Rebecca Silverman

Oct 1st 2012

Aikatsu!

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Sometimes it feels like they're not even trying anymore – Aikatsu!, ostensibly a magical idol girl show, is really a half-hour commercial for a card game aimed at elementary-aged girls, or at least it seems that way. A quick browse of the official site reveals that such a thing does in fact exist, as does a 3DS game, so the sensation that we are being peddled to is perhaps justified. But despite the commercial feel – and hey, you can't really blame them for trying – there's something fun about this show and its toy-bright colors, so clearly the folks at Sunrise are doing something right.

Our story begins with seventh grader Ichigo Hoshimiya introducing herself and her life. She's a first year middle school student, enjoys helping her mother in the family bento shop, and seems pretty happy. One day she finds her little brother Raichi looking at pictures of a popular idol, Mizuki Kanzaki. He desperately wants to go to her concert, and even though Ichigo doesn't really get why it's better than watching the show on TV, she agrees to ask her idol-obsessed friend Aoi to help. Aoi, as it turns out, is only too happy to, and not only does she give Raichi tons of Mizuki pictures, she also manages to get three concert tickets through an amusingly convoluted source. Ichigo naturally tags along, and since this is an idol show, quickly catches Idol Fever. At about this time her mother begins making noises about Ichigo following her own dreams, so when Aoi announces that the famous Starlight Academy is having auditions/entrance exams, she agrees to go. Thus do our heroines set foot upon the path to stardom.

The toy-selling and magical girl aspects come in once the girls get to the academy. In the story's world, idols use magic cards to transform into CG idols, complete with special effects that fans can see with an antenna that they wear on their heads. This does make for sort of a unique transformation sequence, as the girls choose their cards, put them in designated slots on a machine that looks a bit like Cinderella's coach, and then walk through. When they emerge, they are CG versions of themselves. This is known as the “Aikatsu! System,” and mastering it is required for success. The CG is a bit weird, although it moves well enough, so it's lucky that the jpop songs (two this episode not counting the themes) are catchy in a cutesy way. It's also refreshing that Ichigo isn't clumsy and doesn't, at this point, have some sort of “endearing quirk.” She's a bit light on personality, but that could certainly change.

Aikatsu! isn't going to revolutionize the magical girl or the idol singer genres, but it is pretty much the definition of good clean fun. “Starlight Academy” may sound suspiciously like something out of “Jem and the Holograms,” but that actually works for the plot, at least for those of us old enough to remember it. So if you're looking for some brainless fun with a toe-tapping yet saccharine soundtrack, you're a seven-year-old girl, or if you just really like the color pink, Aikatsu! could be the show for you.


Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Two words: mecha dance. The ending theme for this kiddy show about cars transforming into giant robots features one of the funniest things I have seen in a while – a choreographed jpop idol dance number as performed by the five main mechs. Really, you haven't lived until you've seen giant robots shaking their booty and doing high kicks.

Ending theme aside, Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter is a pretty standard show in the “Transformers” vein. In the futuristic city of New Yokohama, AI cars are the norm. In fact, the whole city was built just to showcase the technology, and virtually any age group can drive provided that they have a Driver's ID. This sets us up to have a specialized school for future AI car specialists – Arcadia Academy, run by the company of the same name. Unbeknownst to the public, however, is that the academy hides the Arcadia Secret Defense Force and their amazing new “Gyrozetter” - a standard transmission car that transforms into a giant robot. Apparently this all has to do with a mysterious prophecy called the Rosettagraphy and young boy Kakeru Todoki is the driver of legend they've all been waiting for. He's your typical hero for this kind of show – young, brash, and with the quirk of misusing the word “depressingly.” (He seems to think it means “awesome.”) Unexpectedly thrown into the red Gyrozetter Raiban, Kakeru proves astoundingly adept and defeats the bad guy, a rival corporation, saving two girls. One of them, RIN-NE, reminds him of his mother and goes from “competent” to “screaming for him to save her” in a disturbingly short space of time. The preview seems to indicate that she'll be more equal partner than damsel in distress, though, so maybe this is a one-off moment.

Chousoku Henkei Gyrozetter is, simply put, one of the most unintentionally hilarious shows I've seen recently. Filled with cliches and ludicrous premises, and uniforms that even the hero thinks look like cosplay, this is strictly for the target demographic of little kids. The colors are bright, the CG cars are fast and recognizable brands, and the whole wish-fulfillment premise make this a car-loving kid's dream come true. Personally, I plan to rewatch the ending theme whenever I have a bad day, because I am now convinced that dancing mecha are the answer to all of life's little tragedies. But generally speaking, if you are feeling nostalgic for Saturday morning cartoons, this will fill the need. Otherwise, leave it for the kiddies.


Robotics;Notes

Rating: 2.5 (out of  5)

Review:

Kaito and Akiho are the sole members of their school's Robot Research Club, despite Akiho's determined pursuit of the bespectacled (ie brilliant) Hidaka and Kaito's lack of enthusiasm. The club's big project is building a giant robot, one from a show called “Gunvarrel” which, when it aired, utterly revitalized the giant robot school of anime, despite its final episode never airing. Akiho is obsessed with the show and Kaito is the number five ranked player in the game it inspired, Kill-Ballad. Akiho's main goal for the episode is to get the school's vice-principal to agree to an exorbitant budget for the club so that they can complete the robot and enter it in a national expo. She's tried and failed several times before, but her unflagging optimism is, she feels, her best quality, and besides, her sister managed a similar feat eight years ago.

As far as episode plots go, this one feels kind of thin. Akiho and Kaito don't grab the viewer as characters, no matter how nicely they are animated, and the backstory is just sort of dumped on us, particularly as concerns the game and the in-show anime. Enthusiastic Girl and Underwhelming Guy are a set we've seen many times before, and nothing about this particular pair really stands out, although it is nice to see Akiho being the one actively working on the robot.  The ending makes an attempt at ominous, and given that this is number three in a chain that includes Chaos;HEAd and Steins;Gate (learn to use semi-colons!), that makes a decent case for the story getting more interesting as it goes on. This is worth a second episode, but right now, there's not much to recommend it based on just this one.

