Theron Martin

Jul 1st 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.


Joshiraku

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:  This spiritual successor to the likes of Lucky Star and Azumangah Diaoh primarily involves five girls sitting around in a room having inane conversations about any topic imaginable, many of which end up in some degree of really bad pun. In fact, to make sure that viewers know what they're getting into, the first episode even bluntly advertises that fact twice: once at the beginning and a second time a bit more than halfway through. Those warnings don't misdirect or exaggerate, either, as more than half of the episode does, indeed, involve exactly that, with most of the rest involving the inane conversations being held elsewhere. If you're looking for raging excitement in your anime fare then this is not it, but at least it's honest.

Actually, the series also heavily involves rakugo, a very stylized form of Japanese entertainment which involves an actor sitting on stage and, without moving from that spot or using more than very basic props, single-handedly acting out a comic scene involving multiple characters which climaxes in some kind of joke or pun; think of it as a one-person sitcom. Each of the five girls - who do have names but are not distinctive enough for those names to be memorable - is apparently a rakugo performer, and the fact that this does not seem like the kind of thing that modern teen girls would normally do is, of course, a joke in of itself. Some of the girls do have curious interests to help distinguish them a bit - one is a fan of death metal, for instance - but mostly the entertainment value comes down to the jokes, puns, and occasional fourth wall-breaking references, and some of the first two will fly over the heads of even those Westerners who consider themselves well-versed in Japanese culture.

The artistry and technical merits, courtesy of J.C. Staff,  are on the simple side but sufficient for what the series does. More involving and memorable are the lively opener and closer  For what the series is supposed to be, it seems to execute itself fairly well, but there is little here that's going to keep the attention of viewers of who expect more from their anime than just cute girls talking to each other.


Tari Tari episode 2

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:  The chance meeting at the plaza and Sawa's intervention help convince Sakai to get involved in Konatsu's club at least in name, and that combined with other recruiting efforts helps the club hit its requisite student count and then some. She must also get the principal's approval, but that comes strangely easily when he sees Sakai's name amongst the prospective members, and the principal even goes further to personally be the club's supervisor. When Konatsu learns that Sakai can also play piano, Konatsu bribes Sakai into helping her pick an appropriate song. The hand-written “Whispers of the Heart” quickly becomes Konatsu's pick, a song which also calls up memories for Sakai, and practice soon ensues. Difficulty in getting the choir and their supervisor to the choral recital on time leaves Konatsu and Sawa alone to perform, with Konatsu still battling the stage fright which made last year a disaster, but with Sakai's surprising help they manage to put on a worthy performance.

The series’ first episode has been widely-criticized for being boring, but if anything its second episode moves things along much too swiftly - at least for a series like this, anyway. The performance at the end is the kind of thing that a series would normally build up to for a whole season, so the very truncated development of Konatsu's choir shown here is quite a surprise. Apparently the choir is meant to be just an element of a broader story rather than a focal point, and the absence of the two featured male characters after the first couple of minutes further supports that. The speed at which events progress do not leave much time for character development, so those who found the cast too bland in the first episode will probably find little to change their minds here. The series still looks great, though, and the song Konatsu and Sawa perform at the end is an excellent one.

Tari Tari still has a lot of little touches to it that can endear itself to viewer, but it will need to come up with more even pacing and more substantial character and relationship developments than it's shown so far if it wants to become a truly good series.

Tari Tari is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse episode 2

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  Missing your heavy dose of gore factor so far this season? Fear not! Episode 2 delivers all you could ask for. Even with censoring black-outs in effect, there's still plenty of blood, severed body parts, and nasty sound effects of people getting snacked on to go around.

The plot is about what one would expect given the telltale sign that only a couple of the girls in mecha Flight 2 got names in the first episode. Yui and company sortie out to give the nasty BETAs a good battle, but the “8 minute rule” that they were told about proves devastatingly true. One by one they gradually get picked off, whether in trying to hold their position, trying to retreat in the face of the overwhelming onslaught despite the covering fire of the navy in a nearby lake, or desperately trying to make it to the rally point. The final three nearly make it before being intercepted by a Fort-Class BETA who knocks them all from the sky. Of the three, only Yui survives a grisly fate and then only due to a timely intervention by another mecha. Three year later, she resolves that her crying over what has happened in the past is done and she must move forward.

