The Summer 2011 Anime Preview Guide
Theron Martin

Jul 4th 2011

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  In early 20th century England, the young man Huey travels to the state of his deceased bibliomaniac grandfather, who deeded to him the estate, the precious books contained within, and the care of “Dalian,” which Huey assumed was a pet of some kind. As he discovers, Dalian is actually a small, almost doll-like girl nestled amongst the collected books of the library, one who implies that she's not human and who seems to have a connection to something that Huey has been searching for: the Bibliotheca Mystica de Dantalian, a supposed storehouse of magical books. When the pair go to investigated a neighboring lord who supposedly killed Huey's grandfather in a struggle over a special book, they discover that the other lord, one Conrad, has tried to read a Phantom Book that he wasn't supposed to and thus created all manner of magical constructs which tore his estate up and now try to kill Huey and Dalian. Only by Dalian acknowledging Huey as her “Keykeeper,” and thus allowing him authorized access to magical books, can they counter what has been unleashed and properly seal the Phantom Book.

The Mystic Archives is a decent series which might have fared better were it not being released immediately in the shadow of Gosick, the series it most resembles, which hurts it by comparison rather than allowing this one to ride on its coattails. To be sure, there are major differences: Huey is older and much more independently capable than Kujo, the story here is not as mystery-oriented, Dalian has dark hair instead of blond, and Gosick, for all its trickery, never used actual magic or inhuman monsters, just people who acted inhuman. The first of those factors is definitely the biggest plus in this series’ favor, and it could be interesting to see how a series which looks like it will feature another pint-sized tsundere-type will fare with a stronger male lead. The artistry pales in comparison to Gosick, however, especially in the darker scenes at the Conrad estate in the episode's last few minutes, and the writing does not do enough to compensate. The episode also has a curious habit of inserting real-life photos as background scenery, including one place where a character is clearly animated over such a photo. On the plus side, its mostly-live-action closer is one of the most bizarre such pieces you'll likely ever see for an anime series.

Granted, Gosick started out mediocre but finished much stronger, but it also had visuals good enough to keep its viewers hooked until its story caught up. This one doesn't have that edge, so it will need to get better quicker.

The Mystic Archives of Dantalian is currently streaming at NicoNico.com.


No. 6 episode 2

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  Within the first minute of this episode, one of the truths about the first episode becomes clear: it was merely the prologue for the real story. Events here shift forward four years, and Sion is now a teenager who works directing cute sanitation robots after having been disqualified from the Special Class four years earlier. (No. 6's government is, it seems, rather totalitarian, and even further punished him for helping Rat by forcing him and his mother to move from their cool digs to a lower-class part of the city.) In that capacity one of his robots comes across the body of an apparently old man in the park. He thinks nothing of it as he converses with Safu, his childhood girl friend from the first episode, the next day, but the plot thickens when there not only appears to be no news about the death, but evidence further suggests that the man wasn't old. Then his work mate ages decades in seconds right before his eyes, with a bee sprouting from his neck as he croaks. The men in dark glasses show up and cart him off to a correctional facility based on his comment that the government was covering something up, but none other than Rat shows up to save the day in dramatic style and show him what the real world - i.e. the world outside of No. 6 - is like.

The first episode showed promise and the second episode delivers on it, producing the start of one of those sci fi thrillers where the hero gets mixed up in a deadly secret that Big Brother doesn't want people to know about. Though we've seen the basic structure many times before, this variation has some interesting twists (Rat isn't named what he is for nothing, and what's the deal with the bees?), as well as the sputter-worthy moment where the girl forthrightly asks for sex out of the blue by requesting “give me your sperm” of Sion. The downside is that the quality control on the animation and character rendering is much more erratic here than in the first episode, but at its best the series still looks very sharp and has a solid musical score backing it.

If two episodes is the break point for determining a series’ worth, then this one looks like a keeper.

No. 6 is currently streaming at Crunchyroll.


Bunny Drop episode 2

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  For Daikichi, reality is now starting to set in about what, exactly, he's gotten himself into by agreeing to take in Rin. There are so many little details that he has never had to contend with before - clothes, a child-sized toothbrush, an extra futon, amongst others, even the fact that he really shouldn't be smoking around her. The most important thing is arranging a nursery school for Rin while he's at work, and on such short notice he must rely on a temporary center until something more permanent can be arranged. As he puzzles out how he is going to manage long-term, especially with a job and distance to cover which sometimes makes picking her up on time precarious. Rin is also starting to teach him a few things, too, like reminding him to keep his elbows off the table when he eats.

