The Spring 2012 Anime Preview Guide
Theron Martin

Mar 31st 2012

Theron is currently attempting to make a living in Indianapolis by working at a high school and a private firm prepping students for the SAT, ACT, and state standardized tests. (And no, there isn't a lot of money to be made in such tutoring.) He spends most of his free time that isn't devoted to anime watching/reviewing on tabletop RPGs, contemplating the Colts' future with Andrew Luck, and trying to succeed at various Facebook games (primarily Dungeon Overlord and Empires and Allies) despite computers that don't really have the processing power to play them consistently smoothly.


Ginga e Kickoff!!

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  Sixth-grader Shō Ōta isn't a terribly good soccer player - in fact, he was only a benchwarmer on the rather good Momoyama Predators - but he has a strong enough passion for it nonetheless that he decides to seek out new players for his team which its regulars leave for various reasons and the team is effectively disbanded. The first person he encounters is Erika Takatou, a skilled player who formerly played for a good team from a different region and has a soccer-skilled dog. What Shou lacks in skill he makes up for in enthusiasm and a keen eye, which he can use to anticipate opponents’ moves one he has a chance to analyze their style. That and his brashness and promise that he was part of a strong team earn him Erika as a teammate, though she is soon maddened to find out about that the Predators aren't functional and the manager doesn't much respect girl players. As the two go to practice on their own, they encounter a woman who was a member of Japan's World Cup soccer team who is doing a private workout and have a practice match with her. Their determination and Shou's sharp eye impress her enough that he offers to help them if he can.

Although this reference may date me, this premise has the look and feel of a Bad News Bears done shonen anime-style, and surprisingly, it's not bad. The overall animation is rather limited since it's saved up for executing the soccer maneuvers (which still use find-styled cut scenes) and the episode doesn't do much that's fresh or original, but the series has an ample amount of heart and likable main characters and that can make up for a lot of other deficiencies. This episode also introduces a standoffish player and a drunkard with apparent high soccer skills who will no doubt become a fellow player and coach, respectively, in the future; after all, coaching sports is the long-recognized method for redeeming booze hounds who were once great players themselves. Making a link to Japan's recent World Cup success is also a nice touch.

Even speaking as a non-soccer fan, this one is at least watchable.


Arashi no Yoru ni: Himitsu no Tomodachi

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  One stormy night a little goat seeks shelter in a decrepit, abandoned shack. She is soon joined in the shack by a wolf who has sprained his ankle and is also seeking shelter. Because it's dark, the two cannot see each other, so they do not realize that they are predator and prey and instead strike up a friendly conversation. When the storm ends, they agree to meet again in front of the shack, with “one stormy night” as their secret code phrase since they were never able to actually see each other. Both are, not surprisingly, shocked to find out what the other one is, and know that letting any of their kin know that they are being friendly would be trouble, but they go out for a friendly excursion nonetheless. The wolf, naturally, must constantly fight off the desire to eat the succulent goat, especially after he loses his lunch while climbing up a mountain path.

This series is a remake of a 2005 feature movie but is much more notable because it is the extremely rare TV-broadcasted anime title to be done all in 3D CG. The production courtesy of Sparky Animation, a newcomer to the anime business, looks pretty good, too, with plenty of detail and animation; in fact, in a reversal of the normal standard for 2D anime, it follows a more American standard and goes out of its way to animate things, which sometimes actually results in some scenes seeming unnaturally active. This effort isn't refined enough to be on a level with the top American productions but it's still equal to or better than efforts seen in cheaper American productions.

The story isn't much to speak of: it's just a simple, straightforward tale about natural enemies forming a friendship when first impressions don't get in the way - and yes, a message is undoubtedly intended there, although the first episode isn't blunt about it. The running gag in the shack scene is, of course, that the two totally fail to realize that they're talking about entirely different things when talking about food, which advances to the running gag about the wolf trying to avoid imagining the goat as a tasty morsel. The way the wolf eyes the goat's flanks could also be interpreted in a much more perverse way, but that probably wasn't intended since this is clearly intended to be a family-friendly show. If you're looking for an anime that you could safely watch with younger kids (once it's dubbed, of course) then this should work just fine.


Shining Hearts -Shiwase no Pan-

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:  Rick sleeps in a beached boat but works in the bread shop La Coeur with three young women - Airy, Neris, and Amil - where he serves as the chief baker while they assist and take care of the sale end. Their shop has become quite popular and all seem content, though old memories occasionally nag Rick. While out making a supply run they detour near the Elf Forest to pick more of a particular kind of sugar, where they first meet and help an injured sylph (i.e. a cutesy creature which actually looks nothing like a traditional fantasy sylph) and then deliver the sylph to the stern Elf Alvin, who tells them to leave. They later have a more friendly conversation with Alvin's sister Rana. As they return home, Alvin seems concerned about an oncoming storm.

Shining Hearts is based on the third in a series of fantasy RPGs, but if this is supposed to be a tale involving action - and it apparently is, since some research reveals that Rick is supposed to be a swordsman - then you certainly can't tell that from the first episode. Basically nothing happens beyond the girls being cute, them and Rick meeting Elves, and some ominous portents at the end; if this is meant to be a set-up episode then it's certainly taking its time setting up. Nothing is revealed about the beached ship or Rick working with the young ladies figures into anything, either. Character designs and costuming are standard for anime fantasy series; in other words, the elves have ridiculously long, pointed ears and the girls’ costumes are all cosplay-primed in design. Average artistry (beyond some very nice backgrounds), limited animation, and a merry soundtrack all contribute to a pleasant and inoffensive but also not noteworthy production. The one bright spot is a very cutesy closer.

This one might go places in the future, but so far it's off to a boringly slow start.


Eureka 7: AO

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  A couple of decades into the future, Ao is an apparent 14-year-old “foreigner” (as evidenced by his distinctly-colored eyes) who lives with his grandfather on Okinawa in the absence of his parents. His one friend Naru, a pretty asthmatic, implores him to help he retrieve her peth sloth, as she has had visions of an impending disaster. That disaster begins shortly after Ao has a chance encounter with a trio of hover cars transporting something secret for the Japanese military, during which Ao obtains a strange bracelet which later reminds him of his absent mother. Before that, though, Scub Corals sprout and a G-Monster (which somewhat resembles some of the Angels in the recent Evangelion movies) appears, laying devastation wherever it aims, while in space above the company Generation Blue and its strike team, Pied Piper, prepares to confront the threat.

As probably the most anticipated follow-up series of the season, AO retains many of the characteristic elements of the original - flying via Trapar waves, the character design aesthetic, clothing design styles, a middle school-aged male lead who's an orphan living with his grandfather - but in other cases is already starting to show a distinctly different flavor. Ao seems less whiny than Renton was and certainly has more of an attitude; Renton never gave anyone the kind of dirty look that Ao flashes Naru at one point, for instance. Renton didn't have a female friend his own age before meeting Eureka, either, but Naru (who bears a distinct - and probably intentional - resemblance to a much younger Talho) is included too prominently here to just be a bit player. The cool, hippy counterculture feel that the first series has is also entirely absent here.

Comparisons aside, the first episode does reasonably well as a foundation episode for an action-oriented series. The episode break at the end is awkwardly-timed, but the havoc unleashed by the G-Monster is as visceral (and well-drawn) as anything seen in the first series; no worries about the protagonist not being sufficiently endangered here! The episode throws out a lot of terminology that doesn't make sense yet, and the story so far does not at all clarify how this series is connected to the first one, but hey, this is only the first episode. The solid production effort by Bones and dizzying amount of mysterious elements tossed out so far give this one a good amount of potential, even if it hasn't advanced far enough yet to actually get its hero into a mecha.


