Anime Programming in the US
Making a Living in Manga in Japan with Felipe Smith
Lost in Translation
Carlo has spent his whole life suffering from people getting his name wrong, and figures the only way to fix it is to become a magical girl and alter the laws of the universe. He writes the biweekly manga review column Right Turn Only!! and longs for the day Hajime Isayama is invited as a Guest of Honor at a major U.S. convention. His favorite series of the last few seasons include From the New World, Psycho-Pass, Chihayafuru 2, Flowers of Evil, Attack on Titan, The Devil is a Part-Timer!, Free!, Silver Spoon, and the new Genshiken.
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Something's a little off about Samurai Flamenco—it's got a promising concept and the animation is polished enough, but the series does a poor job of selling itself in Episode 1. The story begins when police officer Hidenori Goto finds a naked man curled up in an alley and promptly tries to arrest him for indecency. However, the undressed suspect insists that he's a superhero who got beaten up after trying to apprehend a drunken salaryman. This self-proclaimed hero, who goes by "Samurai Flamenco," is Masayoshi Hazama, a male model who secretly fights crime despite being really bad at it. Goto accompanies Hazama home to make sure he's okay, and we learn that Hazama is a huge fan of the hero/tokusatsu genre and honestly believes he can be a Power Ranger-styled defender of justice on the streets.
It's an idea with potential—Hazama's worldview raises the question of raw vigilantism versus letting law enforcement do their job, and his enthusiasm is almost comical as he lets his hero fantasies intrude on reality. But too much time is spent on idle chatter between Hazama and Goto, draining the episode of energy. In the closing minutes, Hazama (now fully recovered) takes on a horde of troublemaking schoolkids, but he gets badly beaten again and has to call Goto for help. If this is supposed to be pity-driven, "aw, poor guy" humor, it doesn't work very well: a good first episode should make a dramatic impact, but all this does is fizzle out.
The animation has occasional outbursts of greatness—mostly in the parody footage of classic hero shows and movies, plus Samurai Flamenco's own misguided fighting moves. Some creative camerawork also keeps dialogue scenes from getting dull. Yet the series limits its own chances to win viewers over, as most of this episode takes place at night (say goodbye to eye-catching colors and designs), and the creative character design efforts are wasted on extras. Episode 1 offers a hint of how great the show could be, but it holds back too much in the opener.
Samurai Flamenco is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4 (of 5)
A mining site is blown up by unexplained forces. Three young girls are attacked by would-be kidnappers on the same day. Late-21st-century technology and steampunk aesthetics meet in a colorful, highly detailed environment. Is this the result of someone saying, "I have a great idea for an anime" and having the entire contents of their brain spill out at once? No, it's Galilei Donna, whose only fault is being too ambitious at times.
The three girls introduced here are the so-called Galilei Sisters, daughters of a family descended from legendary physicist Galileo Galilei (although their surname is Ferrari). Don't assume they're all scientific geniuses, though—college-aged Hazuki is studying law, high-schooler Kazuki's specialty is being reclusive, and prepubescent Hozuki ... well, she's still at that all-inquisitive stage. After a heart-pounding first act where all three of them narrowly escape their pursuers, the sisters are reunited with their high-strung mother and eccentric father. The family tries to plan out a more secure living arrangement, but they're rudely interrupted by yet another gun-toting criminal. At least this guy voices his intentions clearly: he's after a valuable inheritance that's linked to Galileo's descendants. However, another breathtaking action sequence closes out the episode as the Ferrari family gets away again ... just barely!
Between the breathless action and elaborately constructed world, it's hard not to get swept away in the romance of Galilei Donna. However, in its effort to be all thrills all the time, the first episode gets a little sloppy with storytelling and throws characters and motives around without fully explaining them. This one is best enjoyed by going along with the ride for now, and hoping for more details later.
Fortunately, it's easy to enjoy the ride with all the gorgeous visuals: vivid backgrounds, creatively designed characters, and gadgets that are both functional and beautiful. Everything from chase sequences to CGI vehicles are polished to a high sheen, and a sophisticated music score enhances the action even more. Where the next episode is headed, it's hard to say—but it'll surely be worth watching.
