The Spring 2013 Anime Preview Guide
Carlo Santos

Apr 4th 2013

Carlo (spelled without an "s", thankyouverymuch) lacks the good sense to keep his opinions to himself. Instead, he expresses them on Anime News Network, where he has been running the Right Turn Only!! manga review column since 2006. His favorite anime series of the last few seasons include Kids on the Slope, Polar Bear Cafe, Humanity Has Declined, From the New World, Psycho-Pass, Robotics;Notes, and Chihayafuru 2. He also grudgingly admits that he enjoyed Love Live! School idol project more than he expected.


HENNEKOThe "Hentai" Prince and the Stony Cat.

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
HENNEKO takes a fertile comedy idea—a deceitful young man suddenly finds it impossible to tell a lie—and infuses it with the usual anime dose of school life, supernatural twists, and cute girls. Yoto Yokodera is the young man in question, a typical pervert who trains with the track team just so he can sneak glances at the girls' swimming classes. However, the plan backfires when he gets appointed team captain, and instead of admitting the truth, Yoto hides behind a facade and accepts the unwanted responsibility.

Then comes the supernatural twist, although the episode drags it out almost too much: Yoto approaches a mystical cat statue in town and wishes he could say what he really means. At the same time, he meets a bubbly girl named Tsukiko who wishes she could hide her feelings better. Predictably enough, their wishes come true, and the next day Yoto arrives at school and starts annoying every girl he meets with his comments. This eventually lands him in the nurse's office, where he runs into Tsukiko, who has literally lost the ability to make facial expressions. Realizing this is the stony cat's fault, the two of them start plotting how to reverse its effects, even if it means Yoto must disgrace himself before the school's most revered beauty.

The plot has enough quirks in it to be interesting, and the episode charges forward with energy once Yoto's "curse" kicks in, but the comedy moments lack originality. Of course boys are going to invite trouble if they told girls what they really think, and the consequences of Yoto's actions—injury, embarrassment, and wacky schemes—are pretty standard.

To its credit, the animation is polished enough to give the show's slapstick gags the pop that they need. Bright colors also fit the mood well, but the conventional setting may be this series' downfall: the backgrounds look like any other school, and the characters surrounding Yoto are the usual lineup of bishoujo types (cute, athletic, princess, and surely others to come). HENNEKO has its fun moments, but takes the most ordinary route to get there.

HENNEKOThe "Hentai" Prince and the Stony Cat. is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Valvrave the Liberator

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
For about 95% of Episode 1, Valvrave the Liberator operates exactly according to plan. It's about a high school boy, Haruto, who finds a new direction in life when he inadvertently pilots a giant robot. As a lead character, Haruto is utterly conventional, a beta male who doesn't even have the competitive drive to win an eating contest at school. Yes, the episode's first half is full of school-life antics, and it culminates with Haruto confessing his feelings to often-annoying-but-somehow-charming female friend Shoko. But who'd have guessed, at this exact moment, that two super-nations would suddenly descend into war?

In a barrage of missiles and attack drones, the foreign country of Dorssia launches an assault on JIOR, where Haruto and his friends reside. In the chaos of the attack, a terrible tragedy befalls Shoko, and Haruto—wandering around in shock—stumbles upon something important. After all, how else can the story move forward without predictable coincidences? He steps into this giant robot named Valvrave, skips over an oddly worded Terms and Conditions warning, and activates the machine.

As expected, Haruto disposes of the enemy easily, in a spectacular, smoothly animated fight scene. But that other 5% of the plot kicks in at the end, with a violent, logic-defying twist that suddenly erases any notion of Valvrave being a standard mecha show. One twist does not make an entire series, though, and it's what happens in the following episodes that will decide whether this truly breaks new storytelling ground—or if it's just going to be about Haruto helping to fend off Dorssian forces episode after episode.

Visually, the show isn't just about stylish mecha designs and eye-popping airborne battles. The school scenes are also handled well, with vivid colors, neat linework, and attention to detail in the backgrounds. The character designs don't stand out too much style-wise, but they're at least distinctive enough to tell apart. A wide-ranging, richly orchestrated music score also adds another layer of polish. Valvrave definitely has some creative might (and money) behind it—plus a concept that could very well shake up the mecha genre.