Bunny Drop is one of those series that's so gosh-darned cute and good-natured that one might almost feel guilty for even thinking about not liking it. But there is a lot to like here, so that problem is unlikely to come up unless the slower and more deliberate pacing becomes an issue. It is still one of the least impressive-looking series of the season in its visuals, but Rin's immense adorability (is there a more truly and cleanly moe character in recent memory?) balances that out and watching both Daikichi's struggle to do what's best for her and the way the two are starting to bond is both heartwarming and satisfying.

Whatever direction this series may take in its later stages, at this point it is still a tremendously pleasant little series with a huge potential to endear itself to the viewer.

Bunny Drop is currently streaming at Crunchyroll.


Blood-C episode 2

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:  Short version: the reaction you have to this episode will be the same as the reaction you had to the first episode, as this one is structured nearly identically in every sense and does not advance the overall story any more than by revealing that this Saya's mother died fighting the Elder Bairns. The only difference is a short battle at the beginning (which is so darkly-shaded that it's hard to make out details), which sets back the pacing by about two minutes.

Otherwise it's same-ol’, same-’ol, to a fault. Saya visits the café, talks inanely to the handsome owner/operator for a bit, tries to pet a dog that runs off on her, sings a mindless ditty as she goes to school, and interacts with her friends at school, including the identical twins who do alls sorts of annoying twin stuff. The morose guy pops up briefly to be morose, Saya does something clumsy, then Saya goes home to have a serious discussion with her father about business before going off to have a bloody night fight. And that's it.

Seriously, this series is going to have to do something else soon or it will start hemorrhaging viewers, as the episode 3 preview suggests that it will also be very similarly structured. Yes, the closing fight scene is an incredible piece of work that will satisfy any action fan, but is it worth mudding through ¾ of an episode of tedium just to get to it? The sharp use of color, especially involving the school uniforms, almost offsets the irritatingly disproportionate lankiness of CLAMP's character designs, and the opener's visuals are cool, but we need some substance here, some elaboration on why Saya's eyes turn red or some hint of a bigger picture. . . Something that fans can sink their teeth into, at least.

Blood-C is currently streaming at NicoNico.com.


Cat God

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  Normally I am not a fan of deliberately using simplistic art to promote a cutesy effect, especially when it's the default look for the whole series. This one might change the mind of those with similar sentiments, however. By taking a chipper, fun look at the absurd wealth of gods which exist within the Shinto religion, this newest effort from AIC PLUS+ (yes, the same people who made last year's Cat Planet Cuties - they must have a thing for cat ears) can delight enough to wash away the foul taste left behind by certain other series this season.

The premise is pretty basic but takes some complicated twists. Mayu, a fledgling Cat Goddess, is thrown out of Takamagahara, the home of the gods, by her mother for utterly failing to understand that being put on house arrest for previous offenses was supposed to be a punishment and not an inconvenience to be overcome. Banished to Earth town of Yaoyorozu, she gets taken in by the kind-hearted Yuzu, who barely scrapes by running an antique shop while Mayu sits around playing video games. Mayu also associates with other local deities, including a fellow Cat Goddess who is her fiancée (as Mayu sardonically points out, their fathers never bothered to determine if their genders allowed for marriage before officially arranging the marriage), a princess Goddess who is a rival for Mayu's love, and a Dog God who is desperate to protect the town from the imminent arrival of a powerful God of Poverty. Things tend not to go as planned when Yuzu gets involved, however.

The artistry emphasizes adorably cute character designs and a cheerily simple overall look, but the real secret to success here is that the writing keeps events moving along at a brisk clip. Flashbacks pop up and pass on quickly, bickering is never allowed to overstay its welcome, spells are kept mercifully short, and characters don't waste time on preening displays. The episode hits just the right note of amusingly ridiculous playfulness; it may not have you laughing out loud, but it can certainly bring a smile to your face.

Cat God is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Manyū Hiken-chō

Rating: 0 (of 5)

Review:  Please note that the following is not a joke. This really is what this series seems to be about.

In a twisted, alternate take on a peaceful part of the Edo period, breasts are everything. Big breasts are a key to wealth and power, while being flat-chested equates to poverty and being treated as sub-human. The powerful Manyuu Family, which has heavy influence on the Shogunates produces a goodly number of big-breasted women and is said to hold the secrets to growing big breasts from small ones. They also seem inclined to assure that they, and only they, have the power advantages that big breasts bring, so their village regularly goes on “tit hunts,” which is strongly implied to involve cutting off breasts that are too big but actually may instead involve shrinking them down to A-cup or smaller sizes. (It's hard to tell with the censoring.) Designated Manyuu successor Chifusa sees this practice as abhorrent, even though the secret Manyuu techniques would allow her to grow her own breasts by carrying such acts out, so she flees with the Manyuu's Sacred Scroll. When badly injured by her pursuers, Chifusa is taken in by a local woman who turns out to have been a past victim of a tit hunt, but fellow villager/serial rapist Kagefusa, who never felt that Chifusa was worthy to be the successor to her Family's leadership, is hot on her tail (and pretty much everyone else's, in a more figurative sense).