So yeah, how things unfold is both plenty predictable and mostly unoriginal (the laser-dispersing smoke screen was a fresher trick), but the episode still works because it manages to achieve and maintain a high intensity level despite that. To make up for a relative dearth of action in the first episode, all but the last couple of minutes of this one is one extended, bloody action sequence, a classic jaunt through a desperate mecha-vs.-aliens battle, and it looks good in execution, too. (So do the girls in those form-fitting piloting suits.) The opener song is also one sharp number, easily the best one so far this season.

The final scenes make clear what many probably already suspected: these first two episodes are but the prologue to the real story. Thus what the series’ true face is has yet to be seen.

Total Eclipse is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


The Ambition of Oda Nobuna

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  Through a method that has yet to be explained, high school student Yoshiharu Sagara has been transported back in time to the Senguka Era of Japanese history - only this is an alternate version to the one that Yoshiharu is familiar with through his mastery of the game “Oda Nobunaga's Ambition.” Although the events are similar enough that Yoshiharu is able to put his knowledge to good use, he is thrown off by the fact that the Owari Province leader is not Oda Nobunaga, but instead Oda Nobuna, a very pretty blond-haired girl. In fact, many (but not all) of the prominent figures of the time period are bishoujos instead of men. Thanks to saving Nobuna's life and taking up the cause of the man who saved his life, Yoshiharu now finds himself in the role of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, complete with the nickname “Monkey,” and the added duty of being responsible for Nobuna's shoes as she goes to a well-documented alliance-establishing meeting with “the Viper,” Dousan Saitou.

If this series had come up 3-4 years ago then it might have a fresher spark of originality, but as is it's only the fourth series in the past couple of years to cast these same historical figures either directly in girl form or reincarnated into girl form. That makes it more of a trend-follower than an innovator, and the trend is getting tired. What saves the series from irrelevance is that, unlike its predecessors, it is making a concerted effort to follow actual historical events closely and lets the “visitor from the future” have a hand in guiding things down the right road by using his knowledge of the future. It also looks very good doing so; this Mad House/Studio Gokumi co-production features sharp artistry with rich use of color, respectable animation, and plenty of pretty girls to gawk at. Its brief explanations on who's who are also handled well. Unfortunately the first episode is also hampered by a take on Oda which rings much too close to a typical temperamental modern high school girl instead of the bold, authoritative, crafty figure that she should be. Presumably that's so the male lead can play a bigger and more influential role in events, but if so, then that could come back to haunt the series as it goes forward.

Thus overall we have a first episode which is close to being very good but also close to being very trashy.

The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Humanity Has Declined (Jinri wa Suitai Shimashita) episode 2

Rating: 5 (of 5)

Review:  The first episode of this very bizarre series only scratched the surface of how thoroughly and delightfully off-kilter this series can be.  This second episode, however, digs its claws in deep, revealing what could be the most entertaining - and twisted! - series of the season.

As the Mediator continues her trek through the FairyCo factory, she gradually and progressively gets separated from her grandfather, the secretary who has been serving as her guide, and even her mute assistant (but not before he gets off a savage parody of a children's story). She eventually meets up with the factory manager (who also happens to be the UNESCO director), who also hasn't met his superiors, is more interested in climbing up the power structure than anything else, and has a bad habit of spouting evil plans in the background. With his direction the Mediator eventually winds up in the board room/control room of the factory, where the beings in charge are far from what was expected.

Saying anything more would spoil some of the fun of the episode, but the payoff is absolutely worth it and the ride getting there is a blast, too. Although the events transpire along the lines of a horror movie, the normally-low-key musical score, ridiculous use of “Ave Maria,“ and unflappable attitude of the Mediator keep things light-spirited, which is essential, because otherwise the content would be damn creepy. As is, though, it plays out with immense cleverness and gleefully ironic perversity, even down to the last lines of the episode's epilogue.

The artistic style of the series may not impress, but otherwise this is, hands-down, the best episode of the season to date. Be forewarned, though, that it does contain some swearing, and an in-character reference to it being swearing suggests that it's not a liberal translation.

Humanity Has Declined is now streaming on Crunchyroll.


La storia della Arcana Famiglia episode 2

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review:  The episode opens with Felicita remembering back to when she first became a member of the Arcana Famaglia, first met most of the men who would become key players in the main story, and earned her current position as the head of Sword, the serie (think “department”) within the Arcana Famiglia responsible for arbitration. Most of the rest of the episode involves the attempt by Felicita, Liberta, and Nova to capture a wayward cat that Nova had earlier rescued from being run over (and which has since gotten loose on the grounds of the mansion) and then find its owner, an effort which ends up involving other Famiglia members, too.

