Winter 2013: Zac Bertschy
Haruka-chan is a psychic child - she can read everyone's mind. It starts out innocent enough - she can't lose at janken, she can predict what's for breakfast, etcetera. Things turn for the worst when it's revealed that Haruka is also an idiot with no filter who for some reason can't figure out that spilling all the secrets of your friends and loved ones directly to their faces in mixed company pisses them off and makes them hate you, so everyone starts to hate her. Doctors throw her out of examination rooms, her parents start cheating on eachother and drinking heavily, all the while not a single person manages to figure out the extremely obvious fact that Haruka is psychic. So her mother shoves her away, says she wishes she'd never given birth to her and abandons her to her grandfather. Kotoura feeds a helpless kitten, her only friend, who then gets sent to a shelter by some nasty old lady, because Kotoura's world is JUST THAT BLEAK.
Anyway, she transfers schools, and there she meets Manabe-kun, which is good because he's the first person to tell Kotoura-san to learn what a goddamn filter is. Manabe-kun is kind to Kotoura and jokes around with her, but it's tough to break through her icy exterior, frozen over due to years of nonstop meanness from literally everyone around her. Eventually he breaks through and the two become buddies, and Kotoura finally has a friend in this corrupt world. So she cries about it.
I have two big issues with the basic setup of Kotoura-san:
1. So you're telling me that at no point did Kotoura realize that just repeating the thoughts she's hearing in her head out loud is a bad thing? Is she terminally socially impaired in addition to being psychic? After her first, let's say 15 encounters where blurting out someone's private thoughts alienated her friends and family members, wouldn't she figure it out to not say that stuff out loud?
2. There's a sequence where her increasingly hateful and frustrated mother drags her from doctor to doctor and they're literally tossed out of hospitals, presumably because little Kotoura just can't stop repeating the secret thoughts of doctors. Not a single one of them figured 'oh, this girl has esp!'?! They literally all had the same stupid childish kneejerk reaction and booted a possible living wonder with paranormal powers out of their office because of some secret thought she spilled? Seriously?
The other thing getting in the way of this show is the absolutely ludicrous backstory. It starts out kind of cute, but then it becomes clear that it's mostly tragedy porn (the backstory, anyway - there's a whiplash tonal shift halfway through the episode), and once the mean old lady takes her stray kitten away it's hard not to just start laughing at how far over-the-top they're going with the 'THE WORLD IS A HORRIBLE PLACE AND EVERYONE IS AWFUL' stuff. Kotoura's life is total shit, but a montage of how literally everything about it is total shit feels clumsily executed.
BUT! In spite of all that, I did enjoy this episode, particularly after they introduce Manabe-kun, who's a genuinely likeable character and the interplay between him and Kotoura is funny and sometimes touching. It's a pretty well-written relationship, and that's enough to recommend checking this one out. According to the opening credits, Kotoura-san eventually joins some kind of ESP club with some other candy-colored girls who are doubtlessly also psychic. Let's see where this one goes.
Kotoura-san is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Love Live! School Idol Project
Otonokizaka High is closing down! The school is unremarkable in most ways and new students just aren't signing up! Oh no! What will its population of one-dimensional wide-eyed cutie pies in adorable school uniforms do? This is an anime so they form a pop band, of course! The show mostly follows excitable cutsie-poo airhead Kosaka Honoka, who's determined to figure out a way to keep her beloved academy's doors open. So she rips off another school's idea and launches an idol project, knowing full well that schools with choreographed dance routines and peppy songs about following your dreams as sung by underage moppets in Cirque du Soleil costumes attracts prospective students like nothin' else. There are a few roadblocks in her way but let's not pretend like any of that is actually going to stop her. All aboard the fun train!
So this is an almost shockingly simple, straightforward thing designed to deliver cute girls in a variety of outfits and singing highly marketable songs using the age-old "we've gotta put on a concert to save the orphanage!" plot (which at this point qualifies for social security). There's almost zero fanservice - in fact the show is almost downright wholesome, suitable for all ages, and the characters are all irony-free beacons of sincere earnestness. I mean, all of these characters will doubtlessly be violated in every horrific manner possible in the halls of the next Comiket, but the show itself doesn't seem to be insisting that you beat off to it during the episode's runtime, which is kind of refreshing.