This is the most egregiously censored title of the season - and not without reason - but let's set that aside for a moment. This is an ugly, ugly first episode, and I don't mean the middling artistry. We're talking about a series which centers on breast mutilation, including one character who discovers that she can enlarge her breasts that way. Doesn't matter if they're just being shrunk or actually cut off; the principle still applies, and it is a disgusting one, especially when the first episode goes a step further and indicates that a woman is worthless if she doesn't have big breasts. Toss in a pair of woman-on-woman sexual assaults within the first six minutes and you have what may be one of the most utterly tasteless anime series ever. In fact, the only redeeming value to the first episode is the main character's rejection of the breast-slicing business, but is even focusing on that enough to salvage such a concept?

There may eventually be some substance here, and there certainly is some fan service, but getting by the odious concept is going to be a major hurdle.


R-15

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review:  Taketo Akutagawa has an extraordinary talent which, in middle school, tended to isolate him because of the way that it caused people to look at him: he is a prodigy when it comes to writing erotic literature. That changed when he started high school at Inspiration Academy, where the entry requirement is that each student must be a genius at something, whether it be athletics, music, mathematics, photography, inventing, or even (apparently) cheerleading. There he still draws some funny looks from girls when his talent takes over and he starts vividly imagining erotic situations for them, but others actually encourage him. Taketo is basically a nice guy rather than a total letch, though, and the way his talent works starts to change when he is sent by the school's newspaper chief to interview a cute but shy incoming freshman who's a clarinet prodigy. Instead of fervently writing erotic texts, he now finds himself writing more purely romantic ones.

Anime has, within the past year, had an OVA series about a high school girl who gets into erotic voice acting (Koe de Oshigoto!), so after that a high school student involved in writing erotic literature is hardly a big stretch. Is it tasteless? Certainly, but since when has that ever mattered in a fan service show? In fact, a bigger concern is that developments late in the episode seem to be pushing away from being racy, and that's going to be a dangerous balancing act going forward because the first episode doesn't really have anything going for it beyond its sometimes-laughably-ridiculous racy content; a tender romance just doesn't fit here. The school set-up is merely an excuse to justify everyone being a thoroughly eccentric character, and the Negima! series showed how hard that is to pull off successfully. The episode only really works when it's tossing off lines like, “his only thought was plunging his newborn snake deep into the slick, young underbrush” or things even less repeatable, although it does deserve minor kudos for coming up with one of the best justifications yet for a young man to be in the position shown in the screen shot with a nosebleed. (A rogue missile just struck, you see.)

R-15 is not a good series so far, and its technical merits are only mediocre at best, but if handled right (and seen free of censoring) it could be entertaining enough to be passable for those who don't require more merit from a show than fan service. Future episodes will have to do a better job than this, though.

R-15 is currently streaming at NicoNico.com and will soon stream at Crunchyroll.


Mayo Chiki!

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:  High school student Kinjirou Sakamachi has a mother who's a champion athlete and a super-strong sister who is following in her mother's footsteps, so he's used to physical abuse at home. That serves him well when he accidentally learns his school's biggest secret: that Konoe, the much-admired butler of idolized rich girl Kanade Suzutski who attends school with her mistress, is actually a girl instead of the boy she pretends to be. This is a big problem, since Konoe's test to prove worthy of being a Suzutski butler long-term involves successfully passing herself off as a guy for all three years of high school, so she attempts to beat the snot out of Kinjirou. As both Kinjirou and Konoe soon discover, though, Kanade is far scarier when it comes to getting her way.

Okay, so the premise is stupid (although it does allow some amusing possibilities for love triangles) and much of the concept is just a blatant excuse to set up fan service situations. The absurdity of it all doesn't stop the content from being funny, however, and at a very base level the humor in the first episode succeeds. Sure, some of the jokes are as old as the anime hills and the young man who cannot tolerate being around girls is an archetype fully as irritating as the equally-overused androphobic girl, and sure, Konoe is hardly convincing as a boy, but the notion of someone as seemingly perfect as Kanade having such a twisted side has been used much less frequently and this one actually comes up with a novel way to justify Kinjirou's sister being so strong. The fan service quotient is also surprisingly low, too, with the producers apparently opting more for quality than quantity.

Is this one of the best series of the new season? Definitely not. But it can, at least, be entertaining if you don't set your standards too high.


