Carl KimlingerOct 1st 2012
Carl lives on a run-down farm in rural Oregon where he practices kissing babies, pumping hands, and lying in preparation for his 2016 run for President. He firmly believes that his love of outrageous exploitation sleaze and anything that makes him cry like a little girl will be a great asset in leading the free world.
Review: Is Gyrozetter the show for you? Here's the test: Transforming sports cars. Did you start drooling at the mention of those words? Did your mind immediately regress to childhood, visions of Saturday mornings floating before your eyes and the taste of Froot Loops mysteriously appearing on your tongue? No? Then avoid this show like the plague. In a future where AI cars have allowed even tots to get driver's licenses, a mysterious stone foretells the coming of a hero. Apparently that hero is Kakeru Todoroki, a brash kid with a serious hero complex and the robo-pilot's headgear to prove it. He may want to be a hero, but he doesn't know yet that he is one. Not until he's told that his school is really a paramilitary organization for the powers of good and given a transforming car to pilot. When the evil organization Xenon attacks with their own transforming car, Kakeru must prove his hero's mettle. Naturally it's premium-grade.
In its own way, Gyrozetter is a work of love. It was clearly conceived and executed by people—almost certainly men—who wanted very much to bring the silly, shamelessly boy-oriented robot shows of their youth to a new generation. Shows like Mazinger and the later Gaogaigar, where heroes in transforming robots fought archenemies with names like Dr. Hell and small fry with names like the Zonders. In Gyrozetter it's Lord Goat and his fleet of disposable AI cars, the Goblis. It's all here: the fiery young pilot who never speaks but to shout, the dignified good-guy leader with the fancy title, the female support staff in their revealing pink uniforms, the pointlessly mysterious in-show mythology, the blaring music, the predetermined fights, the awful f***ing dialogue, the shameless desire to sell Gyrozetter toys. It's kind of unfair to fault a series for being exactly what it intends to be, but ultimately the show is just too cheesy to live. On the plus side, Tomokazu Seki's enthusiastic fight commentary is a kick and the dancing-robots ending perhaps the funniest single thing this season. That's got to count for something.
Rating: 2 ½
Review: Somewhere nearby on this page there's a preview for Chō Soku Henkei Gyrozetter. This is essentially that show's female counterpart: a shamelessly girly, cruelly frilly kids’ show designed specifically to sell loads of merchandise to impressionable youngsters. It is only more tolerable because its childish shojo conventions are less aggressively abrasive than Gyrozetter’s mecha claptrap. As everyone the world over knows, it is every girl's dream to wrap themselves in an outlandishly cute dress and dance prettily in front of thousands of people. Every girl except Ichigo Hoshimiya. Ichigo doesn't have a dream, except maybe helping her mom run the family's bento shop. That is, until she attends a concert by top idol Mizuki Kanzaki. She's immediately bitten by the idol bug and, urged on by best friend and aspiring idol Aoi, auditions to enter the prestigious idol school that Mizuki attends. Does Ichigo have what it takes to be an idol? Well, it wouldn't be much of a show if she didn't.
Not that it's much of a show anyway. It isn't terrible by any stretch, but it doesn't make even a desultory effort to differentiate itself from the dozens of other shows that use aspiring idols to sell games and figurines and god knows what else. Bright and blandly sugary, it looks and behaves as if cloned directly from peers who themselves were so generic that I cannot now recall their names. It has its advantages though. Ichigo is a loveable little thing, and the dynamic of her bento-making family—happy Ichigo, huggable little bro Raichi, supportive bento queen Mom—is adorable enough to turn you into taffy. Its character designs also have a lovely shojo flavor, and the whole series looks just as pink and pretty as can be. For those susceptible to this particular brand of sweet kiddie goodness the show will be a highly tolerable diversion. For the non-susceptible… Let's just say that the creepy CG dance sequences are bubbly and sparkly enough to make you puke blood and leave it at that.
Review: Season one of the bloody exploits of gunrunner Koko Hekmatyar worked, and worked beautifully, because it understood what it was: pure action—as hard and fast and unconcerned with morals as the bullets Koko smuggles. No lessons; no pansy emotions; no bullshit. Just lean, mean action delivered in two-episode bursts of sometimes scorching intensity. So why is the beginning of season two so clogged with non-action BS? Multiple narrative threads are spun: About master smuggler Koko's plan to put hundreds of satellites in orbit and establish a GPS information network superior to any in the world. About R, the CIA mole in her organization. About the unfolding machinations of old CIA hand and master manipulator George Black. About a CIA operative named Hex who has a huge, Koko-shaped chip on her shoulder. In the meantime there are follow-ups on some favorites from last season—nutty Japanese weapons developer Dr. Miami, deadly ex-secretary Karen Low—and even a reprise of Jonah's mixed feelings about weaponry.