Robotics;Notes is available streaming at Funimation.


Psycho-Pass

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Review:

This show is dark. I don't just mean that in terms of the implications of its world or the thematic elements – Psycho-Pass is animated in an almost exclusively dark palate, obscuring movement and details while making certain elements stand out in an almost horrible way. While this does work, and certainly does enhance some of the more disturbing elements, it also is a bit of a strain on the eyes and at times makes the subtitles stand out more than the animation. Not that subtitles were likely a consideration at the time, but still...

The latest offering from both Gen Urubochi and Noitamina, Psycho-Pass takes place (at night, in the rain) in a futuristic city where residents are monitored by their “psycho-passes,” the color of their criminal likelihood. One man has just been spotted as having a dark green Psycho-Pass, indicating that he is a latent criminal. When attempts are made to apprehend him, he escapes, and now a manhunt is on. Joining the experienced Officer Ginoza is Akane, a young cop just out of the academy and newly assigned to the CID. Without much ado, Ginoza reveals the existence of a special task force, a group of latent criminals who work with the police to apprehend wrongdoers. Leaving her in the capable hands of two of these “hounds,” Ginoza and his team leave Akane with hers to go hunt down the villain-in-the-making.

Obviously this is a system that has some fairly fatal flaws, not the least of which being that this man may have been a latent criminal, but he had yet to commit a crime. His reaction on being told that he must be brought in? To actually commit a crime. This scenario isn't fully examined by the show (yet), but Akane at least sees the error of the police's ways when the man's victim also shows up on the radar as a latent criminal, a direct result of the horrors she has been through. Akane screams that the police are about to blame the victim for her own trauma, and while she does manage to make a difference in the matter, Ginoza is less than pleased.

Psycho-Pass has a lot of potential. It manages to touch on some sticky situations that do in fact relate to a few real-world problems while still maintaining enough of an action vibe so as not to feel preachy. The guns used by Akane and her team are fascinating in a terrifying way and a lot of detail has gone into the grim and gritty feel of the story's world in a visual sense. There is a fair amount of brutality on display, including a human explosion and a rape scene, so do be aware going in. As it stands, though, this is a promising first episode, and if it can live up to its potential, we might have a winner.

Psycho-Pass is available streaming at Funimation.


Magi

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Based on the manga of the same name by Sumomomo Momomo creator Shinobu Ohtaka, Magi is  very, very loosely based on the middle eastern folklore collection, 1001 Nights. We begin with a young blue haired boy named Aladdin trapped in a cave. He meets a djinn who offers him one wish. Cut to a medieval middle eastern city where teenage Alibaba is doing work for the corrupt and corpulent merchant Budel. As if that isn't bad enough, he discovers a chibi Aladdin eating all of the produce he has just stowed for Budel. To even further compound Alibaba's bad day, Aladdin gropes Budel's man boobs while babbling about how much he likes breasts. The two escape (not that Aladdin knows why) and the next day they have another run in with the merchant when Aladdin uses his magic djinn-containing flute to free steely-eyed slave girl Morgiana, who belongs to, you guessed it, Budel. The merchant threatens the duo and also takes his complaint to who I assume is the city ruler, Jamil, a man with a large collection of slave girls. Meanwhile Alibaba takes Aladdin to what looks like a combination hostess club/brothel in hopes of convincing him to help acquire one the mysterious treasure towers that sprouted up across the land fourteen years ago. A run-in with a tentacled carnivorous flower of the desert later, Budel has been put in his place, Morgiana saved once again, and Aladdin and Alibaba have formed a friendship and are dungeon bound.

In part I suspect that my own fondness for the 1001 Nights is behind my lukewarm reception of this show. A small, annoying voice in my head keeps saying, “But they're from totally different stories! Where's Alibaba's brother? Aladdin was Chinese in the original book!” and other similarly obnoxious things. At the same time, now that things are set up, I am looking forward to seeing what Morgiana can do and am holding out hope that she'll still do her sword dance, so the shounen adventure portion of the show is working. The characters definitely look more refined than in Ohtaka's other series while still being recognizably his work, and the plot once it gets going looks to be fun. I could certainly wish that the animators (mangaka?) had spent a bit more detail on the marketplace, as it looks a bit dull, but at least the main characters stand out in terms of costume and coloring. If nothing else, Magi has a healthy sense of adventure and an interesting concept, so even though this first episode dragged in places, it still looks like a show worth keeping half an eye on.

Magi is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Pet Girl of Sakurasou

Rating: 1 (out of 5)

Review:

There is an affiliated high school somewhere in Japan that has both an arts and a general division. Naturally this attracts a variety of students, and since everyone knows that art students are often wacky individuals, this school has a very special dorm for these very special students – Sakurasou. Residents include the frenetic yet brilliant animator Misaki, the womanizing yet brilliant script writer Jin, the reclusive yet brilliant programmer Ryunousuke...and the very normal Sorata Kanda. Sorata ended up in Sakurasou because he rescued a kitten and was told to either give it up or move to Sakurasou. He chose the latter, adopted many more cats, and now is something of the token sane person in charge of all the eccentrics. It's crazy and it's about to get worse when dorm supervisor Chihiro-sensei, described as a “level 30 looking for a husband,” tells him to go pick up her relative Mashiro at the train station. Mashiro has just returned from England and appears, if a bit quiet, fairly normal. Alas, such is not the case, and when he goes to wake her in the morning, again at Chihiro's request, Sorata discovers a pit of underwear and a naked girl who is utterly incapable of taking care of herself. (Seriously, why does she own so much underwear?) It looks like Sorata has a new pet to take care of.

