The Summer 2013 Anime Preview Guide Zac Bertschy
Rating: 3 moos out of 5 (that's a triple moo score) (moo moo moo)
Hachiken is attending agricultural school, and he stands out from his ragtag farmin' school chums for a variety of reasons. One, he doesn't come from a farming background - or at least, not that we know of. He went to a fancy prep school and made it in to this one based on his test scores rather than being recommended by another farmer, like seemingly everyone else. He's dramatically more confident in his ability to test well than his skills around the farm, and he's skeeved out and sometimes shocked by the indignities and tough manual labor of farm life. But hey, he's getting used to it.
That's pretty much it for Silver Spoon, a slow-moving, pleasant but not particularly thrilling life-on-the-farm tale from the author of Fullmetal Alchemist. It's deliberately paced to a fault, and we spend long moments contemplating still shots and watching Hachiken slowly react to things. Most of the (extremely gentle) comedy comes from Hachiken overreacting to farm stuff, like how eggs come from a chicken's butt and that's gross (actually I think that bit accounts for something like 70% of the humor in this episode). The show has a weird soothing quality to it, but after about 15 minutes I found my attention drifting. If you're completely unfamiliar with farm life, Silver Spoon may amuse you more than most, but if you're even remotely down with how things go in a setting that includes a barn, you're probably going to think "well, this is nice" and then promptly forget about it. It's cute and low-key, but that's about it.
Silver Spoon is available mooing at Crunchyroll.
Stella Women's Academy, High School Division Class C3
Rating for people like me: 0
Yura Yamoto is a fresh transplant to the opulent Stella Women's Academy. Upon arriving she finds a lovingly-drawn gun under her pillow, and her roommate's closet is full of highly detailed airsoft gear (meaning down-to-the-detail handguns and assault rifles that fire pellets instead of bullets). Turns out she's being indoctrinated into the C3 club, a pack of cutesy anime girls obsessed with GUNS GUNS GUNS who play airsoft military games (in this case "Rambo" where one girl has a machine gun and everyone else has handguns) when they're not drinking tea, eating cake, and insinuating yuri overtones. The episode ends with a new character in a firing rage peeling off real shots at a paper target.
So, here's the thing with this show. Judging it purely on narrative, it's just another boring-ass "unremarkable girl gets sucked into new club and meets eclectic cast of focus-tested, otaku-approved misfit archetypes who all grow together" thing set in a girl's academy. None of these characters are interesting, everything in here in terms of story has been done a zillion times, and more interestingly elsewhere. Generally it's just a lift of K-ON!, storywise. So there's that. If you want cute girls in a high school club doing shit, I suppose you could do worse, but that's all this is.
But the elephant in the room here is that this is a gun fetish thing about little girls with massive assault rifles, handguns, and more. If it weren't a gun fetish show, I'd probably give it a yawn and a pass. If it were chess club, baseball club, archery club, meth club, whatever - but this is straight-up little girls lovingly caressing handguns and assault rifles and shooting eachother - albeit with pellets - and it's just too goddamn much given gun culture as it is now. I found the imagery of a team of smirking, smug teenagers holding up handguns tasteless at best. There's a scene where they have maps of the campus and they're planning out how to assault eachother. It made me want to turn the show off. All I could do was hope that at some point there's a storyline where one of the girls takes home a super-realistic airsoft pistol, leaves the safety off and her little sister finds it and accidentally shoots herself in the head with it. At least that would be a responsible portrayal of what happens when you allow teenagers and children to get obsessed with and fetishize guns to this extent.
It's handsomely produced, for the most part, even if it is uninteresting aesthetically - the animation is very nicely done for a show chock full of totally dull character designs and generic backgrounds. But none of that mattered to me.
Not everyone is as disgusted by gun culture as I am and if you're looking for K-ON! with assault rifles, this is it. But I couldn't stand it, and the closing credits - featuring children's crayon drawings of guns and girls assaulting eachother with guns - was enough to send me over the edge into outright disgust. As an American, someone who is terrified by our gun culture, I wasn't going to just handwave this sort of thing away with the usual cultural relativity excuses.
I say all this not to suggest that my opinion is the best or the right one, but to warn those who may feel the same way I do about gun culture and gun fetishism to stay the fuck away from this. Everyone else, enjoy, or don't.
