The Fall 2013 Anime Preview Guide
Rebecca Silverman

Oct 2nd 2013
Rebecca Silverman (blood type A, sign: Aquarius) started out wanting to be Rainbow Brite, grew to want to be Sailor Jupiter, and has decided that writing about anime and manga and teaching are pretty good things to settle for. (Although she could totally use Pastel Yumi's magic wand in class.) Her cat count has increased since the summer preview guide, and she continues to maintain that she does not own too many books.

Galilei Donna

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Sometime in the not-so-distant future in an unnamed Italian town, three sisters are pursued by would-be kidnappers: Hazuki is assaulted in a restaurant, Kazuki is nearly snatched at school, and Hozuki is chased through the town and an abandoned nuclear facility by a spaceship. Why would anyone want to hurt or steal the Ferrari girls? Could it have anything to do with the fact that they are the descendants of Galileo Galilei? Given that the title of the show is Galilei Donna, I'd say that's a safe bet.

As far as action-packed first episodes go, Galilei Donna is pretty far up the list, and it has the added bonus of making a decent amount of sense. True, we have no real idea who the flamboyant man who leads the kidnapping effort is, nor do we get to know much about middle sister Kazuki's personality other than that she has some martial arts training, but we do understand that the Ferrari family is far from a happy one. The parents are separated and can clearly barely stand each other, which has had an effect on eldest sister Hazuki's emotional state. She's (barely) in law school and her mother thinks she's a border-line alcoholic, but we can see a brilliant mind underneath her troubles. Hozuki, the youngest daughter, is a mechanical genius, the depths of whose talents are revealed in the end of the episode when she manages to turn the tide of events. Obviously some of many-times-great-grandpapa's talent was passed down.

The episode is also visually interesting, with the Ferrari sisters looking distinctly different by somehow similar enough that they are clearly related. Noses tend to vanish when we see someone head-on, but for the most part everyone is easily recognizable and has their own look. The messy Ferrari home has an impressive amount of small details in the furnishings and the detritus of a poor housekeeper, and Hozuki's fish ship also shows a lot of attention in the small things. There's a sprinkling of Italian phrases used to remind us of the setting, and while my nit-picky soul shivers at the fact that the title should more properly be “Galilei Donne,” it mostly doesn't feel too out of place. (For the record, Flamboyant Man wants to call Hazuki “baby.”)

Galilei Donna looks like it has the potential to be a really interesting show. It has nice art, an interesting group of protagonists, and a ship shaped like a giant goldfish. (The second series this season to feature giant goldfish, I might add.) If it can maintain its momentum and develop Kazuki as well as the other two, this could be good.

Galilei Donna is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Samurai Flamenco

Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)

Review:

One evening on his way home from the local combini, police officer Goto Hidenori rounds a corner to find a naked young man crouched behind some boxes. The young man proclaims that he's not anyone suspicious; he's a superhero! Goto doesn't believe him, but when his thrown cigarette lights the young man's torn costume on fire, he's forced to realize that something other than what he thinks is going on. Dressing the Naked Avenger in his overshirt and a plastic bag, Goto takes the young man home, where he learns that the guy is famous model Hazama Masayoshi...and that he is, in fact, a self-proclaimed superhero known as Samurai Flamenco. Drawn in against his will, Goto suddenly finds himself the de facto police guardian of a young man who watched way too many sentai shows as a kid and now fancies himself the last line of defense against jaywalkers and other hooligans.

Samurai Flamenco, which feels to me like a cross between Dokkoida?! and The Greatest American Hero, is also probably the show that has the most fun this season, or at least the one that I had the most fun with. Masayoshi (he prefers to be called that because it is written with the characters for “justice”) is a lovable idiot, devoted to his goals and ideals in the silliest of ways and wonderfully unconcerned with what his moonlighting could do to his beautiful face. Goto's willingness to go along with things, even though he clearly doesn't know how he got into this mess to begin with, makes him a good straight man for Masayoshi to play off of. The goofy factor is really hard to resist, and the chemistry between the two characters also leads to a slight BL vibe. If that's your thing, this is definitely a promising couple.

Comparisons between American comic series Kick-Ass are kind of inevitable, but Samurai Flamenco is more that series' lighter-hearted, less violent cousin than a Japanese variant of it. The first episode spends a little too much time on Masayoshi's collection of superhero memorabilia and his backstory (such as it is), but this is the kind of show that makes you fondly think of Saturday mornings and bowls of Cocoa Puffs. Samurai Flamenco is entertaining, funny, and absurd all at once, and with nice visuals and good voices – the contrast between deep and serious Tomokazu Sugita as Goto and lighter Toshiki Masuda as Masayoshi is great – this one is a winner.

Samurai Flamenco is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


My mental choices are completely interfering with my school romantic comedy

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Rarely have I had such a feeling of WTF as when I finished watching this episode.  

Do you play a lot of visual novels or graphic adventures or any other type of game that requires you to choose dialog options? Then maybe you can sympathize with series protagonist Amakusa Kanade, who has what he calls “Absolute Choice” syndrome – every so often, an announcer's voice will sound in his head and he will hear two choices. If he doesn't choose one, he gets a headache. This is either 1) a show about a guy with some sort of disease that makes him think this is actually happening or 2) a really dumb premise for a story. Given the execution, I'm going with 2, although 1 remains a possibility in the back of my mind. Over the course of this episode we see Amakusa get hit on twice by his creepy middle-aged housewife neighbor, ask a girl to touch his boobs, and shove his face in a porn magazine someone left on the ground. Meanwhile his classmate Youji's mother masturbates at the breakfast table and his other classmate Yukihira tells awful bug jokes. There's a lot of barfing – which uses the same sound effect as that used for magazine pages rustling – and to top it all off, Kanade's homeroom teacher looks like a six-year-old. Then a blond goth loli falls out of the sky. Wow, how much wackier can this get?!

In case all of this isn't bad enough, the show takes about seven minutes to really get going. After the porn magazine thing and the opening theme, there's an incredibly long montage of famous people making choices that had an impact on humanity. (The .5, incidentally, is for the “Little Mermaid” reference in there, which is the only part of the episode that made me laugh.) This would seem to imply that Kanade asking his horny neighbor to hold him tight will somehow impact the trajectory of human existence.

For all of its prurience in terms of content, this season's show with the most unwieldy title skimps quite a bit on the fanservice. While I personally think it's more effective to just offer a glimpse of undergarment rather than a panty barrage, it doesn't really seem to fit with the show. In the final scene with the girl from the sky there's a hint of censoring, but that could also just be more of the teasing that we see elsewhere in the show. It doesn't fit, effectively robbing My Mental Choices of the one thing that might make it kind of appealing.

When the episode ends with the choices “Watch more” or “Don't Watch More,” it might have been the easiest question in the whole show.