To say that I found this episode distasteful would be accurate if not a bit mild. To be more clear, it went from “annoying” to “skin crawling” over the course of its 24 minutes, with small flashes of “really irritating” thrown in throughout. That there is something wrong with Mashiro and Misaki seems fairly evident, but that they are both also clearly meant to be titillating is a real problem. Mashiro's total inability to take care of herself being fetishized bothers me, as do the parallels being set up between her and Sorata's cat Hikari. Misaki is likewise played off as “humorously sexy,” screaming sexual propositions out the window at Sorata with a lack of control that is less funny than it is annoying. As for Jin, Ryunousuke, and Chihiro, all three are so stereotypical that they fail to make an impression. Sorata does have two “normal” friends, Aoyama and Miyahara, but as of this episode they haven't done enough to merit more than a mention.

In its favor, this show does use a pleasantly pastel palate and makes attractive use of the floating sakura petals, and as an added bonus, all of the cats move like cats. The ending theme does some fun stuff with imagery and the song is quite catchy. As for the rest? I only wish I could be so positive.


My Little Monster episode 2

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Shizuku just can't get that kiss out of her head and it's making her do crazy things like eat way too much monja and try to avoid Haru. Of course the latter is impossible, especially when he's picking up stray roosters on the way to school. Things get shaken up when classmate Natsume asks Shizuku for help on her make up tests so that she doesn't have to take remedial classes. Shizuku, true to form, says no, but when Haru hears that a real life meet up of online friends is at stake, he volunteers to do it. Unfortunately he's a terrible teacher, so Shizuku has to step in.

This episode is pretty evenly divided between humor (an unexpected barfing scene, Nagoya the rooster) and more serious emotional content. Both Haru and Shizuku discuss their feelings, with Haru trying to explain why he so badly wants to go to Natsume's meet up and Shizuku reflecting, and thereby indirectly conversing with the viewer, about her personal isolation. It is here that the major difference between this and Say, "I Love You"., fall's other major shoujo offering, comes in – Mei in the latter show is ostracized, whereas Shizuku has voluntarily removed herself from social situations. To me that makes Shizuku's story more interesting, as it is about coming out of her self-imposed shell rather than a damsel in distress being rescued by Prince Charming.

My Little Monster is, however, still moving very quickly. Episode one brought us a kiss and a confession, and episode two, without giving too much away, elaborates on that theme. It seems as if any conflict will be social rather than romantic, as along with Natsume another classmate, Sasahara, puts in an appearance, bamboozling Shizuku with his apparent urge to talk to her. But there are also pitfalls to be navigated between Haru and Shizuku, particularly as his response to her question about liking her romantically is, “I'd do you,” which will doubtless add fuel to the fire episode one sparked. In any event, this episode is both funny and sweet in places, and while its rapid progression through typical shoujo plot elements may be cause for concern, it may also indicate that what we're going to get is not entirely what we are expecting.

My Little Monster is still streaming at Crunchyroll.



Teekyū

Rating: .5 (out of 5)

Review:

Wow. So much happened, and yet so little happened in two short minutes. Teekyū apparently follows a high school tennis club and this first short episode introduces us to Yuri (15) and Kanae (16). Yuri is good at tennis. Kanae is not. Yuri tries to teach Kanae how to play tennis, but Kanae doesn't know which is her dominant hand because apparently she only eats naan at home and so doesn't hold chopsticks, plus she gets tired really easily and is prone to silly stances. When she does manage to hit the ball, she whacks Yuri hard in the belly. I'm fairly certain that that's all that happened.

Sloppily and choppily drawn and animated, Teekyū tries very hard to be cute and funny, but just moves at too fast a pace. Maybe if you play tennis or are familiar with the source manga this will appeal to you, but others can safely leave it alone.

Wooser's Hand-to-Mouth Life

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

On the other hand, Wooser's Hand-to-Mouth Life is a delightful little treat. Wooser is a strange animal vaguely resembling a bunny, but that dot in the middle of his face is not his mouth. Rin is his companion human, although just what their relationship is is unclear. They have three brief adventures over the course of this 3 minute show, but because they are so simple, it doesn't feel rushed. In the first, Wooser is on display in a zoo, but everyone cares more about the pandas. In the second, Wooser, Rin, and some other girl are farming, and when Rin remarks that she would like to be able to talk to animals, Wooser responds that if he could, he would ask them why they're so tasty. Finally Wooser and Rin embark on a brief life of piracy, because anime pirates only believe in their own shows. It's short, it's silly, and the juxtaposition of the simple Sanrio-style art and Wooser's deep voiced (Mamoru Miyano) sarcasm make it work.


Hiiro no Kakera Dai Ni Sho Episode 2

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Talk about a difference! After a first season of not much and a first episode of even less, Hiiro no Kakera Dai-ni-Shō's second episode introduces something that has heretofore been lacking – plot. Although I suppose that “intrigue” would actually be the better word, as there always was a storyline, albeit one that was less than thrilling. This episode builds on the suspicion that many viewers have had from the get-go, that one of the guardians would turn traitor. But what if two of them do? That ups the stakes considerably, and coupled with the reasons behind it, we are suddenly forced to look at Granny and the whole Tamayori princess thing in a slightly different light.

Another excellent sign is that Tamaki and her gang don't get their butts kicked in a fight with Logos this episode, although that could simply be because there's no fight scene. But it looks like the show is going to use a bit more pacing and care in setting up this plot arc, not to mention a good helping of “mood weather” (it always rains when someone betrays you!), and that creepy sixth guardian will likely come to play a bigger role. Less promising is the scene at the end when Tamaki, with a beatific smile on her face, announces that she will trust in the betrayer, as he certainly has a noble motive. Sweetie, this is the kind of thinking that got you all into such trouble last season. Maybe spying on Granny and Mitsuru would be a better plan...?

