Gia Manry

Jul 1st 2012

Gia may refer to any of the following: the Gemological Institute of America, Glasgow International Airport, Garuda Indonesia, and/or a freelance pop culture writer based in Texas.


Utakoi episode 2

Rating: 4.5/5

After another goofy introduction by Fujiwara no Teika, the compiler of the 100 poems that make up the Hyakunin Isshu, we're introduced to the young Emperor Yozei. Succeeding the throne at the age of 9, Emperor Yozei was the sun of Takaiko, the passionate woman from the first episode. Her lover Narihira also plays a significant role in the new story, and the continuation is nice.

At first the episode is a little tough to deal with because Emperor Yozei is a complete and utter brat. He's really obnoxious. But the episode manages to turn around a sort of "moral lesson" without being excessively heavy-handed in a sweet, charming fashion...even if a woman as even-tempered as Yasuko, even in a time where being married to an obnoxious guy without so much as being consulted, was common. The only complaint I have is that there's a scene in which the young emperor sics snakes on the noisy frogs around his home, and for reasons that are unclear, the snakes are mosaic'd out. This isn't a raunchy sex comedy, so it's weird and awkward.

The art and animation carry on as before, and in the last review I forgot to mention how much I like the opening and ending music. Both pieces are modern— no historical sounds here really —but they're very fun, especially the R&B ditty that concludes the episodes.

Utakoi is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


The Ambition of Oda Nobuna

Rating: 2/5

At the beginning of this show's first episode, a mildly pervy high school student finds himself back in history, where he accidentally causes the death of a historical figure who served the legendary Oda Nobunaga. He attempts to take the guy's place, only to learn that he's in an alternate history where the first-born of the family is the heir regardless of gender. Naturally, this means that Nobunaga is actually a tsundere teenager named Nobuna, and all of the other generals are girls as well.

So it's a series you've basically seen before, with character archetypes you've seen a hundred times before. The one thing that the series has going for it is basically some really gorgeous costume design work. The costumes are relatively not even that revealing, for the most part...although in the opening you'll notice that physics in this alternate world allow breasts to jiggle even in metal armor. Impressive. It's also a little odd that Nobuna wears something awfully similar to a black frilly bra in her casual outfit.

The opening also reveals a slew of little loli girls for people who are into that sort of thing, I guess, one of whose voices is incredibly obnoxious when you try to think of it as an actual human child's...although in the show's defense, the protagonist definitively refuses to be engaged to one of the little kids, declaring her entirely out of his age range. He ruins it by proclaiming the cuteness of someone just barely above that age a few minutes later.

The protagonist, who winds up being called "Monkey" (Saru), is also not so stupid that he doesnt use some of his historical knowledge to better his position with Oda. In fact, in a couple of moments he makes himself pretty darn useful, which is a little refreshing for this kind of show.

All told, this feels like a pretty solid take on this particular trend...but in the end, it's still just another entry in the alternative-history-with-cute-girls 'genre.'

The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


La storia della Arcana Famiglia episode 2

Rating: 1.5/5

For those of you who loved the excessive infodump of Arcana Famiglia's first episode, there's great news! The first five or so minutes of the second episode does the exact same thing by way of a flashback to Felicitá's arrival at the mansion, followed by a one-minute flashback to last episode.

The rest of the episode is devoted to the capturing of a white kitten, finding its owner, and returning it. which is primarily an excuse for Felicitá to accidentally use her powers, leading the two main pretty sword-and-suit-wielding boys to encourage her to learn to control her powers.

There are still hints that this story is going to go somewhere mildly interesting eventually, but in the meantime, the sheer insipidness of this episode makes it hard to want to stick around long enough to find out. It's like having filler before getting to the real plot— and the preview for the next episode doesn't offer much hope for improvement.

La storia della Arcana Famiglia is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Humanity Has Declined Episode 2

Rating: 4/5

The second episode of Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita, now re-titled Humanity Has Declined, somehow manages to neatly conclude the bizarre premise of the first episode. It feels a little less zany than the first, but that may just be because we've already seen the headless skinned chickens running around and acting vaguely sentient. There's also a little less of the cynical/skeptical overtone, but again, it feels like that has more to do with this 'arc' concluding than because the show isn't still going to be pretty weird.