My Mental Choices etc. is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Unbreakable Machine Doll

Rating: 3  (out of 5)

Review:

Unbreakable Machine Doll takes place in a time and place that is pseudo-steampunk, with apparently no higher technology than steam engines for transportation yet with incredibly powerful and complex automatons wandering about. These automatons are used for combat games, although presumably they have other functions, and have a wide range of appearances and personalities. Japanese exchange student Raishin and his machine doll Yaya are traveling to a high class high school (is there any other kind in sci fi anime?) that specializes in automaton fighting when the train they are on fails to stop at the station. Raishin and Yaya leap into action to save the day, jumping over train cars and using a combination of magic and Yaya's brute strength to force the train to stop. This is our introduction to just what it is these machine dolls can do.

After this point, Unbreakable Machine Doll gets a little more predictable. Raishin arrives at the school, gets on the bad side of blond beauty and genius automaton-user Charlotte, and ends up challenging her to a fight. We are introduced to one of the teachers breasts-first, and all of the other male students could be photocopies of each other, although it is worth noting that all of the machine dolls are different. Charlotte pretends to hate Raishin while she's attracted to him, Raishin is more sensitive to detail than he at first appears to be, a mysterious automaton surfaces at the end of the episode and Raishin has a flashback to a bad guy who has suddenly appeared on campus. Things get cookie-cutter very quickly, in other words.

Fortunately Unbreakable Machine Doll looks really good. The automatons are all significantly different from each other in designs, people move smoothly (although it does look like there are a few motion-capture moments in there), and if a lot of the action is obscured by smoke, damn if that smoke doesn't billow nicely. There's a bit much bloom in use, making things too bright at times, but the lack of solid black outlines for just about everything gives it a neat look.

What is likely to be a sore, or at least talking, point for some viewers is Yaya's personality. Apparently the mysterious Saya who programmed her included a sex drive along with a C drive (I know, I know, she's clockwork not computer), because all she seems able to think about is getting in her master's pants. He's clearly not comfortable with this, which makes Yaya a more difficult character than she needed to be. It may be played for fanservice or laughs, but I found it unpleasant and unnecessary. In any event, this show walks a line between stylish and familiar. If Yaya can be toned down or distracted, or with a return to the train-stopping action of the opening, Unbreakable Machine Doll could really be enjoyable.

Unbreakable Machine Doll is available streaming on Funimation.


Tokyo Ravens

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

Torn between being an urban fantasy show and a pastoral slice-of-life with magic, Tokyo Ravens has some identity issues. In a world similar to ours but where the ancient magical practice of Onmyo has not only persevered but become accepted as real, Harutora is a descendant of anime's favorite onmyoji, Abe no Seimei. Harutora's only from a branch family, however, and thus is perfectly happy not to become an onmyoji himself, despite what his annoying friend Hotaru thinks. No, he'll leave that to his cousin (?) Natsume, who conveniently enough has just returned from Tokyo for summer break. Natsume wants Harutora to keep his childhood promise to become her familiar, but again, Harutora has little to no interest in onmyo. He refuses and, as an added bonus, tells Natsume that she isn't cute. Like all perfectly reasonable portrayals of girls, Natsume bursts into tears and storms off. Later at a fireworks festival, Harutora makes Hotaru run off crying when he tells her that her wish plaque stating that she wishes he'd become an onmyoji is unreasonable. In the show's defense, when Harutora asks his buddy Touji if he did something wrong, Touji replies that no, it was Hotaru who was in the wrong. This is far more refreshing than it ought to be, for whatever reason.

As the story progresses, we run into a bit of walking fanservice in the form of licensed and powerful onmyoji Suzuka. Suzuka wants Harutora for some kind of experiment, the Magical Investigation Bureau (MIB) wants her for illegal magic use, and the show wants us to know that Suzuka can fit an entire apple in her mouth and enjoys licking phallic objects. In all fairness, Suzuka may actually play an important role as the plot develops as the all-important Bad Guy. Unfortunately all she is right now is the third girl with an interest in Harutora in a show that isn't sure where it wants to go or what it wants to be.

Luckily Tokyo Ravens looks decent. It wins points for one adorable scene of Harutora hugging his scruffy dog, but it also has varied character designs, lovely scenery, and a combination of 2D and 3D animation that mostly works. If it can pull its plot together, it could be interesting, but right now it feels like a hodgepodge of ideas that hasn't quite gotten itself grounded yet.

Tokyo Ravens is available streaming on Funimation.


BlazBlue: Alter Memory

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

Review:

I was so looking forward to this – an adaptation of a game I enjoy with the added bonus of seeing my random favorite character, Makoto the squirrel girl, animated. Now I sit here typing in sad disappointment. Not only was my squirrel girl not present, the first episode of BlazBlue: Alter Memory was a choppy, confusing mess of a show, introducing too many characters without establishing enough plot to pull it together.

The episode begins with heterochromatic Ragna the Bloodedge, who has a magic arm, fighting a mechanized valkyrie known as Nu. Apparently this has happened before and will happen again, not only according to Nu but also to the unnamed loli vampire who spends the episode floating around narrating at random. We get a few flashbacks of Ragna fighting a kid and losing a girl called Saya, along with glimpses of other characters: a blond named Noel Vermillion gives a letter to Major Jin Kisaragi, and then the next time we see her we learn that he's run off on his own to Kagutsuchi, and she and some green haired guy with perpetually closed eyes are there to get him back. Meanwhile Ragna has also come to Katgutsuchi, where he ends up feeding a hooded cat girl named Nao of the Kaka clan (really), who turns out to be a bounty hunter after his head. Later Noel sees Ragna sleeping on a rooftop and randomly puts his head on her lap. Then we learn that Ragna and the missing Jin Kisaragi are brothers and then some knight named Hakumen shows up to kill Ragna.

Are you confused yet? Then you have been given an authentic description of what watching BlazBlue: Alter Memory feels like. It really is a shame, because the game's world is interesting and has more than enough components to tell a cohesive, engaging story. The art is crisp, the colors are bright, and the animation, while not thrilling, does its job. It is the story where this falls apart, and unfortunately, that's the most important part, at least in this case. Since there is more than enough material to make this a decent show, it is perhaps worth it, for me at least, as a fan of the game, to keep watching and hope that it gets itself on track, but if you are unfamiliar with the franchise, you aren't likely to get a lot out of this episode beyond confusion and a lack of Makoto the squirrel girl.

As an added note about Funimation's stream of this series, I got two Russian commercials during my viewing of the show. Either Funi knows my grandfather's nationality, or there is something off with the site's regional settings.

BlazBlue: Alter Memory is available streaming at Funimation.


Non Non Biyori

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

In Hinamizawa, er, an idyllic small community somewhere in rural Japan, the Ashigaoka Branch School has only four students – first grader Renge, seventh grader Natsumi, her sister in the eighth grade Koma, and some ninth grade boy. Then one momentous day a fifth grader from Tokyo named Hotaru transfers in, and now the girls (but not that poor schlub of a ninth grader) get to explain life in the country to her. One room schoolhouses! Never locking the house! Cow crossings and tanuki living in the backyard! Wow!