Valvrave the Liberator is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Yuyushiki

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
Watching Yuyushiki is like eating a bread roll that's just started to go stale: you can tell it's a tired, old product, but there are still signs of it being fresh and promising. The series focuses on three girls with diverse but predictable personalities: hyperactive Yuzu, spaced-out Yukari, and sharp-witted Yui. It's their first day of high school, and soon enough they get into an easygoing daily routine. The girls hang out between classes, make absurd (and sometimes misguided) comments, and learn the secrets of the universe—like what unlikely objects will set off metal detectors and how much of the solar system's mass is contained in the sun.

So that's why it tastes stale: this is another "random schoolgirls hanging out" anime, as if we haven't gotten enough of those already the last 5-10 years. As expected, it relies too much on the crazy one, Yuzu, as a walking punchline. She screams, she gesticulates, she does inappropriate things, and basically toes the line between amusing and annoying. But Yuyushiki also shows signs of hope when it turns to other sources of humor: gross misunderstandings, casual observations turned ridiculous, silly visual gags, and puns so bad they're good. At the end of the school day they also discover an unused clubroom where they can poke around on the Internet, and goodness knows that might be the perfect source for humorous tidbits. (Like taking an online "Are you an S or M?" quiz...)

Even the animation steps up sometimes: the camerawork occasionally goes for tricky, unusual angles, instead of all the front- and side-facing views that are the default mode for this genre. Some of the girls' most dynamic (read: adorable) gestures are also rendered at a higher framerate than the rest of the show. The bright, sunny-day colors are about what one would expect, and same for the lighthearted throwaway background music. However, Yuyushiki itself isn't headed for the junkpile just yet. Of all the goofy schoolgirl cliques out there, these ones might be worth a laugh or two.

Yuyushiki is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Gargantia almost scares people away before it can get started. The first half of the episode is mired in the worst kind of stodgy space opera, complete with dour "dun-dun-DUN-du-DUN" background music. Here's a giant galactic army, here's their fleet of starships, and here's a young mecha pilot named Ensign Ledo who's already been in the service for years and years. The fleet has gathered for an assault on a mysterious alien force, and for the next twelve minutes, everybody spouts out random astrophysics jargon, while lasers, missiles and quantum bombs are exchanged between sides. The colors are spectacular, the animation is top-notch, and the CGI effects are so good they could pass for a next-generation tech demo—but the story never bothers to explain what's going on.

Which is exactly the point.

After drowning everyone in horrible space-battle clichés, the episode starts to pick up and make itself interesting. Ledo has fallen into a wormhole and wakes up six months later, still aboard his robot, in an industrial hangar. A "primitive race" of humans has been trying to open up Ledo's mecha, with no luck. A bubbly girl named Amy has also shown interest in the robot, and when she investigates it early one morning, Ledo accidentally runs into her. In the confusion, he kidnaps Amy to use as a negotiating chip, then goes on a wild chase through the hangar to escape the enraged humans who see him as a hostile intruder. After locating an exit door, Ledo realizes he's in the last place he'd ever imagined himself to be: good old planet Earth. Surprise!

The crisp, dynamic visuals during Ledo's awakening and his chase scene show that this series is just as adept at animating human characters as it is with robot-powered sci-fi pageantry. It gets even more impressive when the last scene reveals the majesty of humankind's former home planet. Gargantia plays the deception card in its first episode, and almost loses the gamble, but it's got enough intriguing plot points for sci-fi fans to take a closer look.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Mushibugyō

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Mushibugyō accomplishes all that it sets out to do—which, unfortunately, isn't saying much when the series sets its goals so low. This youthful samurai adventure is much like all the others, except that the sword-swinging lad who dreams of becoming a hero is not battling bandits or rival clans or even demons, but insects. Giant insects! Otherwise, everything else is as ordinary as can be.

Jinbei is the name of the boy in question, and he's come to Edo after receiving a summons for his dad. Jinbei's father was one of the best swordsmen in the province—until a slip-up on Jinbei's part led to his father being stripped of his position and having to slice his own leg as punishment. Jinbei wants to prove himself as a warrior, but who would put their trust in an overeager kid? However, when Jinbei befriends a local girl named Haru, and she gets kidnapped by a giant spider, he gets the opportunity he's been waiting for. A number of other insect-battling heroes jump into the fray, just so we can see their awesome exterminatory powers, but it's Jinbei's swordsmanship that saves Haru—and earns him an invitation to the Insect Magistrate's Office.

