Winter 2013: Bamboo DongJan 5th 2013
Bamboo Dong is the managing editor of Anime News Network, and writes the columns Shelf Life and The Stream. Right now, her Denver Broncos are tied for the best win-loss record in the NFL. She also loves animals.
Two minutes into this show, I wanted to scream at my computer until no more air was in my lungs. This series feels so much like playing an obnoxious game that you can practically see the dialogue bubbles coming out of the cutesy avatar guide fairy-ogre-thing's mouth. I haven't played the visual novel that Amnesia is adapted from, but I bet it goes something like this:
“Hi! I'll be your annoying fairy-ogre guide! Oh no, it looks like you've lost your memories! Talk to all the boys in town and see if they have anything to say. >>
“Look! A boy! Talk to him and see if he has anything to say. Uh oh! He wants you to make a parfait! Hmmmmmmmmmmmmmmmm. >>”
Because that is what every single line of dialogue in this entire episode is like. It's expository to the point where I want to shake the fairy-ogre and tell him, “Stop telling me what to do!” There is actually a scene where the heroine waits for someone else to mention a new character's name, and the fairy-ogre says, “Oh! Ikki! So that's his name!” Amnesia is one of those visual novels/anime that's aimed at ladies who want to ogle hunky dudes for a few hours. The main character is usually pretty bland, so you can easily self-insert yourself into the fantasy and imagine that a bunch of long-haired dudes with pouty lips are dying to serve you tea in bed. Luckily for Amnesia, this “bland heroine” thing is made even easier because the heroine has amnesia, so she is basically a blank slate for all your wish fulfillment fantasies!
Heroine wakes up one day to discover that she has collapsed at work. She works at a maid cafe where the only requirement is to have terrible ombré hair and an ugly uniform—if you're a girl, this means a tacky black and red maid outfit; if you're a dude, you have to dress like you're a former member of an early 2000s J-Rock group with a name like DREAMerz or Hea7enly de Pluie. She can't remember a damned thing (that's what amnesia is, see), but her helpful fairy-ogre avatar guide Orion tells her that she needs to interact with a bunch of people to try and get her memories back. But oh no! There's an EVIL MAN who lurks outside her apartment. You know he's a bad man because his eyes are squinty, and right before he was introduced, a moth was electrocuted by a street lamp. There are other horrors in store, too! There are Mean Girls who frequent the cafe whom she'll probably eventually have to confront (Press [Enter] to find out how!), and worse—she has to make a parfait! But she doesn't remember how! Shucks, that amnesia is so hard to deal with.
Stab me with a fork and let me die. The premise for Amnesia is so contrived that the fairy-ogre spends an entire scene trying to dig the series out of a hole. When Heroine asks why she can't just go to the hospital, he interjects, “Because it won't help! Whatever bullcrap mystery is ailing you isn't caused by your body or mind! You need to follow these annoying cues, and meet all these hot dudes, and only then will your mysterious amnesia be cured! Until then just carry on with your life, because this isn't totally ludicrous at all! Just don't try to make any parfaits!”
So, yeah, if you're really into generic hot dudes who wear black coats with a zillion buckles on them, then I guess Amnesia is the show for you! Otherwise, skip this train to Archetype Town and find something else to watch.
Amnesia is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman
Move over, Lupin! Your bearded doppelganger is roaming the streets of Bakamatsu-era Japan, and instead of stealing stuff, he retrieves lost and stolen items! Based on a pachinko game, the concept of which still eludes me to this day, Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman features original character designs by Monkey Punch, something that's instantly obvious to any and all Lupin III fans. The titular character is Roman, who by day is a “helper,” who helps clients retrieve missing items, be they kites from trees, or runaway chickens. At night, though, he and his cohorts are like Japanese Robin Hoods, busting into the treasuries of greedy government types and redistributing the wealth back to the citizens. Only they do it in a much flashier way—the first time we see their “lavish banquet,” it's a rocket packed full of coins that bursts over the skies of the town.
Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman is a ton of fun, and it really helps that Monkey Punch did the character designs. Even though it's not a Lupin show, it feels like one, with the goofy characters and the hapless-yet-sometimes-suave hero, and that goes a long way in establishing the mood of the series. Swathed in bright colors and outlandishly anachronistic getups (at some point, Roman dons some kind of winged robo suit), it's incredibly easy to get sucked into the action, and before you know it, you've got a big ol' grin plastered on your face. Bonus—the first episode is funny, too. One of the highlights is the gaijin doctor who has managed to bring to life a man made of dough. The face that the dough man makes when he's not allowed to eat Roman is priceless and had me laughing out loud.