All sarcasm aside, Non Non Biyori is a very sweet show. The girls don't fall immediately into stereotyped roles and there's an easygoing charm to the show that is hard to resist. Some segments are better than others, with one about climbing a hill ranking pretty low on the “interesting” list, but the simple enjoyment the girls take in their lives is peaceful and, well, charming. Renge is the least likeable at this point, for me at least, because there seems to have been some effort expended to make her humorously precocious, a trait I rarely enjoy. I also want to break her recorder to stop the horrible off-key playing that taints the background music at times. Apart from the recorder issue, most of the vocals are fine, with Renge again popping up as the most affected of the characters. Her voice is fine, it just sounds a bit too much like a grown woman trying to be a cute little girl.

The scenery in Non Non Biyori adds to the peaceful atmosphere, although the show indulges in it a bit too much, with scenic views accounting for what feels like half of the episode. Art far outpaces animation for most of the time, with one shot of Natsumi's hands looking distinctly backwards showing up, but overall there is no real limit to how many times I can use the words “peaceful” and “charming” to define this show. Seriously, it's like someone handed the staff those two words on a piece of paper and said, “Use this as your basis.” It works, though if you're tired of cute girl shows, this one isn't likely to change that opinion.

As a final note, I really like the way the title makes a smiley face with the first three characters. Sometimes it's the simple things that make it all worthwhile.

Non Non Biyori is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Rating:  3 (out of 5)

Review:

In the future, not too far from now, a combination of human activity and global warming will cause mass destruction, causing a loss of most of the major land masses. Humans take to the seas in warships to defend their territories from a mysterious fleet known as The Fog. No one seems to know who The Fog are or where they came from; all that can be agreed upon is that they are the enemy.

Chihaya Gunzou is the son of a naval officer who is either MIA or a traitor – no one seems to know which. Disaffected and surly, Chihaya sulks through a trip for future officers to see some naval treasure, only to find that it is a sentient Fleet of Fog submarine. Despite looking like something from WWII, the sub has an anthropomorphized, sentient form – a young girl calling herself Iona. When Chihaya touches the side of the ship, the I-401 (the first syallables, “ee-yon” sound a bit like “Iona”), Iona awakens and comes for him. Her only mission in life, it seems, it to be his ship. Disenchanted with the status quo, Chihaya takes her up on her offer, and the two set out, traitors to both humanity and The Fog.

Despite the disorganized flashback format of the show – we begin in the past, move to the present, go to the less-distant past, and then back to the present – Arpeggio of Blue Steel’s first episode is actually pretty fascinating. We know just enough to want to know more, such as how Chihaya's classmates ended up becoming his crew, but still get a good grip on the setting.

The idea of battleships as cute girls is surprisingly easy to swallow, and probably owes a lot to the fact that boats are generally referred to as female anyway. We can see a marked difference in Iona's behavior between the present and the past, which is a nice touch – in the present, she is much more human, blinking and interacting with the crew, whereas in the past she didn't do either. While the ships’ human forms are pretty standard, what really steals the show are the images of the boats themselves, surfacing majestically, sailing around…if you're a boat geek like I apparently am, this is some serious eye candy.

Right now Chihaya isn't all that likeable and we still have a lot of unanswered questions, but the show is intriguing enough that it certainly merits another episode. Less silly than its premise sounds, Arpeggio of Blue Steel will hopefully make good on its promise.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Yowapeda

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

Sakamichi Onoda is a newly minted freshman at Souhouku High, and he is hyped up to join the anime and manga club. A closet fan, he's never really had any friends he could discuss his hobby with, and now that he's a high schooler, he aims to change that. There's just one problem – the club has been disbanded due to a lack of members. Fortunately Sakamichi still has his handy bike to take him to Akihabara, and with the money he saves on train fare, he can buy more gatchapon. The only odd part about this is that it is a ridiculously long way from school to Akiba, and no one really thinks he can do it. That's where Sakamichi's special gift comes in – he actually has the biking chops to pull it off...on a one speed.

Yowapeda, based on the manga by Wataru Watanabe, whose distinct art style makes this show look pretty unique among other seasonal offerings, looks to be the most promising of the sports stories thus far. Sakamichi is not only the point of view character for part of the episode, but is also seen through the eyes of fellow first year Shunsuke, a competitive cyclist who is both aghast at the other boy's bike and skill, and clearly sees a potential in Sakamichi that the other boy is blissfully unaware of. As far as Sakamichi is concerned, the bike is a great way to save money and to get some privacy to sing his favorite anime theme songs. But now that both Shunsuke and pretty Miki – the sister of a cyclist – have spotted something special about him, his anime club dreams may not come to fruition. While I do feel a little bad about that since he so clearly wants to have otaku friends, it will be nice to see him stop being leery of other people, or at least shocked when they speak to him. And he really does seem to love riding that bike.

This is a very good-natured show, where all sportsmen have goofy nicknames and even competitive jerks can find themselves singing anime music in the bathtub. Daiki Yamashita's Sakamichi is endearing, and if Miki is pretty much a rehash of many other team manager characters with an eye for talent, she's still pleasant. People who have bad memories of spills taken from the bicycle saddle may find parts of this hard to watch, but on the whole Yowapeda is an enjoyable show that manages to restrain itself from focusing too much on butts. Given the position most cyclists take on their machines, if you think about it, that's actually quite an accomplishment.

Yowapeda is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Gundam Build Fighters

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Ever have that nagging feeling that you're watching a half-hour toy commercial? Despite the bright colors, decent Gundam fights, and different premise of this latest addition to the Gundam franchise, the first episode of Gundam Build Fighters has that advertising feel, which detracts a bit from the rest of it.

Unlike other Gundam shows, Build Fighters takes place in a more recognizable real world. There are no real Gundams, just plastic (and presumably metal) models that people build, collect, and fight using video game technology. Sei Iori's family runs a model shop that looks to specialize in Gundams, and Sei himself, despite his tender age, is an expert builder. The models he puts together are top-notch and garner praise from all who see them. The assumption, then, is that because he builds such high quality machines, he must also be a champion at the game “Gunpla Battle,” which uses a combination of physical models and virtual simulation to allow players to make their models fight. Sadly, for Sei, nothing could be farther from the truth. His dad may have been a world-class Gunpla player, but Sei just loses model after model due to his near total lack of skill. It's a sore spot for him – he can recite every known fact about the Wing Gundam, but then can only watch helplessly as his opponent destroys it. (The first ten minutes are guaranteed to make Heero Yuy cry.)

Enter Reiji. Fairly oblivious to the way the world works and dressed like an alien prince, he gives Sei a magic gem after Sei helps to get him out of a difficult situation. All Sei has to do, Reiji says, is make a wish, and Reiji will be there. Since this show takes place in the real(ish) world, Sei is more confused than anything, but lo and behold, when yet another one of his Gunpla models is in peril, Reiji magically appears! Now not only can Sei build ever more fabulous models for Bandai to market, but he stands half a chance of winning and being as great as his dad was!

As a kids' show, actually, Gundam Build Fighters has a decent amount of appeal. The battles are kind of neat, the animation looks good, and there's something very fun about the whole thing. Older viewers are much more likely to be off-put by the sheer amount of advertising that is evident, and not just in the commercials that play during the stream. It is very obvious that this show is intended to sell Gundam models, and if it doesn't get kids asking their parents for some, I'll be pretty surprised. Throw in a few tired tropes, such as Reiji moving in with Sei and, if the preview is anything to go by, enrolling in his school, and well, again, the cynical viewer is probably not going to be as thrilled as the ten year old.

