The Summer 2011 Anime Preview Guide
Rebecca Silverman

Jul 4th 2011

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

As an English professor and the granddaughter of a librarian, I really wanted to like this show. It has books, the 19th century, and it's Gainax – what possibly reason could there be for me not to adore it? The answer to that question is “weirdness.” The Mystic Archives of Dantalian almost tries too hard to be inventive, resulting in a good show, but certainly not a great one. The story takes place sometime after World War One, giving the lie to all summaries stating that it is set in the late 19th century. Our hero, Lord Hugh, is a former RAF pilot who has inherited his recently deceased grandfather's estate and library. The only condition is that he has to also watch over Dalian, who he assumes to be a pet. It turns out that Dalian is a girl in anachronistic clothing, whom he finds reading in his grandfather's basement. It seems that Grandpa was killed over one of the “Phantom Books” in his collection, the Harlequinade, which then possessed its thief and has to be sealed by Hugh and Dalian. Dalian describes Phantom Books as being “books that were not meant to exist in this world.” It seems that she holds within her (literally) The Mystic Archives of Dantalian where Phantom Books are stored. It is accessed by Hugh inserting a key into the lock between her breasts and reaching into her body. Any sexual metaphors are perhaps best left unexplored.

All this is well and good, but the show suffers from inattention to detail and the current popularity of the small, angry female. Dalian is your standard tsundere in Gothic Lolita who has a specific food fetish and tends towards the disagreeable. The time period, despite the best efforts of Gainax to include WWI photographs, is unclear, with both hero and heroine dressed inappropriately for the 1918-1920ish setting. (He's about ten years behind the times.) Hugh's casual attitude can be excused by his air force past, but is still odd in an English lord of the period. While some details, such as the tea cosy, are dead-on, the car and the carriage are also of two distinctly different eras, adding to the confusion.

On the plus side, the animation is gorgeous. Clothing and hair move fluidly, the actual character designs are attractive, and the use of photos as backgrounds makes for a very interesting juxtaposition. The music is balletic, mostly violins and piano, and really compliments the action. So this show looks great, sounds great, and by all rights should be great. But the little things bring it down, at least for me. It is also very possible that the live-action ending theme will give you nightmares: it's a grotesquerie that could have come straight out of MirrorMask. Like the rest of the show, it almost works...but doesn't quite. 

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian is available streaming at NicoNico.


No. 6 episode 2

Rating: 4 ½ (out of 5)

Wow. If No. 6 even mildly intrigued you with its first episode, you owe it to yourself to keep watching, because it improves by leaps and bounds. The first thing you'll notice is that we've flashed forward four years. Shion, Rat, and Safu are all sixteen, a much easier to accept age for this kind of story. Shion, it turns out, was not totally successful in keeping Rat from the authorities, and as a result he and his mother were demoted, forced out of their luxurious home, and set up in Lost Town, the plebian part of No. 6. Now Shion works as a park supervisor and his mother runs a bakery. Safu has apparently been unaware of this, as she questions why Shion didn't enroll in the Special Course. She's really a surprise – as she and Shion are getting ready to separate for the evening after a day of palling around, she asks him for something – his sperm. When a baffled Shion gapes at her, she explains that she wants to have sex with him. Unprotected? It seems so. Shion refuses at any rate.

The action isn't over, however; in fact, it gets better. Shion and his partner find a dead body in the park, one who is prematurely aged. A bug bubbles to the surface of his neck, understandably freaking everyone out. Shion wonders if the story doens't make the news because of government interference...and suddenly his partner is stricken, aging and dying in a matter of moments. Police are on Shion in a second, carting him away as a “malcontent” in a move straight out of Alodous Huxley's Brave New World. It turns out they had recorded his complaints, and such things are not allowed. As he's being carted off, a strange young man jumps out – it's Rat, come to save the boy who once saved him. What follows is an exciting chase scene and a break for freedom...and a strange mark on Shion's neck. This looks like it's shaping up to be a very interesting, possibly thrilling show. Don't judge it by it's first episode – judge it by this one.

No. 6 is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Kamisama Dolls Episode 2

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

While some shows improve upon being given a second episode, others just do more of the same, and this is definitely one of them. Our second installment comes with a training session for Utao and her kukuri, led by her brother Kyohei. Why is Kyohei so good at training his sister? As he explains to Hibino, it's because he, too, used to be a seki, innately capable of controlling the mechanical gods. He claims he was “fired,” but astute viewers will remember the scene in the first episode when his father complains of him leaving the seki behind. We get a clue as to why that might have been later in the episode when we see a flashback of a bloody conflict between two seki – Kyohei and Aki. It's actually quite good stuff, and when the show is taking this serious track, it's an intriguing series.

Unfortunately it can't decide if it wants to be straight action or a raunchy comedy. Hibino walks by when Kyohei is scratching himself in his underwear. New character Kuuko tries to seduce someone into staying in her weird science club, and we're treated to a boob-squish scene. Kuuko and her dad don't get along. Kuuko snaps people's fingers back when they point at her. Real comedy gold, this is. Actually, Kuuko brings the show down in my estimation by virtue of being both annoying and a character type I don't particularly enjoy: the busty mad scientist who beats on everyone. Hopefully Kamisama Dolls will stick to the serious stuff and lose the attempts at fanservice and comedy. This could be a good sci fi piece if it would just stay on the tracks.


