The Fall 2010 Anime Preview Guide
Theron Martin

by Theron Martin, Oct 1st 2010

Kuragehime

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: Kurashita Tsukimi, an 18-year-old illustrator, once talked with her mother about becoming a princess and having a wedding dress as delicate and graceful as a particularly beautiful jellyfish. Somewhere along the way, though, she became a nerdy girl rather than a princess-like “chic” girl and now lives in an apartment building exclusive to other nerdy girls, who collectively call themselves Amars (a name for Buddhist nuns) and are as anti-chic as a group of girls can get. A crisis involving one of her beloved jellyfish forces Kurashita to make the acquaintance of an especially chic girl, though, one who ends up sleeping over at her place. In the morning Kurashita discovers that her newfound friend is not at all what she appears to be.

Nerdy girls have been the subject of anime before, but rarely has this been done from a female perspective and with such a distinctly shojo (josei?) style, and more rarely still has the nerdy protagonist been treated seriously. (The Wallflower essentially made a joke of its protagonist's nerdy status, for instance.) The result is a simple, delightful little comedy about the geek vs. chic struggle which, in its first episode, lays an excellent groundwork for all sorts of potentially interesting complications to come. The one potential problem is that Kurashita's apartment mates have been made so visually and behaviorally eccentric that the series does not seem to leave much room for fleshing them out, but that is a minor consideration so far. What matters most is making Tsukimi into an appealing female lead without actually making her pretty, and at this the animated effort by Brains Base succeeds very well.

Even if you aren't inclined to watch the whole episode, you should at least check it out for its awesome opener, which in a mere 1:30 does no less than parody Sex and the City, Star Wars, Singing in the Rain, Mary Poppins, James Bond, The Graduate, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and at least one I didn't recognize.


The World God Only Knows episode 2

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: Fortunately the concept at hand here - that of a master dating sim player trying to translate his game experience to real-world application with the help of an incompetent demon - has proved more resilient than the execution. What was a shallow, silly mess in the first episode coalesces into something  more interesting with its second episode.

To facilitate the completion of their contract, Elsie has resolved to become Keima's little sister, only to discover that Keima has exacting standards for such a position. As Elsie struggles to fulfill them, Keima learns more about her background. In the second half of the episode, the hunt for the next lost soul begins, with Keima facing an entirely different problem this time: the aloof rich girl. But it seems that this particular rich girl also has quite a big secret which could entirely change the situation.

The first half of the episode has some very funny moments while also setting Elsie up to be more sympathetic than just the lovably incompetent ditz. The second part, which also has its funny moments, seems unremarkable until it reveals its big plot twist in the final scenes, which suggests that the next episode might not be so predictable or easily manageable for our hero. That will answer the biggest problem with the first episode (i.e. that his game knowledge makes it too easy for him to earn his conquests) if it lasts.

TWGOK still disappoints by not aiming higher, but with its second episode it is showing to be effective  as a semi-parody of dating sim games, one which also has a bit of heart.


Otome Yōkai Zakuro episode 2

Rating: 4.5+ (of 5)

Review: This season so far has lacked a true “home run” series or episode, but this one comes darn close. If there were any doubts about the quality of this series following its first episode, the second episode should fully dispel them, as it not only shows that it can carry a serious tone but also reveals that it can do so with all of the grace and elegance that its “fight” scenes have displayed.

In this story, Second Lieutenant Agemaki is still struggling to overcome his fear of spirits and build a peaceable relationship with the prickly Zakuro when an assignment to deal with a spirit interfering with the construction of a new hotel (the first Western-styled hotel in Japan) comes up. Upon investigating, the team discovers that the heart of the matter actually lies in what Japan is giving up in the name of Westernization and progress, which strikes close to home for Zakuro since she can already sense the disapproval of her kind in the public eye. Meanwhile, the other two soldiers continue to build their relationships with their assigned spirit girls.

And yes, that does mean that weighty issues such as racial tolerance and the struggle to find a balance between tradition and modernization, both of which were hinted at in the first episode, come into play prominently here and will likely continue to do so throughout the series. The writing deserves a lot of credit for not playing his heavy-handed and still keeping in some of the humor which made the first episode so much fun, bur the visuals are also a triumph (this is quite possibly the season's best-looking series) and the soundtrack does a wonderful job of hitting just the right tone. If there is a flaw, it's that personalities conform a little too much to common archetypes, but this episode does too much else very well to look down on the series just for that. It is shaping up to be one of the season's biggest prizes and is worth a look regardless of your normal anime tastes.


