The Spring 2012 Anime Preview Guide Zac Bertschy
Mar 31st 2012
Kids on the Slope
Nishimi is just starting his new life at a new high school in Kyushu in the 1960s. He's brainy and rich – and the entire student body seems to know it before he's even arrived – and so life isn't going to be easy. He meets Kawabuchi, the resident delinquent, who winds up fighting 3 seniors for the school's roof key – something Nishimi desperately needs, so he has a place he can escape to when his anxiety flares up. The two form a sort of rival friendship, guided by the gentle Mukae, class representative and childhood friend of Kawabuchi. Her dad owns a record store, where she takes Nishimi – who discovers Kawabuchi playing drums in the basement, in a small performance space. Nishimi happens to be a classical pianist, but Kawabuchi won't play alongside him – a rich nerd like him couldn't possibly understand jazz, after all. You can see where this is going.
So this is from the legendary Shinichiro Watanabe, collaborating once again with the also-legendary Yoko Kanno, and the result is predictably pretty great. This is an easygoing, low-key show, one that ‘s in no rush to tell a grand story; this is all character work, from the dialogue to the pacing to the animation, which is spectacular in moments. They're telegraphing where this is going pretty hard – obviously Nishimi and Kawabuchi will learn from eachother (and if there's no love triangle brewing with Mukae, I'll eat my hat), but these are fun characters, and the setup here is all very elegantly done. They're very human and relatable, and I'm looking forward to seeing more. The production design is fantastic – the color palette they're using here is spot-on, with the use of muted sunlight giving the show a warm, nostalgic feel. You can practically smell the wood and vinyl in Mukae's father's record store. This is all time, place and character – it isn't at all the noirish action Wantanabe is mostly known for, and the result is a refreshing, calm and mature series from a group of artists that have shown us that when they work together, it can be pretty magical. Kids on the Slope is yet more evidence of that.
Kids on the Slope is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Mysterious Girlfriend X
Tsubaki is a normal high school boy. One day in class, a mysterious girl with bangs over her eyes, Urabe, is introduced as a new student. She's a weirdo – she randomly bursts into laughter in the middle of the lecture and sleeps with her face down on her desk instead of socializing. The other students start avoiding her, but after class one afternoon, Tsubaki goes back into the classroom to find her face-down, alone. He wakes her up and notices that she's left behind a puddle of drool.
So he tastes the drool.
Then he gets sick. Urabe comes to visit him, and explains that he isn't sick – he's tasted the drool of the girl he loves, and thus is in withdrawl and needs to drink more of her saliva. And so the feeding begins.
The climax of the episode involves Urabe feeding him drool day after day until he ultimately confesses his love, ripping up a picture of his middle-school sweetheart to prove himself to her, which causes an explosion of spit to flood out of her mouth, as is customary when she gets really happy.
This shit is REVOLTING. Rare is the anime that makes me literally recoil with disgust, but Mysterious Girlfriend X had me slowly backing away from the screen with one eye open.
To the episode's credit, the tone is very creepy and unsettling; the score in particular is this sinister Carnival-Of-The-Damned thing, and there's a dream sequence where he's dancing with Urabe in the middle of this dystopian nightmare town populated with strange moving statues, so it's not as if it's a bouncy happy-go-lucky moe show for spit otaku (spit otaku, that's where we're at now, folks!). The character designs are all strangely retro, with upturned noses and bushy 80s hair. As a production it's unlike anything else being made right now, but it's still a show about drinking spit. There are a bunch of visual cues that push a pollination metaphor, so the underlying premise is pretty obvious, but still – SPIT DRINKING.
Mysterious Girlfriend X is inexplicably available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Let… let me see if.. let me see if I can explain this…
Seishou Academy is host to a bunch of moe girls who are also assault rifles, which is not a metaphor.
The lead character is FNC, an anthropomorphized Belgian rifle with a skeleton butt (which is a particular kind of gun butt, not that her butt is a skeleton… forget it), which is why she wears a thong..? She nearly has an orgasm one day at the local fair when a human boy shows up and demonstrates perfect rifle-handling form at the shooting gallery booth. She keeps imagining his big rifle-fondling hands on her, and can't help herself. This is how the show begins.
So all the girls in the school are also guns, and all of their sex organs correlate to a part on a rifle – their chest is the hand guard, their vaginas are apparently the muzzle and the butt is also the butt. One girl gets sick with stomach pains and goes in to first aid, where the nurse tells her her spring is out of whack while pressing on her belly, which makes a bunch of mechanical gun noises. So their insides are all gun parts, I guess, but they have squishy moe anime girl exteriors. It isn't like other things where the anthropomorphized OS or gaming console girls are just extensions of the product's identity, these girls are supposed to literally be assault rifles in moe girl form.
Later we learn all the different types of gun-girl-crazy goddamn mutant hybrid monsters what the hell is going on in this show that there are, each one with a different moe personality. Eventually FNC meets up with the human teacher and he puts his hands on her head, which nearly gives her an… orgasm? Uncontrolled fire? I DON'T KNOW. Then she shoots him, for the second time in the episode. The end!
