The Summer 2011 Anime Preview Guide
Bamboo Dong

Jul 4th 2011

Manyuu Hiken-cho

Rating: 0

Thank goodness Manyuu Hiken-cho is censored beyond recognition. I really have no desire to see about 90% of this show, so the censors really do everyone a favor by painting the screen white. Sadly, they can't do anything about the dialogue, which is still mind-numbingly stupid. See, the way it goes is this. In some… strange parallel universe vaguely resembling feudal Japan, members of the Manyuu clan go on boob hunts. Meaning, when they catch an unsuspecting female, they slice her breasts off. I'm not entirely sure if they physically cut them off with a blade, or if they're magicked off, since the censorship prevented me from getting a good look, but events later in the episode make me think the latter. Either way, this is their grand tradition, but instead of hanging these breasts on a wall like hunters hang antlers, I think the women use their conquered breasts as implants.

I say “I think,” because like I said, it's hard to tell what's really going on. But I do know that there is some crazy lady rape, a lot of breast squeezing, and this seriously ridiculous scene where the protagonist absorbs someone's breasts into her own. See, that's what makes me think they're not actually cutting off women's breasts. Like maybe their swords are just magic swords that kind of… make breasts disappear. But then again, what do I know. All I know is that Manyuu Hiken-cho perpetuates the awful belief that a woman is only as respectable as her chest size. Thanks, Japan. The flat-chested women are fully aware of this—every single one that's introduced despairs her lack of cleavage and expresses her jealousy at those better-endowed than her. One of them even laments that her fiancé left her when her tits were sliced. Because that's exactly the positive self esteem boost that women need!

Though let's be frank—Manyuu Hiken-cho was never about boosting anything, except maybe a penis or two. But even that I find a little hard to believe. Is it really that titillating watching women track each other down just to steal their boobs? Though in all my years of perusing the Internet, I suppose stranger fetishes have come to light.

So, bottom line. Is this worth watching? No. Not even the slightest. It's useless as wank material for obvious censorship reasons, and even as a guilty pleasure it falls short. It's not one of those “It's so bad it's good!” shows. It's actually just bad. Bad for women, bad for your brain, bad for your boner, and just bad, bad, bad.


The IDOLM@STER

Rating: 4

Believe it or not, The IDOLM@STER may be one of the most promising new shows this season. It's a fresh take on the Cute Girls genre, and it makes a sincere effort to look behind the idol facade. Beautifully animated, this series gives a human and sometimes heartbreaking face to the sometimes robotic and clichéd world of pop idols. A dozen or so girls, all part of what is essentially an idol factory called 765 Productions, are introduced in the first episode, each with their own manufactured personalities. But the great part about iDOLM@STER is that it tries to go behind those generic personalities and hint at something a little more three-dimensional.

The first episode is shot documentary style, with the cameraman asking the girls questions about their commutes and their aspirations. Almost immediately, it's clear that the idol industry is backbreaking, and despite the cheery countenances that the girls put on for the cameras, you can see they work long, tiring hours just for a tiny shot at success. The series may be animated, and the girls may be fake, but the parallels to the real life idol industry are hard to ignore, and it's easy to care about these characters. One of the girls has a 2.5 hour commute every day. When asked if it's hard, she cheerfully says that it doesn't bother her, and that it gives her time to listen to music. Before the end credits roll, though, the camera zooms in on her eyes, and something quivers... perhaps a tear. In another part of the episode, another girl is asked if she enjoys performing, and she confesses that her music is all she has, and therefore never has any time for fun.

On the outside, iDOLM@STER looks like your stereotypical moe show, but so far, it's very removed from that. The girls know they have to put on a face for the camera if they want a career, and one after another, they feed manufactured lines to casting agents. During one interview, one of the girls is asked what she's proud of, and she instantly answers that she's good at taking care of her younger siblings and making ends meet. But when the question is clarified to mean what part of her idol persona she takes pride in, she's at a loss for words. Another girl is rejected for a role, but says that the agent gave her tips on a signature pose—one that involves squeezing her arms in front of her to push out her breasts. When yet another girl is shaken awake for an interview, she robotically says her name and grade, and mumbles that she has big breasts. All of these girls know that they have to follow a cliché in order to be marketable, and this distinction is what makes iDOLM@STER such a surprising addition to the summer lineup.