Tantei Opera Milky Holmes

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: The detective genre crosses with the magical girl team genre in what is undeniably the new season's biggest cute fest. In this setting, various people possess innate Toys which give them super-powers like telekinesis, clairvoyance, super-strength, illusion-casting, or machine manipulation, which results in an ongoing struggle between the Great Detectives and the Gentleman Thieves. The Holmes Detective Academy, housed in Mystery Mansion, is a training ground for prospective detective teams, and in that setting the most elite team was Milky Holmes - emphasis on “was,” as they've been nothing but screw-ups since they mysteriously lost their powers while attempting to stop a criminal team a month earlier. Faced with potential expulsion and a serious downgrade of their status at the school, the team resolves to find some way to recover their Toys and get back on track, while the Gentleman (Gentlewoman?) Thief Arsene and her team secretly look on.

That the team, whose members conform to typical personality archetypes and bear names suggestive of literature's greatest detectives, must learn to cope without their powers up front gives the series an interesting angle, but really this one is all about the Cute Factor. The character designs (flavors of Cardcaptor Sakura, anyone?) emphasize this heavily, with a nod to sentai team standards in the specific color coding of the main quartet's outfits; even the doors to their rooms are color-coded. Arsene gives the series its requisite sexy villain, while her cohorts provide the dashing/cute guy factor. Though the regular episode has no fan service beyond Arsene's racy costume, any hint that this isn't at least partly aimed at otaku goes out the window with a less-than-tame closer which may rise lolicon warning flags for some.

Milky Holmes does have some decent humor and action going for it, and the dynamics are a bit unusual, but it's too soon to tell whether this one will amount to enough to appeal to broader audiences.

Tantei Opera Milky Holmes is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Squid Girl

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: Upset over human treatment of the sea, Squid Girl has come to the surface to conduct a squidly invasion, with her very squidly tentacle-hair as her chief weapon. She has grossly underestimated the humans she seeks to subjugate, however, especially the two sisters and younger brother who operate a beachside restaurant. Soon she finds herself working, much to her chagrin, at said restaurant to repay them for damage done to said restaurant, while the younger brother seeks to play with Squid Girl.

Essentially, Squid Girl is an approximate equivalent to Sgt. Frog; if you liked that one, you will almost certainly like this one, as it has a similar premise, somewhat similar art style, and especially a similar approach to humor. Crunchyroll's English subtitles carry through all of the squid references, making the dialogue a delight to follow, and the trio of approximately seven minute mini-stories keep things squidding along at a jetting clip, with no joke theme lasting long enough to wear out its welcome. Along the way it deliver plenty of silly content and numerous opportunities for laughs or just a big, squidly grin on a viewer's face. A well-used soundtrack helps, and the artistry, while nothing fancy, is still sufficient for the humor it shows.

Squid Girl has absolutely no depth, but a series like this doesn't need it. Accept it as nothing more than a brisk sequence of animate gag strips and you have a fun little diversion safe for all ages. (You may never look at squid ink the same way again, however. . .)


Squid Girl is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Samurai Girls episode 2

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: In this alternate version of 21st century Japan, “master samurai” can only achieve their full super-powered potential by making a pact with the General, which means that they are, by default, under the direct control of the Tokugawa government. The newly-arrived Jubei demonstrate just such an overwhelming level of power, however, and only Muneakira's entreaties seem capable of staying her hand. Once the battle is over, however, the menacing Jubei becomes a sexy, amnesiac simpleton, however, and Princess Sen, who was childhood friends with Muneakira, is left to sort out the ensuing mess. While Yukimura and Hattori squabble, Muneakira wonders about the mysteries and potentially dark truths which might lay at the bottom of Jubei's identity.

As weighty as this synopsis may sound, the second episode is no less the sexy, samurai-themed harem romp that the first episode was. It starts with a pulse-pounding action sequence before retreating into more typical squabbling, interpersonal interactions, and lurid antics. None of this will disappoint anyone who's normally a fan of such fare; in fact, what it's trying to do it does very well. The traditional Japanese musical themes and a hyper-stylish art style which gives the impression that the whole series was animated on old scrolls lets this one challenge even Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt for the most distinctive-looking and sounding series of the season, and it doesn't shirk on the appealing character designs and fan service, either. The ink blots are still around for some self-censoring, though they also get used to transition between scenes. The nice animation is still around, too, and the writing even milks the material for a few laughs.

Basically, episode 2 merely confirms what episode 1 revealed: that this is the sharpest action and fan service-oriented title of the new season.