Hiiro no Kakera still isn't great shakes, but at least now it has some potential. There's something ominous going on with the mythology behind Tamaki's position as the princess, and clearly a lot of adults know way more than they're sharing. If the show delves into this, it could redeem itself. Another way it could get better would be to cut out those creepy fanservice endings after the credits where one of the guys talks directly to the viewer, but that's a whole different issue. Suffice it to say that the show is finally moving forward and that the hopes that were dashed with each episode of the first season may have some resolution in this one.

Hiiro no Kakera's second season is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Say, “I Love You.”

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

Back in elementary school, Mei Tachibana got blamed for the death of the class rabbit. Now in high school, the other students have never let her forget it, and Mei is bullied and ostracized by those who knew her then. Students who didn't think of her as weird and cold, believing that she acts as she does because she doesn't like others rather than realizing that she has been made this way by the actions of her former classmates. One day she has a run in with horny goofball Nakanishi, who first knocks her down by mistake and then touches her skirt while she's walking upstairs. Mei retaliates for that last one, but she accidentally kicks Nakanishi's good looking and popular friend Yamato, the school heartthrob. Yamato becomes fascinated by Mei and tries to befriend her, but Mei is so scarred by her past treatment that she spurns him. However when she is being stalked by a customer from her part time job at a bakery and her mother isn't home, Yamato is the only one she can turn to. He comes and saves her by pretending that they are dating (and acting like it, if you know what I mean), thus forcing Mei out of her shell, at least for the end of the episode.

Shoujo like this is a dime a dozen, and having been a girl like Mei, I can certainly understand why. Being the victim of bullying is one of the worst feelings in the world, and many of us spend years before we learn to stand up for ourselves (or graduate high school) wishing that someone would rescue us. So far Say, “I Love You.”'s stand out feature is Mei herself, who feels more realistic than other anime heroines in similar situations. One nice feature is that she wears her school skirt longer than the other girls, something that inadvertently makes her stand out but probably is so as not to – if I cover up, no one will notice me. Of course she does get noticed by Prince Charming, and his fascination with her as soon as she kicks him hearkens back to another shoujo tale of the underdog, Boys Over Flowers. (Remember, Doumiyouji becomes interested in Tsukushi after she kicks him.)

Visually this is pretty basic as well. The characters are all leggy shoujo types, although Yamato has weirder hair than your typical hero, and the colors are muted. Movement's a little stiff and sometimes when the animation focuses on people's feet it looks like they are skipping rather than walking. Viewers may find Yamato's actions objectionable and Mei's reaction silly, but going into this knowing precisely what kind of show it is could alleviate that. If you enjoy this kind of story, then Say, “I Love You.” is a decent rendition of it. But if you've read it/seen it a million times before and are ready to move on, this one isn't new enough to revive your interest.


Ixion Saga DT

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

The latest show to pull a guy into an mmo, Ixion Saga DT begins with our reluctant hero Kon playing a game in his room. After a brightly colored dragon defeats him, a busty blond named Flora approaches and begins to chat him up. Preoccupied teen that he is, Kon wonders if maybe he's finally gotten lucky, particularly when Flora asks for his help “in the real world.” Kon jumps at the chance, and the next thing he knows, he and his desk chair are crash-landing on an armored bad guy named Variation, Dorothy style. It turns out that Kon has just unwittingly saved the 36th princess of St. Piria, Eclarte, and yes, he is no longer in Kansas. (Tokyo. Whatever, I'm writing a metaphor, dammit.) Since he did them a good turn, for which Variation's men are now trying to kill him, burly swordsman Steel Sanglain ropes his desk chair and pulls him away as the princess' group rides off on their horse-raptor. Kon's not entirely sure what's going on, even after he confers with the trio – number three is Mariandel, hilariously voiced by Jun Fukuyama – but since he's out of options, he sticks with them and demands they buy him shoes.

Ah, the shoes. They alone helped me to decide to give this a 3 rather than a 2.5. High heeled dragon boots with teeth on the soles, bulging eyes, and a nose horn, I'm fairly certain I last saw such footwear on a Monster High doll. Kon puts them to good use when the gang is attacked by Variation's boss Erec. Erec has a magic sword with which he lays low Sanglain and Mariandel in his attempts to lay hands on the princess, but Kon rams him in the crotch with his shoe horn. Apparently this is an instant path to knighthood in St. Piria, and Kon is now an official member of Eclarte's entourage.

I was really torn between giving this show a 3 and a 2.5, but ultimately went with the former because I think it has potential, if only as a send up of the fantasy genre. Kon's disparaging comments about the fantasy world he finds himself in, the over the top hair of the villains, and the sense that parodies of other “living” rpgs could easily come to pass give me hope that this will rise above the slightly muddled feel of this episode. It also has a character named “Jugglabark,” which for some reason I find very funny. In any event, should Ixion Saga DT decide to be full-blown fantasy spoof, rather than a not-quite-funny-enough story about a guy with funny shoes, it'll be a good time. If nothing else, those sick of Sword Art Online should give this a glance, or better yet watch it immediately after BTOOOM!. The humor will be all the better for seeing a similar serious show, and may prove to be the really selling point of this series.

Ixion Saga DT is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Code:Breaker

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

One night on the way home from school, aikido champ Sakura Sakurakoji sees a teenage boy burning a group of people to death with his magical blue flames. She demands that the bus driver let her off, grabs a policeman, and runs to the scene...only to find nothing there. This perplexes her to the point where she can't think of anything else all the next day, until a transfer student shows up. His name is Rei Ogami, and guess what? He's the guy she saw committing the murders. He's even got a mysterious glove on one hand, but when she confronts him – which the whole school thinks is her confessing her love to him – he says that the glove is simply a reminder and brushes her off. We'll notice, however, that he says nothing about the shiny ring he wears under it. Later at the park, where Sakura is feeding a deceased homeless man's dog, Rei makes some cryptic comments in response to her outrage that the dog's owner was murdered by a gang known as G-Falcon. Sakura doesn't know what to make of him...and is even more confused when he shows up as she and the dog are being attacked by the very same gang the next night. Rei's behavior is far from the sweet front he puts up at school, it turns out, and he may be working for a government organization comprised of other attractive young men. He also may be willing to turn his magical flame on Sakura herself...