Kids on the Slope

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  So we have two series this season, debuting within hours of each other, which both feature high school boys who move around a lot and are prone to panic attacks who are somewhat helped to calm down by forming the basis of a friendship with an oddball at their new school. Beyond that similarity in premise, though, the first episodes of this one and tsuritama are vastly different, and this one is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the better of the two - by a mile.

A lot was expected of this one because of the pedigree; this is Shinichiro Watanabe's first lead role in quite some time, after all. Like Cowboy Bebop, it doesn't disappoint and quickly shows that jazz will be a prominent element. In this case, which is set in 1966, Kaoru Nishimi is a top-caliber student and former city kid who has a background in classical piano but a distaste for the world around him and a difficult time making friends, though he almost instantly falls for Ritsuko Mukae, the pretty class rep at his new school, who seems quite friendly towards him. He also coincidentally makes the acquaintance of Ritsuko's childhood friend, a rough-and-tumble delinquent by the name of Sentaro, who will fight at the drop of a hat but also seems to take a liking to Kaoru. Sentaro, as Kaoru soon discovers, is actually a skilled drummer, though his passion is purely focused on jazz, something that he accuses Kaoru of not “getting” when he first hears Kaoru play. As the episode ends, Kaoru seems to take that as a challenge

Kids on the Slope easily rivals the new Lupin III series as the best-animation series of the season; its technical merits are gorgeously well-detailed as series animation goes. The color palette is muted, which gives the series an older look, but the designs have a more realistic style which, when combined with the richly-developed characterizations, gives the series a more casual and well-rounded feel. Sentaro, who is the epitome of old-school rebelliousness and bravado, stands out as an interesting and surprisingly likable character, an effect enhanced by a superior vocal performance by Yoshimasa Hosoya (Arata in Chiharafuyu).

Really, though, everything about the first episode is well-done, and as a result it gives off a fresher scent than most. I didn't find it quite compelling enough to give it one of the top grades, but in terms of potential, technical merits, and likely staying power it has few rivals so far this season.

Kids on the Slope is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


tsuritama

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:  Yuki Sanada, a young man who lives with his grandmother, has to move a lot because of his grandmothers (as-yet-unspecified) work. He also has a serious social anxiety disorder which causes him to feel like he's drowning when he gets into stressful situations - and that happens easily. His most recent move takes him to a new home in Enoshima, where he delights in being able to see the ocean from his bedroom's balcony. At school he meets a very strange fellow new transfer student named Haru, who acts bizarrely, insists that he's an alien, seems to have an affinity with fish, and in some scenes is seen carrying around a fish in a fishbowl and talking to it - and it seems to be talking back! He also seems able to drag Yuki out of his panic attacks with a water pistol. The two also encounter a young man wearing glasses who's a national-level fisherman and are spied on by an Indian wearing a turban and accompanied by a goose.

tsuritama isn't good or bad so far; it's just plain weird, and seems to be that way just for weirdness’ sake. The first episode spends all of its time introducing the quartet that will be the core cast and elaborating on some of their eccentricities, to an almost nauseating extent in Yuki's case. (The screenshot shows him in mid-panic attack, and it happens multiple times over the course of the episode.) The episode gives no indication where the series may be going with all of this strangeness beyond a strong implication that fishing will be a key part of it and a fainter suggestion that saving the world may somehow eventually be involved. The art style is also unconventional, with all of it having a heavy (and perhaps deliberate?) computer graphics feel; it certainly looks little like anything else A-1 Pictures has done. The musical score tends to lay one the score so overly dramatically thickly at times that it has be done deliberately to some end - again, perhaps just for sake of weirdness.

The biggest problem the series faces at this point is finding some merit beyond just being weird. Whether or not the series can accomplish that remains to be seen.

Tsutitama is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Medaka Box episode 2

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: Hitoyoshi is now officially a Student Council member, with the primary job to manage the “Medaka Box” (as Medaka's suggestion box has come to be called). Two cases come up this episode for him and Medaka to deal with, with occasional information-gathering help from Shiranui. In the first, a second-year track club member seeks help dealing with an unknown but apparently jealous fellow track club member, who cut up her shoes and left a threatening note after the victim became a starter. Once a suspect is identified, Medaka wastes no time in confronting the perpetrator. In the second case, a search for a missing puppy becomes problematic for Hitoyoshi when said puppy turns out to now be a feral, full-grown wolfhound. Medaka has had past problems with animals and so leaves the task to Hitoyoshi, but when he is unable to subdue it she steps in and does things her own odd way.

The second episode firms up an approach suggested by the first episode: while the series might flirt with romance, it is primarily a silly comedy predicated on absurd antics that nonetheless prove quite effective. On that level the series works very well, as many parts of this episode are quite amusing. Medaka definitely moves to her own beat, such as when she dresses up in a sexy dog costume in order to tame the wayward dog (but in typically ridiculous fashion, it works out in a way other than what was intended), but she's not the only one who strikes comedy gold here; little Shiranui also gets in several sputter-worthy clips of her own and Hitoyoshi serves well as the straight man whose insight into Medaka's character does not extend to figuring out that she's romantically interested in him. Further comedy gold comes in the reason why Medaka has problems dealing with animals. Like the first episode, this one also throws in a few dashes of mild fan service, although aside from the dog costume they are less in-your-face than in most series of this type.

Whether or not the series will continue to use the two-cases-per-episode approach established here is unclear, but in this instance the approach times out exactly right. This is looking like it could be one of the season's most purely fun shows.

Medaka Box is now streaming on Crunchyroll.


Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  Mahiro Yasaka is Joe Normal high school guy until he finds himself pursued by a monster one night, only to be saved by a cute girl bloodily slaughtering the monster with her bare hands and then jauntily declaring, “I am the chaos that always creeps up to you with a smile, Nyarlothotep!” while striking a sentai hero-type pose. As Mahiro comes to learn, Nyarko (as she'll eventually be called) is, indeed, one of the gods of the Cthulhu mythos created by H.P. Lovecraft, although she's assuming a human form so she doesn't turn Mahiro insane with the horror of her real appearance. She also professes to be both an alien and part of a defense force charge with protecting Earth from alien smugglers and slave traders - and, indeed, she does wind up having to protect Mahiro from monstrous assailants on two later occasions. It also seems that she practically begged for the assignment, partly so that she can get her hands on some Earth entertainment (which is apparently highly-valued throughout the universe) and partly so that she can cozy up to Mahiro (love at first sight!), much to his dismay. And she, of course, transfers into Mahiro's school, too.

In some respects, Cthulhu gods being space aliens actually makes quite a bit of sense, and Lovecraft having once had some hypothetical encounters with them (maybe aliens tried to drag him into the slave trade in his day?) would explain an awful lot about him and his works. The creators, though, likely had no such lofty ambitions; this is a screwball romantic comedy, pure and simple, albeit one with a lot more energy and a vastly more perverse nature than normal. And it works so far because Nyarko, despite being in some respects the stereotypical hyper-aggressive girl, is such an abjectly ridiculous character, and is played with such unrelenting verve, that it's difficult to watch the episode without a constant bemused smirk on one's face; it's even better if one gets the references to the actual Call of Cthulhu pen-and-paper RPG or stops to ponder how utterly wrong Nyarko's catch-phrase is when considering how earnestly she's trying to become Mahiro's love bunny. (And also consider the irony that this may be the one case in anime where the girl is the tentacle monster rather than being subjected to one.) Even the very bloody graphic parts are played lightly enough that the gore-averse probably won't be bothered.

The one potential problem with the series is that its set-up is not going to allow it to takes itself seriously for even a second or the whole thing might collapse. As long as the series keeps up what it started in the first episode, though, it could be loads of fun.

