The Winter 2012 Anime Preview Guide
Rebecca Silverman

Jan 6th 2012

The Familiar of Zero F episode 2

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Now that we've established the plot for this season, the second episode has shown some marked improvement over the first. We begin by reestablishing the relationship between Louise and Saito, something that seems at first unnecessary, although awfully sweet, but by the end is definitely important. Tabitha's uncle Joseph and his busty familiar Sheffield are back and more firmly defined as this season's villains, helped by the fact that the quartet of people with French names from the last episode are in fact Gallian knights under Joseph and Sheffield's command. Part of their plot revolves around Louise, and when they kidnap her, Saito's devotion to his master/girlfriend comes to the fore and helps give the end of the episode some urgency. Then there's the question of the Pope – Henriette seems to distrust him somewhat, leading viewers who were not taking his blond benevolence at face value to question his assemblage of void mages as well.

Overall this is a much better put together episode than the first. Some of the moments don't quite work, such as Saito lusting after Louise by comparing her to a lemon, but other small details shine through, like Colbert's clear discomfort with Kirsche's crush on him or Montmorency's worries over Guiche's behavior. Tiffa's character seems to be in a little bit of a downslide from season 3 (and has a few High School DxD moments), although with hints of her past dropped, this may change. Familiar of Zero F hasn't quite achieved the level of Futatsuki no Kishi, but it has certainly risen about its own first episode.

The Familiar of Zero F is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Bodacious Space Pirates episode 2

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

After Kurihara saves Marika from the various groups of suited men in the retro maid cafe, she tells our potential privateer that she is being watched by a variety of government and illicit organizations to see what she will do. Marika is naturally full of questions – why is her potential captainship of the Bentenmaru so important? Kurihara declines to answer her, reminding her that she has other people she can ask. Right on cue, Kane shows up. Later Ririka, Marika's mother whom she inexplicably calls by her first name, takes her daughter out to shoot guns in what is clearly an abandoned battlefield. There are some excellent visual touches here, from the rotting machines of warfare to the fading heat of a melted tank. Marika's reactions, however, continue to underwhelm as she takes far too much in stride. Oh, Dad was really alive when you told me he was dead? And he was a big-shot pirate? Huh. Shoot this large gun you just handed me? I guess. While it remains nice to see a heroine leave the hysterics alone, Marika just feels too understated in her emotions and thought processes, leaving one to wonder just how aware of these situations she really is.

The second half of the episode takes place on board the Odette II, an old pirating vessel that Marika's school uses for yacht club training and excursions. These scenes once again impress with the nautical detail, such as hull inspections, system checks, and Marika's own comfort aboard a spaceship. Kane also makes a very insightful comment to the effect that simply knowing how to pilot a ship does not make one a captain. This, coupled with Ririka's earlier statement about how pirates have no one to tell them when to pull the trigger, help to create a sea/space-faring tone that is otherwise lacking. The show also gets credit for referencing electronic piracy at the end of the episode, which is a nice touch.

Basically this show has all of its ducks in a row without any real pirate flair. Nautical themes, small bursts of action, and wonderful visual detail cannot quite make up for the lackluster heroine's underwhelming reactions and the lack of actual pirate action. Not that a show isn't allowed time to set things up – it most certainly is. But this one doesn't quite go about it the right way, and all of the varied character designs in the world can't make up for the fact that a good part of this episode is people sitting around and talking. On the bright side, this was better than the first episode, so perhaps it will just take patience. 

Bodacious Space Pirates is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Knight in the Area episode 2

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Review:

Thrown into the game by Suguru, Kakeru struggles to keep up with his brother. While it looks like he is unsuccessful, Nana's trained eye notes that he is, in fact, doing a bang-up job and that it is only his own inhibitions that are holding him back. Later Kakeru overhears his brother and Nana having that conversation – Suguru says that his brother has the skills, but not the heart. Misunderstanding, Kakeru gets angry and can barely face Suguru for the rest of the day.

One of the key features of this episode is to make Suguru likeable, and in that it succeeds. Where before he was the emotionally repressed ass of a brother, now he is having dreams of winning the World Cup with Kakeru and planning to get him back to serious soccer playing. Before he can say anything, however, Kakeru announces that he is going to quit the team. Suguru tells Kakeru of his dream...and they get hit by a truck, because traffic accidents are the leading cause of death for anime characters, followed closely by “psychotic girls with bladed weapons” and “mysterious wasting illness.” Suguru tries to protect his brother, and most likely succeeds, doubtless at the cost of either his own life or his soccer playing abilities.

Blame the 3rd and 4th grade death books sequence, but I don't like where this is going. I am not a fan of the sad and depressing, and I hate that this show made me tear up. But it did, and that is why, despite my dislike of the story's decision, I am giving it a four. While the first half of the episode is technical soccer jargon, the second half's emotional core is strong, and even as we suspect what is going to happen, it is difficult to look away. This is only the second episode, and it is able to provoke an emotional reaction from the viewer, and that is no small feat. The understated moments leading up to the accident, Nana's reaction upon arriving at the scene (a mix of panic and disbelief), and Suguru's character growth in the space of an episode all help to make this a stand out. The animation is not always as fluid as it can be, particularly during soccer scenes, and even though that adds dramatic effect, it does not quite make the visuals live up to the emotional aspects, although a few scenes have a
choreographed beauty that rivals a modern dance performance. On the whole this is shaping up to be
one of the better shows of the season, no matter how interested in soccer you are.