That's how gimmicky the gimmick is: they have to set up a specific government agency just for fighting monstrous bugs. Other hokey ideas abound in this first episode, including the mysterious swordsman who stands on tall structures, Jinbei constantly thinking about his father's honor, and a number of crass references to Haru's chest. The fight scenes provide some fast-paced entertainment, but there's nothing special about them: lots of predictable straight-on camera angles, the usual share of close-up and mid-range shots, and a killing blow that looks like any old sword strike.

Outlandish character designs and bright colors (at least during daytime) provide a couple of strong points, but otherwise, this episode comes off as disappointingly bland. It may be enough to please fans who enjoy historical action, but when "history" involves 20-foot-long spiders, there's probably more creative fare to be found elsewhere.

Mushibugyō is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Attack on Titan

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:
There are plenty of apocalyptic action shows out there, but few get as close to perfection as Attack on Titan does. The story of humankind living in a walled colony, desperately fending off a race of flesh-eating giants, doesn't seem so much a fictional tale as it is an ancient legend come to life. The lead character in this is Eren, an idealistic boy who longs to fight for justice and explore the outside world. But most other folks think he's a fool, because anyone who goes beyond the city walls is likely to be eaten by the Titans lurking out there. This fact is driven home by a chilling (if somewhat hysterical) scene where the local militia comes home, with nothing to show for their Titan-hunting expedition but dead bodies and critical wounds.

Still, the townspeople live complacent lives because the Titans haven't breached the wall in a hundred years. Thus, the first episode trots along at medium tempo most of the time—we meet Eren's family, his two close friends Mikasa and Armin, and see him discuss his plans for a military career. When the action finally kicks in, though, it arrives with all the bombast and glory fans could dream of. A super-sized, 50-meter Titan peers over the city wall and kicks it open, and his smaller companions start streaming in. Rocks go flying everywhere, buildings come apart, human bodies are consumed like afternoon snacks, and Eren, poor boy, can do nothing but scramble through town and hope his mom is all right. (Spoiler: She's not.) It's a masterpiece of death and destruction, and this is still only Episode 1.

From the start, viewers will notice the detailed landscapes, sure-handed character designs (a vast improvement on the manga), and smooth animation that can pull off both quiet moments and high-energy scenes. But the ultimate attention-grabber is the sight of the Titans themselves, with their sheer size and frighteningly humanoid appearances. This riveting, earth-shattering series—with beautiful produced visuals and a booming symphonic soundtrack—is an absolute must-see.


Oreimo Season 2

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
Who's more excited right now: Oreimo fans looking forward to the series' second season, or main character Kirino Kousaka waiting for new episodes of Stardust Witch Meruru? Either way, it's a celebration of true anime geekery ... although in this episode, the celebration doesn't start until two-thirds of the way through. Oreimo makes quick work of recapping the series' premise: older brother Kyousuke Kousaka has an odd relationship with his little sister Kirino, who is attractive and popular but hides a burning obsession with moe anime and "little sister" dating games. The new storyline begins with Kirino having just returned from a study-abroad trip cut short, while Kyousuke is now having a kinda-sorta romance with Kirino's moody rival Kuroneko. However, the episode's emphasis on home and school life—set to a sparse, laid-back soundtrack—runs the danger of boring viewers to death before the fun can even start.

The episode finally starts firing on all cylinders in the last several minutes, where Kirino gets to do the one thing she wanted to do most after returning to Japan: visit Akihabara. Kirino launches into a fandom-fueled frenzy, checking out the preview for Meruru's new season (a finely executed parody of the magical girl style) and buying all the goods she'd missed while abroad. Her lively gestures and expressions say it all: the animation may have been lackluster through the early scenes, but that's because they were saving up for when the main character is finally in her element. Watch the backgrounds and crowds, too—the overall artwork is decent when the characters are going about their daily lives, but there's that extra surge of detail when it comes to showing off the otaku capital of the world.

A palette of warm, bright colors also adds to the series' visual appeal, so even if the story is a little slow to start out, at least it's pleasant to watch. No matter where Kirino's obsessions take her, one thing's for sure: if you've fallen in love with Oreimo's characters before, it's time to fall in love with them all over again.

Oreimo Season 2 is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Zettai Bōei Leviatan

Rating: 1 (of 5)

Review:
Is it possible for a fantasy series to be duller than slice-of-life? Zettai Bōei Leviatan certainly seems to be striving for that, the way it tosses characters and plot points around but doesn't appear to be about anything. Leviatan's titular character is a blue-haired sorceress whose daily activities involve strolling around the countryside, training her powers, and at one point fighting off a poorly animated CGI bug. That all changes when she encounters a fairy named Syrop, who is trying to recruit troops for a self-defense force. A recent meteorite strike has caused unknown alien forces to start attacking Leviatan's homeworld of Aquafall, and now she must band with other magicians and warriors to stop the crisis. There's just one problem: aside from introducing the premise, Episode 1 has nothing to do with this.