Nyarko-san is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Kuroko's Basketball

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:  Teiko Middle School had a basketball club so great that it won the championship three straight years, leading to the five core players being called the “Generation of Miracles.” They were rumored to have a sixth player who was crucial to their success, though no one seems to know much about that. When Seiren Private High School's basketball club recruits new first-years, they get a towering, intimidating player who spent some time in America but they also get Tetsuya Kuroko, who quietly claimed to be a member of the Generation of Miracles. Tetsuya doesn't seem to have much in the way of basketball skills but he does have an uncanny knack for being unobtrusive on a level that would make a ninja jealous. When push comes to shove in a practice game, though, his true talent comes out: he can use his skill as misdirection to serve as a phenomenal passer. When the tall guy declares that he wants to aim for the level that the Generation of Miracles played at, Tetsuya declares that he will be the shadow which allows the tall guy to shine brightly.

If you can actually watch the first episode without repeatedly rolling your eyes at the absurdity that is Kuroko then you might actually find a decent story here about a Karl Malone/John Stockton kind of relationship in the making. The preposterousness of what Kuroko allegedly can get away with and the girl coach's stats-determining vision are the kind of things that turns many American fans off of sports anime, however: the seemingly magical abilities that go way beyond talent and into some bizarro realm of super-powered sports. Anyone raised on American basketball will also have a really hard time with the notion that a fellow student could possibly be the coach, too, no matter how good she might be.  Even things like that aside, events unfold in a very predictable direction and with little real enthusiasm. The artistic merits, courtesy of Production I.G, are actually pretty good, and Kuroko is a somewhat interesting character, but the rock-flavored soundtrack tries too hard to make everything melodramatic.

Series like Cross Game and Prince of Tennis have proven that sports anime can work in America, but this one seems an unlikely candidate for success.

Kuroko's Basketball is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Folktales from Japan episode 2

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  The second episode delivers three more classic Japanese Folk Tales, each narrated and voiced by the same old seiyuu who voiced the first episode. The first, “Little One-Inch,” tells the story of an old couple who wished for the child and found themselves raising a tiny tot whom they called Little One-Inch because he was only the size of a finger. Too small to help out, he trained himself to be a samurai and went out on a journey to the capital, where he met and fell in love with the pretty daughter of an official. Despite his size, he was able to fend off an Oni who attacked the girl, who left behind a magical mallet which could grant his wish to become full-sized. In “The Rolling Rice Ball,” a poor old man loses one of his wife's awesome rice balls while collecting edible plants on a mountain. Following it, he comes to a hole which turns out to be the Pure Land of Rats, who found and quite enjoyed the errant rice ball, so the old man gave them his other one, too. They returned the favor by allowing him to join them in a festival and granting him a treasure chest to take back home. A neighbor who also investigated the whole with less pure motives was less fortunate. In “The Cow's Marriage,” a man named Mr. Lazy overhears at a shrine that a wealthy couple and their beautiful daughter are seeking a husband for the daughter, so Mr. Lazy pretends to be the god of the shrine and convinces them to have the daughter marry Mr. Lazy. Things don't go quite as planned when a traveling samurai happens by as the daughter is reluctantly going to her marriage and pulls a switcheroo with a calf.

As with the first episode, these three mini-stories are heavily steeped in morality, with rewards for those who act good and lack of success (at best) for those who act poorly, though the first part isn't quite as heavy-handed about it. They are also not quite as strong as the first set in writing but still all enjoyable as insight into an aspect of Japanese culture that Westerners rarely get to see. This time around the artistic merits vary considerably amongst the three parts; simple art couples with basic animation throughout, but the third part is of decidedly lower quality than the other two, to the point that it's barely animated at all. Still, that hurts less here than it would in a series which depended on more activity than what this one does.

Some might call the stories here “quaint,” but they make for a nice, clean, and safe diversion from racier and more active content, and one that viewers of nearly any age can enjoy.

Folktales from Japan is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Space Brothers Episode 2

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  Mutta has made it past the preliminary screening for JAXA (the Japanese space agency) due to his mother secretly sending in his resume, but he is unsure if he wants to proceed since the odds are stacked against applicants; only about one percent of those who even make it to the first exam advance to becoming astronauts. A visit to his Aunt Sharon, who operates an observatory and whom he used to always visit in the past when trouble about a decision, gives him enough confidence to at least try, and when he does succeed at passing the first exam, he earns a trip to JAXA headquarters for the second round. After an intense interview he makes the acquaintance of Kenji Makabe, a fellow 31-year-old applicant whom he quickly takes a liking to. They also notice a pretty 26-year-old woman (Serika Aito, according to the Next Episode preview) who also seems to be one of the applicant, much to Mutta's delight.

All signs are that Kenji and Serika are going to be major regular characters going forward, but their introduction in the episode's waning minutes is more a bonus than the focus of the episode. This is still, at this point, entirely Mutta's story, and entirely about him collecting himself enough to pursue his dream despite his foibles and screw-ups. (The “accidentally flushing a cell phone down the toilet” bit is a classic that I'm sure a lot of viewers could probably relate to.) The second episode does not quite carry the full measure of sentiment that the first episode did, but this is still a strong, sentimental story whose more light-hearted bits work well to make Mutta sympathetic without seeming too pathetic. The episode also paces itself well and makes excellent use of its flashbacks. Perhaps most importantly, it proves that the first episode was no fluke; this is a quality series with a lot of promise.

Space Brothers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Dusk maiden of Amnesia

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  At Seikyo Private Academy in the office of the Paranormal Activities Investigation Club (which is, of course, housed in a decrepit, otherwise-unused school building), Okonogi writes up a report about paranormal activities about the school, mostly oblivious to the fact that something paranormal is clearly going on in the room. When fellow club members Teiichi Niiya (whom Okonogi knows can see ghosts) and Kirie arrive, the former seems to be reading her mind and both seem to be talking to someone else, while the club President, whom Okonogi has never met, is absent for the meeting. When they go to investigate a supposedly haunted elevator, Teiichi is suddenly pushed into the “Hellevator” by some unknown force.

And then the scenes replay from the beginning, only this time with us being able to see the ghost Yukon (i.e. the club President), who was messing around with everyone the whole time.

Such is the rather quirky beginning of this mostly-comical but also partly-serious story about a female ghost and the boy who can both see and interact with her (although Kirie can also apparently see her). Yuuko is a tease, but occasional comments dropped here and there suggest greater and darker mysteries, such as why her actual body is buried beneath the club room and why she's lost her memories of her life; the title, not surprisingly, is a reference to her. Both comic and serious modes work well here, although the shifts in tone can be quite sudden. The technical merits and artistic merits courtesy of SILVER LINK (who also did last year's nice-looking Mawaru Penguindrum) are strong, with a musical score that is effective in playful and serious modes and an opener (here used as the closed) which is sharp both musically and visually.

The Next Episode preview suggests that the origin story is coming up next, but even so this one is off to a good - if unconventional - start.

Dusk maiden of Amnesia is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Mysterious Girlfriend X

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:  High school relationship-based series have become so trite and rigidly formulaic over the years that few series dare to do something intriguingly different. This one does, and the way its first episode does it makes it required viewing for anyone who wants to see something very conventional done in a completely abnormal fashion.

High school student Akira Tsubaki has long wondered what his first girlfriend might be like, and when new transfer student Mikoto Urabe enters his class and sits beside him, he gets an interesting prospect. Mikoto is more than a little weird: she wears her hair down over her eyes, bursts out laughing in the middle of class for no apparent reason, and sleeps during lunch and breaks. One afternoon, after waking her up after school, Akira notices a puddle of drool she left on the desk. He's always been a bit obsessed with liquids, so he decides to taste it. That night, he has a vivid dream about he and Mikoto dancing in a strange city, and a few days later he comes down with a fever that won't go away - or at least it doesn't until Mikoto stops by his house and gives him another taste of her drool, declaring that it he has been experiencing “withdrawal symptoms” over falling in love with her. After this becomes a regular occurrence,  Akira works up the nerve to confess, which leads to some unexpected results.