In other words, this is one of those episodes that harem/reverse harem series typically have which ostensibly exists to fill in further background and character development but really just exists to kill time until the main conflict starts and/or the relationship hijinks gain enough traction to carry the series on their own. The whole business with the cat is cute, sometimes comical, and oh, so limp in execution. The problem with stiff, forced explanations of which character is associated with which card that was seen in the first episode continues unabated here, and the personalities show no new signs of being anything more than stock archetypes. The biggest problem, though, is Felicita's incongruous passivity; yes, she can kick Liberta and Nova around a bit and win her position in a fight, but she shows no spunk and little backbone beyond that. Even with the very limited animation, the series looks good enough that it might be passable entertainment if Felicita was portrayed as a stronger character, but then the guys wouldn't have much to do, would they?

Basically, if the first episode didn't win you over then this second one is extremely unlikely to change your mind. It simply doesn't do anything to help its case.

La storia della Arcana Famiglia is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Kokoro Connect

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:  Five first-year high school students - orange-haired Yui, blond-haired Yoshifumi, brown-haired guy Taichi, the mole-sporting Iori, and the dark-haired Himeko - have come together to form the Student Cultural Society after each of their original club choices (at a school which mandates them) fell through for varying reasons. Although the club members put together a newsletter and have fun messing with each other, there's nothing abnormal about them until one particular day when Yui and Yoshifumi come to club with a fantastic and initially unbelievable story: during the night they body-swapped for a period of 30-40 minutes. Taichi and Nagase soon prove that the fact that Yoshifumi has been trying to hit on Yui probably had nothing to do with it, as in the middle of that discussion they suddenly find themselves body-swapped, too, and are able to convince even the skeptical Himeko that it has happened. They do soon switch back, leaving everyone wondering whether this was just a freak one-day occurrence. We know from the Next Episode preview, though, that it won't be.

Body-swapping has been a standard modern-day fantasy gimmick for decades, and has certainly been used in anime before (as recently as last season's Nyarko-san: Another Crawling Chaos), but never before, to my knowledge, as a central gimmick for an entire series or in a series which otherwise looks like it was setting up to use a slice-of-life format. The first episode does not provide a hint about why it's happening or do anything particularly special with the gimmick, so the real question is whether or not the series is otherwise good enough to be worth watching - and it is. Although none of the personalities in the central quintet are extraordinary, they are at least clearly-defined and already interacting in at least mildly interesting ways, and the way the editing gives us little snippets of all of their outside-of-school lives at the beginning and end is surprisingly effective at further establishing the characters. The writing also manages a tinge of raciness without actually engaging in significant fan service.

The design aesthetic of the series, and the character designs in particular, is going to invite unavoidable comparisons to K-ON!, and such comparisons are justified. The content is far from being a rehash of K-ON!, however (replacing two of the girls with guys alone changes the group dynamics), and finding out what's going on with these brief body-swaps, and what effect that's going to have on how the characters understand each other, should be interesting indeed.

Kokoro Connect is now streaming on Crunchyroll.


Sword Art Online

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  In 2022 a full virtual reality setting, called Sword Art Online, has completed development, and its first print run of 10,000 copies (and the small size of it should have been Red Flag #1, but whatever) has gone out. Amongst the new participants is Kirito, who was one of the beta testers for the game. Seemingly a loner-type, he nonetheless gets roped into helping the complete newbie Klein get acclimated to the way things work in the game, including pointing out that, unlike other fantasy MMOs, this one has no magic element. Just as Kirito and Klein are starting to realize a potentially massive flaw - that there's no apparent log out option and no emergency escape method (Red Flag #2) - all players are force-teleported back to the starter town's central gathering area, where an ominous robed figure appears in the sky, declares that he's Akihiko Koyaba (the game's designer), and that being unable to log out is not a flaw, but an intentional design element - as is a tweak to the NerveGear VR equipment which allows access to the game, a tweak which makes it lethal for someone else to remove the gear and does, indeed, result in a couple of hundred deaths from people who don't heed the warnings. The only way out? To defeat the entire game before being dropped to 0 hit points, as death in the game means death for real, too. And to insure that it's a very personal experience, everyone's avatar will look like the player does in real life.