Stella Women's Academy is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Tomoko Kuroki has the same problem a lot of otaku seem to have - absolutely crushing social anxiety that results in her spending her entire life trapped inside her own head, simultaneously loathing everyone around her for their ability to have normal human interaction with others but craving it so strongly she hates herself for being unable to achieve it. Every social interaction for her is a nightmarish chore, a win-or-die scenario where even the slightest bit of conversation is a victory. She wants boys to talk to her, or notice how cute she is, but she revels in fantasies about how stupid and pointless their karaoke sessions are with the girls after school, assuming they're all fucking eachother behind closed doors after singing the same stupid songs over and over again. Fuck those stupid shitheads and their pointless lives, but I want them to want me. Her weary, mean-spirited brother isn't much of a help, either, rejecting her desire to practice talking to people by having a conversation with him every day, although her self-obsessed version of "conversation" involves her relentlessly asking him exactly which kind of 'cute' she is on an exhaustive scale. A teacher says "goodbye" to her after school and it triggers euphoria, sending her out to the Book-On and eventually WcDonalds, which turns into another nightmarish labyrinth of social interaction, being so insecure in her looks she has to obsessively plan exactly how she's going to breeze past some other kids.
So this is WATAMOTE! or My Little Social Anxiety Disorder Can't Be This Crippling, and it gets a whole hell of a lot of things right, even if "entertaining" isn't really one of them. This show is deeply personal and I have a very strong feeling that any one person's enjoyment of it will depend almost entirely on how much they can or can't relate to Kuroki. In my case, I've never personally had this level of social anxiety, but I've had a small mountain of friends who were exactly like this, and it gets the "imprisoned inside your own brutally insecure, completely self-absorbed head" thing right down to the letter. Having spent years listening to friends tell me about these insecurities and fears and almost violent hatred of the teeming, smiling masses in the world that seem to only smash their insecurities in their faces over and over again (leading to the "I hate you but I want you to need me" thing that this show trades in almost entirely), Kuroki's situation is one I am intimately familiar with even though I've never experienced it myself. Which means that while I get this show, and I get Kuroki; it's all painfully familiar to me. For now, however, there is no other hook yet, and all we're doing is spending 19 minutes suffocating inside this girl's head, which is mostly just frustrating and depressing. I've spent enough hours of my life listening to people like this talk about what it's like to be like this; I'd never take a single one of them back, but I don't need to watch a cartoon girl talk about it.
Artistically the series is pretty ugly - Kuroki herself has a perfectly fine "cute little anime girl who's let herself waste away due to a total lack of regard for her own health" look going on, but the art direction is pretty clunky; big trapezoidal boxes of light are hanging around in every scene, and the contrast is all blown out and fuzzy, making everything look pretty dour and ugly. I suppose that was the point, but since we're already spending the entire episode drowning in Kuroki's ennui, it's all a little much.
Watch this show and see how you react to it. I don't think I've ever seen a show that has as subjective and as deeply personal an appeal as this one does, which is a testament to how absolutely nail-on-head the portrayal of crushing social anxiety is.
WATAMOTE! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Stop me if you've heard this one: it's a prestigious girls' academy inhabited by a small cadre of principal cast members, each with one particular character trait and a unique hairstyle. The two leads are "Wild" Riko, the school's athletic, ill-tempered tomboy, and princess-like Maki, she of the soft-spoken sort. Riko walks in on Maki practicing her mackin' on a hug pillow, and this leads to a series of 4-panel gags where she tries to practice her first encounter with a boy with Riko. Neither of them really knows what they're doing with boys, but hey, they don't swing that way anyway. So these two are falling in love, which is the likely selling point of this show. There are some other cast members according to the opening theme, but I'm not sure you're meant to care about anyone other than these two and their blossoming romance.
So this is 4-panel yuri-flavored cute girls doing cute things with a little more energy and narrative momentum than that might apply. There are a couple funny gags, and I laughed a few times, but the production design is so generic my eyes glazed over, and I started wondering just how many shows exactly like this can get made before people start getting tired of the formula. It isn't just in the writing, either - 4-panel cute girl shows have been around for over a decade now and they're likely not going anywhere - but everything about the production just screams cut 'n paste. The character designs, the color palette, the cheapo synthy music, the school backgrounds that could've come from anywhere - it's the least interesting thing in the world to look at for an anime fan who's seen more than a few things. The show itself is inoffensive, occasionally chuckle-worthy sameness and nothing more than that.
il sole penetra le illusioni ~ Day Break Illusion
Rating: heavy, ragged sigh
Akari, plucky young girl with noodle limbs and hair the color of a safety cone, has a scarily accurate tarot technique that she practices while living in a fortune teller's house with her aunt, her uncle, and her cousin. Akari's tarot deck was handed down by her dead mother, and there's something off about it, as strange things start to happen. A plant monster that appears in her room and wait wait what's going on here?!