The Id@lmaster

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review:  In its original form this was an arcade and console-based development simulator in which the player developed a variety of girls into idols. That origin has an inescapable influence on its anime version, which tosses a bevy of girls at the viewers and seems intent on showing how they will develop into big-name idols under the guidance of a new producer, who is clearly intended to represent the (likely male) game player. It is notable, in fact, that said new producer is the only male character whose face is seen in the first episode, and then only at the very end.

The episode's construction is unusual, as it plays out like a documentary being filmed about the girls, so the camera through which we view events has an active interaction with those being filmed. (Such a gimmick also, doubtlessly not coincidentally, simulates the viewer interacting with the girls.) The episode has no plot, as it entirely exists to introduce each of the dozen girls and the female co-producer (who is a former idol herself) who gather under the umbrella of 765 Productions. It shows a snippet or two about the backgrounds of each girl and a core personality trait, all of which conform to time-worn anime standards. There are energetic twins, a poor girl, a boyish girl, a clumsy girl, an animal lover, shy-towards-men girl, the lazy but busty girl, a girl with a yakuza background, a mysterious girl, and so forth; change some of the specific details and hair styles and this is essentially a good chunk of the cast from Negima! or any of a number of other anime titles with broad casts of girls.

The problems here are that the concept is utterly vapid and what charms some of the girls bring to the table are completely balanced out by the irritating behaviors of the others. Neither the decent production values nor the inconsequential bits of fan service are enough to catch attention, either. Fortunately, most viewers should be able to figure out very quickly whether or not they will find the series tolerable, as the content you see in the first few minutes does not vary as the episode progresses.


A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review:  High school student Taito Kurogane once was a star karate expert, but a bad leg injury forced him to give it up. Cute classmate Haruka has been a salve for his soul, allowing him to accept only being mediocre, but he still has dreams of encountering a strange girl as a little kid, one who claimed to curse him so that he would be loyal to her. He thinks his life is over (literally) when a heroic action to save another gets him killed, but apparently Taito cannot die from even a severed head due to the spell the very real girl, one Saitohimea, cast on him years ago, and his “death” and sudden remembrance of her are enough to free her from her spell prison. There's just one problem with them reuniting: the popular but gloomy Student Council President, Gekkou Kurenai, might have something to say about it, and he has the mystical power to back that up.

So here we have cute girls, magical girls, a girl familiar (i.e. the one accompanying Gekkou), the Girl Only Vaguely Remembered From Childhood, and masochistic girls (Gekkou's groupies faint in delight at being told they're scum by him, you see), many of them flashing panties on a regular basis, as well as people getting impaled on swords and decapitated but coming back from the latter. Throw in the Forgotten Childhood Promise, the Secret Agent Disguised as a High School Student, and the Warm and Accepting Girl Friend and you have a plot which feels like it was created by a Random Plot Generator based on otaku-pandering series released over the past several years. (Actually, it's based on a light novel series which began in 2008.) Haruka is lovable enough, and watching Taito recover from being beheaded and mangled when he gets run over by a truck - and familiar girl's nonplussed reaction to it - is fun, but story so far lacks any sense of freshness or originality and the production values are hardly impressive, either. The dramatic ending will probably be enough to entice many viewers to come back for another episode, but the series will have to do better to hold on to those viewers.

A Dark Rabbit Has Seven Lives is currently streaming at NicoNico.com and will soon stream at Crunchyroll.


Mawaru-Penguindrum

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  This Brains Base production is helmed and co-written Kunihiko Ikuhara - and that alone should draw attention to it, because Ikuhara's other directorial credits are parts of Sailor Moon and all of Revolutionary Girl Utena, two of the landmark anime titles of the ‘90s. Those expecting something original and weird from the man behind Utena will not be left disappointed, as this is one hell of an oddball concept and distinctive in nearly every respect.

Kanba and Shoma are brothers who have decided to live in their rundown old family home to share the final days with their terminally ill sister Himari, who was released from her lengthy hospital stay when doctors proclaimed that they could do no more for her. She does finally collapse and die after a visit to the aquarium Himari so loves, but then a strange thing happens: Himari suddenly sits up, hale and whole, and announces that her life has been extended so that she can carry out something called a Survival Strategy. The apparent culprit? A penguin hat bought for her as a souvenir right before she collapsed, which apparently has possessed her. Soon after her return home a trio of penguins that only Himari and the brothers can see show up to help them around the house and with errands. And then things get really weird as Himari goes into Survival Strategy mode once again, something that the brothers find themselves dragged into as the price for Himari's life. Their task? Find and recover something called the Penguindrum, a task that the penguins will help them with.

