Theron Martin

Oct 1st 2012

Theron looks forward to autumn each year for the Pumpkin Pie-flavored Blizzards at Dairy Queen, the Deep Dish Apple Pie-flavored ice cream as his favorite ice cream place, the eventual death/hibernation of the cricket population, and immersing himself in fantasy (American) football nearly as completely as he does into anime. In what little truly free time he has, he contemplates the great mathematical mysteries of the world, such as why three-sided shapes are called “triangles” instead of “trigons.”


Aikatsu!

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Short on your quota of sugary-sweet fluff for the season? Then this one's probably for you.

First-year middle school student Ichigo Hoshimiya helps out in her mother's bento shop and loves working with her mother, but otherwise she has no real goals or ambitions in life. One possibility is presented to her when she discovers that her younger brother Raichi is a big fan of the idol Mizuki Kanzaki and, through her idol-expert friend Aoi, helps get him tickets to Mizuki's next performance. Aoi and Ichigo go, too, and the performance makes quite an impression on Ichigo. When Aoi declares that she's decided to try out for Starlight Academy, an exclusive school for budding idols, Ichigo gets cajoled into coming along, too. Though Ichigo is not entirely sure of herself, Aoi insists that she has the “smell of an idol” and she does, indeed, prove quite adept at using the Aikatsu! Card system (which all idols use) to her advantage to make quite a performance impression during her audition.

As one might expect from the description, this anime is essentially a complement to a like-named card game aimed at teen and preteen girls, one which is being released in Japan simultaneously with the series. The card game involves assembling matching parts of an idol's outfit to equip a prospect sufficiently to pass an audition to become an idol, and the anime doesn't even try to disguise the fact that its structure is built around that mechanic; in the series, an idol who equips her Aikatsu! Cards goes through a quasi-magical change to turn from a regular anime character to a CG-animated idol performer, a visual contrast that can be jarring but which seems to be done a lot with fare like this. The two idol performances are, naturally, the highlights of a very basic and formulaic plot; veteran anime fans have seen a set-up like this many times before, and even the hints dropped about future developments (naturally, there will be rivals at Starlight Academy and Ichigo and Aoi will have to struggle to remain friends) are very ordinary and expected developments. But hey, this one is hardly aspiring to be anything fresh, deep, or sophisticated. It knows exactly what audience it's playing to and sticks resolutely to the elements its creators think will most appeal to that audience. Picking up otaku fans along the way is just gravy for them.


Blast of Tempest episode 2

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
As Yoshino accompanies Mahiro through the Black Iron Syndrome-ravaged city, he remains unconvinced that Mahiro genuinely has any motivations to the save the world and is instead only dedicated to avenging his sister. He also learns how Mahiro uses Hakaze's magic: through various talismans she earlier created and secreted away, some of which Mahiro gives to him and explains to him how to use. When Mahiro returns to the scene of the crime so that Hakaze can remotely use her magic to track down Aika's killer, Yoshino parts ways with him and runs into Fraulein Yamamoto once again. In the wake of a hairy battle they come to an eventual understanding, while Mahiro, in proceeding forward on the path of the killer, runs across one of Samon's henchmen for his first true fights against a Mage – a prospect that he relishes.

The second episode makes clear one important fact that the first episode intimated: that the girlfriend that Yoshino was referring to was actually Aika and that they were, indeed, actually secretly dating at the time of her death. This puts the reactions of Mahiro and Yoshino to her death into stark contrast; while Mahiro sets down a track of vengeance, Yoshino has a calmer and fatalistic attitude even though he is clearly still bothered by it. (One doesn't continue to look at year-old tests if one doesn't still pine for the girl.) Watching that dynamic play out, and seeing how long Yoshino will let things go before telling Mahiro the truth, offers an interesting complementary story to the main action concerning what Samon and his crew are up to. Hakaze also figures nicely into the character dynamics so far with a somewhat atypical persona for her kind of role, and even Yamamoto doesn't feel like just another stooge. The overall tone of the series works quite nicely so far, and the Shakespearean touch is used effectively, though the very dramatic soundtrack lays things on a little thick. Strong artistic and technical merits also support a limited but effective selection of action scenes.

If the first episode appealed to you then the second should do nothing to dissuade you from continuing to watch the series. Though not spectacular, it proves the series to be solid enough that it might even win a few converts.