And now if you'll excuse me, I have to hug my dog.

 

Knight in the Area is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Thermae Romae

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

In the ancient city of Rome, Lucius is an architect with a penchant for designing baths. The aedile in charge of maintaining these buildings, unfortunately, does not see any further use for his talents. While grumbling to his friend Marcus about the loss of his job and the terrible state of the Roman bathing system in general, Lucius gets sucked down an unusual drain and ends up in a contemporary Japanese bathhouse. Assuming that these are “flat faced slaves” of the Romans, Lucius is impressed by their ingenuity and is appalled that slaves should have better baths than their masters. Among the features he finds most impressive are murals above the baths, posters in the anteroom, and cold fruit milk to drink after bathing. Right after he consumes the beverage, he is awoken back in Rome by Marcus, who tells him that he was drowning. Galvanized by the sight of the fruit milk bottle in his hand, Lucius vows to build a better bath for the Romans to enjoy.

This is easily one of the weirder shows I have seen. Animated in a style more commonly seen in visual novels with highly limited movement and voices over paper-cut images, Thermae Romae is not an attractive show. The parallels between the two cultures' love of baths is an interesting and valid one, but it does not make for thrilling viewing, at least not in a culture where bathing is a very private affair and people are more likely to shower than soak in a tub. These 13 minutes are a love song to public baths, and that may not fly with Western viewers. On the other hand, the scenes of Rome are very nicely done, with the look of the city during its empire years well captured. One Off note is the fondness Lucius and the other Romans develop for the fruit milk, as milk was not widely consumed in Rome and generally considered a child's or barbarian's beverage. The same went for beer, so it will be interesting to see if that gets covered in later episodes or the upcoming film, a poster for which is prominently displayed in the Japanese bathhouse.

This is a very niche show that may or may not find favor with anyone who isn't an Ancient Rome buff or familiar with Japanese bathhouse culture. It is at least different from virtually everything else out there, so if you're tired of school kids, boobs, and giant robots, you may want to give this a try. If nothing else it may inspire you to do some reading to learn more about the appeal of the public bath.


Inu x Boku S.S.

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

In the heart of a nameless big city in Japan stands Maison de Ayakashi, a high class residence for the elite of a certain community. What community that is should be evident from the building's name – supernatural creatures live here, each with his or her own personal bodyguard, or “secret service.” Ririchiyo is an as yet unknown creature who has just moved in. She is a self-described tsundere and she hates her “tsun tsun” tendencies. She developed them as a self-defense mechanism due to bullying, a nice touch of realism in a fantasy show. They do, however, impede her social interactions. This is blatantly illustrated when she meets her secret service agent, an overwhelmingly emotional man (kitsune) named Soushi. Soushi has entered her service of his own volition and seems to believe that she saved him at some point in the past, so now he is determined to be the world's best valet/bodyguard. Ririchiyo not only doesn't remember this, but she is very uncomfortable with his fawning over her and isn't quite sure how to react.

Naturally other supernatural people inhabit the house. Ririchiyo's childhood friend Rensyo is a cloth-roll demon (presumably a long “lived” roll of fabric that gained sentience) and his bodyguard is snow woman who hopes to be better friends with Ririchiyo sexually. A giant skeleton masquerading as a pink-haired girl rounds out this episode's cast. The paranormal elements are a nice touch, but the interactions between Ririchiyo and Soushi are the episode's selling point. Soushi's worshipful attitude – animated with extra sparkly bits and twinkly music – is a bit grating but also entertaining. Ririchiyo's self-awareness, and the fact that she is not  voiced by Rie Kugimiya, make her refreshing in a crowded field of like heroines. While the content of the episode feels a bit uneven, with the animation going between normal and super deformed and the story wavering between silly and serious. Ririchiyo makes provides some fanservice for those who prefer their females not ludicrously buxom, as the camera lingers over her chest and legs and her sleeping attire is a mostly unbuttoned shirt.

Overall this has potential. It hasn't quite worked its kinks out yet, such as deciding on the balance of humor and serious content, but it looks good and is also pretty intriguing. If Soushi tones it down a bit and we keep getting hints about Ririchiyo's past experiences, this could be a good one.

Inu X Boku Secret Service is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Ano Natsu de Matteru

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

When a show starts with something that is listed on TV Tropes, it is sometimes a warning. In this case our hero Kaito is cut down while musing about what happens when people die (incidentally revealing that he is an orphan) when he is killed by an alien landing. As his life ends in a spray of blood and shattered spectacles, he is saved by a beautiful hand and wakes up in his own bed. (For those who are counting, that's “The Hero's Already Dead” and “Or Was it a Dream.”) Despite the talents working on this show, Ano Natsu de Matteru feels a bit rehashed. Death and Rebirth by alien has been done before, as has mysterious distinctive-looking transfer student, and the rest of the cast is also made up of characters we've seen before, such as the attractive male friend, the busty shy girl, and the girl friend who wants to be the girlfriend. In this case the group is making a movie, and when Ichika (the alien) shows up, the boys immediately want her to star. She agrees, and we soon have our group of buddies, even tacking on the lolibait.