Yes, all of this is as strange as it sounds, but somehow this would have been unsatisfying if it wasn't strange. The concept isn't the only thing which stands out, either, as Ikuhara has taken many of the artistic tricks he developed for Utena and updated them to account fot 13 years of technological developments. Some of the artistic flairs are very similar to Utena’s (especially the CGI-animated “Survival Strategy“ sequence late in the episode, which is distinctly reminiscent of the elevator ascent scenes in Utena but in a much cheerier form), but others are brand-new, such as the fascinating way crowd scenes are depicted or the strikingly sharp color contrasts which make the family's shack of a house and some of its interior accoutrements glaringly stand out amongst their surroundings. In short, there's nothing even remotely dull about any of this. One fair warning, though: what happens in the last scene of the episode causes it to end on a decidedly creepy note.

Much about the concept still needs to be explained, but based on the first episode alone this one has the potential to be one of the most talked-about series of the new season.


Sacred Seven

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  Between last year's Heroman, this year's Tiger and Bunny, and the string of Marvel Comics-related titles, anime super-hero titles have been making something of a resurgence after having been largely absent for several years. The first episode of this new Sunrise offering seeks to continue that trend. It feels like a throwback to the days of classic anime super-hero teams, full of all of the high-spirited action, dastardly monsters, and general cheesiness one would expect from such a title. It even has the obligatory normal girl who is interested in the hero, too.

And it has snipers in maid outfits.

As the story goes, ultra-rich girl Ruri Aiba, along with her dashingly handsome butler Kagami, an animated oni mask advisor, and a veritable army of maids, is seeking to stop creatures called Dark Stones from gathering power and becoming general public threats. To this end she seeks to recruit Tandoji Alma, a young man who has a fearsome reputation due to an incident three years earlier in which he seriously injured several fellow students. Tandoji, it seems, has the power of a Dark Stone within him, but Ruri has the ability to turn that tainted strength into the might of the Sacred Seven, effectively making him a costumed champion. He'll need it, too, to fight off a Greek legends-influenced monster that can, amongst other things, shoot petrifying beams without losing himself. One other plus on his side: Wakana, a cute fellow classmate, is earnestly ignoring his bad reputation and trying to recruit him to join the school's Rock Club.

Oh, and there's snipers in maid outfits.

Yes, the set-up and story are just as ridiculous as they sound from the above synopsis, but series like this don't need to make sense to be entertaining views. The first episode does exactly what it needs to do: it shows how the hero becomes a hero, explains at least some of the basic premise, introduces a potential love interest, and gets to business with a menacing threat and plenty of satisfyingly high-powered action to subdue said threat. It does it all without dipping into fan service (well, beyond the whole maid army thing) or graphic violence, too, allowing this to be younger viewer-friendly, and sunrise's production values and a spirited musical score assure that it looks and sounds good in the process.

Sacred Seven will never be acknowledged as a “quality” title (and really, sniper maids?), but what it does, it does well enough.

Sacred Seven is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


No. 6

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  So what is No. 6 truly about? Even after watching the first episode, that's not clear.

Here's what we do know: the story is set in a post-apocalyptic future setting where “No. 6” is the designation for a nearly utopian living environment. In this setting 12 year old Shion is one of the elites, as his grades and intelligence have earned him entrance into the prestigious Special Course. He occasionally gets the sense that there's something more to everything, though, and his perspective certainly gets expanded when a bedraggled, injured boy who calls himself Rat winds up on his balcony during a typhoon. Rat, as it turns out, is a rough customer and a fugitive, but that fascinates rather than intimidates Shion, much to Rat's surprise.

So here's the first question: what boy around Shion's age (heck, what guy of any age) wouldn't kill for a bedroom like Shion's? Major kudos go to the art designers at BONES for creating a superb balance of form and function on both interior and exterior designs. In fact, the production values in general on this first episode are quite high, easily amongst the best so far this season. The direction the series is going in may be unclear, but the first episode certainly throws out lots of enticing little tidbits in a well-imagined future setting and forges a convincingly developing friendship between Shion and Rat. There may not be much of anything for action beyond the first couple of minutes, but events progress smoothly and naturally enough to keep viewers from getting bored and a spirit of mystery and discovery lingers behind it all.

Wherever this one is going, it's off to a good start.

No. 6 is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Usagi Drop

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  To be clear, I know nothing about how the manga series ended - I've avoided taking in even the slightest hint - so this review is based solely on the first episode's merits. And based on that, this is the kind of simple, warm-hearted, and surprisingly charming slice-of-life fare that might have wound up on the Hallmark channel were it airing on American cable TV. It will be much too slow and sedate for some viewers, but the pacing is exactly right for what it does and it has the kind of honest, sincere feeling that is far too rare in an environment full of contrived, cookie-cutter premises. This is something which seems like it could actually happen, and probably has.