And all the while, no one dies, nothing explodes, and no careful plans devolve into bloody chaos. As a fan of the series, it's hard not to be of two minds about this episode. On the one hand, it is clearly setting up something big, something longer and more involved than the fierce two-episode arcs of season one. There is an opportunity here for the series to gain cohesion and direction, to gather a season's worth of momentum for a potentially mind-blowing climax. On the other hand, there's the possibility that it'll get bogged down in intricate plotting, or worse yet yoke itself to emotional baggage or—the horror—some sort of message. You want to tell the show to forget ambition and stick to its guns. Of course, those worries could come to nothing; the show's ambitions could work out for the best or, just as good, everything that seems deliberate and far-sighted this episode could blow apart in the next two, leaving the series to go on as it has. For now forget your two minds and just enjoy the ride.
Jormungand Perfect Order is available streaming at funimation.com
Rating: 3 ½
Review: Beautifully executed yet painfully self-conscious, Gen Urobuchi and Katsuyuki Motohiro's futuristic police thriller is a laudably ambitious but frustratingly flawed work from a team fairly teaming with talent. Pass carries us to a distant future, where telemetry has allowed the government to monitor and measure a person's psychological state in real time. The government uses the data to judge the criminal potential of its citizens. When someone passes the legal threshold of criminal potential, the police send out Enforcers—latent criminals armed with guns that read the data of suspects—to mete out punishment as their semi-sentient weapons dictate: temporary paralysis and capture for criminals judged amenable to therapy, messy death for those judged irredeemable. Shinya Kougami is one such soldier. His Inspector—the trained officers put in charge of volatile Enforcers—is Akane Tsunemori, a rookie brimming with school smarts and high ideals, which makes her a poor fit for the mean streets of their totalitarian world.
The desire to praise Psycho-Pass to the heavens is acute. An original collaboration between a well-known novelist/anime scribe and a journeyman live-action director, it embodies the kind of risk-taking that is desperately needed in a world of suffocatingly safe adaptations of proven properties. It is a defiantly masculine series in a land of fetishized cutesiness; unafraid to alienate or flout anime convention, its influences running more to Phillip K. Dick and Ridley Scott than anything offered by the anime world. And it's gorgeous to boot. It's clear as the characters dash through Motohiro's lovingly illustrated jungle of human wreckage and nightmare neon that the man is fully enjoying the freedoms of the animated format. The problem is that it tries too hard to be all of those things. It tries too hard to be different. Too hard to be edgy. Too hard to be dazzling. Too hard to be…well, hard. It comes across stilted and deliberately unpleasant, an impression helped not at all by the fact that its vaunted iconoclasm ultimately boils down to trading anime conventions for mainstream film conventions.
Psycho-Pass is available streaming at funimation.com
Rating: 2 ½
Review: Here's a little reviewer's trick for you curious souls. When grading a series, rank it on a scale with known reference points. Mine takes zoning out in an empty room as its base. That's the midpoint—in this case the 2 ½. (This is in a medium-comfy chair; in really good chair the experience is more like a 3 ½.) Anything more painful grades lower than 2 ½, anything more enjoyable grades higher. I mention this to put the dispassionate number above in context. According to that number, watching Girls und Panzer is no different than turning the TV off and just sitting there. Which is about right.
Meet Miho. She's nervous and clumsy and bit lonely, always on the lookout for friends at her new school. She makes two when Saori and Hana approach her after class and strike up a quick but lasting friendship. Shortly thereafter she's forcibly approached by the student council, who want Miho, the latest in a long line of tank-handlers, to sign up for the new tankery class. Miho doesn't want to, but the school needs tankery students for the upcoming worldwide tankery competition, so her refusal is refused. Tankery, of course, is the art of fighting with tanks, which in Miho's world is a sport said to be the ultimate training for ladies of taste and refinement. Miho's going to get tastefully refined, whether she likes it or not.
It feels a little cruel to smack Panzer around. It's sweet-natured, well intentioned, and thoroughly harmless. But it's also a complete nonentity; another combination of military hardware and cute girls (e.g Upotte!! or Strike Witches) that has neither the narrative nor the visual force to emerge from the pack. It has the whimsical lack of direction of a slice-of-life comedy, the generic cast of a guy-free harem comedy, and the look of a brightly colored moe-clone colony. Give it points for the humorous female-sport angle, but ultimately all it'll do is punch a big, admittedly cute hole in your day. And given a medium-comfy chair and an empty room, you can do that yourself.