Manyuu Hiken Chou

Rating: 0 (out of 5)

As a human being, I am offended that this show exists. I don't normally have an issue with fanservice apart from it not being my thing, but the premise of Manyuu Hiken Chou is so unpleasant and full of sex offenses that I cannot condone its existence. As a comparison, I did not mind Koihime Musō, so I am not hating on the genre.

The French tagline for this show can be translated as “With a great rack comes great responsibility.” Its world is run by large breasts, an anachronism for the time of the shogunate. The Manyuu clan (written with the characters for “magic breasts”) controls all of the bosoms in the land, using their magic sword-and-grope techniques to deflate the breasts of their enemies or peasants and inflate their own. Not only is this a lamentable misunderstanding of mammary function, but it also is accompanied by the sound of balloons rubbing together. As has been mentioned before, all bare breasts and implied sex scenes are censored with the same bars of light as R-15, but that is hardly this show's biggest issue. The amount of sexual violence in here is astounding. Women are mauled, groped, and raped by other women with staggering rapidity for a 22 minute show. Is this meant to be hot lesbian action? Because rape is never hot. Sorry. The emphasis on breasts is bad enough, but this really pushes it over the top. It also teaches some unsavory lessons about big breasts being the only ones that matter. If this were a comedy or a scathing commentary on the genre, it would be, if not fine, better. But really, in this day and age we should be beyond this, and even if we aren't it should at least be done with a bit more taste. The thin plot about Chifusa Manyuu going against the family and traveling Japan to, um, go against the family is not enough to disguise this gruesome spectacle.


Cat God



Rating:
2 (out of 5)

I like cats as much as the next single woman, but this show is a bit hard to take. It is the story, nominally, of Mayu, a Cat God thrown out of Takamagahara, the land where the Shinto gods dwell, for bad behavior. She somehow ended up living with Yuzu in a human town overflowing with gods, including a young fox god nicknamed Gonta and, by the end of the episode, another Cat God, an unspecified god, and the god of poverty. The animal gods all have ears and tails (two each in the case of the cats), and everyone is cute and round. The major problem is that we are given almost no background – apart from knowing that Mayu was kicked out of Takamagahara and that her father engaged her to another girl, we're pretty much left in the dark. How did she end up with Yuzu? Why can Yuzu see all of these gods? Can everyone, or is she special? By the end of this episode, we still don't really know.

The plot for this first installment is that Shamo, the god of poverty, is coming to town. No one knows why, but as avatars of Inari, god of prosperity and the harvest, Gonta and his fellow foxes are hysterical. They try to barricade the way into town, but Yuzu cluelessly sneaks Shamo in on her bicycle. The efforts to maintain the barricade, however, are interrupted by Mayu's female fiancee and a blonde girl god showing up to fight over her. Surely this could have been saved for another episode, or positioned better within this one. As it is, it distracts from the overall plot and gives the show a non-linear feel. It all comes off as a bit confusing.

Happily this is nice to look at in places. Takamagahara is drawn in rainbow pastels to contrast with the human world and special care has been taken to give gods of the same species similar physical traits – for example, all cats have two tails and a collar on one ear. If Mayu reminds some people of one of the characters from Genshiken's Kujibiki Unbalance, well, at least she's memorable in some way. A bit too much use is made of chibi faces as insets to the scene, but overall Cat God doesn't have terrible visuals, just not great ones. I suppose that is the best that can be said about this show – it isn't terrible, but it sure isn't great either, even if you're an aspiring Crazy Cat Lady.

Cat God is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Yuruyuri Episode 2

Rating: 2 ½ (out of 5)

Why did I watch a second episode of a show I previously gave a two? Because I have had that opening theme stuck in my head all week. Fortunately, this episode treads very close to 3 territory, an upward movement from episode one. This installment of the girls' middle school adventures focuses more on the student council four – Ayano, Chitose, Himawari!, and Sakurako. It also introduces actual yuri content, which is a plus in a show with the word in its title. Bespectacled Chitose has a real fetish for girl-on-girl love, and the objects of her fantasy are Kyoko and Ayano. (In fact, at one point she suggests having a sexiness contest, illustrated in the screen cap.) When she takes off her glasses, she unleashes her fantasies, as well as her nosebleeds. To be honest, it is Chitose that keeps this at a 2 ½ for me – the gag was funny once or twice, but it is very overdone and becomes irritating. Also providing yuri content are Himawari! and Sakurako, whose rivalry may conceal tender feelings. As far as romantic subplot goes, this is the most promising, and could be rewarding if it develops.

Some of the previous problems remain with this second episode – plot is still thin, characters still fit neatly into molds, and that eyecatch is still far too long. But the good is still there too – the characters are attractive and roughly their ages, the school uniforms are still unique but recognizable, and it's easy to watch this and not feel like a pervert. In some ways it feels like moe for people who are afraid of moe. Honestly, I'm not sure whether to count the opening theme against it or not, but I do think I will be singing it to myself for weeks. I suppose if that succeeds in getting me to keep watching, then the people behind the show have done their jobs.

Yuruyuri is still available streaming on Crunchyroll.


R-15

Rating: .5 (out of 5)

I feel vaguely dirty after having watched this show. It opens with an almost soft core porn scene, which we quickly find out came from the fevered pen and pubescent mind of Taketo, a “genius erotic novelist.” He goes to a special school for geniuses of all types – there's a genius photographer, a genius artist, a genius mathematician, and even a genius narrator. It's kind of like a less appealing Alice Academy. Taketo seems to be crushing on genius clarinetist Fukune, but all of the girls are kind of creeped out by him. Given that he takes inspiration from the people and events around him, the girls are rather justified. It's gotten better since his transfer to the genius school, he tells us. In almost the same breath he says that he essentially wants to be the next Hugh Hefner, so as a female, it's a bit hard to sympathize with him.