Blast of Tempest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Psycho-Pass

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
In the future, technology capable of instantly determining one's psychological state has been developed, allowing officers to hunt people with a certain level of criminal inclination (as determined by a Psycho-Pass scan) from a centralized AI), thus theoretically preventing most crimes. The problem comes, though, when registering a level of criminal intent high enough to force a person to go to counseling instead provokes a person to go ahead and commit the crime that they were just thinking about. Such is the situation facing the fresh-from-the-Academy Akane Tsunemori on her first case as a CID officer: an individual with high criminal intent who kidnapped a woman once identified. To help in such matters, the CID employs individuals who have a high criminal intent rating as hunters, albeit under a tight leash. As the situation gets messy, Akane quickly finds herself in over her head.

The intent here is clear: to make a gritty, graphic sci fi actioner in the spirit of a Blade Runner or Mardock Scramble. And my, do they nail the graphic component! This one is not for the faint of heart visually, and the high-caliber visuals make sure that we get it in plenty of detail. (The tech specifications on the guns that the hunters and CID agents use are quite visually impressive, too.) The premise actually makes this series more interesting for the very edgy moral issues it raises, however; in fact, it will be one of the most ambitious series in recent years on that front if it does, indeed, explores the consequences of the premise. And it does seem inclined to do that, as the first episode raises the issue of where the line is between intent and action, and whether or not it's just to prosecute based just on intent for actions that haven't happened yet, especially when the level of danger a person poses can be in flux in a given situation and simply talking a person down can reduce a threat level. Having an option like that is good, because the characters so far are not that particularly interesting.

For now, this one is getting a slightly higher grade due to the thematic potential it shows. There's still plenty enough cool factor to justify watching it based just on its existing merits, though.

Psycho-Pass is currently streaming at Funimation's video site.


Girls und Panzer

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
“Guys and tanks seem kinda mismatched to me.”

This line of actual dialogue from the first episode is the acid test for this series. If the meaning implicit in this line repels you then this is not a series for you. If, however, it intrigues you enough to find out more, then you may well enjoy this absurd but surprisingly endearing exploration into the world of Tankery.

In an alternate world where Tankery is promoted as the ultimate elective for producing polite, graceful, reliable, and appealing young women (yes, this really is the pitch line used in a promotional video shown at one point), Miho Nishizumi has specifically transferred to the one high school which doesn't have such an elective because she wants to get as far away from it as possible; although she comes from a family with a long tradition of Tankery, some bad experiences she had with it in the past have driven her away from it. Thus she is horrified when the pushy Student Council President announces that the school is going to resume its mothballed Tankery program and wants Miho specifically to be part of it. Though new and dear friends Hana and Saori have her back and fiercely stand up for her, Miho knows that they, too, are interested in Tankery. Ultimately she decides that supporting her friends is more important to her than running from the demons of her past.

Regardless of what one might think about the jaw-droppingly ridiculous premise of the series, one thing cannot be denied: better friends than Hana and Saori simply won't be found in anime (or most anywhere else, for that matter). The relationship they quickly form with Miho goes a long way towards making the first episode not only tolerable but also a little endearing, too. Beyond that, the premise pretty much comes down to a silly excuse to insert cute girls into tanks – but my, is the premise good-looking in execution! An opening animation sequence done partly through first-person perspective is quite impressive as it showcase the basic tanks + girls concept, but the animation elsewhere is well above the norm, too. Only the very stereotypical mix of character designs hampers what is otherwise a praiseworthy visual effort.

The episode ends with an eye-popping revelation about the nature of the setting but no indication of what that might mean. Whatever the case may prove to be, this is so far proving to be a cute entry which panders to otaku without feeling slimy about how it does it.
Girls und Panzer is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


From the New World episode 2

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Time passes at Saki's new school, and the fact that one of her classmates has mysteriously disappeared seems to be forgotten with surprising ease. A new challenge awaits she and her group: a game involving pushing a large marble across a miniature golf-like course, one which her team excels at well enough to make the finals, where an “accident” leaves them in a mere tie for the title. The boy responsible for the accident soon also winds up missing, though, and no one seems to miss him or care. While the group contemplates their next challenge – essentially a camping outing that all students must complete – they come across Monster Rats, subhuman creatures used primarily in construction work who regard Power users (implied to be all adults) gods. Saki uses her Power to help them out of a fix, even though unauthorized power use is forbidden and her father had previously warned her about having anything to do with them, as they might not respect children who don't have true Power.