If you can get past the sales pitch, Gundam Build Fighters has a Saturday morning appeal to it that is enjoyable. Plus you get to hear the English-language game voice announce that the battle will take place in “dessert.” I'm ready to buy a couple of Gunpla models just to make them fight on a cake – that would be a battle for the ages.

Gundam Build Fighters is available streaming at Gundam.info.


White Album 2

Rating:  3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

It is difficult to classify just what it is about White Album 2 that is so enjoyable. The plot is slow-moving and not particularly interesting, the characters aren't thrilling or different, but there is something charming about this visual novel adaptation that nonetheless keeps you watching and elicits surprise when the episode comes to an end, because how can half an hour have passed? Perhaps the fact that it doesn't have any distinct markers of its origin is a major factor – in many VN adaptations (many of which I like), there is at least one moment when you can tell that you're looking at a still from the game or that there was a choice of phrases to utter to change the direction of the story. That is not the case with White Album 2's first episode, which is definitely a plus.

The story follows third year high school student Haruki. It is just before the school festival and he's helping out the festival committee, getting things ready, playing mediator, scheduling – you name, he looks to be doing it. He doesn't act put-upon, however, since he has his quiet time after school in Music Room 2. This is when he relaxes with his guitar, playing the hit song from a few years ago, “White Album,” with a mysterious pianist who uses Music Room 1 next door. Haruki has never met this piano player, but he feels they are friends united in music. (We as viewers have a pretty good idea who Mystery Player is.) Because of this he is able to calmly handle all situations thrown at him, such as when school idol Setsuna comes to the committee and tells them that she really doesn't want to enter the school pageant again. Setsuna could have been the cookie-cutter sweet girl, but with her declaration that she really dislikes the pageant and has only done it because her friends entered her without her knowledge, we see a girl who is finally able to stand up for herself. Although Haruki lectures her in an irritating way, she still gets to say, “No, I don't like this,” which for this type of character is pretty amazing.

That's really the major plot point for this episode (apart from the discovery that leads us into episode two at the end), and the episode also suffers from excessive narration from Haruki. It would have been nice to see rather than hear more of what's going on, but I suppose that there was only so much that could have been done within the confines of twenty-four minutes, and in all fairness, dragging this out would have been unfortunate. Hopefully the narration will tone down as the series progresses, because with attractive animation (we see fingers believably playing the piano), a strangely interesting story, and a rather pretty soundtrack, White Album 2 is a pleasant surprise.

White Album 2 is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Yozakura Quartet ~Hana no Uta~

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

If the ratings were based solely on the final moments of a show, the second TV series based on Suzuhito Yasuda's manga series Yozakura Quartet would gain at least another half a point. Unfortunately for Yozakura Quartet ~Hana no Uta~, it takes far too long to get to the interesting stuff and just sort of drags through three-quarters of the show.

The story begins with a giant fish tank turning to pigeons in the sky before moving us to what turns out to be a few hours earlier. It's Sakura Festival time in the town where humans and yokai coexist, and on this particular festival day, a little blond girl named Lily is skipping through town. She appears to be lost, although we as viewers suspect from the get-go that such is not the case, and quickly finds herself in the care of the teen squad that runs the town. (First time viewers of the franchise may be confused, as this is not explained.) While Hime, Ao, and Akina are trying to find Lily's parents, others patrolling the town find themselves fighting off gigantic goldfish. Series villain Enjin is up to his old tricks: when his magic lightening touches a fish, it becomes a behemoth that bounces through town, sowing destruction. The rest of the episode is Hime and Kotoha using their powers to contain the menace, before happily watching Lily walk off with her parents.

Hana no Uta tries to reintroduce everyone and their powers to the viewer without bogging the episode down, which is something I can appreciate, even if it only partially works on both fronts. What is most interesting to note, however, is that the character designs appear to been simplified from their earlier incarnations, with blockier looks and flatter colors. Also of note is the increase in the number of panty shots, at least one of which is totally unnecessary – we view a monster from between Hime's legs, affording us a glimpse up her short skirt. One boob-growing scene at the end is another obvious fan-pleaser, but none of it is all that distracting. (Okay, maybe that last one is.) Animation, on the other hand, feels quite lazy in places, with most of the talking down when mouths will not have to be animated and most group scenes featuring people standing around.

Given that what I most remember from the first anime series is that one of my cats loved watching the colors in the ending theme, it looks like this new offering is staying fairly close to its norm. It's nice, the goldfish look neat, but ultimately there's not a whole lot going on and Hana no Uta is a bit underwhelming out of the gate.


Gingitsune

Rating: 4 (out of 5)

Review:

Makoto Saeki is the only child of a widower father, living at the Saeki Shrine. One of many temples sacred to the god Inari, Saeki Shrine is specifically dedicated to the harvest god Uka-no-Mitama, and Makoto is a direct descendant of the priests who founded it during the Edo period. As such, she can see, touch, and speak to Gintaro, the shrine's shinshi. Fans of Julietta Suzuki's Kamisama Kiss may recognize that word as the one used to describe Tomoe, another fox spirit whose duty is to guard a god's shrine. Gingitsune is something of a meld of Kamisama Kiss and Natsume's Book of Friends, using many of the same themes as former while having the sensibility of latter. It's slow, sweet, and charming.

The main plot of the episode is to introduce us to the relationship between Gintaro and Makoto. Priestesses at Saeki Shrine apparently have the reputation of being oracles, but Makoto can't see the future on her own. She therefore relies on Gintaro to help her, and he's starting to get a little tired of it. When a classmate at school, Ikegami, asks Makoto to tell her fortune, Gintaro's answer doesn't appear to be correct. This leads to a fight between girl and shinshi, and both are stubborn enough to let it drag on...at least until two little girls lose an injured cat and they turn to Makoto for help. Essentially the episode tells a complete story, giving us the basic personalities of the leads and laying the groundwork for the rest of the series. It may be that this is simply going to be an episodic show, and honestly, if they're all as sweet as this one, that could work.

Visually, Gintaro is the standout. In some ways he resembles a buff Tomoe, but in others looks like he could have stepped out of Princess Mononoke. A huge white fox with human legs and arms, he is both imposing and cuddly. Makoto has a sort of everygirl look to her, as do the other humans, but with Tomoe, the other shinshi we see, and the verdant backgrounds, there's really no need for the people to stand out visually. Background music sets the mood without intruding, and an opening scene where everything is in shades of grey except young Makoto's umbrella is striking. (Also wonderful is the way the little girl is stomping on puddles, a very believable thing for a bored four-year-old to do.)

With its slow pace, Gingitsune may not work for everyone. People looking for something to fill the Natsume gap, however, should really enjoy this. Peaceful, charming, and heartwarming, Gingitsune feels like the hot cocoa of the season, warming you as you savor it.

