The Fall 2013 Anime Preview Guide
Theron Martin

Oct 2nd 2013
After six years that Theron will forever refer to as the Dark Age, he finally is back to full-time teaching, this time teaching Algebra at a virtual high school. (That means that he teaches online classes to students that come from literally all over the state of Indiana.) When not teaching, tutoring students for SAT/ACT, or trying to figure out all the possible uses for his new Galaxy S4, he spends time on fantasy football, fantasy games (the online games King's Road and Card Hunter are his two current vices), D&D, board games, and of course copious amounts of anime.

Galilei Donna

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
In a weird future where fish motifs for aerial craft are common, a polar mining installation is attacked by mecha for its methane hydrate (presumably because it could serve as a fuel source). What that has to do with anything will apparently be explained later, as the rest of the episode shifts to Italy and focuses on three very different girls – a law student, a high schooler who seems to be lamenting over a boy, and a middle schooler riding a uniquely-designed scooter – who are all, in some form or another, the subjects of attempted kidnappings. All three fight off their assailants either on their own or with help and are revealed to be three very dissimilar sisters who are also direct descendants of Galileo. And apparently that means something in this setting, as a second attempt to capture them and their parents happens at home, with the bad guy claiming to be looking for “Galileo's inheritance,” which none of the Ferrari family seem to know anything about. Fortunately the bad guys did not catch the youngest, Hozuki, who is also the resident technical genius and uses her own secretly-created, goldfish-shaped airship to drive the bad guys off.

Hard to tell what to make of this original production from A-1 Pictures at this point, as one gets the sense that this is just a set-up episode for whatever the plot is really going to focus on. Supposedly the sisters are going to have to flee together in either the goldfish ship or another one, and given how utterly different they are – and how little they seem to get along – that should create plenty of entertaining friction. What is clear is that “colorful” and “quirky” are both going to be key words to describing this series in terms of both artistry and storytelling content. The first episode alone shows us that one of the girls definitely knows how to fight, that the series will feature some fantastic inventions (the rocket-powered scooter that can fold down into a briefcase but also convert into a high-powered taser is something else to see in action), and that the series will definitely have its own peculiar style with its use of music.

On the downside, the first episode plays up the whole Italian thing way too much and forces in Galileo references in a corny fashion. However, the episode is well-paced, looks good, and provides plenty of potential hooks – plenty enough to entice people to at least check it out.

Galilei Donna is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Samurai Flamenco

Rating:
3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Hidenori Goto is an ordinary beat cop with a long-distance girlfriend, one who idly speculates on pressing issues like whether or not Kamen Rider's mask counts as a proper motorcycle helmet. His life suddenly gets a lot more interesting when he encounters a naked Masayoshi Hazama in an alley. He soon learns that Masayoshi is a fashion model who has never outgrown his childhood dream of becoming a super-hero, much like his old-school idol Harikari Sunshine, and has even made a costume and calls himself Samurai Flamenco. He knows that there are no major evils to face, so he has decided to start out by confronting small-time wrongdoers like jaywalkers and delinquents The problem is that he has no skills suited to such a task, so he gets beat up on both of his first two attempts. But that is not enough to deter him, much to Goto's chagrin.

In some respects this one has shades of Tiger and Bunny, only the roles are reversed; the younger, lighter-haired pretty boy is the flaky one this time and the older, darker-hair one is the rock-solid pragmatist. Also, this is about someone who only aspires to be a super-hero despite having no actual skills or powers rather than someone who actually does have powers, and the setting here is much more mundane, too. Still, this one has the same kind of potential for generating a “cop buddy” kind of chemistry, as Masayoshi represents the idealistic dreamer and Hidenori has already given signs that perhaps he once had some of those kind of aspirations of his own but never had the guts or lack of common sense necessary to try to implement them.

A solid production, which features some nice character designs, comes courtesy of Manglob, but the music is more important in setting the tone for the series: playful enough that the content cannot be taken too seriously but definitely not wild or crazy. It offers lots of “shipping” potential for those so inclined, too. Overall the first episode proves a moderately entertaining start to what should be a moderately entertaining series.

Samurai Flamenco is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Beyond the Boundary episode 2

Rating:
3.5 (of 5)

Review:
For about the first three and a half minutes of the second episode (not counting the opener), Beyond the Boundary goes into Action Mode and shows that the pretty artistry it displayed in the first episode could also hold up in a fight scene, too. When Mirai sheds her clumsy girl demeanor (well, mostly sheds it, anyway) and goes all-out she is quite the capable and impressive combatant. However, that just makes it harder to reconcile that side of her with clumsy, glasses-wearing moe girl side of her, even though the two are never entirely separate. Still, it's a vigorous start to an episode that otherwise focuses primarily on character and setting development.

The day after the fight Akihito introduces Mirai to a few important people around town, including the person who essentially makes the Spirit World Warrior economy work and, of course Mitsuki (the Nase clan girl who never revealed her first name in the previous episode). Mirai and Mitsuki also get to meet Akihito's mother via a sort of spiritual video card and learn that his mother has a few screws loose. Throughout it all, Mirai resolutely tries to break of contact with Akihito – refusing multiple offers to join the Literary Club, trying to warn him off, and so forth – but to no avail, as Akihito is just as resolute in trying to make a connection with her. Finally, at the end of the episode, she provides a tantalizing hint about why she is so determined to be alone. Oh, and Scarf Boy shows up, too, and gets a little friendlier with Akihito than he would like. Meanwhile, a potentially big threat looms on the horizon.

In other words, so far the series has had more BL undertones than male-oriented fan service, even though it only adds to the total of pretty girls/women who look like they will be regular cast members. And the very vulnerable charm that Mirai has comes through a bit more strongly this time, too. In fact, Akihito and Mirai are starting to show some signs of chemistry; they might eventually make a cute couple, and watching them work in that direction should be fun. The second episode still shows a propensity to get too talky, Mitsuki is still trying too hard to be Bakemonogatari’s Senjyogahara, and the balance of the moe/bad-ass element is still a work in progress, but the series is now putting the pieces together well enough to earn a mild recommendation.

Beyond the Boundary is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Coppelion episode 2

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
After worrying about Taeko being attacked by a wolf, Aoi and Ibari find her safe, as the threat to her was not actually the wolf but a desperate man in a protective suit. They soon learn that the man, his wife, and his daughter have been living in a sterilized room in a hospital basement – and, more surprisingly, that someone had, until recently, been bringing in regular shipments of food for them. The adults are reluctant to leave because they are technically escaped prisoners, however, and as a further complication, the young daughter is missing. The rescue attempt turns deadly when a collapsing building and desperate parents become involved, but Ibari is not about to stand idly by when a rescue mission that, as far as she is concerned, defines her very existence is at stake.