Near the end of the episode - and I think this might be the first anime I've seen do this - in a moment of doubt, the characters burst into song, complete with lead-in dialogue, exactly like a Hollywood musical. I don't think I've ever seen it executed quite like that - typically "cute girls sing songs!" shows just cut to musical numbers in the middle of an episode, but this has a shot at being structured like an actual stage musical which kinda blows my mind a little. The production values aren't anything to sneeze at either - the show is beautifully animated, especially in closeup during dance numbers. The choreographed movement (when the animation sticks to two dimensions) is super smooth and just looks gorgeous. Unfortunately they ruin that a little when they occasionally switch to those awkward CG girl bodies a lot of shows like this resort to when there are just too many dancing girls on screen, and the low-framerate models are a jarring contrast to the beautiful traditional animation, but thankfully those moments are rare.
Originally I was going to give this a 3, but then at the end, when Honoka has started running toward her bright idol-tastic future during the closing number, they show her enthusiastically putting flowers in her hair and dancing down the street and eventually dancing in the middle of goddamn traffic with a big smile on her face and I laughed so hard I fell over and so this gets a 4.
Love Live! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: boobapalooza 2013
The National Hanzou Academy is your average high school, with one big secret: there's a hidden school within that trains ninjas with enormous breasts. There's the determined genki one, the blonde one that enjoys grabbing the enormous breasts of the girls around her, the clumsy loli one who still has enormous breasts even though she looks like she's 12, the mysterious low-voiced one with an eyepatch who's better than the others (her name is Yagyu, stop me if you've heard this one before) and then a serious black-haired sempai. They train in the ways of the shinobi while the camera shows you their enormous breasts bouncing around and then sometimes their butts, but the focus here is boobs, not butts, so you butt folks may want to go elsewhere for a ninja show that features more butts and less boobs. Super Butt Ninja Girls ~Butt-chan Monogatari~ next season, maybe.
Anyway so they go on their first outside mission and they meet a rival team of ninja girls with enormous breasts who challenge them in ways they hadn't experienced yet, and that'll probably make up most of this show's "story". It's really light on plot so far - most of the episode is just a setup for fanservice (they're really fond of the blonde girl grabbing the genki girl's enormous breasts so prepare for that "joke" to pop up two or three times per episode) and the camera is so fixated on the character's chests that it just doesn't seem like there's much time for story.
There are plenty of fanservice shows that have stories - sometimes even decent ones, in fact, and their praises are sung aplenty by the people who embrace a heapin' helpin' of cleavage-and-taint shots ladeled generously atop a plot. If I had to guess, though, I'd say this show isn't really going to do much for anyone looking for even the barest hint of a unique or interesting story element amidst all the titanic bouncing breasts, which are lovingly and fluidly animated while the girls are walking, running, bowing, talking, sitting, changing clothes, tumbling, kicking, punching, slashing, leaping, fighting, posing, falling down, standing still and breathing. There isn't much censorship that I could see - no huge bars of light covering up the intended-for-DVD nipples, so this is also pretty chaste by today's fanservice show standards. I'm not the audience for this, but I'm not sure the audience for it is really gonna find much to love. But what do I know?
THE UNLIMITED Hyobu Kyosuke
Mega-powerful super-psychic Hyobu Kyosuke allows himself to be captured by the authorities after blowing a bunch of helicopters to smithereens, presumably to make getting inside prison easier. Here he meets another powerful psychic, Andy Hinomiya, nicknamed 'loser' even though he keeps winning all his prison yard brawls. Anyway.
So Hyobu is a member of a super-powerful (and illegal) psychic organization called PANDRA, and he's willing to spring Andy on the condition that he joins their ranks once he's out. As it happens, the prison they're in turns out to be chock-a-block with hideous experiments on psychics, and Hyobu is there to save an imprisoned (presumably also psychic) little girl from the clutches of the Hitler-moustached warden. The warden's really been up to no good, fueling super soldiers for his army with the brains and DNA of powerful psychics. You can guess what Hyobu and Andy have to do in order to escape (they have to fight one of the super soldiers, in case I'm being too vague for you).
