The Summer 2010 Anime Preview Guide Zac Bertschy
by Zac Bertschy, Jul 5th 2010
Zac Bertschy is the executive editor of Anime News Network. He enjoys vodka and bunny rabbits and one day hopes to work at Sterling-Cooper.
Legend of the Legendary Heroes
Legend of the Legendary Heroes (which sounds like a joke title but the show isn't all comedy and is apparently based on a light novel series, surprise!) opens with a combat sequence in which everyone stands around shouting obtuse RPG dialogue while desperately trying to be funny and failing miserably.
That right there should tell you basically everything you need to know about this show – it's a bunch of RPG clichés all wrapped up in unfunny stabs at humor while a larger, ostensibly “serious” plot slowly unfolds in the background. There are a lot of shows like this, and most of them were made in the 90s. Legend of the Legendary Heroes could have easily been made in 1997 or so, and in fact, this show's production design (complete with giant candy-colored pauldrons! ALWAYS WITH THE PAULDRONS) and aggressively mediocre fantasy-comedy trappings are so 90s that it wouldn't be inappropriate for Funimation to bundle the inevitable DVD box set with the first season of Friends and a Spin Doctors CD.
I'm not sure who this show is for – unless you have some Pavlovian response to “Dungeons & Dragons class archetypes doing wacky things and having generic predictable adventures” (which to be fair is the only thing that explains Slayers fandom), there's nothing here you haven't seen a million times before. Do you really want to try and keep track of all the vowel-heavy region names and spell types and boring, predictable characters? The blonde warrior girl loves dumplings! The hero wizard has special magic powers and gets beat up by the blonde girl! The king is really good-looking! Those things count as personalities, right?
I don't know what it is about the fantasy genre that seems to elude the Japanese over and over again. Every fantasy anime I've seen in the last decade, save one or two exceptions to the rule, are all the same thing; incredibly weak attempts at satirizing RPG clichés, populated by a cast of uninteresting characters with one-note personalities who fill the standard RPG class archetypes. The “satire” usually drops away after a couple of episodes and they just go whole hog with the “you're reading a shitty fantasy novel” storyline, everything gets all serious and dramatic near the end and then it's wash, rinse, repeat. There's nothing to indicate that Legend of the Legendary Heroes is any different.
On the other hand, here's a fun experiment: head on down to your local gaming shop (sometimes they're also comic book stores or Games Workshop mall outlets) and find a group of 20-somethings playing Dungeons & Dragons. Sit close enough so you can hear their dialogue, the campaign storyline, and all the unfunny, tired nerd jokes the players make during the game. See if you can tell the difference between that experience and watching this show! I bet you can't!
Legend of the Legendary Heroes is currently available streaming on Funimation.com.
Here is a series of helpful illustrations that will show you the average viewer experience during the first episode of Strike Witches 2.
Fig. 1: The facial expressions of Someone Who Likes This Sort Of Thing:
Fig. 2: The facial expressions of Someone Who Doesn't:
Now, as someone who falls firmly into that second category, I have to give Strike Witches 2 one thing; the animation during the aerial combat sequences is pretty phenomenal. If you can get past the nonstop smash cuts to some flying half-airplane-girl's taint (you can't), it's clear AIC spent a decent amount of cash on these sequences and the artistry is all there in the animation. I never saw the first series, but the one universal compliment the show got was that the combat scenes were really well-animated; based on this first episode of the second series, I can totally agree with that. It's nice work.
A few other observations:
- The little fox-cat-girl-whatever the hell she's supposed to be heals adorable woodland creatures with her magic healing powers, and although nothing about that sentence makes sense to me, I am A-OK with this concept.
- At one point a girl with an eyepatch is forging a samurai sword in an old-timey blacksmithery, complete with swinging hammer and flying sparks, and she isn't wearing any pants. This seems like a remarkably bad idea.
- Given how ludicrous the very idea of this show is, it is awfully serious and melodramatic. How can you not laugh at the very sight of these airplane-legged girls? And yet they're all very sincere and stern and taking it all very seriously.
Otherwise this is more of the same for people who loved the first series, and hey, apparently this show is a license to print money in Japan, so more power to 'em. Whoever came up with this insane premise (something tells me this show was originally produced on a dare of some kind) must feel like the luckiest guy in the industry right now.
Strike Witches 2 is currently available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rikuo is the heir to the Nura clan throne, a proud guild of Yokai (Japanese monster people, basically) who remain hidden from the human world. Rikuo spends most of his time in his human form, which is that of a spunky 12-year old middle school student and enjoys spending time with his classmates, all of whom are curious about the existence (or lack thereof) of the Yokai.