Where the first episode of Coppelion focused on establishing ambiance and the desolation of the setting, the second focuses much more squarely on the human element at work here. The writing seems to make a point of showing that, however else they might have been genetically engineered, the girls are still fully emotional beings; in fact, the writing almost forces this at times, which keeps it from being as fully compelling and cathartic as it maybe could have been. Even so, it offers a satisfyingly bittersweet ending to what is mostly a self-contained story.

Although the action component promised by the opener and advertising trailers has yet to show, this episode does drop some tantalizing additional hints about other forces possibly being in play here, and that holds promise for the future. Good animation also helps, and the stark contrast between the normally-filtered colors and vastly more vivid regular color creates some interesting visual effects. The unusual aesthetic of the character rendering and animation are not even a problem anymore once one gets used to them, either. This may not be a spectacular series overall, but it still looks like a keeper.

Coppelion is currently streaming on Viz Media.


My mental choices are completely interfering with my school romantic comedy

Rating: Choose 1 or 2, below

Review:
This new light novel adaptation is (choose one):

  1. One of the cleverest romantic comedy series to come down the pipe in quite some time. (5 of 5)
  2. Absolute dreck, one of the stupidest bits of comedy execution to come along in ages. (1 of 5)

I am opting for #2 here, and it is not anywhere near as difficult a choice as hapless high school protagonist Kanade Amakusa faces apparently many times each day due to a mental affliction called Absolute Choice. The ability/curse periodically manifests a voice and visual of two choices before him, typically ones that force him to do something very odd and often perverted. If he refuses to take one of the two bad choices then he is struck with intense pain until he does make a choice. However, this ability is also so powerful that it can distort reality, so when he gets to make the choice of a girl falling from the sky, a sexy girl does literally fall on him. Meanwhile he also gets to interact with two messed-up girls at school whom he apparently knows quite well. Furano Yukihiro is a petite, pale-haired fruitcake whose maddeningly mercurial behavior perplexes Kanade, while Ouka Youji is a busty girl whose gimmicks include climbing into the second-story room through the window and distributing samples of failed products from her father's company so the company can get teenagers’ opinions on them.

How spectacularly this series bombs is (almost) a marvel to watch. If there ever was a good concept here, it is lost under the weight of an unentertainingly bizarre gimmick and some of the most idiotic character constructions to come along in many an age. It seems to think that jokes about maggot-shaped, supposedly maggot-flavored candy are actually funny, or that a girl whose personality seems to change literally every minute (and sometimes more than once in a minute) is a worthy gag. Remarkably, it has almost no true fan service until the girl falls out of the sky in the last 30 seconds (the exception being a strong implication that the mother of one of the characters got incredibly horny at breakfast), despite numerous good opportunities for it, including several girls in skirts doing handstands during the opener. So it does not even have that to fall back on, either. The one successfully funny bit that the episode does have – the “choices of history” montage early on – is even wasted by carrying it on far too long.

Remarkably, the company which is currently producing the vastly tonally different Gingitsune, Diomedea, is also producing this one, and rarely has it been clearer which series got the lion's share of the development effort. The artistry is decent and the opener and closer tolerable, but otherwise this one is only fit for rubberneckers.

My mental choices are completely interfering with my school romantic comedy is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


BlazBlue: Alter Memory

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review:
So there's this guy called Ragna the Bloodedge who looks like some typical video game cool warrior character because, you know, he's got the long red coat, white hair, and different-colored eye thing going on, as well as a mechanical right arm imbued with the magic of something called the Azure Grimoire. (Oh, wait – he is a video game character. I'll get back to this point.) Apparently he may be a vampire, too. He's got a humongous bounty on his head because he goes around knocking off branch offices of some organization called NOL, for reasons not clear here. He also has to fight his creep of a brother, deal with a crazy cat-themed bounty hunter who doesn't recognize him as her bounty, and this Second Lieutenant Noel who seems strangely drawn to him. And there's a Goth girl who seems to sort of be his sponsor and it seems like he might be repeating multiple times a sequence of events that ends in failure.

If none of that makes a whole lot of sense, that's exactly the first impression that this series based on a mega-popular fighting video game series makes. Maybe those who have played the games can actually make sense of this, but to someone like me who is not at all familiar with them, this is an incoherent mess. Sure, it has distinctive-looking people in sharp costumes doing mysterious things, and sure, it has some action scenes, but this first episode just does not come together well at all. While the varied locations have a remarkable array of architecture and visual inventiveness, and the character designs are decently well-handled, the level of detail in the movement of the characters during the two significant fight scenes fails to impress. For a series derived from a fighting game, that's fatal. A score that sounds like it was borrowed from the background music for a fighting game does not help, either.

Maybe this is just one of those scattershot openers and the series will eventually settle down and explain itself better. So far, though, whatever cool factor this series may have is not enough to carry it. In the Next Episode preview Ragna says, “Oh Azure Grimoire in my right arm, erase the jinx on anime shows based on fighting games!” You're going to need way more magic than that, Ragna.

BlazBlue is currently streaming at Funimation.com.


Tokyo Ravens

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:
In an alternate version of modern times where onmyouji magic is a widely-accepted reality, an Onmyou Agency exists to regulate magic-users and its Exorcism Bureau deals with threats of magical and/or spiritual natures. Although Harutora's father is deeply involved in that world, it is all above him, and his lack of ability to sense spiritual presence virtually assures that he will not be able to carry on the family tradition despite the urging of friend Hokuto. He cannot even fulfill his childhood promise to Natsume, the daughter of his family's main branch, to be her familiar. All he really cares about anyway is hanging out with Hokuto and his ex-delinquent friend Toji(?). That peacefulness gets shattered when Suzuka Dairenji, the youngest of the Twelve Divine Generals, shows up and manhandles both Harutora and an Onmyou Agency task force sent to arrest her, all because she initially believes Harutora is Natsume, whom she really wants for a special, quite probably forbidden ritual. And she's mean-spirited enough to deliberately mess with Hokuto, too.

The first episode of the manga-based series spends a lot of time setting up its characters and setting – so much time, in fact, that not much actually happens until Suzuka shows up in the last few minutes, strutting her petite frame in a prostitute's get-up and languidly licking a chocolate-coated banana, completely with chocolate dripping off of the tip. (No, nothing's being suggested by that. . .) While there's really no fan service beyond that, that scene alone might throw some off. So might the dearth of mysticism and action for most of this episode. Yes, it is all find and dandy to establish your characters well up front, but you also have to add something to hook your audience, as the characters and relationships established so far are not enough to carry the series or give a real sense for where this is headed and the business with Suzuka is not sufficient to generate much excitement.

Production studio 8-Bit is also simultaneously producing this season's Walkure Romance and Infinite Stratos 2, and it definitely looks here like their efforts are stretching them thin. The artistic effort is wholly unimpressive beyond the yukata that Hokuto wears and the CG creations stand out too starkly against the regular animation. Director Takaomki Kanasaki is quite capable of producing fun, stylish fare (as he proved with Is This a Zombie?), but this definitely does not qualify. Only some decent early character development saves this one from the garbage pile.

