The Fall 2011 Anime Preview Guide
Gia Manry

Oct 1st 2011

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


Guilty Crown

Rating: 3.5

In the beginning minutes of Guilty Crown a boy watches a music video of a girl singing, while the video's star flees from the military. She inserts super secret plans into an adorable robot which eventually leads the boy— Shu —to the girl. Insert preferred Star Wars joke here.

The rest of the episode will also sound like something you've seen before: it turns out that in the future, Japan is subjugated by foreign powers and diminished down to mere numbers instead of names. Shu meets up with the girl, Inori, and from her gains a supernatural power: to pull a giant sword out of her chest and wield it.

Familiar though these elements may be, Guilty Crown manages to compile them in a decently entertaining format. First off: the balance of exposition, character development, and action seems spot on. The animation seems good (although the resolution of Funimation's video is a bit low), and the designs look solid as well. There's clearly some attention being paid to the show's music, particularly the parts sung by Inori, which are pleasant. Visually the show has a darker feel (almost everything takes place in the evenings) than, say, Code Geass, giving it a more serious feel so far, but on the other hand, some of the characters we've glimpsed feel like they'll be from the same vein of "colorful ensemble cast" as Geass and so many other series.

By and large, Guilty Crown looks like it could be fun, if not exactly ground-breaking.

Guilty Crown is available streaming on Funimation


Un-Go

Rating: 3

Yuuki Shinjurou is the "Defeated Detective," sort of the opposite of Inspector Gadget: he's always right, but the public thinks he's always wrong. Unfortunately, Un-Go doesn't explain why this happens very well...nor does it offer up much of a mystery in its first episode, with both Shinjurou and his always-wrong-but-publicly-adored counterpart, wealthy Rinroku Kaishou leaping from conclusion to conclusion in a way that the viewer is expected to simply believe for simplicity's sake, rather than because it's really very logical.

Despite these faults, though, the highly-pedigreed Un-Go offers some very stylish fare, launching with an episode that takes place at a 19th century-themed costume ball that allows for a number of attractive costumes. The host of the ball, Kanou, is a government bigwig under suspicion of some shady dealings, and his wife is under suspicion of stealing Belle's costume from Beauty and the Beast. Anyway, Kanou dies, and that is the mystery of the first episode, which gets solved in record time. The episode also introduces Shinjurou's creepy child sidekick, who apparently turns into a large-breasted, supernaturallly-powered woman who can force any person to answer a single question. The kid is antsy to make use of this power too, apparently, for reasons as yet un-addressed.

The visual style of the show is interesting, and definitely different from a lot of what's being released this season, but also a little odd. With no particular rhyme or reason, some characters (such as Shinjurou) have excessively long, pointy faces, while others have what might be described as more "standard" anime faces. At first glance it feels like an inconsistency; it could in fact simply be the animators actually being aware that there's more than one face shape in the world...but on the other hand, there's also more than two, so it instead feels a little odd.

There's definitely some meat to be had with this show's characters, between the aforementioned supernatural sidekick/boss and Shinjurou's own past, hinted at only by a brief flashback at the very beginning of the episode. If the series can improve a bit on its mysteries (or at least in its detectives' conclusions), this could definitely be a stand-out show. Based solely on the first episode, though, Un-Go remains firmly in the "has potential" category.

Un-Go is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere Episode 2

Rating: 2

In a first episode, it may be forgivable to have some awkward exposition, an onslaught of characters, and an overall goofy story foreshadowing more drama.

But for a second episode to have all of the same problems— still too many characters to track, still too much awkward dialogue trying to explain an overly-complicated world-setting, and still no sign of the "real" story is problematic...especially when the preview for the third episode doesn't offer much hope of real development either.

Episode two covers the classmates consulting on protagonist Toori's plans to confess to essentially a robot that he feels may have a connection to a past love, although these plans and confessions are offered in an over-the-top and ridiculous fashion that first finds Toori stripping in class and then finds him tricking a classmate into letting him grope her. On the sidelines we get one interesting character, Masazumi Honda, who reveals that s/he had prepared to undergo a sex change to assist her family's chances of advancement, only to have the leading family they were sucking up to dismiss all of its attendants in favor of androids.

It might be easier to figure out what all of this is building up to if the back story wasn't boring, bland, and confusing to read about in subtitles. (It seems unlikely that it's much better if you can understand the language, either.) Optimist that I am, I stand by my earlier review that the first episode of Horizon isn't awful— in fact, it shows some potential for entertaining action.

Unfortunately with the second episode, it keeps working on the set-up, which starts to feel considerably overdone. If it takes a minimum of three episodes to get into anything interesting (and potentially four), and the show is likely only 12 episodes long to begin with, it seems decidedly less worth the time investment.

Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is available streaming on The Anime Network


Mirai Nikki

Rating: 4

Apparently Norio Wakamoto (here called Deus Ex Machina) is bored of being the god of time and space, so he arranges a very special game with godhood as the winner's prize: a group of colorful characters who all write diaries on their cell phones are suddenly given the gift of the future. Instead of writing the diaries, they can now access their own entries from the future. Protagonist Yukiteru Amano is a loner who obsessively writes down everything that happens to him, and at first he thinks he's simply won the lottery. He always has all the answers to tests and even avoids his school's bullies. Then he learns that there are other diary owners, and worse, they're all supposed to kill one another, and the last man (or woman) standing becomes the new god of time and space. Yuki has one advantage over his fellow diarists, however: an obsessed stalker named Yuno Gasai is also one of the players, and she helps him defend himself against another future diary owner (and yes, it's probably pretty obvious who that owner is, despite being semi-disguised).

Mirai Nikki is a well-animated thriller, although the first episode lacks a certain amount of the thrill by virtue of being set largely prior to Yukiteru's knowledge of the game. Fortunately, Deus paints a giant target on his back towards the end of the episode, so it's clear what's going to be at stake next, and the show easily draws you in to wanting to know what happens next...even though Yuki himself is a little bland as simply a "loner" so far. He is clever enough to learn from other anime that as soon as the girl with the weird hair color (Yuno's is pink) confronts you, run away! Unfortunately, he's also odd enough to carry around darts in a pack around his waist. (Seriously, I can see him having a morning dart throw ritual, but why would he carry the darts with him...at least before knowing that there are a bunch of people out to kill him?)

The animation is mostly solid, although there are a few still or panning shots that feel a little shortcut-y. The art is clean and crisp, and even the background characters have varying expressions (if drawn a bit simply)— no surprises there. Even the (minimal) CG animation of Deus manages to flow decently with the rest of the animation, although it's noticeable if you're looking for it.

Viewers should also stay after the credits for a goofy omake that's actually pretty cute.


Ben-To

Rating: 2

If you combined any random harem comedy with an Anything Goes Martial Arts Shopping arc from Ranma ½, you'd probably have something like Ben-To.

Yoh Satou is a broke guy living in his school's dorms who one day, in a hunger-stricken stupor, finds himself getting beaten down in a supermarket...three days running. It turns out that the supermarket in question houses a sort of unofficial tournament of people competing over half-priced Ben-To (box meals) each night. As the result of his "participation," Satou attracts the attention of germophobic-by-proxy Oshiroi, and not one but two stoic-yet-violent classmates. One of these is a Yui Ikari clone known only as "the Ice Witch" and the other is class president (and for the keen-eyed, a background watcher at the supermarket) Ume Shimaume.

It's a ridiculous premise, and the show rips into it with wild abandon. There are some not-so-sly hints of fanservice without any of the crazed panty shots (or crazed-but-censored panty shots) that litter other shows, which is a nice balance. Meanwhile, the animation is solid— even if the character designs are awfully familiar. There is also some repeated footage upon Satou's second trip to the shop, which is a little annoying, and unsurprisingly a lot of the background characters are somewhat haphazard.

The one thing that stands out from this episode, at least to me, is Satou's impressions. First he mimics the voice of the hospital staff, and then he does an impression of his dad (who sounds an awful lot like Norio Wakamoto), and much later he does a voice that's supposed to sound like his teacher's. As jokes go they're not laugh-out-loud funny, but it seemed slightly novel as an ongoing character quirk.

By and large though, Ben-To is simply another entry in the "not awful, but you've probably got better things to watch" category.


Majikoi - Oh! Samurai Girls!

Rating: 3

So you watched Baka and Test - Summon the Beasts and you thought "man, this show would have been so much better without the video game-esque references and with more history-inspired designs," congratulations! Majikoi - Oh! Samurai Girls! (aka Maji de Watashi ni Koi Shinasai!!) is that show.

Like Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere, the first episode is primarily an ongoing battle: the unique Kawakami school's lowest class challenges the highest class for...well, it's not really clear what the winning class gets, but that doesn't seem to bother anyone. Throughout the battle, a variety of characters' personalities and prowess are put on display in rapid succession. They're generic, and the whole thing is silly, but it turns out that the entire intramural battle is basically a love letter from genius strategist class F member Yamato and the lady of his heart, Class S martial arts master Momoyo.

Which...oddly enough, is kind of cute.

The animation is acceptable, and except for a sort of weird segment in which Yamato spanks a young-looking Class S leader and forces her to surrender (and then uploads the video to the Internet), the fanservice feels well-portioned out. There's a mostly unrevealed sub-plot going on featuring two women who look like a couple of the Strike Witches all grown up (minus leg-jets), and the end clearly hints at plenty of interpersonal/romantic shenanigans to be had as well. Everything that happens is ridiculous, but it's clearly an intentional kind of ridiculous, so by and large it can be forgiven, if not particularly adored.

As with BokuTomo, the show does what it's trying to do well— it's just not trying to do anything very interesting.