Girls und Panzer is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Kamisama Kiss Episode 2
Rating: 3 ½
Review: Akitarō Daichi's lighthearted shojo confection picks up comic speed and sheds some of its bad-boy baggage going into its second episode, making for an altogether more enjoyable experience. If it can keep on this road, maybe it won't end up a mediocre footnote in Daichi's otherwise impressive filmography. Maybe. Tired of being cooped up in the shrine, Nanami decides that it's time to go back to school. Tomoe isn't thrilled by the idea—Nanami's godly powers are weak and there are plenty of yokai looking to take a bite out of her hide—but lets her go on the condition that she hide the mark of divinity on her forehead. Nanami is thrilled to be going to school: chatting with friends, hanging with classmates, ogling the idol star who attends her school. Unfortunately she makes no friends, is avoided by classmates, and Kurama the idol turns out to be a total dick. He is also, not incidentally, a demon out to chow down on her heart.
Tomoe is probably the most improved this episode. Helpless to contravene Nanami, he gains an underdog appeal that goes a long way towards erasing the bad taste left by his haughty, selfish, and generally unpleasant demeanor. It's difficult to take his ill treatment of Nanami or his sour attitude seriously when he's dressed like a hausfrau, bustling about cooking and cleaning. It helps too that he's slowly softening towards Nanami. Nanami for her part is growing smart-mouthed, strong-willed, and compassionate enough to excuse the amount of male attention sure to be lavished on her, and as for Daichi, with the introductory clutter out of the way he has plenty of room to indulge his comic whims (including a truly inspired bit with a terrified ostrich). To be sure, the girly wish-fulfillment of it all is bothersome, and almost certainly the show would vanish in puff of perfumed air were it not for Daichi's peculiar screwball humor or the little strands of substance anchoring it to reality. But it's still great fun, and that's more than it was a week ago.
Kamisama Kiss is available streaming at funimation.com
Rating: 4 ½
Review: There are shows you watch that make you feel like a kid again, that make you want to grab a good walking stick and head out into the woods on some harebrained adventure. They're rare, rarer perhaps than any other kind, but they're out there. Right here for instance. Based loosely on 1001 Arabian Nights, Magi tells the story of Alibaba and Aladdin, two boys living in the Arabian desert of the imagination. Alibaba is an enterprising young man who dreams dreams of great wealth. He works and scrimps and saves, doing whatever it takes no matter how humiliating or plain wrong, but figures that eventually he'll take the direct path to wealth: plundering Dungeons, mysterious ruins said to contain unthinkable wealth and unknowable magic. That dream gets a lot closer when he meets Aladdin, a strange little boy with an assortment of magic items said only to exist in the Dungeons.
Magi has everything an adventure should have. Excitement: brawls in the street, perilous desert caravans, children to be rescued from giant, wine-guzzling carnivorous plants. Fun: a stay in a brothel with the world's ugliest—but skilled!—serving wench, much carousing with the gluttonous, mammary-loving Aladdin. Vile villains: a lurking slave-trader, an avaricious blob of merchant fat who would literally throw a child to her death to save a barrel of wine. And, of course, heroes: Impish Aladdin, a little monkey of a kid whose eyes grow wise and grave when beholding injustice or piercing Alibaba's defensive walls of chicanery; Alibaba, the good-hearted, big-dreaming street kid who's spent so much time pretending to be an uncaring mercenary that he almost believes it himself.
But most importantly it has a genuine sense of adventure: that sense that there's a boundless world of magic and mystery and danger to be explored—a sense thrilling yet threatening, full of wonder yet edged with darkness. The works of Hayao Miyazaki have it, and perhaps more to the point so too do the fantasy films of Ray Harryhausen, and Magi has it as well. Treasure it.
Magi is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: If ever there was a title designed to strike fear, or at least serious trepidation, into the hearts of well-adjusted anime fans, it's this one. It's a title you could easily imagine appended to some foul taste-challenged sub-hentai concoction. So it's a nice surprise to find a fairly humorous, middle-of-the-road romantic comedy instead. The Sakurasou of the title is a dorm at an art school. It is reserved specifically for the school's problem students, earning it a reputation as the local booby hatch. As an ordinary member of the school's Regular division (i.e. it's non-art wing), Sorata Kanda doesn't really belong at Sakurasou. But for reasons involving stray cats and inflexible dorm policies, there he is anyway. When the dorm's newest resident arrives, it's Sorata who's put in charge of her, a responsibility that proves a lot heavier that it first appears. Because new girl Mashiro, on top of being a brilliant artist, is also an inveterate slob incapable even of dressing herself.