Tokyo Ravens is currently streaming at Funimation.com.


Unbreakable Machine-Doll

Rating:
3 (of 5)

Review:
In this variation on what is apparently late 19th century Great Britain, Raishin Akabane has come all of the way from the Orient to attend Walpurgis Institute of Machinart, a place where the magical art of puppetry can be explored and studied. In tow he has Yaya, a cute and sexually aggressive girl who is also his puppet, and with the right spells supporting her a powerful enough one to even stop a runaway train. Despite that, Raishin scores second from the bottom upon arrival at Walpurgis, so his only options for getting into the school's tournament to win the honor of being a Wise Man is to either massively increase his ranking or defeat one of the Top 100 who is guaranteed entry. He at first attempts to do so by challenging an uppity girl with a dragon puppet, but instead finds himself caught in the middle of a grudge match a handful of other students are waging against the girl. They seem to be heading towards being allies when Raishin spots his true goal: the man responsible for some heinous act in his past and the one he strongly seeks vengeance against.

Based on a light novel series, this new offering from the director of Genshiken 2 and the core Queen's Blade titles comes courtesy of Lerche, the studio responsible for last season's Danganropa the Animation. If one were to make a triangle of those three titles, the artistic merits on this one come out somewhere in the middle. While some of Yaya's behavior and comments do get racy, the fan service is actually on the light side, with the emphasis much more on action sequences; both the “stop the train” stunt at the beginning and the magical battle later on are sharp and well-executed. On the downside, the character rendering sometimes gives the impression of being a video game rip-off, and not in a good way.

On the writing front the series does not do anything remarkable. The set-up is typical in most respects; this is really just an excuse to set up a load of magical battles while a plot percolates in the background. Only the brashness of Yaya's language stands out, and even that we have seen before. A very brief flashback suggests that there is some dark history behind why Yaya is Raishin's puppet and why he is seeking revenge, but it did not stay on the screen long enough to be anything more than a tease. In short, this one could get good but has a ways to go yet.

Unbreakable Machine-Doll is currently streaming on Funimation.

Yozakura Quartet ~Hana no Uta~

Rating:
2 (of 5)

Review:
Rather than being a sequel to the 2008 TV adaptation of the original manga or the 2010-2011 OVAs, this new entry in the franchise is a complete relaunch, one which features the original cast but a new director and production company (the same ones that did the OVAs). Exactly why this was felt necessary is curious indeed, and while the original version was hardly a glowing success, neither was it an abysmal failure. Based on the first episode, this new version does not seem overly concerned with confronting one of the biggest flaws in the original: namely, better fleshing out the backstory of the setting. In fact, this starter episode only explains things in an off-hand way and with the minimal possible detail.

For those familiar with the original series, everything is pretty much as it was before, although the zombie Rin starts fully integrated into the city rather than being introduced as a newcomer in the first episode. For newcomers, the city or of Sakurashin is defined by seven massive sakura trunks, which form a gateway to the demon realm. As a result, a considerable portion of its population is either youkai or part-youkai. Its mayor is a teen girl named Hime who always wears a long scarf and is essentially the city's protector. She works with other humans, youkai, and part-youkai in the Hiizumi Life Counseling center, which during the Sakura Festival is primarily charged with handling lost children. One such lost girl eventually crosses the paths of all of the principle cast members – the pigtailed summoner Kotoha, cat-eared telepath Ao, exorcist Akina, and Hime's ogre assistant Kyosuke. (For established franchise fans, a lot of other familiar faces also pop up.) While he does so, a mysterious fellow who looks suspiciously similar to Ao stirs up trouble by using black lightning to monstrously transform goldfish, which the protagonist ensemble must combine their efforts to fight off and contain. But the stranger isn't the only person who seems to have nasty motives here.

The original series had a respectable artistic effort, but this series is definitely not an improvement; in fact, it isn't even close to being on the same level. Character designs and rendering are cruder and the color use is vastly blander. The animation isn't as bad, and the content does give the series a good opportunity to show off some action chops, but it accomplishes far less in the line of establishing characters, setting, and relationships. In short, this episode is a big disappointment compared to the first episode of the original.


Yowapeda

Rating:
3.5 (of 5)

Review:
The summer season had a series about competitive swimming (Free!) and the fall season has already had a debut about baseball (Ace of Diamond), so why not one about competitive biking?

Or at least that's the direction this one seems to be headed based on the opener and closer. So far it has mostly split its focus between two main characters who are dramatic contrasts: Shunusuke Imaizami, a studly rich kid who is a hard-core biker obsessed with beating a rival who defeated him in an earlier race, and Sakamichi Onada, a money-conscious otaku who dreamed of joining Chiba Sohoku's anime/manga club since he didn't know anyone in middle school who shared his interests but was devastated to find out that the club had shut down due to lack of membership. The two get involved with each other because they use the same back entrance to the mountainside school as a bike path, which is little-used by others because of its 20% grade. (To put this in perspective, that is equivalent to climbing 60 feet vertically over the length of an American football field.) Shunusuke uses it for a challenging practice, while Sakamichi uses it because it's the fastest way to get to Akihabara by bike – and the fact that it is a 45 km trip each way doesn't faze Sakamichi, though it dumbfounds both Shunusuke and Miki Kanzaki, a friendly girl whom Sakamichi meets who aspires to be the Bicycle Club's manager and certainly knows her stuff. Shunusuke is also flabbergasted to see Sakamichi climb the steep hill on his “mommy bike” while still singing, and his competitive nature compels him to challenge Sakamichi to a race over it. Meanwhile, the actual Bicycle Club's core members are introduced.

Despite the presence of Miki and her more jaded friend and despite one of the main characters being an otaku, this is still primarily a series for the ladies, especially those who appreciate young men in form-fitting racing apparel. (But really, don't all of the senior Bicycle Club members look a bit too old to be high school students?) Even so, the biker/otaku cross-over concept, and the notion that the otaku will eventually get integrated into one of the sports clubs he despises, is a fresh twist on the sports anime genre, and that could be interesting to watch play out. The characters we have met so far have been well-defined and approachable and the artistry and animation have been solid, too. In fact, the only quibbles about the first episode are minor ones, such as the laughable nicknames of the Bicycle Club members and how atrocious those plaid-patterned school uniform pants look. (That look works on short skirts, but at full length it's just too much.)

So yeah, even as someone who doesn't normally have much interest in sports anime, this one is a cut above to start.

Yowapeda is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.



