Zac Bertschy

Oct 2nd 2012
Zac Bertschy is the executive editor of Anime News Network. He enjoys vodka, bunny rabbits, and nutmeg pumpkin spice-flavored schadenfreude.

Psycho-Pass

Rating: 1.5? I guess?

It's the dystopian future! There's neon everywhere and it's raining all the time! There's a totally draconian justice system that patrols the streets with drones and determines likely criminal action before it happens! On this particular dystopian rainy neon day, the Criminal Investigation Department has a new recruit: Akane Tsunemori, a plucky young rookie on her first assignment: bring down a latent criminal, as judged by the Psycho-Pass system. Akane is assigned a group of latent criminal "Enforcers" - including brooding Spike Speigel lookalike Shinya - who are used like hunting dogs, sniffing out and punishing criminals under her instruction. They track the guy down, who it turns out is a horrible violent rapist with a hostage. As he's escaping with his victim slung over his shoulder, he informs her that her Psycho-Pass is now just as "cloudy" as his (here's a shock: the dystopian future draconian justice system doesn't work and isn't fair and has horrible implications about the overreach of the criminal justice system! My god!) and that, if captured, she'll be executed just like him.

So he gets blowed up - Shinya aims his special dystopian future gun at him and his entire top half explodes like a marshmallow in a microwave, complete with giant blood cloud, and then it's time for us to learn once again about how screwed up and unfair justice in the rainy neon sadface future is as Akane begs for the victim's life, pleading that it's not right to kill someone who hasn't committed a crime yet, only to watch her get gunned down by her superior officers. Toot toot! Last train to Dark Gritty Edge-ville is leaving! All abooooaaarrrrdddd!

So Psycho-Pass has a few things working in its favor: one, it isn't about high schoolers, and two, the production design is pretty nice. The character designs are distinctive (if occasionally derivative) and the animation is generally pretty good for a TV series. But the execution here is, simply put, trying too hard - the episode unfolds like it assumes all of the super dark nasty stuff happening has you totally on the edge of your seat, when in fact you're just sitting back, counting all the dystopian future crime movies they've lifted elements from. There's a really unnecessary amount of graphic detail during the scene where the criminal is torturing his victim, crappy shock value implied rape and mutilation that lingers way too long on the woman's body, leering, adding a pretty strong "creepy" odor to the whole thing. The episode opens with a scene obviously set in the future with Psyche Speigel facing off against a guy who looks a whole lot like Vicious, so we kinda know where this is going.

Here's the thing about being edgy and dark: you can't try too hard at it or you wind up looking silly and obvious.

Psycho-Pass is available streaming at Funimation.com


Magi

Rating:
2.5

Blonde-haired adventurer Alibaba has a plan: invade the "dungeons", treasure-filled towers that have magically popped up all over the world, and become the richest man in the world. Everything's going fine until he runs across Aladdin, a pint-sized hyperactive glutton with a flute and a secret. The two wind up sticking together, and after encountering a slave girl - whose chains Aladdin cuts with the power of Ugo, a shy djinn that lives inside his flute - Alibaba realizes that Aladdin's power can help him through the dungeons. Unfortunately, the slave master keeping the girl prisoner is dogging their every step, insisting they owe him a debt; Alibaba winds up in service, driving a caravan across the treacherous desert, transporting wine. The caravan is attacked by a giant desert plant monster thing, which the slave girl manages to get captured by... and it's Aladdin and Ugo (and Aladdin's magic flying turban!) to the rescue.