I'm not sure who Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is supposed to be for. Bored kids? Bored teenagers? Animators who need a job where they don't have to even pretend like they give a shit about their craft? This show is dull, pointless, and feels like it was slapped together at the last minute by a guy who had 10 minutes to cobble a story together from the scraps left in Rumiko Takahashi's trash bin. The script is just terrible; at no point are we given any solid reason to care about anything that's happening. The big thrust of the story in this episode is that Rikuo – who prefers being a boring normal kid to a demon with crazy powers – hangs out with his junior high friends who all want to go explore the creepy old building behind the school and hunt for Yokai, which of course creates a wa-a-a-cky conflict because Rikuo IS a Yokai and hey let's all go take a nap and clean out the garage instead of finishing this episode or ever thinking about it again.
Further, what the hell is with these shows where there's someone who's existing between the human realm and the supernatural realm and has all these cool powers and transformative abilities and “just wants to be a normal human”? What kind of janky-ass unrealistic storytelling is that? “Well I suppose I could shoot freeze rays from my eyes, command an army of undead monsters and move shit with my thoughts but I'd rather go to gym class, file my quarterly taxes and have my tires rebalanced every 7,000 miles!” Hey, if you have a whole smorgasbord of kickass superpowers and you tell me you'd rather wait in line at the deli like everyone else, go to hell.
This show sucks.
Nura: Rise of the Yokai Clan is currently available streaming at VizAnime.com.
It's a sad day at Waldstein Academy, a university dedicated to the exploration and research of the occult. Their principal recently died of a heart attack, and his daughter, the ball-busting Maya Kumashiro, shows up late to her father's funeral. In a recorded message left behind for his students, the principal takes one last stab at proving the skeptics wrong by reciting a spell that's supposed to summon a friendly ghost and instead manages to raise a malevolent spiritual force that reanimates the principal's corpse and starts terrorizing the school. Naturally, Maya – who claims to not believe in any of this occult crap – slaps together a team of students to bring the spirit down and put her father's body to rest.
There's a whole lot of other stuff going on in the first episode of Occult Academy – we get a lot of flashbacks to Maya's past, meet a slew of characters and there are hints at a much bigger story going on (including the sudden appearance of a floating naked guy at the very end of the episode), but this show is a ton of fun. There have been a whole lot of supernaturally-themed anime over the years, and most of them boil down to the Scooby-Doo-esque antics of ghost-hunting kids, but Occult Academy bucks that trend and instead gives us a funny, unique and interesting protagonist in Maya (whose complex relationship with her father and his obsession with the occult is the most interesting thing going on here) with a setting and production design that's just dripping with eerie flair. The show has an excellent sense of humor, too; ethereally, there's a bit of a Ghostbusters vibe going on here, and I laughed out loud more than once. The animation and character designs are gorgeous, with some really nice background work. It's an incredibly strong start to a show with huge promise.
The only downside here is that the episode opens with a segment featuring a bunch of old important-looking guys staring into laptops in a bunker somewhere, and they're tossing out obtuse references to things we know nothing about, and then that stuff is never referenced again. That means this show has the potential to get far too complicated and serious for its own good; here's hoping they stick to Maya's narrative and the crazy supernatural antics at Waldstein Academy.
Occult Academy is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: who cares, zombies
Here's the premise of Highschool of the Dead: the zombie apocalypse has begun and we're in an anime high school when the chaos breaks out. That's pretty much it. Every possible scenario or sequence that pops into your head upon hearing that description is likely in this first episode somewhere.
What's interesting here is that they've finally made a show that is, without a doubt, composed of 100 percent undiluted fanservice. Sure, there's a metric boob-load of jiggling T&A – some of it borderline gross since the high school chicks getting ripped apart by the undead are frequently in suggestive poses as they're being eaten alive, which may confuse your boner (unless you're in to that sort of thing) – but the fact is, zombies themselves are fanservice now. They're such a nerd meme cliché that putting them in anything immediately turns whatever the project is into pandery geekbait. Which doesn't mean the show isn't fun to watch, but if you're over the whole LOL ZOMBIES thing, this show is gonna seem pretty tiresome.
One of the problems here is that this is deeply, wildly uncreative – there is not a single story beat or character or even a scene in here you haven't seen in every other zombie-related thing ever. It's all in here – the disturbing scenes of mass panic followed by gruesome death after gruesome death, the eventual “discovery” that the zombies can only be killed by a blow to the head, a ragtag team of desperate survivors holing up on the high ground, and scenes of the city in anarchy with burning buildings and highways jammed with abandoned cars. Hell, they even go for the “oh no my best friend got bitten and wants me to kill him before he turns! What a grim situation this is!!” thing. I can't even count the number of times I've seen that in a zombie movie (or videogame or TV series or comic book etcetera).
All that and my zombie fatigue aside, this show is going to be huge and it's a licensing no-brainer (oh ho!) for Section23, and nerds everywhere will love the crap out of it. It's decently animated, appropriately nasty and has pretty much everything your average zombie (and/or boobs) enthusiast is looking for. It just could've easily been written by a script generator or a horror fan with 19 minutes to kill.
Highschool of the Dead is available streaming on Anime Network.
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