It's somewhat ironic that this series is based off the popular iDOLM@STER game franchise, where you can select a prospective idol and manage her career. Only this time, the viewer actually steps into 765 Productions and gets a closer look at the girls. It's fitting that the few times that they show the agency owner, it's a faceless man that defers all of his opinions to the producer.

At the end of the episode, it's revealed that the cameraman is actually the newest producer to join the agency. How that will affect the rest of the series remains to be seen, but if it's anything like the first episode, then it'll be a treat to watch. So far, the audience has only been privy to a few cracks in the girls' facades, but if the show continues down its current path, this could be a surprisingly deep title.


R-15

Rating: 2.5

They say that men think about sex every 52 seconds. I assume teenage boys were included in that survey. So of course, if a teenage boy could make money from just thinking about sex all day, then that's a pretty sweet gig. That's the projected career path for Taketo, our strangely lovable protagonist from R-15, a show that fully embraces its ecchi nature. It takes place in an academy for “geniuses,” an umbrella term that encompasses a very broad range of talents, from computer programming, to idol singing, to inventing, to clarinet playing, to… yup, porno writing.

Taketo's ideas shoot out of his hand like a cobra striking its prey. At one point, he physically restrains his hand as it writhes out of control, itching to write something on any surface that will take ink. Every time he sees a woman, lightning bolts shoot through his head, and he can't help but imagine her naked and moaning. It's a talent that's also a curse, and he's not looked upon kindly by the girls at school, despite his outwardly shy nature. The concept is silly, obviously, and it's more than a little bit lewd, but there's something about this show that just pushes it over the line from Stupid to Funny. R-15 makes no pretense about being a male fantasy. It revels in it. It's a show so defiant in its flagrant fantasy premise that it invents this goofy “genius school” construct just to work this guy's perverted thoughts into the story. Cheekily, at the end of the episode, he realizes in horror that his talent is slipping away, and instead, he's instinctively writing a light novel.

That little twist at the end is the cherry on top. Taketo is so disgusted about accidentally churning out magical girl light novels, that against all odds, I'm actually interested to see where this show's going. Here's this sweet, quiet guy who's gifted with the knack of ero writing, and unfortunately for him, he may just be falling in love for the first time. Is it possible that this thoroughly perverted show is going to take a twist for the romantic?

My first instinct after watching the half-minute intro was one of disgust. But the more I watched, the more I started questioning myself. Yes, R-15 full of fanservice, but it's self-aware enough that I want to give it credit. I don't know if this series will pan out in the long run, but I'm not going to dismiss it automatically.

R-15 is available streaming on NicoNico.


Blood-C

Rating: 3

Japan certainly does love its clumsy schoolgirls. The more times they trip on the way to school, the cuter, I suppose. The main protagonist from Blood-C is no exception, except when destiny calls, she also has to go cut down monsters in far reaches of the city. It's a good thing that her penchant for mishaps only strikes during daylight hours, or else those battles would be cut tragically short.

The second in line in the Blood franchise, Blood-C takes a lot more wacky approach than its predecessor, Blood+. The lead girl's name also happens to be Saya, but this one is a lot goofier, and the writers really go out of their ways to make her seem cutesier. Two scenes in particular stand out—at the beginning of the episode, Saya literally sings a song about what she ate for breakfast as she walks to school. Charming. Then later, while she races home to fetch her sword so she can go slay a demon, she has to restrain herself from playing with a dog. Ah, the fleetingness of youth.

Luckily, the series counterpoints the exceedingly useless and extraneous cute scenes with a pretty sweet battle, which almost erases the memory of the breakfast song. To the character designer's credit, the monster that Saya has to fight in the first episode is incredible. It's essentially this stone idol that hovers above a lake, and it's effectively disturbing. Just when you think you can't be more creeped out by an emotionless statue zipping around a lake, the thing sheds its outer layer like an insect shell and turns into a praying mantis-esque beast. If Saya was useless before, she's pretty incredible in the fight, and the series can promise more battles like this down the line, it could be worth sticking around for.