R-15 uses some strange conceits. Every time one of Taketo's scenarios play out, the pertinent bits of the people are censored by bands of light. The light takes up most of the shot, pretty much obscuring the entire image. This has the interesting effect of losing both the attention of people looking for a sexy show and those just trying to watch, since blinding light is rarely a pleasant sight. The language in the scenes is almost laughable. It's like the writers were playing a game – how many different names for sex organs can we come up with? (Personally, I enjoyed “newly born snake.”) The only time he is able to write something G rated is when he is watching Fukune sleep...and writhe a bit. Honestly, it looks like she's having an erotic dream about her clarinet, robbing the whole scene of any sweet quality it could have had. The same goes for the magical girl story he tries to write about her, and frankly the way he uses his classmates is inspiration is creepy. The only character who seems remotely okay with this is the genius photographer, who berates him for writing non-porn.

It is difficult to fully classify this as a harem show because none of the girls seem at all interested in Taketo. It's more like porn for people too young to rent it, although the DVD release may change that, and definitely more for the male viewer. While I could just be a particularly prudish viewer, there are very disturbing aspects for female watchers. Judge by the fact that the second episode is titled “I'm an Idol Even if I Strip.” If that sounds appealing, and you like the idea of watching a burgeoning erotica author, then hey, you might like this show.

R-15 is currently available streaming on NicoNico and will soon be available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Uta no Prince Sama episode 2

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

The major difference between this episode and its predecessor is that there are fewer characters. Yes, everyone makes a token appearance, but the stars here are heroine Haruka and nice, goofy guy Ittoi Otoya, also known as The Red-Haired One. After Haruka's encounter with the Hayate look alike, who turns out to be the singer's younger twin brother, the students embark on their first assignment: compose a pop song in duos of composer and idol. No one should be surprised that Haruka and Otoya are paired up. The story revolves around their composing troubles – Haruka plays by ear and has to learn how to read music. Otoya has writer's block. Naturally the two are able to work together to overcome their issues and a cute little romance is born.

There are rough waters ahead for our potential couple, however, and not just the fact that there are five other boys waiting in the wings. The school has a strict policy of no romance between students, because that's always both likely and logical in a school catering to adolescents. Actually, the subtitles phrase it as “no romance between members of the opposite sex,” which leaves the field wide open for homosexual relationships. The fujoshi have just been given the go-ahead for their doujinshi, and given that the men are much more attractive than the women in this show, that may not be bad. The animation continues to be top-notch with the colors just a tad overbright for some of the combinations. Haruka continues to spend most of the episode staring out of the screen with her strange, soulless yellow eyes and her mouth hanging open, which is creepy, but isn't enough to totally ruin things. This is a firmly mediocre show with just enough appeal to keep reverse harem fans coming back for more. It isn't great, but it could still become a guilty pleasure.

Uta no Prince Sama is available streaming at NicoNico.com.


Mawaru Penguindrum

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

I am certain that I will be accused of rating this too highly, but it doesn't matter – this is a gorgeous, bizarre, fascinating show. The phrase “spiritual successor to Utena” has been tossed around, and that is precisely what this feels like. Hopefully a legal version will be available soon, because this is a must-see.

The story revolves around three siblings – Sho, Kan, and Himari. They appear to be orphans living in a playhouse, and Himari is terminally ill. Her brothers do their best to take care of her, but despite their efforts, midway through the episode she dies. Fortunately she got an emperor penguin novelty hat at the aquarium moments before collapsing, and much to her brothers' shock and joy, the hat brings her back to life. There is a price, however – Sho and Kan must find the mysterious “penguin drum” in order to keep Himari among the living. This sort of ultimatum is one of the staples of fairy and folk tale literature and seems perfectly in keeping with the colorful backgrounds and Himari's fantasy bedroom. I'll admit it – I chose that screen cap simply because my inner seven-year-old lusts after that room. But there is more to it than just a little girl fantasy – the toadstool lamp has connotations of Irish fairy stories, the angel can be seen as representative of life and death, and the bed hangings of early 19th century illustrations of the Arabian Nights. All of these stories contain similar quests to that which the boys must embark on. And of course let us not forget the copy of Alice's Adventures in Wonderland at the bedside: the opening theme deliberately conjures up Alice images with Himari in an endless fall. In any other director I would not accuse him of symbolism, but Ikuhara has proven that he is guilty of it in other shows.

The animation in this is very nicely done, and in a xxxHOLiC-like move, all background characters on the street are in shades of gray and look like walking restroom symbols for man and woman. Himari's transformation sequence has a real Utena feel to it, and the scene of her walking down the spinal cord staircase is particularly well done. The magical helping penguins and the citywide mascot characters add a touch of cute, and I suspect that the two little boys discussing apples in the beginning are going to be this series' shadow play girls. There is, as you can see, a lot going on in Mawaru Penguindrum, but even if you aren't a symbolism fiend there is plenty to enjoy and think about. Companies take note – this show is worth paying money for.