So the question is, will the show still be worth watching after a strong beginning? It seems like the writers have a good head-start, so the answer may well be yes— and if it turns out not to be the case, this two-episode bit could easily be enjoyed as sort of a fun, weird "short."


Kokoro Connect

Rating: 3.5/5

Five high schoolers join forces to create their own club, effectively a catch-all for students whose interests aren't represented by any existing clubs at the school (which requires them to join a club). Then one day, a pair of club members report that they switched bodies for a brief period during the night. Just as everyone has convinced themselves that it's not true, another pair switch bodies briefly.

This is kind of an oddball series. The characters are familiar archetypes: genki girl Iori, cynical techie girl Inaba, shy sweetheart-type Yui, sarcastic guy Taichi, and wannabe-player Aoki. A great deal of care is taken with showing a glimpse of their home lives. Annoying (or cute) siblings, absentee parents, all that jazz, which actually makes the characters seem like they have potential to be interesting. Throw in a weird supernatural mystery, and you've actually got an intriguing start to a high school drama.

Unfortunately, the characters themselves haven't shown a lot of their potential so far— a glimpse of family life does not a rounded character make. A lot of the interactions between the characters feel a little stale, and it doesn't help that the creators have no problem with a bit of the hijinks you'd expect in a cross-gender body-switching high school comedy anime. When Taichi and Inaba switch places, the first thing Taichi does is grab the breasts he's suddenly found...leading to a rather awkward girl-on-girl near-rape. As a comedic bit, it sort of falls flat.

Still, there's enough potential here to make it worth trying another episode or two...as long as you don't mind that everyone looks like they belong in another anime (especially K-ON!).

Kokoro Connect is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Sword Art Online

Rating: 4/5

Kirito is a young gamer nerd who has been one of the lucky 1,000 people to score access to the beta of a popular upcoming virtual reality MMORPG. After the beta ends and the game launches, he logs back into the exquisite fantasy world and quickly befriends a companion, Klein, who he trains in the art of using the VR gear to play.

After a few hours of playing, Klein tries to log off so he can go grab some dinner, only to find that the logout option has been removed. Cue the entire player audience being teleported into the beginner area so that the game's maker can reveal what the viewers at home have already guessed: all of the players are stuck in the game with no way to log out. If someone attempts to remove their VR gear, the gear will fry their brain. Same thing happens if the player's HP drops to zero in the game. As the rest of the players panic, Kirito and Klein decide to split ways so that Klein can hook up with his other friends while Kirito moves on to the next village using his knowledge from the beta. Another element of the setup: every player's avatar is converted to match his or her actual physical appearance, outing the requisite dude pretending to be a cute girl and everyone else who has lied about their age or gender. In the case of our named characters thus far, Kirito returns to looking like the teenager he is, and Klein becomes more unkempt.

It's an interesting setup and a solid introduction, with the launch-from-beta element neatly tying in to introducing the world itself, even if Kirito's explanation of how to play the game winds up sounding kind of meaningless. The animation is great and the character designs are decent. We know what's going on, the plan of action is clearly laid out, and I'm definitely interested in what happens next. Whether the show will remain interesting is unclear; the ending sequence so far suggests action, adventure, and the introduction of a cute young girl, so we'll just have to wait and see. In the meantime, sit back and enjoy a well-executed first episode for what promises to be a decent show.

Sword Art Online is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imōto ga Iru!

Rating: 1.5/5

"I have to find a girl I love before I graduate from high school and make her my lifelong companion."

This statement is so ridiculous that there's no reason it should appear in anything that is not an over-the-top comedy, but NAKAIMO opens with a funeral at which protagonist Shougo Mikadono learns he may have a little sister, and is shortly followed up with a girl who gets hit by a truck that never seems to slow down in the slightest. (She's not even bruised.)