Instead, Leviatan and Syrop travel into town, where burly, idiotic men think it's funny to harrass warrior-magician girls. After some mindless plot-churning—another major character, Bahamut, fends off unwanted male attention, while Leviatan is off getting something to eat—this episode finally launches into some conflict at the end. But when that conflict is something as petty as the girls giving the townsmen the punishment they deserive, one has to wonder: Is the actual plot about saving the world ever going to show up?

Imagine that: wanting the series to jump into a formulaic storyline because what it's doing right now is even worse. That's how bad the first episode is, wandering between the daily lives of three girls but never showing how they plan to put their magical-combat powers to use. The animation doesn't even offer anything special to look at: aside from lush backgrounds and fancy costume designs, the rest of it is produced on a budget. Expect lots of panning across still frames, along with unimaginative camerawork showing the characters from predictable front or side angles. Even a brief transformation sequence for Leviatan is just bland, by-the-book special effects work. If there's anything good about this series (the catchy ending theme, maybe?), the first episode does little to prove it.

Zettai Bōei Leviatan is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


The Severing Crime Edge

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
Is it possible for an anime to be both bizarre and ordinary? Severing Crime Edge tries to bring both worlds together, combining strange subject matter with a predictable setup. Average teenage boy Kiri befriends a cute but mysterious girl named Iwai, and together they learn some strange things about each other. The one thing that bonds them together is quite unexpected: Kiri has obsession with cutting hair, always carrying a pair of scissors with him, while Iwai just happens to have the most gorgeous, flowing locks ... that cannot be cut. It's unusual, ironic, and somewhat clever, which makes it more forgivable that the main characters are a typical boy-girl pair.

This episode stumbles in the middle, though, as it tries to introduce two older girls who serve as Iwai's minders. They harbor a dark secret about Iwai and her family, involving a type of implement known as the "Killing Goods" (which do exactly what they sound like). In fact, Kiri's favorite pair of scissors also possesses that special property, being the weapon of a former serial killer. These points are explained through a messy jumble of cuts and flashbacks, and the episode doesn't really get itself together again until the focus returns to Kiri and Iwai's friendship, and a touching finale where we learn how powerful a pair of scissors can be.

Animation is as much of a mixed bag as the story—there are some scenes that run as smooth as butter, with precise linework and sweeping motion, and then there are choppy, stop-and-go scenes where Iwai and Kiri are just goofing off. Character designs fall into the realm of conventional rather than creative, featuring yet another ordinary schoolboy and his adorable young lady friend. Music also plays a key role in the ups and downs of the first episode, traversing many moods with string-laden orchestration. Sometimes the music even gets the point across better than what the characters are doing and saying. Does that mean Severing Crime Edge is too confusing to enjoy? Not at all. It's weird in places, but it's worth keeping an eye on.

The Severing Crime Edge is available streaming on Crunchyroll.



Karneval

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review:
Karneval teaches a valuable lesson in how not to start an action-adventure series. The pilot episode makes wild, frustrating jumps from one scene to another—a mansion being broken into, a boy escaping a deadly monster, 30 seconds of a train hijacking, a Top Hat Guy and a Goth-Loli Girl on a fact-finding mission—and that's just the first half. These events, do connect to each other, but Karneval presents them in a way that leads to confusion rather than curiosity.

Here's what comes out of this illogical nonsense: in a vaguely steampunk world, an innocent, white-haired boy named Nai is being held captive. An explosives-wielding sharpshooter named Gareki comes charging in to rescue Nai, just in time to avoid the clutches of a bloodthirsty monster-woman. Following their escape, Nai and Gareki hitch a train ride, as Nai is looking for his old friend Karoku. However, there's a trainjacking going on in the next car, and who should arrive but Top Hat Guy (call him Hirato) and Goth-Loli Girl (her name's Tsukumo) to quell the situation. The pair introduce themselves as agents of Circus, an elite black-ops organization, and they quietly take note of the bracelet on Nai's wrist. Apparently, it's really important ... but for now, Nai's got other things to take care of, like searching for Karoku.

It's as if a creator sat down and said, "Hey, I have a great idea for some characters," and then forgot what these characters are supposed to be about, or what they want to achieve. So instead they just get into awesome butt-kicking fights and go places.