The premise is straightforward: 30-year-old bachelor Daikichi Kawachi makes a rare family visit to attend the funeral of his 79 year old grandfather. There he discovers that his grandfather has a 6-year-old love child, named Rin, whose mother has disappeared and whose disposition is now seriously in question. Something in the little girl's mostly silent behavior speaks to him, so he decides to take her in when it looks like no one else in the family will.

Anime has become so steeped in moe over the past few years that it can be hard to remember that little girls don't have to be blatantly moe to have a lovable charm about them, and Rin certainly has that. To the writing's credit, it does not have Daikichi just claim responsibility out of the blue; in fact, the first episode spends most of its time showing Rin innocently winning him over. If there is a gimmick at work at all here, it is the obviously-deliberate contrast between Rin and Daikichi's bratty niece, who is about the same age. Sadly, the artistry fails to impress, with a washed-out, watercolor look to everything that may be intended as a mood setter but often just looks crude. (That is the only reason that I am not giving this a maximum score.) The delicate musical score is a winner, though, which compensates some.

The concept of a 30-ish bachelor taking care of a little kid that isn't his own is hardly a new one, but most previous examples (especially in American media) have been played for comedy. This one isn't. Watching how this develops should be fascinating, provided that the first episode hooks you.

Usagi Drop is streaming on Crunchyroll.


Blood-C

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:  In this incarnation of the Blood franchise, Saya Kisaragi is a shrine maiden who lives and trains with her priestly father. Though clumsy and easily prone to distraction, she is also (paradoxically) very athletic - which is good, because her duty to use a sword to kill supernatural beasties (in this case exceedingly weird critters called Elder Bairns) is still intact. This time, though, she is fully aware of her responsibility up front but keeps it a secret from her classmates; and really, what seemingly simple girl could get away with popping off and tell her classmates, “sorry, I can't hang after school because I have to go monster-killing” and then actually do it?

Blood-C  may be best enjoyed by those with little or no familiarity with previous titles in the franchise, as what CLAMP has done to Saya in this incarnation borders on a travesty, both visually and behaviorally. A Saya who is chipper except when doing her killing just doesn't feel right, and those who aren't fans of CLAMP artistry (as I am not) will not find their minds changed by the character designs. Still, one factor makes this first episode watchable, and it's a big one: the featured fight scene in the episode's last quarter is an incredible example of fight choreography and musical accompaniment. Even if you otherwise give up on this episode early on, skip ahead to the 15 minute mark and watch the fight and the build-up to it. If future episodes focus on that kind of content then viewers could be in for a treat, but unfortunately it also looks like suffering through typical school drivel will be a requirement for enjoying the high points.

Blood-C is available in streaming form at NicoNico.com.


Summer 2011 Shorts

Morita-san wa Mukuchi
Rating: 1 (of 5)
Review:  Morita is a 16-year-old girl who doesn't talk much but knows how to listen. In this 3-minute short, she helps her friend Miki out by just letting her prattle on while she maintains eye contact (as she was taught), but the same approach creeps out another fellow student.

And that's all she wrote on this one. It is animated normally using a washed-out color scheme and seems to be striving to capture the spirit of the shorter Azumanga Daioh vignettes. Instead, it redefines what it means to be utterly and completely pointless in anime. An anime about a character who listens to others instead of talking? Maybe it's supposed to be charming and funny, but there's just no entertainment value here.

Nyanpire The Animation
Rating: 1.5 (of 5)
Review: A cat was on its last life until a vampire came along, took pity on it, and turned it into a vampire cat to restore it. Now named Nyanpire, it lives with a girl owner (whose face and upper body, in the classic Tom and Jerry tradition, we never see) and apparently spends most of its time whining about being fed blood and trying to be cute. It eventually takes the initiative to seek out blood-like foods in the fridge.

This one is 4.5 minutes long, although the last third is a live-action music video of the closing theme. It uses apparent Flash animation and a character design modeled off of Hello Kitty and would seem to be simple-minded, cutesy kids’ fare, but it is notable for being the first thing that Gonzo has produced since running into financial trouble a couple of years ago. The concept is silly enough, and it does have a certain cute factor going for it, and that may be enough to draw attention. Hopefully Gonzo has something better than this still in them, though.


Kamisama Dolls

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: Kyohei Kuga is now a college student in Tokyo, but at one time in his home village he was a Seki, an individual who had formed a bond with a mecha-like God. That duty passed to his younger sister Utao when he left, but now his main concern is working up the courage to hit on the beautiful, well-endowed Shiba Hibino, the daughter of one of Kyohei's former fellow villagers. Those with mystic pasts rarely get to set them aside unhindered, though, and a brutal murder in an elevator that Kyohei and Shiba come across is just the start. Utao soon shows up with her kakashi (i.e. the mecha God) and so does the person she's after, an escaped killer from the village named Akio, who has his own kakashi.