Going in we may have been bracing ourselves to be violated, but once Sakurasou is actually underway it's a reasonably enjoyable ride. It's a straightforward, good-natured kind of romantic comedy, balancing manic humor, mild introspection, and inoffensive titillation with reasonable ease. Its humor is mostly of the crazy-people-doing-crazy-things variety, with only the occasional foray into bad taste and without the hyperactive desperation that can make such humor irritating. Romance isn't really in play yet but Mashiro is attractive and appropriately interesting and Sorata is a decent sort—kind without being squidgy, introspective without being mopey, normal without being boring—so there's some promise there too. Sure, there's the inevitable normal girl with a crush on Sorata, yeah, the dorm is hive of overblown comic stereotypes, and yes, Mashiro's peculiarities are an excuse for fan-service. The truth is you'd have to be mind-wiped to be surprised by anything the show does. And there's a good chance that what charm it has is just an artifact of it exceeding our rock-bottom expectations. But that doesn't mean we can't enjoy it for now.
Rating: 3 ½
Review:A good laugh can save almost anything. Laugh enough and it ceases to matter how dumb or pointless or based on an RPG something is. Welcome to Ixion Saga, a dumb and pointless RPG adaptation. Prepare to enjoy yourself a good deal more than you should. Somewhere in Japan, butt parked firmly in front of an MMORGP, is a rather horny, none-too-smart, but essentially goodhearted guy named Kon. Lured by the feminine wiles of a fellow gamer, he agrees to help said gamer with an unspecified personal favor. And then he drops through dimensions, straight into a fantasy world where his plummeting butt saves a beleaguered princess and her entourage. The princess allows him to tag along, but things get hairy when the bad guys catch up, itching to take on the guy whose plummeting butt saved the princess. The bad guys have figured without Kon's idiot power though. Never fight a guy with idiot power on his side.
Silly?Yes. Sorta dimwitted?Certainly. Hackneyed as all heck?Sure. Funny?Oh yes, very much so. From the moment Kon drops from the sky, his roller chair crushing the preening pretty boy threatening the princess and her burly bodyguard, you kind of figure that this is going to be more fun than your average swords-and-sorcery romp. And at every turn, you're proven right. As when the princess turns out to be the poison-tongued eight-year-old and the lovely lass with her a cross-dressing bodyguard. Or when Kon wheedles a pair of shoes out of his companions, only to choose the most expensive and consequently ugliest and most ostentatious boots known to man. Director Shinji Takamatsu's comedy bonafidesare unassailable (between School Rumble and Gintama he has as many belly-laughs under his belt as any man in the industry), and he proves it with a vengeance here. We know, for instance, that those boots will come in handy somehow, but the way they do is a gut-busting surprise. From Kon's inexplicably cheerful idiocy to the princess's comically dead (yet somehow touching) eyes, Takamatsu's comic instincts are flawless. All told, a delightful surprise.
Ixion Saga DT is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2 ½
Review:Somewhere under Code:Breaker’s self-conscious badassness and beyond its cringe-worthy clichés there lays the kernel of a good show. Whether the show lives or dies will depend on whether it can excavate that kernel before we get fed up with the rest of it. Toward the beginning of this episode it leans towards death, by the end towards life. One can only hope that's a trend and not a fluke. While riding the bus one night, Sakura Sakurakouji spots a boy incinerating a group of men in the park. She rushes to the scene, but nothing but scorch-marks remains. The next day the boy transfers into her class. Sakura tries to squeeze the truth out of him, confronting him and then following him to catch him in the act. But he's perpetually normal and nice. So she assumes she's mistaken. Until she meets the friends of the vaporized men.The very, very nasty friends.
The kernel of good anime at the center of this heap of superpowered teen rubbish is located firmly within Sakura's dynamic with Rei the immolating transfer student. Pure, strong, and upstanding, she's the yin to Rei's twisted psychopathic yang. How the two influence and interact with each other, and how large a part that interaction plays in the coming onslaught of psychic violence will largely determine how well the series fares. Of course, it'd help if the show dialed back the rubbish. This episode alone features about a half-dozen too many demonstrations of Sakura and Rei's wonderfulness, along with a shadowy schemer scheming in the shadows and what appears to be an army of beautiful psychic boys waiting to swoop in and foul things up. It's hard to excavate a kernel of quality when the show keeps piling on the dirt. On the upside, director Yasuhiro Irie brings rare intensity to the fighting and knowing humor to the schoolyard hijinks, while original creator Akimine Kamijyō manages to swing a last-minute rescue without turning the girl into a victim or the guy into a hero. If only the rest of the show were so cannily written.
Say, "I Love You".
Review:If you're to believe the world of shojo anime, it's always the least popular girls who get the most popular guys. Of course, if you're to believe the world of shonen romance, it's always the sad-sack loserswho get the screamingly hot girls. There's a lesson in there somewhere, but we haven't time for that. Not with a smorgasbord of hot guys, stolen kisses, and blackest angst to feast upon. Small and rumpled and deliberately inconspicuous, Mei Tachibana is no one's idea of irresistible. Ever since her grade-school “friends” blamed animal-loving Mei for poisoning the class bunny, Mei has withdrawn as completely from the world as she can. She never talks, never interacts, and never, ever makes friends. There's one guy who considers her irresistible though: Yamato Kurosawa, the school's handsomest, most popular guy. When she glares at him the hall and later mistakenly kicks him in the face he's absolutely sure: Mei's his type. There's no accounting for taste.