A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives

Rating: 2 ½ (out of 5)

This may be one of the weirder shows of the season. It opens with two little kids apparently playing sex games in one of those elephant slides that no Japanese playground is without. “Are you going to bite me?” the little boy asks nervously. “No, I'm going to inject you with my poison,” replies the girl, fangs prominently displayed. Either this is a metaphor or she is a vampire with snakelike capabilities. In any event, she bites him, they profess mutual love for each other, and all of a sudden they're fifteen. Taito, the boy, has been dreaming about this scene with the pink-haired Himea for years and can't quite figure it out. He also is having trouble rationalizing why he doesn't like his friend Haruka romantically, despite the fact that classmates have them paired off. This seems to bother him more than the dreams. What will bother him still more is when he is hit by a truck and decapitated – and still finds himself conscious and breathing. Perhaps there's something to these Himea dreams after all.

Two other characters appear to be important to this story – Gekkou, the handsome, incredibly horrible student council president, and his little Taiga-wannabe sidekick Mirai. Mirai can't seem to stop flashing her striped underwear and getting phallic things shoved between her legs – in one scene it deliberately looks like Gekkou is having sex with her from behind – and Gekkou is one of those jerks of epic proportions who anime schoolgirls seem to adore. These two characters are amazingly off-putting and very nearly ruin any scene they show up in. Gekkou seems like he might be important soon, though, so it may be a snap judgment to count him against the show at this point.

One very strange thing that Dark Rabbit does is spend a lot of time zoomed in on characters' mouths, particularly Himea's. If the lips were more defined, this might not be so odd, but these are typical slit/flap mouths, so it gives it a sort of lazy air, like the animators couldn't be bothered to draw the whole face. If this was done because of the vampiric themes the show is working with, then the mouths needed to be more detailed. Apart from that, the visuals are fine. Himea's hair is interestingly shaded from pink to blue, everyone has their own distinct look, and the spinning circles that signify magic are good to look at if nothing innovative. That's pretty much how the whole episode can be summed up, but it is worth noting that is has “part one” in the title, so it may not be fair to really judge on this episode alone. Next week may change this week's rating.

A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives is currently available streaming on NicoNico and will soon be available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Sacred Seven

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

There's something a bit off about this latest show from Bandai. Maybe it's the way the hero constantly has his hand in his pocket, fondling something, or maybe it's the plastic looking heart and star shaped gems that provide superpowers. In any event, what should be a perfectly respectable mecha show instead has the taint of merchandising and pandering, robbing it of its due.

The story opens with a stone monster rampaging on a burning ship. Alma, our hero, has a strange, violent reaction to it, with his eyes turning red and purple smoke spewing from his body. Cut to Ruri, a dolled up rich girl and her impossibly young butler (note to anime: learn the difference between a butler, a footman, and a valet!), who make cryptic remarks about “the dark stone” and the “stones of Perseus and Eurayle.” Then it's off to school with Alma, where we quickly learn that he's the boy everyone fears. Naturally there's an exception to this rule, Wakana, who is determined to make him join the “rock club.” She means rock in the literal sense – this is a club for people who really like stones, not rock music. Before the end of the episode we have learned that Alma is in fact the dark stone and that he can grow a mecha skin and fight in berserker mode. With Ruri's blue heart crystal (on sale now!), he can retain his sanity and fight for good. Since a previous berserker moment went awry in his past, resulting in multiple deaths, including that of his mother, he's willing to give the blue heart a try. We also find out that Ruri has a large army made up entirely of French maids. Why? Presumably because otaku like maids and will see nothing wrong with a militarized group of them, wielding large, phallic weapons.

The art here is very nice, with good attention paid to the change in the color of people's eyes when they are fighting, transforming, or preparing to do either of the above. The mecha-skins are streamlined with nice computer features, and everything moves fluidly. The show also gets points for using Medusa's sisters Eurayle and Stheno as villains, showing a bit of creativity and research. But for the most part, this show is a messy miss that can be safely passed by.

Sacred Seven is currently available streaming on Crunchyroll.



Idolm@ster

Rating: 0 (out of 5)

It is unclear whether Idolm (at ster) is trying to be anime or a reality show, or maybe a visual novel without any choices. It fails at all three. The show is “filmed” as if the viewer is a cameraman documenting a day in the life of the aspiring idols of 765, an idol-producing company. The characters look and speak directly to the camera, and the cameraman's questions appear as text at the bottom of the screen. It feels like a really dumb documentary.

There are a lot of characters in this show, and while there is an attempt made to distinguish them – one has fangs, one has big boobs – unless you really care about the “story” or “action,” telling them apart is frankly too much effort. Certainly they all have different names and personality traits as well, but again, it's kind of hard to care. There are of course a pair of identical and identically dressed twins, an older woman in glasses, and that one who always sleeps. Apart from that, the girls are a blur. This is a problem in a story that is about them. Really, there are two major issues with this show – too many characters and a very dull plot. I suppose if you really enjoy reality television, which I clearly don't, this may appeal to you, particularly if you like reality television and anime. But other than that, unless the girls start stripping or something – which would make it bad in a whole other way – skip this one.



Mayo Chiki!

Rating: .5 (out of 5) 

It is difficult to construct a meaningful review of this show, which has surpassed Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise for awfulness. Mayo Chiki! may be a harem story, or it may be a cross-dressing story, or it may be a strange amalgamation of the two, but it definitely is not a good story. However the colors are bright and pretty, so there is that.