Despite all of this, it is difficult to label this as a bad show. The backgrounds, for one thing, are luscious, and house buffs will want to explore Kaito's home. Some of the colors are a bit off – skin looks too red when people are in the shade – but the images are generally attractive and Kaito's sort of retro design with his big glasses and shaggy hair are a nice touch. Animation has its jerky moments, but overall looks good too. Ichika's efforts to get being human right are endearing, particularly since she doesn't try too hard. This alien definitely wants to be a real girl, but she doesn't want to be too obvious about it, which makes me want to cheer her on. She is the stand-out character so far, with Kaito feeling not whole enough to become attached to and the other players just filling their required roles. Since the preview shows nearly everyone crying in the next episode, that may change.

All in all, this show is just too “more of the same” for me. It isn't that we need total freshness in plots so much as that this does very little different from any other otherworldly girl meets boy tale – at the end of the episode Kaito's sister and wannabe girlfriend walk in on Ichika half-naked and kissing him, at which point she shoves his face into her cleavage. (To cover it up, but still.) AnoNatsu may be going places, but it hasn't hit the road quite yet, and I can only hope that next episode will prove me wrong in my initial assessment.

Ano Natsu de Matteru is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Listen to Me, Girls, I'm Your Father!

Rating: .5 (out of 5)

Review:

Yuuta is your average 19-year-old anime male – he likes boobs and he's fascinated by a girl who is a few fries short of the proverbial happy meal. Beyond that he does not appear to have much personality. His older sister, who apparently raised him, married a man with two daughters from a previous marriage. Together they have a 3-year-old. Because they are terrible parents, they leave the girls with Yuuta for an unspecified amount of time without informing him of their plans first. Of course high school age daughter Sora has a raging crush on “uncle” Yuuta, keeping a picture of him on her cellphone, so even more naturally he walks in on her getting dressed in the bathroom. Middle school age daughter Miu has already unintentionally flashed him. Thank God no one has tried to sexualize little Hina yet, but I live in fear. (Unless...the blowing the trumpet scene...ohhh, I don't want to think about it.)

This show really has no way to go but down. Between Sora's crush, Yuuta blushing when he saw Miu's underwear, and crazy girl Raika cataloging Yuuta's supposed sexual perversions, this has all of the makings of something I personally do not want to see. Another demerit is that all of the girls have red spots on their skin, which is probably supposed to make them look “rosy” but comes off as “I just scraped my knee/elbow/breast.” Two points in its favor are fluid animation and the fact that Hina is a fairly believable three-year-old, but this is really a show for people who enjoy underage sort-of sex comedies. If that's your thing, go for it. But if it isn't, well, you've been warned.

Listen to Me, Girls, I'm Your Father is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Brave10

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review: Saizo is a badass samurai/assassin, wandering the world alone doing badass things that don't get him enough money to eat. Isanami is a priestess whose temple was attacked by a dangerous group of masked guys, and the head priest sacrificed himself so that Isanami and her magic hair clip could escape. Saizo is just taking a break on the forest floor by pretending that he's a corpse when Isanami crawls over a log and falls into his arms. Saizo reluctantly saves her from the masked men who want her dead (or want her hair clip), despite his protestations that he has no interest in doing so. When Isanami asks him to help her get to Ueda Castle, he refuses. Her offer of soba makes him change his mind.

Balking all the way, Saizo eventually gets her to Ueda, where we meet three more of the presumed ten: castle lord Yukimura, ninja Sasuke, and one-eyed force field breathing Rokuro. After the group fights more guys in masks and Isanami's clip reveals that it can summon a destructive power and talk in a computer-like woman's voice, Yukimura comments to Rokuro that he cannot hope to defeat someone-or-other until he has “brave men for each finger of both hands.” Ladies and gentlemen, we have a title!

Despite the trite and somewhat awkward start, this show has real guilty pleasure potential. As is common with this type of show, everyone has a distinctive and attractive character design and the clothing, while anachronistic, is creative. Saizo's incredible reluctance is fun, even if the way that Isanami has latched on to him is a bit annoying. There really isn't much here that is innovative, from the fight scenes to the fact that Isanami eats like a horse, but it is pleasant. At this point I wouldn't call it reverse harem, at least not compared to Uta no Prince Sama or Angelique, as only Sasuke shows any hint of a crush and Saizo seems genuinely annoyed by the heroine. Fanservice is minimal for both males and females, although the camera does love Isanami's sternum and legs.

Like so much this season, Brave10 is neither actively good nor bad. It has potential if it doesn't cram the characters in too quickly and Isanami grows both up and a backbone. If nothing else, this show deserves the 3 episode test. There's a good chance that it will need that long to invest us in its world.

Brave10 is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Daily Lives of High School Boys

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Oh no! Tadakuni is late for school, racing down the street with a piece of toast in his mouth. But what's this? Yoshitake is also late, but he's eating curry! That's not how it's supposed to work, the also late Hidenori reprimands him – when you're late to school you have to have a piece of bread in your mouth. And that's when – BOOM! The aliens attack with their not-Gundams! But thanks to a magical book, the boys can turn into fantasy heroes and -

That's when Tadakuni stops the show. This is, he reminds his friends, supposed to be a show about everyday life, not mecha and heroes, not even if Square and Sunrise are collaborating. So the boys decide to use playacting to get Tadakuni a girlfriend instead.