So this is 1001 NightS-flavored basic fantasy action-adventure; it's totally harmless, the story is completely straightforward, and there really isn't anything in here that will surprise anyone, but it does manage to be fairly entertaining in spite of all that. There are a metric ton of shows like this that mostly rely on the generic high fantasy genre (so, you know, wizards and warriors and pauldrons) - they're a dime a dozen - but Magi manages to keep itself out of the mediocre-fantasy-action-adventure trash pile mostly on the strength of its theme. The whole Arabian NightS thing feels at least a little different from what we usually get, and the show's handsome production values make it at the very least fun to gawk at. The characters are fun enough; Alibaba seems like your average determined-but-self-doubting hero, and lil' Aladdin brings some much-needed energy to the show's proceedings (although the "I love boobs!" thing seems totally shoehorned in; I wonder what Magi would do for levity if it didn't have a cheap tits gag to fall back on, but we'll never know). It's all pleasant and charming and simple enough, but if you're looking for depth, or anything resembling a departure from the average action-adventure formula, you're barking up the wrong palm tree.


BTOOOM!

Rating:
1

Unemployed layabout piece-of-crap Ryota isn't good at anything other than BTOOOM!, an MMO shooter that uses only bombs. He's nearly the best player in the country, but his life is sucky and meaningless outside of the game. This is an anime series, so naturally he wakes up in the game world itself, a jungle island, with a bag of food, 8 bombs, and some minor memory loss. Because of course that happens.

Ryouta's miserable personality doesn't help him when another bomb-toting psychopath shows up and tries to take him out, and it slowly dawns on Ryouta that this is BTOOOM! itself - although his skills in the virtual version don't seem to be of much help when he's fighting flesh-and-blood bomb-throwers. He takes the crazy guy out, but the sight of his death makes Ryouta puke. His nerves are presumably soothed by the sight of another player - a half-dressed busty high schooler bathing in the river. Because of course that happens.

I'm not sure what I dislike about this show more - the now-super-hackneyed "you're in the game!" premise that we seem to be getting at least twice a season now, or the characters so unlikable that there's no tension to any of the combat because it's nearly impossible to care if the totally worthless Ryouta lives or dies. There's a next episode preview that promises even more nihilistic 'humans are selfish nasty animals' Gantz-esque antics, which honestly just sounds tiresome and unpleasant rather than shocking or edgy.

I think maybe the worst part about this show is that it takes do-nothing selfish idiot Ryouta a full sixteen minutes to figure out that he's in the world of BTOOOM!, even though we the audience know that he's going to wind up in the game basically from the moment the episode starts. If you're going to rely on such a well-worn premise (to the point where it's laying in the middle of the road with tread marks on it and has been half-eaten by coyotes) then at least do something interesting or compelling in the first episode so we have some reason to continue watching. Sword Art Online at least had a catchy hook and some neat ideas - this is just reheated store-brand Gantz, the kind of thing you only consume when there's nothing left in the house. Forget it.

BTOOOM! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


ONIAI

Rating:
another one of these, oh boy

Akiko and Akito are sister and brother, respectively. They used to live together, but it's been 6 years, and now that they're both 16, they're moving in together.

Akiko desperately wants to bang Akito, who doesn't want to because they're siblings and that's wrong. She won't take no for an answer, though.



I sat through the entire episode just to make sure that was it. Turns out there are three other girls that move in, and they all want to bang him too, so I guess his blood-related sister's gonna have to fight for the right to his timid lil' penis. Presumably if you watch more of this show you'll be able to solve the mystery of which girl this personality-free cardboard cutout will mash himself against, but I'm not going to stick around to find out.


Little Busters!

Rating:
3.5

A quick, efficient prologue sets up the basic premise of Little Busters!: here we have a group of high school buddies who have been friends since childhood, when the lot of them took on the typical neighborhood evils (a hornet's nest on someone's garage, for example). There's the soft-spoken orphan, Riki, hapless bandana'd musclehead Masato, Goemon-alike Kengo, Rin, the ill-tempered girl with fists of fury, and their leader, the orange-haired weirdo with a heart of gold, Kyousuke. They're all about to graduate high school, their idyllic days of laid-back friendship and old-fashioned goofin' around about to come to a sunset. Kyousuke decides that this is the last stop before adulthood, so why not start a baseball team. The only problem? They need at least 9 people for a baseball team, and right now they only have 5. Visual novel character designers to the rescue!

