the purview of this episode, but does that really matter? It's zombies, it's people getting chewed to death, it's bloody action, and it's plenty of undergarment-flashing and breast-jiggling, all wrapped into one fast-paced package laden with energy and atmosphere. And it kicks as much butt as you were possibly hoping for and maybe more. Sure, it has some minor flaws; it is predictable, and the bit with the BFFs was heavy-handed, but the overall execution is too good to deny and the technical merits are fairly sharp, too.

This one is likely to be one of the biggest winners of the new season.

Highschool of the Dead is available streaming on Anime Network.


Mitsudomoe

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:  Brand-new teacher Satoshi Yabe is eagerly looking forward to his first primary school teaching assignment, but unfortunately for him he has been saddled with class 6-3, home to the Marui triplets, a set of hellions that could make any teacher wither. Mitsuba, the eldest, is a precocious sadist; Futaba, the second daughter, is a muscle-headed pervert; and Hitoha, the youngest, is quiet, bookish, and gloomy, but can muster such a horrifying expression that she has an aura of mystery about her. In the first of three vignettes a chair-exchanging game goes terribly awry, while in the second the Marui sisters get the idea in their heads that the best way to hook Yabe up with the sexy new nurse is to give him a groin injury that she will have to treat. In the third clip, a class hamster gets a very improper name which leads to some gross misunderstandings.

Anime has churned out a lot of edgy titles of late, but few have been as thoroughly and deliciously wrong as this cleverly-written, wonderfully-scored, and nicely-animated first effort from animation producer Bridge. Most of the cast may be 6th graders but the humor and entertainment value is decidedly aimed at adults, in a manner somewhat resembling South Park or the English dubs for Ghost Stories and Shin-chan. Regard this series in the same light as those and the seriously twisted action and dialog can become a lot of fun, including a handful of sputter-worthy moments; be sure to watch the visuals in the closer closely for another extra-juicy shot, too. The dispositions of the three “heroines” offer such a wealth of possibilities that this one shouldn't run dry on ideas anytime soon, either. For those concerned about it being too edgy, nothing shown so far even hints at moe or lolicon content, so the dirty-minded side of it can be enjoyed guilt-free.

If you like twisted, raunchy humor then this is one series you do not want to miss. With great writing and production values so far, it has the potential to be one of the best of recent gag series. If 6th graders innocently firing off a stream of nipple-related references is not your cup of tea, though, then stay well away.


Seitokai Yakuindomo

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: Takatoshi Tsuda chose to attend a newly gender-integrated girl's school not because he wanted to gawk at a vastly superior number of girls each day but because it's close to home for him and he is, frankly, lazy. A stop by Student Council President Shino Amakusa for his sloppy dress leads him to being nominated to fill the Vice-President vacancy on the otherwise all-girl Student Council, in order to bring in a male perspective on the changes to the campus's social environment brought about by the integration. As Takatoshi soon discovers, though, all three of his fellow Council members - Shino, bishojo secretary Aria Shichijou, and the “I'm really 16 in a 10-year-old's body” treasurer Suzu Hagimura - are flakes of one kind or another.

At first blush this manga-based series from GoHands (a studio whose only previous lead production effort is Princess Lover) looks every bit like it's going to be just another typical gag-oriented school romantic comedy, complete with a stereotypical primary female cast (the ditz, the too-young-looking short one, the tsundere one) and an amusing but unoriginal set-up gimmick. That impression of normality takes its first hit when Shino matter-of-factly responds to Takatoshi's complaint about how draining the Student Council experience will be by saying, “I get drained once a month” (and yes, that means what you think it does) and then continues to nonchalantly toss off lines like that throughout the rest of the episode, in the process mostly refusing to conform to any expectations of tsundere behavior. The episode switching fully to short gags for the second half of the episode delivers a second hit. If romance is to figure into this eventually then the first episode gives no solid indication of it, as so far Takatoshi has merely served as the straight man that his fellow Student Council members bounce off of

GoHands’ artistry excels in the backgrounds, though its character animation, while active for this kind of series, stands out a bit too much against the background art. Some viewers might find the frequency of menstruation-related jokes to be a little uncomfortable, but those are plenty well balanced out by more conventionally saucy references and the closer is the best one yet this season. There is no visual fan service here, but those seeking prurient content should find enough to like in the dialog alone and the comedy works well enough so far to make this one worth a look for those seeking lighter-hearted fare.



Amagami SS

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review: Two years ago on Christmas Eve, Junichi Tachibana got stood up for a date, an event which wrecked his confidence with girls. As Christmas approaches in his junior year of high school, he resolves to change his fortunes. His featured attempt in this episode involved Haruka Morishima, a pretty, idolized classmate who has labeled him a “nice guy” and seems cheerily friendly in his interactions with her. Could this be his chance to score big-time?