So, Shougo has to find his one true love in high school in order to inherit his family fortune and business. The girl who gets hit by the truck is, of course, the first of a slew of potential love interests, and naturally every single thing she says and does hints at the possibility that she's the little sister in question.

The first love interest, Konoe, is the responsible class president type, and the next one we meet is Kannagi, a be-pigtailed tsundere type. Next we meet Konoe's friends, the student council president Tendou and her companion Rinka, who the opening and ending imply are in the running. Finally, we meet a girl dressed in a witch costume who is practicing saying hello to her "onii-sama." WHICH ONE IS IT?!

Mostly the episode casts off the depressing beginning and moves into a lighter tone, which suits it considerably better. Around the 18-minute mark, Shougo outs himself as a tokusatsu fan (presumably as a shout-out to the audience) and we get an extended Konoe bathtub scene, which may feel like two unnecessary distractions if you're really in this for the plot.

So yeah, if remorseless harem is your thing, here's your show. The episode is decently put-together, with none of the "We're throwing a half-dozen girls in your face in less than twenty minutes!" that occasionally infests shows like this. The characters are cutely designed, and the scene between Shougo and Kannagi is actually kind of cute.

But if you have problems with harems and their archetypes (or with the possibility of a dude marrying his sister), or you're just plain sick of seeing this show time and time again, well, skip it.


Campione!

Rating: 2/5

You already know these characters: a hapless guy with a mysterious artifact and powers he doesn't yet suspect, and a pushy, obnoxious girl in unlikely clothing who knows a lot about the particular supernatural set-up the series presents. In this case, we're in modern-day Italy with Japanese tourist Godou, who's in town to deliver a mysterious ancient tablet to his grandfather's old flame. On the way he meets the pushy witch, erica, a deity appears and tries to destroy the city, and then they make way to the tablet's owner, another (slightly older) sexy witch. Blah blah blah, drunken "sexy" mishaps between Godou and erica, more gods appear, Godou discovers his abilities, and erica gives him a smooch or two.

The show may be formulaic, but if you dig the setting (Venice) or the concept (gods from ancient Rome, Persia, and presumably other mythos are the actual cause of natural disasters), you'll find enough here to keep you sated. The visuals are attractive, even if erica's clothing is beyond insensible. (Who thinks that Italian girls run around in ballgowns? erica's "fighting" clothes look like reasonable casual attire.) The animation is okay, but nothing to write home about.

There's room for forgiveness that the characters are so bland since there's a lot of setup to go through, and the episode gets to it at whirlwind pace. On the other hand, there's not a lot of promise that there's more to them so far. So your enjoyment of this series will probably rely on how much you can stomach this classic newbie hero / tsundere expert pairing, and how much you really dig mythology. (I, for one, am a big mythology buff, so I'm going to give it another couple of episodes.)

Campione! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate

Rating: 2.5/5

When a cutesy looking high school drama opens up with a young photographer being killed for uncovering a government conspiracy of some kind, you know you're in for something a little different, right?

But then you wind up with the literal girl next door dryhumping the male lead to wake him up and slapping him because he dared to have morning wood which, let's face it, is pretty old hat. They head off to school and meet up with their classmates, with whom they're apparently in a candy taste testing club with a kid whose family owns a candy factory.

So, it turns out that the "government" conspiracy is a "student" government conspiracy, the girl who was "killed" was apparently just maimed, and that the likely future student council president plans to shut down useless clubs. Like the candy club, which decides to put its own candidate up for student council president.

The show is cute, and there's a fun ongoing joke in which the audience and the male lead (Yuuki) see visual elements that the other characters don't, like a spinning propeller on a student inventor's head.

On the other hand, there's something a little off about it as well. That dire beginning is juxtaposed by relatively low-key goofiness, such as a charming scene where Yuuki and two of the girls pretend to be on a melodramatic soap opera, and by outright zaniness, such as a secondary character's bubblegum machine(/robot?) explodes candy all over the club room floor. When the show keeps things light it's cute, but the wackier moments are predictable and the Serious Business moments are just weird.