The concept of players being locked into a VR MMO, unable to leave, is hardly a new one; .hack//SIGN pioneered it in anime in 2002, and it has existed in novel form at least since Piers Anthony's 1994 novel Killobyte. The concept of death in the game equating to death in real life was also explored in Killobyte and a couple of B-grade horror movies over the past decade and is really just a reinterpretation of the much older concept of dying in a dream equating to dying in real life. Being locked into a lethal game as an intentional, scientific design element is a fresh twist, however, and that's the selling point for the series so far - but boy, is it a big one! Set aside for a moment how improbable it is that something like this could get by all of the safety checks that would have to be built into something like this, or how inexplicably psychopathic deliberately doing something like this is, and the premise is fascinating. For all those who have played MMOs before, think about how differently you'd play if your life really was on the line.

It also has some good support built into the first episode. The background artwork is amazing; it takes the fantastical design elements which were the highlight of .hack//SIGN and improves on them. The character designs are less impressive and distinctive, but having avatars be literal renditions of the players is an interesting twist, too. While Kirito isn't a stand-out character yet, his reticence to team up and associate with others in the game (which seems to go beyond just survival practicability), paired with his quick insight, gives viewers a reason to get interested in him, and Klein is a likable character who will hopefully appear more as the series progresses.

The set-up for the premise takes the whole episode, thus resulting in very little action, but the first episode is still a sharp beginning into its subject matter.

Sword Art Online is now streaming on Crunchyroll.


Koi to Senkyo to Choclate

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:  So is this going to be a more light-hearted, fun-loving, harem-type series, or something more serious? The first episode contains elements of the latter in its prologue, at the very end, and for one short stretch in between, while the bulk of the content is just banal, frivolous club activities and common high school relationship antics. The serious parts (which involve someone being run over by a car for spying on a clandestine meeting) and the goofy parts (the club in question is centered around eating snacks and thus has a ridiculous amount of them) are strongly at odds at this point, so how the series will balance these in the long run is difficult to predict.

The main story involves Yuuki Oojima, one of only two guys in an otherwise all-girls club dedicated to snacking - and the other guy is either gay or not shy about pretending to be gay to mess with Yuuki. The club faces the possibility of being disbanded as a “useless club” if a certain candidate wins the upcoming election for Student Council President, so after evaluating the weak competition to the leading candidate, they decide to nominate one of their own as a candidate. Naturally, it's Yuuki. The side story involves the spying, which seems to be connected to some political maneuverings going on in the Student Council, although that isn't made perfectly clear.

The personalities presented so far are run-of-the-mill, with most having only a basic quirk to distinguish themselves, and the artistry won't impress, either. The first episode does show at least some promise for entertainment in its less typical elements, however. Yes, there's the tired scene of the childhood friend waking the boy up and slapping him for showing “morning wood,” but there's also a rather funny scene of Yuuki, the childhood friend, and another girl dramatizing Yuuki's rejection at asking a girl out and another about a new snack being test-run which the other male character slyly calls a “yaoi stick” and how Yuuki handles it. The quirk about how Yuuki can see weird things on people that no one else can see is not explained here at all but merits further exploration, and the intrigue elements suggest that this might not be just a simple harem series. But really, a beer tap in a school club room?

The opener and closer make it clear that this is a harem series, but there's at least some hope that something more might come of it. At the very least it shows more promise than its main competitor NAKAIMO. (Though admittedly that's not saying much.)


NAKAIMO - My Little Sister Is Among Them!

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review: When teenager Shougo Mikadono's father died after an extended illness, Shougo was tabbed to eventually succeed him as head of the powerful Mikadono group, with two stipulations: he finish his high school education and (naturally!) he must have a wife lined up by the time he finishes high school. To this end he is to attend Miryuuin Academy, his father's alma mater, for his remaining two years, and is even given his own off-campus apartment (even though it is a residential school) to help with “relationship building.” On the way there he gets lost but runs across and helps Konoe Tsuruma, a pretty girl obsessed with cream puffs who turns out to be his class rep and gets rather chummy with him by the end of the episode. Miyabi, the other girl who sits beside him, also seems to take an interest in him and be somewhat jealous of Konoe, while a mysterious figure in a witch's hat looks on and calls him “onii-chan.” There's one big catch to the beginning of his efforts to pin down a future bride, though: someone claiming to be his little sister has now contacted him twice, claiming to be a fellow student and also seeking to marry him. While Shougo gets evidence that such a figure may exist, an accident several years back has left some of his memories of his childhood rather haze so he can't distinctly remember such a person (naturally!).