Samurai Girls is available streaming on The Anime Network.


Sore de mo Machi wa Mawatteiru

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: You certainly have to give credit to Soredemo for diligently trying to avoid being just another cutesy series answering to the popular maid fetish in Japan. Within the confines of having to actually be a maid-oriented series, it pulls out all of the stops: weird camera angles, shifting perspectives, aggressive scene transitions, one of the ugliest female characters you'll ever see in any anime series, and a setting that is so far from the norm for a traditional maid café that it has to work in that direction rather than start out with its appeal already in place. It even has irreverent little comedy asides, too.

The plot takes a sketch comedy format centered around Fortune Café, a fairly generic café whose staff wears maid outfits. Klutzy high schooler Hotori Arashiyama is the main wait staff maid, but as friend Tohsiko observes, neither she nor the establishment in general seems to be capturing the true spirit of what a maid café is supposed to be. Toshiko tries to help Hotori learn the Maid Art, but when Toshiko learns that her crush Sanada frequents the establishment, she decides to join the café herself. The only problem is a teacher who harries the two about their violation of a school prohibition against taking part-time jobs without permission.

The eccentric construction and execution of the series is certainly going to attract attention, and there is certainly nothing wrong with its sharp background art or a performance piece closer that is almost inarguably the best closer so far this season. The animation is limited, however, the quirky style will be hit-or-miss, and the humor is mostly dependent on playing up otakucentric elements. Parts of it can be funny, but this is not a show that will work for everyone.



A Certain Magical Index II

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review: The original Index was a good series with flashes of greatness. Based on the first episode alone, the second season shows at least as much potential, as everything that made the first series work - the cute Index, the rascally but resolute Touma with his Imagine Breaker power, everyone's favorite Railgun Mikoto Misaka, and plenty of flashy powers being thrown around - is back in spades. The opener suggests that nearly all of the prominent supporting characters from both the original and the spin-off A Certain Scientific Railgun will eventually be making appearances, too.

The first episode, though, primarily seems like a one-off. While Touma struggles to finish his summer homework in a very limited amount of time, distractions rear their ugly (or cute!) heads. A bow-wielding magician seeks Index for the knowledge in one of the books in her head and isn't about to take “no” for an answer. While Touma desperately seeks to rescue the kidnapped Index, Index gradually discovers that, while the magician's motivations certainly are not nefarious, what he is attempting to do is definitely dangerous, especially to himself. In the epilogue, a certain mono-pantlegged swordswoman makes an appearance, suggesting a new and big plot is afoot.

The first episode provides a great example of how to efficiently combine humorous misfortune, cute character interactions, flashy power use, and some genuine sentiment, all without needing to rely on any fan service. J.C. Staff turns in its best artistic effort since the last Index series, while the musical score charges forward just as effectively as it did in the first series. Animation is decidedly above-average, too.

Even if you haven't seen the original, this one might be worth a look. Super-powered action series this crisp and entertaining don't come along every season,



Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt episode 2

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: The following assumes that you were not utterly reviled by the first episode. If you were, then this one will not do anything to change your mind.

After the first episode proved to be such blazing, all-out fun, the second shows what is more likely to be the truth about the series: a production whose entertainment effectiveness will be wildly uneven and very hit-or-miss. The first part, “The Clamor of the Beehive,” is an example of a “miss.” It features Panty and Stocking infiltrating a high school which is believed to have a Ghost on the premises which is responsible for some disappearances. Once there, Panty gets into a power struggle with the school's resident queen bee in an exercise which is short on laughs (though not for lack of effort) and the kind of edge which made the first episode so great. Much of that returns in the second half, “Sex and the Daten City,” which involved Panty and Stocking becoming celebrities as the release of their first movie (see the half-episode title) approaches, with one big glitch: Panty has actually unwittingly filmed a porno flick previously, and that must be made to disappear before the movie gets released. Though this content doesn't have much action, it shows vastly more cleverness, including a clear 2001: A Space Odyssey and an amusing role reversal involving barely-clad men laid out with sushi as if they're the platters. The daringly foul-mouthed spirit of the first episode also returns here.

The artistic style has been accused of too much resembling some of Cartoon Network/Adult Swim's more crudely-animated fare, and that complaint is not without merit. For anime, though, it is still a bold and frenetic look, and the incongruity between its adult content and more kiddie-fare look only makes the content more amusing. If it didn't throw you off in the first episode then it won't now, and the same can be said for the episode as a whole.