The animation and art here are mediocre. You've seen these character designs before (the protagonist even bears a resemblence to Code Geass' Lelouch) and there are quite a few limited animation bits, even in the opening sequence.

The tone of the show is confusing so far, but it may be worth watching a couple more episodes to find out where it's really going.


Natsuyuki Rendezvous

Rating: 4/5

The first two minutes of this show are boring and consist of a guy named Hazuki passively falling for a florist whose shop he walks by on a daily basis. At the end the shopkeeper puts up a 'now hiring' sign and you already know what's going to happen. Don't let this stop you from finishing the episode.

After the opening sequence, we've mercifully skipped over the hiring process and Hazuki has worked at Rokka Shimao's flower shop for a few months— and the third shop employee is leaving shortly to marry a guy in Italy. Rokka invites Hazuki to her place to shop for the other employee's going away present, and he sees a mostly-naked guy there. Hazuki leaves, heartbroken. During the going-away party at Rokka's apartment above the shop, Hazuki meets the guy again— and learns that he's actually Rokka's dead husband Atsushi Shimao, in ghost-like form. Hazuki resumes his determination to get together with Rokka.

By the end of the episode, you can kind of guess where the series is probably going...but with a fully-fledged adult cast instead of high school kids, you'll want to follow along and see what the journey is like when the protagonists are over the age of 16. It's Noitamina, so the animation is excellent with a lot of attention to detail, like blowing on hot ramen noodles or, um, hovering around one's dead wife. As a protagonist, Hazuki is a little self-absorbed, and Rokka's blandly kind and well-intentioned, but there's promise of some growth.

Think of this as sort of an updated, more serious Maison Ikkoku, with all of the Rumiko Takahashi zaniness culled. It's much lower-energy, and the drama may not be enough for anyone. But hey, did I mention that the protagonists are real grown-up type people?!

Natsuyuki Rendezvous is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Utakoi

Rating: 4/5

If you've watched enough anime, you've probably heard of the Hyakunin Isshu, a hundred poems written by a hunred members of Japan's imperial court over a period of about seven centuries (the seventh through 13th, according to this). They'll sound particularly familiar if you watched any of Chihayafuru a couple of seasons back.

Anyway, Chōyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi presents us with Teika, the inexplicably blonde and green-eyed poet who compiled the poems into an anthology. Teika narrates the love stories behind some of the poems— the first episode revolves around poems 17 and 16.

The reverse order of the stories, which are also chronologically backwards, probably serves the viewer well since the first story is more dramatic and, frankly, entertaining: courtier Narihira approaches the beautiful Takaiko, who resists him at first but then falls for him. They're both treated as regular people, particularly Takaiko, who is severely flummoxed by Narihira's appearance on her doorstep.

The second story revolves around the flawless, giving relationship between Narihira's older half-brother and his wife, Hiroko.

I confess to being a little annoyed that the first story revolved around a woman constantly kept on her toes by this guy, but I can't deny the tale has its charm, especially because the characters are given some actual human traits. The second story is pretty dull in comparison, because both characters feel like little more than cardboard cut-outs of an ideal. Both stories are nicely drawn and animated, although that technique of using gorgeous patterns in clothing which don't move when the clothes move is in effect here. It always bothers me when I notice it, but others' mileage may vary.

You're not going to get any particularly in-depth look at any characters or stories here, if two-poems-per-episode turns out to be the standard. They're quick, but sweet. Overall I'm looking forward to seeing more of this humanization of classic poetry...and all those pretty costumes and settings.

Utakoi is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Shorts

PES: Peace Eco Smile Episodes 1 & 2

Rating: 2/5

Well, you've got Studio 4°C, and you've got Toyota, and when they get together to create a series of three- to four-minute car commercails, you apparently get this unique offering. It's mostly worth watching for the colorful and creative visuals, though the story— about a strikingly humanoid alien named PES from Andromeda who crash-lands on Earth when he attempts to save a drunk human female —is cute, but nothing to write home about so far.