Galilei Donna is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 1 (of 5)
It's never a good sign when the funniest part of an anime is a mostly unrelated segment. Early on in My Mental Choices..., there's a montage of famous events absurdly reduced to a two-way choice—everything from Steve Jobs' decision to make the iPhone a touchscreen device, to the original tragic ending of The Little Mermaid. The connection to the actual series becomes clear when we meet Kanade Amakusa, a high-schooler with a strange mental condition. Whenver he's in a potentially awkward situation, Kanade's brain locks up and forces him to pick from two (usually equally bad) courses of action. This could have been a clever source of humor, but instead, it sets off various crude jokes—like Kanade digging his face into an erotic magazine, telling female classmate Yukihira he's interested in boob-groping, or stripping his shirt off in the middle of class.
In between these ill-advised choices are various interactions between Kanade and his classmates, which try to be funny but fail miserably. They simply come off as obnoxious and nonsensical, like Yukihira injecting the word "bug" or "maggot" into her conversation, and big-business heiress Yuouji hawking products of questionable value. Eventually, one last comedy cliché comes flying in when Kanade "chooses" to have a pretty girl fall out of the sky. So now the series can't even decide if it's goofball school humor or outright fantasy. Then again, does it really matter when one is still trying to figure out how an endless parade of juvenile jokes got published as a light novel and adapted into an anime?
The visuals try to stand out with bright colors and physical comedy, but these results fall short as well. The color scheme ends up too garish, and the animation is too choppy to get a fluid, lively sense of motion. Plain, by-the-book character designs are another negative, while noisy background music often distracts from the action rather than supporting it. Everything about this production is so poorly done that it's hard to imagine getting any laughs out of it—unless it's the laughter of mockery.
My mental choices are completely interfering with my school romantic comedy is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)
Tokyo Ravens is nothing special, but it isn't horrible, either. This supernatural adventure series employs all the usual trappings of the genre, but does so without making a mess of the story or throwing too many ideas in. In fact, it even spends a good amount of time on the characters' day-to-day lives, instead of rushing them into the action.
Average schoolboy Harutora Tsuchimikado is the series' main character, owner of a distinguished family name and heir (but a distant, low ranking-one) to legendary onmyoji Abe no Seimei. His onmyo powers are so low, in fact, that he can't even see spirits—and instead it's a talented relative named Natsume who has been tapped as the future head of the family. This lack of expectations suits the easygoing Harutora just fine, or at least that's what he tells his friends. The middle of the episode then subverts expectations by laying back and showcasing Harutora's ideal youth: hanging out with buddies and going to a summer festival, all set to a nostalgic soundtrack. However, the story picks up the pace right on time, as a suspicious-looking girl strolls into the festival in search of the Tsuchimikado heir. She seeks Natsume, but only gets Harutora; the Onmyo Police (yes, they have those in this universe) show up to apprehend her; special effects and sorcery ensue, and just what has Harutora gotten himself into?
Clearly, Tokyo Ravens is a typical hero's tale, with a slight twist on the modern world (onmyo-do magic is not only acknowledged by the public, but also government-approved), and fairly well-defined characters and relationships. Visually, it does just enough to pass off as average, with warm-colored backgrounds, acceptable (but not particularly graceful) animation, and angular character designs that could use a little more detail. The one major fight scene near the end reveals the series' potential, but an obviously computer-generated beast ruins the magic. Still, if Tokyo Ravens concentrates on the struggles and desires of its characters as much as it does on action and spiritual warfare, then it could be something worth following.
Tokyo Ravens is available streaming from Funimation.
Rating: 1 (of 5)
Set in a vaguely steampunk-ish world, Unbreakable Machine-Doll is an exercise in fantasy-action clichés. Like so many other series, it begins with an intrepid young lad on a journey of destiny. This lad, named Raishin, is accompanied by a gorgeous mechanical doll named Yaya—but of course, as the obligatory heroine, she's big enough to pass for a real girl and smart enough to make inappropriate romantic overtones toward Raishin.