Take this episode at face value and it appears to be a tame – even tepid – follow-up to the more dramatic first episode, one which throws hints of mystery into an otherwise mundane story about a group of telekinetically-empowered students facing various challenges as the series uses their studies to explore the setting further. Look beneath the surface, however, and the sinister activities suggested by the first episode are still lurking around. The tale told early in the episode about the boy who became a Karmic Demon is the kind of morality story obviously meant to manipulate people and underperforming and problem students are getting ruthlessly weeded out without anyone noticing or caring. One of the episode's creepiest shots is also an easy one to miss, as it flashes by quickly and receives no auditory highlight: the outline of a large, catlike creature passing by the door of a troublemaking student's house. (One of the Trickster Cats referred to in the first episode, perhaps?) The opening scene, set a mere 500 years into the future, indicates a heartless rulership by the most powerful of the Powered, which has disturbing implications for what these children are being trained for, too.

So yes, the sense that we're merely watching the foundations of what could ultimately turn out to be a horror story is still there, and that's enough to keep this one intriguing despite a relative dearth of dramatic events.
From the New World is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Sakurasō no Pet na Kanojo

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review: The title alone will probably be a turn-off for some, but the content of the first episode is actually no more degrading than a typically salacious haremesque series. If those are normally within your tolerance range then this one probably won't bother you – at least so far, anyway.

In the story, Sakurasou is the name of the dormitory where second year high school student Sorata Kanda stays in order to attend school. (The story implies that he chose to remain behind at his school when his parents moved.) Sakurasou has a well-earned reputation as a “loony bin” due to the various colorful artistic-types that live there, among them a busty early 30s art teacher seeking a husband; a flaky, hyper, and seemingly very horny female anime creator; a teenage playboy who works with the anime creator; and an eccentric software genius who is never seen and only communicates through an AI maid program. Sorata's posted goal is to find a way to move into a less crazy dorm, but he can't do that until he finds homes for the abandoned cats he has taken in, as Sakurasou is the only one that allows pets. Fortunately he has a very normal and grounded friend in aspiring voice actress Nanami, who doubtless also secretly has the hots for him. His life gets more complicated when the art teacher, who basically seems to double as a dorm mother, drops the job of picking up her niece at the train station – and, later, looking after her, too – on him. The niece, one Mashiro Shiina, turns out to be a very pretty but also very strange girl who has top-rate talent as a manga artist but no apparent sense of modesty or how to look after herself, and that quickly makes her a handful for Sorata.

The artistic and technical merits here are nothing special, although the pale, almost washed-out color scheme makes everything look lighter and brighter than it probably should. The characters and concept are also nothing special; Sorata is even willing to acknowledge that it may be he that is boring rather than his life, as all he really does is be the put-upon person who reacts in shock to the outlandish behavior of others. Mashiro is vaguely interesting in the sense of wondering what her defect is (she would probably fall under some Special Education classification were she a student in the U.S., as no one without such a problem could be that incompetent at looking after herself), until one realizes that she is just the obligatory otaku bait here and the series will likely be about Sorata being stuck looking after her like another pet while Nanami (who could easily be a sister to Heaven's Lost Property’s Sohara, or is this just the standard look these days for the “childhood friend looking on from the sidelines”  character?) secretly pines for him and the anime creator more aggressively tries to jump his bones. The first episode does manage a little legitimate humor, as the anime creator's inability to match her animation to proper dialogue is worth a chuckle and the behavior of the cats is sometimes amusing, and the content does include a bit of fan service and racy dialogue. Overall, though, this is a humdrum start to a series which isn't bad as haremesque series go but doesn't offer much promise of being good, either.


Ixion Saga DT

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
People getting spirited away into fantasy settings have been a staple of fantasy media for decades, and anime is certainly rife with such fare. All too often these endeavors take themselves quite seriously (see The Twelve Kingdoms or Visions of Escaflowne, for instance), so that particular subgenre of fantasy is quite ripe for absurdist parody. That is exactly what Ixion Saga DT (the “DT” stands for “Dimensional Transfer”) appears to be, and if taken that way then the first episode is riotous fun to watch.

Kon Hozake is your typical horny teenage game geek, one who is struggling to get by a particular dragon-like critter in some random fantasy RPG when a sexy character sidles up to him and requests his “real world” help in exchange for “something important to me.” Kon, full of fantasies of finally getting a girlfriend, naturally agrees, and the next thing he knows he's plummeting into the midst of an attempt by soldiers to surround and capture/kill a very young princess on her way to complete a political marriage that will bind together her kingdom and another's. Since Kon's untimely arrival took out the enemy commander, he ends up tagging along with the princess, her transvestite (transgender?) maid, and a hulking swordsman as they try to sort out Kon's situation and get safely to the princess's intended destination. Of course the dashing leader of the forces attempting to stop the princess decides to intervene personally to use his devastating attack, but Kon's experience with his games has taught him how to deal with a blowhard (even an elegant one!) like Erecpyle Dukakis – or, as Kon amusingly observes, ED for short.