Majikoi - Oh! Samurai Girls is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Shakugan no Shana III (Final)

Rating: 3.5

For existing fans of Shakugan no Shana: assuming you haven't already watched the episode yourself, just know that the production quality is at about the level you'd expect for a popular but niche show: not especially high but perfectly solid. Also, Yuji gets a makeover! But he still manages to look identical to a couple of other anime characters, just different ones than before.

With that out of the way: the rest of the preview will address those who know nothing about the franchise, who will want to know first and foremost if they can watch the episode and understand what's going on. The answer is: "kind of." There are a LOT of references to a characters and groups and there's too much to re-explain in a single episode. However, you'll still be able to get the basic idea of what's going on.

Speaking of which: the episode opens with a great battle being fought between a bunch of monsters and the titular Sha>na, who defeats big batches of them...until she spots a dressed-up Yuji. The episode then jumps back into the past, where we learn that Yuji has actually disappeared. As a "Torch" (a temporary stand-in after a person is killed by the "Denizens of the Crimson Realm" who will eventually cease to exist), those not involved in the supernatural elements of the story don't even remember him, and every other piece of evidence that he was around is also gone. However, Sha>na discovers that a letter from Yuji has returned and begins to have hope that he's still around...somewhere. Sha>na and her rival-in-love, Kazumi, bond over their hopes. Meanwhile, the team preps for an upcoming war against a group called Bal Masque.

You may be able to understand the basic idea of what's going on, but it loses a bit of the desired impact without all of the detailed back story about who all these characters are, how they came to be together, and of course, all those little details about the supernatural universe that have been built up over two seasons, an OVA series, and a movie. While the episode is perfectly solid and bodes well for the series, it's hard to recommend it off the bat to someone who (like myself) is mostly unfamiliar with what's going on.


Maken-Ki!

Rating: 1

The first thing that happens in Maken-Ki!: idiotic and poorly-designed lead Takeru falls on top of his childhood friend Haruko, resulting in a classic hand-slip-onto-tits.

It only gets worse from there.

While heading to school, we're told that Takeru has just transferred to Haruko's school, which was an all-girls academy up until this year. Takeru reveals his excitement at being surrounded by women instead of men, like at his former all-boys school, and Haruko leaves him since she (as a second-year) has to deal with the entrance ceremony. After following a couple of girls, the plot suddenly switches to a supernatural action show, as the gals duke it out with magic powers we will learn are called "maken-ki." The doofy rom-com returns as suddenly as it departed as a blonde falls from a tree on top of Takeru, lip-to-lip. Apparently this involved suction because she acts as though she's stuck there for a moment.

This girl notices a weird symbol on Takeru's shoulder, which distracts her long enough for him to escape to the ceremony, where he's forced to participate in a battle against the blonde, whose name is Kodama Himegami and who wants to kill him. Another busty high school girl pops up to protect him, proclaiming herself to be Takeru's fiancée.

The whole of Maken-Ki! feels like kind of a throw-back to the harem romantic comedies of yore, as it were, when G-cups were preferred over DFCs and fiancées popped up out of nowhere and everyone starts living together in one apartment. This isn't intended as a compliment: the show is not particularly well-made nor does it build on or parody those classics (or if it does, it's way too subtle for me). It's just a giant mess of boobs, panties, and clichéd character interaction. The art is mediocre and the animation hit-or-miss— apparently they blew the budget on the brief fight scene and the ending credits, because by the end of the episode they resort to a conversation between four people with the camera stuck entirely on one, for no particularly discernible reason.

Trite characters, mediocre visuals, and an uninspired story add up to a whole lot of bleh.


Boku wa Tomodachi ga Sukunai

Rating: 2.5

As far as harem romantic comedies with reluctant heroes go, Boku ha Tomodachi ga Sukunai has a pretty cute set-up. Transfer student Kodaka Hasegawa accidentally scared his entire class, so everyone thinks he's a scary delinquent; one day he stumbles upon similarly lonely classmate Yozora Mikazuki talking to her imaginary friend. After talking about the difficulty they both have in making friends, Yozora starts a new club whose "secret" mission is to help them both make friends, and enlists Kodaka to join. As soon as they get back to the club room after putting up some flyers, one of the school's most popular female students (Sena Kashiwazaki) shows up, desperate to join: because she's always surrounded by boys (who aren't friends so much as servants and sycophants), the girls don't like her. Sena and Yozora are instantly rivals, and thus a club and a romantic triangle are born.

While this set-up is both clever and relatable, every other facet of the series is just a jumble of the most popular anime elements, both the trendy ones (the ending is a music video with the female characters; Yozora is the singer and Sena plays guitar!) and the classics (Sena has huge boobs and Yozora's are average, so they fight!). Some aspects are just weird, too: Kodaka is half-English, which apparently to the Japanese means his hair is supposed to be half-blonde— the middle half, apparently. (If it was supposed to be hair dye that was growing out, then the tips wouldn't also be returning to brown.)