No fantasy-action cliché would be complete without an initial display of the protagonists' powers, so Raishin and Yaya save their train from destruction as part of their journey. The cookie-cutter tropes don't stop there: Raishin's destination is Walpurgis Academy, a "school of magic" where students learn to control their half-technological/half-magical creations. However, Raishin does poorly on the placement exam, and now he'll have to fight his way into a prestigious tournament where the winner gains access to forbidden techniques. Tournaments? High-level magic? Sure, let's just rip off Dungeons and Dragons and Pokémon together! Eventually, Raishin challenges high-strung student Charlotte—but in a freak twist of fate (and several chaotic fight scenes later), Raishin and Charlotte end up being reluctant allies. Still, Raishin's true quest is something far more vengeful than just winning a tournament...
But honestly, who wants to stick around to see if Raishin accomplishes his goal? He's just going to get into more mechanical-doll fights, the plot and characters will keep piling on in absurd ways ("I fight because I fight!" "I've gotta be the strongest!"), and Yaya will continue to slobber all over Raishin. It's not like it even has great animation to go with it: too much of the series is digitally produced, or at least looks that way, from the stiff character gestures and flat colors. The visuals suffer from poor shading, too much static imagery, and obvious CGI during special-effects sequences. It tries to look fancy, but even the fights feel unimaginative, a mindless copy of the genre rather than a genuine effort. Surely there are better options for magical warfare than this series.
Unbreakable Machine-Doll is available streaming at Funimation.
Rating: 2 (of 5)
As the idyllic opening scenes suggest, Non Non Biyori is a slice-of-life tale about a group of girls who live in the remote countryside. So remote, in fact, that their unique lifestyle is the main source of humor. But this is not goofy, screaming humor or even punchline-driven gags about farm life (see: Silver Spoon). Rather, Non Non Biyori makes wry observations about country living and tries to get audiences to nod in agreement.
These wry observations begin Hotaru, a fifth-grader, moves from Tokyo to the local school. Her first culture shock comes when she see that all the elementary and middle school grades are grouped into one classroom because there are so few students. She befriends the three other girls in class, which leads to even more culture shock: They don't lock their doors at night! There are only two stores in town! And for Ren-chon, the first-grader, her idea of prime entertainment is luring out the tanuki raccoon that lives in her backyard. Basically, that's what this whole episode does in lieu of an actual plot: it runs down a list of quirky facts about living in the sticks. Eventually, Hotaru gets to experience something enjoyable, rather than just weird or discomforting. But the series can't help getting in one last jibe—have you ever tried catching a bus in the middle of nowhere?
The pacing is so relaxed that, from a visual standpoint, it should be graded on illustration rather than animation. The natural scenery is where the animators show off the most, with intense greens, blues and yellows across the screen. Even a passing cow or a view of the schoolhouse gets plenty of attention to detail. However, the character designs themselves are bland, and most of the movement in the episode involves the girls strolling from one spot to another while talking. The background music, while pleasant to listen to, is also a prelude to naptime—kind of like this whole show. Non Non Biyori has some witty things to say about rural life, but it doesn't say much else.
Non Non Biyori is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
First there was Swimming Anime, now there's Cycling Anime! Yowapeda (short for Yowamushi Pedal) is the tale of a weakling named Sakamichi Onoda, whose only pleasure in life is to obsess over anime. But fate has other plans for him when he crosses paths with Shunsuke Imaizumi, a competitive cyclist who thinks it's absurd that Sakamichi takes his "mommy bike" up the steep back road to school everyday. What this smug jock doesn't realize, though, is that the challenges Sakamichi imposes upon himself—like climbing up that incline, or biking all the way from home to Akihabara—have made him an accidental cycling prodigy. So begins the familiar setup where an underdog kid is secretly a sports genius.
While the series does have a lively mix of characters (a geeky protagonist, a foil who's his physical and mental opposite, flamboyant cycling team members, and a couple of girls to balance it all out), Episode 1 has trouble getting each of their storylines slotted together. After establishing Sakamichi as the chief subject, the episode jumps to Shunsuke as if he were the main character. (In truth, it's his unlikely pairing with Sakamichi that's supposed to be the point.) The aces of the school cycling team make a late appearance, but it seems to come out of nowhere, while female lead Miki interacts with both Sakamichi and the school team but lacks a clear motive. The plot finally finds a sense of direction in the last scene, where Shunsuke challenges Sakamichi to a one-on-one race up the hill to school.