Code:Breaker, only the second worst punctuated title this season, wastes very little time getting off the ground and does a good job pulling you in. Sakura's and Rei's interactions at school slow things down a bit, and some gross animal cruelty later in the episode brings it down for this bleeding heart, but overall this is one of the more exciting starts this season and, as an added bonus, it makes more sense than a few other action shows featuring pretty boys. (I'm looking at you, K.) For the most part it looks decent too, although there is definitely something off about the way the action sequences are animated, particularly Sakura's aikido matches in the school dojo. I can't quite put my finger on it, but nothing looks like it quite connects. The blue flames are vivid and a great contrast to the dark scenes in which they generally appear, and Sakura in general feels like one of the stronger female leads of the season. Nobuhiko Okamoto is a stand out voice, doing a good job shifting between “sweet and harmless” and “psycho killer,” and even combining the two somehow in a scene with the dog. Code:Breaker isn't perfect, what with the dragging in the middle, but it definitely bears keeping an eye on.


Little Busters!

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

A forest. A young man runs through, breathing hard, until he reaches the end. Taking a deep breath, he lets out a bellow: “Kyousuke's back!” Who is Kyousuke? Why do we care? Why was he taken and lifted somewhere from the – oops, that's The Lorax. Anyway, the mysterious Kyousuke is back and people are excited. As it turns out, he's the leader of a group of childhood friends as well as the eldest in the group, and he's been out job hunting for when he graduates next year. This depresses the rest of the gang, and Riki, the cute little guy, suggests that they go out and do something together like they used to as little kids. Kyousuke counters by stating that they will start a baseball team, despite the fact that no one is particularly enthused. He immediately sets his sister Rin, a crazy cat lady in the making, to recruiting girls, because, he says, it's never good to have too many guys. After some oh-so-awkward moments, she runs into the budding captain of the softball team, Sasami, and her henchmen. A beat down ensues, and the next day Riki follows a girl with a sweet tooth out on the roof. It's a safe bet that both of these girls will become Little Busters! themselves.

I have never played the game upon which Little Busters! is based, which may account for my underwhelmed reaction to this episode. None of the characters seem particularly interesting at this point – Masato is the dumb strong guy, Kengo is the stoic swordsman, the girls are all various kinds of cute, Kyousuke is the loose cannon, and Riki is...well, he's at this point a blank slate harem lead. It is entirely possible that these will change and develop, and I certainly hope that they do, but combined with what sounds like the background music from the game (please correct me if I'm wrong; that's just my impression given the quality and tunes), this feels more like watching someone play a visual novel than a show. Given the popularity of the source material, I do have hope that this show will improve, but as of right now, watching my husky sleep was slightly more interesting. (Mind you, she's awfully cute, but still...) There were moments that were quite funny – Rin gaining a title really tickled me – but for a non-fan of the game, well...I think I'd rather play it to see what the fuss is about than watch this adaptation.


JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Review:

Are you ready to shed manly tears and put some hair on your chest? Then JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, the latest anime incarnation of the manga of the same title, is here for you. Beginning with a horrific carriage wreck in 1868, a thug named Brando attempts to rob what he thinks is a corpse only to have the man awake. He is George Joestar and he mistakenly thinks that Brando is helping him, thus vowing to repay the debt. Move forward to 1880 and George and Brando both have twelve-year-old sons, Jonathan “JoJo” Joestar and Dio Brando. JoJo leads an idyllic life with his dog Danny (protip: don't get attached) while Dio lives in London's slums. But the death of his father sends Dio to live with the Joestars, where he promptly sets out to utterly destroy JoJo's life.

This is a melodrama in the vein of a cheap Victorian novel, where the villains are dastardly and the heroes put-upon and pure. JoJo is a good-hearted lad (not to mention the world's buffest twelve-year-old) who loves his dog, aspires to be a gentleman, and adores the beautiful (and pure) Erina Pendleton. Dio is vicious and cruel, filled with nefarious schemes and outright murderous plots to destroy JoJo so that he may inherit the Joestar name and fortune, a scheme that could have been lifted out of a novel serialized in any periodical of the mid 19th century. And that's what makes this so fun – with visuals that make use of the melodramatic elements of silver age American comics and a plot so fraught with overdone emotion, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure's first episode sets us up for an old-fashioned tale of revenge and romance (not to mention lots of blood) that it is easy to get hooked on. The overall package is so over the top that it just ends up adding to the fun of watching it. It's a shame that this hasn't been licensed, because from the preview – which takes us to 1887 – it looks like this is going to be hell of a ride.


Oniiai

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

Siblings Akito and Akiko haven't lived together in six years for reasons that have yet to be established. Akiko is naturally excited to see her brother again after so much time apart, so much so that she gets ready to go to the dorm where they'll both live two hours ahead of schedule. Akito is glad to see his sister again too, and seems to genuinely want to forge a sibling bond. Akiko, however, wants to bond with him in rather a different way – sexually.

The first half of this episode is really kind of funny in a twisted way. Akiko, who goes between smiling and pouting in all of her close ups, has convinced herself that she and Akito have a romantic relationship and misinterprets all of his statements accordingly – she thinks he offers her the bath first so that he can peek on her, for example, and when he doesn't, she goes charging into his room to demand that he do so immediately. Akito, for his part, is totally put off by his sister's actions and tells her no very bluntly, suiting actions to words. Over dinner he keeps deftly derailing her attempts to have a conversation about why bro-con is totally natural, and one has to kind of admire his relative maturity in dealing with the unwanted attention. Akiko is clearly deranged and he seems to be making the best of the situation.