The episode has decent art and animation, but nothing particularly outstanding there. The pacing is reasonable; the opening clearly shows that there are more girls to be added to the harem, but so far we've only met two (unless you count both a mention and very brief, faceless shot of a third), so you won't be overloaded on that front. On the other hand, so far the characters themselves are bland. Both girls are little more than bossy at this point, and the protagonist is the passive victim of their machinations, however well-meaning they might be. There is a hint at a sad past (I'm guessing his British mother died), but beyond that and the strange mystery of his hair, Kodaka doesn't have a lot going on. There's a similar hint that Yozora has in the past been betrayed, and given her instant distaste for Sena it wouldn't be the least bit surprising that they had once been friends already. So...yawn.

With a cute scenario, you could certainly do worse if you're looking for this kind of romantic comedy, but the odds don't look good for it standing out beyond the boundaries of the genre.


Persona 4 The Animation

Rating: 4.5

Narukami is an unassuming high school student forced to transfer to his uncle's small town when his parents have to leave the country for work. Luckily for him, it is the small town with the most stylish school uniforms ever. Upon his arrival, Narukami starts suffering weird attacks, and a young woman involved in a scandal is murdered. After having one of his weird attacks at home and nearly being sucked into a television, Narukami and his new pals Chie Sotonaka and Yosuke Hanamura head to Hanamura's dad's shop, where all three fall into the television.

It turns out that magical TV land is foggy and full of weird masked blobs that turn into monsters. Narukami suffers another "attack" and comes out of it with a Clow card Persona, which he calls Izanagi and uses to fight off the monsters.

There's a lot of pizazz to Persona 4 The Animation, and to be honest, as someone who hasn't played the original game, it overwhelmed the first episode a bit. That's not to say that there isn't plenty of substance to be revealed: even setting aside murders and Personas, it's hinted that the Hanamura store, Junes, is attracting shoppers away from the traditional shopping arcade— whether this is the hint of something insidious or simply a sign of the town's times is yet to be discovered. And then there's the fourth student character, Yukiko Amagi, who has to "help out at home" (which, since she does almost nothing else in the episode, is probably more than it sounds).

The characters so far are a bit one-note— particularly protagonist Narukami, who is apparently completely silent in the original videogame upon which the anime is based —but not without potential...although Hanamura spends way too much time whining about how he's going to pee himself during his adventure inside the television, making him a bit annoying. Chie is an interesting character; she could probably be seen as a bit tsundere towards Hanamura, but in reality their relationship is probably more of just a bantering camaraderie.

With plenty of story to dive into, characters with potential, strong designs, and an appealing soundtrack Persona 4 has a lot to offer so far, which isn't surprising given its pedigree.

Persona 4 is available streaming at The Anime Network


Mashiro-Iro Symphony

Rating: 2

Catchy opening theme, gaggle of girls with the same half-dozen designs seen in every other contemporary shounen romance anime, bland male protagonist? Check, check, and check. Welcome to Mashiro-Iro Symphony, an adaptation of a slice-of-life romance visual novel that is more or less like every other such adaptation you've ever seen.

The show opens with our protagonist, Shingo Uryuu, running out into the night to help his little sister find her way home. She, meanwhile, appears to be wearing a bra and a dress on top of a turtleneck and skirt, or something...it's odd looking. Anyway, the sister, Sakuno, chases after an adorable fluffy creature while her brother searches for her and gets even more lost. While Sakuno waits in the rain, a girl named Airi Sena spots her and shares her umbrella. She's also lost, so together they call the brother and arrange to meet up in a nearby park. They succeed, and Shingo gets all wide-eyed upon meeting Airi in person.

So! Shingo, Sakuno, and guy-pal Hayata, as it turns out, are also serving as representatives from their school, which is merging with another (formerly all-girls) school. The trio will attend the new school, which is naturally chock-full of female characters: a teacher who's nervous around boys, a be-ponytailed , and of course, Airi Sena, who turns out to be opposed to the merger. OBSTACLE!

The main thing to enjoy in Mashiro-Iro Symphony thus far is its soundtrack, which is full of enjoyable orchestral arrangements (although the charming, heartwarming music that went with the opening scene felt kind of out of place for a rainy night). Other points: Sakuno, while largely the standard little-sister-with-a-brother-complex, offers a wry response about girls feeling clumped together when she and her brother are confronted with a mass cluster of their new classmates. There's also a thus far unintroduced character randomly playing with the generically adorable mascot character outside of the school building who suddenly stops to stare at the camera again. These are pretty much the only surprises in the episode.

While the art itself is detailed and crisp, the character designs are a bit overdone, and the characters themselves generic (though points should be awarded to Sakuno for her wry response about how girls feel in clusters upon witnessing their new school). As for pacing: kudos to the show for not being excessively blatant in its introductions to Shingo's new classmates, but the overall pacing is still a bit off. In particular, the opening scene feels oddly leisurely, with bits where more snap to the dialogue and action might have given the protagonist's intro a little more energy.