As expected, the cycling scenes showcase some of the flashiest animation in this episode, with thrilling clips of Shunsuke's past accomplishments. But physical comedy gets just as much of a first-rate visual treatment, as Sakamichi bounces and trips his way through life. Distinctive character designs and bright colors are another artistic strength, although the school setting looks pretty ordinary from the inside. This series has plenty of room to grow once the action moves to an actual cycling course—and once the story gets on a more solid, goal-oriented path.
Yowapeda is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Gingitsune: Messenger of the Fox Gods
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Gingitsune has what it takes to succeed as a spiritually themed slice-of-life series: a likable, pure-hearted heroine, an idiosyncratic but well-meaning deity, and heartfelt storytelling. The heroine in question is Makoto, the daughter of a shrinekeeping family and one the lucky few who can see the fox god that inhabits her shrine. Gintaro, as he is called, is a gruff but laid-back spirit who likes to laze on the roof of the temple. This friendly coexistence makes for an idyllic atmosphere, but Episode 1 quickly sends Makoto on an emotional ride.
Makoto's classmate, Yumi, asks for help in telling a love fortune and Gintaro grudgingly goes along with it. Unfortunately, Makoto doesn't communicate the message very well, making Yumi's love life worse and causing a rift between the two. This leads to Makoto taking it out on Gintaro, who leaves the shrine in a huff—so now what's a priestess-in-training to do? When a couple of neighborhood kids enlist Makoto's help in finding a stray cat, she panics because she knows Gintaro's powers would be a big help. The episode builds up the drama nicely with each incident: by themselves, they'd be just inconveniences, but when they're all weighing down on one person it can feel like the end of the world.
Thankfully, Makoto goes through some soul-searching and tearfully makes up with Gintaro. He agrees to help her after all, and while the last few scenes may be a bit too cheesy and melodramatic—everyone's problems are magically solved in the last three minutes!—it's the earnest sentiment that counts.
The animation fares best when showing off Makoto's picturesque hometown, where bustling streets and rich greenery are often just yards away from each other (and usually enhanced by glowing sunlight). Character designs are fairly conservative, sticking to ordinary, next-door-neighbor types—but the six-foot-plus Gintaro definitely makes his presence felt whenver he steps into a scene. A tuneful, full-orchestra music score also adds to the emotional impact of the story. If all the episodes are as charming as this one, then this show's a keeper.
Gingitsune: Messenger of the Fox Gods is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)
Meganebu! is about exactly what it says: a "glasses club" comprised of five guys who see their eyewear not just as vision correction or a fashion statement, but a way of life. A very bizarre way of life, it turns out. As the episode begins, club leader Akira is making an impassioned speech (complete with giant robot) about the club's newly-designed X-ray glasses, explaining how this will change the world because they can now discreetly check out beautiful women. That's a pretty accurate measure of how ridiculous the series is.
Eventually, some complexities enter the plot—but it never actually gets any more serious. An eye doctor is coming to run eye exams on all the students, which means there might be a hot lady nurse coming along, so the boys have got to finish the latest build of their X-ray glasses now! This dash to the deadline is accompanied by all sorts of gags, from the simple (pretend-glasses wearer Hayato takes a wrench to the foot) to the outrageous (two of the guys take a wild ride on a moving cart) and, occasionally, shameless 100% fanservice. They just had to get a stripping scene in there, didn't they?
Eventually the X-ray glasses do get finished, but instead of the club enjoying the fruit of their labors, there's one more punchline in store. That's the double-edged sword that the series lives by—it's nothing but a long stream of dumb jokes, but throw enough of those out there and people might actually start to enjoy it.
Of course, they're also enjoying the attractive all-male cast—but there's more to Meganebu!'s animation than just pretty character designs. The super-saturated color scheme, stylized backgrounds, and various graphic-design effects give the visuals a very modern pop-art feel. It doesn't match up to Free! on a technical level (no super-smooth water sequences), but it compensates in its own way. The contemporary jazz-influenced soundtrack matches up well to the visual aesthetic, filling the series with energy, and carrying it along that endless stream of goofy glasses humor.