So, yes, this is a series which involves a boy regularly tasting a girl's drool, and while that is weird, it is far less creepy and sexualized in execution than it sounds. In fact, just about everything in the series is the first episode is delightfully offbeat, from an art style which makes the high school students look more like middle students to the jaunty musical score to Mikoto's unique attitudes, appearance (her hair usually covers one or both eyes), and behavior; her seiyuu even uses a deeper-pitched and huskier voice than one would expect. The city in Akira's dreams is an utterly fascinating-looking place, but only slightly less so is Akira's bedroom, which is bedecked with all kinds of figures and movie posters which represent both a wide array of anime series (most prominently Big O) and American sci fi/fantasy movies. (An astute viewer will spot references to One Million Years B.C., Star Wars, and The Day The Earth Stood Still, amongst others.) The episode even ends on a well-executed climax and refreshingly candid follow-up.

Don't let the premise throw you. This is one of the best first episodes of the new season.

Mysterious Girlfriend X is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Fate/Zero Season 2 (episode 14)

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  Picking up exactly where the first season left off, Saber and Rider engage Caster's monster on the Mion River while Lancer looks on in frustration, unable to do much because he can't reach it - although Saber and Rider aren't able to do much, either, since the monster continually regenerates. Above, Archer and his Master look down on the scene and make experimental strikes until Tokiomi spies and decides to have a little chat with Kariya, while Kariya's servant Berserker uses a (essentially) possessed JSDF jet fighter to engage Archer, much to Archer's bemusement. While Tokiomi is being a smarmy ass and generally showing himself to not be Father of the Year, Ryonusuke glories in the chance to witness some fresh destruction, but he attracts the wrong kind of attention. Crowds of normal people are also starting to take notice.

Fate universe fans can revel in the series finally coming back on air for its concluding half after ending on a cliffhanger a bit more than three months ago, and this first episode does, indeed, show some of what has made the series great so far in the action sequences involving both Servants and Masters; the jet fighter-vs.-Archer's-airship duel is ridiculous in concept but still fairly cool in execution. Unfortunately this episode also shows the weakness of the series quite clearly, hence the reduced rating it gets: like many (most?) Type/Moon titles, it too often lapses into characters standing around having overly long chats. Granted, Tukiomi and Kariya did need to have a heart-to-heart concerning Sakura, and the conversation does clarify where Tukiomi stands quite nicely, but it drags on long enough to give the impression of just killing time. Ryunosuke is also allowed to get quite preachy, too. Both scenes could have been half their actual length and still been effective, but of course the point here was to spread the battle out over two episodes so the producers needed something to stall things out. Viewers’ patience will be rewarded, however, with a critical development in the climactic moment and the promise of a Master-on-Master battle to go with the Servant-Servant and Servant-monster battles coming next.

Artistry, animation, and the musical score are all still strengths, although the CG looks a little rougher this time around. The new opener is only a slight downgrade from that of the first season, but the new closer, which solely features Kiritsugu and Irisviel, is a big step down despite having more animation. The other flaws that this episode shows are just the flaws that the series has always had, so no one who has faithfully followed the series so far should experience a significant letdown.

Fate/Zero is currently streaming on Nico Nico Douga and will eventually stream on Crunchyroll.


Upotte!!

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review: The concept here - cute middle and high school girls who are actually assault rifles - is a sound one. After all, girls who turn into literal weapons is hardly a new concept in anime; Elemental Gelade did it back in the mid-200s and The Sacred Blacksmith did it a couple of years ago, amongst others. The problem with this approach is how the concept is executed.

Seishou Academy is a school with some very unusual standards. Its girls all attend morning target practice with assault rifles, walls commonly have bullet holes, and notices about “keeping one's chamber empty” abound because the students who attend the Academy aren't human; they're the embodiments of assault rifles from around the world. A new, young homeroom teacher - whom student Funco (i.e. an FNC from Belgium) observes at a festival using an assault rifle-shooting stance at a shooting booth - is actually human, though, and fully unaware of what he's getting into. He discovers it quickly, though, when he happens to notice and unadvisedly comment on the fact that she wears a thong and winds up in the hospital because of it. (Funco has to wear a thong because a butt of a gun-girl equates to the gun stock, and FNCs have a skeleton stock.)

Beyond the above, the rest of the episode is mostly just character introductions and a rinse-and-repeat of Funco going off on the new teacher for saying something inappropriate again. The whole episode is more than a little edgy, though. It splits into two aspects: showing the girls using the assault rifles that they embody and attributing gun-like traits to the girls; Ichiroku, the American M16A4, easily gets tired because her gun type is limited to three-round bursts, for instance, and when a girl comes into the nurse's office with a stomach ache, it's actually a problem with her spring. The edginess comes from the way the series sexualizes gun terminology and applies it to the girls. Funco, for instance, gets so worked up about how the new teacher handles a gun that she feels like her “hammer might fire” - and yes, it's implied to mean what you think it does. The aforementioned business with the thong is also an inspired but rather creepy bit of perversity.

In other words, the whole series is one big gimmick, and that and some respectable technical merits and detail are the only things that the first episode has going for it. The episode shows no sensitivity, instead preferring to wallow in juvenile gun/sex jokes and a mind-numbingly stupid early conversation about broccoli. The concept might have worked in the hands of a more capable writer, but here it's a flop.

Upotte!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Queen's Blade: Rebellion

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:  Although this series features a mostly new cast, it is still made specifically for established franchise fans. Those who are not fully up-to-date on their Queen's Blade lore will be confused about parts of it; having first seen the OVAs which came with the series’ Premium Visual Books (especially the first OVA) is particularly important.

A few years have passed since Leina ceded the throne to Claudette, whose used her position to carry out the disenfranchising the nobles and great advancements in research, thus granting greater freedom and convenience to the common people. Her rule has gradually become oppressive, however, as has the heretical persecutions by her affiliated Church, and that has fostered flames of rebellion in some capable warriors. Standing on the Queen's side are Elina (who now leads the Assassins of the Fang) and “Iron Strategist” Ymir, while one potential source of opposition comes in the form of Yuit, a small elven alchemist and newspaper chief who controls the powerful maid-clad automaton Vante and rejects a request to show off Vante before the Queen. A second potential foe arrives during a battle between Yuit/Vante and Elina: Annelote Kreutz, successor to the destroyed Kruetz noble house and controller of a mystical horse. Ymir, meanwhile, takes an interest in Mirim, a human associate of Vante's who seems to have an affinity for a magical stone. On other fronts, the ruthless pirate captain Liliana leads her undead crew in marauding activities, the nun/inquisitor Sigui seeks to root out and burn all heretics, and a dark-skinned dancer investigates a mysterious prophecy.

This episode throws out an awful lot of ultimately-important new characters, most of whose paths are far from converging at this point, and the Next Episode preview strongly suggests that many more are yet to come. Combine that with some mysteries lingering about how Claudette and Ymir turned bad (it's not so hard to understand in Elina's case) and a boggling array of new gadgets and you have a chaotic affair which will likely require at least a couple of episodes to sort itself out. Along the way, though, viewers will get plenty of what the series is known for: sexy, elaborately designed and dressed female characters showing off their bodies and occasionally getting into elaborate battles which inevitably involve some manner of clothes-shredding. Fan service is as pervasive as ever, with plenty enough bare-breasted nudity and perverse camera angles to keep the attention of any fan service enthusiast, and the overall artistic and animation quality from studio Arms may have even nudged up a little. That music, which is provided by a new music director, is not as good, however, and that has a definite negative impact.

Overall, this episode is not one of the franchise's better entries, but it does reaffirm that fans of the franchise still have a lot to enjoy and look forward to.


Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:  Back in the days before they regularly teamed up, Lu>pin and Fujiko Mine first encountered each other when both set their eyes on a treasure possessed by an old cult leader, who had established an island of hedonistic worshipers. The old cult leader used a drug seemingly produced from his own body to keep his followers light-headed and obedient, a prize that both independently sought: Fujiko by pretending to marry the cult leader and drug him, Lu>pin through more traditional means of infiltration. When their individual plans get in each other's ways, both wind up captured, and after an introductory talk both find their own clever ways to escape. Thus commences a battle as only world-class thieves can wage it: an intense round of back-and-forth gimmickry and counter-moves as both attempt to secure the source of the drug, escape with their lives, and avoid the alerted Inspector Zenigata in the process.

Although I am quite familiar with the concept of Lupin the Third, I have never actually seen more than a handful of clips of from previous franchise entries, but being more than generally familiar with the concept and core characters is not necessary for understanding and appreciating this episode. What is presented here is a thrilling and dazzling display of a combination of all-out action and a battle of wits, all set to a deliciously jazzy musical score and flavored with pervasive amounts of nudity and sexuality. L>upin comes across as a smarmy but lovable bastard, the kind who clearly delights even more in the execution of a heist than the actual end result and sees in Fujiko and interesting and sexy challenge, while Fujiko shows that, while she's not quite on Lu>pin's level, she's no push-over, either, and certainly not shy about using all of the resources at her disposal. That makes them fun to watch even beyond the action scenes. The pacing shouldn't be underestimated, either; events move along at just the right speed, always stopping just long enough to explain something but never more than that.

I am not at all a fan of the art style used here, but I still must acknowledge the quality of the production. Most of the episode is slickly-animated (there are a few lapses, but you have to really watch for them) and the look of the series suits the content well. Fujiko has all of the sexy curves a man could ask for, and my, does she get a chance to show them off! This title would give even something like Queen's Blade or Seikon no Qwaser a run for its money in the exposed nipples department, and both the opener and the closer feature even more of it; this is certainly not tame enough to show the kiddies. The way it is done here doesn't feel quite as exploitive as it does in many other fan service-focused series, however.

If there's one series so far this season which deserves to be checked out by everyone, it's this one. It makes quite an impression and will doubtless win the franchise many new fans.


Gattatsku - Rating: 2.5 (of 5)
Yurumate3Dei - Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:  Gattatsku is a roughly five minute short which focuses on the antics of a certain homeroom class at Inayama Junior High School. There Class President Chiho Takachiho uses homeroom time for her motley class to debate the merits of the pressing issues of the world. In this case the debate is about what to call the “bumpy thing” on the outside edge of one's wrists, which ultimately results in the class democratically assigning a ridiculous name to it. And yes, this is as stupid in execution as it sounds, but it does at least move along briskly and the thoroughly random construction of the class is amusing. The artistry is basic in style, with a penchant for thick lines and brown-toned colors, and the animation even moreso, but it is at least distinctive. It is just clever enough (in a dumb way) to be mildly entertaining.

Yurumate3Dei is a roughly three minute short which focuses on Yurume Aida, an 18 year old country girl who is moving to Tokyo to study for getting into college (in other words, she'll be attending cram school) so she can pursue her dream. She winds up staying at what turns out to be a run-down apartment building on the most extreme fringe of Tokyo called Maison du Wish, a place which is already home to many other cram school students and has a reputation for its inhabitants not passing their entrance exams. As she meets three of her wacky neighbors, she quickly comes to suspect that their “lawless” behavior might have something to do with their lack of success.

The opener for Yurumate3Dei suggests some much more extreme adventures involving mecha, but the (admittedly brief) episode content gives no indication of that. A potentially fun story about a country girl's misadventures in the big city could develop, but the content in this first episode is just too limited to make any reasonable judgment call yet. It is mildly funny in a silly way but its technical and artistic merits are nothing special.


Accel World

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:  Based on a light novel series, Accel World is set in a not-distant future where the revolutionary development of something called a neuro-linker allows people to constantly be linked into wireless networks, to the point that a person can see task bars on his visual periphery and type in mid-air on keyboards and hyperlinks projected only for him. In this setting, Haruyuki Arita is a short, rotund high school student who enjoys the virtual world because there, unlike in the real world, he can avoid being bullied and excel at something - namely, a solo version of squash, where he has all of the high scores. That skill brings him across the radar of Kuroyukihime, a beautiful upperclassman who is the Student Council Vice-President and uses a lovely butterfly wing-adorned avatar. (Haruyuki's, contrarily, is the little pig in the screencap.) In the real world she deftly helps Haruyuki with his bullying problem while also introducing him to Brain Burst, a special acceleration program which allows users to function virtually at 1000x normal speed, thus giving users a host of useful possibilities. As Haruyuki learns when he doesn't precisely heed Kuroyukihime's advice, though, Brain Burst also has another function: that of an online VR fighting game.

The first episode here has the look and feel of the high-concept show of the season. It has a fantastic imagination of future technology that single-handedly makes this episode worth watching; the very first scene sets the standard for that, and many great technology-exploiting additional scenes follow. The VR world it imagines allows users’ avatars to be just about anything that they can conceive, with Kuroyukihime's butterfly woman being the highlight of the bunch, while in the real world Haruyuki exists as a permanent caricature - a none-too-subtle shorthand for his distinct problems with self-image. The writing has much more to it than just supporting flashy technology, too, as Haruyuki clearly has some deep-seeded issues to deal with and the first episode leaves questions hanging about whether or not Kuroyukihime is manipulating him to some greater purpose or genuinely wants to help him or both. The game aspect introduced at the end, which the closer suggests will be a prominent feature going forward, is more familiar territory, but even there the little it shows stands out as a hard-core gamer's wet dream.

Technical merits come courtesy of Sunrise (supported by Studio Easter backgrounds), which shows off its technical and artistic capabilities more here than its other production this season, Natsu-iro Kiseki, does. A strong soundtrack also contributes to an episode which makes a great start to a series which looks to have a lot of potential.

Accel World is currently streaming on Hulu.


Acchi Kocchi

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  This new effort from AIC and the director of Astarotte's Toy and Romeo X Juliet is based on a manga, and if its source material isn't a collection of four-panel strips then I will be quite surprised, as the short gag format used by the first episode certainly has that look and feel. None of the comedy sketch bits in it last more than two minutes (although several share the same setting in some cases), but that's perfectly fine for material like this, as it keeps the jokes from wearing out their welcome.

The action (such as it is) centers around a group of five friends: the gently manly Io, the shrimp Tsumiki, the prankster and technical whiz Mayoi, the laid-back Sakaki, and Hime, who regularly gets nosebleeds at the hint of anything romantic going on and has an amazing capacity for inappropriately using idioms. Io and Tsumiki are something of an unofficial couple, as the others see them as inseparable and Tsumiki clearly has a fixation on Io, though Io seems to see her more as a friend and possibly a pet, too; Tsumiki reinforces this by regularly taking on a cat-like motif. Their assorted shenanigans involve teasing each other while walking to school, fixing a classroom heater, fixing the school intercom, and making a group sojourn to an arcade. Teacher Kikue-sensei also gets in on some of the gags as a fall girl.

The art style for the series has some interesting twists, such as doing a dot pattern fill on background characters and using nendoroid-styled figurines of the main cast members in the closer. Otherwise it uses a simplistic but well-drawn style heavy on the cutesiness, although the cowlicks on Io and especially Tsumiki are a bit much. The romantic element is also decidedly cute, suggesting a recurring theme for the series. This kind of format normally doesn't leave much room for relationship development, though, so it will be interesting to see if this series can go anywhere with that. Jokes are more “hit” than “miss,” with most being at least mildly amusing and a couple being quite funny. Overall, it makes for a nice, mindless diversion if you're looking for a comedy break amidst watching more serious fare.