It's a shame, because the world of Karneval is beautifully produced—lavish interiors, bustling street scenes, and sweeping countrysides. This wide range of locales means that the action sequences are just as varied, and everyone's got their own particular weapon and style in combat. The animation is polished enough to make these ambitious visuals work, while the character designs—with their instantly cosplayable outfits—are eye candy galore. But what use is looking pretty if it's a jumbled mess inside?

Karneval is available streaming from Funimation.


Arata: The Legend

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Everything in Arata: The Legend happens exactly as one might expect, and that's not a good thing. On one side of the story we have Arata Hinohara, a schoolboy who's down on life after being constantly bullied and having just been betrayed by his only friend. Meanwhile, in the alternate world of Amawakuni, another Arata is preparing himself a royal succession ritual about to go horribly wrong. In Arata's clan, only women are allowed to rule, but they haven't had any daughters for ages, so he disguises himself as a girl and steps forward ... only to see the royal guardians turn against the reigning princess, assassinate her, and send Arata fleeing in panic.

Arata runs into a mysterious forest, wanting to escape the world, while Arata Hinohara has a similar wish—and both of them get it when their bodies magically cross dimensions. So now Hinohara is a modern-day kid trapped in a hostile medieval world, just like a whole lot of other fantasy series. Towards the end of the episode, he even picks up a rusty old magic sword and magically activates its powers, thus employing the most overused plot device in the genre. Now, they say that storytellers don't always have to reinvent the wheel, and it's okay to do something familiar and do it well—but this is really pushing it. Between the royal politics and drama, the world-switching magic, and the ordinary boy suddenly taking on a quest of destiny, there doesn't seem to be a single original idea in this story.

There is some originality to the artwork, though. The elaborate outfits—sort of historical, sort of fantastical—give many of the characters in Amawakuni a memorable appearance. The backgrounds, large in scale yet intricate in detail, also provide a beautiful setting for the series. However, these stunning designs often go to waste because of flat color schemes and average-quality animation. Arata: The Legend wants to be a grand adventure, and has some of the right elements, but the overall result is too bland.

Arata: The Legend is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Hayate the Combat Butler! Cuties

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
After the reasonable success of Can't Take My Eyes Off You, Hayate the Combat Butler gets another run this season—but stumbles out of the gate with the first episode of Cuties. Once again we meet long-suffering high-schooler/butler Hayate Ayasaki, his temperamental mistress Nagi Sanzenin, level-headed maid Maria, and the numerous girls who all have some kind of connection to Hayate. Unlike previous series set in the Sanzenin mansion, this one begins in a Japanese-style boarding house, with Hayate and friends all under one roof and an adorable little newcomer among them. However, the reasons for this circumstance are never fully explained (maybe later?), leaving an awkward plot gap. This might be forgivable if there was enough comedy to make up for it—but instead the episode's first half trudges through several dull domestic-life scenes, where Hayate helps everyone out while studying for exams on the side.

It takes a contagious disease for things to get interesting—a cold virus rips through the house, all the girls get sick, and after Hayate tends to them, he gets the bug as well. In this weakened condition, Hayate tries to make it to school, but everywhere he goes, it seems someone is in need of help. Each dilemma gets more ridiculous than the last, and when Hayate finally sits for the exam, even his teacher seems bent on annoying him to death. This is the Hayate fans know and love: slapstick incidents piling on top of each other, inviting both laughter and sympathy for the poor guy. But it comes a little too late to make up for the lackluster start.

Once again, mediocre animation sets the standard: the characters move in big, over-the-top gestures (because they can't handle subtlety), the art style looks boring and flat because of its simplicity, and even with the brightly-colored hairstyles, it can be hard to tell people apart. Hayate has always been more about jokes and crazy situations than eye candy, but when the content itself seems iffy, is it still worth it?
 
Hayate the Combat Butler! Cuties is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Flowers of Evil

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
The first thing anyone will notice about Flowers of Evil is how different it looks.  It's not everyday you see an anime that uses rotoscoping, where the movements of live actors are "traced" to create 2-D animation. Although not necessarily a beautiful style, it does give the show an eerie, Uncanny Valley feeling: the people are real, but their movements—because of the simplification into 2-D—are clearly not. Still, that eeriness works perfectly for a series that's all about the dark side of youth.