There are also a collection of one-eyed eggplant-shaped aliens who babble and share a weird end-of-episode "moral" to the story, which has to do with why Toyota makes awesome cars. One of them has a "ToyToyota" tramp stamp. This anecdote summarizes the show as a whole so far: kind of cute, but forgettable.

PES: Peace Eco Smile is available streaming at Crunchyroll.

Chitose Get You!!

Rating: 1.5/5

Hanamaru Kindergarten did this better.

So the setup for this series is that you've got Chitose, a little girl (maybe the equivalent of a 1st or 2nd grader) is in love with an older guy who "rescued" her from an affectionate dog, and she disrupts her class in order to tell the story, as well as to demonize her teacher for keeping her away from her one true love. It's kind of random, not really that funny, and it's been done before. Adding to the Hanamaru Kindergarten-esque setup, the ending theme reveals a pair of pals not unlike. Also, this pair joins Chitose in 'performing' the ending a la Mahoromatic - Automatic Maiden or Kamichu!, so in other words, there's nothing new to see here.

Chitose Get You!! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse

Rating: 3/5

In this alternative history, mankind discovers a hostile alien species called the BETA in the late '60s, and by the late '90s we also have mobile suits and a mech army. Our protagonist Yui Takamura is the scion of a powerful military family and also plans to become a mech pilot. Unfortunately, she has only just begun her training when the supply base she's stationed at in the middle of Japan becomes the front line of the war between humankind and the BETA.

The episode is an odd montage, showcasing about a year in the life of Yui. She finishes school and joins her friends and her rival in training. During this time, one of her friends follows the exploits of her military boyfriend, Yui befriends the aforementioned rival, and they slowly begin to learn the basics of mech combat.

The rush through all of these happenings— the kind of stuff that could easily be developed into a series all its own —feels a little odd, and it's hard to want to attach yourselves to the characters, especially with the post-credits ending of the episode. The pacing is at times so frantic that you wonder, if they were in such a rush to get to the next stuff that happens, why not start there?

There's fanservice to be found here, of course, in the form of the excessively form-fitted suits the girls wear when piloting the mechs. However, Total Eclipse has a much more serious tone than I was expecting. The design and animation are solid, and while I maintain that it seems silly to spend all your time learning to pilot a mech so that you can use it to fight with a giant sword, overall the show offers some promise that it will be more than an excuse to shove moe girls and mech toys in our faces.

Especially with that ending!

Total Eclipse is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Tari Tari

Rating: 2.5/5

Horseback riding, badminton, gardening— welcome to the woeful adventures of Japan's high school-age 1%ers.

Okay, maybe not really.

Tari Tari revolves around five or so high school kids of varying levels of sanity. You've got the horseback rider and archer Sawa, who seems the most sane so far; badmintoner Daichi (the only member of his club, who plays against the wall); motherless Sakai, who gets inexplicably upset if you ask her to sing; a nameless transfer student returning to Japan from Austria with an excessive sense of Japanese formality; and Konatsu, who desperately wants to sing at an upcoming school function despite not being in the school's music department and having screwed up at the function the year prior. This ensemble seems poised to gather to establish a singing club with Konatsu's leadership, which she announced her intentions for after quitting her 'job' flipping pages for the choir's pianist.

And that's pretty much what you get in the first episode. It's a solid example of providing exposition in a natural fashion (the Arcana Famiglia people could take the lesson), but so the characters that seem the most interesting get the least screentime. These are the kids' teacher, who seems like a pretty cool woman who is (unfortunately for the audience) going on maternity leave and is unlikely to appear a lot, and the transfer student, who could be fun because he's not screamingly over-the-top ridiculous like so many characters along the same lines wind up.

There are also a few visual quirks in the series. For example, in the opening sequence you see the characters running and/or bicycling to school and there's a distinct lack of movement in the upper body for the cyclists (especially Sakai). Later on, when Daichi is forced to sing for his homeroom class, a girl sitting in front of Konatsu appears in the background lurching her head to the a capella singing, with a weird beat as though she has earbuds in and is listening to the latest pop dance tune. It's distinctly noticeable since background characters like that so rarely move at all.