The premise may sound like silly kids’ fare, but the execution most certainly is not. This season's new offering from Brains Base takes an occasionally graphic and mostly serious approach to the newest installment in the recurrent “backwoods village with a secret mystical tradition” theme, one which successfully conveys the heavy mood despite incongruous distractions like the big-breasted girl and the cute, clearly jealous little sister. (The creepily effective songs which play when the kakashi appear, which are reminiscent of the songs that play when the esper's toys appear during Tetsuo's delusion in Akira, are a big part of this.) A high level of production values and some good initial writing also show promise and both the age of the leads and the overall tone suggest that this will not be just another shonen actioner. If you're looking for a dark, mature, and bloody story, this one shows the most promise so far.

Kamisama Dolls is streaming on Crunchyroll.

 


Yuruyuri

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: If Azumanga Daioh had given up on being weird and instead just focused on being purely, energetically, and cutely silly (albeit with a naughtier undercurrent), it would have ended up something like what Yuruyuri actually is.  From its first moment to its last - even through the pepped-up, mildly catchy opener and closer - the first episode is one big ball of enthusiastic fun. Not all of it works, but stream-of-consciousness comedies like this have always depended more on volume than quality, and that is certainly true here.

The story (such as it is) involves three friends who are just entering middle school: Akari (the red-haired one), a self-admitted spaz; Yui (the blonde), a fledgling doujin artist with a big imagination and an equally big pool of energy; and Kyoko (the brunette), the sensible one who spends much of her time trying to keep Yui in line. They claim the abandoned Tea Club meeting room and make their own Amusement Club, which really has no point and is just an excuse to goof off. They are soon joined by Chinatsu (the pink-haired one), who is a dead ringer for a popular magical girl but actually was seeking to join the defunct Tea Club. A week later, the quartet blows the last third of the episode trying to figure out why Akari has so little presence and how to rectify the matter.

With “yuri” in the name of the show, one would naturally expect a prominent lesbian component, and one would be right. One of the show's running will apparently be that Yui, a fledgling raging lesbian, is madly attracted to newcomer Chinatsu, who is instead attracted to Kyoko, who has given no sign of being interested in girl love. (Akari, meanwhile, seems to have her own admirer in that sense, which accounts for the episode's one disturbing note.) Despite that, the first episode is remarkably light on fan service and emphasizes more of a cutesy than sleazy feel, so one does not (yet) have to be a fan of yuri content to enjoy this one.

Yuruyuri is streaming on Crunchyroll.


Twin Angel: Twinkle Paradise

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:  Cross Sailor Moon with the original Pretty Cure and you have something pretty close to what Twin Angel is. It is  Except for not having a “power of love” theme, it is about as pure as modern magical girl series get.

The construction is so stereotypical that the first episode does not even bother with an origin story. It jumps right in to the action with its magical girl duo - orange-haired melee powerhouse Haruka and busty brunette ranged specialist Aoi - thwarting some criminals in dockside action, followed the next day by an attack on their school by a bulky, thieving mecha units. They later have to fight more mecha units, directed by a girl named Salome who is apparently working for “that organization,” and temporarily get turned into cat girls (complete with compelling cat fetishes) until the masked hunk Misty Knight shows up to help them. And the prize in question? A special tiara that's one of a collection of lucky artworks called the Seven Amulets, of course.

It would be easy to entirely dismiss this one if not for a few interesting quirks. An eyepatch-sporting butler keeps popping up from the floor to advise them and apparently Aoi's aunt/school Headmistress is fully aware that the girls are Twin Angel. They also get to patrol using gliders and can throw around an awful lot of raw power. (Haruka's punches and kicks could level a small tank.) The artwork is mostly cutesy, but Aoi's figure is ample enough that she can store her transformation device in her cleavage; her bounciness is emphasized, and certain other elements suggest that teen and preteen girls are not the only target audience here. The animation is also fairly ambitious as such series go. This is still a dedicated magical girl series, though, so those who normally cannot tolerate the genre are unlikely to find this one palatable, either.

Twin Angel is streaming at NicoNico.com.


Ikoku Meiro no Croise


Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:
 In late 19th century Paris, the retired owner/operator of a sign and metalworking shop, Enseignes du Roy, returns from a trip to Japan with various souvenirs and advertising pieces for his grandson (and successor) Claude. He also bring along one special treat: Yune, a young Japanese girl who sought to come and live abroad while learning to be an attendant. Yune looks like a doll in her formal apparel and is familiar with the concept of serving as a sort of living signboard for shops (a tradition in Japan at the time), so Grandpa figures that she can help attract attention to the store, much to Claude's consternation. Though Claude is not accepting of Yune at first, and an accident and seeming language barrier get them off to a rocky start, they eventually come to an understanding as Claude starts to realize that Yune does, indeed, have the appreciation for tradition that he so dearly values.