Nearly everything about the series – from the sputter-worthy naming conventions to weird mix of technology to the bizarre boots that Kon gets – is completely ridiculous, and that is doubtless the way things were intended to come across. While the artistic and technical merits are nothing special, the jaunty musical score does a great job of setting the desired tone and the pacing of the story never allows jokes to outplay their welcome. The personalities displayed so far are fun, too, even down to the dashing bishonen enemies.

Ixion Saga DT
won't win any quality awards, but it does what it's trying to do plenty well enough.

Ixion Saga DT is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Rating:
3 (of 5)

Review:
I have never seen more than a tiny bit of the original anime version of this franchise, so this preview is being judged entirely on stand-alone merits.

In the mid-1800s a disreputable man comes across a carriage crash that has claimed the life of a woman and (apparently) her husband but not the couple's infant son. When an attempted robbery instead gets mistaken as an attempt to save them by the not-yet-dead man, it sets in motion events which, twelve years later, sends Dio, the son of the would-be robber, to live at the Joestar estate on his father's death. There he meets Jojo, the earnest and friendly but ill-mannered Joestar heir (i.e., the baby from the carriage accident) and quickly decides that he will wreck Jojo in the name of taking his place as the heir. This he proceeds to do with great diligence, even interfering with Jojo's budding romance with the lovely Erina. His confidence at successes in messing with Jojo and in earlier fights leads him to dangerously underestimate the full extent of Jojo's fighting ability, however. Meanwhile, a mysterious ancient mask seems capable of animating when exposed to blood.

The first episode has the look and feel of a prologue to the actual story, but it does set the particulars down quite clearly: Jojo is a noble-at-heart fellow who can be a ferocious fighter, Dio is a fierce rival, and there's something strange going on with that mask which will doubtlessly figure into the plot in a major way. It also strongly suggests that hyperactive drama will be a main feature of the franchise and, thus, that the series isn't meant to be taken too seriously. So far the story hasn't done much to distinguish itself and the animation is nothing special, but its art style, complete with the exaggerated, comic book-like action shots, certainly stands out and the content has a pronounced cruel streak. It also, interestingly, uses the song “Roundabout” by Yes as the closing theme. As anime period pieces go, this is definitely not a conventional-looking one, but it could be a fun one once it gets past the point where it's not mostly about Dio being mean to Jojo.

Code:Breaker

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
One night while riding the bus, model student and aikido expert Sakura Sakrakouji spots a young man who seems to be burning several people to death in a park, though no evidence remains at the scene of the crime. The next day that same boy (or at least she thinks so) transfers into her high school class. Immediately rumors fly that the idolized Sakura has a thing for newcomer Rei Ogami, especially after her attempt to confront him about it is mistaken for him turning down a love confession from Sakura. Though Rei eventually manages to convince Sakura that he's a nice guy despite some implications about vigilantism, the truth comes out when Sakura unwittingly finds herself in a bad spot against a notorious gang while investigating a homeless man's cry for help. Now the only question is whether or not Rei is going to eliminate her, too, when he shows up on the scene to “take out the trash.”

Perhaps the most surprising thing about this decently-looking new super-powered agent series is that it can actually be rather funny when not being borderline melodramatic. Sakura's interactions with the dog in particular are rather amusing (although that shouldn't be taken to mean that the episode is friendly to dog owners; quite the opposite, in fact), as are the predictable misunderstandings about the school's idol interacting with the new guy. The episode also ends on one hell of a cliffhanger – and that's despite the fact that the Next Episode preview isn't fooling anyone about the likely fate of one certain character. Beyond that, though, things break down. While it's commendable that Sakura is shown as being quite physically capable her martial arts skills are more than balanced out by her utter lack of common sense, and the rest of the main cast looks like a standard collection of pretty boys playing out a very generic concept and plot.

Code:Breaker
executes its first episode well enough to be entertaining, but it will have to do more than we see here to set the anime world on fire.


Say, “I Love You”

Rating:
5 (of 5)

Review:
The concept here has been done many times before in adaptations of shoujo manga; in fact, the basic premise is essentially the same as that of this season's My Little Monster, with the main difference being that the lead guy is the more typical “girl magnet” hero.

Never that I have seen has it started as well as it does here, though, and that is why this one gets a top rating.