So here's what I'm going to give Upotte!! the credit it truly deserves: this is some of the absolute craziest, dumbest, weirdly creepiest shit I have ever seen in my life. Whoever is responsible for this show was out of their goddamn mind and it feels like someone said “hey, anyone wanna trigger another one of those “wacky crazy Japan!” American news articles? Let's freak everyone out!” It is bananas.
Watch Upotte!! if you are one of the following:
- A person who honestly just wants to see how completely bonkers they're apparently willing to get these days in the anime industry
- A dude who has such a strong gun fetish that you want to f*ck your guns but until now haven't really had a proper way to fantasize about doing that
But one thing is absolutely for certain: there are two eras in anime history. A time before Upotte!! existed, and now, which is where we're at.
We're through the looking glass, people.
Upotte!! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
In an ancient Japan that resembles nothing in our world, a raging fire takes place before Oda Nobunaga – who's a GIRL?! With pink hair and considerable assets?! – she turns and gives us a knowing smile before LEAPING TO HER DEATH… or is she?? As it turns out, whatever her plan was – a fascinating backstory I hope the creators of Sengoku Collection understand that we viewers will need to know before the end – has backfired, and she's wound up in modern day Tokyo! She bounces off a building and lands safely in the nether-regions of a hapless kid who works at a convenience store and takes kindly to the strong-willed Nobunaga, who just can't make heads or tails of this crazy world of ours! A gut-busting montage where Nobunaga is mystified by a hamburger of all things – something that's normal to us, but if you think about it, she's from a parallel world and has never even seen one before – sets the stage for a sequence of pure comic genius where Nobunaga encounters things we all take for granted but totally stupefy her! Then more intrigue sets in when the pair stops off at a shrine, and three mysterious heads op up from around the corner – three captivating shrine maidens each with a unique personality: one is a cat, one is a fox and the other is a rabbit! These three hold the key to the whole story, and tell Nobunaga in a dream that she must collect the sacred treasures – what could these be? – in order to return to her time. And we're off for a crazy, history-rocking parallel world adventure with the busty Nobunaga and her headstrong personality in tow!
Personally, this show has it all: cute girls, hilarious comedy and a story wrapped up in all sorts of exciting intrigue! My favorite girl so far is the cat girl, who seems like she knows more than she's letting on; the creators didn't give her very much dialogue, but I hope we get to know her better down the road! I was laughing so hard at the classic “Nobunaga reacts to a hamburger” scene (which you'll want to watch again and again, if you're anything like me!) I had to pause the video, which gave me a chance to see if there were any Nobunaga figures up for preorder (I couldn't find any – here's hoping the creative team behind this show isn't shy about giving us our own “sacred treasures”!). My only regret so far is that we have to wait a whole week to see where Nobunaga winds up next and what other crazy (and hopefully adorable!) girls she's going to meet. The shrine maidens said there would be other warriors – I can't even imagine where this one is going! The countdown starts now!!
This amazing masterpiece is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine
In a massive island palace, a dangerous cult has sprung up, fueled by a powerful drug that's synthesized by the cult's leader. Master thief and seductress Fujiko Mine has arrived to steal the drug's source, but there's one massive obstacle in her way: Lu>pin III, who's there to pilfer the source himself. The two wind up in a dizzying rivalry that eventually sees the island destroyed, with Fujiko escaping empty-handed and Lu>pin escaping even after Inspector Zenigata shows up. Lupin admits that he's bored with simply being a thief, and his encounter with Fujiko has given him a cure for his boredom: he vows that the next thing he's going to steal is her.
So this is pretty fantastic. This is the 40th anniversary of the well-worn Lupin franchise, and to celebrate, they handed the reins over to Sayo Yamamoto and Takeshi Koike, two of the key players behind Redline, and the result is – as predicted – a fun, extremely stylish romp that cranks up the show's sex appeal. Koike's lanky, sinister character designs are on display front and center, and his artistic sensibility rules everything on screen; it doesn't look like anything else on TV this season, and that's a very good thing. Story-wise, it's nice that they've decided to mix things up a little by giving us more of Fujiko's perspective, and the show hints at telling us more about her history, which at least holds the promise of a stronger narrative than your usual Lupin III ensemble. Make no mistake, however; we're getting a lot more Fujiko, but Lu>pin's name is still getting top billing, and we're inside both of their heads as the story plays out. They wouldn't sideline the franchise's main draw completely, after all.
One word of warning: Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine is decidedly not safe for work. There's a surprising amount of nudity and I think Fujiko herself spends fully half the episode topless. In the past, the Lupin franchise has been a lot more family-friendly than this, and all the stripping and seduction on screen seems to be a message from Koike: this is not your same-ol’ Lupin III. It'll be fun to see where this one goes.
Saint Seiya Omega
Legend says that when evil threatens the world, the Saints will show up and save everyone using their sacred Cloths (sic).
So guess what happens in this show!