Sankarea

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  Chihiro is, by any reasonable definition, a weirdo. He has a great love for zombie-related fare, but takes things one step further than most by wishing to meet and fall in love with a cute zombie girl. When his beloved cat Babu gets hit by a car and dies, Chihiro decides to experiment with an apparently mystical old text he once found and see if he can bring Babu back as a zombie. While doing his experiments in an abandoned bowling alley at night, he happens to hear someone outside: a pretty girl in a red dress who comes to a nearby well and screams down it in frustration. He later learns that she is Rea Sanka, scion of an apparently prominent family and daughter of the principal of the all-girl's school across the river from Chihiro's all-boy's school. After overhearing her again one rainy night, and this time overhearing what she's frustrated about (much to her dismay), the two have a chat, in which Rea promises to do anything to keep Chihiro quiet about what he's heard and Chihiro jokingly asks her to be his experiment in zombifying Babu, since he's only interested in zombie girls. If he's not careful, though, he may get exactly what he wants.

This first episode is worth watching if for no other reason than to see all of the neat zombie-related paraphernalia casually laying around Chihiro's room in background shots, such as the zombie arm reaching out from beneath his bed or the zombie alarm clock. By the time the episode ends, though, the implication lingers that the whole zombie business may actually just be a framing device and not a literal component of the series. Instead this looks like it could be more a tale about a romance developing between a guy with perverse interests and a girl looking for an escape from strict (and rather creepy) family traditions. It's handled well enough that viewers coming into this one expecting a supernatural tale may still be perfectly fine with that development, and a little (high-quality) fan service is even tossed in as compensation. Studio DEEN's artistic effort is hit-or-miss, with Chihiro's design giving his hair an odd, horn-like affectation but Rea looking quite striking in her apparently trademark red dress and coat.

The one annoyance that has popped up so far is the requisite aggressive female cousin for Chihiro, but the overall execution shows a surprising amount of promise.


Natsu-iro Kiseki

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  Four girls - blonde-haired Saki, orange-haired Natsumi, pink-haired Rinko, and dark-haired Yuka - have been friends for many years as they go through their second year of middle school together. Tensions arise when Saki stops joining Natsumi for morning tennis practice and pretends like she doesn't remember their promise to advance to Nationals as a doubles team. The other three girls soon learn the possible reason: Saki will not be returning to school after the upcoming summer break because she's moving to Tokyo. In an effort to get their friends to make up, Rinko and Yuka use false pretenses to draw them both to a big, flat rock behind the temple run by one of their families, a rock which can supposedly grant wishes to four friends who wish for the same thing in its presence. Four years earlier their wish to become an idol group seemed to be partly granted when they later won a local singing competition, but Saki will have none of such foolishness anymore. To the shock of all of them, though, the stories about the stone are true, and a summer miracle does, indeed, happen.

The big gimmick here isn't the miracle at the end; it's that the girls in the featured quartet are voiced by the members of the actual idol group Sphere, which also sings the opening and closing themes and, of course, the insert song, too. Assuming that this is just an idol vehicle would be a mistake, however, as the characterizations and story which play out here are not the hackneyed material one might expect from such fare. Until the miracle happens, this is a pure slice-of-life story about four longtime friends struggling with tensions that arise when one of them has to move and decides that forgetting about a promise is better than seeing it outright fail. That part is a little on the bland side, as something seems to be missing which should make it fully compelling, but it's still quite watchable and worth tolerating as a lead-up to the miracle. Where this is going next in light of the miracle, though, is anyone's guess, and the Next Episode preview isn't revealing.

Surprisingly, this is animated by Sunrise - a far departure from the norm in terms of the content they normally handle. The artistry and animation are not at the level of Sunrise's best works but are good enough to help maintain interest through the slower parts. A cast of diverse (if not necessarily original) personalities also helps, and the Sphere girls do a reasonably good job with the voice acting, too.


Sengoku Collection (Parallel Worlds Samurai)

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review:  Hasn't the concept of casting prominent Warring States Era figures as cute girls been done to death by now? Apparently the staff of Brains Base doesn't think so, hence we have this insipid new series whose only claim to originality so far is that it isn't based on any previous property.

In this variation on the concept, a disastrous castle collapse in her correct world apparently sends Oba Nobunaga to her doom just as she was on the cusp of uniting the land, but instead she winds up plummeting to Earth in our world and, in the process, ramming head first into a young man on a scooter. She quickly claims him as a retainer and goes through all degrees of culture shock, such as figuring out how to eat a hamburger, wrestling with plastic coverings on food at the convenience store where her retainer works, and so forth. She even thwarts a robbery by thoroughly intimidating the would-be robber. When she stops to make a prayer at a shrine, her threat to burn down the shrine if her prayer isn't answered gets the attention of three animal-themed miko, who offer to send her back to her correct world if she can gather power spheres found in others from her world who have also ended up there.

This version of Nobunaga wears a dress designed to show off her cleavage and doesn't think twice about stripping before her “retainer.” That isn't enough - or high quality enough - fan service to balance out how truly bad this first episode is, however. The problems start with the artistry. The prologue scene set in the other world actually looks fairly sharp, but after the opener the artistic quality takes a dramatic dip and spends the rest of the episode varying between being mediocre and terrible as it struggles with basics like staying on-model. The storytelling is just the standard fish-out-of-water routines mixed with the irritatingly overbearing behavior of Nobunaga as she essentially forces the young man to look after her. And then, just when it looks like the series might manage a little true sweetness, it tosses in the treasure-hunting angle for good measure.

Sengoku Collection isn't enough of a total failure to truly stink up the place, but it isn't a good start to a concept which shows very little promise beyond seeing how all of these historical figures look this time around.

Sengoku Collection is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Polar Bear Café

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  Panda (who is, of course, an actual Panda) is being harassed by his mother for lounging around the house and doing nothing but eating bamboo, so at her “encouraging” he goes out and looks for a part-time job. His first couple of attempts make it glaringly obvious that he has little concept of what “work” actually means, but then his wanderings lead him to the Polar Bear Café, which is (of course) run by a polar bear who has a penchant for bad wordplay. Though he fails miserably at the interview for the café’s part-time position (along with several other animals that are equally worthless), the café’s denizens are able to help steer him towards a part-time gig at a zoo, where his job is, of course, to be a panda.

Anime series featuring anthropomorphic animals are not something you see every season, but here we have the rare one which actually runs in full episodes. It's even set in a world where animals walking around and talking doesn't cause humans to bat an eye. Its first episode is certainly cute enough and engaging enough in its low-key silliness to make it family-friendly fare; in fact, the only bit in it that would likely go over the head of a typical four-year-old is the wordplay jokes done by Polar Bear. That's also the episode's biggest problem from a hard-core anime fan's perspective, as it has no layered meaning in it to entice in older viewers who find these simple bits boring, but this is a series aimed at casual viewers rather than hard-core fans anyway. Either audience, though, is likely to appreciate the meticulous detail put into the renderings of the animal characters; these are definitely not simple caricatures. That and some of the humor might be enough to make this is a worthwhile view as a show to wind down with or use as a break against more hyped-up fare, but this looks to be more of a side curiosity than main fare for this season.

Polar Bear Café is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Is This a Zombie? of the Dead

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  The first season of this offbeat harem series built a reputation for featuring even the most preposterous of creations: at one time or another a viewer could find a mute, moe necromancer; a vampire ninja in a maid costume playing a violin; flying blue whales in schoolboy uniforms as enemies; ramen being used to destroy monsters; and the titular male zombie transforming into a chainsaw-wielding magical girl, amongst others. It also distinguished itself because it was frequently very bloody and because none of the girls that hero Ayuma lived with initially had romantic interest in him. Now one does, and he's picked up a couple of other apparently interested parties along the way, but even so the first episode of this follow-up season still shows that it's still bizarre enough to not entirely tread down normal harem paths.