I don't know if I'm having a good judgment seizure, but I laughed out loud several times during this episode. Daily Lives of High School Boys is a series of four shorts per episode dealing with the imaginations, terrible ideas (“Let's try on your sister's skirts!”), misunderstandings, and awkward moments of Tadakuni, Yoshitake, and Hidenori. It is more successful than either You and Me. or Yuruyuri although it follows a similar formula, because this show does not take anything at all seriously. There's also something wonderful about watching these guys just goof around and listening to their internal monologues while their actions are the opposite of their thoughts, best seen in the fourth short about Hidenori's ill-fated meeting with a literary girl. In this episode they never stoop to bathroom or sex humor, focusing instead on the silly and imaginative aspects of being a teen. As an added amusement, the ending theme plays on the events of Hidenori's interaction with the literary girl, a humorous trend that will hopefully continue with each episode.

With its simple art and fairly basic visuals, this is a show you watch for the content, not the aesthetics. It is good-hearted and humor-filled and unlike Baby, Please Kill Me!, does the episode of mixed shorts right. Hopefully someone picks this up, because it would make a great weekly dose of fun for stream followers.


Lagrange – The Flower of RIN-NE

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

Is there some sort of intergalactic war on? Quick, grab a teenager and stick her in the pilot seat of a giant robot! This tried and true method of mecha storytelling is the cornerstone of this season's Lagrange, the story of plucky high school girl Madoka, her reluctant cousin, handsome alien men, and underclad alien women. Oh, and of course the mysterious military group in charge of the shiny robots and the soon-to-be-appearing busty lady with independently mobile breasts.

Madoka, the show's heroine, is a chipper lass who has devoted herself to helping people. Drowning? She wears her swimsuit under her uniform. Need a sparring partner in tennis or kendo? She's an expert in both. With this attitude, it is no surprise that blue-haired Lan asks her to help with some light robot piloting, although it is odd that Lan first stole her discarded school uniform and wore it. Presumably this was so that the animators could show Madoka taking it off and Lan both putting it on and then taking it off. This show enjoys stripping girls from the waist down.

Speaking of which, did you know that the secrets to mecha driving can be found on your ass? Madoka's cousin Yoko is determined that Madoka will not become a robot pilot, so when she comes home, she pulls down her cousin's underwear in order to check her behind. Honestly, I'm afraid to ask. But weirdness aside, Yoko is aghast when she learns that Madoka has been taken to the base and shoved in a robot; it doesn't matter that it is being steered remotely by people who apparently have no scruples. Before she can stop them, however, Madoka magically gains control of her machine and uses judo on the attacking male robot, piloted, of course, by an attractive young man who is flabbergasted by her technique. Why can Madoka suddenly control her robot? Presumably it has something to do with her backside, but the show's not telling yet.

So why give this a two and not a one? Largely because it is attractive and well executed. Yes, the story's dumb, but the visuals are lovely and the CG unobtrusive. The character designs are nothing new – in fact one of the space boys looks a bit like the villain from Aquarion Evol – but they still are pleasant to behold and they move fluidly. Sadly that's the best I can say for this bizarre yet derivative show, apart from “Yay! Legal stream!” It isn't terrible, but it sure isn't great either.

Lagrange is available streaming at VizAnime.


Aquarion Evol

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

12,000 years have passed since the events of Aquarion. Teenager Amata (or possibly Amato; neither the speakers nor the subtitles can decide) is obsessed with the film “Skies of Aquaria” about the past. One day he discovers a girl in the theatre he works for sobbing after the show – it seems that soft-spoken Mikono loved it just as much as he did. They arrange to go for a walk to discuss how much they both enjoy the film. Since this is a mecha show, the Venice-like city (do all future cities resemble Venice?) is attacked by Abductors – giant mecha spiders that slurp people up in viscous orange pods. Caught in the attack, Mikono and Amata are nearly crushed by a statue.

Meanwhile, the types M and F aquaria are fighting the Abductors. Much to their surprise, one of the ships is manned by the feral Kagura. This causes high command to deploy both male and female aquaria, stating that because of the Guize Stones no unseemly merging can take place. Guize Stones, it seems, are mecha chastity belts. But Amata is ready to shake them all out of their comfort zones when he removes the lead weights from his boots and reveals that he can fly. Somehow he summons the Vector aquaria and causes those of pilots Zessica and Cayenne to merge with his. Everyone is scandalized, but the group manages to take out Kagura, or at least drive him off, using the, uh, “Flying Love Attack.”

It is lucky that this show looks good, because it suffers from an overdose of melodrama. The thinly veiled sexual references were more fun in Vandread, Mikono spends most of the episode teary eyed or actively whimpering, and Amata is a bit of a cheeseball. But the aquaria move fluidly, especially Kagura's creeping robot, and the amount of detail is impressive. At forty minutes this feels a bit long, and some of the scenes of Amata and Mikono gazing into each other's unnaturally colored eyes could probably have been done away with. After the first of two commercial breaks there is a marked improvement, though not quite enough of one to really carry this episode. With its uneven mix of action, explication, and teens making goo-goo eyes at each other, not to mention the random pirate dude who really seems to want these kids to, shall we say, get together, this is not as good as its visuals. It isn't terrible, but it certainly could have been better.