We're introduced to Kohga, a brash kid being trained as a Saint by the talented warrior Shaina (who has a ridiculous pointy metal breastplate). He doesn't want to learn, and isn't convinced that his charge – protect the Goddess Athena – is even real. Nevertheless, he's able to “burn his Cosmo” once or twice and show his potential power. Just then Mars, a big bad outer space guy with stars for a body, shows up hunting Athena, who turns out to be Kohga's gentle female friend (who he also happens to be creepin’ on). She gives him a shiny crystal pendant that, after Mars dropkicks Shaina's metal ass, explodes with the POWER OF HIS COSMOS and gives him a ridiculous outfit and now he can totally smack down Mars. The episode ends before he does, though.
So this appears to be a basic spinoff of the Saint Seiya story, but it isn't hard to follow at all and doesn't seem to require much knowledge of the franchise prior; I've only seen a handful of original Saint Seiya episodes and none of the recent OVAs, and I was able to follow the story just fine. It's got the same super-shiny, slightly retro look that a lot of anime reboots have – there's a taste of the original mid-80s character designs, particularly in silhouette, but they're simplified and smoothed out enough to resemble any modern children's anime. Story-wise, well, whatever – it's a long-running shonen series that's all about burning passion and melodramatic heroics, this time spiced up with Greek mythology – the hero's lines are all laughably clichéd (He even says “This… power!!” at one point while staring at his fist, which I think may be a shot required by law in all totally sincere not-at-all-ironic-or-meta shonen action series). Not being a fan of the original, it's hard to say whether or not this is going to make longtime fans of the franchise happy, but it's completely inoffensive so I'm not sure what they'd get upset about. If you're curious about the Saint Seiya franchise, however, and have had a hard time finding a good point of entry, this might be where you want to start – it's totally newbie-friendly. Just don't expect anything earth-shatteringly compelling or unique from it story-wise and you'll be OK.
Jin is a homeless boy who lives in “Undertown” (which is a slum, meaning there are only so many names you can give it) with an old bearded guy he calls grandpa. Jin has special powers, due to a weird raised disc thing under the skin on his hand, and grandpa is clearly shielding him from the truth about himself. He pals around with a couple of rich kids who fight crime, and in one encounter he manages to save an escort lady who gives him a hundred bucks and her business card. Gramps dies, Jin is left with nothing and winds up finding the escort, who takes him in. The two get attacked in the park by one of the dangerous mutant monster things that's wandering around the city killing people and whaddya know, Jin's latent powers activate. Turns out he's superhuman! Or the next step in human evolution. Something like that. There's also a shadowy organization that keeps these mutant dudes in biotanks while using cryptic sci-fi terms to describe everything. The lizard mutant thing that attacked Jin calls him “The Charisma”. That'll mean something later. Probably.
So Zetman isn't very exciting – in fact, the show's pretty dull. There's no real hook here aside from the usual dark urban superhero thing, which has been done a few times; it's fair to say shows like this usually get off to a slow start and the “origin story” part is never the most exciting, but this just seems especially mediocre, like they're just assuming we care about what's happening rather than giving us reasons to. There's a lot of overwrought emotion – fully a third of this episode is just about Jin mourning grandpa, which would be fine but it's done at the expense of giving us something to really latch on to in the narrative this early on. There's also this scene where the escort lady who takes him in strips down and gets in the bath with him moments after inviting him to stay in her house; these two met mere moments earlier in the episode and that she's clutching his naked body to hers in the bath while he cries about gramps being dead comes across as “well this escalated quickly” rather than “oh what a touching moment between our hero and his new surrogate mom”. The color palette is muted and bland; we get a couple bright spots in the animation during the fight scenes, with lots of extreme angles and stretched faces, but that's about it. Otherwise, it's a wholly unremarkable show aesthetically. There's nothing here that's particularly terrible, but nothing about this first episode makes me want to watch another one. Pass.
In 2006, Mutta and his little brother Hibito were exploring the nearby wilderness, recording obsessively everything they saw on cassette. That night they saw what they believe was a UFO, something that flew off toward the moon. Cut to 2025, and little brother Hibito is about to become the first Japanese man to explore outer space on a test run to colonize the moon before eventually exploring Mars, while Mutta is struggling to find a job after a successful career as a car designer ended when he headbutted his boss. Now, Hibito has invited Mutta to join the mission – and maybe discover what that UFO was after all.
Space Brothers is a little inscrutable at this point. We know the story's being told from Mutta's underdog perspective and that Hibito is the golden boy, but this first episode is all setup. Mutta is certainly a lovable character, at least for now – he's got a healthy amount of sibling rivalry going on and his misadventures in the job market are fun to watch, but so far that's all we know about this guy. The writing – and the score, in particular – seem to suggest that this is all drawing very heavily from the mountain of movies and TV shows that romanticize the space race, to the point where it feels like you're watching the first 20 minutes or so of a family-friendly film that, based on the premise, couldn't possibly be longer than 90 minutes or so when it's all said and done. The animation's pretty cheap, but otherwise, if you're looking for the sort of sci-fi that's firmly rooted in 20th century space travel (or at least as that era in American history was filtered through the lens of folks like Ron Howard and Tom Hanks over the last couple decades), this one has some promise. It'll be a while before we find out if the story is worth watching, though - it's clear the narrative here has places to go, and 20 minutes just wasn't enough setup time to really flesh out the first chapter. We'll see how it goes.
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