The dilemma with watching shows like Blood-C is always, how much token cutesiness can a series have before it starts ruining the viewing enjoyment? Don't get me wrong—I love cute things. But there's a time and a place for it. A show about girls sticking swords in things isn't necessarily the best venue. It may temporarily serve as a reminder of Saya's “just a regular schoolgirl!” side, but it's at such extreme opposites with her monster-killin' side that it's distracting, rather than humanizing. And seriously, nobody needs to hear a song about breakfast. Just eat it, and let it go.

Will I keep watching? Probably for another episode or two, but if this breakfast nonsense isn't taken down several notches, then this show is a no-go.

Blood-C is available streaming on NicoNico.


Mayo Chiki!

Rating: 0

This is not up for debate—Mayo Chiki! is, by far, the worst show to come out this season up to this point. It is the most painfully pointless, rambling, nonsensical waste of time I've seen in a really long time. Every time someone in the episode got punched, I wished out loud that it was me.

Truly, there cannot possibly be a reason for this show's existence. It doesn't exist to titillate, it doesn't exist to excite—someone just vomited on a storyboard and handed it to a group of animators. How does one even recap this episode? Basically, just take every half-brained idea that's ever been in an anime, shake it up, and then throw it against a Wacom tablet. In this episode, there was: a girl who's obsessed with tomatoes(?), a guy who gets nosebleeds when he's touched by women, a butler who obviously looks like a girl whose dark secret is that he's actually a girl, a weird goth heiress with a sadistic side, and lots and lots of man-hating male punching. Most of the stuff that happened in the episode was irrelevant to the story, and even the plot points that we do get (crossdressing butler?) are nigh impossible to care about. One of the running gags is that the main character hates hearing his full name, because it has the word "chicken" in it (Sakamachi Kinjiro. Sakamachi Kinjiro). Wow, that's some inspired writing right there.

You wouldn't be able to tell, but Mayo Chiki! is adapted from a light novel series. How the story, or lack thereof, manages to unfold in prose is inconceivable. In fact, it was popular enough that even a manga adaptation was made. Had someone told me that Mayo Chiki! was adapted from a pinball machine, I would've believed them. That's how utterly half-assed the story is. There is zero character development, barely a coherent story, and everything screams of cliché. This is one series that I can safely say – no thanks.


Usagi Drop

Rating: 4

Despite all the spoilers online, and even knowing what I (might) will eventually be in for, I truly loved the first episode of Usagi Drop. If anything, that's a testament to just how good it is. It's actually impossible to dislike the first episode, unless you hate all things good in the world. I don't even like children, and I enjoyed it. It's beautiful, it's pure of heart, and if I had to compare it to something tangible, I'd say it's like eating a warm, gooey plate of macaroni and cheese, with a fresh glass of lemonade.

The series introduces us to a solemn 30-year-old man named Daikichi. He's just learned of his grandfather's passing, and more surprisingly, his grandfather's illegitimate daughter. Upon meeting her, he quickly develops a protective bond with her, appreciating her serious nature and her wise-beyond-her-years outlook on life. Of course, the anime also does a really good job of contrasting her with a different 6-year-old also present at the funeral, a rambunctious asshole of a child that only a mother could love. Between the two, it's obvious whom I'd want to take home, and it's good to see the two establish instant rapport. Yes, it's hard to completely view any of the scenes as pure goodwill and altruism, knowing how the manga turns out, but it's fairly easy to quiet those alarm bells.

It helps that Usagi Drop is an absolute pleasure to look at. Made up of soft pastels, and what almost look like pencil sketches, the series embodies the idyllic pace of a slice-of-life show. The animation is simple and efficient, and really, it's just relaxing to watch. Add onto that some of the greatest facial expressions ever animated, and you've got a show that makes you forget it's going to skeeve on you post-timeskip.

