The Winter 2011 Anime Preview Guide
Gia Manry

by Gia Manry, Jan 4th 2011

Gia may refer to any of the following: the Gemological Institute of America, Glasgow International Airport, Garuda Indonesia, and/or the associate editor of Anime News Network.


Wandering Son

Rating: 4

Nitori is an effeminate boy just starting middle school with a bunch of his old classmates and some new ones as well- including Yoshino, who was his best friend and first crush in elementary school. His love confession apparently put their relationship on the fritz, but the first episode reveals that Nitori and Yoshino's friendship is based on a mutual secret: Nitori favors girls' clothing, while Yoshino dreams of wearing a boy's uniform to school.

The introduction variety of other sub-plots, including another girl with a crush on Nitori and Nitori's model sister, who is less than accepting of Nitori's hobby, round out the first episode of Hourou Musuko, and give it a rather solid feeling. That said, if you know only the basics of the plot I've outlined above, you might find yourself a little confused at the beginning of the episode as the characters are all introduced on their first day of school: "is that boy really a girl? Is that girl really a boy? Or is that the boy who wants to be a girl but he's really dressed as a boy?"

In other words, knowing something about the show can kind of work against you. Especially since at least three characters have the same basic hair cut.

Other than that, Wandering Son is a character drama, and by that I mean to say that you won't find any "wacky" comedy (especially "wacky gender-bending comedy"), action scenes, magical girls, etc. The delicate touch might be a bit off-putting for those who prefer a more "in-your-face" style (in which case I recommend last season's Kuragehime, but those who favor something a little more toned-down and grounded in emotion will definitely find a lot to enjoy in the show.

The visuals of the show are very high-quality, both in terms of the art and the animation- although I found the white highlights on everyone's head regardless of whether they were outside in the sun or in a completely dark bedroom a little disconcerting, in general the show has a very solid sense of its own style, and that style is well-suited to the story.

Also of note: this show has definitely produced my favorite opening and ending themes this season.

I probably couldn't recommend Wandering Son to every anime fan; the fact of the matter is that not everyone finds emotion-based character drama very exciting. But I would definitely recommend the show to anyone who does claim to like that kind of story.

Wandering Son is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?

Rating: 4

Our intrepid young hero, high school boy Ayumu Aikawa, has become a zombie. Except in the world of Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?, all that really means is that he died and was brought back to life by a necromancer, and he is now unkillable, or at least pretty difficult to kill. He's neither rotting nor desirous of eating anyone's brains, at least so far.

In fact, several times throughout the episode I found myself feeling that its tone was somewhat inspired by The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. Not that the 2006 anime originated the "normal guy surrounded by zany women" trope, but necromancer Eucliwood takes artificial intelligence Yuki's stoic persona and tones it down even further; Eu communicates only by written notes. Meanwhile "Masou-Shoujo" Haruna has a certain deliberate obtuseness to her that feels somewhat familiar.

And then, of course, comes Aikawa himself, a sarcastic hero like Haruhi's Kyon, but one with a more personal motive, at least (he wants to figure out who killed him). Aikawa even has a moment where he suggests that he is the "anomaly" that suddenly caused his world to erupt into zombies and magical girls- a theory that Haruhi fans have often considered applying to that show.

Comparisons to past shows aside, Zombie manages to pluck out a few laughs and mostly avoids moments of complete disdain, unless of course you're particularly opposed to a handful of panty shots. I enjoyed the majority of the designs, though I find Haruna's magical girl outfit to be a little ridiculous (that weird lace-up front with all the open spots just seems...odd). The animation and voice work were both on par with what I'd expect from a solid, decent show, but nothing here is going to break down any barriers.

As an added note...I don't normally address translation issues in one of these reviews, but Crunchyroll's editing work here leaves a lot to be desired. The primary irritation comes from Haruna as a "Masou Shoujo," which is clearly some kind of joke (a magical girl is a "Mahou Shoujo"), but they don't seem worried about letting you know what it means.

That said, this looks like it'll be a reasonably enjoyable comedy for most anime fans, even if it doesn't win any awards for innovation.

Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Level E

Rating: 4.5

Yukitaka Tsutsui is a baseball player who's just moved into town on his own to attend a baseball-specialty high school. Unfortunately when he moves into his apartment, it's already occupied by a slightly androgynous blonde man claiming to be an amnesiac alien. Cue a combination of goofy hijinks and sci-fi drama.

I was a little worried when Level E opened up with musical saw sound effects and a cheesy voice-over, considering that the promotional images made it look like a relatively serious sci-fi title. Throughout the charming first episode, though, one gets a solid hope that the writers will spend the season balancing some light-hearted comedy with a solid sci-fi story.