So this is apparently a spinoff of Zettai Karen Children, which was a show about little psychic girls, and it bears very little resemblance to that show. In fact, if you didn't know that going in, odds are you'd make no visual or story connection to the earlier series - that show was aimed squarely at otaku, while this spinoff seems aimed squarely at fujoshi, pitting spiky-haired smirky-smug prettyboy psychics (Andy has two different eyecolors!) against all odds. The animation is pretty nice in spots but the design of it is really generic, resulting in a mostly-uninteresting, unengaging but totally inoffensive paranormal action-drama that failed to really grab me. Maybe it's just that the entire concept of superpowered psychics tends to put me to sleep - I don't think I've ever seen an anime featuring them that I found particularly entertaining (except, yanno, Akira) - and the lead character is already so ridiculously overpowered that it's hard to imagine the show is going to throw any real obstacles in his way, thus negating all tension in the action scenes. It isn't a bad show by any stretch, but my personal boat is finding no float here. Next.
The Unlimited Hyobu Kyosuke is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Cuticle Detective Inaba
Inaba is a werewolf (so 'bishonen with wolf ears') who solves crimes by chewing on hair. He can sniff out criminals by chewing on their hair, and gets special powers by chewing hair depending on the color of the hair (chewing black hair makes everyone around him depressed to the point of immobility, etcetera). He has an entire detective agency built around him, with colorful audience-insert characters who are there to explain things and then overreact, which is supposed to be hilarious. In this episode Inaba is tracking down an evil goat that's replacing all Yen with counterfeit bills featuring his own face. There's some other stuff going on - they attempt to give you some manner of character background by explaining that Inaba was once a top-shelf police dog who abandoned the force in order to search for his long lost brother. After about 15 minutes of crummy jokes you're sure to be emotionally invested in these zany cartoon animals screaming in eachother's faces, so it's a good thing they explained all this, confident that anyone would want to know more than the absolute minimum they needed to about the characters in this thing.
So this is one of those obnoxious hyperactive comedies where the whole joke is "everyone's yelling and overreacting to everything all the time", which means lots of chibi sequences, people screaming, absurd ideas introduced and then smashed into the camera over and over again as if to say 'LOOK HOW WACKY WE ARE', that sort of thing. This one is particularly shrill and unfunny; it's a bunch of rapid-fire jokes, sometimes nonsequitur, sometimes contextual but never actually funny, none of which land or even seem like they were thought through very much. It's the "maybe if we just toss literally everything we thought of in the writer's room into this half-baked idea for a wacky cop show people will confuse it for comedy' school of writing, and it's about as side-splitting as a root canal. They eventually break the fourth wall and dump in a bunch of lazy meta stuff that also is not funny, and there's a weird running gag about people being shot in the forehead and then recovering immediately that just doesn't work.
But then, nothing about this works at all. When it comes down to it, there's almost nothing worse than comedy that isn't funny, and there isn't a single joke in this loud, screeching thing that made me laugh. I had a really hard time getting through this episode and can't even imagine watching another one or even thinking about this one longer than I absolutely have to.
Hey, it's the end of the preview! I can stop thinking about Cuticle Detective Inaba! Today's looking up, folks!
Cuticle Detective Inaba is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
War has raged between humankind and demonkind for generations; a hero, abandoning his party, races toward the castle of the Demon King, determined to put an end to this war once and for all. Turns out the Demon King is a lady with an enormous rack who immediately tells the hero that she loves him (of course she does, but keep watching), and also this entire war thing is kind of a sham.
As the Demon King calmly and at some length explains, it turns out the war is only still raging because factions on both sides find the war effort to be politically and financially advantageous (hey, there may be some political commentary in here!) even though thousands die and the land winds up polluted beyond use. The war really can't end because it's gone on for so long that it's now the economic engine driving nearly the entire world - entire systems and populations would collapse if it were to actually end.
So the Demon King has another idea about how to potentially bring an end to this war without destroying both human and demonkind in the process, and she needs the hero's help to pull it off. They're going to have to do some despicable things, and probably kill a lot of people, but the Demon King dreams of a land where war is absent, and she'll do what it takes to bring about peace. After some cajoling the hero agrees and off they go.
So this is actually pretty interesting - it's got a bunch of stock fanservice in it, and the Demon King's body image issues really shouldn't be played for laughs (hey, a show firmly planted in cleavage-ogling male gaze like this shouldn't then also be yukkin' it up at a girl who isn't fat expressing insecurity about how men won't desire her because she's so fat) - but that's all overshadowed by the show's more ambitious elements. The generalized critique and explanation of the military-industrial complex's grip on society is fairly sophisticated for a show that could've easily just been about dumb fanservice, and I found myself entertained. It's a pretty good-looking show, too, with decent, fluid character animation and some interesting textural choices going on in the background. I liked it. I'll watch more.
Mayou is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
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