Okay, at the end of the day, it's still pretty darned hard to forget about the manga ending. But for the time being, Usagi Drop is a wonderful show, as long as you're really good about compartmentalizing. Maybe they'll change the ending. Fingers crossed.

Usagi Drop is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Ikoku Meiro no Croisée

Rating: 4

Recessions hit hard for everyone, regardless of the time and place, and the same must have been true for small shopkeepers in 19th century Paris. Set in a dark, dusty sign shop in a slowly crumbling mall, Ikoku Meiro no Croisée paints a bleak, yet beautiful picture of life in Industrial Era France, and the culture clash that arises when a young Japanese girl is thrown in its midst. Brought to Japan by an elderly Parisian named Oscar, rosy-cheeked Yune is probably the cutest thing you've ever laid eyes on, next to a basket full of puppies. Hardworking and eager to please, she becomes an attendant to Claude, Oscar's grandson and current sign shop owner.

Even from the get-go, we can tell that despite cultural differences, Yune and Claude are going to be just fine. By the end of the episode, he's taking care of her like a little sister, and all that remains is shielding her from the prying eyes of Paris. That's actually the biggest clash of all—the passersby gawk at Yune like she's a doll, regarding her like some kind of mystical object from the secret Orient. Even Oscar, in some ways, has this view of Yune, which at times made me feel uncomfortable, like I was watching her be exploited. But that uneasiness partially is what makes Ikoku Meiro no Croisée interesting to think about. Claude is the only person who doesn't treat Yune like an object, and in fact gets deeply embarrassed every time she bows or shows the slightest subservience.

In a way, seeing as how this is a distinctly Japanese-written and produced story, it's almost like the show is rebuffing aspects of Japanese tradition, like its culture of servitude and self-sacrifice. Perhaps I'm reading too much into a half-hour episode, but every time Claude told Yune to stop bowing, or opposed using her as a poster girl, it felt like the production staff was exploring their own thoughts on the subject. It'll be interesting to see how these themes are treated as this series progresses.


YuriYuri

Rating: 2

Yuri Yuri has accomplished the impossible—it has learned to stop time. Because after what felt like eternity—or at least two hours—I looked at the clock, and saw that only 22 minutes had elapsed. Magic. This show has got to be the most pointless, meandering, painfully mediocre property in the history of anime. The script must literally just say: Characters ad lib until red light flashes.

It's not a good show, it's not a bad show. It just exists in its own empty void of endless talking. The series follows four middle school girls who use an abandoned Tea Club room as their hangout spot. Then they talk. One of the girls' shtick is that she looks like a popular magical girl that's on TV. Another girl is totally moe for the aforementioned girl. A different girl just… exists? And then there's the quasi-main character girl who is cobbled together from a million clichéd personality traits, which ironically becomes the source of conversation for ten minutes. The characters literally sit down and try to determine if she has any star quality. In a self-aware reenactment that's supposed to be meta, they suggest ways that she could become the star of an anime show, like finding a legendary sword, and unleashing super powers when she really needs them.

In an alternate universe, this show might possibly be funny if it weren't so impossibly annoying to watch. Every character is dull, and most of the chuckles come from the girls having indignant conversations about panties. Notably, I did laugh uncomfortably when the door opens into the main character's older sister's room, to reveal a stalker-level wall of photos of the younger sis, complete with lipstick stains on pillowcases and a stash of missing panties. Yikes? It's bad news when the only interesting part of a show comes from wondering if there will eventually be incestuous sexual assault.

YuriYuri is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Kamisama Dolls

Rating: 3.5

What a strange amalgam of unrelated things Kamisama Dolls is! The serious side of the show is like Higurashi meets s-CRY-ed, but then it's like the writers felt insecure about the selling point of their script, so they threw in some random fanservice, just to be safe. Are fans supposed to be shivering under the covers, or touching themselves?