Gingitsune is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Walkure Romanze

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

If ever you feared that there would never be a jousting anime, put your mind at ease – Walkure Romanze,based on the adult visual novel of the same name, is here. Set in an unnamed European country at an unspecified time, the story looks as if it will follow Takahiro and his bevy of beauties as they take classes and participate in jousts at Winford Academy in the town of Helen's Hill. There are two main courses of study at Winford: knights and begleiters, which appears to be synonymous with “squires.” Takahiro was once in the knight course, and by all implications was very good, but an undisclosed tragic event has made him swear off jousting. Now he's enrolled in the begleiter school and spends most of his time taking care of horses. The fractious Sakura, so called because of the petal-shaped blaze on her forehead, is his most challenging charge, and it is she who really gets the plot rolling.

While there are many female characters populating this story, Mio seems to be the main heroine. Somewhat ditzy, Mio appears to be on Sakura's hit list, and the horse twice tries to run her down. Takahiro saves her the first time, but the second she is forced to help herself when second year knight student Bertille gets involved. Bertille, who is stripped by the horse, mistakenly assumes that Mio is also a knight and challenges her to a duel. All unwittingly, Mio accepts and the stage is set.

In some ways, Sakura is actually the most interesting character in Walkure Romanze, but that might be because at this point the horse has done more than all the other players put together. Fortunately the show looks quite nice for the most part (the exception being some truly awful skipping early on), with lush background details and an impressive number of military-style fiddly bits on the uniforms, both male and female. Similar loving detail was put into Bertille's underwear, which is interesting because while there is fanservice in Walkure Romanze, it isn't strictly a fanservice show. It also isn't an obvious VN adaptation – there are no points during which one waits for a dialog box with options to pop up on the screen and only one background song that sounds lifted from the game.

While this isn't the most thrilling of first episodes, it is also one that has potential. Mio needs to do some toning down (or growing up) in order to be a sympathetic heroine, but that could very well be part of the show's plot trajectory. The jousting is an interesting theme and the horses look believably equine, so this is one worth keeping an eye on, even if harem isn't your genre or you are leery of VN adaptations.

Walkure Romanze is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Meganebu!

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Akira just loves his glasses. As in, he loves his glasses in a totally unhealthy, verging on a fetish way. Because he is so romantically attached to his eye-wear, he has formed the Glasses Club (the titular Meganebu!) so that he and his other bespectacled buddies can all enthuse about needing corrective lenses and create special fancy glasses that will allow them to see through women's clothes – er, I mean, increase glasses' relevancy in the future. All five guys in the club are comfortably stereotyped for your 'shipping pleasure, from athletic Akira to cream puff obsessed sleepyhead Takuma, with stoic Yukiya and cutie pie Mitsuki in the middle. (Hayato, the other characters tell us, is just annoying.) This episode they hang out on the roof trying to complete their x-ray glasses before the attractive female eye doctors who have come to administer a test leave. This goes about as well as you'd expect in a comedy.

As someone who has worn bifocals since she was six, this is a somewhat baffling premise upon which to base half an hour of animation. Glasses really just become part of your face after a while, so the level of obsession these guys have for their corrective lenses is a bit hard to swallow. But if bespectacled boys are your thing, Meganebu! certainly provides, and it looks pretty good. Lots of inventive layout and animation choices are made: from a scene done entirely in manga panels to the faceless everyboys who populate the rest of the school, to the manically bright colors, Meganebu! is hard to tear your eyes away from, no matter how little the plot does for you. Chances have been taken with the background sounds as well, with male vocals popping up with one of two little chants in English every so often.

Meganebu! is a show with a very specific audience – females who enjoy males wearing glasses. The plot is negligible and silly, but it certainly does deliver on its premise. If you are in its target audience, there's a good chance that you'll find something to like, and for those who aren't, well, it certainly is visually stimulating. But if guys in glasses don't make up the sum total of what you want out of an anime, you can probably steer clear of this one.

Meganebu! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Wanna Be the Strongest in the World

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Hagiwara Sakura is a top idol singer who has just been voted center vocalist for the group Sweet Diva for the fourth year in a row, beating out her pal Elena. Always willing to do something for the Divas, Sakura accepts a job to train as a pro-wrestler for a day, and Elena, unwilling to be left out, goes along. Once at the gym, the girls are goofing around when bitchy wrestling champ Rio comes in and beats the crap out of Elena. Enraged, Sakura challenges Rio to a “cabella contra cabella” match, goes into the ring after a few desultory training sequences, and gets her ass kicked. Then, because “cabella” was actually supposed to be “cappella,” or Italian for “hair,” Sakura gets her locks bobbed by a sneering Rio. Because Sakura is too impetuous for her own good, she declares that she will become a pro-wrester and beat Rio.

We've certainly seen worse as far as plots go, but what really drags this show down for me is the exploitative elements. Yes, those are absolutely present in the real world of pro-wrestling, both male and female (The Amazing Blazing Robbie Ellis lived across the street from me when I was growing up), but the joy with which Wanna be the Strongest shows it is, if not distasteful, at least unpalatable to me. But there is more to it than the simple fact of excessive scenes of vulvas bulging against spandex as legs are forcibly spread – the contradictions which Sakura faces as an idol in the ring are quite troubling. Her true moment of defeat comes not when Rio gets her in a sleeper hold, but when Rio spreads Sakura's legs wide in front of the audience. Everyone is aghast – an idol can't do that in public! She can wear as little clothing as she wants, nearly exposing her breasts and vagina, but under no circumstances can she take a sexualized pose. Am I reading too much into this? Probably. But it is a real problem for young female celebrities, and this show does nothing but exploit it. Sakura's idol career is severely compromised by her hair cut and the position of her legs, and while it is clear that this show is simply intended to be fanservice, it still doesn't send a good message.

In any event, Wanna be the Strongest also suffers from a first episode that jumps around too much, not spending enough time on Sakura's training or personality before throwing her into the ring, and the animation of the wrestling moves, which could have done a lot to dazzle, is lackluster at best. (Unless there's a crotch involved.) If you are in the mood for the fanservice and can ignore the rest, this show delivers, but for a good sports story? Look elsewhere.

Wanna Be the Strongest in the World is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Outbreak Company

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Shinichi's story is the same old sad one we've heard before. Rejected by the girl he liked (his childhood friend, no less), he turned to anime and manga to fill the gap, becoming a hikikomori before he knew it, unfit for any job...until one day he stumbles across an ad for a job aimed squarely at otaku. Acing the attached quiz, he finds himself in an office in Akihabara, being offered tea by a businessman. The next thing he knows, he's waking up under an unfamiliar ceiling in a mansion in a fantasy land, with his own personal half-elf maid. Okay, maybe this story just took a turn.

Outbreak Company is a surprisingly fun show that simultaneously caters to and makes fun of the otaku demographic. The basic premise is that forest workers unexpectedly found a portal to another world near Mount Fuji, and rather than beginning a war with the magic based society they discovered, Japan and the Holy Eldant Empire strike up trade relations. Japan decides on the path of Coca-Colonization, but where the US would have exported junk food, Japan goes with anime and manga. After all, they reason, that's done really well with other Earth nations – why not a fantasy land? To this end they seek out an otaku to head up relations with the Empire, which is where Shinichi and his interview come in. Rather than waste time looking for another applicant, Shinichi is just knocked out and hired, being thrown into what is both the world of his dreams and a potentially explosive diplomatic situation.