This series follows hapless protagonist Kinjiro. He is woken daily by his little sister practicing her wrestling moves on his supine form. Their (absent) mother seems to be a world-class wrestling champ, and Sis wants to be just like her. Fortunately she leaves for school ahead of him, so her scenes are mercifully short. But no worries – as Kinjiro arrives at school another girl appears: the lovely Kanade, daughter of the school principal. She shows up with her way-too-young butler in tow, a feminine figure all the girls lust over. Kinjiro has been spotted staring at Subaru the butler too, prompting rumors that he is gay. The fact that he doesn't want girls to touch him seems to back it up. He flees to the bathroom, opens a stall...and there's Subaru the butler, with her pants down. Oh my goodness gracious, Subaru is as female as she looks.

This is where things go from bad to worse. Subaru is determined to keep her secret, so she feels that beating Kinjiro is the way to go. “Tsundere” may be too soft a word for her behavior, no matter what the ending credits and preview might show. This girl is vicious. Things are compounded when, during a fight in the lab, Kinjiro pushes Subaru down. Her clothes immediately fly off so that he can be seen groping her breast. This makes very little sense, but so does the fact the the episode ends with Kinjiro chained to a bed with Kanade molesting him. And that is not an exaggeration – this is full-on sexual predation.

It looks like at least two more girls will be joining the cast – a pigtailed loli and a tanned buxom blond with what appear to be actual cat ears, and what roles they will play is definitely suspect. There is really very little to recommend this show. Don't watch it.


No. 6

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

In a post-apocalyptic future, the world has been divided into numbered cities. This show focuses on the sixth city, No. 6, and the lives of several twelve-year-olds there. The opening scene is one of a fevered chase – a gray-haired child tries to outrun heavily-armed guards, only to be thwarted by a barred gate. It is nightmarish. Then we switch to a different kind of bad dream – a clean-cut boy sits in a high tech classroom, trying to pay attention to a girl's presentation on the parts of the brain. As he stares out the window at the wind blowing through the trees, he fantasizes about being in the sky and shattering into a thousand shining pieces. In its way, this is as disturbing as the chase scene. The two boys' stories don't converge until half way through the episode, but the world-building that takes up the first half is minimally dull and really does an important job of explaining the surroundings to the viewer.

Shion, the schoolboy, is a member of the special advanced class. He, along with everyone else in the city, wears a computerized communication bracelet that opens doors, receives news updates, and activates the home security/telephone system. His friend, the girl giving the presentation, is teased for wearing homemade sweaters instead of synthetic fibers, showing us the little prejudices that plague that society. At the center of the city is a mysterious tower known as “moondrop,” and when it moans, people pay attention, although just why that is is unclear. Unlike many post-apocalyptic cities, No. 6 is lush, full of open green spaces, clean white buildings, and flowing water. It hardly seems like a place where violence was enacted. But a scene of an underwater city and that opening chase give a glimpse of the rot under the veneer. By the time we learn that Nezumi, the boy from the beginning, is also only twelve, is implanted with a tracking microchip, and is the focus of a literal manhunt, the show has started to make the view just slightly uncomfortable.

This is a beautiful production for the most part – clear colors, crisp lines, and some very convincing rain. Sound-wise the storm sounds just right, although both boys sound much too old for twelve. The character designs are a little bland, but the biggest offender is the world's most unconvincing knitting scene. It may be a small thing, but it is noticeable. Mostly this is a good-looking, intriguing show that knows where it's going and what it wants to be, and for that reason, along with the fact that it's just plain interesting, this is one show it is worth keeping an eye on.

No. 6 is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Blood-C

Rating: 5  (out of 5)

Let's just preface this by saying that most of us are pretty damn sick of vampires. Whether they sparkle, smolder, or slaver, the vampire has been way overdone in pop culture of late. So what a pleasant surprise it is that what could have been one of the most derivative shows of the season (Clamp! Vampires! Buxom Teenagers With Glasses!) is an engrossing story.

The heroine of the piece is Saya, a miko at her father's shrine. The story opens with her trying to meditate her way to understanding “the light” and failing. Apparently this is an ongoing battle with her, and one that her deceased mother also had trouble with. Luckily Saya's father is a kind, loving man and doesn't begrudge her the time she needs. This makes up the supernatural content for the majority of the episode. After that it's school in a trendy Clamp uniform with cutouts on the sleeves and an inexplicable chain around the neck, her bubbly identical twin friends, and her cool, beautiful friend. The class rep likes her, but Saya is blissfully unaware, telling him she'll be sorry to miss the cake he invites her for. “That's all you're sorry about?” he asks. Saya doesn't get it.

Saya seems to be a “doesn't get it” kind of girl for most of the episode. She trips over nothing, she's habitually late to school because she's helping someone, and she's almost terminally cheerful. On the way to school she sings a song about what a nice day it is. (In a nice auditory touch, she sings in rhythm with her footsteps.) The one false note here is how attached she seems to be to her father – at one point she blushes when he touches her. Is there more to this than meets the eye?

The answer is almost certainly yes. The last third of the episode involves Saya fighting a bloody battle with a monster that looks like a cross between a Jizo statue and a praying mantis. The fight choreography is fantastic: she leaps, rolls, gets caught, swims, slides...the fluidity of animation is really wonderful. Sound is mostly incidental noises, like the slurp of a sword through flesh or the tap of footsteps. There are long stretches of silence which work to heighten the horror mood.

Although there are only vampiric hints at this point, this show looks like one to keep an eye on. While it has its cliches, its potential is greater.

Blood-C is available streaming on NicoNico.


Usagi Drop

Rating: 5 (out of 5)

Based on Yumi Unita's josei manga of the same name, Usagi (Bunny) Drop follows 30-year-old bachelor Daikichi as he raises his grandfather's illegitimate daughter Rin. If you like the manga, you will definitely like this variation. It's a close adaptation in both story and art and is most emphatically worth your time.

