The Fall 2010 Anime Preview Guide Zac Bertschy
by Zac Bertschy, Oct 1st 2010
Zac Bertschy is the Executive Editor of Anime News Network. He enjoys vodka, bunny rabbits, and one day hopes to intern at Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce.
The World God Only Knows
In his head (and online) Katsuragi is the God of Conquest – master of the dating sim, where no wide-eyed 2-dimensional bishojo can escape his suave exterior. Real life for Katsuragi – not to mention real women – are just an irritating distraction keeping him from his digital domain. One day, while answering a mountain of email from lesser dating sim devotees who need help from the master, he gets a strange message from someone offering him the ultimate challenge girl, and naturally, Katsuragi accepts.
Turns out the “ultimate challenge” girl is actually a demon named Elci who, in a case of mistaken identity, thought Katsuragi's esteemed reputation as the God of Conquest applied to real women, not just digital ones. She's been enlisted to capture souls that have escaped Hell and taken shelter in the empty hearts of loveless girls; in order to harvest these souls, the girls must replace the lost soul with true love – something that can only be achieved by Katsuragi, who is now under contract as Elci's “human buddy”. If they fail? The collars around their necks will make short work of them.
So the gag here is that Katsuragi is the man when it comes to conquering dating sims but has zero knowledge, experience or interest in real human girls, and now he has to make a bunch of them fall in love with him or his head gets cut off. There's a lot of potential in the premise for some fun satire and rom-com hijinks, and thanks to the competent and energetic execution here, The World God Only Knows actually kinda pulls it off. Katsuragi's first flesh ‘n blood conquest is a track star named Ayumi who he immediately rejects because she doesn't wear the requisite track uniform girls in dating sims wear (shorts instead of bloomers, no side ponytail, and so on) and he just can't make himself proceed unless she looks the part, which is funny, but also gets to the point of the show; Katsuragi has to learn how to deal with women as real people with feelings rather than just a series of dialogue options and character design clichés. That point is mostly buried here under all the zany goings-on and shonen romantic comedy tropes (this first episode unfortunately relies way too much on the “sassy girl beats the crap out of the weak-willed hero” joke that at this point should be outlawed in the nation of Japan), but the show has a well-meaning soul, is mercifully short on fanservice, and even though it ultimately kinda fails at it, does attempt to humanize Katsuragi's female conquests as people with complex feelings and insecurities rather than just cardboard galge cutouts.
Unfortunately by the end of the episode they undermine some of the goodwill they've built up by making Katsuragi's “conquest” of Ayumi play out pretty much as it would in a dating sim – she beats him up, he cheers her on, she beats him up more, he supports her in a time where she's vulnerable and gives her some new track cleats and bingo, she kisses him. Which is kind of disappointing, but this is only trying to be a silly comedy that's playing around with dating sim stereotypes. It's mostly entertaining, well-animated goofiness with a surprisingly cool opening animation – what the hell, give it a shot.
The World God Only Knows is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Psychic Detective Yakumo
Here's the plot: Yakumo is an enigmatic, soft-spoken loner who can see the spirits of the dead with his one red eye. Haruka, a lavender-haired student, comes to him seeking help after she and a group of friends decided to investigate the old creepy abandoned schoolhouse, where a few of them naturally got possessed by the spirits of the dead and wound up killing themselves or strapped to a hospital bed. Yakumo's on the case, which he then proceeds to resolve inside a tidy 15 minutes, mostly because the serial killer responsible for all of this is unbelievably dumb and sloppy and also happens to be the only other character in the show who'd had any dialogue or screen time up until Yakumo figures it out.
While normally shows like this convince you that the detective's stunning wit and ingenuity help him solve the case, Yakumo is assisted by the fact that the the killer decided to leave a huge pile of half-buried purses and headbands covered in his fingerprints just off the path to the schoolhouse, with helpful scuff marks in the road leading right to it in case anyone missed out on their chance to discover his stash of evidence. During their tense confrontation inside the schoolhouse, the killer smacks Yakumo aside with a plank of wood and then runs away in terror when he sees that – GASP – one of Yakumo's eyes is red!
Seriously – nothing else happens, there's no crazy display of supernatural power or anything. Yakumo just stands up and stares at the guy, who notices his red eye and then goes screaming into the arms of the police. Another crime solved by crack detective Yakumo and his scary red eye!
Funnily enough, at no point do Yakumo's ghost-whispering talents assist him in solving this case whatsoever. They didn't tell him anything that helped the case - he investigated the schoolhouse where the kids were possessed, discovered the evidence and told the cops. The end. The ghosts were of no help. Haruka could've just gone to the police herself and skipped the whole psychic thing altogether. They probably would've also found that giant pile of evidence hidden in plain view, right?
At the end of the episode we're introduced to what is clearly the show's villain, and you know he's bad because he has two red eyes. Uh oh! That's twice the scary staring power! How will Yakumo deal with this?!