Shinichi, although a little annoying, makes for a pretty good protagonist. His disappointment when he learns certain facts of reality – such as he is not the only male in the Empire – are small jabs at harem stories or other tried-and-true anime genres. He embarrasses his poor half-elf maid Myucel while also empowering her by offering to teach her to read and write, offends the childish Empress, and basically just bumbles through the first episode like anyone who has been dumped into a foreign situation with no warning. While visuals aren't anything amazing, they fit the mood and story quite well, and the Empress' castle is enough to invoke envy in any Disney princess. We do get a hint as to what Shinichi's basic methodology is likely to be when he gets going in the form of a flashback to a teacher who basically told him that manga counts as legitimate reading material, and I must admit that that made me quite happy. On the whole, despite a few missteps (really, Shinichi, it is not okay to ask a woman her bra size at first meeting), Outbreak Company has enough fun with itself as to be both amusing and enjoyable.

Outbreak Company is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Ace of the Diamond

Rating: 3  (out of 5)

Review:

Eijun is the pitcher of a middle school baseball team that never quite got its feet off the ground. Precisely why this is is unknown, but we do know within the first few minutes that Akagi Junior High has just lost its final game as a team before their school is dismantled. Eijun and his teammates are about to graduate anyway, and they all agree to (successfully) apply to the same high school so that they can continue to be a team. For Eijun, this is tantamount – he doesn't care how good the school is, just as long as he can keep on playing baseball with his friends. A wrench is thrown into the works, however, when a woman from the prestigious Seidou High School in Tokyo shows up to scout Eijun. She saw his final game and was very impressed – even the way he slapped around the other players who dared to laugh at the Akagi team, she says, spoke volumes about his potential as a pro pitcher. Eijun's family is simultaneously distrustful and thrilled, but in the end Eijun agrees to just go look at the fancy big city school, even though we as viewers can see that he still plans to go to a local high school with his buddies.

Ace of the Diamond has all the elements that make a sports show a lot of fun – passion for the game, outrageously obnoxious foes (in this case a pro-bound upperclassman), and a hero who falls somewhere between inspiringly plucky and utterly doofy. For Eijun, there is no “i” in “team,” and he's bound and determined to remember that and to remind those who may have forgotten. He's endearing and a little irritating at the same time, but most importantly he has potential, both as a ballplayer and as the protagonist of a show that needs its audience to root for the hero. Thus far only one of his middle school teammates has a name, lone female Wakana, which may indicate something about which school he'll wind up choosing within the next few episodes; nonetheless his clear devotion to his friends and their reciprocal affection gives the show a lot of heart.

There hasn't been a lot of animated baseball yet, so it is hard to really judge how things will look as the show gets going, which is a bit of a shame, and the art has an odd angular quality to it and the ending theme features some truly awkward running. However the character dynamics have the potential to take this show places and to make it an enjoyable tale of someone realizing his own possibilities.

It may be worth bearing in mind that I am not a sports fan and am more likely to hit myself in the head with the bat than to connect with the ball. Nonetheless, I found Ace of the Diamond to be a promising start to a show that could be a decent amount of fun.

Ace of the Diamond is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Strike the Blood

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Itogami Island is a man-made island far off the coast of Japan. It is where all of the monsters are sent. Not monsters in the sense of violent criminals, but actual monsters – lycanthropes, vampires, half-spirits, you name it. In the world of Strike the Blood, these supernatural beings are endangered species, and the government created Itogami Island in order to protect and study them. Akatsuki Koujou is a high school student who has spent his life on Itogami, and at some undisclosed point in the recent past, he made the transition from human to vampire, but not just any vampire: Koujou is now the creature known as the Fourth Progenitor, a force on par with any army. As such, he is considered dangerous enough from a group called The Lion King Organization to send an operative to monitor him – and eliminate him if necessary.

Let's just get this out of the way – Lion King Organization? Yes, for Western viewers, this is going to make us picture Simba as the head of an FBI-like group, but it is likely that this is simply a case of culture clash and that Disney's lion is nowhere to be found. And when you get down to it, that name, although the most memorable fault in the show, is hardly the major issue. Strike the Blood's first episode suffers instead from a surfeit of exposition. The entire second half of the show is basically Yukina and Koujou explaining things to each other while sitting in a burger joint, and while this is important information, such delivery hardly makes it interesting. The brief flashback we get of how Koujou became the Fourth Progenitor is much more alluring.

As for the characters, Yukina at this point is not terribly endearing. She does go on an impressive rampage in the show's first half, wielding an impressive spear and flipping about acrobatically – where the show whips out the good animation, incidentally; the rest is very lazy – but the reason for her rampage is not that monsters are attacking her. No, the monsters saw her underwear. This continues to be a sore spot for our heroine, which is mildly ridiculous, given that her skirt barely touches her thighs and cannot be expected to cover much of anything. In Koujou's favor, he points this out, which is not the only reason he is mildly more interesting than she is. Koujou is clearly a character who will be given more depth over the course of the show, as the flashback indicates. Yukina, on the other hand, feels much more one-note.

Strike the Blood has some hidden promise underneath all of the underwear shenanigans and exposition, but as a first episode it is not terribly thrilling. If it can start showing rather than telling and tone down Yukina, there may be a good supernatural adventure lurking beneath the surface. If it can't, however, this may just be one monster you want to let keep sleeping under the bed.

Strike the Blood is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Log Horizon

Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)

Review:

There is nothing wrong with rehashing an old premise if it is done in a sufficiently interesting way. Regretfully, Log Horizon, the latest show in a genre of games gone real, does very little to make itself either stand out from its predecessors Sword Art Online or .hack//whatever, and therefore just comes off as being an attempt to cash in on the popularity of the genre. This is not to say that it is entirely without merit; it just does nothing new and honestly doesn't do enough to even feel like a worthy rehash.

The story begins with Shiroe, a mage, realizing that he has woken up inside the popular MMORPG Log Horizon. The game is unique in that the Japanese server (and presumably other servers) presents a fantasy version of familiar cityscapes – Shiroe is in the game's version of Akihabara, a ruined city overgrown with jungle creepers and greenery. Swiftly realizing what has happened, Shiroe contacts a friend who is also online, the warrior Naotsugu. The two quickly meet up with Akatsuki, a female assassin with a male avatar who wants to at least be her real gender if she's stuck living in the game. This practical approach is doubtless intended to be a breath of fresh air in the genre, and in some respects it is nice to see characters who are familiar with their own story basics. It does not, however, make for particularly compelling viewing. As the episode progresses, we learn that none of our protagonists belong to a guild, although Shiroe was once a strategist for a now-defunct raid party, and they decide to figure out whether or not dying will A) get you out of the game or B) kill you in real life. The episode ends without us learning that, although we do see that allowing the game to take over rather than using commands helps one to fight better.

Log Horizon seems to want to be a both a continuation of the trapped-in-a-game genre as well as a self-aware version of it, and at this point it does neither particularly well. Add to that lackluster character designs (it's not a good sign if only the characters can tell that Akatsuki is hot), stilted scripting that feels a bit like fanfiction, and a generally jumbled presentation, and you're left with something of a mess. The voice acting is quite good as is the way treasure falls from the air after a monster is killed, but at this point that's really all the praise that can be given. There may be nothing wrong with rehashing an old idea in general, but it does need to be done well, and as of right now, Log Horizon is not.