Meganebu! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4 (of 5)
Don't be fooled by Outbreak Company. It's about a hapless otaku guy (ugh!) who goes to a sketchy job interview, gets transported to a medieval-style alternate world (blech), and finds himself being attended to by a gorgeous young maid (argh). At this point, anyone with taste would be rightly justified in shutting off the episode and walking out the room.
And they'd be completely missing the part where it gets awesome.
It turns out that the hapless otaku, Shinichi, is not going to be living the fanboy dream. In fact, the job that he applied for was to become a cultural ambassador to the Eldant Empire, which recently made first contact with Japan through a mysterious dimensional portal. As we all know, international folks usually discover the wonders of Japanese culture through anime, manga, and games ... and that's exactly how Shinichi is expected to reach out to the Eldant people.
As far as the "normal vs. fantasy world" culture clash goes, it doesn't quite reach the level of The Devil is a Part-Timer!, and the fandom humor is nowhere near Genshiken. But it's close enough to be entertaining, and half the fun is seeing Shinichi's geeky expectations derailed. (He checks out another girl's chest, for example, but never gets the fanservice that would have happened in a lesser anime.) Toward the end of the episode, Shinichi meets the Empress and commits a hilarious faux pas—further proving that applying geek logic to international (or inter-dimensional) relations is a comedy gold mine.
Animation quality is excellent throughout the episode, with some fine nuances of color and shading to show off the environment. The character designs have some cute stylistic flourishes, most noticeably in the eyes, and motion is fluid for the most part (although it's not like Shinichi gets into epic swordfights anyway). The carefully designed towns and castles are another key point—this isn't just some generic fantasy world, but one that artists have poured effort into. With a convincing setting and a premise made for laughs, this attempt at geek humor pulls it off.
Outbreak Company is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Ace of the Diamond
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Ace of the Diamond is crawling with sports clichés. Not that this is a bad thing: it strings those clichés together in such a way that one becomes invested in the main character, which is pretty much what all sports stories hope to accomplish.
The protagonist is Eijun Sawamura, a young left-handed pitcher who's earnest to a fault. Eijun takes baseball so seriously that he even weeps openly after losing the last game of his middle school career—then violently lashes out at the opposing team when they mock him. (There's your comedy quota right there.) Despite this embarrassing display, one of Tokyo's top baseball schools comes calling: Seidou High, where teenage talents from all around the country come to train. Funnily enough, however, Eijun couldn't care less—he just wants to get into his local high school and keep all the same teammates from last year. But during a visit to Seidou, Eijun sees a burly power hitter being a bad teammate at practice and becomes enraged. Tensions mount and the excitement picks up as Eijun calls out the jerk—next thing he knows, he's pitching against high-school level competition for the first time in his life!
Basically, Eijun's origin story is too long to fit into one episode, but it reveals enough of his character that viewers can decide whether to: (1) keep on watching because of this kid's admirable will to win, or (2) ditch the show because he's too cheesy to be believed. If it helps, there's plenty of heart-swelling music while most of this is going on, all the better to express that "inspiring sports saga" aesthetic. The animation is decent enough to pass—there's some good visual detail during classroom and at-home scenes, but obviously the highlights are the baseball clips, with bright colors, dramatic poses, and intense speedlines for effect. The character designs are a plus as well, with a wide range of appearances among the players and supporting cast. If hot-blooded passion and striving to be the best is your idea of a great anime, by all means, get into this one.
Ace of the Diamond is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)
In Little Busters! Refrain, the boys and girls who worked through their personal problems together last season have reunited, this time to have a pancake cookout. Thankfully, the episode avoids recapping every little incident from last time (aside from a brief montage), and neither does it trot out the cast in mechanical, police-lineup fashion. Instead, lively interaction between the characters is the order of the day: muscleheaded guys forever competing over everything, sweet girls who have a kind word for everyone, and central character Riki Naoe enjoying their company. However, viewers will probably be wishing for more substance as the episode hits the halfway point.