Other than these problems you've got the makings of a high school music club drama, and if that sounds like your kind of thing this might be the show for you. As it is, the drama between Konatsu and the music instructor is way more interesting than anything yet seen between the students, leaving the show pretty bland so far. The character designs, while attractive, don't do much to set anyone apart (except maybe Sawa's little flamenco outfit with the fedora), and the characters may be rich with depth, but so far they aren't much to write home about.

Tari Tari is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita

Rating: 3.5/5

In the twilight of human existence, people revert back to semi-medieval era lifestyles and struggle to feed themselves, at least in the Camphorwood Village (of note: camphor was used to flavor sweets in ancient and medieval Europe, according to Wikipedia). In addition to returning to this way of life, we have apparently also discovered fairies: a species of tiny adorable people whose mouths are eternally stuck in the ":D" emoticon face, even when speaking.

Our heroine, so far known only as the Mediator— she mediates for the United Nations Conciliation Committee —spends the episode sorting out two mysteries: the arrival of strange, Fairy Co.-branded food products, and a strange skinned, headless chicken seen running around the countryside. While investigating, she runs us through a few elements of this life, including the pointlessness of meetings, the manipulation of individuals for political purposes, the brainlessness of many such individuals, death by starvation as a hot new trend, and other such off-kilter topics...all packaged up in a brightly-colored fairy tale with backgrounds that look like they belong on the set of a middle school production of Mother Goose.

It's a strange series to be sure, and so far it's hard to tell whether it's genius or confused. Think of it as a cynical post-apocalyptic tale meets a cute fantasy story, culminating in an absurdist day-glo slice-of-life. Some scenes are so bright you might find yourself squinting a little, but it's still easy to be drawn to this show simply for being unlike anything else you'll see this season.

Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


La storia della Arcana Famiglia

Rating: 2/5

In Arcana Famiglia a rag-tag group of super-powered individuals protect their home island, Regalo, from whatever threatens it. The group is, of course, the "Arcana Famiglia," a sort of good-natured mafia organization. A portion of the group has made some kind of supernatural pact involving Tarot cards to give them super powers, each very loosely based on the card's identity. So for example, there's a character named Felicitá whose card is The Lovers, so she can "read other peoples' hearts." So far that means she can see when the men around her have naughty thoughts involving her. Very useful!

After an eventful day dealing with some old guy whose exact crime seems sort of unclear, the Famiglia meet up for their leader's birthday. That leader, Papa Mondo (as in the tarot card "The World") announces that he's planning to retire and wants to pick the replacement "Papa" (like it's a title?) by way of a duel between all the arcana-powered members of the family, and the winner gets to marry Felicitá if he (or she?) wants. Which, of course, Felicitá doesn't want. Cue a lot of hand-wringing and side-taking as Felicitá and her friends oppose the idea, while others consider the advantages of marrying her and becoming the family leader.

There's a lot in this episode that looks like stuff people will come to like: colorful characters, amusingly dysfunctional relationships, a modern-ish fantasy setting, nice action scenes, etc. Unfortunately the episode mashes them up and explains them all pretty hard. Even the characters in the episode will beg each other to stop explaining everything that they're already supposed to know. It's more than a little awkward. This includes, but is not limited to: who everyone is, why they have magical powers, what magical powers they have, and what card they are attached to that gives them those magical powers. It's more than a little cheesy.

The characters themselves, while colorful, are familiar archetypes, which some people will like and others may not. There are already heavy hints of slashability as well as some mild fanservice with Felicitá, one of only two named female characters (the other being her inexplicably Asian mother). The visuals are solid, and while the designs are familiar they are also fun and dramatic— I'm guessing cosplayers will be into this show.

Lots of possibility here, but it's so jumbled up and awkwardly introduced that it's hard to say where it will go. Hopefully the rest of the ride will be a bit smoother.

La storia della Arcana Famiglia is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


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