So this is a Key show - the people behind fan-worshipped-to-the-point-of-minor-deity-status series like Clanaad, Kanon and Air - and it's also based on an existing visual novel, which of course I have no prior knowledge of and haven't played. So imagine my surprise that Little Busters! is a charming, funny little distraction with amusing (if one-dimensional) characters that I found myself wanting to spend time watching. This is chiefly a comedy, and among the surprises this show had to offer, the fact that it's actually pretty funny is number one among them. Not all the gags land and there's plenty of generic anime comedy crap in here (guy gets hit by violent girl with bad temper! A-hyuk!) but there are enough truly clever little bits and pieces that overall the show leans toward the 'actually funny' category. It also has a surprisingly robust cast of male characters, which just isn't typical for a Key show, and even though they have pretty standard cut-and-paste personalities, for whatever reason the execution here - I think it's the snappy banter - makes them seem at least entertaining enough to watch more. Halfway through the episode the show introduces a couple of pretty stereotypical visual novel girls in high school outfits with neon hair (including an o-ho-ho-ho girl who at least this time has purple hair instead of the usual blonde) - presumably to balance out the cast - but their presence didn't immediately drag the show down into harem-comedy mode. Key is operating at their usual level of visual quality, with distinct character designs, smooth animation and some lovely background art.

Little Busters! is a trifle, for sure. It just happens to function as a pretty good one. Having not played the game I have no idea if this thing just sinks into total cliche, but for now, it's got some promise as a fun little comedy show. Not bad.


JoJo's Bizarre Adventure

Rating:
4.5

It's time to reboot JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, everyone! This first episode starts in the 1800s, where we're treated to what could be called the 'origin story' of the generations-long rivalry between our hero, Jojo, and his ludicrously assholish foe Dio. The setup here is pretty simple and surprisingly well-told in this version; Jojo and his father were the only survivors of a carriage accident that took his mother's life. A wandering scumbag looking to loot the crash scene is mistaken by his father as someone trying to save his life, and Poppa Jo promises to remember his name always. Cut to Jojo's adolescence, and we learn the scumbag has become a scumbag father, living in poverty with his son, Dio. Upon his death, the scumbag tells Dio of his birthright, and sends him to live with the Joestar family, instructing him to become the richest man in the world. Naturally (I guess?) Dio decides that the best way to do that is to run Jojo out of town and become his father's surrogate son, becoming next in line for the Joestar fortune. What follows is basically an escalating series of dick moves, where Dio breaks Jojo's spirit by isolating him from his friends, humiliating him in front of his father, beating his ass in public, stealing his girlfriend's first kiss (and then smacking her around a bit) and finally burning his dog alive in the trash incinerator (Did I mention Dio is a gigantic A-hole?). Jojo finally breaks and beats Dio's pretty face in, only to be scolded by his father for 'attacking poor defenseless Dio'. And that's pretty much it; there's a strange stone mask which I assume sets off the 'Bizarre' part of this Bizarre Adventure, but it only plays a small ominous role in this opening episode.

This is a pretty fun show - it isn't taking itself too seriously (which you'll notice right away the minute giant sound effects pop up on screen to give every impactful moment a little spice) and it's nice to be able to start the sprawling, long-running epic saga of JoJo's Bizarre Adventure from something resembling the beginning. It seems like a great place for newcomers to the franchise to finally get a handle on what the series actually is. Production-wise there really isn't anything too special about it; perfectly serviceable animation and music with a few flashy touches, but nothing more than that. What we're here for is the story, and thanks to brisk pacing, a compelling story and a really effective (and occasionally hilarious) villain. More please!


Blast of Tempest

Rating:
2

Blast of Tempest is based on a manga series from a few years back. At least, that's what the Encyclopedia here told me after I tried to figure out what in the world was happening in this first episode, which I'm sure will thrill fans of the manga with its high-quality production values, gorgeous animation and handsome character designs. For those of us coming in to this blind, the first episode is a meaningless series of out-of-context moments, character introductions that tell us almost nothing, cryptic allusions to events we have no knowledge of, flashbacks, and some angst-ridden magic user kids who need to save the world from a “disease” that turns flesh into iron.