Fortunately, that's when the substance arrives—but it's your typical schmaltzy-moral-lesson deal where evil bullies get reprimanded by the stiff hand of justice. In this trite scenario, steel-hearted yuiko Kurugaya is being targeted by a trio of classmates, and they reckon the best way to get to her is to pick on her more sensitive friends. But the ever-observant Naoe figures out what's going on, setting up a dramatic confrontation between himself, Kurugaya, and the bullies. The episode culminates in Kurugaya being the usual badass that she is, the rest of the Little Busters! lending a helping hand, and a hint of darker drama to come.
That hint of darkness is necessary, because—aside from Kurugaya's display of awesomeness—the first episode is too light, trying to ease viewers in gently instead of hooking them hard. Even the visuals seem half-hearted, devoid of any striking animation sequences. (Again, Kurugaya's shining moment is the one exception.) The character designs, most notable for the hairstyle-color-coded girls, are easy to tell apart but bland in style, and the school setting is as ordinary as they come. The music is light and sentimental, well-suited to the themes of the story but lacking any major impact. Clearly, this is a series that accomplishes what it does by getting fans emotionally attached to the characters rather than by any grand artistry or concept. So who's ready to take their heart on another rollercoaster ride?
Little Busters! Refrain is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 1.5 (of 5)
It's trendy to complain about anime always being the same: an ordinary guy surrounded by cute girls, epic quests to save the world from evil, random schoolkids hanging out and having pointless fun. But Golden Time shows us that trying to stand out from the crowd isn't always better. Look how different it is—It's about law school! It's about college-age relationships! It's boring as hell.
College, as they say, is a "Golden Time" for young people to find themselves, and first-year student Banri Tada plans to do exactly that. Unfortunately, he's just a clone of the weak-willed, nice-guy protagonist that already populates most male-targeted anime. That's strike one. Along the way to campus, Banri meets Mitsuo, another first-year, but their walk to school is rudely interrupted by a young lady who attacks Mitsuo with a bouquet of roses. That's how we're introduced to Koko, Mitsuo's clingy childhood friend who's upset that he enrolled in a different university from her. A dysfunctional relationship starring a ridiculous psycho-girlfriend stereotype? That's strike two.
Eventually, Banri and Mitsuo get to class, but an unpleasant surprise causes Mitsuo to leave the room screaming. So Banri wanders into the college club fair, meeting potential friends but also being subjected to dumb gags about the hardcore recruiting tactics of school clubs. Cheesy humor: strike three. You're out, Golden Time. "Average guy going to college" isn't enough to be a story, no one wants to hear about juvenile relationship drama, and the jokes sprinkled throughout this episode are neither witty nor crazy enough to be funny.
Worse yet, the animation is also mediocre, with bland character designs and choppy movement. The occasional outbursts of physical comedy are about the only time the visuals are entertaining. Flat, unimaginative backgrounds also manage to turn the city of Tokyo into a pit of urban clichés (roads, corporate buildings, and generic crowds going about their business). There's nothing to see and nothing to do in this series—you might as well go to real-life college if you want something interesting.
Golden Time is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 5 (of 5)
Call it personal bias, but that's the reasoning behind the score for Kill la Kill. This much-hyped project lives up to its billing, with hyperkinetic visuals oozing out of every exaggerated kick and punch. Human bodies go flying and crash triumphantly into inanimate objects; hand-to-hand combat moves are elevated to superheroic gestures; even magical artifacts stretch the limits of the imagination. (Where else would a heroine get her powers from a talking sailor uniform?)
Behind all this gloss and glamour is a typical schoolyard fighting-tournament scenario. Protagonist Ryuko Matoi has just transferred into Honnouji Academy, a rough-and-tumble institution where she must fight superpowered students one by one in a personal quest for revenge. At the top of the ladder stands imperious student council president Satsuki Kiryuin, who dispenses "Goku Uniforms" (rated from one to three stars) that give selected students their abilities. Ryuko's first matchup is against a goon from the Boxing Club, and after she escapes their initial encounter—which itself is an insult to Satsuki's pride—she goes home, discovers the aforementioned sailor uniform, puts it on, and returns the next day to dish out a well-deserved beatdown. Armed with a ridiculous, Goku-Uniform-smashing scissor blade, of course.