It's unlikely that anyone will find this show particularly offensive— relative to other shows, there's barely even any fanservice —but there's not much to recommend about it either...unless, of course, you like the female characters who usually appear in this particular niche, in which case you'll probably find a version of your favorite here.


Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere

Rating: 3.5

Lacking a new season of Code Geass, Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is here to fill our burning need for a sci-fi drama with an enormous cast of super-powered teenagers. If you have no such burning need...move along.

The teens in question are all members of the same class in a school on Musashi, a city built on a ship designed to look like Edo-era Japan (I think; my Japanese architectural history isn't really up to snuff). The episode does a good job of vaguely introducing everyone to a large cast without giving you the feeling that you have to know everyone's names yet. You'll remember most of them based on their particular supernatural ability, which they use in P.E. class— their assignment is to land an attack on their teacher while she runs across the ship to an object of her vengeance. Everyone's attacks are either derived from or buffed by the kids' computers (or at least, we see screens, so one would assume they're computers), even the ones that seem magical.

The lead character, Tori, is tardy to class and skips out on this entire ordeal, arriving to land an "attack" on the teacher's breasts (which is whited out, presumably to sell more DVDs— since when does a clothed fondle require censorship?) and show off his new "raunchy" PC game. He pronounces that after playing the game to end his days of youth, he intends to ask out a dead girl the next day, and then he will do something that "picks a fight with the whole world," hinting at both the relevant past and presumably the show's upcoming main plot.

On the one hand, it feels a little weak that the "real story" won't begin until the second episode; on the other hand, with this many characters it was probably good to get a preview of who they are before really needing to know their names and back stories. The only irredeemably bad part of the episode takes place immediately prior to the teens launching their attacks on their P.E. teacher, when she notes Tori's absence and explains who he is and tells us his nickname, and then a student starts prattling about what a crappy situation their home ship is in for no apparent reason. This explication is obviously important and the haphazard and awkward inclusion of it just seems silly.

This first episode is heavy on action, so there's a great deal of movement animation and special effects, and all of it looks pretty well-done. The producers also did a good job directing the action; despite how much of it there is, it's never confusing as to who's attacking or how. The ongoing attacks will probably leave a few people rolling their eyes and wondering when the plot is going to start, but by and large it's engaging enough.

The character designs keep everyone fairly distinct (some almost outrageously so; one character is a naked, red-skinned incubus, and another is literally just a red blob), although the girls' outfits look pretty awkward for physical activity (and judging from the opening theme, they wear the same clothes outside of P.E. too). As for the characters themselves, they all seem dynamic and everyone has a trait or two from the get-go...although sometimes one of those traits is nothing more than "big boobs," but that's to be expected. Horizon seems, after all, to be one of those "something for everyone" kind of shows, provided that you're not looking for anything too thought-provoking.

Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is available streaming on The Anime Network


Chihayafuru

Rating: 3.5

Chihaya is a teenage girl who wants nothing more than to play karuta, a card game where a reader starts the first line of a poem from Japan's Hyakunin Isshu (a hundred poems by as many poets) and the players must race to pick up the first card. Unfortunately, Chihaya is having trouble finding people to play with, even when her childhood friend and karuta playmate Taichi joins her high school. This leads into a flashback in which Chihaya first meets someone who plays the game passionately, a bullied classmate named Arata. When Chihaya tells Arata that her dream is to see her sister succeed as a model, Arata tells her that her dream should actually involve her. Chihaya...sort of gets it, but at least at the end of the first episode, we're led to believe that she's basically applied Arata's dream to herself: to become a master karuta player.

Okay, for the record, karuta itself seems boring, even with the animators using every trick in the book to make it look exciting (extravagant gestures! Cards flying into walls!). With any luck, the series will focus more on the characters, who seem decently interesting. Aforementioned childhood classmate Taichi is also one of Arata's bullies, for example, but it seems like he grows out of it; meanwhile young Arata himself has a lot of room for development (and he's also rather boy-moe; it's hard not to want to force-feed him chicken noodle soup when the episode visits his very humble abode).

Meanwhile, Chihaya herself has potential as a protagonist. As a child she's got a bad habit of saying the first thing that comes to her mind regardless of how appropriate it is, and as a teenager she's viewed as a "muda bijin"— a beautiful girl whose attractiveness is useless because she's weird, although so far she seems to have friends, at least. Her childhood self is more engaging than her teenage self so far, but then again, the teenager got less screen time in the first episode.

The manga upon which Chihayafuru is based is an award-winning series, so expectations are surely high for the adaptation. There's definitely a lot of good design work, but the animation hit-or-miss— plenty of flapping mouths in otherwise stagnant shots, for example, plus more CG cherry blossom petals if you haven't gotten enough yet. Oh, and the opening credits suggest that the audience might be in for more clothing designed with patterns that don't move with said clothing, which can be kind of distracting for some. The art is similar: some of the shots are quite detailed, and others a bit more simplistic, although never bad per se.