Non Non Byori

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:
Three girls – first grader Koma and seventh and eighth grade sisters Renge and Natsumi – live so far out in the boonies that their school consists of only them and a ninth grade boy (who is effectively ignored for the series beyond one initial classroom appearance and one later sight gag). Thus a new girl - Hotaru, who's taller than all of them despite only being a fifth grader – coming to join them from Tokyo is quite an event. The quartet do perfectly mundane things together while Koma plays a recorder and ponders whether or not she really lives in the country.

And that's really all there is to this cute but entirely innocuous new offering from SILVER LINK and the director of Kokoro Connect. Whether you want to label it “slice of life” or “cute girls doing cute things,” this is one of those series whose appeal depends almost entirely on whether or not one is quickly charmed by the girls and their low-key antics. The rustic setting is a bit of a twist as these kind of series go, and it does have some interesting little details like how the teacher uses a bell set to ring the period changes, but the only other quirk that the series has shown so far is the way it studiously ignores the one boy present; I have to suspect that the way he is handled here could become a running gag. Ordinary visuals and a pleasant soundtrack do not help this one to stand out, either.

An episode or two of this kind of mellow cuteness is fine from time to time, but is a whole season of it really worth watching? The answer to that question is undoubtedly the same as the answer to whether or not you should check out this show.

Non Non Byori is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Gingitsune: Messenger Fox of the Gods

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:
At age four Makoto lost her mother, but at that time she also inherited the family trait of being able to see Gintaro, the large, somewhat curmudgeonly, orange-loving fox spirit who serves as the spiritual herald for the shrine to Uka-no-Mitama that her father was the priest for. Years later Makoto is a chipper teenager who sometimes calls on Gintaro for things like telling the fortunes of her classmates. When a classmate gets upset with her because her advice didn't work, and she complains to Gintaro about it, he points out that she exactly relay to the classmate what he said and complains about being used for frivolous things. This leads to a blow-up between the two, one that both (Makoto in particular) come to regret, especially when a genuine need concerning an injured cat comes up. As much as Makoto needed to grow up a bit, though, Gintaro also had a little bit to learn from the situation, too.

Boy, writing that description just makes this series sound so mundane, but very little is actually ordinary about this first episode. Great execution turns this basic concept into something extraordinary: a simple but remarkably charming and heartfelt story about the relationship between a gruff fox spirit and the young woman whom he is connected to by fate. The merits of the series are present from the first scene, where Makoto as a little girl first sees Gintaro; the tenderness that scene conveys sets the tone for the whole episode, and never does the production crew allow the content to slide into the realm of ordinary antics and outlandish behavior. Gintaro does not go crazy when offered one of his beloved oranges – merely a shift in expression amply gets the point across – and Makoto's chipper attitude is tempered by her sensitive heart and childish petulance. The musical score goes a long way towards promoting the overall feel of the series, and veteran seiyuu Shinichiro Miki (the voice of Kisuke Urahara in Bleach amongst many others) turns in a great performance as Gintaro. The visuals, though not top-caliber, are not bad, either.

The first episode is entirely self-contained, so it is not clear where this series may go next, but it is off to a wonderful start so far.

Gingitsune is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Wallkure Romance

Rating:
1.5 (of 5)

Review:
Winford Academy is located in a city where classic-style jousting is a tremendously popular sport, so it has its own Knight Curriculum. Takahiro used to be not only a member of that curriculum but also a top jouster, but he has retired from that due to an injury and now focuses on looking after the horses. Still, his experience puts him in high demand as a belgeiter (somewhat similar to the role a caddy plays for a golfer, apparently), though he politely rebuffs all offers. That may be changing due to his encounters with Mio, an airhead of a girl whom he rescues when one of the horses under his care goes wild. She becomes smitten and works to win him over, but her misguided efforts lead to an incident where she embarrasses the school's top female knight. Naturally said knight mistakes Mio for an actual knight due to the circumstances and challenges her to a duel.

Walkure Romance
gives the look and feel of a harem series even though events in this first episode actually hinge more on the actions of Mio, as Takahiro certainly has encounters with plenty of sexy ladies. (Apparently having a well-developed figure is a requirement for attending Winford.)  It is also clearly stretching to make its concept work. The notion of female knights actually is not that silly, but wearing skirts in a joust? Really? And armor shaped to accentuate the counters of breasts is actually a potentially very dangerous thing to wear, especially in a jousting match where the force of impact can easily be equivalent to being in a car crash. Let's also factor in a horse who seems fond of girls’ skirts;  deskirting incidents happen twice in this episode (and looks like it is going to happen on a regular basis based on the Next Episode previews), and I would swear that horse was leering afterwards. Rather creepy stuff, actually.

The technical and artistic merits of the series are nothing special, and neither is any part of it particularly funny nor are any of the characters all that interesting, so this one does not have much going for it unless the look of the girls alone is enough to hold your interest. The two potential hooks the series does have at this point – sorting out what happened to Takahiro and finding out why the closer indicates that Mio will soon dramatically shorten her hair – simply aren't enough.

Walkure Romance is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
In the early 21st century, as mankind gradually lost much of its terrestrial territory to environmental and other causes, a new and powerful foe – the Fleet of Fog – appeared. Using ships whose designs were based on WW2-era ships but which packed advanced weaponry and defensive shields called Klein Fields, the Fleet of Fog soon dominated the shipping lanes. Seven years after a mighty Final Battle – where the U.N. threw all of its remaining naval forces against the Fleet of Fog and failed – humanity's remaining countries found themselves isolated from each other, their economies and long-range communications capabilities reduced to shambles. The one ship capable of fighting back against the Fleet of Fog and winning is the I-401 nicknamed Blue Steel, a Fog ship which has come under the control of Gunzou Chihiya, a young naval recruit. Even Gunzou doesn't know the specifics; all he does know is that the Blue Steel's avatar, a small, pretty girl named Iona, was ordered to “meet the son of Shouzou Chihiya and obey him” – an auspicious statement, given that Gunzou's father was lost during the Final Battle and rumored to have defected. Because of its capabilities, the Blue Steel has been tasked with going to America (if it still exists) and recovering a special new warhead that, if it can be mass-produced, course give mankind a chance in the fight against the Fleet of Fog. But standing in the Blue Steel's way are several other ships that also have their own girl avatars.

A ship that either has a cute girl as avatar or actually physically turns into a girl is hardly a new concept in anime, so having retrofitted versions of WW2-era ships use such avatars is not a stretch by anime standards. A special ship being crewed by a bunch of apparent oddballs is also a time-honored tradition in anime (it's even been done at least twice before involving subs in series that have “blue” in their titles; see Blue Submarine No. 6 and Tide-Line Blue, amongst possibly others), though how odd this crew may be is not readily apparent from this episode, as they are only barely introduced to the audience and most are not even named. A situation where an enemy suddenly appears and hampers humanity to the point where they have limited ability to resist is also incredibly standard fare. So what does this one do to stand out?