CRAAAWWWLLIINNNNNGGG INNNNNN MY SKIIIINNNNNNNN
NEARLY RAPES HER CRAMMING ITS VINES DOWN HER CLOTHING WHILE DROOL AND TEARS DRIP DOWN HER FACE OH THIS IS SO EDGY
THESE WOOOUNNNDDDSS THEY WILLLL NOT HEEEAAAAAALLLLL
AND TOTALLY KILLS HER COUSIN WHO LIES THERE IN A POOL OF BLOOD WITH HER EYES WIDE OPEN AND DROOL AND BLOOD EVERYWHERE OH MY GOD IT'S SO DARK ALL OF A SUDDEN IS THIS SHOW REALLY FOR ADULTS?!?!
Then a bunch of other tarot girls in totally ridiculous costumes show up talking about how "the wheel of fortune is moving" and how ominous and serious all of this is. Flaming tarot beasts start appearing and Akari transforms into a magical girl but it's not so "magical" you guys, this ain't no Sailor Moon, it's TOTALLY DARK AND EDGY AND BLOWING YOUR MIND!!
Okay so Day Break Illusion is perhaps the first truly awful Madoka Magica knockoff, the inevitable badly-written me-too that comes on the heels of something mega-popular. Evangelion had a number of these, and I think we all expected something as shitty as Day Break Illusion to come along much sooner. You can smell the tryhard from frame one; the second the hideously overdesigned characters start popping up on screen, like some kind of unclean mashup between Cyberteam in Akihabara, Tweeny Witches and Soul Eater it's pretty clear the production team was in over its head. The opening goddamn credits feature Akari naked in the fetal position IN AN UPSIDE-DOWN HOURGLASS FILLING WITH BLLLLOOOOOOOOODDDDDDDDD!!
There's nothing about this show that seems redeemable; the story feels like "I'm 13 years old and just watched Madoka Magica, here's my totally original idea for an anime", to the point where they start throwing in the totally-dark-oh-my-god-can-you-believe-how-dark plot twists in before they even try to make us care about the main character, setting up zero emotional stakes for the audience. This might've worked in the same way kicking a puppy works as a cheap way to wring an emotional response from your audience, but the character designs are so ugly that you wind up hoping all this emotional trauma winds up knocking that stupid-looking orange crab claw thing off the top of Akari's head.
This might be worth sitting through just to see how bad it gets and how far over-the-top the "LOOK AT US WE'RE SO DARK" nonsense goes, but right now it's in the running for "worst thing I've seen this year".
Day Break Illusion is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Staz is a vampire otaku and Yakuza-like territory boss living in the demon world who has his thugs bring him whatever nerd crap they can from the human world, which at this point is just junky old 8-bit NES games and old manga. He gets a call one day that his thugs have something really special… a human girl. Staz has them bring the girl to him thanks to a series of long-held fantasies about human women, but once she shows up, all he can do is ask her about video games. This is all well and good until his vampire instincts kick in and he realizes how badly he wants to suck her blood, but he denies those urges and instead turns it into the moe feeling of protection, which means he's going to save her at any cost and never give in to his animal desires.
Naturally the girl gets eaten by a plant monster and turned into a ghost, and now he's no longer interested, even if he is kind of stuck with her. Turns out, however, that his new ghost pal might be able to get him into the human world, where he can finally score the best nerd stuff.
Blood Lad isn't anything particularly special – it's cheaply animated but covers that up with just enough visual panache to ignore it. Most of the jokes are super-standard “jokes about otaku aimed at otaku” thing, and the story isn't anything special, but I really did appreciate the (gentle but still a little biting) satire of moe culture. Staz's original reaction to the human girl is to suck her blood, but he denies that, admitting he's lying about his desire to protect her, and once she's suddenly impure, he's kind of a dick to her and ignores her. Not very subtle, but funny anyway.
As far as comedies go, you could do a lot worse than Blood Lad. It introduces just enough story elements to keep things mildly interesting for a while in this first episode. It's a shrug, but the generally positive kind of shrug, the sort you associate with shows you like and keep watching but maybe don't love.