The problem with this first episode isn't the potential “ick” factor of the concept; it's that, beyond the mystery about who his little sister really is, the content is very mundane. A young man becoming the center of female attention be he is inheriting (or destined to inherit) a position of power is hardly an unusual set-up for a harem series, and the “you have to choose a bride from among your classmates” concept has been done before, too. It even uses the tired “I have gaps in my memory” gimmick. Konoe is perfectly pleasant, if slightly aggressive in going for the early kiss, while Miyabi gives an early tsundere vibe, but neither of them sticks out, nor do any of the other three girls featured in the opener and closer who have only brief appearances here. The artistic effort from Studio Gokumi (which is also producing this season's upcoming Oda Nobuna no Yabō) is also mediocre and doesn't contain anywhere near as much fan service as the opener suggests it will; there's only one significant sequence near the end, though some of the camera angles suggest that a future DVD/Blu-Ray release may see some panty shots, too.

The first episode engages in so much misdirection - hints have already been dropped about three of the girls possibly being the sister - that the possibility exists that the whole sister thing may just be leading viewers on. This one's going to have to do a better job to keep viewer interest long enough to find out, however.


Campione!

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:

Long ago an ancient stone tablet was given to Godou Kusanagi's grandfather for safekeeping, and upon his death Godou has been charged with traveling to Sardinia to return it to its original owner. Not long after arriving he is accosted by Erica Blandelli, a pretty blond young woman in a red dress who claims to be a Knight of the Copper Black Cross and seeks his book. Their confrontation is interrupted when a boarlike god, whom Erica claims is a rogue god escaped from its mythic plane, appears and starts wreaking destruction. While Erica uses magical powers to try to fight it off, Godou encounters a strange boy who claims to be the Victor and approves of him holding the tablet. After the boar incident, Erica accompanies Godou to the home of Lucrezia, the renowned witch (and, as Godou discovers, sexy temptress) to whom the tablet belongs. Lucrezia decides to entrust it to Godou's safe keeping while also explaining that the book allows its wielder to steal the power of a god - an ability which proves highly useful when an ancient Phoenician god and Victor appear and confront each other in a battle which seems destined to wreck Sardinia.

The basic concept and construction of the series has been around in anime and comic books for several decades: an ordinary human gains a special artifact which allows him to play with the “big boys” on the super-powered stage. Even the idea of the sexy girl as a companion piece is hardly fresh, so the merits of this one depend entirely on the execution, and in that sense the first episode fares surprisingly well. This one has every opportunity to be totally generic - the personalities of the two leads are very typical and the course of events even forces in a fan service situation orchestrated by the amusingly saucy Lucrezia - but actually slightly exceeds expectations with an impressive dramatic crescendo at the end. Appealing character designs, good-looking action effects, and well-researched references to mythology certainly don't hurt, either.

This one could still easily end up wallowing in its generic elements, but it shows enough in its first episode to give hope that it could be a pretty good super-powered action series.

Campione! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Natsuyuki Rendezvous

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: Ryosuke Hazuki got a part-time job at a local floral shop because he was quite taken with the shop's proprietor, the short-haired beauty Rokka Shimao. Even after months working there, though, he could never muster up the courage to declare his feelings or ask her out, and he believed that his chances of ever doing so were dashed when he came to work early one morning at her request and found a man dressed only in shorts in her apartment. Though put off by the incident, he soon discovers the truth about Atsushi, the man in question - she's her former husband, her dead husband, still lingering as a ghost, and Ryosuke is the first person to ever see him. Atsushi has picked up on the fact that Ryosuke is in love with Rokka, and despite his stated desire in life to see Rokka move on after he dies, he seems intent as a ghost in discouraging Ryosuke. That only gives the Ryosuke the gumption he needs to make his first tentative overtures to Rokka, though, starting a rivalry between a living man in the here-and-now and the ghost of memories past.