The story begins with the death of Daikichi's grandfather. When Daikichi joins his family at Grandpa's house, he discovers a strange, silent little girl. When he asks his mother who she is, his mother is less than pleased to inform him that Rin is her sister. This marks the sad beginning of Rin's introduction to her father's family. Everyone is embarrassed that Grandpa's been having sex at 79 and aghast that there's physical proof of it. This disgust translates into everyone ignoring the little girl, who ghosts about the house in her stocking feet, sitting in corners and hiding behind curtains. There is an air of indescribable sadness to these scenes, augmented by simple piano music in the background. It is clear that no one can bear to look at Rin except Daikichi. She seems to instinctively know this, and watches him like a feral animal who wants to come in.

Some of the most striking moments in this episode are the ones where we see the differences between Rin and Daikichi's little cousin Reina. Reina is loud, brash, and every toddler-hater's nightmare. She steals Rin's cat's cradle, she hits people, and just generally makes herself known. When compared to Rin's quiet determination to sit and watch the incense for her father burn, it really drives home the tragedy that has befallen her.

With all of this quiet sadness, the opening and ending themes may seem a bit out of place. They're upbeat and catchy with some really adorable child-like artwork to animate them. The cuteness even extends to the ending credits, which are decorated with little colorful fruits and flowers. The main show is done in muted colors, with Rin's favorite bellflowers (rindou, the root of her name) as the major source of brightness. Backgrounds have a water color feel to them, with the people drawn in a sharper contrast. Unita's characters look just like her illustrations, only colored in. In one particularly nice scene, Rin works a piece of string into a cat's cradle design with wonderfully animated dexterity.

All in all this is a beautiful, soft work that may leave you feeling a bit sad. It is emotional without being cloying or maudlin, and by the end of the episode, there's a feel-good quality to it too. This is a welcome island in a sea of mediocrity and really worth seeing. 

Usagi Drop is currently available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Summer 2011 Shorts

Nyanpire: The Animation

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

The plot here is simple – a dying kitten is saved by a kindhearted vampire. The kitten grows blood-sucking fangs, bat wings, and a cross bellybutton, and is adopted by a little girl. It's not much of a premise, but given the target audience of young children, it has its charm. This first episode focuses on Nyanpire trying to get his owner to feed him. If you've ever had a cat, you'll recognize that insistent kitty mew that says, “If you don't feed me now, I'll just die!” It is moderately funny to see Nyanpire doing this for blood instead of milk or wet food, and his frolic in the fridge is entertaining in a silly way.

The animation is simple to the point where it looks like it was done in Flash. Again, for the target audience, this isn't a bad thing. Large, simple shapes and bright primary colors give a preschool feel to the show that's just fine. What isn't quite as fine is the ending theme, which takes up as much time as the actual narrative. This is live action: a perky Gothic Lolita vampire woman, a male vampire, a couple of props guys, and a group of maids dance around while singing. There's plenty of cat gestures, and the whole thing has the air of a middle school dance performance. It isn't clear why the show opted to do this for its closer, and it doesn't have the charm of the show itself, but it certainly guarantees that you won't be forgetting what you've just watched anytime soon.

Morita-san wa Mukuchi

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

“Harmless” is the best adjective to describe this show. For three minutes, you can watch Morita watch her friend babble about the guy she's crushing on. Morita speaks exactly one line, and that's actually just the voice actress speaking her thoughts – the words never come out of Morita's mouth. We have a flashback to Morita's mother telling her to always look people in the eye when they are speaking to her, which leads to her spooking the class rep. High octane anime at its best.

Actually, that advice Morita's mother gives her sounds uncomfortably like what parents and teachers of special needs children are told to say. The show's title describes her as “taciturn,” but anyone with special ed experience might find themselves diagnosing the heroine. Granted, most people won't go there, but it gives a strange little jolt to those who will.

Apart from that, though, there's really not much to this. It looks nice, it has minimal plot, and actually the three-minute length suits it. If it were any longer we could be dealing with some serious lack of interest, but as it stands, it's like the Geico commercial in the middle of your TV show – worth watching, but only until the program comes back on.


Yuruyuri

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

How high is your tolerance for cute? And not cute with a point – just cute for cuteness' sake. Because that seems to be what we've got here, and while there's nothing technically bad about it, there isn't much that's all that good either. This is one of this season's cute-girls-do-cute-things-in-cute-ways shows – Akari is starting middle school. Her friends Yui and Kyoko are a year ahead of her. Chinatsu is the new girl of the group. They sit around and talk. The end.

Okay, there's maybe a little more to it than that, but not much. Akari is quickly established as the sweet yet clumsy heroine with the recognizable hairstyle. She oversleeps, she trips on her blanket, she forgets to put on her uniform. She humiliates herself with her class introduction. Yep, one cute yet inept heroine, made to order. Yui is the stoic, mature member of the group, Kyoko is the zany one, and Chinatsu is the one who worships her big sister. Akari seems to have a big sister as well – although comments in the forum suggest that this is not as straight forward as it seems – and this is where we get our creepy sister-complex factor: Big Sis' room is papered with pics of Akari and her missing crab undies are on the floor. Ick.

Oddly enough, the show switches its methods after the world's longest eyecatch. Where the first half focused on getting up and going to school, the second half takes place entirely within the club room's confines and is strangely self-referential. One of the most notable things is that the show's requisite anime/manga that the girls like is a magical girl show that, despite being made up for Yuruyuri, looks much better than this season's Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise.