Blood Lad is available streaming at VizAnime.com
Makai Ouji: Devils and Realist
Blonde-haired aristocrat William Twining has it all: rich family, top in his class, destined for greatness, and also doesn't believe in God. That all changes when it turns out his tuition isn't being paid and it's time to pay a visit to the family, who, of course, turn out to be broke thanks to the uncle mismanaging the finances. William flips out, and starts rooting through the drawers for something that might be worth money, and winds up in the spooky old basement where there's an Occult Circle on the floor that summons Dantalion, Grand Duke of the 36 Armies of Hell, who's here to be "elected" by William, who turns out to be the heir of Solomon, who... oh fuck this.
So this is an intensely cheap-looking, badly-animated soaking-in-uninteresting-lore-and-exposition garbage dramedy. It's called Devils and Realist because the relationship between William and Dantalian is supposed to be funny and interesting due to William's refusal to believe in God/the occult/whatever. Eventually he winds up in traveling through that portal in his basement to Dantalian's domain, where he oh-so-hilariously handwaves away all the occultish magic stuff with his unwavering skepticism. That's going to be the joke for the entire series, so get used to it. Dantalian meanwhile sneaks around the Twining estate with his two wacky bat sidekicks and gets into slapstick antics. Eventually a witch demon guy shows up laying claim to William and there's another giant dump of uninteresting exposition, but by then I'd checked out completely. The entire thing feels like someone stuffed a bunch of Black Butler and Pandora Hearts down their throat and then deposited the result on your lawn. It isn't offensively bad, just unfunny and dull. Skip.
Makai Ouji is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4-pack, halfway to a 6, gotta do more crunches this summer
Nanase is an odd young man with a shredded-up swimmer's body who knows water in the biblical sense, and can't wait to jump back in the pool (take it, you pool, take it like a good pool) once summer rolls around. He chills with the rest of his former swim club bros who used to go down together (in the water and also in a K2-sized mountain of doujinshi coming soon to a Comiket near you); there's mild-mannered Makoto and super-genki Nagisa, both of which lament the high school's lack of a decent pool or a swim club. So they roll on up to their old abandoned swim crib, only to run into estranged swim bro Rin, who left for Australia before he could become the One True OTP with Nanase. Now he's a aggressively competitive walking hard-on who challenges Nanase to a swimming competition right there, ripping his clothes off to reveal the swim trunks beneath, even though there's no water in the pool (and tosses aside the glass dildo trophy they were given for being elementary school swim champs as though he didn't care about it anymore or had purchased a new one from AdamandEve.com). Turns out Rin attends a school with a top-notch competitive swim club, and the boys head over there to challenge him, promising the clothes-rippingest, butt-slappingist, skinny-dippingest, most AB-normal swim competition ever put to film.
So this is Swimming Anime, or Free!, and it's two things: one, really well-animated (as is to be expected by KyoAni) and two, hilariously brazen and pretty fun to watch. The fanservice in it is as over-the-top as you could really expect without just directly hovering over speedo-clad packages (although that does happen a couple times) and if you have a sense of humor about this sort of thing, it'll make you laugh (and probably get you going if you're so inclined). The story ain't much; friendship turns to rivalry is nothing new, but the pacing is pretty quick, and the characters are kinda fun even if they're fairly cardboard at this stage. It's just a fun, silly, really hilariously sex-drenched piece of fujoshi bait with great animation.
So why do I give this a 4 when I'd probably give something with really similar fanservice for dudes something like a 1.5 or some stupid joke grade? Easy: the fanservice in here makes me laugh because it's goofy, campy and on-the-nose. It is a riotous pile of gay innuendo that doesn't even try to hide what it is or take itself seriously. The camera ogles these boys in the exact same way the camera hovers over some tied up waifu-chan with huge tits begging the hero not to rape her ("i mean he does but it's totally not his fault you guys because he's possessed by an evil wizard or something so it's not really rape you see") but this is camp, the same as a legion of gay camp that has come before, and there's nothing in it that even comes close to suggesting subordinance, assault, or victimization, which is an unfortunate component of a lot of male-targeted fanservice shows. There's nothing in here but gleeful, craven, shallow slobbering over shredded dudes that can't wait to rip their clothes off and splash eachother with water, which is a massive difference from "she doesn't really want it but then she does" or "this girl is so strong but she needs me to save her from the rape demons and then wants to bone me".
If we're all going to be such perverts, I'll take the consensual, sex-positive former over the nasty latter. So that's that.
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