For one, its technical merits are pretty incredible. This marks only the second full-length series by SANZIGEN Animation Studio, which has a voluminous record of 3D graphics credits but whose only previous full-length series effort is Black Rock Shooter, but it turns in a terrific effort here, especially (not surprisingly!) on the 3D modeling. Iona's gorgeous design and soulless expression is also an attention-catcher, as are the naval action and special effects sequences, and plenty enough hooks are offered to drawn in viewers who will want to know more. A cynical evaluation might attack it for lack of originality and the otaku-pandering nature of the cute girls (although in fairness Japan in general embodies everything as cute girls these days), but even accepting those complaints this is still a sharp first episode.

Arpeggio of Blue Steel is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Meganebu!

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
At an unnamed all-boys’ school, Akira Soma is the idealistic leader of the Glasses Club, which is, of course, a club for students who not only wear glasses but are also determined to show the general public the advantages of wearing glasses. His idealism is hardly high-minded, however, as his goal is to develop a set of X-ray specs and use them to ogle the nurse that's going to be coming to the school to assist in eye tests. And while he has the enthusiastic support of his four fellow club members, their success rate has not been great; they are already working on the roof because they blew up their club room, after all. In all of their frenetic attempts to get the project done on time, though, the club members fail to consider whether or not a sexy nurse will actually be present.

Meganebu!
is almost undoubtedly intended to be this season's fujoshi-bait title, especially for any lady who has a glasses-on-guys fetish. Even for those who don't, it offers a full line-up of attractive guys with personalities just as stereotypically distinct as what you would find in any reverse harem anime and a fair amount of fan service aimed at female viewers. It also delivers an ambitious, heavily color-saturated artistic style, a jazzy score to help it move along quickly, and no shortage of exuberance. In other words, it's a pretty solid series from a technical standpoint.

From a writing standpoint, it's mindlessly stupid. I wear glasses about a third of the day and have done so for the past 30 years, and I find the obsessiveness with glasses shown here to be mind-boggling. (But, of course, that's supposed to be part of the joke.) However, the series saves itself by actually being funny. Despite not being the target audience, I actually laughed at the content on multiple occasions. Its humor is successful enough that it merits a weak recommendation as a long-form gag comedy.

Meganebu! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.



Freezing Vibration

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
Haven't seen Freezing? Then this series is not for you. As a direct sequel to the 2011 original, it assumes viewers are completely familiar with the original and thus does not waste a second of time explaining anything, providing backstory, or doing anything else to make it accessible to newcomers. Seeing all of the first series before watching this one is also highly recommended, as one cannot get a good sense for where this series is starting without knowing the full story about where the first series has been.

This is also not a series for those who have compunctions about fan service. Although the episode content is not as in-your-face about it as, say, I Couldn't Become a Hero is, it does not hesitate to offer a bevy of sexy, well-built young ladies and provide them opportunities to appear nude; in fact, before the episode is out it has added several new beauties to the mix established in the first series. Unlike Hero, it also backs the fan service up with better (though not necessarily spectacular) visuals, action sequences, character interplay, and this little thing called “plot.” In fact, the only thing really missing from what made the first series fun to watch is Satellizer's tough demeanor; she's pretty much in Diffident Mode throughout this episode except for the action scenes.

Plot-wise, the episode finds Satellizer, Kazuya, and Rana en route through a blizzard to an unknown destination when they pick up a distress signal that leads them to an encounter with an apparent Nova. After a running battle and some assistance from some other Pandoras, they discover that the Nova was a fake, likely set to test them all. Their answers may await at an Alaska base where all of the world's top Pandoras have been summoned to for help in rolling out a new line of e-Pandoras, ordinary girls who have been artificially manipulated to be capable of handling the Stigmata that grant Pandora powers. Is this the solution to the perpetually understaffed Pandora groups, or is something more sinister going on here?

In other words, with the introduction of the new e-Pandoras the plotline for this season has likely been established. The content follows through well enough that this is looking like a largely satisfying follow-up to the original.


Wanna Be the Strongest in the World

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Sakura Hagiwara is the center singer for the pop idol group Sweet Diva (an obvious AKB48 knock-off), although group rival Elena is not far behind. Sakura loves working with her comrades in Sweet Diva, so when the others seem reluctant to get involved in a cross-promotion with a female pro wrestling circuit, Sakura volunteers, with Elena in tow. At Berserk gym Elena runs afoul of Rio Kazama, a pro wrestler who doesn't think much of idols. When she manhandles (womanhandles?) Elena in an impromptu bout and then impugns Sweet Diva, Sakura steps in and takes up Rio's challenge of a “Caballera contra Caballera” match, even though she doesn't understand exactly what that means. At the massively popular challenge match Sakura initially holds her own but soon discovers that she is grossly outclassed and pays the consequences. When Rio cannot help but take another cheap shot at idols, though, Sakura answers a feeling welling up within her and demands a rematch – and if that means she has to turn pro herself to get it, so be it!

In some senses pro wrestling and idol singing actually are not that far apart in concept, as both involve rigorous training, a high degree of showmanship on a stage, and playing to audiences of rabid fans. Hence the notion of an idol singer becoming a pro wrestler is not a completely bizarre one. And man, is Sakura built for it, too; she is definitely not a petite, delicate-looking girl as was seen in the AKB0048 series. Of course, this is clearly meant to be a fan service series (a barrage of mist-censored nudity early on, the sexy costumes, and the curious emphasis on crotch shots all support that), so it looks like reasonably but not outlandishly well-endowed ladies in skimpy costumes is also going to be a core element. Plenty of actual wrestling moves are used, too, enough so that the episode ends with a “these are dangerous if not done professionally, so don't try this at home” message.

But is it actually any good or not? Surprisingly, it isn't the disaster that it easily could have been. The technical merits are actually pretty good, the fan service is well-appreciable without being too exploitive, and the story actually makes logical sense so far. The series clearly is not going to give Sakura an easy pass into these ranks, either; both the last few minutes of the episode and the Next Epsiode preview suggest that she is going to suffer a lot on her road to pro wrestling competence. This one is not going to blow anyone away with its quality but looks like it could be some fun.

Wanna be the Stongest in the World
is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Outbreak Company

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
Kanou Shinichi is an otaku who served a stint as a hikkikomori after he actually did ask his female childhood friend out but got turned down flat because of his otakudom. Thus when he comes across an offer for a good-paying job for someone who is strongly an otaku, he jumps at it and aces the qualifying test. The job, though, is anything but what he expected: he finds himself shanghaied to Marinos, the capital city of the Holy Eldant Empire, which exists in a magical realm that is now a next door neighbor to Japan due to a hyperspace portal. He has unwittingly become part of an “extradimensional, semi-governmental joint-venture enterprise” set up to spread Japanese culture, in the form of manga and anime, into the Holy Eldant Empire, and it is his job to make it happen. Since he is effectively now an Ambassador, he gets a cute personal female maid who turns out to be a half-elf, a buxom female soldier as an assistant, and a lizard man for a gardener. His mixture of delight and trepidation over his duties is only further when he is called to meet the Empress and discovers that she, too, is part of an otaku's wet dream.