Of course, it also helps that this show is just good-hearted at its core. Everyone loves stories about heroes that fight The Man and win, and I'm looking forward to having a morally uplifting show to watch every week. I had high expectations for this series, and I'm glad the first episode, at least, met my bar.
Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Da Capo III
Da Capo is the latest in a long line of visual novel adaptations where all the girls are generically adorable, have tiny mouths, and swinging breasts. Everything they say or do is accompanied by the gentle plucking of an acoustic guitar, or the soft swirl of a cherry blossom. Based on the most recent Da Capo game, it follows high school dude Kiyotaka Yoshino and half a dozen cute females who are all in the school newspaper club with him. They learn of a magical cherry blossom tree on their island that will grant any wish, and lo, when they go there and make their wishes, the tree—which hasn't bloomed in twenty years—suddenly sprouts flowers. They all get a mysterious text dated from a century back, and now they all want to figure out the secret behind this magical tree so they can write about it in the school paper.
Bizarrely, the people who worked on the Da Capo III thought it would be really cute if all the girls' hair ribbons bounced every time they talked, along with their breasts. Actually, that's not 100% true—this weird hair ribbon bouncing only happens during their newspaper club meeting, which almost makes it more weird, but the animators were absolutely obsessed with it. There is a stretch of many long moments that's just close-up shots of ponytails-with-hair ribbons bouncing. Red ribbon, bounce. Green ribbon, bounce. Blue ribbon, bounce. After the initial ribbon bouncing montage, they shook things up with a new formula. From then on out, every time one of the girls piped up with a newspaper club comment, the sequence would be like this: hair ribbon bounce, boob bounce, dialogue. Then someone else would say, “That's a great idea!” but first her hair ribbon would bounce, then her boobs. This bothers me excessively, because nowhere in my mind can I grasp a) why their hair bounced, or b) why this is the new Cute Thing.
So far, Da Capo III seems like pretty standard visual novel stuff. All of the girls are reasonably cute, although we haven't spent enough time with them yet to separate them based on any characteristic or personality trait other than hair color/bouncing hair ribbon. I'm sure we'll eventually learn what each and every single one of their wishes is, and I'm guessing a few of them might have to do with Kiyotaka. Admittedly, given the branching plot nature of visual novels like Da Capo III, the series has set itself up pretty well to be able to give decent screen time to each individual girl. I guess that saves everyone the trouble of having to play the game a dozen times for every ending. Now we can just focus on other things, like the girls sitting around talking about absolutely nothing while their hair ribbons bounce.
Da Capo III is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
For now, it seems as though Oreshura has all the trappings of a shonen romance… without any of the romance. And that's what makes it worth a second glance, I guess. The episode starts off awfully slow—we're introduced to high school student Eita, a quiet young man whose only priority in life is to study hard and get into med school on a scholarship. The only friend he really has is the Childhood Friend, a chipper girl who tells him that she'll become really popular over the summer, and eventually leave him in the dust. Obviously she likes him. But along comes Masuzu, the most popular girl in school. She was a model living overseas, but now that she's finally back, all of the guys in school have the burning hots for her. Everywhere she goes, eyeballs follow, whether it's the lustful doe-eyes of the boys, or the envious glares of the girls. She's just that pretty. Right.
Anyway, she hatches a brilliant plan. She's so tired of getting asked out at school that she asks Eita to be her fake boyfriend. They both think love is useless, and as an added incentive/tool for blackmail, she's also come into possession of his diary. It's a match made in heaven, and surely, nothing bad will happen when the Childhood Friend finds out.
Oreshura deserves points for at least trying to deviate from the typical shonen harem formula. After all, we may have seen most of the elements before—chipper childhood friend, run of the mill dude who is approached by the Hottest Girl at School—but at least the fake boyfriend thing is kind of cute. Color me a pessimist, though, because I'm not ready to dive into this series headfirst until it's got a few more episodes to its name. Aside from the fake boyfriend angle, I just didn't find Oreshura to be that captivating. The first ten minutes of the episode are agonizingly slow—we spend precious minutes just watching Eita and Childhood Friend go grocery shopping, just so she can display her cutesy quirk of really liking meat—and the generic marimba music that saturates the background makes me feel like I'm playing through a visual novel. Throw in some industry-standard Cute Character Designs, and Oreshura turns out to not really be that special. Except for the fake boyfriend thing. So I guess time will tell.