So far it looks like Level E's two male leads will have more of a buddy action/comedy dynamic than any pandering to the BL crowd. That won't stop the slash fans, of course, but hopefully it'll allow a larger male crowd to feel comfortable checking out the show, as they doubtless would if our androgynous alien was a cute girl but nothing else was different. (Which actually might put one in mind of Arakawa Under the Bridge, although this doesn't feel like a "zany comedy" kind of show.)

The visual design and animation were both excellent, although the CG puppets that appear in one scene (pictured above) stand out oddly against the rest of the animation, even compared to some other definite CG pieces.

All in all, this is probably the most solid-looking show I've seen so far this season, with a good balance of introduction and story movement and of comedy and drama.

Level E is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Mitsudomoe 2

Rating: 2

It should be said that I wasn't particularly fond of the first season of Mitsudomoe (or, rather, the first episode, since I was un-fond enough to not watch any more of it). That said, I think I'd rather watch Gachi Rangers, the Power Rangers parody whose apparent worst episode makes up the majority of Mitsudomoe 2's first.

That said, there's little to no (re-)introduction to the characters of Mitsudomoe- three young sisters who wreak havoc in their class at school with a strange combination of childish ignorance and plain old raunchiness. The girls' names aren't even mentioned, although one sister (re-)reveals herself to be something of a budding BDSM queen. Another sister, the Gachi Rangers fan, points out the general stupidity of the episode the three watched (in case you missed why it was stupid) and vows vengeance upon the writers who ruined the show for her, which feels like some kind of inside joke or reference I must be missing. And the third sister just sort of follows along.

Of course, they also only get a grand total of maybe four minutes of screen time...two of which are the ending theme sequence.

So this episode of Mitsudomoe without any Mitsudomoe in it is cute enough, especially if you watched as much Power Rangers as I did (don't look at me like that; the Green Ranger was cute). But unless you're already a Mitsudomoe fan, it won't give you much introduction, so I expect you can wait until the next episode.

Mitsudomoe 2 is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Beelzebub

Rating: 4

FYI: few things sound weirder than a baby battle cry.

High school punk / all-around badass Oga takes on the world's worst babysitting gig ever in the form of an infant boy that electrocutes anyone around him whenever he's upset. And he gets upset whenever anyone attempts to remove him from his perch on Oga's shoulders, including Oga himself.

It turns out, of course, that the baby is Kaiser de Empanera Beelzebub IV, the son of the Great Demon Lord. That great lord is too preoccupied with social tasks to get to the project he just thought up-- destroying humanity --so he decides that he'll stick the baby with the job, and instructs the kid's nanny Hilda to find a human to raise the baby so that the baby will want to destroy humanity.

I can only assume the Great Demon Lord intends to have his kid destroy humanity during his rebellious parent-hating teen years.

There's not much to surprise in this setup, and I think we can all safely expect eleventy billion villains of both the supernatural and human variety to be tracking Oga and his infant charge throughout the remainder of the series. But the characters seem strong and the plot just different enough that it could make the show charming in the long run, especially since it feels like the kind of show that will try to make it look like Oga's heart is softening and then turn that sort of moment on its head for a laugh.

I also particularly noted the visuals, and while the character design itself feels mostly average (Hilda in particular feels a bit off to me, though I can't quite put my finger on why), the referential "Biff! Pow!" style bits felt clean and cute. I'm also a complete sucker for voice actor Katsuyuki Konishi, Gurren Lagann's Kamina, who voices Oga here.

All in all this looks like it'll be a fun shounen series for those who like the genre mixed with a heavy dose of comedy. Although if cartoonish baby penis makes you nervous, you may want to pass this one by.

Beelzebub is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Gosick

Rating: 3.5

Set in the 1920s in a fictional European country, Kazuya Kujo is an exchange student from Japan whose dark hair and eyes result in him being nicknamed the "Dark Reaper" (because obviously no one in Europe has dark hair or eyes, ahem). One day Kujo visits the library and meants Victorique, a blonde, green-eyed girl who he mistakes for a doll at first glance. (She even cosplays Rozen Maiden's Shinku in the opening sequence). Kujo flees after Victorique tells his fortune.

But he returns the next day at the behest of their teacher, because it turns out they're technically classmates, and the two are interrupted by the arrival of a police inspector who apparently goes to the same barber as Phoenix Wright and One Piece's Franky. Victorique helps the inspector solve a case he's working on, some other things happen that cause a twist in said case, and the two students wind up on an adventure together away from the school.

There's some potential for this show in Victorique, who in straddling both complete childishness and intellectual maturity manages to spark some interest. Kujo is, as male leads so often are these days, somewhat bland, as his primary reaction to just about anything in the show is righteous irritation or shock. I anticipate that his presence will mostly serve to force Victorique to explain things and for occasional humor.