I Love You may share its premise with My Little Monster, this season's other shojo offering (both are about plain, introverted girls getting involved with flashy extroverted guys), but they couldn't be more different. Where My Little Monster is a free-spirited romantic comedy with some unexpected depths,I Love You is a laboriously dark romantic drama steeped in generations of shojo romance clichés. That may sound like an unfair matchup, and it may well prove so in the future, but as of now preference for one over the other is mostly a matter of taste; a taste for shaggy, underdog charm versus a taste for sleek, polished teen melodrama. I Love You is almost entirely derivative—we've seen this story played out an endless number of times since Fuyuki Soryo perfected it in Mars—but it's also beautifully executed and darkly, seductively emotional. A lot will depend on how Mei and Yamato's relationship unfolds (no wishy-washiness, please), and on whether Mei can maintain her strength of character, but for now things are looking good. So long as your definition of good is “swooningly romantic. ”
Review:One thing you can usually count on when entering a Key series is that you'll come out of it with your heart broken. Kanon, Air, Clannad—if nothing else, they were all expert heartbreakers. The company's stamp is definitely all over this latest tale of high-school friends, but as of right now it isn't a heartbreaker. It's a…comedy? The question mark is there because I'm not sure even the show itself knows for sure that it is.
The high-school friends in question are mild-mannered orphan Riki, musclebound brawler Masato, reserved swordsman Kengo, feisty school idol Rin, and their leader, the beloved but deeply odd Kyousuke. They've been together since they were knee high to a team of evil-fighting, trouble-making,allies-of-justice grasshoppers. But they've entered the last stages of high school and know that soon enough they'll be going their separate ways, especially Kyousuke, who is a year older and already on the hunt for a job. So Kyousuke proposes they do something they can only do now that they're still kids: start a baseball team.
There are a couple of things separating Little Busters! from Key's usual output. For one, there're four male characters. That may not seem like a big deal, but it's surprisingly satisfying to see a series where the male cast is a match for the female, both in number and in fetishistic colorfulness. Charmingly meatheaded Masato, effeminate little Riki, gorgeous but thoroughly unpredictable Kyousuke—they can all stand proud next to tiny spitfire Rin, imperious queen bee Sasami, and the rest of what promises to be a large and varied cast of fetishized female personality types.
As for the humor, it's nice to see a Key series so wholeheartedly devoted to laughs, and some of the jokes are pretty hilarious(the sansetsukon vs. eel pie fight is a killer). The problem is the delivery. The whole series is wrapped in Key's patented shroud of melancholy, which makes the jokes come across a little…odd. Still, there's promise here—both in the fun factor, and the likeable cast. Who knows, we may even get our hearts broken.
Review:Hirohiko Araki's famous fighting manga got the OAV treatment back in the 90's, but where that version floated viewers straight into the latter stages of Araki's multi-generational saga, this one begins at the beginning:the late 19th century, where pampered rich boy Jonathan Joestar—JoJo to his friends—first meets the cruel, scheming Dio, soon to be the archenemy of JoJo's entire male lineage.Their connection is first established when Dio's scumbag father saves the lives of LordJoestar and his infant son.Years later, upon his father's death, Dio takes advantage of the debt to get himself adopted into the Joestar family.He immediately sets about trying to dominate goodhearted Jonathan and supplant him as the family's heir.No plan is too dirty, no trick to petty for the hardscrabble Dio.But when he steals the first kiss of Jonathan's sweetheartErina he goes too far, and soon the two are on the road to a burning, lifelong hatred.
The story of JoJo and Dio itself isn't bad.It has a biblical simplicity that could be quite compelling in the right circumstances, and despite their initial shortcomings—JoJo is a pretentious do-gooder and Dio's only mode is all out evil—eventually JoJo starts to take shape as a strong lead and Dio as a complicated villain (his villainy is clearly fuelled by a lifetime of unfair treatment).And yet there's something about the overblown way that they and their rivalry is delivered that's just…bad.The episode rushes their rivalry to a crisis, all the while treating objectively petty grievancesas grand melodramatic betrayals.Dio whips JoJo in a fight, badmouths him to friends, and smooches his girl. Essentially he's Biff the bully, yet the show treats him like the personification of evil. You can smell the cheese right through the TV.The wonderful AyakoKawasumi as the surprisingly gutsy Erina and the occasional sign of testosterone-fuelled satisfaction keep the series’ promise alive, or at least on life support, but whether it's worth sticking around to see that promise flourish (or croak for good) is an open question.