As per last season, Ayumu is still a zombie and still lives with the necromancer Euclid, the “genius” magical girl Haruna, and the busty vampire ninja Seraphim, while the other vampire ninja Yuki still tries to act like his wife at school. A pigtailed classmate seen occasionally last season is also now starting to show a serious interest in him, and Ayumu also has a couple of encounters with a mysterious pink-haired girl whom he calls a fairy and whom others think is imaginary. (She's the one who had a brief cameo at the end of the first season.) Ayumu's attempts to keep his identity as a magical girl under fail miserably when a squid-based Megalo appears on campus and Haruna proves that her own “Masou Shojo” powers aren't completely back yet, thus forcing him to turn into a magical girl in front of everyone to defeat the squid and save a classmate.

This episode gets off to a slow start because it spends its first half reestablishing itself and introducing the as-yet-unnamed pink-haired girl. Once the Megalo comes into picture, though, the demented spirit which made the first series so much fun to watch finally takes over again. Those who were fans of the first series will not be disappointed, and its equal-opportunity approach to fan service (yes, those are Ayumu's panties in the screenshot, and he later appears butt-naked) may even pull in some extra female fans. The artistry and technical merits seem to have undergone a bit of an upgrade, too.

The first series was known to actually take itself completely seriously at times, but by its conclusion this episode more reflects the series’ perversely fun side.


Saint Seiya Omega

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:  Boy, this seems to be the season for old-school (or at least old school-styled) super-hero titles, doesn't it? First Zetman and now this, the newest incarnation of a franchise which dates back to the mid-‘80s. Fortunately one does not have to be at all familiar with the previous entries in the franchise to understand this one, which looks like it's being set up to be a “next generation” story, although doubtlessly established fans will get more out of this. (Kohga's outfit, once he manifests his Cosmo, has distinct stylistic similarities to the young Seiya's outfit, for instance.)

The tale opens in an otherworldly place with Athena looking after a toddler when a hyper-powerful villain strikes, seeking to secure Athena as part of a plan to take over the world. A golden-armored figure, Saint Seiya, appears to thwart the attacker, albeit at the apparent cost of his own life. Years later, the toddler Kohga is now a teen who is being rigorously trained by an armored woman to become a Saint, though he isn't really clear on what that is, why he should be protecting someone called Athena, and whether or not that's even something he wants. All he cares about is the lovely woman he knows as Saori (aka Athena), who also seems reluctant to fill him in on the details or explain about Saint Seiya. Kohga's dream about a golden-armored figure standing before him proves to be a precursor to a return appearance by the revived Mars, who once again seeks to possess Athena and can't be stopped by Shaina, Kohga's trainer. With a crisis at hand, Kohga is (naturally!) finally able to manifest his Cosmo - which is suspiciously similar to Seiya's - and the Pegasus Cloth that goes with it.

In other words, this is a very standard set-up story for a supernatural super-hero tale, complete with a male lead who is every ounce the stereotypical Reluctant Young Hero. In fact, claiming that this one has a single fresh element in it is a major stretch. Still, the first episode is richly-drawn and nicely-animated using one of those weird combinations of retro character designs done in modern art styles, does deliver a fair amount of action thrill, and does it without being too silly. It is definitely aimed at drawing a new generation of kids into the 25+ year old franchise and should do that fairly well.

Saint Seiya Omega is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Medaka Box

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  Busty high school student Medaka Kurokami is a veritable superwoman. She has such a force of personality that she won her school's Student Council President election with 98% of the vote despite being a first-year, continuing a long-standing tradition of being dominant at everything she does. Despite that, she has never seen herself as better than others, much to put-upon childhood friend Zekichi's annoyance; rather than looking down on others, she expects others to achieve to her level. As part of her campaign promise, she established the titular suggestion box and resolved to solve other students’ problems so that they could achieve their own dreams. First up are some malcontents who have taken over the Kendo Club's dojo, who quickly learn that the self-righteous but actually-always-right Medaka is a force to be reckoned with in every sense. As per the norm, Zekichi gets dragged along for the ride; Medaka wants him at her side because he's the one person who consistently worries about her, but he can't help himself since Medaka is a difficult person not to love.

So basically this manga-based series is just the newest iteration on the “school troubleshooter” concept, although the way it handles Medaka is a bit interesting. Characters like her tend to be either arrogant or self-effacing, but she is neither. Instead, she is a force of nature with DD-sized breasts and no compunction about stripping down to her undies in front of her long-time male friend. She is something of a dreamer, but one who carries along others with her dreams of helping everyone succeed and has the talent to pull it off. The way the artistry and character design go out of their way to emphasize her figure detracts from being able to take the series too seriously, but it's not entirely out of place since it can be looked at as a further sign of her supreme-but-not-overbearing confidence. Zekichi makes a good foil for her and helps keep the series grounded.

Still, can this concept keep up the head of steam that it builds in the first episode? I can see Medaka's shtick getting old pretty fast and the first episode does not have impressive enough artistic and technical merits to fall back on. As is, the series shows some promise but is just as likely to stumble.


Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  Rock Lee is a young man who earnestly aspires to be a ninja despite the fact that he cannot use ninjutsu. In this episode he and his squad mates Neji and Tenten are faced with two daunting missions. The first is to help a girl whose father is beset by loan shark, in which Lee perfects his new “Elimination by Depantsification” technique (yes, you're reading that right) while diligently attempting to avoid piles of dog poo. The second involves his team's assignment to fetch a limited-release cake, which seems a simple task until they discover that Naruto is independently on the same mission. When Lee and Naruto arrive at the day's final voucher at the same time, they must, of course, wage a contest to see who will claim the voucher.

Although this is a direct Naruto spin-off, one does not have to be a regular viewer - or, for that matter, even like the source series - in order to have fun with this one, as the first episode explains various things like Naruto's signature moves. (A few jokes will fly by if one does not know who Gai is, but that's the extent of expected knowledge here.) In fact, this gag series should play just fine for those who abhor Naruto, as it pokes fun at the very things that can make its source series tiresome to watch. The whole thing is done in SD artistry and is so relentlessly stupid that crow regularly fly by to remind viewers that the stupidity is intentional. Its stupidity is inspired enough that the episode can be quite funny in a lowbrow way, though; almost anyone should get at least a few chuckles out of it. (Yes, that is Neji dressed as a schoolgirl in the screenshot above, which should give one a good taste for how the humor in the series is going to go.) The closer, which features Lee's team and Gai dancing as idols in a concert attended by the Hidden Leaf Village's other ninja, just adds to the silliness.

For what this one is trying to do and be, it succeeds pretty well.

Rock Lee and His Ninja Pals is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Zetman

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review: The core story elements here are very familiar: at one time uber-rich people watched mindless monsters battle for sport while betting on the outcomes (because, you know, all rich people are amoral pricks who love to see things suffer). The monsters got smart and escaped, however, slaughtering most in their path; only a couple of old men and a very important baby survive. Ten years later that baby, one Jin, is living a homeless life with his grandfather while using his exceptional abilities to save people from trouble for a fee, much to the consternation of the justice-minded brother and sister that he hangs out with. People are still looking for him, though, and one of the monsters who escaped ten years ago has become a serial killer. When that killing strikes Jin's grandfather and the other homeless people he lived around, Jin turns to the only person he can think of and actually contact (because his friends, unbeknownst to him, are being kept from hanging out with someone from the wrong side of the street): a hostess club worker named Akemi, whom he once saved from a nasty bunch of thugs. She takes him in, but the serial killer finds them, too - only this time Jin gets to harness his own power.