Shy, introspective Takao Kasuga is a typical student who walks to school every morning, chats with his friends, and does so-so on tests. He's also attracted to class beauty Nanako Saeki, but can barely muster the courage to talk to her, so instead he finds his outlet through reading high literature like Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil. For that reason, Kasuga thinks he's above his uncultured peers, and won't even let them speak ill of his beloved muse Saeki. But one afternoon, while retrieving his book from an unattended classroom, Kasuga spots Saeki's gym uniform on the floor—and maybe his own uncultured side has begun to awaken ...

It may sound like a typical school story, but the uneasy atmosphere sets it apart from anything else this season. Flowers of Evil stands out because of the way it shrinks into a corner: the slow, almost timid pacing; the students' utterly mundane behavior; even the quiet, minimalist soundtrack (the long silences in this episode leave an even stronger impression than the mournful piano fragments). However, it's so busy setting the mood that it almost forgets to tell us anything about the characters in the story. Aside from Kasuga's interest in books and Saeki, and a brief introduction to dangerous class slacker Nakamura, we don't learn much about anyone else. The episode even seems to indulge more in its realistically drawn townscapes and passing scenes of school life, rather than actually telling a story. But if a shoegazing, outsider-type anime seems like a welcome break from all the copycat school romps, then come join in the crowd.

Flowers of Evil is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Oreimo Season 2

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
Who's more excited right now: Oreimo fans looking forward to the series' second season, or main character Kirino Kousaka waiting for new episodes of Stardust Witch Meruru? Either way, it's a celebration of true anime geekery ... although in this episode, the celebration doesn't start until two-thirds of the way through. Oreimo makes quick work of recapping the series' premise: older brother Kyousuke Kousaka has an odd relationship with his little sister Kirino, who is attractive and popular but hides a burning obsession with moe anime and "little sister" dating games. The new storyline begins with Kirino having just returned from a study-abroad trip cut short, while Kyousuke is now having a kinda-sorta romance with Kirino's moody rival Kuroneko. However, the episode's emphasis on home and school life—set to a sparse, laid-back soundtrack—runs the danger of boring viewers to death before the fun can even start.

The episode finally starts firing on all cylinders in the last several minutes, where Kirino gets to do the one thing she wanted to do most after returning to Japan: visit Akihabara. Kirino launches into a fandom-fueled frenzy, checking out the preview for Meruru's new season (a finely executed parody of the magical girl style) and buying all the goods she'd missed while abroad. Her lively gestures and expressions say it all: the animation may have been lackluster through the early scenes, but that's because they were saving up for when the main character is finally in her element. Watch the backgrounds and crowds, too—the overall artwork is decent when the characters are going about their daily lives, but there's that extra surge of detail when it comes to showing off the otaku capital of the world.

A palette of warm, bright colors also adds to the series' visual appeal, so even if the story is a little slow to start out, at least it's pleasant to watch. No matter where Kirino's obsessions take her, one thing's for sure: if you've fallen in love with Oreimo's characters before, it's time to fall in love with them all over again.

Oreimo Season 2 is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Date A Live

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Date A Live dares to poke fun at the dating-sim genre, and while it doesn't quite reach The World God Only Knows levels of brilliance, it does a clever job of hiding its true intentions in Episode 1. The story begins with high schooler Shido Itsuka being woken up by his little sister, which sounds like the beginning of every school-themed anime ever, and so it goes for several minutes. Shido fixes breakfast, goes to school, and briefly takes note of the prettiest (but most mysterious) girl in class. Along the way, we also learn that Shido lives in a world where "spacequakes"—spatial disruptions that break up all matter in their path—are a common occurrence.

Next, the episode tries to integrate action-adventure with its slice-of-life theme, albeit clumsily. A spacequake strikes and Shido runs into town to save his sister, but gets caught in the blast. After the smoke clears, a young woman in futuristic battle gear appears, and a challenger steps up to face her ... a challenger who just happens to be Shido's gorgeous classmate. Now here comes the punchline (and major spoilers): the spacequakes are the result of hostile "Spirits" invading Earth, and Shido's own sister is part of the scheme to stop them! However, if they can't win by brute force, there's one other option: Shido must go on dates with these invaders and win them over with love.

Just like a dating sim, only with ridiculous sci-fi implications.

Still, those implications save Date A Live from being relegated to the cliché pile. It runs with a well-known formula, then twists it right at the end—and who knows what'll happen next? The animation comes out bold and dynamic during the spacequake scene, so it looks like there's enough creative effort here to make the high concept work. The character designs aren't anything particularly unique, but the fancy space-age outfits revealed in the episode's latter half make up for that. It'll be tricky balancing the style of a light-romance anime and a futuristic quest to save the world, but this series might just pull it off.