Review:Who is this show aimed at?Its title alone—the full version of which translates as “You're My Brother, ButThat Doesn't Matter as Long as We Have Love”—is enough to keep your casual romantic comedy fans away.And yet it's surprisingly tame for a show of its description; too tame by half to satisfy viewers who are in it for the twincest or general naughtiness.So who would watch it?My suggestion:nobody.First, take two twins:Akiko and AkitoHimenokouji.Separate them for six years.Throw them back together after what appears to be a long struggle.Note that Akiko has a thing for Akito.And not any old thing; a raging, hormonal, clearly sexual thing.Note also that Akito thinks she's a bit of a nut and brushes off her advances with practiced ease.Now, toss in three more girls.(Turns out their house is actually a girls’ dorm.Surprise!)Watch as romantic hilarity unfolds.
Or not.The series’ actual creative arithmetic goes something more like this:Take a shoddy, lazy harem comedy, add incest and get…a shoddy, lazy harem comedy.Of all the things the series handles, the one it handles best is actually its incestuous premise.Akito blows off Akiko's incestuous overtures with breezy nonchalance and the show in general treats her brother complex like a big joke.It isn't actually funny, but it doesn't make your skin crawl either, or at least not most of the time, which is about the best you can hope for from an incest rom-com.Everything else in the show, however, is a shambles.It's thinly written, poorly assembled, and utterly lacking in energy or imagination.The last half of the episode is just one long argument about who among the we-just-met-them-and-can't-yet-tell-them-apart harem gets to feed Akito.I don't know about anyone else, but my skin crawled off my body during that scene.Though admittedly only because it was leaving the room to look for something more interesting to watch.
OniAi is available streaming at Funimation.com
Review: X, C, K… Eventually they're going to run out of cool letters and have to start naming shows after lame letters like U or J. And coolness is the name of the game, at least in K. It has an obsession with coolness, particularly as pertains to fashion, that borders on the preposterous. Luckily it has enough other hooks to forgive it its excesses.
On the streets a clan of stylishly dressed punks is searching for someone. Hard. They wreck a building and rough up some foreigners, but to no avail. They're finally stopped by a gang of young, nattily dressed government types. A superpowered clash ensues. Elsewhere, at a high school in the city's bay, happy-go-lucky Yashiro Isana is bumming lunch from his fellow students. After eating his fill and napping off the meal he's asked to run an errand in town where he crosses paths with the aforementioned stylish punks. Who unfortunately recognize him. Much violence and running later, he's rescued by a handsomely attired swordsman, who whisks him away and then threatens to kill him.
Everything in K calibrated for stylishness first. Punks wear street chic jewelry and have perfect hair; government types have nifty trench-coat uniforms and fight in unison with engraved swords, like some kind of fencing butler chorus line. Everyone is forever posing: lounging cinematically against walls, surveying the city from rooftops. Sometimes you want to ask the show: are you an action anime, or a fashion ad? Sometimes, however, despite all your cynical defenses, it'll get you. As when Yashiro is pursued through the streets by a skateboarding dervish, or when his rescuer uses nearby buildings and a psychic bungee cord to catapult himself across the city.
And it doesn't hurt that Yashiro is likeable little guy—the kind of happy-on-the-outside outsider who's usually a supporting player—or that the episode ends with a revelation that adds tenfold to his interest as a main character. We may chortle and snort at the show's fashionista pretty boys, but the show gets the last laugh when we go on to watch episode two anyway.
K is available streaming at VizAnime.
Review: There's a taste of Gantz in this survival-action series, and that is not a good thing. Gantz was trash in the worst sense of the term: dumb, gory, exploitative; the kind of trash that isn't gonzo fun but rather leaves you feeling dirty and totally disinclined to continue.All of which is true of BTOOOM!. Just without Gantz’s visual panache, camp humor, orsci-fi weirdness. Woo hoo. Begin with a self-deluded, mother-abusing, unemployed loser. His name is Ryota. The only place where he's worth anything is in the virtual world of a combat game called BTOOM, where he's an ace at blowing fake people up. And then one day he wakes up on a deserted island. He has no memory of how he got there, and only a day's worth of food and eight bombs to keep him company.He's attacked by an obviously insane man also armed with bombs, during which time he realizes to his horror that he's now trapped in an all-too-real version of his favorite game.