Fortune Arterial: Akai Yakusoku

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review: Kohei Hasekura has transferred schools so many times due to his father's work that he has stopped trying to keep track of them all, so when he finally gets a choice of his own he opts for Shuchikan Academy, a boarding school out on a peripheral Japanese island that he had once briefly stayed at several years ago. There he meets a pair of girls he knew as a youth and quickly gets associated with several classmates, including the eccentric Student Council. Something odd happens when he comes into contact with vice-president Erika Sendo, however, which rattles her to the core and leaves Kohei perplexed. Much more disturbing for Kohei, though, is the discovery that a vampire may be on the prowl at school, and it's someone he's already met.

Yeah, this is yet another adult visual novel adaptation. It spends its first episode introducing the premise and all of the key players, with revelations in the prologue and at the end that vampires may be involved, and that's about all it does. Except for the vampire angle, everything which transpires here is rigidly formulaic, including a cast of girls (read: potential love interests) who could have been taken from almost any random visual novel or ero game. The same applies to the building and character designs, too, which look good but also absolutely typical for this type of series. The way vampirism is going to fit into the picture could be a bit intriguing and may serve as an initial hook, as these are vampires who apparently have no difficulty walking around in daylight, but this offering from developer August and producers ZEXCS and feel. has yet to show anything that will entice those who are not already fans of this style of series to keep watching.

Fortune Arterial is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Motto To Love-Ru -Trouble-

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: Rito and the whole gang are back for yet another round of silly, shameless harem antics! In the episode's first part, various shenanigans happen as Rito and Lala had for school, followed by a visit to a bath house which gets messy when alien bounty hunters intent on capturing Golden Darkness decide that Rito would make a perfect puppet for their purposes. Later, dedicated morals officer Yui decides to step up a rules enforcement, although she gets thrown for a loop by questions about what it's like to be in love. Naturally Rito unwittingly gets involved.

This series is actually a sequel to the To Love-Ru OVAs rather than a direct sequel to the first TV series, so those who haven't seen the OVAs may fail to recognize some characters who appear at Rito's house at the beginning. It also shows a continuation of Rito's sister Mikan's efforts to befriend Golden Darkness, which also comes from the OVA. Otherwise this is business as usual for the franchise, which is exactly why this episode works. Because the franchise is perfectly content to be exactly what it is - a fun-loving harem romp with no aspirations for deeper meaning or pushing the envelope - it can continue to merrily churn out stupidly funny content to complement its loads of fan service. Even moments which should feel. very repetitive by this point, such as Rito inadvertently staring up Haruna's skirt for the umpteenth time, can still find a laugh or three because of the ridiculous ways in which they come about.

The colors here seem a little flat compared to the original series, and the new opening number cannot compete with the original's, but the fan service is up to its normal standards so there's little cause for concern. If you have been a fan of the franchise so far, or just want some lowbrow, brainless fun which may make you laugh despite yourself, there's no reason to pass this one up.

 


The World God Only Knows

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review: In the world of gaming, high school student Katsuragi Keima is known as the God of Conquest for his supreme mastery of dating sims. There is no 2D girl whose heart he cannot win, but he has little regard for 3D girls and, really, reality in general. When responding to what he thinks is an online challenge actually turns out to be signing a demonic contract, though, he finds himself obligated to work with a cutesy demon from Hell to recover lost souls who are inhabiting the hearts of lonely girls - and the only way to get those souls out is to get the possessed girls to fall in love with him. The price of failure is losing his head (literally).

This one actually had the potential to be one of the best concepts of the new season, as it touches upon a phenomenon that is starting to become an actual problem in Japan: young men rejecting real women in favor of the less judgmental and easier-to-satisfy (and easier-to-manipulate?) 2D versions. Had this been played straight, with Katsuragi actually having to struggle to figure out how to relate to real girls and how they have to be handled differently than game girls, it could have been the most insightful and hard-hitting otaku-focused series since Welcome to the NHK. Perhaps that would have struck too uncomfortably close to home, though, which is why we instead have the shallowest, silliest, and most oversimplified possible version of the concept, one which tosses just a touch of sentiment in with ridiculous gimmickry, possibly the least credible demon ever, and the improbability that Katsuragi's game experience will directly translate into winning over real girls. The first episode does get some credit for showing that most girls regard Katsuragi as the freak that he is, but neither the music nor the artistry is good enough to compensate the rest of the way for execution deficiencies.

Actually, this series is not horrible, as it does have a few decent ideas and some decent humor. It is certainly a prime example of wasted potential, however, and that is what the grade given truly reflects.