If this sounds like a set-up very similar to any of the Japanese super-hero series made over the past four decades, it is; in fact, it could be looked at as the newest generation of such fare. It is quite a graphic tale, with a fair amount of bloodshed, one scene which had to get the dreaded “bathroom fog” treatment, and no effort made to disguise what Akemi does for a living. (And this is, curiously, based on a manga by the same manga-ka responsible for I”s and Video Girl Ai.) The content here does make a bid for depth and respectability in the relationship that forms between Akemi (who is strongly implied to have lost a young son one way or another) and Jin, but it shoots itself in the foot by trying to convince viewers that a 10-year-old who is not apparently mentally deficient would have no concept for “death” or “hope” and by the heavy-handed way it portrays the father (grandfather?) of Jin's rich friends as a total ass (again, more hate for rich people). Its musical score also seems a bit off, though it does have one heck of a cool closer. The artistry, contrarily, is pretty good when not straying into mange-styled effects.

Zetman is not an awful series, but neither is it a good or fresh one. It has just enough sentiment and other good material to earn it a mediocre grade, and a Next Episode preview which suggests that a big time jump will follow gives hope that it might eventually amount to more. But it's only a faint hope.

Zetman is currently streaming on Viz Anime.


Space Brothers

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:  Mutta was born under an unlucky star, while his younger brother Hibito was born under a lucky one. Though Mutta has always believed that his responsibility as the elder brother is to always be one step ahead of the younger one, life hasn't worked out that way. At age 32 he finds himself jobless and moving back in with his parents, and when the incident which got him fired also gets him blacklisted from his engineering profession, he is forced to resort to more mundane jobs. Hibito, meanwhile, has fulfilled their UFO-inspired childhood dream of becoming an astronaut and is slated for an upcoming expedition to the moon to establish a long-term habitat. Upon learning of his brother's plight, Hibito gives Mutta a forceful push towards his onetime goal by submitting Mutta's resume to astronaut training - and he is accepted.

Space Brothers has a quirky delivery style which features plenty of light-hearted moments but can't quite be called comedy, as it serves to show how pathetic Mutta's plight has become. This does not happen in the way anime normally builds its buffoons, however. Younger viewers may have a hard time relating to Mutta, but for older viewers who have “been there, done that” about having to face a dramatic and unwanted career change in their 30s (especially ones that have seen a younger sibling pass them by in being successful), Mutta will strike a deep and resonate chord. For that reason the sentimentality and nostalgia which is deeply ingrained into this first episode will hit the audience very unevenly. Some will see where the first episode is going as a space love affair akin to Planetes, and it does indeed have that initial feel, but others will see it as the start of a personal journey to recapture a lost dream and overcome the iniquities of life that have kept a man from pursuing his onetime goal. For those who see it only the former way, this is only a mildly promising start. For those who see it the latter way, though, this approach hits all the right buttons and develops itself perfectly, making for a moving experience.

Whichever way you lean, the restrained soundtrack effectively enhances the tone of the work. The animation may be nothing special, but the visuals do their job well, producing characters that are distinctive-looking without being outlandish and shot selections which fully support the approach the series takes.

Space Brothers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Kimi to Boku. 2

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:  Early on in this episode one of the characters say, “I was just wondering where exactly this conversation is going.” That line proves to be prophetic, for the entire episode continues the first series’ tradition of mostly consisting of inane chatter amongst a group of guy friends who seem to have nothing better to do. At times the cute pictures of cats interspersed into the scenes are more entertaining than what the characters are actually doing.

The story, such as it is, starts with the quintet contemplating the merits of tangerines. After school, they all wind up going over to Kaname's house for dinner (much to Kaname's consternation), which evolves into a sleep-over (also much to Kaname's consternation) since they don't have school the next day. While taking turns at baths, generally goofing around, and also checking out Kaname's old telescope, the other boys tend to hedge around making references to what they've done together in the past, in an effort to avoid excluding Chizuru, but Chizuru actually encourages them to bring up such tales.

Much like its first season, the first episode here is harmless and inoffensive in its efforts to show off its cast's personality quirks and does, occasionally, get around to some genuine fun. It does have an actual smooth (if rather soporific) flow to how it progresses, so this isn't just a collection of random moments thrown together, but that won't make it interesting to anyone who didn't fall in love with the first season. The nice new opener suggests that girls will be more readily involved in the goings-on this time around, so perhaps that will shake things up a bit. On the downside, the artwork seems to have dropped off a bit since last season and any freshness that the concept had is gone.

Kimi to Boku. 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.



Folktales from Japan

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  The title tells you exactly what you get here: a collection of classic folk tales, done in a style similar to Western fables but with, of course, a distinctly Japanese flavor. Each episode will apparently feature three such tales, and all of the voice work for each tale is done by the old male and female seiyuu who also narrate the tales.

In “The Old Man Who Made The Dead Trees Blossom,” an old couple rescue a puppy from a box in the stream, who turns out to be a magical talking dog who repays their kindness by bringing them gold in one form or another. When neighbors try to take advantage of the dog for their own selfish interests, though, it always backfires on them. In “The Man Who Bought Dreams.” a young merchant watches a horsefly fly out of the nose of a sleeping fellow merchant, who wakes up to tell about a dream of flying across the water to an island where he discovers a pot of gold buried under a particular type of tree in a rich man's home. The young merchant buys the dream and pursues the gold, but does so in an honest, hard-working fashion. In “The Rat Sutra,” a beggar posing as a mendicant monk partakes of the hospitality of an old widow, who asks him to teach her a sutra that she can chant to help her deceased husband. Put on the spot, the beggar creates a fake sutra about a rat, which the woman diligently chants. Years later, after repenting of his sin, the beggar returns as a real monk to teach her a real sutra.

The fact that each of these pieces is essentially a miniature morality play should not escape any adult viewer; in each case those who act with kindness, honestly, and/or repentance prosper, while those who act greedily or selfishly run into trouble. Even so, they are such delightful and fun little tales that their lessons are hardly oppressive ones. The artwork and animation are very basic but still have their own charms, and a please closing theme rounds out the episode. The best reason to watch the series, though, is to foster one's knowledge and appreciation of fables done Japanese-style, and for that purpose the series should work very well.

Folktales from Japan is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Hiiro no Kakera

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:  Visual novels which get adapted into anime are overwhelmingly aimed at male audiences, so this adaptation of a 2006 PS2 game sticks out as the rare series of its type aimed at female audiences. That's about the only thing - other than possibly its pretty, richly-colored artistry - which sticks out about the first episode, as otherwise it has the look and feel of a very run-of-the-mill reverse harem story.

In the story, 17 year old Tamaki Kasuga has gone to a rural area to live with her grandmother while her parents go to work overseas. (Do any Japanese parents actually work in-country?) A disconcerting encounter with spirit creatures while walking from her bus stop to the shrine where her grandmother lives leads Tamaki into an encounter with a handsome but sullen young man, who helps her thwart the “drowned gods” and gruffly escorts her to her grandmother. There Tamaki learns that her grandmother “called” Tamaki to be her successor as the next Princess Tamayori, a spiritually-endowed woman responsible for maintaining the seal on a sacred sword which prevents harmful gods from running amok. The young man that she met on the way, as well as three others that she soon meets, are all sons of a clan long dedicated to protecting the Princess Tamayori. Naturally they're all dashingly handsome but have peculiar quirks.

The encounter with the spirits and the end of the first episode suggest that this will not be a tame tale; doubtless the guys will all get their chances to fight. That's good, because none of the characters inspire any interest or do anything fresh. All conform to standard genre archetypes: there's a loud and immature one, a seductively gentle one, a too-calm one, and the obligatory ill-mannered ass.  All that's missing is a set of twins, but hey, there's still at least one more protector to be revealed. The premise would have to try hard to be any more insipid - hasn't the “guardians for the princess” thing been done to death already in reverse harem series? - but at least Studio DEEN gives us something nice to look at as compensation.

For now the artistry can carry the series, but the writing will have to show something more.

Hiiro no Kakera is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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