One thing this show definitely gets points for is believable middle school girl bodies. No one is boobtastically developed (though the preview says that'll change) and no one is inappropriately promiscuous. In fact, everyone looks pleasantly rounded and sweet, making this nice to look at without feeling perverted. Even the school uniforms are attractive – unique in a non-fussy way. “Nice” pretty much sums the visuals up.

So the bottom line here is that this is a bit uneven in terms of what it wants to be but it's ultimately harmless. There are worse ways to spend 24 minutes, but I wouldn't put off going to the beach for it, unless there were a lot of sandfleas. Yuruyuri beats out sandfleas for a good time, but that's about it.

Yuruyuri is currently available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Kamisama Dolls

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

This show is seems a little unsure of what it wants to be. Before the opening credits, there's an apocalyptic battle. After the credits, there's a drinking party at a karaoke box. Then there's murder, robots, romance, and humor, all at the drop of a hat. Add to that the fact that it feels like we've come in at the middle and you have one slightly confused audience.

Strangely enough, this mix almost works. The transitions between moods are strange, but the whole is intriguing enough to keep you interested. Kyohei, our seemingly hapless hero, is newly arrived for college in Tokyo. At some sort of welcoming party, his friends get him to ask out class heartthrob Hibino, who Kyohei knew back home. Naturally she turns him down, and because he truly likes her, he gets roaring drunk. She waits for him to sober up and as they get ready to leave, a bloody corpse turns up in the elevator. As he walks Hibino to the train, Kyohei thinks that this is not the first time he's seen a murder victim.

It's the small details like that that keep your attention. Why is Kyohei familiar with murdered corpses? Why has he left the village, renouncing some rights? A few answers turn up in this episode with the introduction of two “seki” - people who control singing mecha things called “kukuri.” When Hibino asks obligatory small girl Utao what a kukuri is, Utao replies, “A god.” It's a good set up, as is the seki-gone-rogue who uses his kukuri to commit murders. Lest we get too comfortable with the idea that the village's kukuri are good guys, the rogue seki tells Kyohei that his rampage is the village's fault. Is he just crazy? Hibino's father's reluctance to tell her about the mecha-gods suggests otherwise.

Visually the opening theme wins itself lots of points. The use of colors and filters is really neat, and it helps that the song is a catchy, with a Latin sensibility. The show looks good in general, with smooth animation and nice details. Unfortunately no one told them how breasts work, because Hibino is the proud owner of two gravity defying bosoms. If you're an anatomical stickler, just try not to look at them.

A little flighty, a lot mysterious, and fun to look at, this show has some real potential.

Kamisama Dolls is currently available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise

Rating: 1 (out of 5)

Night on the docks. A burly man yells at his thugs to hurry up and get that contraband loaded, because he's going to make a killing on...black market vegetables? I beg your pardon? That pretty much sets the ol' expectation bar for this show, a magical girl anime based on a pachinko game, provided that “based on a pachinko game” didn't set it already.

The ridiculous factor is pretty high in this one. After Burly Man finishes declaiming about his black market veggies, two girls in matched costumes show up, declaring themselves the “Phantom Thieves Twin Angel.” Burly Man's response is to rip off his shirt and try to intimidate them with his biceps, because girls often find arm muscles terrifying. Needless to say, our heroines take him down before the opening credits.

After that things take a turn for the typical. The Twin Angels are (middle?) school students Aoi and Haruka, and they fight crime on behalf of their school's headmistress. The school holds one of seven treasured works of art that make up the Holy Grail, and if they fall into the hands of greedy people, Bad Stuff will happen. Apart from the fact that this appears to have no connection to the historic Holy Grail, it still has a comfortable magical girl feel to it. Naturally one girl is the perky bouncy one (Haruka) and one is the quiet smart one (Aoi), and there's a cute older boy. There's also a butler who pops out of the floor to alert them to jobs and a mascot character who lives in their transformation brooches. The villain is a slightly older girl with a devoted henchman who...releases a gas that turns them into cat girls. Yes, there is fanservice in this one, but it isn't on any creepy level. Mostly it concerns itself with Aoi's breasts, which would be disturbing if you'd never seen anime before. As it is, it's pretty tame.

All of the factors of a good magical girl story are here – Tuxedo Mask knock-off, naked transformations that utilize the cherries on the school uniforms (the girls look comically concerned when their clothes shred), complimentary super powers, bright colors, and cute, perky music. But the elements aren't put together well, and when combined with the sheer stupidity of the bad guys, this is one that Sailor Moon fans can safely skip.

Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise is currently available streaming on NicoNico.com.

Kami-sama no Memo-chō

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

The first thing you'll notice about this episode is that it is 48 minutes rather than the usual 24. Presumably the reason for this is to get viewers hooked on the overall story as well as to present the episode's mystery in satisfying way. It sort of succeeds. The mystery, a student who was doing compensated dating (where an older man pays a high school girl to date him) and vanished, is resolved, and we do get a sense of how the detective and her team works. But the story drags in places and more time seems to be devoted to the hero's waffling about life than the actual mystery.