The World God Only Knows is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Yosuga no Sora

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: Haruka and Sora are twins who have recently lost their parents in an accident, so they have returned to their original home out in the country. While Haruka attends school and attract the attention of many a girl with his dashing good looks, the sickly (but improving) Sora remains at home, frustrated by her isolation. Will any of the gaggle of new girls in Haruka's life be able to compete with someone already closer and dearer to Haruka than any of them could hope to be?

Though not commonplace, incest is hardly an unknown element in Japanese ero games, and that's exactly what this is: another ero game translated into animated form. The set-up is fairly typical for the type, as is the selection of potential love interests - a maid, a miko, a rich girl, a class rep, a busty neighbor girl, and a sickly girl - with the only difference this time being that the most prominent love interest is the lead's fraternal twin sister. There's really no question about whether or not this is incest, either, as Haruka and Sora have a clear physical resemblance, are clearly-shown kissing at one point, and some of the things Sora thinks and does (especially in the last regular scene) are unquestionably provocative. If incest bothers you, stay well away.

The tone of the series is hard to figure out from this episode. The regular content plays almost entirely seriously and with a mood not common to the typically more outlandish style of ero game adaptations, while the bonus animation after the first set of credits is decidedly more on the silly side. It does not shy away on the fan service aspect, as the first episode shows defined nudity and a clear masturbation scene. Exactly how this will all balance out in the long run is anyone's guess at this point.

The first episode offers nothing special in its artistry, music, or animation, so its appeal is going to rest entirely on the ero game construction and on how bothered or titillated you are by the incest angle. Incest stories can  be exceptionally good if handled with delicacy and sensitivity (see Koi Kaze), but this one, for the moment at least, seems to be aiming for a more base appeal.


Psychic Detective Yakumo

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review: Yakumo is - get this - a psychic detective because he has this special red eye that allows him to see spirits. He is dashingly bishonen, all full of coolness and sullen, laid-back attitude, but that does not leave him above helping a girl in need, especially a cute one like lavender-haired Haruka Ozawa, whose friends have run into possessed-by-evil-spirits trouble after a trip to a decrepit and supposedly haunted old school. Naturally Haruka has a past tragedy that Yakumo can use to appeal to her, and naturally this matter (which turns out to involve a serial killer) can be resolved in a single episode without Yakumo actually putting in a terrible amount of effort. Oh, and some other evil guy with certainly nefarious intent lingers in the background.

For the most part Psychic Detective Yakumo is as trite as it sounds, which is a shame, since it features some very nice character designs, respectably spooky shots, and a soundtrack which makes a serious effort to turn this into a dark and dramatic work. It does have a few worthy scenes, too, such as a somewhat emotional one where Haruka must come to terms with her past, but even there the writing undercuts itself a bit with a predictable set-up and follow-through. Two main problems are evident here: the writing not only forces the story into a too-compact form to resolve everything by the end of the first episode but also devotes so much effort to painting Yakumo as a cool dude that it sacrifices on most everything else.

If you want to see a similar concept done much better, check out Ghost Hunt instead. Unless Haruka's apparent ongoing presence buoys up the series, though, this one is going to struggle to stay afloat.


Otome Yōkai Zakuro

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: In what appears to be early 20th century Japan, an increase in spirit activity prompts the formation of the Ministry of Spirit Affairs and the creation of a task force which will pair soldiers with half-spirit girls to deal with spirit-related threats. A trio of soldiers is chosen for the duty, but of them, Second Lieutenant Agemaki, the dashing son of a famous General, has a peculiar problem that is very relevant: he's deathly afraid of spirits, but cannot avoid this duty lest he bring shame to his name. His designated partner, the feisty and puissant half-spirit Zakuro, is at first taken in by his immense charm, but when she learns his secret, sparks will fly.

As stereotypical as this may sound, Zakuro works and works well for two reasons: it has a definite sense of humor and it displays one of the most elegant approaches to combat that you'll ever see in an anime series. The musical score and situations that Agemaki find himself in strongly suggest that humor will be a priority for this one rather than just a sidelight, although it does also muster some affecting serious moments, too. And the two fight scenes - well, they may not look terribly practical, but they are almost literally poetry in motion. A fine sense of period artistic style, with an emphasis on costuming and creative spirit designs, serve as nice complements.

The writing does rely on some standard elements - Zakuro is a borderline tsundere type, for instance - but if it can maintain the charm that it shows in this first episode then such minor failings will be easy to overlook.