Tired of all of the school-based teen fare in anime? This very mature-skewing romantic drama may be more up your alley. While the concept isn't a new one, its has interesting potential because it can simultaneously function on two levels: as an adult romance where a youngish man works up the courage to try to win over the woman he's adored and as the struggle between remembrance and moving on that anyone who's ever had to lose a spouse at a young age can probably empathize with, only in this case literally played out for the viewers as a living-man-vs.-ghost conflict. Playing the concept straight, rather than for even the slightest hint of laughs, opens up all sorts of juicy potential, and it doesn't hurt that Rokka is thoroughly adorable, with a natural beauty and the kind of smile that can light up a room tinged with just a touched of vulnerability in the episode's later stages. Ryosuke may be a little too morose, but with a prize like Rokka awaiting and probably needing someone to help her move on, one can't help but want to see him succeed.

Director Kou Matsuo, who did such a wonderful job with Kure-nai, turns in another fine effort here in fronting a production by Dogakobo (11 eyes, Yuruyuri). While the animation and character rendering aren't the greatest, the sharp use of color compensates and music is used well. And yes, that's Jun Fukuyuma in one of his most restrained roles as Atsushi. But that's the least of the reasons why this one is worth checking out.

Natsuyuki Rendezvous is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Yuruyuri♪♪

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:

The girls of the Amusement Club and their schoolmates are back for another round of wacky fun. In the first half of the episode, Akari, who is ostensibly the lead protagonist but so often gets ignored that she sometimes appears only as a dotted outline, finally get her day in the sun, as she is so insanely popular that everyone is ardently in love with her and constantly seeks her attention; even Chinatsu has shifted her lascivious crush to Akari and Chitose now has nosebleeds about pairings involving her and Akari. In the rest of the episode the girls have made a trip to the hot springs, where all manner of tomfoolery goes on involving tea, ping pong, taking baths, and a partial “Mirakurun” movie.

The first season of Yuruyuri was almost purely episodic, so one only really needs to know basic profiles of the core cast members to appreciate the first episode of the second season. That being said, only returning fans are likely to fully appreciate how big a joke the first half is, since it runs so contrary to reality in this setting. That's not the only place where this first episode is funny, either; in fact, it manages three or four good laughs and at least a few other chuckles. That's enough to sustain the episode through its bland, fairly generic array of characters and numerous yuri-flavored crushes, so fans of the first season should be well-satisfied. The artistic and technical merits are decidedly ordinary, but this was never a franchise which heavily depended on them anyway.

Overall, the second season's start is setting the tone for what looks to be another pleasant but largely forgettable batch of silly fun.

Yuruyuri♪♪ is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Shorts

Chitose Get You!!

Rating: 1 (of 5)

Review:

This series of 3 minute shorts focuses on 11-year-old Chitose, a girl who has the hots for a much older (adult?) guy. In this episode she explains, in brief, how they came to meet and how she came to be attracted to him. One of the jokes here is supposed to be that she really didn't have anything close to a good reason for crushing on him (and another is that the “evil female teacher“ trying to interfere with her being with her beloved is really just doing her job and responsibility as an adult), but that, like everything about the episode, falls flat. While it's not terribly unusual for girls of that age to develop crushes on adults, Anime's track record over the past couple of years clearly shows that the likelihood that this is meant to be completely innocent is very low. And that makes it tasteless, too. The result is a short without any redeeming value beyond its genuinely cute closer.

Chitose Get You!! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

PES: Peace Eco Smile

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review: This co-production between Toyota and Studio 4C is a vastly more ambitious project which partly serves as a Toyota advertisement (as one might expect) but also tries to actually do something. The first two episodes, which total about 7.5 minutes, depict arrival of Pes, an alien from Andromeda, on Earth. A chance encounter with a young woman walking on a bridge's guardrail turns into a rescue mission when she falls, with Pes saving her at the expense of his ship crashing into the water. She works at a flower shop, where Pes goes to stay and help out, while her brother marvels at the prospect of a close encounter of the third kind. Pes quickly starts to fall in love with the young woman, an emotion he doesn't understand, which results in an inadvertent distress call to his fellow aliens.

The animation is well above average for these kind of shorts and the artistry, while not consistently great, has flashes of brilliance. The story is at least mildly interesting, too, but it's the visuals which sell this one.

PES: Peace Eco Smile is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Utakoi

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review: The Hayakunin Isshu are the collection of 100 poems on which the Japanese game Kurata is based. Amongst them the greatest number by far are love poems, which Fujiwara no Teika, the man who chose them, claims happened because that was his preference. (And the fact that he had 27 children by numerous different women suggests that he “lived the dream.“) Here he hosts what will apparently be an anthology series of short stories about romances which each represent one of the poems. The first involves Narihira, one of the most renowned playboys of the late Heian era, and his wooing of Takaiko, a proper lady who is to eventually become the wife of the current Emperor and later becomes the mother of the next one. The second involves Narihira's older brother Yukihira, a rising political figure who isn't as slick with the ladies but nonetheless makes sure that his wife Hiroko knows that she is #1 in his heart.