And yes, that's all that really happens in the first episode of this series based on a popular 2009 PS2 dating sim. Rather than being an ongoing story, the series will supposedly approach the same scenario anew each episode with a focus on a different prospective love interest for Junichi; indeed, several other potential candidates are introduced in the first episode, including a hard-working class rep type, a shy freshman Junichi helps out at lunch, a girl with a big appetite, and a female childhood friend. One of the series’ gimmicks even involves the closer being sung by the seiyuu for the featured girl in each episode.

While this is an interesting format, it does raise questions about what the series will do once it has taken its first full pass through the half-dozen featured candidates. The first episode also suffers from being very, very bland. A concept like this might work fine in a dating sim, but in anime form it must have something additional going for it - comedy, fan service, an atypical complication, depth, and unusual setting, and/or superior execution - to succeed. This one does not have any of those things. AIC has done a nice job with the artistry, as Haruka is a knock-out and the other girls have sufficiently varied looks (not all of them gorgeous, either), but that isn't enough. So far, Amagami SS looks like a yawner.



Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  Otogibana City is home to Otogi Academy, and affiliated with that school is the organization Otogi Bank, which specializes in dealing with student-related problems such as stalkers in exchange for favors to be named  later. The organization's “big gun” is Taiga Ryoko Ookami, a tough female boxer with a penchant for showing a lot of leg and wearing cat head-shaped boxing gloves when on the job. The organization's male membership is on the light side, so a recruiting effort turns up Ryouchi Morino, a timid fellow who suffers from scopophobia (an irrational fear of being stared at) but has serious talents at hiding and precision rock-throwing and did work up the nerve to confess to the intimidating Ryoko - a fact which impresses and amuses everyone at Otogi Bank except Ryoko. Though Ryoko is reluctant to accept Ryouchi at first, he shows his mettle when it really counts.

Even if you think you know what to expect, there are moments in this odd little romantic comedy/odd jobs organization series which can stupefy most any viewer. The first is the first appearance of those ridiculous cat gloves shown in the screenshot, the second is the bizarre “genius” of the team's resident techno-geek, and the third is the first episode's one truly great joke, an incident involving a flying kick which is actually vastly funnier when it gets repeated at the end of the episode - and you probably won't see the full impact of the repeat coming. The series’ penchant for using blatant European fairy tale references (Red Riding Hood and Cinderella most notably in this episode)is an interesting gimmick, it does actually justify why its heroine can fight so well, it does have a male lead not hesitating on confessing, and it does have an amusing sensibility on narration and fan service, but those are, unfortunately, balanced out by how quickly Ryouchi's defect gets severely irritating.

Any claim that Ryoko's design is not heavily influenced by the heroine of Toradora! is hard to substantiate, as she is distinctly taller than Taiga but otherwise has the same build, same facial structure, and the same demeanor and attitude. She does have a more mature and appealing style of dress, though. J.C. Staff's artistic effort here is not one of their sharper or cleaner ones, though the animation in the action scenes is both good and surprisingly well-detailed.

The success of this series should hinge on whether or not Ryouchi's phobia gets overplayed and how much Ryoko can distinguish herself from her predecessors. If  both of these factors come down positively then this could be a highly entertaining series.



Shukufuku no Campanella

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review: Numerous cute girls in elaborate costumes? Many of them are fawning over a singular, good-natured male lead? A vaguely-defined fantasy setting?

Yep, must be another ero game adaptation.

Or, to be more precise, this is the anime adaptation of a 2009 “adult visual novel” release for PC and PSP platforms. This first episode is almost entirely an exercise in cast-gathering and introductions, so little actually happens that could constitute a plot. Events take place in Ert'Aria, a trade-focused city located on the northern fringe of the country of Nostrum which is also known as a prime viewing spot for an every-seven-years meteor shower. Amongst the most prominent groups in the city is Clan Oasis, whose mistres, Carina Verritti, seems to be one of the primary female leads. The male lead, Leceister, is either a worker for, or a member of, Clan Oasis and dear to Carina's heart. Leceister's sexy, young-looking mother and a maid also figure into the picture, as does a puppeteer Carina and Leceister encounter, a female Holy Knight who is a friend of Leceister's mother, and neighboring twin sisters named Risto and Salsa Tortilla (no, really). During the meteor shower a special girl who's been sleeping but awakens to fulfill some special purpose also makes a grand entrance.

Only those already familiar with the visual novel in question will likely have any clue where this is all going, as the first episode gives no clear indication of direction beyond normal antics for this kind of show. Nothing shown so far suggest that this one has much promise or even a spark of life, though. Carina is a doll in that dainty get-up but none of the other characters stand out visually and the music and art quality are both bland. The personality distribution so far is equally dull and the setting offers nothing special, either. This one will have to get much better in ensuing episodes if it wants to keep its viewers..



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