Chihayafuru is more of a mixed bag than the buzz surrounding it might lead one to anticipate, but it definitely has a lot of potential to be a solidly engaging drama.

Chihayafuru is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Tamayura - Hitotose

Rating: 2.5

At first glance, Tamayura - Hitotose looks like another slice-of-life show about a bunch of high school girls— protagonist Fuu (alias: "Potte") snaps a few photos of her friends and then proceeds to topple a bench and fall herself.

But after the groaning and eye-rolling stopped, the episode flashed back to Fuu's life prior to this. She lived in another town, had a different best friend who was working overly hard to be sensitive to the passing of Fuu's dad, and Fuu herself was just starting to get over the sadness as well. Along with her mother and little brother, Fuu first decides to take up her father's old camera again, and then the family moves back to the father's old hometown.

In and of itself, the first episode could make a sweet (if a bit sappy) one-shot, with just the right amount of character development and almost no unnecessary explication. The million-dollar question is whether there's enough going on to sustain an entire series. It doesn't necessarily inspire the viewer to want to watch more, though...true, it only barely touches on the present Fuu's three gal pals, but Fuu is such a flat character so far that it's hard to want to follow her. (Can we get a show about the friend she leaves behind instead?)

The visuals don't bode very well, either. The animation mostly seems solid, but there's something slightly off about the colors, as though they're stale, and sometimes the art looks a bit lazy. Since viewers can usually count on the first episode having the most polished look (to impress said viewers), it's probably not a good sign that the look is firmly mediocre. On the other hand, it's still a slice-of-life show— the visuals are sort of secondary.

What will make or break the show is, of course, its characters. Fuu has gone through a tough time, but so far with the exception of picking up the camera, she's passive and unassuming. By contrast her best friend (prior to moving), Chihiro, is fun. At first she's annoying because she constantly thinks she's overstepped her bounds by reminding Fuu about her dad, causing her to burst into tears multiple times in a matter of minutes (cue more eye-rolling). But even she, a secondary character, gets to grow up a bit in the first episode, and we also get insight into her hobbies (she designs mascot characters and makes plushes of them) and more facets of her personality than mere crybaby-hood. With any luck, Fuu's new(/old) friends will be as engaging, and Fuu herself will get a chance to grow.

Those up for sort of a heartwarming/bittersweet/cheesy short should definitely check out this episode (with the caveat that they shouldn't expect high-quality visuals), but for most people it'll probably be too much of a snooze.


Kimi to Boku.

Rating: 3

It's nice to see an all-guys counter to the all-girls slice-of-life comedy in You and Me. (Kimi to Boku), but I'm a little torn on the show itself.

The series revolves around four guy friends (soon to be five, judging by the opening credits) in high school together. These four have been friends since childhood and include bossy Kaname, effeminate Shun, and the lazy twins Yuta and Yuki. After a brief introduction to these characters— which itself feels as lethargic as the twins —Kaname gets it into his head to force Yuki into a school club and forces him through a series of athletic and then cultural clubs. This is primarily a vehicle to reveal the characters' personalities, of course, and also to showcase a particular flashback to the boys' childhood.

The humor in and of itself is cute, if a little predictable, but the "action" (such as it is) is pretty flat, so it's kind of easy to zone out here and there. Even when Yuki is supposedly performing amazing feats of basketball, the camera is on his three companions talking about it rather than his playing. There's simply no avoiding that since the really engaging part of the episode is all dialogue, the producers seem slightly desperate to keep the visuals engaging. The result is that the shots cut from the boys to various shots of lazy and/or angry cats to a random girl on campus or whatnot.. Additionally, some of the shots are laid out oddly, like an early one with Shun's face oddly cropped. These visual quirks are kind of jarring; it feels like one might as well just listen to the show as watch it, if you had enough of the language.

It's unclear who the show's target audience is; the original manga ran in shounen manga anthologies in Japan, but at first glance some people probably assume these young, pretty boys were nestled into a yaoi tale (it's definitely not, for the record, though there's surely enough fodder for fangirls who want to look for it). It's not really a problem, but it makes it tough to zero in on who will enjoy the show. Basically, if you're open to a sort of low-energy comedy with a very light touch and an all-male cast, Kimi to Boku. is decent. It'd be nice if the producers could pick up the energy a little bit though (this may be the role of the very genki-looking fifth character who appears in the show's credits).

Kimi to Boku is available streaming on Crunchyroll


Working'!!

Rating: 4

Working is sort of like most sitcoms: the "situation" is mostly less important than the characters. So how much you'll enjoy Working'!!, the excessively-punctuated sequel to the 2010 anime Working!! (called Wagnaria!! in North America) will rely on how much you like the eccentric cast of characters who work at the titular family restaurant in Japan.