Not that the whole thing is completely incomprehensible – in the last third of the episode the characters do start standing around explaining things to eachother, and we're given kind of an idea of where the story is going. Apparently this disease is being brought on by a society of evil mages (or something?) and angst-ridden magic user Mahiro (with a revenge motive!) has teamed up with the world's most powerful mage, Hakaze, a girl who was stranded on a desert island in a barrel at the beginning of the episode (presumably so she can't, you know, save the world). Together they're the only two who can stop the plague, and along for the ride is Yoshino, friend of Mahiro, who seems to serve as audience surrogate so people can explain stuff to him. That isn't even a very good distillation of everything they set up in this episode, and moment to moment it's all pretty confusing, especially in the early going. It's hard to tell where the story's going and even harder to care about any of these characters so long as the development and story structure is so strangely vague and disjointed, as though they're trying to show you elements of the story that may intrigue you to keep watching but don't really want to tell you anything of substance. It is a gorgeous show – Bones is operating at close to the peak of their television skill here – but that's all it seems to have going for it now. If the story does take off down the road, it'd have been nice if they'd made this first episode a little more accommodating to newcomers. Some people seem to really love it when the first episode of a series is deliberately obtuse and cryptic, as though it's giving the viewer a puzzle to figure out rather than simply telling a story. I am not one of these people, apparently.

Blast of Tempest is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


From the New World

Rating:
3

On a grainy, zoomed-in afternoon in Tokyo, a mysterious child with what appear to be psychic powers starts ripping through people like tissue paper in a bloody massacre. Cut to an idyllic summertime dusk, and it turns out we're 1000 years in the future, where apparently farming technology never really moved forward. A young girl, Saki, is brought to the ‘temple of purification’ where she's asked by an elder to move flames with her mind. We flash back to a moment where a ‘blessing spirit’ visits Saki in her sleep (in the form of a bunch of stuff floating around her room), and her parents burst in, telling her she's an adult now (presumably, 1000 years from now moving stuff with your thoughts is a rite of passage into adulthood?).

Saki heads off to what appears to be a school for kids gifted with similar psychic/magic/whatever you want to call it powers, where she meets a cast of classmates who join her in testing and strengthening their abilities. Then for some reason they're telling a bunch of ghost stories about the creepy stuff that happens around the school, alluding to graves and mysterious buildings and whatnot. At dinner, her parents tell her they're ‘relieved’ that her blessing spirit came, and we learn another scary secret – apparently if that spirit doesn't show up, the kid gets taken. Or something.

From the New World is based on a popular sci-fi novel in Japan, and the good news is, even though it certainly had the potential to be a giant confusing in medias res festival of vagueness designed to be appreciated only by people familiar with the novel (which is a very common thing for anime based on sci-fi novels, or light novels in particular), this show is actually pretty accessible. It doesn't really make a tremendous amount of sense yet plot-wise,and they're introducing enough story elements and potential plot threads to choke a horse, but we are given a basic skeletal structure for how the show's going to go, and they're at least giving us enough context to understand a few key things about the far-flung future the show is set in. There isn't much to say character-wise yet; Saki is kind of personality-free so far, but when it comes to anime structured like this, even mild character development is typically what you get down the road rather than right up front in the first episode. Obviously there are plenty of references to things those of us unfamiliar with the story in the novel won't yet understand, but the show isn't so weighed down with them that it forgets to introduce newbies to the story. I can't say the whole “Xavier's School of Witchcraft and Wizardry is haunted!” thing really yanks my chain, but as it moves along the show builds a nice sense of foreboding, like eternal dusk has set in and something sinister is right around the corner. Visually it's certainly pleasant to look at, particularly a segment where one of Saki's classmates tells a story about an ogre that switches to a really unique, almost watercolor-esque visual style that I wish we got to see more of. From the New World isn't setting the world on fire yet but it's at least got some potential and I'm curious to see where the story's going. Not bad.

From the New World is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


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