Log Horizon is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


I couldn't become a hero, so I reluctantly decided to get a job.

Rating: 1 (out of 5)

Review:

Set in a formerly standard RPG world where students enroll in hero classes, I couldn't become a hero, so I reluctantly decided to get a job. begins with hero student Raul finding out that due to the Demon Lord's demise, the program has been canceled. Now without a course of study to pursue, Raul finds himself in a rapidly modernized world with few options. So he, reluctantly, decides to get a job.

Now the story shifts from fantasy mode to slice of life mode, and it definitely suffers for it. Raul works at a department store that we get the impression is kind of low end. He's a much better hero than store clerk, and therefore isn't doing a particularly good job. Fortunately for him, a new employee who is even worse at the job than he is comes along – Fino, the daughter of the deceased Demon Lord. Not only is Fino totally flabbergasted by everything the modern world has to offer, she's also really, really bad at customer service. Now Raul must not only figure out that she's a girl (somehow he missed that), but also train her to be a good employee. Whee.

There are a few amusing moments in this episode, but they are glimmers in the dross of the rest of it, making this a very dull viewing experience. The main focus, in fact, seems to be on the fact that women have breasts and wear underwear, something the show is delighted with. Bosoms bounce with “bwoing” sounds, spill plentifully from clothing, and appear to be filled with either helium or jell-o. Whenever there's a chance to pan up a woman's body, lingering on sexualized areas, it is taken, lovingly. If you like your fanservice blatant and squishy, this may be your cup of tea, although the show that comes along with it is decidedly lackluster. Simply put, for both fanservice and laughs, there are better places to turn than I Couldn't Become a Hero.

I Couldn't Become a Hero... is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Nagi no Asukara

Rating:  4 (out of 5)

Review:

In an alternate version of our world, humans originated from the sea – not as amoebas or other early life forms, but as fully evolved humans. Eventually some people grew curious about what it would be like to live on land, and so they shed their “ena,” the protective skin coating that allowed them to live beneath the waves, and became land dwellers. Some humans, however, remained under the sea, and today the two societies exist in what appears to be an uneasy truce.

Due to the recent closure of an undersea middle school – which may be a hint as to the balance of who lives where – four second year students must now commute to the surface. Among them is Manaka, a girl perhaps best described as “simple” who requires her friends to keep an eye on her. There's a lingering sensation that maybe she's just easy going to the point where she gets taken advantage of, but at this point she comes off as the basic girl who isn't quite emotionally ready for the world. Because of this, along with someone fishing over a sea town, Manaka gets caught in a fishing net and dragged to the surface on her first day at school. There she meets Tsumugu, who is instantly fascinated.

The culture wars aspect of Nagi no Asukara are at this point somewhat subtle. Old men grouse about disrespect from surface dwellers, abrasive girls grab Manaka to see her skin sparkle from the ena, and underwater student Hikari boldly voices his prejudices. More interesting are the small bits and pieces we get about what makes underwater humans different from their land dwelling counterparts. There is no exposition on the topic; we just pick things up by observing. And oh, what there is to observe! The scenery is the real star of this show, with idyllic, almost ancient-looking undersea towns where schools of fish swim and a soft light to everything beneath the ocean. The people look fine, of course, particularly “scale of the sea god” Uroko, but it's really the setting that shines. It isn't all pretty, such as when Uroko curses Manaka to have a fish head grow out of her knee, which is unsettling, but this is eye candy if ever there was any.

The plot isn't rushing along, and not a whole lot happens in this episode: a little history, the set up of two inter-locking love triangles, and a few different interior monologues, which is a bit off-putting. It is an interesting world, however, and certainly worth coming back to in order to learn more about whether ocean and land humans can really coexist.

Nagi no Asakura is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Kill la Kill

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

An undeniably stylish and frantically paced (to say nothing of well hyped) show, Kill la Kill nonetheless has some problems that impacted my enjoyment of it, to the point where I had to turn it off and go to bed before resuming in the morning. The most glaring issue for me was one that may not bother all viewers – the repeated references to the rise of the Nazi party every time the students were in class. Granted, this makes a grand total of two times, but the seeming significance of the references was quite clear. Honnouji Academy, which towers oppressively over a shantytown, is ruled by a despotic student council garbed in fantastic Goku Uniforms, which grant their wearers amazing physical prowess. One student in the class in question has stolen one, and thus the burly blond Iro is out for blood. And he gets it – we open the next school day with another history lesson about Nazis as we find out that the student in question was, in fact, killed. This was an uncomfortable juxtaposition for me, as I don't feel that it is one that should be made lightly.

In between these scenes, we meet Ryuko, our badass heroine. Ryuko has come to town bearing half of a giant pair of scissors, which apparently was the weapon that murdered her family an undisclosed amount of years before. Ryuko is on the trail of the other blade, and instantly invokes the wrath of the student council – although not the stoic Satsuki, supreme leader of the bunch. Apparently she knows more than she's letting on. In any event, Ryuko finds a skimpy and sentient sailor uniform of her own in Daddy's basement, which allows her to fight the student council in a spectacular manner, upsetting the not-so-fragile balance of power at Honnouji. Thus a series is launched.

Perhaps Kill la Kill does more right than wrong – it looks good and is visually fascinating, there are plenty of anime trope jokes, and the shantytown is a great piece of background – but the aforementioned historical references and the fact that virtually every line is screamed take away from that. It wasn't for me.

Kill la Kill is available streaming on Crunchyroll and Daisuki.


Golden Time

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

Tada Banri, who must introduce himself fourteen times over the course of this episode, has just come to Tokyo to attend law school. Unfortunately he's never been to Tokyo before and gets totally lost on his way to the entrance ceremony. Therefore he doesn't meet anyone and has no idea how to get over to the campus. Rather than asking someone for directions, he opts to creepily skulk behind two girls, only to lose them. This does have the happy side-effect of introducing him to Mitsuo, another lost law student who was pulling the same trick. As he and Mitsuo are bonding over their lack of ability to find school, a taxi pulls up. Out of it steps a vision in white with a bouquet of red roses...with which she proceeds to beat the snot out of Mitsuo. This, it turns out, is Kaga Koko, Mitsuo's ex who doesn't seem to realize she's an ex, and suffice it to say that when she gets back in the cab, she isn't going far.

Koko herself is one of the reasons I personally disliked this episode. Seeing as it comes from the pen of the man who wrote Toradora!, I really wanted to enjoy it, but Koko herself is so awful as a character that I could barely get through the episode. Is this a pet peeve, a character type who simply rubs me the wrong way? Probably. Koko is so selfish to Mitsuo's feelings, so determined that her future will proceed exactly as planned no matter what others may want, that I find it difficult to feel any sympathy for her and when Banri begins to gaze longingly in her direction, the temptation is to yell, “Get out of there as fast as you can!”