Another

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Review:

Voices tell a story – once there was a girl in class 3 of the 9th grade (3-3) named Misaki. She was a sweet and popular girl, beloved by all. But one day she died. Later a student pointed to her empty desk and said, “She's not dead. She's right there.” Assuming it was a joke, all of the students joined in, claiming that Misaki remained in her seat, even to the point where the desk was included in the graduation ceremony. But it was all just a game...wasn't it?

The year is 1998 in the town of Yomiyama. Kouichi Sakakibara has just moved in with his aunt and grandparents after the death of his mother and his father's departure to do research in India. Almost immediately he lands in the hospital with a collapsed lung. Three of his classmates come to visit, ostensibly to give him notes and wish him well, but their visit is punctuated by awkward silences and significant looks. Later he meets a fourth classmate, a girl with an eye-patch, heading for the morgue and carrying a blindfolded doll. When Kouichi finally makes it to school, the girl sits at a battered desk in the corner, but no one seems to acknowledge her – they're all too busy welcoming Kouichi while having side conversations that seem important but go unheard and smoothly working together to present the front they want Kouichi to see. And it is clearly a front – the students of Class 3 are obviously hiding something. After all, as his aunt warned him, the group is more important than the individual in Yomiyama.

Hands down this is the best first episode I have seen thus far this season. It owes its success to a combination of elements, one of which the undercurrent that lurks beneath the words. Everyone in this show is clearly hiding something that scares them, working to conform to a single ideal for reasons that we do not yet know. This air of menacing mystery, played out by characters' body language as well as silent conversations and voice overs, works to draw viewers in. Another area of notable success is the small details. Yomiyama is a town covered in rust, and that rust has been carefully formed on screen so that at first glance everything looks spattered with old blood. Good use is also made of ball jointed dolls in brief cutaways. One image of a doll's open head filled with brain-like red rose petals is especially effective. The opening theme, a particularly non-melodic piece by The Ali Project, carries both of these themes through as well. In fact, most of the background music is very well chosen, with one piece towards the beginning carrying distinct overtones of the infamous “Danse Macabre.”

Part Ghost Hound, part Higurashi: When They Cry, Another looks to be an intriguing horror piece. It is too early to tell if it will be innovative, but as of now, it is most definitely menacing and just enough to bring us back for the possibility of answers.

Another is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


The Familiar of Zero F

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

If you haven't seen seasons two and three of The Familiar of Zero (Futatsuki no Kishi and Princess no Rondo, respectively), then don't watch this one. It relies heavily on the events of all three previous seasons, and new viewers, or those who only saw the first season, will be lost. For series fans, however, this looks like a return to the days of the first two seasons with less of the character backsliding that characterized season 3.

Shortly after the events of Princess no Rondo, Louise and Saito are sharing a typical morning – it starts out sweet, Siesta gets involved, Saito and Siesta go boom. Luckily for Louise's tempter, Queen Henriette has summoned the trio, along with Tiffania, Kirche, Professor Colbert, and Guiche's Undine Knights, to Romalia, the headquarters of the Brimir religion. Louise is ecstatic – she has a serious case of hero worship for the young Pope, and the thought of getting to meet him sends her into rhapsodies. The Pope, as it turns out, is also a Void mage and the heterochromic Julio is his familiar. The Pope reveals that there are a total of four Void mages in Halkeginia; the other two are Tabitha's evil uncle Joseph and the last is a very surprised Tiffa. He wants Tiffa and Louise to participate in a special ceremony as shrine maidens and Louise is more than willing. Throw in a quartet of new villains presumably from Gallia or Tristain based on their French names, and we've got a good set up.

For many people, the heart of the franchise is not the magic but the relationship between Saito and Louise. For me at least, Siesta's change from “good friend” to “girl who pushes her boobs at Saito” was an irritating one, and she redeems herself a bit here by offering Saito some advice after a spat with Louise. The relationship between master and familiar has its moments of charm, and the two are a fairly established couple at this point (I'm talking to you, Siesta), but fights still abound as is nearly required of Louise's almost too tsundere character. It is nice to see Saito as the jealous one for a change, but some may find themselves annoyed by the on-again-off-again nature of their romance in this episode. It's almost worth it to watch them kiss and make up, though, and the next episode's preview promises some more romantic moments.

At this point it looks like  F is going to follow the patterns established by the previous seasons, so if you've been enjoying the franchise, there's really no reason to pass this up, particularly as it marks the second legal release of Noboru Yamaguchi's tale. It's too early to tell if this will derail like season 3 did, but so far, things look relatively good.

The Familiar of Zero F is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


High School DxD

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

I sometimes have to wonder if some of the men who animate shows like this one have ever seen a real pair of breasts. If not, I regret to inform them that bosoms do not randomly bounce, are not filled with air, and that most women of my acquaintance who possess large ones wish that they didn't. In any event, the hero of High School DxD, Hyoudou Issei, may begin the episode without having ever seen breasts, but he certainly doesn't end it that way. Luckily for him, boobs are his major goal in life. He and his buddies Matsuda and Motoya chose their high school solely on the premise that it had more girls than boys. They enjoy such pursuits as spying on the girls' locker rooms and talking about breasts. Oddly enough they get no female attention – the girls, it seems, prefer nice guy Kiba, who doesn't spend all his time talking about or spying on their bodies. (Or is at least more subtle than our hero and his friends.) Since this is a harem show, however, one of the bustiest girls is of course keeping tabs on Issei – the red-haired foreigner Rias. She and her companions exchange veiled comments about watching him while she plays a game of chess with glowing red pieces. Subtlety is not part of this show's raison d'etre.