Oreshura is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Cuticle Detective Inaba
The joke behind Cuticle Detective Inaba is that everything is a joke. Everything is wacky and crazy and goofy and energetic and bizarre and whaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaat, the villain is a goat??? And unless this is one of the first times you've ever been exposed to Isn't It Wacky??? anime, you might find it more exhausting than funny.
The epicenter of this Hilarious Joke is that the main character is an ex-police dog werewolf named Inaba, who—wait—has a hair fetish. Not only can he identify people by putting their hair follicles in his mouth, but when he's all powered up, he can absorb the qualities of a hair color. Example: when he puts black hair in his mouth, everything around him sinks into a horrible, lifeless depression. Including the animation and writing staff!!! Haha!! Because Inaba's miasma of despair is so strong that even people outside of the anime feel it!! And just in case you're worried that the characters inside the anime don't realize that what they're doing is weird, the straight shooter character outright tells you things are weird! Because isn't it wacky?? There's a cop character, but this one time he was stuck in a trap door with a refrigerator on top, but he made it out! Haha! He's going after an international counterfeiter, but it's actually a goat! Who EATS MONEY! And the goat is n cahoots with a tsundere who knows she's a tsundere, and who shoots the goat in the head a bunch! Hahaha! And there's also this cute girl character, but she's not a girl! She's a cross-dresser!!! And she tries to get Inaba to wear dresses!!!!!!!!!!! ISN'T THIS WACKY???
No. It's not. It's exhausting. Shows like Cuticle Detective Inaba are run on pure sugar, and have nothing to offer except for the gallons of syrup and adrenaline that are being pumped through every pixel on the screen. The characters all have their crazy quirks, and everything is bizarre and surreal, and the very reason for their existence is to pull off a million non sequiturs a minute. When you're new to the anime game, and you're still dazzled by the idea that any medium could ever be this nuts, shows like this are a total candy binge. But once that wears off, and you realize that there's nothing under the sparklers and loud noises, shows like this become endlessly tiring.
Cuticle Detective Inaba is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Smart and engaging, Maoyu feels like a fresh take on the old Human Boy meets Demon Girl story, in large part because it establishes very early on that, you know, demons aren't so different from humans after all. They have all the same capacities for kindness and selfishness and political greed as humans, and in a very funny scene near the end of the episode—it turns out they don't have horns, either. Based on a light novel that was originally “serialized” on 2ch, Maoyu tells of a world where humans and demon have been locked in violent conflict for several years. Entire nations have been ravaged, countless lives have been lost, and now it's up to human Hero to confront the Demon King and stop things once and for all. When he finally gets there, though, he's in for a surprise. The evil Demon King he was expecting turns out to be a beautiful(ly big-breasted) girl, who's been looking forward to the opportunity to chat with him.
That's the part where Maoyu immediately had my attention. What follows is a conversation that's both interesting and sophisticated, calmly setting up reasons for Hero to alter his hatred for demons, and also to show it as largely a product of prejudice. So much of what he thought was demon-instigated evil was scapegoating—politicians claiming to be brainwashed by demons, for instance—and it's both funny and historically relevant that he naturally assumed all demons had horns. Interesting, also, was the dialogue they shared about war profiteering, and in fact there is plenty of social and political commentary to add extra depth to this show. In the end, the first episode does an efficient job of quickly steering Hero to the decision he makes at the end of the episode, which is to agree to join forces with Demon King and try to put an end to the conflicts. Typically, I'd argue that someone's ideologies can't be changed within twenty minutes, but with the limited time frame that most anime series have, and the deft way that Demon King countered all of Hero's arguments, I think Maoyu did a good job of setting up their alliance.
Maoyu isn't all serious, though—there's plenty of cheese and light-hearted moments. Demon King's supple breasts provide enough fan service to eke out laughs from that corner of the market, without being too distracting. It helps the series strike a good balance between fun and serious, and I'm looking forward to seeing what will happen in the episodes to come. If the tone of the series is anything like this first episode, then I think we'll be in for an engaging show.
Maoyu is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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