The second half is much less promising, and unfortunately is likely where the series is going to spend most of its time. After the eyecatch we find that three more girls have moved into the dorm, all the requisite harem types: tough with sword and eye patch, refined, and loli. All three are on the student council with the siblings and all three have a crush on Akito. The show devolves into arguments about who gets to sit next to him at dinner and feed him with the only real highlight being that the other three keep pointing out to Akiko that she has a problem. Akito just seems to stand there and take it with a few feeble comments, making him somewhat less entertaining than when he was rebuffing his nutso sister. In other words, he goes from having some spine to being a blank slate harem lead.

There's nothing wrong with harem, and this show certainly looks pretty nice with minimal censoring even if it does have a strange fascination with the girls' slippers, but it was more enjoyable before the rest of the gang came in. As a comedy about a guy trying to get rid of his amorous sister it could have been creepily amusing, but just throwing that plot in with the usual harem hijinks makes it a bit stale.


OniAi is available streaming at Funimation.com


K

Rating: 2.5 (out of  5)

Review:

It is some time in the (near?) future – no flying cars or other obvious sci fi tropes, but smart phones have clearly gotten a lot smarter. As our story opens, a group of attractive thugs and a tiny girl in goth loli use the old pizza delivery trick to break into the apartment of some guys who speak English with various levels of proficiency. After the guys beat them up sufficiently for the show to qualify as “action,” the little girl looks at them through a marble and makes a pronouncement. A group of escapees from the army in FMA declare themselves opposed to the thugs. Cue opening theme. Now we're at a high class school on its own island watching a white-haired boy nicknamed, appropriately enough, Shiro mooch lunch off of his classmates. Shiro has a loose way of moving that indicates that he is wacky; also he carries an enormous red umbrella everywhere. After filling up his previously rice-only bento, Shiro and his blank-eyed cat, who may or may not be the naked girl no one seemed to notice swanning around, eat lunch on the roof. So where are the thugs? Don't worry, one of them spots Shiro on his magic phone and summons the rest of the gang to chase him, at which point the leader of the FMA army deserters, aptly named Kuroh to contrast with Shiro, shows up.

On the surface, this seems relatively basic – we've certainly seen shows equally as frenetic or dealing with similar situations. In this case both of those are detractions – Shiro as the joker of his prestigious and ludicrously wealthy school, mysterious opposing organizations filled with bishounen of every possible type, mad chases...it's like the bastard child of DRRR!! and UtaPri with a little No. 6 thrown in for good measure. Speaking of that last one, there's even a hint that there might be a BL component to the show, although I may be making too much of a single moment towards the end. In any event, there's not a whole lot that feels especially new or that is done in such a way as to make it feel fresh. Fortunately it looks very good. The fluidity with which everyone and everything moves is a pleasure to watch, and one scene of a skateboarder chasing the unfortunate Shiro is very nearly breathtaking, right down to the sounds of the wheels and the slight creak of the board. (That same character gets a bat manipulating scene that's also extremely nice.) The one issue I had with the visuals is an overabundance of bloom, which makes the images so bright as to be almost hazy at times.

K could very well suffer from too many characters later on, and the first episode seems to indicate that that will be a real danger. I wasn't instantly hooked, but with some more explanation and perhaps a bit of world building, this show could pull itself together.

K is available streaming on VizAnime.


BTOOOM!

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Ryouta Sakamoto is a twenty-two-year-old living with his mother and lacking a job. His mother frets about this, but Ryouta is holding out for a job with the company that makes his favored form of escape, the mmorpg BTOOOM. Ryouta spends his days playing the game, which is a combat scenario using bombs instead of guns, and currently heads up the number ten team in the world. He's so involved that he's even gotten married in the game – it's safe to say that BTOOOM is his life, at least in a figurative sense. And then one day it all changes. A trip to the convenience store after yet another fight with his put-upon and tremulous mother results in his transportation to what appears to be a tropical island. He has everything he left the store with, plus one bonus: a fanny pack filled with bombs. All too soon he realizes that he has somehow been brought into a real-life version of his favorite game, and it's a kill or be killed kind of world.

Apart from giving me an excuse to use the word onomatopoeia in this review, which I personally think is one of the most entertaining words in the English language, BTOOOM seems to have potential. Ryouta realizing the difference between playing at war and actual warfare could really go places, and the fact that he doesn't appear to be literally trapped in the game makes this more than a sci fi SAO. As far as accessibility goes, the fact that “Btooom!” easily translates into English as onomatopoeia for a bomb exploding certainly goes a long way in terms of grounding us in the core concept of the game. The character designs look pleasantly different and the forest/jungle scenes, complete with large bugs, are nicely done. Animation, while no masterpiece, more than gets the job done. A chief visual complaint for me is that much of the episode takes place after dark, making the details a bit harder to see.

Right now BTOOOM's biggest issue is that this first episode feels too ambitious. There's a lot going on, and while it isn't confusing per se, it does feel a bit rushed, as if a double-length episode would have worked better and been less choppy.  Personally I was put off by the fact that we have seen the female lead's breasts, both bare and clothed, roughly twenty times before she has ever opened her mouth, which makes me a bit leery. Your issues with this will naturally vary, but it is worth mentioning for those sensitive to objectification. At this point the potential for psychological exploration and the mystery of both Ryouta and how he got to the island are enough to make this worth a couple more episodes. It isn't an immediate hook, but it is certainly interesting. 

BTOOOM is available streaming on Crunchyroll and will later be available on The Anime Network.