Where this series surpasses its peers is the way it pushes every genre element to the extreme. Honnouji's student council isn't just strict; they actually kill anyone who crosses them. Ryuko's opponent isn't just equipped with boxing gloves, he's got medieval torture devices strapped to his hands. Even Ryuko's new best friend in class goes overboard with her cheery behavior, which is part of the fun.
Technically, the animation isn't perfect—certain scenes look like an attempt to save on framerate more than anything else—but the visual design is so dynamic, so vivid, that sheer creative passion is enough to carry it. That goes for the story too, and it's what makes Kill la Kill an instant must-watch.
Kill la Kill is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4 (of 5)
At first glance, Coppelion looks like a totally conventional piece of post-apocalyptic science fiction. Burnt-out cities, lethal pollution, humanity's last shreds of hope. But the way it handles these ideas is what makes all the difference. Episode 1 pulls viewers into the story from an oblique angle: instead of announcing the premise with a booming voice, it whispers and beckons until you realize you're fifteen minutes in and totally fascinated. The imagery, too, has a story to tell: beautiful, cloud-laced skies and wind-blown grasses are juxtaposed against abandoned roads and hopelessly damaged buildings.
The main cast consists of three schoolgirls, Ibara, Aoi and Taeko, who at first appear to be taking a stroll through the countryside. But as they continue walking, the story comes into clearer focus: they're actually on the outskirts of Tokyo, looking for survivors. Survivors of what, though? The episode offers only hints about the circumstances, like the fact that the air is unbreathable. (So how come the girls can walk right through it? That's another mystery that eventually gets explained.) Only near the end do we get a glimpse of "the epicenter," where the most despair-inducing incident in human history supposedly wiped out all of Tokyo. On top of that are even more mysteries and dangers: Are the girls acting in their best interest by following the orders of a military-research organization? And what about those stray dogs lurking in the streets?
Coppelion is so beautifully animated that even though there's only one major burst of action in the episode, it's still full of eye candy. Dramatic camera angles and intense attention to detail enliven each scene, and a touch of color filtering adds a "worn out," post-apocalyptic look. Strangely, the character designs are somewhat retro, but that may be part of the series' artistic statement too: the girls are obviously outsiders in this world. And if they're outsiders, imagine how it must look to us viewers—on the outside looking in, waiting to discover even more.
Coppelion is available streaming at Viz Anime.
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Poor Akihito. All he wanted to do was save a cute, bespectacled girl from throwing herself off a rooftop, and what does he get for his trouble? A blade in the stomach, made from her own hardened blood. So goes the unusual first scene of Beyond the Boundary. The girl, named Mirai Kuriyama, is a Spirit World Warrior (have people just given up trying to invent fancy names for these things?) who insists that Akihito is a youmu, a type of monster—but in truth, she can't kill him because he's only half-youmu by birth.
If this sounds like another iteration of the much-overused "ordinary teenager discovers mysterious powers and enters a world of supernatural warfare" formula, that assessment would be mostly right. It wades through the usual clichés, like Akihito and Mirai initially not getting along, a thorough origin story explaining why Mirai fights, an ominous warning from Akihito's clubmate Mitsuki Nase (who, unsurprisingly, is involved in spirit warfare too), and an eventual confrontation with a real youmu. But these are made tolerable by the fact that the first episode devotes just as much time to slice-of-life moments and filling out the characters' personalities, often through deadpan humor and one-liners. Mirai is often the punchline in these situations; she literally cannot fight her way out of a bucket, and her clumsy attempts on Akihito's life suggest that the show is gently mocking the genre as much as it's using it for story fuel.
Excellent production values also make it easy to look past the trite concept: the action scenes buzz with energy and are smoothly executed, while the more placid school-life moments emphasize subtle character gestures and a variety of camera angles. Rich, nuanced colors are also sure to please the eye. Even the background music—which ranges from light acoustic pop to stabs of orchestral fury—is surprisingly polished. Can Beyond the Boundary overcome its underwhelming premise and become a series worth watching? It's got a fighting chance.
Beyond the Boundary is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
this article has been modified since it was originally posted; see change history