The Devil is a Part-Timer!

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:
Ever notice how, when a fantasy or supernatural character enters the real world, they can always speak the local language? And they somehow figure out the ups and downs of modern life despite only having lived in a feudal society? And they always take their supernatural drama with them, imposing their will upon normal folks?

The Devil is a Part-Timer! has noticed that too, and it brilliantly skewers everything about this familiar trope. Satan (yes, THAT Satan) and his minion, Alciel, are demon lords caught up in an epic batte ... until they escape the fight through a dimensional rift. Conveniently enough, they end up in modern-day Japan, where they immediately get in trouble with the police because they can't speak English and are dressed really weird. To make matters worse, their magic powers have dramatically weakened, because Earthlings don't really believe in silly things like magic.

The show really starts to pour on the comedy when Satan and Alciel (now "Sadao" and "Ashiya") have to navigate the basics of everyday life, like proof of residence, bank accounts, and renting an apartment. It's simply hilarious seeing how much of a disconnect there is between their fantastical existence and the life they're trying to adapt to. Then comes the kicker: Sadao gets himself a part-time fast food job, because even a Demon Lord has to support himself financially these days. Yes, the sight of Satan trying to make the perfect batch of French fries is exactly as silly as it sounds. The show's laid-back, deadpan approach lets the ridiculousness speak for itself, resulting in legitimate laugh-out-loud humor.

Aside from the fantasy sequences at the beginning, there aren't many opportunities for showy visuals, but this series finds other ways to stand out. The detailed background art captures the realistic side of the slice-of-life genre, while adding to the strange contrast of a fantasy character trying to live in this world. These mundane, everyday-life scenes may not win any animation awards, but the concept itself will win plenty of laughs.

The Devil is a Part-Timer! is available streaming from Funimation.


Photokano

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Kazuya Maeda has been sucked into a trend that's sweeping across the world. No, he isn't a social media addict, but he's inherited a DSLR camera from his dad, meaning that Kazuya is now "taking up photography" like seemingly every gadget-loving male these days. Unfortunately, Photokano only uses this idea to springboard straight into predictable dating-sim material. When Kazuya returns to school after summer vacation, he takes his camera along, presumably to practice taking photos—but it's also the perfect conversation starter whenever he meets a girl. This is literally what happens for the pilot episode's first half: Kazuya talks to longtime friend Haruka in the morning, visits with rhythmic gymnastics ace Mai while passing by the gym, and has a lively chat with tomboyish Nonoka during her softball practice. Just one converation set-piece after another.

Fresh developments don't come until the second half, where Kazuya is invited to the school's Photography Club—then realizes that the president is kind of a creep, and the members are only interested in the kind of photography that objectifies young women. Right next door, however, is the more upstanding, female-dominated Photo Club (the distinction is clearer in Japanese, where the creepers are the shashin-bu and the goody-goodys are the foto-bu). So opens another dimension of Kazuya's life: not only will he meet (and presumably photograph) every cute girl in the school, but he must navigate the rivalry between two photography clubs. An interesting angle, but unfortunately, not the main angle.

Despite the less-than-amazing story concept, the series is still blessed with high-quality visuals, thanks to a rich color palette and varied camera angles. Photokano may be thick with dialogue scenes, but at least we never have to look at them from a boring, straight-on view. Occasional bursts of action also suggest that the animation can step it up when needed. A dreamy, almost lounge-jazz soundtrack complements this idyllic portrayal of school life—a portrayal that some may enjoy for its hobby-related content, even as it falls into the usual dating-sim clichés.


Yahari Ore no Seishun Love-Come wa Machigatteiru

Rating: 2 (of 5)

Review:
"As expected, the love comedy of my youth is wrong." Quite the sarcastic title for a sarcastic series (which mercifully abbreviates to Oregairu). For a few minutes, it seems it could actually live up to that promise of pessimistic wit: Episode 1 opens with a monologue on the evils of "youth" and rose-colored high school days, as narrated by protagonist Hachiman Hikigaya. But is he just going to talk himself into philosophical circles for the entire series?