Otome Yōkai Zakuro is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Samurai Girls

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: Last season The Anime Network snagged and simulcasted Highschool of the Dead, the summer's most stylish, fan service-laden action fest. It follows up by claiming HSotD's closest equivalent this season: Samurai Girls, a show that will almost certainly be compared to Ikki Tousen because of its similar penchant for modern-day fighters using the name of historical figures and plenty of figure-flashing fan service. This one has a lot more artistic flair, however (the ink blots in the screen shot are a recurring theme as well as a censoring device), and a more interesting setting.

The premise is a melding of assorted past anime excuses for sexy fighting girls series. In an alternate timeline where the shogunate remains in power even in 2010, powerful female warriors protect the country of Great Japan, which is the envy of all others. A man later revealed to be Muneikira Yagyu has arrived at a particular prestigious school to serve as master of its dojo, but a series of misunderstandings gets him caught between Toyotomi Samurai Girls and the forces of the school's disciplinary team. As a battle is about to begin in earnest, a sexy, apparently summoned newcomer arrives on the scene in a burst of power, kisses Muneikira, and reveals a quite familiar name.

Studio ARMS has pulled out all of the stops for this one, creating a mishmash of fan-favorite elements which include ninja, maid costumes, traditional samurai apparel, nudity, implied sexual behavior, references to famous historical fighters, and a little bit of actual action. The artistic effort is striking, less because it does anything special in animation than because of a distinctive filtering, ink blot use, and a background art style not at all suggested by the series' advertisement artwork, which incongruously makes the series look brighter and more cheerful than it actually does. The story is still in its set-up stage, so it is too early to determine yet what direction it might go in, and despite the title the action in this episode is actually limited beyond a stylized prologue featuring fighter girls hopping between B-17s and destroying them. It is well-paced, effectively dramatic, and has hints of humor, though, so if you're looking for a sexy action romp for this season, then this one might fit the bill.

Samurai Girls is available streaming on The Anime Network.


Super Robot Wars OG: The Inspector

Rating: 2 (general audiences) or 3.5 (mecha fans)

Review: This newest paean to classic old-school mecha is actually apparently a sequel to the similarly-named 2006 series Divine Wars, which was itself a remake of a popular RPG series for the Game Boy Advance. It certainly starts out with a bang, with a near-apocalyptic battle between two manly men duking it out in their very powerful and manly mecha as one seems to be covering for a group's escape while the other, Beowulf, can transform into monstrous proportion. Following a retro mecha opener done with rock-song bluster, the action apparently shifts back to the Earth, where the Earth Federation government is preparing a militarization campaign while attempting to eliminate the well-equipped remnants of the Divine Crusaders and be prepared for further alien intrusion. Some of the characters from Divine Wars have gone their separate ways, while others still battle together in the ATX, and big mecha battles commence between them and DC forces until a new and mysterious player (apparently the “Inspector” from the title?) enters the battlefield.

This probably all makes a lot more sense if you're familiar with the seminal games or have actually seen the first series, but what's most important here is that all but a minute or two of this episode is composed of flashy mecha battles. Mecha fight, blaze a myriad of dazzling and ridiculous powers across the screen, and lots of things explode - and that's really almost the entire substance of the episode. (But did you expect anything different given the title?) Oh, can't forget the bouncing breasts and curve-emphasizing combat suits, either, and the closer certainly makes it clear that sexy fan service will be a priority, too. At least the series does actually put adult-looking characters as the primaries in its mecha.

Asahi Production has certainly not slouched on the technical side, as they deliver some high-grade artistry, pretty character designs, above-average animation, and a spectacular opening battle. Later fights are more ordinary, however, and I can't see this one appealing to those who aren't already mecha fans anyway. It will dazzle its target audience and be beneath the interest of everyone else.

Super Robot Wars OG is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Bakuman.

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: Letting one's early dreams die can be a numbing experience, as middle school student Moritaka found out for himself. Bereft of his early aspirations to follow his favorite uncle's lead into becoming a mangaka, he is now adrift and directionless in his aspirations for the future; even what he thinks is a one-sided crush on a girl in his class doesn't give him much hope. Top classmate Takagi notices both his interest and his artistic talent, however, and all but forces Moritaka to join him in his own dreams: to write manga, with an artist of Moritaka's caliber in his team. Moritaka soon discovers what Takagi already suspected: that the girl in question, who aspires to be a voice actress, will be interested, too. An unexpected choice of words by Moritaka complicates the situation, but also gives him a powerful motivation; if he succeeds at becoming a mangaka, and manages to create something that can get animated and allow his girl to star, he'll have a future wife already lined up.