And that's pretty much what this whole manga-based first episode is; after all, what otaku hasn't dreamed at some point of being able to use his/her otakudom to earn and run a prestigious job? And while it would be quite easy to cynically dismiss this one as otaku-pandering claptrap, the first episode shows two traits which keep it from the garbage heap. One is that the series is at least a little bit clever in how it handles things, such as how the male in a “childhood friends” relationship falling for a female friend who isn't interested in that kind of relationship is a rare but welcome juxtaposition or the way Kanou not being fazed by his gardener amusingly shows that the man who hired him may have actually known what he was doing. The series also has a surprising sweet side, one which shows in Kanou's interactions with his maid Myucel (when he isn't letting his otaku nature get the better of him, that is) and a very brief shot in the opener where two lizard people show affection by touching tails.

The production merits are nothing special, but this one shows just enough signs of potential that it might actually amount to something.

Outbreak Company is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Ace of the Diamond

Rating:
2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Middle school baseball pitcher Eijun Sawamura is one of those brash, honest idiot types that one typically sees helming a shonen action series. Though hardly a refined pitcher, he is unrestrained in his love for baseball in its purest form, as a team sport, and fiercely loyal to his friends, to the point that he slaps around members of an opposing team who make fun of his soon-to-be-defunct middle school's team. That incident, and the wild pitch he threw which ended the season's last baseball game, leave his parents and grandfather shocked when Rei Takashima, a recruiter for the prestigious Seidou High School baseball team (a regular competitor at Kosien, the Japanese nationals), makes Eijun an offer based on something she saw in his final pitch, and they are even more flabbergasted when Eijun is reluctant to accept the offer because he'd rather play with his teammates. Rei still manages to entice him to at least come and see Seidou's practice, and a bully of a pro-caliber batter gets under his skin enough at that practice to force him into a pitcher-battle duel.

Baseball series are a tough sell for me because the only one that I have ever watched out – Cross Game – also happens to be one of the very best. The first episode of this manga-based series is nowhere near being on that same level in any respect but technical merits (although outshining CG in that respect is hardly difficult). To its credit, though, it is taking an entirely different, and decidedly less serious, approach. In fact, this is a more typical sports anime, one filled with tons of bombast and sensibilities that would fit well in a Naruto or Bleach. Also to the series’ credit, Eijun is a likeable enough idiot, though the series balances that out by throwing in a girl on his junior high team apparently just to give an opponent an opportunity to make a crack about their team having a girl. Hopefully future of episodes will explain her better, as right now her presence feels like a gimmick.

Ace of the Diamond
may ultimately succeed because its heart seems to be in the right place and it does have its own sense of humor. So far, though, it is not off to an impressive start.

Ace of the Diamond is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Hajime no Ippo Rising

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Rising is the third installment in this popular boxing franchise also known as Fighting Spirit, but that should not deter newcomers from checking it out. This first episode provides a solid enough foundation to understand everything one absolutely needs to know except what, exactly, the Dempsey Roll is, and even enough about that can be surmised from the references to it. One does not even need to be a boxing enthusiast to appreciate it, either, although that probably helps.

Makunouchi Ippo is now the featherweight title-holder in boxing, with three successful title defenses under his belt, but life wasn't always easy for him. A flashback shows how he lost his fisherman father, whom he idolized, in a storm at sea and drew some of the strength that would sustain him up to this point from the memories of his father and his father's hat, which washed ashore even though his father didn't. Back in present day he prepares for his fourth title defense, this time against Iwao Shimabukuro, an Okinawan heavy-hitter, who claims that he will defeat Makunochi's Dempsey Roll and strategizes to drive him into a battle in the depths of the sea, as is only proper for two children of the sea. The first few rounds of their bout are a fierce, give-and-take affair between two evenly-matched opponents, but as the match wears on Iwao seems to be succeeding with his gimmick.

The fight animation and choreography may be a bit overblown, but even so they still capture the visceral thrill and sense of drama inherent in a sport like boxing.  There is a reason why boxing movies have always been able to captivate much broader audiences than the sport's core fan base, and one gets a sense of that here. The flashback to Makunouchi's youth is also surprisingly effective, too. That, combined with a lack of bombast outside of the fights and an emphasis on technique and strategy even in such a brutal sport, helps carry the first episode nearly as much as the fight scenes do. The one worry is the somewhat ridiculous business with “fighting at the bottom of the sea.” Granted, psychological ploys are a standard element of professional-level sports, but at the end of the episode this looks to be bordering on absurdity. Up until that point, though, it is quite an entertaining start to this new entry into the franchise.

Hajime no Ippo is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review:
Raul and his fellows were heroes-in-training, all ready to take a qualifying test to become full-fledged Heroes and thus be able to go battle demons on behalf of their country. But then the war abruptly ended and the Hero program was canceled. Left with no real-world skills, Raul became an employee at a second-rate store that somewhat approximates the American dollar store chains. One of his tasks becomes the training of new recruit Fino Bloodstone, a slight youth he initially mistakes for a boy but who instead turns out to be the daughter of a demon lord. Her background gives her a very skewed and behind-the times look at the world, as she is completely unfamiliar with modern conveniences (magic essentially replaces electricity in this setting) and initially has no understanding of concepts like “politeness” and “respect.”

One cannot look at the first episode of this light novel-based series without thinking that The Devil is a Part-Timer! had some influence on it, though the first novel of the latter series coming out a little less than a year before the first novel of this one makes that assertion questionable. Still, based on the first episode alone, Part-Timer is overwhelmingly the better of the two. In fact, this is a pretty good example of how some solid concepts – the notion of what a hero does when heroes are no longer needed, reeducating someone with a grossly twisted background, and a setting based on magical technology – can be driven into the ground by poor execution.

The biggest problem is that the first episode is trying to shoehorn the concept into a fan service-laden format when such a format really doesn't suit it. While there's nothing inherently wrong with emphasizing fan service, rarely does it fit here without feeling forced and rarely do any of the girls (and there are a curiously high number of pretty girls in Raul's orbit) have much sense of identity behind their breasts. Now, if bouncing boobs are your thing then you will find lots to enjoy here because the episode never missing an opportunity for some jiggle or the odd panty shot, but the series fails to understand that titles like High School DxD have set the bar so much higher on quality fan service and what's needed to properly back it up that you cannot get away with tripe like this anymore. It even poorly uses a blatant Star Trek reference and apparently thinks that it is supposed to be cool or funny.