Fujishima, the hero, is a sixteen-year-old high school student who stumbles across a compensated dating bust. One of the guys involved tells him that he has no presence whatsoever. This is something that Fujishima agrees with – he comments that he is like a single pixel, not part of any larger picture. He seems to kind of like this and floats through life not doing a whole lot. His father is largely absent and he and his mother have just moved to Tokyo, but his main grumble is that his new school makes him join a club. So when Ayaka, the sole member of the gardening club, knows who he is, he's shocked. Needless to say, he ends up helping Ayaka and she drags him to the ramen shop where she works.

Surprise! The ramen shop is also the base for the detectives he saw making the bust! And they pressure him into joining them! Oh my goodness, who ever could have seen that coming? Fujishima's passivity is one of the more irritating aspects of the show – he doesn't want to go with Ayaka, but he does, he doesn't want to go meet Alice, the detective, but he lets himself be pushed into it, and by the end he's working for her. Of course, by the end he feels like he belongs, so it doesn't really matter, but his passivity is hardly endearing.

Alice is our loli factor, but she's fairly inoffensive on that count. She is a self-proclaimed “NEET detective,” conducting her investigations through her team (a military otaku, a high school dropout, and a gigolo) and her insane amount of computers. Mostly Alice stays in her room with her stuffed animals, garbed in a teddy bear nightie, but at the end of the episode she attires herself in full Gothic Lolita and goes out to face the world. There's really no reason for her to suddenly dress like this, but it is nice to look at. She herself is kind of annoying with her blunt to the point of rude speech – kind of the polar opposite of Fujishima.

This show has potential, but right now it's a mediocre mystery with some not very likable characters, plus the ending theme could give you a seizure. Luckily it looks very nice, with special attention payed to flowing hair. It'll be worth giving it another episode, though perhaps not more if it doesn't shape up.



Ikoku Meiro no Croisée

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

Have you ever been to Paris? If you have, you will feel a sense of genuine recognition when watching this show. Set in late 19th century France (the 1880s, judging by the women's clothes), Ikoku Meiro no Croisée follows adorable small girl Yune in her adventures at the metalworking shop Enseign du Roi. Claude, the third generation to work as the store's chief craftsman, is less than thrilled when his grandfather returns from a buying trip to Japan with Yune in tow, and most of the episode is taken up with him resisting Yune's wide-eyed, kimono-clad charms. And she is charming. Even if her character design gives you a moe-vibe, her sincerity radiates off the screen and makes even the jaded viewer give a grudging smile.

The best part of this show is the attention to detail. The sound of Yune's fancy geta clacking on Paris' pavements is an especially nice touch, but the backgrounds really steal the show. This isn't a representation of Paris, this is Paris. Someone did their research, not only about buildings and street life, but the French on the signs is grammatically correct and the French narration at the start and end of the episode is flawless. The effect is that the show really pulls you in, allowing the less-than-thrilling story to only minimally detract from what's on screen.

And this is a limited story. Yune is meant to help out at the shop and be a “poster girl” to bring in more customers. Claude can't quite figure out what to do with her. He thinks she's a bit odd. That's pretty much all there is for plot, so if you have a short attention span this is not the show for you. The action may pick up later, but this is probably more of a quiet series about the simple things. There's nothing wrong with that, but it won't be for everyone. On the other hand, if you want a stroll through the Paris that was, or if you enjoyed Kaoru Mori's Emma, come and wander the labyrinth and let strangers cross your path.



Uta no Prince Sama

Rating: 3 (of 5)

If the opening sequence of flashily dressed pretty boys doing a terribly choreographed dance routine while singing a perky, slightly embarrassing song doesn't send you screaming for the little red x at the top right of the screen, you may enjoy this show. Uta no Prince Sama, apart from having the longest title of the season, is based on a dating simulation for girls. It stars Nanami Haruka, as aspiring composer who goes to music school. She almost doesn't get in – she's late to the entrance exam because she stops to help a lost child. Two of the show's large cast of beautiful boys prevent the school guards from throwing her out, and we jump to the following April, the beginning of the Japanese school year. Haruka explains that this is a boarding school. The school assembly commences, and the principal swings down on ropes doing an Elvis Presley dance routine and singing about love. The show feels like the bastard child of La Corda D'Oro and Skip*Beat.

Visually, the episode is stunning. This is both a good and a bad thing. The animation is clear, smooth, and feels high-budget. The colors are like someone handed a color-blind toddler a paint box. Haruka's roommate's hair and eyes clash, the uniforms combine green-striped blue blazers with brown and tan checked skirts and, in Haruka's case, red shoes. (The guys at least get bluish pants.) Hair isn't just red, it's screaming magenta or violent pink. And Haruka's eyes are downright creepy – yellowish with fluorescent green pupils.

The story is pretty standard fare for a reverse harem. By the end of the episode Haruka has assembled her cast of suitors, with three of them showing up right in her homeroom. Two more turn up in the dining hall, and number six is met at night under mysterious circumstances. There's also the man who influenced Haruka in the first place. Her homeroom teacher is a pleasant, if flamboyant, surprise – a transvestite idol whose gruff male voice is amusingly out of place with his cute face and fluffy cotton candy hair. He'll either be funny or annoying as the series goes on.

Backgrounds in this show are sumptuous. The details of the school look more like Versailles than a place of learning and every curtain gives a feeling of lushness. Another thing that the show does right is Haruka's panic attack near the end of the episode. The way she fuzzes out of a reality that is suddenly  overwhelming is pitch perfect.

If reverse harem stories are your bag, this may be a good one. But if bright colors, perky music, and lots of boys crushing on a single girl turn you off, there's a good chance that none of these guys will be your prince-sama.

Uta no Prince Sama is available streaming at NicoNico.com.


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