How cynically one looks at Bakuman. may largely determine how much one likes the set-up for this series from the creators of  Death Note and Hikaru no Go. (And they certainly make sure we don't forget that, don't they?)  Should it be viewed as a crass attempt to capitalize on otakucentric subject matter, or is it an insightful tale about the forces that can motivate a person to pursue their dreams and an exploration of what it takes to be a mangaka? I opt for the latter, in large part because, unlike in almost every other animated example of characters wanting to become mangaka, the sentiment here rings true. The situation with Moritaka's uncle either is or could be anecdotal and helps put into perspective the reality that only a small handful of mangaka become big successes. While the climactic gimmick may be over-the-top, far more ridiculous ways to capture and retain a pretty girl's interest have certainly been attempted and the episode simultaneously speaks to finding a way to climb out of the state of apathy said to be all-too-common amongst Japanese youths.

J.C. Staff hardly dazzles with their animation effort here, and does produce an episode that is a bit too talky, but they deserve credit for using musical selections and artistic styles which allow the content to be approached (mostly) seriously. The only real point of production irritation is that the characters shown here look too old for the age they're supposed to be. (Yes, students at that age can look that old, but not universally so.)

We will have to see another episode or two to be sure exactly what direction this is going to go in now that the set-up is out of the way, and whether or not the sincerity shown here will hold, but this one at least has the potential to be a hit.


Yumeiro Pâtissière Professional

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: Let's be frank here: this is a series (or, rather, the sequel to a series) about a girl who wants to become a pastry chef and has a little Sweet Spirit (read: fairy) hanging around to help her out in that task. It also has all of the other common shojo trappings like dashing pretty boys (who have their own Sweet Spirits) that are a mix of rivals and potential love interests - and sometimes both at the same time! - and all of the artistic style elements one would expect to see in a light-hearted shojo romance. If that isn't normally your thing then stay a mile away, because this one won't change your mind. Far from being fresh or innovative, the series relies entirely on its simple, sweet charm to carry it.

That isn't necessarily bad, though, as this is a follow-up to a 50-episode series which started the same time last year and built its success entirely on a charm as sweet as the pastries it features. After finishing her course of study in Paris, the now-16-year-old Ichigo returns to Japan, only to discover that the team she had going with the Sweets Princes is falling apart, and she is unwittingly responsible. She has little time to lament, though, because an eccentric new classmate and teammate, the foreigner (read: American) Johnny McBeal is trying to sweep her off her feet, much to the chagrin of Makoto. All three of them and Yamagishi Lemon, who has also come to Japan, all get called to hear Henri's new plan, and it is a doozy which involves the tag title of this new season.

Unlike with Letter Bee Reverse, this one does not just jump into the middle of things, so newcomers will have at least a chance to figure it out. Familiarity with the original series is still assumed, however. For those who have watched the original, this arc seems certain to send the series in some interesting new directions, provided that the writing does not use the advancing premise as just a framing device for more fun with exotic sweets. The addition of the flamboyant new love interest may also stir things up, but again, it's still pretty standard shojo gimmickry. Overall, it seems like a safe but not especially enticing addition to the new season.

Yumeiro Pâtissière Professional is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Letter Bee Reverse

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: If you have not previously seen at least most of the original 2009-2010 Letter Bee series then don't bother to start here, as this one so seamlessly continues from the original that Crunchyroll has even labeled the first Reverse episode as episode 26 of the original series. It makes no effort to explain anything or provide any context, and drops viewers right in the middle of an active scene without elaboration, so anyone not already familiar with what has transpired so far will be hopelessly lost.

Those who have seen the original, though, should find this to be just as sharp-looking and involving as the original was. It overplays the “crybaby” card too much in continuing the story of Letter Bee Lag Seeing, but fans can delight in Lag's pivotal encounter with the long-missing Gauche Suede - only this is not the friendly, dedicated Gauche that Lag remembers. Instead, Gauche has no memory of him or the others and has become something he calls a Marauder, a person intent on stealing letters from the Letter Bees on behalf of the anti-government organization Reverse. Meanwhile, Lag's dingo Niche is having problems of her own with Gauche's dingo, and her failure to defeat the other dingo or protect Lag greatly troubles her. Though troubled by his own failure to bring Gauche back, news of Gauche's reappearance is met with less disappointment by those in AmberGround. Learning that Lag is alive, and that Reverse may be involved, are both quite valuable indeed.