I didn't see the first season myself, but judging from the first episode of this season, it seems like the characters probably all started out as mostly single-trait vehicles that have mostly been developed beyond that, at least a little. The main characters' traits are still pretty obvious (tiny/cute Poplar, tiny/cute thing lover Takanashi, man-phobic Inami, etc.), but for some of the characters it's less clear, and to me that speaks well for the show.

As far as slice-of-life shows go, Working'!! is largely successful. The characters are cute, colorful, and vivacious, but not completely demented...mostly. It probably helps that this show stands apart from most current slice-of-life series, which seem stuck in the "four-or-five girls' high school adventures" niche. Instead, you actually have a whopping three guys (and five girls), and while young, they're in a work setting, not school. The animation is mostly nice and works well with the designs and the soundtrack and voice acting are solid.

It's hard to judge whether the second season will stay true to the first season's formula, having not seen that season, and naturally this episode was dedicated to re-introducing the setting and characters. For new viewers, it does this reasonably well: when introducing the first three characters (Poplar, Takanashi, and Inami) there's a moment when it feels like the episode is just going to have each character walk on, demonstrate their trait, and disappear, but then instead the episode opens up into a bit more story and dialogue, so you meet everyone a bit more organically after that.

I assume existing Wagnaria!! fans are going to dig Working'!!, and it's perfectly accessible to new fans as well. If you're looking for anything more deep or action-packed than the concerns of a bunch of kids working at a restaurant, or for something that's not OH MY GOD PERKY!, obviously the show's not for you. As slice-of-life shows go, though, this one may well lead the pack this season.


Phi-Brain - Kami no Puzzle

Rating: 3.5

The basic premise of Phi Brain is that protagonist Kaito Daimon gets sort of coerced into joining an organization devoted to solving puzzles with a major risk/reward issue. Seriously, Kaito doesn't balk in the slightest at being challenged to solve a puzzle in which failure means death, even prior to being offered treasure if he succeeds. Apparently he once promised someone to free those poor sad puzzles. It's played completely straight, no one's made a huge thing about puzzles being particularly important in this universe, and even the near-death of Kaito's childhood friend/puzzling companion Nonoha doesn't discourage them.

Weird.

If Hunter × Hunter is a bit too classic kiddie shounen for you, but you're still looking to fill that action/competition void in your life, Phi Brain appears to be your primary option. It's going for a very "cool" vibe, with a pretty fun soundtrack (sometimes distractingly so), character designs that are both reminiscent of but not quite ripoffs from other big shows, and strong animation. I had kind of expected it to channel Death Note a little bit with a lot of internal monologue about the puzzles and thinking a dozen steps ahead, but the first episode doesn't seem to go that direction, which is probably for the best in the first episode.

The episode is mostly well-paced, although it starts with an action sequence and then makes vague reference to the lead-up to that action sequence, which is a little awkward— for a moment you may wonder if you somehow missed the first few minutes of the show. Other than that, though, the show gives you the info you need without overloading you with stuff, giving you a lot to discover as the series carries on. With some suspension of disbelief, this will be a solid entry into its genre.

That said, it's still clearly going to be another "hey, let's do a shounen show revolving around this random skill!" series, so obviously if that's not your kind of thing, you'll want to give it a pass. If you're not sure, though, the first episode on its own is worth your thirty minutes.


Hunter × Hunter

Rating: 4

Hunter × Hunter opens in an idyllic village where young, spiky-haired protagonist Gon catches the Lord of the Lake, an enormous fish. This capture was ordered by Gon's guardian (or mother? He refers to her by name) as the prerequisite before he can attempt to pass the exam to become a Hunter, which is basically an adventurer.

Gon starts his journey by boat, and we quickly learn that he can understand animals, smell storms, inspire loyalty in those around him, and is insatiably honest. This last quality puts him at an advantage with the ship's captain, who asks Gon and two other candidates— young-but-older-than-Gon Kurapika and bespectacled Leorio —why they want to become hunters. Kurapika and Leorio try to avoid answering, but the captain reveals that he is in fact one of their examiners and can pass or fail them as he sees fit. Both reveal their reasons (Kurapika wants vengeance on the criminals who killed his clan, while Leorio wants money), and after being rude to one another, they decide to fight it out on the ship's deck as a huge storm carries on in the background. Naturally, Gon inspires (and performs) some heroics, and in the end everyone gets along and all three pass the test.

I haven't seen the original Hunter X Hunter or read the manga, so I can't speak to how much it stays true to its origins or anything along those lines. What I can say is that this episode is well-paced, well-animated, and well-acted. The viewer is provided enough information to know where they are and what's going on without being overwhelmed by a huge crush of information— there's still plenty to learn about the world and its inhabitants. The episode's ending is, of course, a little goody-goody, but hey, it's a classic-style shounen show aimed primarily at younger viewers (it's got an 11 a.m. Sunday morning slot).