It's difficult to comment on anything other than the empty-headed script here; the production values are middling, the character designs are inoffensively generic, and except for a really poorly-done crowd shot near the end it's pretty average stuff production-wise (although the plot does seem to move along quicker than your average trip aboard the Bee Train). This show is totally wack-umo.
Growing up, Moritaka dreamed of becoming a manga artist just like his favorite uncle, but life got him down; he's abandoned his dream, instead aiming right for the middle, his mediocre grades leading to a mediocre job and a mediocre life. That all changes when he's confronted by Takagi, a classmate who hasn't lost his burning passionate dream of becoming a mangaka, who enlists Moritaka (well, “blackmail” is probably a more appropriate word) to team up with him and create a manga together (Takagi's confident of his ability to write a great story but can't draw) in pursuit of wealth and fame. Moritaka – still trapped in his mediocre malaise – isn't convinced, until Tagaki involves his high school crush, Azuki. Then there's this really absurd plot twist that comes from nowhere and turns a pretty entertaining, simple story into one with this big silly albatross around its neck.
All in all, this first episode of Bakuman. – based on the long-running manga series from the folks behind Death Note and Hikaru no Go – is pretty entertaining and surprisingly informative. While this is definitely following the shonen jump “burning passion! I'm gonna be the best [cook/ninja/sadomasochist/ gubernatorial candidate/whatever]” storyline, for at least the first 18 minutes or so it seems to be rooted in an interesting and sort of withering portrayal of modern Japanese life. Moritaka's explanation of just how apathetic he's become – combined with Takagi's “burning passion” mostly being motivated by a desire to be rich and famous and meet women – feels a little more honest than your usual shonen hero archetypal personalities. It's nothing groundbreaking or revelatory, but it works.
Then they screw it up at the end when it turns out Moritaka's high school crush Azuki – who he's never once spoken to - also has a crush on him and wants to be come a seiyuu as it happens (who'da thunk?!) and then AGREES TO MARRY Moritaka if they manage to create a successful manga that eventually becomes an anime she can star in and oh by the way we shouldn't meet or talk to eachother at all until that happens WHAT
I enjoyed those first 18 minutes or so plenty, though. Sure, the production values are really minimal and at times straight-up weak, but this is a show about guys standing around talking, so it's hard to expect whiz-bang animation. It still has a little spark of potential, depending on how seriously they're actually going to take this stupid plot twist and whether or not it's portrayed as the folly of youth (kids making dumb unrealistic promises to eachother but as a silly motivational tool it helps them in spite of being absurd) or an actual attainable goal where Moritaka seriously has a shot at pulling it off. The next few episodes are crucial on this one.
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt
Panty and Stocking are two “angels” who protect Daten City, a place ‘on the faultline between Heaven and Hell’ from a series of marauding “ghosts” who terrorize the populace. Guided by a priest named Garterbelt, the slutty, foul-mouthed Panty and the bemused, sweets-loving Stocking defeat their foes by transforming their namesake undergarments into holy weapons, typically leaving Daten City in ruins by the end of their monster-slaying adventures. Oh, there's a little sidekick dog-thing named Chuck that is clearly based on the character designs from Jhonen Vasquez's Invader Zim.
So when the trailers for this show started popping up, fans immediately got all worked up about the look of it – Panty and Stocking is pretty far removed visually from most modern anime, instead adapting the look of any one of a dozen American kids’ shows on Nickelodeon or Cartoon Network (think Johnny Test or Total Drama Island by way of Dead Leaves). In that sense, Panty and Stocking is somewhat refreshing – it certainly doesn't look like everything else, and the series’ kinetic visuals (get used to hearing this show described as “kinetic” a lot) are at the very least something new. New-ish. Whatever.
Unfortunately the show itself is just another “look how edgy we can be” gag show chock-a-block with crude humor that maybe 10 years ago would've counted as being legitimately shocking but now feels kinda worn out. The first half of this episode (the show follows the Nickelodeon kids’ show format of having two standalone adventures in one episode) features a giant monster made of feces who comes bursting out of the toilet while Panty is going number two (hilarious, right?). This gag is secondary to what is clearly the showrunner's favorite joke, which is that Panty is a big ol’ slut who sleeps with every guy she comes across, speaks almost purely in thudding double entendres and even makes semen-drinking jokes. It's a laugh riot, especially after the 28th “Panty is a slut” joke in a row, let me tell you.
It should be mentioned that during the girls’ transformation sequence – a sex-drenched poledance wherein the leads molest themselves while removing their underwear – the character designs suddenly snap out of the Nickelodeon mode and become much more traditional sexy anime girls. This is Gainax, after all, and naturally they're still sticking with the cynical marketing moves (if the streets of Akihabara aren't flooded with ero figures based on these character designs by the end of next week, color me shocked). It's kind of disappointing, really – the chunky stylized character designs are the one fresh thing this show had going for it, and they basically chicken out halfway through the episode. I'm surprised there isn't a subtitle during this transformation sequence that reads “sorry, we have to make money on merchandising somehow with this thing”.
Panty and Stocking is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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