Even if Chihiyafuru didn't get you enthusiastic about kurata, this is still a potentially interesting-looking series. It uses a simplified art style which is still awash in period detail and still delivers some gorgeous patterning in its traditional period clothing and attractive character designs, although the animation is very basic. The two stories presented here are awash in classic romantic elements and graceful poetry but are punctuated by unexpected bursts of humor. The first and longer one moves the romance along quite a bit too fast - they meet, he makes a telling first impression, and BAM!, they're in bed together in the next scene - and might have worked better if it had taken up the full first episode. Still, its ending, where both parties are looking back at the love affair many years later, is a satisfying wrap-up which integrates is poem in very well. The second one, contrarily, is a neat affirmation of marital devotion which is exactly the length it needs to be to get its point across.

These are simple stories, but the presentation so far is handled well.

Utakoi is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Total Eclipse

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:

In this alternate Earth, mankind first made contact with alien life in 1967, and it was far from peaceful. The BETAs (Beings of Extra Terrestrial Origin that are Adversaries of humanity) seem out to destroy humanity for unknown reasons, which led to initial combat on the surface of the Moon. Mankind was unable to hold them there, though, and in 1973 the BETAs successfully made their way to Earth, landing first in the approximate area of Afghanistan and spreading outward from there. Flash-forward to 1997, and the final defense lines protecting the BETAs from completely taking over Asia (and thus threatening Japan) are in shaky shape. Yui, scion of a prominent samurai clan, and numerous other high school-aged girls are in training to be the next wave of pilots of Zuikaku, the mecha that have become a key weapon in the struggle against the BETAs. There lives remain normal for a few months as they gradually acclimate to their machines, but in 1998 the final defense lines in Asia fall and the BETAs are now threatening Japan directly. Though placed on reserve duty to protect a supply depot during an attempt to maintain a defense line befor Kyoto, Yui and her classmates, all neophytes, are pressed into emergency duty when the BETAs break through the line.

The first mecha series of the season begins with a total focus on building and establishing its setting. Rather than just throw the girls into battle immediately (and why they are all girls has yet to be explained), they are shown going through their training and are treated like the rookies that they are, with the girls finally flying off to battle being the dramatic climax; showing them in an actual fight will have to wait for episode 2. That already sets the tone as more of a hard-core mecha, rather than super-heroic mecha, series, and some implications are dropped that this one is going to take a gritty approach. The amount of establishing footage needed here forces character development to remain at a minimum; in fact, we never even learn the names of any of the girls other than the two who will apparently be the lead protagonists, and even the rivalry they seem to start with gets only the briefest treatment.

Stylistically and thematically in both the writing and the artistry, the content owes homage to numerous prominent mecha titles which have come before, including Neon Genesis Evangelion, Gunparade March, and Gunbuster. The high-quality artistry and CG mecha animation makes for a good-looking episode which does find some space for fan service (the mecha combat suits themselves are practically indecent) and the musical score delivers well on intensity. Overall, the series shows promise as a darker-edged mecha series but has yet to properly capitalize on it.

Total Eclipse is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Tari Tari

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:

High school senior Konatsu Miyamoto desperately wants to participate in an upcoming choral recital, but a bad screw-up on her part in the previous year's recital (the details of which are not yet clear) has resulted in her being relegated to support status only by the choral coach. Discontent with that, she decides to start her own choral group club. Though she can count on her archery friend Sawa and blackmailing her brother to get involved, her efforts to invite Sakai, a girl taking supplementary classes to get caught up, fall miserably flat even though Sakai seems to be a former singer. Meanwhile, chronically late badminton enthusiast Tanaka finds himself showing around the campus one “Ween,” a new transfer student who is returning to Japan after a dozen years in Austria and has yet to get the language and customs completely straight.