Midway through the episode, Issei is propositioned by Yuuma, a deceptively sweet girl who has apparently been stalking him. The two quickly set up a date, which begins as a sweet little shopping trip and ends with Yuuma transforming into a demon and killing Issei. As he is dying, he first thinks about the fact that he saw her breasts while she was mid-transformation, and then wishes that if he had to die, it was at least on Rias' bosom. Since a random girl in a devil costume earlier gave him a convenient magic circle on a piece of paper, his wish is granted. Rias revives him and now he has Powers and, according to the end of the episode, belongs to her. Oh, and now he's caught up in some supernatural battle that will involve women who have breasts and also wear a variety of different styles of underpants.

This show is pretty much what it purports itself to be – a lot of lovingly animated breasts and crotches surrounding an ordinary high school pervert with a supernatural story thrown in to give it legitimacy. At points it takes itself too seriously with its classically themed background music, but for the most part it is just a romp through harem land with a couple of amusingly self-aware touches, such as Issei's moe trope alarm clock or his verbally expressed desire to have an actual harem. The problem here is less with what the show is and more with how it is done. Nothing sets this apart from other harem/boob shows. It is, simply put, derivative dreck where it could have been better. If this kind of show is your thing, there are better examples out there. But if you just want to see a lot of unrealistic breasts and the loser who loves them, at least it's better than Manyū Hiken-chō.


Senki Zesshō Symphogear

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

Senki Zesshō Symphogear isn't quite sure what it wants to be. Macross ripoff? Magical girl show? Tribute to Wagner's “Ride of the Valkyries?” Since it can't settle on one, the show comes off as a combination of all three, and while it doesn't quite work, it is still somehow fascinating. You see, sometime (the future? the present?), humanity is attacked by a menace known as “Noise.” This noise doesn't come from damn kids and their rap music, but rather in the form of glowing humanoid creatures who turn all they come into contact with into ash. (Flecks of floating ash are one of the series' better visual touches.) Apparently they can be repelled by music, as pop duo Zwei Wing is a front for two magical girls who sing to both control and defeat the Noise. By singing a few specific notes, Kanade and Tsubasa can transform into scantily clad battle babes who use a variety of bladed weapons and songs to defeat the monsters. They aren't true magical girls, however, because despite their naked transformation sequences, Kanade remarks that the suits have some sort of power source, like the Knight Sabres' hardsuits. We learn all of this because wide-eyed (even by anime standards) Hibiki is supposed to meet her friend Miku at Zwei Wing's concert. Miku can't make it, but Hibiki still goes and is entranced, at least until the Noise attacks and starts killing people. Kanade and Tsubasa try to save the day, but when Hibiki is caught in the crossfire, Kanade sacrifices herself to save her, which is odd, because at the beginning of the episode, Hibiki is dead. Huh.

Two years later, Hibiki is attending the same music school as Tsubasa and making a habit of rescuing people and animals. On her way to buy Tsubasa's new CD, she runs headlong into a Noise attack. Dragging a surviving child with her, Hibiki tries to outrun them. When she can't, she miraculously sings the exact notes needed to transform while the stunned folks back at magical valkyrie robosuit headquarters exclaim that the energy signature of “gungnir” has just appeared. Cue credits. Now, those will any familiarity with Norse mythology will recognize gungnir as Odin's spear which never missed its mark. Clearly Hibiki is being set up as the new champion of the fighting angel singers and Kanade's replacement. The symbolism is a bit heavy handed, but at least they seem to have settled on a clear mythology to borrow from.

It should be evident that this is a very frantic show. Scenarios are thrown about willy-nilly and the battle sequences, while they look nice, are a bit confusing. Presumably the goal was to throw viewers into the show, interest them, and explain later, and it almost works. This show is grimly fascinating – it is easy to recognize that it isn't good, but hard to look away from. The pop songs peppered through the episode are kind of catchy and the colors are bright and attractive. The animation makes use of strange still frames naming some of Kanade and Tsubasa's attacks, which doesn't quite work, but when people are moving, it looks fluid. Symphogear is the kind of bad that's almost good, and with its attractive girls, mishmash of premises, and perky pop music, it has all the earmarks of a guilty pleasure.


Tantei Opera Milky Holmes II

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

The girl detectives of Milky Holmes are back! But, uh, they don't seem to remember that they're detectives. Since they lost their toys (magical gifts that allow them to perform specific acts or feats) once again at the end of season one, Sherlock, Hercule, Nero, and Cordelia have lapsed. They sleep all day until they bring pet rooster Koboten into their room, and even when they can wake up for class, they don't bother to go. Instead they concentrate their efforts on farming, fishing, and scrounging, more concerned with feeding themselves and kitty Kamaboko than in becoming great detectives. This greatly irritates series villain Henriette AKA Lady Arsene, the phantom thief who sees the girls as her chief rivals. In an attempt to cheer up their leader, the three guys who make up the rest of Phantom Thief Empire attempt to challenge Milky Holmes...but they ignore the letter. Then they can't read the kanji. THEN they read the letter left-to-right instead of up and down. Needless to say, Phantom Thief Empire is about ready to kill them. But at last they succeed in reminded Milky Holmes that they are detectives...sort of...