This time around, Mei Tachibana is the high school girl who has muddled through her first 16 years without ever establishing a satisfying friendship; the few shallow associations she's had while growing up have typically ended in betrayal. That gives her an aloof, distant vibe in school, making her the kind of student who hardly ever speaks and whose body languages suggests that she is just trudging through life awithout really experiencing it. But that's also what catches the eye of the tall, rakishly handsome Yamato Kurosawa, a cheerful fellow who constantly gets the attention of all of the girls but sees nothing special about any of them. His interest is only heightened when she kicks him on accident for something that his friend actually did, and when she turns down his offer to exchange phone numbers, he gives her his anyway. That turns out to be quite beneficial for Mei when a regular customer at the bakery where she works seems to be stalking her and she has no one else to turn to, but it also leads to the moment which may change her life forever.

The production effort turned in by Studio ZEXCS makes this one of the best-looking and satisfying-sounding shoujo anime series, with an array of nice background art, beautiful shoujo-styled character rendering, interesting shot selections, and just the lightest and finest of touches in its sparsely-used musical score. The first episode has so much more going for it than just that, though. These are wholly believable central characters free of the stupid gimmicks that all-too-often weigh down content like this and their behaviors feel natural rather than something contrived to establish a wish fulfillment story. And make no mistake: this is, to some degree, such a story, but is it at all unrealistic that a popular guy who constantly has vapid female attention thrown at him might find the distant girl (who still has a pretty face, mind you) a more interesting challenge? Even when it comes to typically trite elements, such as Yamato having to come to Mei's rescue or taking the initiative in their budding relationship, the level of execution in all aspects carries the day. Rather than rolling one's eyes at these scenes yet again, viewers will want to see them happen, and they will be rewarded.

Although originality is what commonly draws attention to a series, quality execution is what keeps it there, and it can win out even with retread concepts like this one. The combination of quality writing, artistry, sound, and story execution seen here will make this first episode hard to beat as the best series start of the new season.


Little Busters!

Rating:
3.5 (of 5)

Review: Many years ago, in the wake of losing his parents, Riki Naoe fell in with a group of friends – ringleader (and eldest) Kyosuke, Kyosuke's younger sister Rin, fist-fighting idiot Masato, and kendo expert Kengo – who helped him cope with his loss by going on crazy justice-seeking adventures. As eventual graduation from high school looms for Kyosuke, Riki proposes doing some grand adventure again together, which Kyosuke turns into the idea for forming a baseball team, one that will be named “Little Busters!.” Since they need additional players, each goes out on a recruiting mission, with an emphasis on pinning down additional girls (because of course, the girls should outnumber the boys). Rin's recruiting mission in the girl's dorm goes disastrously bad, but Riki has an odd encounter with a different girl on the roof.

The long-awaited adaptation of the latest Key visual novel has finally arrived, and by all accounts it follows its source material very closely so far. That aside, the show has a fairly typical visual novel-based feel, with a dig into sentimental territory and a first episode play-out which starts the process of establishing and expanding the core cast. (The closer shows that the Little Busters! will ultimately number ten.) It works because that sentimentality can sneak its hooks into a viewer quite easily and because it is surprisingly funny. Early fight scenes involving random objects (which are what's shown in the included screen capture) are a hoot and the later scene where Rin is incompetently guided through an effort to recruit additional girls is more amusing that it probably should be. J.C. Staff's production effort on the artistry and animation may not be spectacular, but it is good enough that it should quell very vocal concerns that have been raised since word first came out that they were involved in the project.

With the flavor of past Key efforts fully intact and the humor of their funnier adaptations fully present, Little Busters!  looks like a sure bet to be a hit. If it maintains at least the level of quality seen here, it will even deserve that attention.


OniAi

Rating:
2 (of 5)

Review:  
After six years of separation (for reasons that are not explained and are implied not to matter), Akiko is finally being reunited with her big brother Akito as the attend high school together. Akiko has a massive Big Brother Complex, and so tries to twist every interaction into something romantic and/or sexual; she even lambastes Akito for not peeking on her in the bath or coming in to join her, but Akito will have none of it. Akiko's dream of living alone with Akito is shattered by the actual harsh reality: three other girls – fellow members of the Student Council of St. Lilinana's Academy – are also living in the old dormitory building that he calls home, and all of them seem to have designs on him, too, including debates over who will feed him at dinner and who gets to pop his cherry. (And yes, that is meant the way you think.)

The problem with this series with the ridiculously-long name actually isn't the incest angle, although Akiko's utter earnestness will certainly be a turn-off for many No, the problem is that the series is neither as funny nor as sexy as it tries to be. Fan service standards have escalated so much over the past few years that a series tame enough to need no censoring for a normal TV broadcast feels more like a throwback, the discussion about losing virginity notwithstanding. That wouldn't necessarily be bad if the first episode had enough other content to carry it, but it depends too heavily on Akiko's cute factor and on her antics to be the joke while her brother plays the straight man, and that's not enough to generate more than an occasional chuckle. Even so, the first episode has at least some entertainment value until Akiko's dream collapses and the utterly uninteresting harem girls step in. (And what is this fascination with girls with eyepatches in recent years? This is the second one this season and at least the third one this year, and the third Evangelion movie hasn't even come out yet.) The technical merits are nothing special, either.