Like Gantz, it isn't BTOOOM’s premise that kills it—though it is low-brow, high-concept crud of the first order—or its nasty violence and gratuitous sexuality (both of which it has in considerably less volume), but rather its utter contempt for its characters.It clearly has no respect or sympathy for Ryota, presenting him as a one-dimensional pile of deluded selfishness.And it isn't any kinder to the rest of humanity.Ryota's mom is nagging zombie, his game-friends are insensitive boors, and the only guy he meets on the island is a brain-dead psychopath. pisode two promises a damaged high-school girl and what look like sweaty otaku rapists. It's the kind of sneering unpleasantness that anime series often try to pawn off as realism but that mostly makes you wonder if the writers actually know any real people. If you must watch people on an island killing each other off, watch Battle Royale. It's crueler, smarter, and infinitely more nuanced. And superior as action to boot. It's hard to care about a showdown when you want everyone to die.
BTOOOM!is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review:There's a heap of talent behind this big, bold tale of murder and magic and the apocalypse, and it certainly shows, but a pair of alternately uninteresting and unlikeable leads leaves it with little to grab onto besides its slick, impeccably-produced surface. (And the occasional protruding mystery.)Not to underestimate slick surfaces.Impeccable production can get a series a long way, even alone.Yoshino and Mahiro were once inseparable.And then Mahiro's sister was murdered.Volcanic Mahirodisappeared to find and destroy her killer; subdued Yoshino stayed behind and lived his life.Time has passed.Most everyone has given up on Mahirowhen suddenly he returns, literally flying back into Yoshino's life.With the mystical help of Hakaze, a powerful witch imprisoned on an island, Mahiro is on a quest to stop Hakaze's family from resurrectinggod-knows-what and destroying the world—not out of the kindness of his heart, but because Hakaze has promised to deliver his sister's killer in exchange.
There's more to it than just that.A lot more.There's a shotgun-wielding woman who's on Mahiro's trail; a spreading plague that turns its victims into iron statuary; and a cover-up-happy government.All of which the series juggles, along with its stylishly fragmented chronology and the obviously complicated relationship between Mahiro, Yoshino and Mahiro's sister Aika, without dropping a ball.The way in which the details of Yoshino and Mahiro's past congeal throughout the episode, only revealing the full extent of their shared tragedy in the last moments, is particularly well handled.Ditto the athletic, magic-boosted action from the always-reliable Bones, and the spectacle of the…well, whatever the hell it is that comes out of the ocean at the end.Frankly, we don't really know what the heck is going on—Mahiro's episode-ending explanation notwithstanding—but it looks great, moves confidently, and respects our intelligence.Now if only Mahiro wasn't a psycho a**hole and Yoshino a belabored everyboy.Good looks, confidence, and intelligence are fine, but what really makes a show is heart, and at this show's heart are a couple of dud leads.
Blast of Tempest is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review:It's been awhile since AkitaroDaichi, the man behind perennial favorite Fruits Basket, directed something that wasn't three minutes long or a straight-up gag comedy.So it's grand to see the old master back in his element with this rapid-fire romantic comedy.It's hard, though, not to wish that he had returned with something a little…well, better.In an opening blur of flashbacks we learn that young Nanami Momozono has just become homeless.Her irresponsible dadleft her with a lifetime of gambling debts and her house has been repossessed.So she's camped out in a park, where she rescues an odd man from a nonthreatening canine.The man gives her peck on the forehead in reward and gives her a map to a place she can stay.The place turns out to be a run-down temple, the man a god, and the peck on the forehead a ceremony passing his divinity on to her.So Nanami is now a god, complete witha grumpy—but hot!—fox-spirit servant named Tomoe.
An ordinary girl is given a god's powers and responsibilities and gains the attentions of a super-sexy male servant and other inevitably super-sexy male demons…Shakespeare it ain't. It isn't even Fruits Basket. But it isn't exactly bad either. Under Daichi's control Kamisama is funny and fleet-footed, always aware of when it should be light-hearted and always on time with a tiny, redeeming nugget of substance. It has a breathless, good-natured feel that is pure Daichi—the same oddball comic rhythm that he patented in series like Jubei-chan. And there's no denying that funny, headstrong Nanami is a great lead. Not even Daichi, however, can save the show from Tomoe, who is such an enormous dick that you can't believe the show is setting him up as Nanami's prime romantic interest.But it is.Still, it wouldn't do to dismiss the series just yet.Daichi's best shows gather power as they go, burrowing under the skins of characterswho seem simplistic or unlikeable at first.If Kodocha's brat-king Akito could end up one of shojo anime's best leads, then there's still hope for Tomoe.
Review: Like a comic book supervillain, the Hayate franchise just refuses to die. Three years after its double-exclamation-point second season left off, just when the world was looking safe from blue-haired, hard-luck butlers, this third incarnation rears its fluffy head. It opens in Las Vegas, where an exhausted Nagi Sanzenin has been stranded in the desert by a car wreck. Flash back to the Sanzenin mansion. Nagi is bored. Life is a tedious cycle of gaming, anime-watching, and manga reading. The tedium is broken by a report on Area 51, which entrances Nagi with the idea of aliens and conspiracies. When she gets a call from the Nevada State Police to come identify some of her long-dead father's belongings, it's the perfect opportunity—not to get to know her deceased father; to find some aliens.