As an episode, this is very uneven. Before the eyecatch, it is drivel. Sherlock drools, Cordelia sings, Nero fishes or sleeps in unladylike positions, and Hercule doesn't do much. After the eyecatch, however, it gets very funny in places, with the girls attempting to change into their detective costumes (watch for the Shugo Chara! reference!) and giving us a glimpse at what the world would look like if the farmers rose up against us. How entertaining you find the other portions of the show will depend on how amused you are by Twenty's amazing projectile nipples and the shot of him sticking a cucumber down his pants. Henriette, one of the franchise's more interesting and likeable characters, does very little beyond huff around in a fit of pique while the girls of the Genius 4 do even less. Yes, this is just the first episode, but if it is trying to interest us in a second season of silly vaguely moe hijinks, it needs to try a little harder.

Even if you enjoyed Crunchyroll's stream of the first season, it is no sure thing that you will like this one. It hasn't set the bar very high, even for a show that is silly by nature, and at least ten of the twenty-three minutes aren't very good. Henriette seems to have some sort of game afoot at the end, however, so this may just be a very weak start to another goofy pseudo-detective romp. At this point, however, the lame outweighs the fun, and it may be case closed for this franchise.


Recorder and Randsell

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

Atsumi is a high school girl who looks like she's in elementary school. Atsushi is an elementary school boy who looks like a salaryman. Their very existence causes wacky misunderstandings wherever they go. Yay.

Actually, looked at in a different light, this is a sad story. Where the last two seasons had Morita-san wa Mukuchi (brought to you by the same script-writer as Recorder and Randsell) to give us the vaguely uncomfortable feeling that we were laughing at someone with a serious problem, this time we can feel  bad about ourselves for laughing at Atsushi's total inability to act like the child he is because his appearance makes people think he's molesting his best friend just by being near her. For the record, this is an actual medical disorder known as “precocious puberty,” and it really is nothing to laugh at.

Issues of humanity aside, Recorder and Randsell has its moments of humor at Atsushi's expense – he gets hauled off by the police for interacting with his friend – and they are funny if you don't think about it too hard. A girl with astoundingly physics-defying breasts in the ending theme suggests the direction Atsumi's storyline will take as the series goes on. The best thing I can say about this is that the colors look good, the animation feels clean, and for a three-minute show production values seem pretty good. But at three minutes this feels a bit too long, and I just can't shake that icky feeling this show coated me with. Maybe I'm too sensitive. In any event, if you know someone who went through precocious puberty, give this one a miss. But if you don't – eh, there are worse ways to spend three minutes.

 Recorder and Randsell is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


 Poyopoyo

Rating: 4  (out of 5)

Review:

This is a show for cat people. If you are such a person, or have ever been the object of affection from a cat you despised, there's a good chance Poyopoyo will work for you. In these 2 ½  minutes, we meet Poyo, an overweight stray cat a drunk Moe finds on her night on the town. After using him for a pillow, Moe decides to bring him home. Moe's father falls for the obese feline quickly, but the cat has an adversarial relationship with her younger brother. This episode showcases Poyo's meetings with all three members of his new household, his lightening reflexes when he senses food, and his inability to jump. We also learn that he really enjoys terrorizing Moe's brother.

Anyone who has ever had a fat cat or, for example, a dog who can hear the sound of a banana being peeled, will appreciate the little truths about animal companions this show presents. The simple animation with its lopsided, crayoned backgrounds and Poyo's representation as a a round ball of cat work very well with the very basic story, and the opening theme is awfully cute. (It could also get very annoying very quickly if listened to too often.) So to make a long story short, this is a well-done little bit of nothing that is fun and utterly harmless. For a weekly dose of cute that doesn't involve schoolgirls, this is the way to go.

Poyopoyo is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Bodacious Space Pirates

Rating:  3 (out of 5)

Review:

Space: the final frontier. Many years ago, planets other than Earth were settled, giving rise to colonies across the galaxy. As with most colonies, these planets grew to want independence from their original settlers, and so wars were fought. Like in the American Revolution and the War of 1812, pirates were enlisted to fight, armed with letters of marque making their predations on the enemy legal. (So if we're going to get technical, or at least historically accurate, they were privateers.) When our story begins, the age of privateers has gone by. The planet where cheerful and utterly normal high school girl Marika Kato lives is free and she spends her days working in a maid cafe and enjoying her activities at the school yachting club. Unbeknownst to her, however, her father was the great privateer captain of the ship Bentenmaru, and with his death, she is the only legitimate heir to his command. Regretfully this means that a bunch of people now want her dead.

Mōretsu Pirates is off to a slow start, I'm afraid. Marika, we learn from the helmsman of the Bentenmaru, is an excellent yachtsman, but apart from that and a very good memory, she has no distinguishing characteristics. Tropes like “hot new homeroom teacher” and “mysterious transfer student” don't help make the episode any better. Marika's reaction to the news that she is, essentially, Henry Morgan's heir is understated, with her looking up facts on the internet and mulling things over seriously. I will grant you that this is a very realistic reaction, but it doesn't make for fascinating viewing. Luckily a gunfight at the episode's end promises more of an exciting time in episode two.