Many won't watch this one because of the incest element, but that is the wrong reason not to watch it.
 


OniAi is available streaming at Funimation.com


K

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:  
In an apparent near-future world which has one of the coolest-looking terrestrial schools ever (it occupies its own island!), silver-haired Yoshiro Isana is essentially the school's free-spirited goofball. He's nearly always accompanied by a small, white cat and is unknowingly being pursued by a love interest. (Oh, and there's a naked, apparently ghostlike young woman who wanders around the school, too, who is vaguely implied to actually be the cat.) While running an errand for a classmate he is confronted by a gang of super-powered individuals including a skateboarder with a bat and an individual known as the “Third King” who has fire-like powers; this is the same group shown invading what appears to be some sort of criminal stronghold early in the series and beating the crap out of its occupants, a group which has a little silver-haired girl as its Goth loli mascot. During his flight Yoshiro crosses paths with another dashing figure who uses super-powers to recue Yoshiro , only to show that he has his own agenda. Meanwhile a blue coat-clad group called Scepter 4 seems intent on trying to rein in these super-powered groups.

Based on the first episode, K is a series which desperately wants to be regarded as hip and cool; everything about it, even musical selections reminiscent of Samurai Champloo, practically radiates that. All it actually is, though, is a head-scratcher which seems to be yet another weak justification for stylish super-powered battles. The overall art style shows heavy shojo influence, though the Goth loli girl and the sexy (probable) catgirl seem like elements aimed more at a male audience. The background art is excellent and the animation a little more involved than the norm, but aside from the school design the episode does not especially distinguish itself on those fronts.

Overall, the first episode feels like it is sacrificing everything to pander to both male and female otaku. While that can work, there's only so far that raw cool factor can carry such a retread concept.
K is currently streaming on VizAnime.


Blast of Tempest

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Hazake, a princess of a magic-using family, gets stuffed in a barrel and dumped on a deserted, magic-screened island to prevent her from using her awesome power to interfere with the plans of the dastardly Samon. Months later, high school student Yoshino is dealing with typical bullying crap while texting with a supposed girlfriend and wandering what happened to Mahiro, his delinquent of a friend, who hasn't been quite right since his sister Aika got killed in an apparent robbery a year earlier. While visiting Aika's grave, Yoshino encounters an adult woman who is (literally) gunning for Mahiro, who is implied to be involved in some ugly incidents. Mahiro arrives on the scene moments later, bearing potent magical power which he claimed to have gained by making a pact with a certain stranded sorceress and which is quite useful towards beating the crap out of said interfering lady. Part of Mahiro's pact involves Hazake helping Mahiro track down his sister's killer, but first a summoning ceremony which is turning the entire populace to iron and threatening to bring something big and ugly into the world has to get dealt with, and Yoshino is along for the ride.

The amount of plot, action, and character development that the first episode manages to cram in to a mere 24 minutes is actually quite remarkable, and it flavors it all with some excellent animation, good overall visuals, a strong musical score and a key quote from Hamlet for good measure. That it manages to actually make sense and even pull a couple of surprises (that certain scenes are jumping time frames is not immediately apparent) is also quite remarkable. The characters are even likable, too, and feel at least a bit off of the beaten path; Hazake in particular is such a force to be reckoned with that one will easily understand why she was dumped in a barrel on a desert island, and Aika is quite the character, too, albeit in an entirely different way. (Though she's dead, we doubtless haven't come close to seeing the last of her.) And this all feel like only the tip of the iceberg plot-wise, too.

Blast of Tempest
has so much going on here that it can be a “blast” to watch. The main question now is whether or not it can continue to avoid descending into being just a run-of-the-mill magical action yarn. It at least gets off to a pretty good start, however.

Blast of Tempest is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


BTOOOM!

Rating:
3 (of 5)

Review:
Ryouta Sakamoto is the ace of the #10 worldwide-ranked team in Btoom!, a popular online Doom variant where participants battle each other with bombs instead of guns. He's also a 22-year-old NEET who lives with a worried mother, aspires for a job in a video game company, and is unwilling to settle for anything less; only in the game does he feel like he gets any respect. His world gets turned upside down when he awakens one day to find himself suspended in a parachute in trees on what turns out to be a tropical island. He soon discovers that he seems to be caught in some live-action version of Btoom!, complete with bombs and a real, living foe seeking to kill him. He and the man he must fight to the death are not the only ones there, either; he soon comes across a sexy girl, too.