Ultimately this series, which has a near-simultaneous manga version, seems intended to gather the three girls and two guys together as a choral ensemble, but the first episode already shows signs that this will be a troubled process, as Sakai clearly has something that weighs on her heavily and others show signs of having their own stress factors. Nearly the entire first episode is involved in firmly establishing the core cast, so it leaves little room for actual storytelling, but it does the introductions in a far smoother and more natural fashion than La storia della Arcana Famiglia did, with personality shown more through subtle touches than what the characters outright explain. That this is the first lead directing and scripting effort for Masakazu Hashimoto (who directed Professor Layton and the Eternal Diva but has otherwise done only storyboarding and episode directing) is rather shocking, but if the rest of the series works on the same writing level that this one does then his name is one to remember going forward.

Of course, the other good reason to watch is that this is a P.A. Works production, which means top-quality background art, a great job of making characters look distinctive without being outlandish, and upper-tier animation. This is a good-looking and richly-written first episode for a series which shows a lot of promise.

Tari Tari is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review: In an apparent future world where humankind has long been in decline and food sources are dwindling, fairies (here also referred to as “present-humans”) exist who have command of supernatural “technology.” A young woman has the unenviable job of being the U.N. Mediator between humans and fairies, who seem like simple-minded, sweet-obsessed creatures but are capable of things like animating a headless, skinned chicken, producing a hair tonic which allows one to regrow hair that has been cut short virtually overnight, or merrily discussing how starving to death could be a new and interesting experience that could catch on as a fad. When strange, processed foods start showing up that bear the logo of a company called FairyCo, the young woman and her scientist grandfather go to investigate and discover some very weird things going on there.

Based on a series of short novels, this has to be one of the season's most bizarre entries - and yes, I'm saying that despite being only two series into the new season so far. The basic premise of a new supernatural race arising as humankind declines is a staple of fantasy and sci fi stories, but some of what happens in this episode is so mind-bogglingly strange (there's a bit with a loaf of bread-shaped robot towards the episode's end that will leave many viewers staring at the screen aghast) that the actual intended tone of the series is very hard to pin down. Some elements definitely seem grim, but the fairies are cutesy when not being disturbingly darkly ironic. It can shift from being light-hearted to serious to outright weird and back again in a matter of seconds while showing visuals that are typically very simply-drawn but occasionally show impressive sparks of imagination. The elflike fairy designs are also somewhat freaky in that they perpetually have wide-open mouths that don't move when they talk.

Whether this one can truly be called good or bad is unclear at this point, hence the middle-of-the-road grade, but its first episode certainly will not bore viewers no matter what your normal tastes are.

Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


La storia della Arcana Famiglia

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review: The trade island of Regalo has a long-standing, long-welcomed tradition of being patrolled and protected by La Arcana Famiglia, a vigilante group who derive special powers from each having an affinity to a certain card of the Tarot deck. For instance, Felicita, the teenage daughter of the current “Papa” of the group, can see into a person's heart because of her affinity with The Lover, and she has no qualms about kicking the crap out of any of the many bishonen Famiglia members around her who approach her with frisky thoughts. She also gets righteously pissed when the reigning Papa, who's thinking about retiring, announces that he will conduct a tournament amongst the Famiglia members to determine who his successor will be, and that the winner will also marry Felicita, thus making her the new Mama. (And apparently he has reasons for doing this but doesn't want to tell anyone.) She is unable to convince him by force, but at least some of the young men around her have already decided to wish for Felicita's freedom should they win. Others, however, relish the idea of having her as a wife.

This is one of the rare anime series to be based on a computer game aimed at female audiences, and that shows almost immediately; before the action-oriented prologue is over, a distinct reverse-harem feel has already been established. Many of the usual-suspect personality archetypes seen in the genre get introduced quickly, but the tournament-for-the-lady's-hand aspect is, at least, a fresher approach. The amount of spunk that Felicita shows at first is also promising, but by the end of the episode that has largely disappeared, leaving one questioning whether or not she is actually going to be proactive in seeking a way out of the situation. (The premise of the series has her participating in the tournament, too, but that has not happened yet by the end of the first episode.) Inserting a traditional Japanese lady (the Mama) into a setting otherwise styled heavily off of Sicily is also more than a bit incongruous, though perhaps this will be explained later.

The artistry and animation, while respectable, are not going to blow anyone away and the musical score is nothing special, so this one is going to have to rely heavily on its writing. So far it's rather stiff, with explanations coming in a stilted fashion. This is far from being one of the worst reverse-harem concepts to come along recently, but it has yet to show much potential for being good.

La storia della Arcana Famiglia is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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