The first episode is not a total disaster, as some entertainment value can be found here and it does have at least some cleverness, but so far this one doesn't show much promise.

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


Strike the Blood

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
Itogami Island is an artificial island located 300 km south of Tokyo. Built from technology and magic, it has become a sort of refuges for supernatural and man-made beings, including demons and vampires, though many of its citizens are still quite ordinary. Kojou Akatsuki used to be one of those ordinary folk, and indeed he still acts like a normal high school slacker depressed about being stuck using his summer to do make-up tests, but an encounter three months ago that he doesn't fully remember has caused him to become a Fourth Progenitor (aka Kaleid Blood), one of the most powerful types of vampires, though he does not seem to understand what that means. Fortunately he gets followed one day by a middle school girl name Yukina Himeragi who does seem to know more about it; in fact, she was sent to watch him and, if necessary, eliminate him, and the dispatch with which she handles a pair of demons trying to hit on her shows that she has the skills to handle herself. Kojou's bigger problem is that his vampire nature seems to be connected to his libido, and Yukina is pretty enough that her hanging around could be a problematic temptation.

Although its closer suggests that the series will eventually have lots of flashy supernatural action, the only real action scene in this newest vampire tale is the tussle between Yukina and the demons, one in which Kojou gets only minimally involved. Thus we do not really have any idea what he may be capable of by the end of the first episode, though we do know that Yukina is both pretty bad-ass and wears plaid panties. (Do real girls actually wear panties like that?) Fan service is almost nonexistent beyond that, though and in fact, the episode as a whole is a low-key affair focused more on establishing the setting and main characters than on delving much into the supernatural. Fortunately the visuals are solid and both the lead characters introduced so far and Koyou's friends are likable enough, attractive enough, and have good enough chemistry to offset the dearth of more active content.

Studio SILVER LINK has established a pretty good track record over the past couple of years, and this one shows at least some potential. It is not anywhere near the slam-bang attention-grabber that a series like Kill la Kill is, though.

Strike the Blood is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Nagi no Asukara

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:
Middle schooler Hikari has looked after his clumsy crybaby of a childhood friend Manaka since they were little kids, and that doesn't change when they and two others from their former middle school must join a new one after their former one closed down. However, Manaka encounters a guy at the new school who proves quite helpful to her despite her peculiarities, hence setting up potential jealousy and romantic rivalry. Meanwhile, Manaka's friend Chisaki is secretly in love with Hikari but feels she cannot approach him while Hikari is still closest to him.

As ordinary as this premise may sound, there's nothing ordinary about this potential new gem from P.A. Works and the director behind Red Data Girl. That's because it has three things strongly in its favor: it has P.A. Works’ trademark visual quality, its writing quality is already a few notches above the norm in the way it smoothly sets up its potential romantic entanglements, and it has one hell of a hook, one which becomes apparent in an eyebrow-raising opening scene of a fish swimming by as Hikari is cooking breakfast. Yes, Hikari, Manaka, Chisaki, and one other boy are all sea people who live in a vibrant underwater city and can move freely about in the water thanks to a coating called Ena, which gives their skin a smooth, shiny texture above the surface. In fact, the underwater city could be just any ordinary city if it wasn't for the fish swimming by or the existence of a godlike being who can cause a girl's knee to turn into a fish head, as the sea people wear clothing and act just like surface dwellers do. The new school the quartet attends is on the surface, which creates the kind of odd, antagonistic relationship one might expect if members of any normal minority group were to show up in a school prejudiced against them. The apparent limitation of the sea people as to how long they can stay above water at one time also, naturally, comes into play.

But the biggest key here is that these characters and situations are fascinating and compelling in ways that they normally wouldn't be if this project was handled by just about anyone other than P.A. Works. Like Red Data Girl, the series takes itself entirely seriously, never opting for cheap tricks or humor. A couple of its shots seem a little too specific to not register as mild fan service, but it isn't anything that should drive anyone off. A little more worrying is that Manaka is essentially victimization bait (she reminds me of Mikuru in The Melancholy or Haruhi Suzumiya), and that will have to be watched carefully, but the rest of it is so well-done that this beginning provides plenty of motivation to continue watching.

Nagi no Asukara is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Infinite Stratos 2

Rating:
1.5 (of 5)

Review:
First, let me be clear that I did not have a particularly high opinion of the first series even though I did watch it out. In brief, the original series was essentially a straight-up harem series with some mecha-like elements mixed in, one which featured a cast of girls that may have been multinational and had some odd quirks but was largely typical in its behavior towards protagonist Ichika, who is one of the densest male harem leads anime has ever seen. (And yes, I know that's saying a lot.) The series was starved for plot and true foes to fight for most of its run but managed to hold enough appeal in its harem elements and flashy action to earn popularity and a second series.

Unfortunately this season does little to change any of that, although it does drop some suggestions that there might actually be a true antagonist this season. The episode starts with Ichika having an ominous dream, which he promptly ignores as he goes around inviting each of the girls in turn to join him on a trip to a festival to mark the end of summer break. Naturally he words the invitations in such an ambiguous way that most of the girls think it will be a 1-1 date instead of a group activity. (Really, you'd think that they would have learned their lesson on that by now.) Charlotte and Laura go out shopping together, wind up serving as a butler and maid in a café, further wind up dealing with some gun and bomb-armed robbers who try to invade the café, and throw out some not-so-vague yuri subtext throughout just for good measure. Meanwhile a mysterious IS-equipped figure is invading an underground facility. And oh, yes, it looks like another girl will be joining the mix with the next episode – gee, what a surprise! Anyone want to place bets on how long it will take for the newcomer to get hooked on Ichika, too, even though she might be a bad guy?

While some of Charlotte and Laura's interactions are mildly entertaining, this episode is largely dull and lacking in character or imagination; at least it mercifully spares us spending half an episode on the Ichika and the girls at the festival, instead condensing that down to a minute or so of clips with voice-overs, which gives every bit the feel of an episode summary. The technical merits are certainly no better than the first series and may even be a slight downgrade. Its mild doses of fan service and minimal action are not enough to rescue it, hence making this a very weak, routine start to a series that doesn't offer much promise.

Infinite Stratos 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Golden Time

Rating:
2 (of 5)

Review:  
Banri Tada is a brand-new law student at Fukarai University, only he runs late his first day. He's also not familiar with the area, so he follows two young ladies who seem to know where they are going. That leads him to meeting Mitsuo Yanagisawa, a fellow freshman law student who is similarly lost. The two fast become friends as they walk to their law school orientation, but along the way they encounter Koko Kaga, a seemingly perfect-looking young woman who, Banri soon discovers, is the entire reason why Mitsuo is attending Fukarai instead of the school he originally intended. That's because Koko is deeply obsessed with Mitsuo, to the point of being bothersome about it. (She is at least a borderline yandere case as portrayed so far.) Banri is enchanted with her, though, as he is with a couple of other female students he meets, including a very short girl and a pretty upperclassman who rescues him from being overwhelmed by club registration. As Banri contemplates friendship and eventually falling in love, a random scene involving a bridge and a scooter happens.