Let's talk about the serious side of the show first. The series opens strong on flashbacks of the countryside being destroyed by some kind of robotic being. Kids are running and screaming, while these unidentified creatures howl at the camera. Jump to the present day, where a seemingly innocuous karaoke party turns sour when a brutally murdered body is found in the elevator. Before the audience knows what's going on, the protagonist is racing home, only to find his little sister waiting for him, with her summoned robot-like god in tow. Enter the villain (whom diligent viewers will remember from the opening scenes) who appears to be some kind of serial killer, and we've got the setup for a story that promises to be part action thriller, part horror story.

If the series was just this, it would be really fascinating. The mood of these scenes alone is enough to keep me watching, between the creepy-child-singsong-laden soundtrack, and the blood-spattered walls. I firmly believe that a young child's voice can turn any genre to horror, and boy, is that ever true with Kamisama Dolls. It's deeply unsettling hearing children singing every time that mysterious god is summoned, but already I want to know more. What's the story with this god, and why does he reside in some sketchy countryside village? Who is this psychotic killer with the other robot, and what does he want?

But also, why on Earth was it necessary for the main love interest's breasts to be so ridiculously big? I routinely missed ten lines of dialogue every time she was on screen. I had to rewind the show at least four times, because I kept zoning out, staring at her breasts. The weird thing is that I'm not even sure if they're supposed to be sexy; they're covered most of the time, and they don't bounce. It's like the animators grew up watching large breasts in anime, so they simply didn't know that it was possible to draw them any smaller. I don't want to dwell on them, but they were really distracting and made it incredibly difficult to focus on all the robots and murders.

Add onto that your token cute little girl character who largely communicates in sound effects and cheek blushes, and you've got yourself a show with an identity crisis. Were the writers worried no one would watch the series if they didn't throw in some gimmicks? Because the show stands perfectly strongly on its own two legs, without all this extraneous nonsense.

I don't know what Kamisama Dolls is trying to pull, but I know that for the immediate time being, I plan on continuing this series. The serious part of the show is enough to keep me curious. And I guess if I have to keep rewinding the episodes, then so be it.

Kamisama Dolls is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Uta no Prince Sama

Rating: 1.5 stars

Something about a headmaster dressing up like a clown and flying around on invisible wires makes it pretty hard to take a school seriously. Then again, the Saotome Academy (For Wannabe Idols and Pop Composers) seems to largely be attended by trust fund brats, so maybe accreditation wasn't that hard to come by. This glitzy, chandelier-adorned bastion of learning is the setting for Uta no Prince Sama, which can only be described as Fabulous, with a capital F. Its faculty is made up of drama queens and drag queens, and its filthy rich student body is half made up of unnaturally hot men, whom the girls refer to as “Princes of Song.” We get a glimpse of what these “princes” are capable of in the opening number, a synchronized song ‘n’ dance number with plunging v-necks and sleeveless jackets.

To call Uta no Prince Sama just another reverse harem show might be the understatement of the century. Our likeable protagonist is Haruka, a quiet girl who dreams of someday writing songs for her favorite pop idol Hayato, who might have a super dark secret that no one could possibly care about. (Spoiler: he's introduced at the end of the episode, but instead of being a jokester, he might actually be serious! What??) On her very first day of school, she befriends a small collection of hot men, all of whom are rich, handsome, aspire to be idol singers, and of course, want her desperately. Surely, none of the other girls at school will be jealous.

I assume some kind of story arc will be set up. Maybe the students will have to study for an exam or something. Or maybe we'll find out more about Hayato's mysterious double life, a scandal that will rock no one's world. But mostly, I bet viewers will be in for a lot of ostentatious costume changes, slow-motion shots of men carefully sweeping hair from their piercing eyes, and lingering stares.

As far as eye candy goes, this show is full of it. Visually, it's a nice show to look at, even if Haruka's green pupils are creepy and soulless. But the backgrounds are rich and detailed, and all the school uniforms rock pinstripes, which must be a pain in the ass to draw. Not the princes, though. They'd never be caught dead in pinstripes.

But hey, if the show is actually going to be deeper than a sheet of tissue paper, it can go ahead and prove me wrong.

Uta no Prince Sama is available streaming on NicoNico.


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