Naturally Hayate and Maria manage to dissuade her, causing her to go into a snit and flee to her favorite video store and get kidnapped by a pair of dim-witted crooks, from whom Hayate then rescues her. It is all very goofy and predictable, with non-threat villains and lots of elaborate pratfalls. In short, it's the same Hayate it's always been. There is little doubt that there will be months of school hijinks, harem irritations, and general nonsense before we get to why Nagi was stranded in the Nevada desert and why she believes that Hayate is no longer her butler. And that's fine. The franchise has always been a silly diversion, and all it really needs is to be funny—which it is (the opening pratfall is a beaut). That said, this incarnation does have a slightly more serious tone, whether in the initial focus on Nagi's deceased father or just in the more realistic look it's taken on in the years since Part 2. Hayate claims in the opening narration that the animation staff put their all into this series, and for once you can believe it. The series looks positively fantastic, from the unusual (for Hayate)breadth of motion to the detailed interiors in the Sanzenin mansion.
Hayate the Combat Butler: Can't Take My Eyes Off You is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: Based on the award-winning novel by Yūsuke Kishi, this pensive sci-fi imagining of the far future displays obvious intelligence and a clear sense of purpose but gives very little away in its first episode. We know that a psychic calamity befell the modern world and that it is now one thousand years in the future. The place is Japan. We meet five children—Saki, Satoru, Maria, Mamoru, and Shun—living in an idyllic village. Saki's telekinetic powers have just awakened, allowing her to graduate elementary school and join her friends in the “Unified Class,” where she'll be trained to master her powers. Things seem fairly normal, but there are signs that not all is as it appears. There's a barrier around the village that no one is allowed to cross and stories tell of demons that live outside and a monstrous cat that prowls the village and eats children. Maybe they're just stories, but why are Saki's parents so afraid, and where do the children who don't graduate keep disappearing to?
Those questions are what're going to keep us glued to this show. In part that's because there's no action or adventure or even any characters—Saki and her crew have yet to grow past skeletal stereotypes—to glue us. But mostly it's because the show is ridiculously rich in mystery. Why is Saki put through a mystical rite before graduating? What's behind the unpleasant fairy tale that the children recite as if it's Shakespeare or Gilgamesh? What is outside the village? The series is very good at giving us a sense that, like its fourteen-year-old cast, we are only privy to a tiny and artificially bright corner of a vast and frightening reality. First-time director Masashi Ishihama dresses his world in a vaguely menacing, somewhat abstract beauty, but otherwise has the good sense to keep back, letting the secret horrors of Yūsuke Kishi's future emerge subtly, eerily, and with considerable power to disturb. It should be a long, fascinating ride into whatever lurks beyond the borders of Saki's life.
From the New World is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
My Little Monster
Review: Ah, romance: when you go take some printouts to the guy who beat the crap out of some upperclassmen and he assaults you and later kidnaps you, threatens to violate you, and then professes his undying love when you cause him to lose all his friends. It's good to be young. Meet Shizuku Mizutani. She's tiny and quiet and wants nothing more than to be left alone to study. One day her teacher bribes her to deliver some printouts to a classmate who's been absent ever since he painted the school with some bullies’ blood. This is how she meets Haru Yoshida. He's big and brash and wants nothing more than to make friends and enjoy school life. The problem is he's got two gears: happy and violent, and the latter gear is so extreme that everyone is terrified of him. Except for his ring of nasty, money-grubbing not-friends. When Shizuku breaks Haru away from them with a bitter dose of truth, Haru falls hard. Or at least, thinks he does.
This isn't the cleanest opening episode ever. It's kind of lumpy and jerky, with an abrupt one-month leap halfway through and lots of blinding shifts in tone along the way. But it works great, mainly because it has a great couple at its core. Shizuku the too-honest emotional void and Haru the warmth-craving mad beast are a surprisingly compatible pair, each illuminating the other's depths and bringing out the best in their deeply flawed partner. Their evolution, both as individuals and as a couple, promises to be a fun, and possibly deeply involving, ride. Of course, something could go horribly wrong (if handled carelessly, Haru, for instance, could quickly become a hideous annoyance), but director Hiro Kaburaki has already proved himself with the wonderful Kimi ni Todoke, and if the sweetness and unexpected nuance of this episode's mid-point climax—during which Shizuku witnesses Haru's vulnerability and bewilders herself with her own compassion—is anything to go by, he hasn't lost his touch. Methinks there are good times ahead.
My Little Monster is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
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