Violent reaction to Koko aside, Golden Time simply doesn't do enough to distinguish itself in the romantic comedy world to make up for that one character. Yes, they attend college rather than high school, but Banri is spouting lines usually given to shoujo heroines about wanting to fall in love and everyone's still wearing uniforms. This is, of course, except for the three girls – Koko, glamorous yet quirky upperclassman Linda, and goofball-with-pink-hair character Chikami. There's nothing wrong with any of this, and the show looks fine in terms of pleasant characters, fun cameos by such crazy groups as the Latin Music Club (which is apparently a code name for the Brazilian Carnivale Club), and the animation is more than serviceable. So if you enjoy a basic romantic comedy, this might work for you. But if you're looking for something different or are as inexplicably annoyed by Koko as I am, maybe wait to see what the rest of the season has to offer.

Golden Time is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Coppelion

Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Deliberately conjuring up thoughts of the ballet “Coppelia,” Coppelion is the story of three high school girls genetically engineered to be able to survive in a post-apocalyptic Tokyo, sent into the ghost city that it has become in order to find survivors. Ibara, Aoi, and Taeko are students at the National Defense Academy, and as such some of the only humans capable of living in the brave new world that an unnamed man-made disaster has wrought. At least Ibara also has superior physical skills, while Taeko can communicate with animals somehow. The three are basically on their own in the ruined future (guidance from their vice-principal comes from a helicopter circling above), and this first episode pretty much lays out the above premise and nothing more, although the one major piece of revealed information – that most of the public is unaware of what “the center” looks like – could prove to be very telling about the story's world.

For an interesting concept, Coppelion's first episode really doesn't do a lot. We have a lot of artistic shots of the girls walking – Ibara appears to stagger, perhaps meant to suggest uneven ground – around a landscape where human desolation juxtaposes with natural splendor. Powerful, yes, but perhaps a tad overdone here. The girls themselves are such cookie-cutter schoolgirls that one must wonder if this is meant to be a deliberate visual shock or if the character designers were simply out of ideas. In either case, their thighs are so ludicrously long as to be pretty distracting from the rest of their designs, and their skirts so short that it is surprising that there are so few glimpses of their undergarments. At times they are drawn with thick black outlines; when this happens appears to be fairly inconsistent. Otherwise the details present in the background are really quite impressive, and the girls' reactions to being in the city fairly interesting. Small spots of color in the form of flowers are well used to occasionally signal hope or brightness, and the girls' designs aside, this looks pretty nice.

Right now there isn't a whole lot going on with this show. It may be that the second episode really delves into the disaster that laid Tokyo low, explores the mission that the girls are on, and gives us at least a little more action than the one moment of it we get at the end of this episode. If not, this will simply be a lovely tour of a ruined city. Let's hope it's the former.

Coppelion is available streaming at VizAnime.


Beyond the Boundary

Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)

Review:

Akihito is a very self-aware hero. As a member of the Literature Club, he can recognize the moment when a narrative is about to diverge from its root plot. Therefore when he sees a girl standing on the roof of the school, apparently ready to jump, he flies into action, somewhat surprising himself. The girl is saved, but once she backflips over the fence meant to keep people off of the edge, she stabs Akihito through the heart with a red sword. Neither the girl nor Akihito, nor the world of the story are at all what they first seem.

Beyond the Boundary seems to be an urban fantasy piece. Akihito goes to what appears to be a normal high school, and apart from his predilection for argyle sweaters, he's a pretty basic anime nice guy. The caveat is that in this world there are monsters known as youmu who must be defeated by Spirit World Warriors, and somehow Akihito is half monster. This is a bit troubling, since the two we see this episode look like Skeletor and something out of a Maurice Sendak book, but be that as it may, the result is that Akihito is immortal. And that girl he saved? She's Mirai, a Spirit World Warrior from a clan that uses its own blood to create weapons. Mirai, unfortunately, isn't a very good one, and she has yet to kill anyone, despite using Akihito for stabbing practice. She seems to have a legitimate reason for her lack of kills, which only begins to be explored when the episode finishes. In any event, she's a slightly more interesting character than Akihito at this point, a mixture of acrobatic skill and clumsiness in all aspects of her life. She may be too moe for some viewers, but she certainly isn't dull to watch when she gets going. It helps that KyoAni has provided some gorgeous visuals for this – fluid movements, a sunset color scheme, and interesting monsters help to make this stand out. Even the Mexican food looks recognizable and good.

Beyond the Boundary looks to have real potential right now. Cute as she is, Mirai needs to be developed quickly if she is to help carry this show, and while it does have some troubling aspects (Does she have to have an open wound on her body at all times? Because that's not healthy.), it also could be a fascinating story as the world and the characters develop. This one is definitely worth giving a second episode.

Beyond the Boundary is available streaming at Crunchyroll.


Kyousogiga

Rating: 3 (out of 5)

Review:

There is a Mirror Capital, a world on the other side of the mirror where humans and yokai mingle at mad tea parties presided over by clawed women and gangsters chase schoolgirls in floating cars. Why Koto is there, who her mother is, and why the man with the fox mask has charge of her are all up in the air, but despite the somewhat confusing tone of this nine minute episode, Kyousogiga introduces us to a fascinating world. Not only is it rife with references to Alice – and as an added bonus, it gets the title of the book right, Alice's Adventures in Wonderland – it also has imagery from other bits and pieces of classic fantasy literature – Koto is distinguished from the rest of the crowd by the red ribbon she wears on her head, and clocks, which play a significant role in at least three early 20th century children's books, are referenced several times. It's a strange, mad world, and honestly, it's pretty captivating.

On the down side, as an introduction to the series, Kyousogiga's first episode confuses just as much as it tantalizes, and there's sort of a feeling that the creators are counting on the unique visuals to captivate us and thus holding off on actual concrete plot. While it obviously worked on me, your tolerance may vary, because really, it's hard to tell what on earth is going on. Still, this is an interesting, visually stimulating episode, one that deserves another look.

Miss Monochrome

Rating: 2 (out of 5)

Review:

Miss Monochrome is an underemployed idol singer who wants to stand out more. She currently lives in a mysterious(ly plastic) castle with her Roomba Ru-chan and Mana, a girl she rescued after Mana was abandoned under a bridge. Mana promises to help Monochrome by becoming her manager so that she can get more gigs and stand out (so the long haired girl from the opening flashback will notice), but instead Mana takes all Monochrome's money and runs. Forced onto the streets, Monochrome and Ru-chan bump into a manager...of a convenience store. Hey, everyone's got to start somewhere, right?

Miss Monochrome is four minutes of “maybe.” Parts of it are quite funny, others are kind of lame, and still others appear to be weird for weirdness' sake. (Not naming the Roomba, though. Mine is called Rosie.) If it emphasizes the absurdity more and focuses less on Monochrome's reasons for wanting to stand out, this could be a very funny short as it gets going. If it continues to try to do too much in such a short space, however, it could trip itself up badly.

The final thing worth remarking upon is the animation for the ending theme. It appears that a plastic, soulless figure of the heroine is dancing. The animation looks good and the song is poppy and peppy, but...well, if dolls scare you, maybe don't watch too closely.

Miss Monochrome is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


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