The concept of this manga-based series is hardly an original one, although the notion of a survival combat game based entirely on bomb use is an interesting angle. The way things play out is not spectacular, either, although producer Madhouse Studios and female director Kotono Watanabe (in her lead directorial debut) do make sure it looks thrilling (and very graphic at one point) and takes full advantage of some skillful shot selections, good animation, and distinctive styling. This episode and the Next Episode preview also suggest that exploring the troubled backgrounds of the core cast members is going to be a major story element, and what they already show about Ryouta isn't pleasant. That dark edge, which seems likely to continue in the next episode, could save this one from being forgettable.

Btooom! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.



Kamisama Hajimemashita

Rating:
3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Nanami Momozono is down on her luck. Not only is her father a deadbeat gambler, but he also took off, leaving behind a big debt and an evicted daughter. With no place to go, she runs across a curious man in a park who is being cowed by a dog. When Nanami helps him out and explains her situation to him, he suggest that she go stay at his place, which he hasn't been back to in ages and which needs an occupant. Nanami soon discovered that it's a run-down temple inhabited by the contrary, pretty-boy fox spirit Tomoe and two smaller spirits and that the stranger has proclaimed Nanami as the new local Earth Deity, who is in charge of maintaining the temple and hearing the prayers of the believers that still come by (and going through a big back log of recorded prayers, too). Tomoe absolutely refuses to accept Nanami, though, while Nanami has doubts about her own ability, as a high school girl, to be a deity, so she pursues Tomoe when he takes off. While in the process of getting into trouble, Tomoe learns of one certain – but undesirable – way to get Tomoe under her authority: make a contract with him that must be sealed by a kiss. And desperate circumstances definitely call for desperate measures when all sorts of otherworldly denizens start trying to turn her into a meal.

The concept here may not be terribly original; a human becoming a local god is territory covered in Kamichu! and a young woman making a pact with a sexy, otherworldly being is a staple on both the shojo and shonen fronts. The premise also sounds like a melding of elements from Hayate the Combat Butler and Ah! My Goddess. What the concept lacks in originality, though, the first episode more than makes up for in raw enthusiasm. Everything about it brims with energy as the storytelling sets off on a madcap pace to establish the essential elements of the story and situation, with even the artistry and animation contributing to the fun. While Tomoe is more the typically snotty bad boy, Nanami is likable as a girl who not taken to extremes of earnestness and pluckiness (as one might normally expect here), instead coming off more as a normal, reasonable, and occasionally clever girl who struggles to deal with a situation which has left her completely over her head and unwillingly dependent on a capricious entity to help her out.

While this kind of shojo-styled fare may never challenge for consideration as one of the season's best shows, it nonetheless gets off to an entertaining start.


Hayate no Gotoku! Can't Take My Eyes Off You

Rating:
2.5 (of 5)

Review:
It's been three years since the  last TV series, and two years since the movie (as Hayate tells us himself in the prologue), but the franchise known in English as Hayate the Combat Butler is back for another round of crazy antics involving the 13-year-old uber-wealthy hikkikomori Nagi Sanezin, her maid Maria, and her trust butler Hayate. This time, though, there is both a new director and a new production company (Manglobe, which also did the movie), and that brings a bold new look and feel to the series.

And the look in particular is what will undoubtedly catch the attention of established fans. The earlier series, while hardly ugly, were never paragons of artistic or technical achievement, instead placing their emphasis most heavily on sight gags hidden in the details. This first episode, though, aims much more for production quality, and the jump in that is almost jaw-dropping. In Manglobe's hands the Sanezin mansion has become an eye-popping wonder of interior design and characters have a more rounded, three-dimensional feel; this can be seen most clearly in the use of camera angles.  Colors are richer and more vivid, too, animation quality has improved markedly, and a point is made to emphasize new technologies; we get a focused, fully-animated shot of Nagi manipulating a smart phone, for instance. An apparent idol singer is used as a recurring gimmick, too, including a closer which plays like a music video for that singer.

One has to wonder if the emphasis on comedy hasn't been lost a bit amidst the technical achievements, however; either that, or perhaps this season is intending to take a more serious storyline, because the jokes do not come at the rapid-fire pace seen in earlier material. The plot threads established here are odd ones, too: Nagi is trying to dodge going back to school for the fall term by going to Nevada ostensibly to investigate some belongings that may or may not have been left behind by her long-dead father, though her real motive is to check out Area 51. A new girl shows up who tries to get Nagi kidnaped again (and Nagi's blasé attitude about the experience is one of the episode's funniest aspects), only to make a shocking revelation at the episode's end. The humorous shorts are still around, though, such as the mid-episode break where a mother resorts to social media to get her daughter's goat.