Fortunately for us, the visuals in this are fascinating. Great care has been taken to make use of nautical imagery, such as the sea chart Marika is shown standing on during the revelation of her father's identity, and today's technology has been carefully updated to a realistic level with touch screens that can be swept to a larger display with the brush of a finger, interactive seating charts, and 3-D options on a magazine. This is a future that we can believe might come to pass, especially since her future-Google results are just as varied and potentially R-rated as ours are now. Other than that, everything looks fairly standard, from movements to character designs, although in one scene it looks as though Marika is walking on her toes when she is clearly not.

I really, really wanted to love this show. It has two things that typically draw me to a story, the words “pirates” and “in space.” As of this episode, it is a bit disappointing with a lack of action, a lackluster heroine, and not quite enough backstory. Hopefully it will improve next time, because if it doesn't, this ship is not likely to make it into port.

Bodacious Pirates is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


The Knight in the Area

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Review:

There seems to be nothing in the world that middle school student Kakeru loves more than soccer. So why isn't he playing it? That question is at the heart of this first episode of The Knight in the Arena, but it in some ways plays second fiddle to the emotional core of the show. You see, Kakeru's older brother Suguru also plays soccer, and he is very good at it. The episode opens, in fact, with him winning the U-15 (under 15) world soccer tournament game against Brazil. So at first it doesn't seem so surprising that Kakeru is the team manager at school while Suguru is its star. Very quickly, however, we begin to sense that something is wrong. Kakeru's friends ask him why he is managing and not playing. Kakeru laughs it off and says something to the effect of wanting to support his brother's eventual professional career. No one quite buys it, and we soon see evidence that Suguru does not support the plan.

It is the relationship between the two brothers and the game of soccer that really sells this show. Suguru is deeply concerned about Kakeru's retreat from the game, although he has a difficult time expressing it. Kakeru, meanwhile, is still playing on the sly. Every night he goes to a park to kick the ball around by himself, wondering how many months it has been that he's been playing all alone. From these moments we learn that something disastrous has happened in his past involving his left leg. The appearance of a “mysterious” participant in his solo games who is aware of his difficulty suggests that this was a well-known event whenever it occurred.

I said that the relationship between the brothers was a chief selling point here, and nothing drives that home like the end of the episode. Suguru's sneaky actions not only force Kakeru out of his self-imposed role, they also show a care for his brother that his earlier gruff statements belied. Suguru wants his brother to play again, not just because he was apparently good at it, but because he loved it. With the addition of childhood friend/crush Nana, it seems like Kakeru may stay on the field.

It of course helps matters that the show looks nice. Practice movements can look a bit stilted, but the gameplay is dynamic. Small moments of visual humor also creep in from time to time, like Kakeru's reaction to his opponent's alien mask or the allegorical images of Nana's reactions to Kakeru's friend Kota's inappropriate behavior. Kakeru looks and sounds a bit young for a second year in middle school, and there is nothing remarkable about the character designs, but, like last season's Chihayafuru, it isn't the looks that this show is built on, or possibly even the game. What makes this show so interesting is the people.

The Knight in the Area is available streaming on Crunchyroll.



Baby, Please Kill Me!

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Yasuna is a perky girl who thinks that there is an 8 or 9 out of 10 chance that she is probably in high school. Her best friend is Sonya, an assassin. Every time Yasuna tries to greet Sonya, brush something off her shoulder, or otherwise touch her, Sonya breaks Yasuna's wrist. She is also afraid of nearly everything – dogs, cockroaches, ghosts...if there is a stereotypical girl fear, chances are that Sonya has it. Fortunately she does have some pretty good assassin skills...they're just so far used to assault her friend and open drink bottles. Halfway through the episode Yasuna and Sonya meet Agiri, a ninja who speaks in a very high voice and ends all of her sentences with “desu.”

Baby, Please Kill Me!.

If this show were one of the three-minute variety, or even five minutes, I think I would like it more. As it is, there is very little continuity within the episode as it jumps from moment to moment. It does get credit for not trying to hide the fact by announcing the time of day every few minutes, but as a joke it falls flat. Sonya, Agiri, and Yasuna aren't fleshed out enough characters to carry this show for 24 minutes at a time, and so where they could have been funny in smaller doses, they become irritating tropes frantically prancing around the screen. While this could be due to the four-panel format of the original manga, it still could have made the transition to the small screen better. This is not to say that the show has no redeeming qualities – the characters are simply designed but distinct, including those background figures who are fully drawn, the basic animation works quite well for the show, and the occasional transitions into black-and-white sketch animation is a nice touch, particularly when used for action scenes. A few of the jokes also come through well, especially in the segment that introduces Agiri. (I always enjoy self-awareness of anime's crazy physics.) If the six or so segments that make up this episode were presented individually, it might be, if not a winner, than at least a contender.

Sadly, as it stands, Baby, Please Kill Me! is not a great show. From its screechy opening theme to its frenetic, disjointed pace, it wants desperately to be funny and doesn't quite make it, like the kid in class who yells, “Look at me!” while shoving pencils up his nose. My best recommendation is to hit pause after each small segment. Watched in pieces, you may enjoy this more than I did.


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