The mystery itself is so far not particularly engaging, but it's also not completed by the end of the first episode, so it's tough to judge it fairly at this point. The design work is strong but the animation doesn't quite match- it's not bad by any stretch, but it doesn't feel like one of Bones' stronger visual works so far.

Those with an appetite for (or willingness to endure) the usual Japanese mashup of gothic and Victorian dress doubtless are already interested in the show from its promo art. History buffs might be irritated by the look since the series' supposed setting of 1924 is two decades after Queen Victoria passed, which would make Victorique's attire awfully old-fashioned and grandmotherly to her agemates...but there I go spilling reality onto my anime again, so we'll move along.

Those who aren't sold by the visual aesthetic may find a bit to enjoy in the character of Victorique, but not much else in this first episode, except perhaps the promise of more and better in the second.

Gosick is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Yumekui Merry

Rating: 3

Yumeji Fujiwara is a cheerful high school student who wants to become a novelist and has a weird ability: he can look at people and see colors that represent what dreams they had. Though he's not so good at interpreting the colors. He himself has odd dreams involving cats chasing him throughout a weird town full of floating fish skeletons.

One day, after school, a young lady dressed in weird (some might say ridiculous) clothing falls on top of him. The girl, Merry, has no idea of who she is except for her name, apparently, and no idea why she is where she is. Merry scampers off to find her missing hat, which fell off when she fell out of a tree, and Fujiwara moves on with his life. In a shopping district he stumbles upon her hat and, of course, a cat. As a result of this encounter he's sucked back into his usual dream, where he's shocked to find Merry. She does battle with the cats' boss, "Chaser John Doe," although not for Fujiwara's sake; she demands that Doe take her back to the dream world. Doe seems to have some idea of who, or at least what, Merry is, but leaves before she can get any information (or a free trip) from him.

Amnesia is a convenient, if clichéd, way to avoid having to explain too much in a show'searly episodes, allowing the audience to find things out on an as-needed basis rather than just conveniently not telling them things until it's relevant. The memory loss is also not heavily focused on, so for an intro, Merry's lack of information works reasonably well, and doubtless will turn out to be related to whatever the larger story of the show turns out to be.

That said, the characters are a little generic here, so far; even Merry herself has more of an outlandish outfit than a real personality. The visual style of the show gets stronger and stronger throughout the episode, until finally in the climactic scene you've got something that starts to look pretty nice, in that very modern way- everything looks somehow 'soft' but still crystal-clear and clean, with thick outlining around people and vivid colors.

So far, Yumekui Merry feels a bit like a poor man's Soul Eater: there's a definite sense of style over substance, but compared to the latter, Merry isn't as stylish, nor as funny, nor as littered with colorful characters. Still, it wasn't a terrible watch, and more episodes might reveal a bit more personality...both in terms of characters and the show's overall tone.


Rio - Rainbow Gate!

Rating: 1

Set loose on a casino town with no company but her teddy bear Choco, adorable rich child Mint wanders into a casino where she meets Rio, the "Goddess of Victory" and a casino dealer. Apparently the owner of the casino where she works is so lustful that he doesn't mind that her very presence makes people win (and, therefore, makes the casino lose more money). Or something. A gangster seems to want Mint's teddy bear for some mysterious reason, so babysitter Rio agrees to a poker battle: winner gets the bear. Vaguely shonen-ish battle where you see Rio and her rival make pals with their poker-card pals ensues.

Rio - Rainbow Gate! is an odd duck. It's part standard fanservice-fest, and part kids' action/battle show. The story and most of the humor is childish, but it's sprinkled with Rio panty shots and the villain's threats to tear her clothes off and defile her. There will also clearly be a series of sexy Rio outfits: in addition to her uniform and her PJs (read: panties), we see Rio in a maid uniform, a magical girl transformation sequence, and a wedding dress. Of these three, only the wedding dress doesn't come with a meek comment that her boss made her wear it, so even though Rio has an action scene where she beats down bad guys, it's hard to say that she seems like a strong character. In the meantime everyone else is bland at best.

The moment which may best illustrate the weird juxtaposition of childishness and raunchiness of the show happens when they're setting up the bet between Rio and the gangster. Rio demands that if she wins, the gangster explains why he wanted the girl's bear, and must leave town. Since she demanded two things, the gangster says he should get two things: the teddy bear and something else. Immediately, the teddy bear's youthful owner offers for Rio to strip if she loses. When our heroine balks, the kid whines that Rio offered to help, after all.

Relative to some recent shows, the fanservice isn't ridiculous, but the rest of the show isn't funny enough for a parody or smart enough to be taken seriously. The makers of Rio seem confident that their audience has the sexual inclinations of a dirty old man and the intelligence and standards of an eight-year-old.

Rio - Rainbow Gate! is available streaming at Crunchyroll



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