Blast of Tempest

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

Let's just get this out there – I teach writing and literature. I have a fondness for Shakespeare, Good Night, Desdemona (Good Morning, Juliet) is one of my favorite plays, and in college I once wrote a Macbeth/Star Wars mash-up play, “The Lamentable Tragedy of Macbethwalker.” So I really, really want to like this show. It's got Hamlet working with Prospero, after all – what could be better?

Blast of Tempest is, despite it's erudite quotations and references, a tad bit confusing. We begin at some point in the undefined past of protagonist Yoshino Takigawa. His friend Mahiro Fuwa rides by with his sister Aika on the back of his bike, telling Yoshino that he's taking Aika home. Aika is markedly cold to Yoshino, explaining that she thinks he can be very two-faced. Cut to a quotation from Hamlet referencing Hamlet's need to bring down his father's killer, and then there's a girl in a barrel washing up on a deserted island. A powerful mage, she is a not-so-subtle allusion to The Tempest's Prospero, banished by someone named Samon who doesn't want her interfering with his plans. Then it's back to Yoshino at school. Mahiro, we learn has been missing for a month and no one knows where he's gotten to. Aika is dead and Yoshino is living a kind of empty existence. Visiting Aika's grave, he runs into a mysterious woman named Evangeline (a Longfellow reference?), who demands to know where Mahiro is before trying to kill Yoshino. Add in a mysterious disease/magic that turns people into metal statues and a powerful mage bent on revenge and you've got an awful lot going on here. It isn't utterly confusing, but it also isn't easy viewing and if your brain's not turned on, you'll miss a lot.

Luckily Blast of Tempest looks pretty nice, with blue flashes of magic, hordes of butterflies, and nicely flowing hair. The orchestral music whenever magic is present gives everything an appropriately grand feel, and if the story moves too quickly, it is at least good to look at. The Shakespeare angle is pretty unique, Romeo+Juliet notwithstanding, and trying to decide whether Yoshino is a Horatio or a Caliban is intriguing. Basically what this boils down to is a somewhat crowded, slightly messy first episode that could be going interesting places once it establishes its base. It has mystery, Shakespeare, and pretty butterflies – a couple more episodes will tell if it will use them to its advantage.

Blast of Tempest is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Kamisama Hajimemashita

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

Nanami Momozono is not having a good year. Her father, the sole parent she has, is a gambling addict. He's racked up quite a bit of debt, so his solution is to run away, saddling his seventeen-year-old daughter with his debts. When those come due, Nanami looses her (crumbling) apartment. Thrown upon her own resources, Nanami heads for a park, where she rescues a bespectacled man named Mikage from a puppy. He tells her that he, too, is far from home, although in his case it's by choice, and by the way, would she like to go occupy his house in return for saving him? Nanami can't quite believe it, nor can she figure out why he kissed her on the forehead, but she nonetheless heads for Mikage's home. Imagine her surprise when she is greeted as the new land god (tochigami) at the run-down shrine that turns out to be his house. Mikage, it turns out, was a land god who transferred his powers to Nanami with that kiss, and now the shrine is, in fact hers...as are the two guardian spirits. The third occupant is Tomoe, a tetchy fox spirit who is less than thrilled by his new mistress and takes it upon himself to leave. The spirits tell Nanami that she can have him back as her shinshi...if she kisses him on the lips.

Those familiar with Julietta Suzuki's manga of the same name, although it goes by Kamisama Kiss in the English edition, will find a faithful adaptation. Suzuki's art translates well into anime, and Tomoe, fangirls will be pleased to note, retains his unbearable elegance, something which his voice only adds to. Some of Suzuki's gag images come across as much sillier than they do on paper, which gives the anime a much goofier feel than the manga, but the overall sensibility is the same. Supernatural elements, such as fox fire and clouds in the other world, are stylized, contrasting interestingly with the rest of the artwork, and overall manga fans shouldn't be disappointed. Animation isn't as fluid as some of this season's other offerings, however, with a lot of still shots and a decent amount of speech bubbles standing in for dialog in the very beginning.

In all honesty, I enjoyed this rather more than a “3” rating would suggest, but when looked at objectively, that's really about all it merits. I'm still holding out hope that Funimation will decide to “simulcast” this in their own peculiar way, though – as a die-hard fan of the manga, I'm looking forward to seeing how this progresses.


Hayate the Combat Butler: Can't Take My Eyes Off You

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

It's been a while, but Hayate Ayasaki, put-upon butler to spoiled little rich girl Nagi Sanzenin, is back with more wackiness and some new art. The first major difference longtime Hayate fans will notice is a distinct lack of Norio Wakamoto – Hayate takes over the job of narration, and while he does a fine job, and the juxtaposition between his words and actions is quite amusing, he's just no match for the gleefully evil sound of Wakamoto's narrator. As you might guess, this is definitely an indicator of some major changes in the Hayate formula.

The episode begins with Nagi baking in the Nevada sun in a wrecked car. After some run-ins with the local flora, she quietly laments that Hayate is no longer her butler. Cut back to the Sanzenin mansion, which is significantly more detailed in this incarnation. Hayate and Nagi are up to their old tricks, with Nagi frittering her days (and nights) away, Hayate trying to stop her, and Maria quietly watching over all. On this particular morning, a phone call from Nevada comes in telling Nagi that the police may have found her late father's possessions, and they need her to come from Japan to identify them. Maria and Hayate are against it, but Nagi, amped up by a TV special about Area 51, is ready to go. When her servants don't agree with her, she storms out in a huff, leading the way for more of Hayate's amazing bike skills in what is arguably the best part of the episode. Two new characters are also introduced, an idol singer with a thing for fairy tale symbolism (can you spot the references to Sleeping Beauty, The Juniper Tree, and Snow White?) and a purple haired girl with creepy eyes and a surprising identity. Just what role they will play is uncertain, but it looks like there may be a more serious storyline hidden in here somewhere.