Good writing, attractive artwork, and a consistently somber tone help overcome the trite amnesia gimmick the series pulls, but really the strength of the series is still its setting and premise. If that has always worked for you, this extension shows no signs of failing.

 


MM!

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review: High school student TARO has a big problem: he is an out-of-control masochist. He hates the fact that nothing excites him more than being verbally or physically abused by a pretty girl (and the gods help the girl who unloads both on him!), so on the advice of his best friend he seeks the help of his school's Second Volunteer Club, which is run by a petite, tsundere spitfire name Mio who proclaims herself a goddess and also includes a busty, seemingly timid girl. After being abused by the Club's members but also helping another client come to terms with his problem, he is invited to join.

As the synopsis above suggests, this light novel-based series is almost entirely predicated on one gimmick - finding humor in masochism, where the pain is inflicted by pretty and/or moe high school girls - and at least initially it looks like that is all it has going for it; if that gimmick doesn't work for you, the whole concept collapses. There comes a point late in the first episode where a big surprise adds an extra dimension to the series and might change some viewers' minds about this one, however. Oh, it's still a trashy piece of work which panders to all kinds of otaku fetishes while aping some elements of earlier series like Okamisan and Toradora! (too many aspects of Mio's design, movements, and portrayal borrow from Taiga for it to be a coincidence), and it has artistic merits unlikely to impress anyone, but that surprise at least gives the series some potential.

So yeah, even if you think you've made up your mind about this one early on (not hard to do, since it shows its gimmick immediately), give it until the end of the episode before writing it off.


Sora no Otoshimono: Forte

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review: If you want something fresh in the realm of crass and crude, go check out Panty and Stocking with Garter Belt. If you want more traditional doses of otaku-pandering fan service, however, then look here. Whether it be busty angels wearing collars and acting submissive, S&M elements, panty/lingerie shots, a big to-do about “morning wood,“ or plentiful girls hanging around an unremarkable central guy, this one has it. But boy, does this one suffer by comparison to the other. Watching these two series back-to-back is like watching two diametric opposite extremes of the raunchy aspect of the anime creative spectrum.

Forte is, of course, a sequel to Fall 2009's Sora no Otoshimono, and returns all of the principal characters. Those who have not watched at least some of the first series probably shouldn't bother with this one, as familiarity is assumed. This time around, Tomoki is starting to have dreams of his Angel again, so his human friends take up Nymph and Ikarus on their offer to send the crew into Tomoki's dreams (as part of a Dive Game) to find out what the dream might mean this time. Various complications ensue as the group ends up in the dreams of other cast members in succession before coming across some somewhat disturbing discoveries. Another Angeloid also arrives on the scene, one which looks to have fearsome combat capabilities similar to Ikarus but has even bigger breasts. Trouble of some kind seems to be in the air.

The artistry and technical merits are good, but there simply isn't enough effective humor or writing here to warrant recommending this to anyone other than those who are already fans of the franchise. Ultimately this just feels uninspired.


Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt

Rating: 0 or 5, depending (of 5)

Review: Everyone probably looks askance when first hearing the title of this new offering from Gainax, but that reaction is nothing compared to the show itself. They have chucked any sense of propriety or typical anime styles and story elements to create one of the most crass, crude, and wickedly fun anime series ever.

The basic premise is simple: Panty and Stocking are fallen angels who operate in Daten City (on the border between Heaven and Hell) with the priest Garter Belt, defeating evil ghosts in an effort to collect Heaven Coins with the presumed goal of getting back into Heaven. Each has her own quirks: Panty is widely-recognized as a slut obsessed with banging men and turning her panties into a gun for use in action scenes; Stocking is sweets-obsessed and turns one of her stockings into a sword for her business. In two half-episode pieces they combat an evil spirit which is causing toilets to eat people (definite shades of Dogma here) and a speed-freak spirit which possesses vehicles. In the process characters get laid, all manner of foul language and blatant sexual references get thrown around, angels pole-dance, and copious amounts of excrement and vomit fly. Crunchyroll did not put an age rating warning on this one without ample reason.

Even more prominent than all of the vulgarity and frenetic action is an art style unlike anything Gainax has ever used before. Its closest stylistic cousin is Dead Leaves, with an action animation sensibility somewhat akin to the more abstract scenes in Gurren Lagann, but this one goes even farther off the deep end. It is a style that people will instantly adore or abjectly hate.

In fact, that can be said about the whole show; there will be no middle ground on this one. If you want to see what happens when a studio pulls out all of the stops, though, then give this one a try (if you dare).

Panty and Stocking is available streaming on Crunchyroll.



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