Want to see something different this season? This is the one to check out, and as a bonus you'll get a glimpse at what could be one of the season's best. Although the artwork does a wonderful job of constructing the setting and making Yune look positively darling (especially in her formal wear at the beginning), it is not one of Satelight's best-looking efforts, but this is not a series looking to sell itself on its visuals, either. It is, instead, a low-key historical piece about bridging vast cultural divides, accepting change, and appreciating the wonder of introducing a foreign element into a staid setting, and in those respects it is utterly charming and, towards the end, pleasingly heartfelt. Yune, who brings in an enormous cute factor but also has more substance to her than just that, is a big draw but not the only one, as the period detail practically co-stars with her and Claude.

The pacing of the series may be too slow for some, but give this one a chance and you may be surprised at how thoroughly it wins you over.


Kami-sama no Memo-chō

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  For all that Japanese culture gets glorified by anime and Japanophiles, it also has a seedy underbelly, and the real phenomenon known as “compensated dating” is one part of that. This is an all-too-common practice in modern Japan where schoolgirls as young as 13 use cell phones and online message boards to (essentially) prostitute themselves - and usually just for the extra cash to buy things they want, rather than for drugs or things they need to survive. As the first episode of this new series shows with brutal frankness, though, it can also be used for other even more destructive purposes.

And it is the dark but very real territory that this initially-innocuous first episode explores in its later stages which sets it apart from all of the other mysteries series out there. At first, the first episode makes the series seem like pure otaku-pandering fare, with a stream-of-consciousness style and array of quirky characters which resembles a less flippant version of Durarara!!. Main character Narumi, who is trying to get by being a “single pixel,” naturally gets dragged into club activities by outgoing girl/anime staple Ayaka, meets her dedicated NEET friends (who are a cross-section of common NEET stereotypes) and then gets introduced to Alice, a tremendously cute hikkikomori who fashions herself as a NEET detective and overwhelms Narumi with philosophical babble. Her appearance just screams “otaku toy” and the concept of what she's doing and her unsettling mix of maturity and childishness seems silly, but what she and her underlings are actually doing in a case involving a missing girl and the aforementioned compensated dating most definitely is not.

The visuals for the show are a respectable effort by J.C. Staff, the soundtrack hits a home run during the climactic scene, and the use of the Mr. Big song “Colorado Bulldog” for the closer is a quite interesting choice. What will likely catch viewer attention the most, though, is the way the episode takes certain concepts that are widely-used in anime - such as the seemingly perfect girl - and utterly shatters them. Making a double-length first episode is also an extremely unusual move.

The result here is a curious mix of deadly serious realism and blatant otaku bait, each of which interferes the appeal on the other rather than complementing each other. Despite that, if the mystery content in future episodes even comes close to matching what is seen here, then this will be a hard series to ignore.


Uta no Prince Sama

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:  Haruka Nanami wants to be a composer so that she can write a song for an idol whose music helped her at a critical point in her life, but she almost gets off to a bad start when an act of kindness causes her to be late for her entrance exam at the prestigious Saotome Academy music school. Two princely guys manage to stall the gate guards who aren't going to let her in until someone on a security camera notices and allows her an exception. Months later she's actually on campus as a student and quickly has encounters both with her saviors from earlier and with several other dashing guys, too. The one who most throws her for a loop, though, is the one she encounters in the garden at night while chasing down a thieving cat.

Several strikingly handsome guys, all with cookie-cutter hair styles and personality combinations and all playing nice with the heroine? Yep, this is this season's entry in the “reverse harem” subgenre. Its setting at a music school and the array of guys is distinctly reminiscent of La Corda D'Oro, although this one seems to be playing straight rather than mixing in magic and fairies. In fact, the only way in which this one distinguishes itself is that the Headmaster at Saotome Academy is a fruitcake and Haruka's homeroom teacher is a transvestite idol. (All of the teachers and the Headmaster are past or present idols, apparently.) The series does have some good production values in its artistry (although the weird coloring effect on Haruka's eyes might make one think that she is blind) and an excellent insert song, but the ambitiously-animated boy band dance number at the beginning looks a little awkward.

While there's nothing overtly wrong about this first episode, there is nothing all that special about it, either. Those not normally into this kind of fare are unlikely to find any appeal here.

Uta no Prince Sama is available streaming on NicoNico.


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