Visually there are some big changes as well. Characters are thinner and sharper, Maria's headdress has shrunk, and Hayate appears to have learned how to mousse his hair. The major difference here is that Nagi looks rather older than she has previously, and while all of this will take some getting used to, it generally looks very nice, particularly the ending theme, performed by a lip-syncing idol singer partly in the buff. All in all this newest addition to the Hayate the Combat Butler stable is not quite as funny as its predecessors and lacks some of the randomness that made the other seasons such fun, but it does have potential.

I still miss that narrator, though.

Hayate the Combat Butler's newest season is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


From the New World

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Review:

It has been one thousand years. The humans of Japan now live in a pastoral land that is an odd melange of the Nara period (that's the one before the Heian era) and contemporary society. Students attend elementary school until they are visited by the “blessing spirit,” some sort of spiritual/psychic awakening. At this point they join the unified class, or upper school. Saki is the last of her group of friends from Harmony Elementary to receive this blessing, and clearly it has caused her some angst. She's thrilled when she is taken to the temple to be initiated, only to find that the powers she has might not be the powers she gets to keep. The ruling theocracy believes (or appears to) that one must give up all worldly desires in order to move towards adulthood. Between this, some cryptic comments overheard from her parents, and a supernatural siting of what the children call “The Trickster Cat,” but the adults tellingly call “The Impure Cat,” the stage is set for an ominous tale.

Artistically this is so far the strongest of the season, which given that we are three shows in may or may not be high praise. The opening sequence fades in and out of focus, a neat trick that gave me a headache, but I can appreciate what it was going for. It is followed by a scene of children playing around a rice paddy shown only in black silhouettes against a lavender sunset, an effective technique for relaying “creepy.” A folktale is shown in light silhouettes against a white background with sketchy details, which is visually very interesting. Add to this the clothing of the period, another combination of Nara and contemporary, and the place settings that fall somewhere between high fantasy and light science fiction and you've got a show that looks fairly unique. The only odd note is the characters' eyes, which just have something off about them, though I can't quite put my finger on what it is.

Though much of this first episode is world-building, it still grabs onto your interest and doesn't let go. Parts are slow and talky, yes, but overall this tale of a dystopia disguised as a utopia that has a lot of promise and should go in some interesting directions.

From the New World is available streaming on Crunchyroll.



My Little Monster

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

Shizuku is a bookworm who has no friends, few attachments, and a profound need to reclaim her number one spot on the test score board. Haru is a kid who got suspended on the first day of school for beating up some upperclassmen. Even though his suspension is over, Haru hasn't returned, much to the consternation of his homeroom teacher, Saeko, so she bribes Shizuku to go and talk to him. At first Haru is clearly reluctant to have anything to do with Shizuku, but when he realizes that she has come to bring him handouts rather than force him back to school, he declares them friends and develops a puppyish devotion to her. Plus there appears to be a chicken involved. And so their wacky relationship begins.

This is actually a pretty funny show. Haru's mad mood swings and the fact that Shizuku keeps getting yanked off screen keep things moving quickly, and when Saeko give Haru a romance novel to learn how to “take care of” girls (as opposed to grabbing and pulling when he wants Shizuku's attention), you can just imagine what happens. (G-rated, though. Not that kind of romance novel!) The major problem is that things just move too fast for an introductory episode. Haru goes from hating Shizuku to declaring his love for her by the fourteen minute mark, the sort of progress that most shoujo stories take volumes (or at least half a season) to make. While this could mean good things in terms of the show not following a stereotypical shoujo romance or school story pattern, it is still an awful lot to throw at you all at once.

The art is pretty basic contemporary shoujo, with Shizuku for some reason making me think of Gauken Alice's Mikan. Maybe it's the pigtails? One pleasant surprise is the level of attention paid to some of the small details – Shizuku's pencils all have different novelty erasers, for example, and the moment Haru decides that he and Shizuku are friends, he uses no honorifics. The opening theme is a psychedelic rainbow of colors and patterns, and I suspect that if you pay attention or have your mouse on the pause button, there is a lot to see.

Right now this feels like Beast Master on fast forward, the story of a girl with her pet boy who is regarded by others as something of a wild animal. It has a lot of potential, make no mistake, but it's going to have to slow down a bit so that we can really get a handle on it.  

My Little Monster is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Hiiro no Kakera Dai-ni-Shō

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Sooo...a clip show? That's how you're going to start your second season, Hiiro no Kakera? Really? Well, okay, I guess I can work with that. After all, it has been a while since season one, and most people probably didn't just finish it because they were laid up after an operation, and, let's face it, season one wasn't really a hotbed of action.

In any event, we are welcomed back to the autumnal world of this otome game-based title by Tamaki awaking on a beautiful fall morning. She and O-chan the fox wander around the house, note that the guys are no longer bunking there, and head off to school certain that the world has returned to normal. As it turns out, it has returned to reverse harem normal, where four hot guys wait for you just off your front patio. Sauntering through the pastoral splendor that is their home, the group meets one of the puffy fuzzball spirits from season one, which reminds Tamaki of how she met everyone and it all started. Eleven minutes and an eyecatch later, she remembers more stuff, mostly about Takuma and his little oni problem. The last four minutes of the show reintroduce us to Aria and Logos, hint that all is not as well as it seems, and have Takuma confirm that in actions. Cue ending theme.

Honestly it is difficult to evaluate where this new season stands in relation to its predecessor simply because there is not enough new material. There are new theme songs, both inferior to last season's “Ne,” and it is clear that Stuff is going to Happen, but, well, it hasn't yet. Presumably next week's second episode will let us know if this is going to be more of the same or if things are going to change. The preview does seem relatively promising, so maybe Hiiro no Kakera Dai-ni-Shō can kick things up a notch. We'll see.

Hiiro no Kakera Dai-ni-Shō is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


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