The downslide in effective comedy here is worrisome, but the technical merits are such a marvel they are temporarily keeping the series afloat. More comedy and/or a more substantial plot will be needed going forward, however.

Hayate the Combat Butler Season 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll
.


From the New World

Rating:
4.5 (of 5)

Review:
The best suspense stories explain just enough to get the viewer hopelessly intrigued. They drop tantalizing hints about dark deeds, hidden details, and truths couched in subjective and/or figurative stories, all of which are contained within the framework of greater mysteries. This new effort from A-1 Pictures goes one step further still: it sticks all of it in an apparently post-apocalyptic setting with some fascinating trappings and depicts it all with artistic flair backed by an inventive musical score. The result is an especially strong start to what could be one of the season's most compelling series.

At the beginning we are shown scenes from modern day which appear to depict a trio of boys apparently exercising bursts of immense telekinetic power in a gruesome fashion. (The graphic level here is not for the faint at heart.) What is happening – and why – isn't explained or even hinted at further before the scene flashes forward a millennium to a rural setting apparently devoid of advanced technology but awash in mysticism and the exercise of telekinetic powers, which are apparently commonplace for children who have graduated to a secondary level. Students are fed moralistic stories about the danger of going unescorted beyond the village's sacred boundary (lest one attracts fiends!) and pass around amongst themselves rumors of the dreaded Trickster Cats, apparently Boogeyman-like cat-based creatures whose existence is discounted by adults. Saki, who recently went through a ceremony to graduate up to the secondary level, thinks she's actually seen a Trickster Cat in the past, however, and is vaguely disturbed by rumors passed amongst her school group about the nature of her new school and some odd comments she's surreptitiously overheard from her parents and others. Something much darker and possibly even sinister seems to be afoot in Saki's world, a suspicion only confirmed when Saki's weakest-performing classmate suddenly goes missing.

Masashi Ishihama has never been a lead director prior to this project, but if this first episode shows what he's consistently capable of then he could be a name to remember going forward. The pacing of the carefully-crafted revelations of various tidbits about the setting, and the way they are thrown out naturally while still leaving their relevance to viewer interpretation, is nearly perfect, and the artistry and music support the mood-building very well. The mysteries at work here – how did the events in the prologue lead to the present, why are things the way they are now, is the process of inculcating young telekinetics really as merciless as certain details imply – are boldly attention-grabbing ones which should be a lot of fun to sort out.

From the New World is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


My Little Monster

Rating:
3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Shizuku Mizutani has had a firm goal in mind (i.e., to earn a high-income job) since her early elementary school years, so she has eschewed any effort to develop friendships in favor of the studying she feels is necessary to pursue that goal. That starts to change her first year of high school when she's asked to deliver handouts to Hara Yoshida, the student who's supposed to sit beside her but who has been suspended for fighting. Though Hara does, indeed, turn out to be rough-edged and intimidating, he also proves to be naïve, flaky, more sensitive than initial impressions would suggest, and gallant in a clumsy way. Despite a troubled start, Hara begins to regard Shizuku as both a friend and a potential lover, a prospect which shakes Shizuku's solitary, carefully-controlled world to the core.

In many respects this first episode shows all of the signs of being a stereotypical shojo romantic comedy: the design aesthetic is practically by-the-numbers shojo style, the male lead has the ridiculously improbable mix of aggressive and endearing traits that could only exist in Shojo Land, the male lead gets away with being physically aggressive with the female lead on more than one occasion (really, why are such scenes virtually obligatory in shojo titles?), and the female lead has to be rescued on more than one occasion. For all of those stale trappings, though, this one still somehow finds a way to be remarkably appealing, and a lot of that credit goes to Shizuku's very focused personality and running internal dialogue. She is not a girl looking too moon over guys; in fact, she doesn't give a damn about anyone or anything that doesn't assist with her goals. That's a little refreshing, and the way she rolls her eyes and Hara's antics and refuses to back down shows a stronger backbone than shojo romantic heroines normally have. The prologue and last couple of minutes of the first episode strongly suggest that Shizuku learning to let people into her life is going to be a major and potentially rewarding plot thread, even if it must involve a flake like Hara. Certain scenes that are funny and/or endearing offer promise, too.
Certainly, this one could still end up getting mired in shojo romance clichés, but it at least shows some potential.

My Little Monster is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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