Thankfully, that's where other characters come in. Hikigaya's hate-the-world speech is part of an essay assignment, but since he annoyed his teacher by giving a "wrong answer," he's forced into an after-school club to improve his social skills. The club consists of just one member, though: Yukino Yukinoshita, a high-strung girl whose exceptional looks and intellect have also isolated her from her peers. Through a series of piercing conversations, we learn that Hikigaya has given up on making friends because he was once embarrassingly turned down by a girl (typical beta-male response right there). Yukino, meanwhile, explains that Hikigaya is now in the Service Club, whose purpose is to help other students with personal problems—a plot device that, unfortunately, has already popped up in several other series. Despite their personality defects, Hikigaya and Yukino end up helping the bubbly, cooking-impaired Yui, who learns that trying your best is useless if you keep excusing your own failures.

Although the first episode offers some deep thoughts on the trials of growing up, it's extremely dialogue-driven—as if the text were lifted straight from the light novel, with no effort to create interesting visuals. The bland school setting does little to help, and the character designs are distinctive only for their sharp, angular lines. Animation quality is passable, but with practically every scene being students just standing and talking to each other, it's not like they have to try very hard. This series tries to run with a counter-cultural "school is a lie and we're just trying to cope" concept, but fails to produce any must-see material out of it.


Majestic Prince

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
There's something cutely retro—even innocent—about Majestic Prince, which tells the tale of five young robot pilots who beat impossible odds and go on adventures of world-saving proportions. The main characters, known collectively as "Team Rabbits", are the quintessential underdogs: they have the worst scores at the spaceflight training academy, they would probably be first to die on a real mission, but they just try so damn hard and have such goofy, down-to-earth personalities that you can't help but root for them. Episode 1 has no trouble establishing the futuristic setting—we learn that the human world of Undina is under attack by scaly, harsh-talking aliens—but it gets corny and self-conscious when trying to introduce the protagonists. There's the obligatory lovesick girl, a geek who knows way too much about military technology, an upstanding leader who just wants to be the hero, and so on. The problem with going retro is having to wade through stuff like this, which shows little creative effort because it's all been done before.

Not to worry, though: the action picks up once Team Rabbits is sent to Undina for their first mission! But why send out the worst squad in the academy? Because they'll make convenient cannon fodder, holding off the enemy while the "real" military forces evacuate the planet. Just like in any underdog story, though, the kids pull through with a little firepower and a lot of pluck (even daring to defy their superiors), thus following a script that's been recycled ever since David beat Goliath. It's inspiring and entertaining, but again, not too original.

From a visual standpoint, the mecha launch sequences and space battles (often set to peppy, brassy fighting music) are the series' big draw, with CGI details blending seamlessly into the animation. Character designs are a bit more iffy, being a matter of taste—the simple construction and almost gag-cartoony faces hew to the style of an older era, although the crisp production values are decidedly modern. Majestic Prince doesn't break any new ground, but it does a decent job of revisiting familiar territory.

Majestic Prince is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Red Data Girl

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Red Data Girl is the kind of show that makes aspiring artists snap their pencils and styluses in frustration, because how can anyone possibly compete with what P.A. Works does? The renowned studio produces another visual gem here, with lush countryside backgrounds and sunlight-shadow interplay ready to wow the eyes of fans. Precise, delicate character designs and a smooth sense of motion also leave a strong impression. In the quest for beautiful animation, this one hits pretty close to ideal—from grand, dreamlike water effects to little details like a shrug of the shoulders.

The story takes a while to get going, with this episode merely planting the seeds of future conflict. Main character Izumiko is a shy, ordinary girl who wants to remake herself before she transfers to high school ... but she's only brave enough to trim some of her forelocks, and even then, she gets bullied about it. The first episode also drops in some supernatural elements, with Izumiko blowing out the power in the school computer lab without touching a thing. In any other series, this eventually leads to the main character battling the monster of the week, but this show takes the quiet way out and lets it linger as a curiosity for later.

More whirlwind events take place when Izumiko's legal guardian comes flying in on a helicopter to work out the details of where Izumiko will attend high school. Her family wants her at a brand-name academy in Tokyo; she would rather stay with her local community; amidst all this, an ornery boy named Miyuki has been assigned as Izumiko's "manservant." Clearly there's some kind of arcane family tradition here, with Izumiko at its center, and discovering how that tradition works is part of the intrigue. Meanwhile, the Miyuki-Izumiko relationship also looks promising, as sparks of disagreement soon fly—but only in the last few minutes.

It's gorgeous to look at, but can this slice-of-life drama with a hint of mystery succeed? As long as it avoids predictable gimmicks and sticks with building up the characters, Red Data Girl could be something special.


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