Those who don't dig shounen series (or prefer theirs a little angrier, a la Naruto and Bleach) probably won't get that into Hunter X Hunter. The episode is solidly entertaining, but doesn't really promise much by way of innovation. That said, it's a little early in the season preview still, but this is the most solid first episode so far. It's well-crafted all across the board, which bodes well for the series.

Hunter × Hunter is available streaming at Crunchyroll


Rating: 1.5

A young boy living alone finds himself afflicted with a supernatural naked loli who accuses him of being a pervert, but moves in with him anyway. The creators know that you know this story already, so they waste as little time on the setup as possible. Unfortunately, the result is a poorly-paced, undeveloped mish-mash of ridiculousness that is by and large neither funny nor engaging.

Protagonist Haruaki's dad collects weird antiques and sends his son a strange box. When the box starts glowing with neon pink light, Haruaki does the only sensible thing in the show so far: he tosses the box in the basement and ignores it. Unfortunately, it's too late: the box turns into the undressed loli Fear, who he catches stealing rice crackers in his kitchen. This immediately cuts to a peaceful shared meal in which Fear and Haruaki explain the backstory to the audience (Haruaki's dad hopes Fear can un-curse herself at the house, which is in a spiritually opportune location). Haruaki's childhood friend Konoha arrives with breakfast, and she and Fear become rivals by default (do guys actually believe that women go into insta-hate mode over breast size?).

Haruaki and Konoha run off to school, and Fear bonds with some random local grown-ups before destroying Haruaki's house in an attempt to clean it. For some reason, this destruction is the longest part of the episode: a series of vignettes of failed housekeeping which is supposed to be funny but falls completely flat— it's trying way too hard. Haruaki comes home and chastises Fear, Fear runs away, Haruaki and Konoha look for her in town and it turns out she returned to the house. Haruaki goes home and bonds with Fear over another meal and a Rubik's cube. After the credits, Balalaika from Black Lagoon shows up in Japan wearing a gothic lolita headdress to get you interested in the next episode. Yeah, I don't know either.

The animation and design are solid, and I have to give the show's creators credit for one particular detail: the local elders treat Fear like a foreigner and try to speak some English to her, instead of ignoring her odd coloring and assuming she's Japanese. The voice acting is pretty good, but I've always been a sucker for Minori Chihara (who plays Konoha), and Fear's catchphrase ("Norouzo!" / "I'll curse you!") will be adorable to the right audience.

But that's not really enough to make up for the overall blandness and bad pacing of the episode. The show is made for a very specific audience that already knows it likes this show because it's seen it a dozen times before. There's no sign so far that it will do anything to stretch the limits of the standardized plot, unless you count the chainsmoking gothic lolita hinted at in the end...which is, at least to me, the most interesting thing in the entire episode.


Fate/Zero

Rating: 3 (for newcomers), 4.5 (for existing fans, probably)

If, like me, your knowledge of the Fate/stay night universe is minimal, consider yourself warned: Fate/Zero is going to throw a lot of information at you right at the beginning, and frankly, it feels like they expect you to know and/or recognize some amount of it. At the same time, the reason they're pummeling the viewer with information is so that newcomers can understand what's going on without having seen the show's predecessor (presumably), and everyone should be able to pick up the idea of what's going on and even be semi-confident about the various factions by the end of the episode, if they've paid attention.

The first episode of Fate/Zero introduces the world of wizards on earth, as well as the regular competition/war to seize the Holy Grail, which is apparently not quite that Holy Grail but which grants its owner any one wish. The main three families who participate in the war are all intertwined by old allegiances and/or grudges, and one of the major plot points of the first episode is that a child from one family (the Tohsaka clan) gets adopted by the Matou family, where she is effectively tortured to train her for the next tournament. To spare her, the black sheep of the Matou clan comes back and trains to take her place. The other main plot lines are all candidates' similar preparations for the pending war, culminating at the end with summoning their "servants," a variety of historical heroes who will do most of the actual battling.

By virtue of having to impart so much information, some of the scenes feel either visually stagnant or awkward. In particular, an early one involves two men circling a third, slowly and without purpose (outside of the obvious meta need for some kind of actual movement). Another is an excessively long panning shot of one of the 'relics' used for summoning servants. And, frankly, if you were hoping for action right off the bat, you might be disappointed in the first episode: nearly all 47 minutes are devoted to exposition in the guise of political machinations and other plotting. That may sound great for some, but a turn-off for others.

However, the show's true audience— fans of Fate/stay night and its world —will doubtless eat the show up. The animation is excellent, and as folks who are familiar with the plot and setting, absorbing the info won't be difficult. I wonder if these fans might be bored by some of the explication, much of which they probably already know, but I expect that seeing the adorable young Rin Tohsaka and Sakura Matou will probably help allay most potential irritation.

Fate/Zero is available streaming at Nico Nico and Crunchyroll


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