Okay, so the scene isn't really random, as write-ups for source material indicate that it is a key element in Banri's backstory. But one certainly cannot tell that from the first episode alone, nor does one get even the faintest hint that Banri is actually an amnesiac or that there will apparently be supernatural elements involved, either. In other words, the first episode does not really give us a good picture about the true premise here, and that is a major failing. The opener suggests that Banri and Koko might eventually become an item, and the structure of the first episode has more the feel of a dating sim or ero game adaptation than the light novel adaptation than it actually is, with the protagonist meeting and interacting with various pretty potential love interests. None of the characters are particularly interesting so far, attempts at humor fall flat, and the look and animation are pretty bland, too. The writing is not quite as bad but has its issues, too; how Mituso could fail to notice Koko sitting behind him for so long during the orientation, when the audience can clearly see her, is an incomprehensible break of logic.

There might be a sweet and entertaining series in here somewhere, and the first episode certainly is not an atrocity of execution. Still, it gets the series off to a decidedly inglorious start.

Golden Time is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Kill la Kill

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:
Most anime shows are meant to be watched, but a choice few are meant to be gaped at. This one falls into the latter category, as once your jaw drops at the spectacle that it presents, it may not close again until the end of the episode.

But that's what you get when you pair current Trigger and former GAINAX employees Hiroyuki Amaishi (the director of Panty and Stocking) and Kazuki Nakamisha (the writer for Gurren Lagann) on an original project: a garish, wild, heavily stylish affair which has every ounce of the absolute visual and storytelling absurdity that their best-known titles are renowned for. This is a spectacle from start to finish, one which might have some distinctly ordinary elements in it but wastes barely a second doing anything ordinary. Crazy battles, ridiculous uniforms and weapons, overblown Student Council authority, freakish characters, frenetic conceptualizations of dynamic action, and eye-popping sexiness – this one has it all.

The plot is more typical fighting series inanity. In a setting heavily implied to be ultra-fascist, Honnouji Academy both literally and figuratively stands at the pinnacle of power in one city. It is ruled over by the imperious Student Council President Satsuki and her minions, who wear special uniforms called Goku uniforms which effectively give the wearer a degree of super-power based on the star rating of the uniform. Here brooking the Discipline Committee's authority is literally a death sentence. But things gets stirred up when new transfer student Ryuki Matoi comes to town seeking clues as to the person who killed her father, a person who used the blade which matches with the giant scissor blade she wields. Her first attempt to confront the Honnouji Academy forces doesn't go well because of the uniform disadvantage, but then with some mysterious help she finds a remnant of her father's work: a sentient sailor uniform (yes, you read that right) which can give her the power to fight on even terms with Goku wearers but is also embarrassingly revealing.

The visual style will definitely not suit everyone's tastes, but this was one of the most highly-anticipated new shows of the season for a reason, and the first episode justifies that anticipation.

Kill la Kill is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Coppelion

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:
At some point in the near future a biological or radioactive catastrophe happens which contaminates Tokyo so badly that normal humans cannot survive there (and cannot survive for long even with protective suits), thus effectively turning it into the world's largest ghost town. Decades later three girls – Aoi, Ibara, and Taeko – are sent into the city to investigate reported SOS signals in the city. They can casually stroll into the city in just school uniforms because they are Coppelions, children bioengineered to tolerate the environment. That this separates them from normal humans is not a fact lost on them, and they worry that they might be nothing more than puppets (as their label implies), but they still have a job to do in this desolate city. Or is it desolate? After all, there do seem to be animals around, and potentially dangerous ones at that.

Few or no series this season will rival this manga adaptation courtesy of GoHands (a studio probably best-known for producing the Mardock Scramble movies) when it comes to making a strong initial visual impression. Its incredibly detailed depiction of a Tokyo that has been a wasteland for decades combines with heavy use of CG, some sharp animation, and character rendering which creates a distinct visual contrast to the backgrounds, thus giving the series a unique look that initial trailers could not quite convey. The use of low-to-the-ground camera angles also produces some interesting perspectives, and the fact that they studiously avoid panty shots despite golden opportunities suggests that prurient fan service is not even in the thought process here. To highlight the sense of desolation, only a few seconds of the episode have any kind of soundtrack, with the lonely sound of blowing wind being the only accompaniment for much of the episode. It is quite an effective approach.

The trailers for the series and Next Episode preview suggest that the three lead girls will soon encounter others in the environment and get involved in action scenes with them, but the first episode pretty much plays out as a mood and premise-setting piece, including suggestions that the girls’ feelings about their status will come into play. While some will undoubtedly find this to be a slow start, many more will be drawn in by the ambiance the first episode develops.

Coppelion is currently streaming on Viz Anime.


Beyond the Boundary

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:  
Boy sees girl who seems ready to commit suicide by jumping off a roof. Boy goes against his instincts and tries to save her. Boy instead gets stabbed through the heart by a sword of blood the girl manifests. Girl repeatedly attempts to kill him again over the next few days when he doesn't die, or even seem all that bothered by it, the first time.

So does this most recent light novel-based foray into the supernatural high school setting start. The boy in question, Akihito, can survive the attack because his half-youmu nature effectively makes him immortal. Youmu are spirit creatures apparently not visible to normal people who are hunted down by Spirit World Warriors when they pop up in the human world. The girl in question, the very small Kuriyama Mirai, is one such individual, albeit a very troubled one; she is the last of a clan with a supposedly cursed blood-manipulating ability, she gets bullied in social media, and she was apparently badly shaken by a past experience killing a youmu. Even worse, Akihito's very pretty longtime friend/Literary Club mate, who is the daughter of a clan responsible for overseeing Spirit World Warriors, is warning him off of associating with Mirai. And there's also the matter of the youmu who has taken over Mirai's apartment and whom she fears to confront until Akihito gives her a push.

The production comes courtesy of Kyoto Animation, so the look and animation of the series are fine, and it does a reasonably good job of establishing a serious, mildly ominous tone. The first episode also does a very good job of allowing viewers to gradually piece together what's what without resorting to info dumping. The opener and the Next Episode preview suggest that we will eventually see a lot of flashy action, too. However, the first episode raises two big concerns: the characters are rather bland, and nothing about this concept seems fresh. On top of that the effort to find a workable balance between Mirai being clumsy and a bad-ass is failing badly so far; the series seems like it's trying to force her into a moe persona that does not really fit. What little comedy the episode has falls entirely flat, too.

This first episode is too well-made for there to be no potential here, but future episodes will have to produce a stronger draw for this one to capture and hold its audience.

Beyond the Boundary is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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