Reviewby Theron Martin, Aug 25th 2010
Asobi ni Ikuyo: Bombshells from the Sky
episodes 1-6 streaming
During a wake for his grandfather, Okinawan high schooler Kio Kazaku comes across Elis, a voluptuous girl in a seeming cosplay outfit who sports cat ears and a tail. He soon learns that she is an alien from a race called the Catians, which has been sending the message “Let's Play” to Earth for some time now. Her job: to learn about Earth culture and have fun, all as part of a greater mission to inject fresh elements into a Catian culture that has long stagnated. Not everyone is pleased about the prospect of Earth's first contact with aliens being with someone as inelegant as Elis, however, and the arrival of Elis and her compatriots both inspires a cult and poses a threat to some secret arrangements that the Japanese government has made with a rival alien race, the Dogisians, which puts Elis and Kio in some very dangerous situations. Just as bad, Kio now has three ladies in his life that he must juggle: the bodacious Elis, longtime friend/neighbor/gun nut/CIA wannabe Manami, and glasses-sporting Aoi, who has a crush on Kio but is also secretly a super-powered agent. With Kio's home becoming the Catian Embassy and Elis's first mating season approaching, things are certain never to be dull.
Nearly every outward indicator – from the advertising art and blurb to the series' basic premise – suggests that this light novel-based series is going to be just another run-of-the-mill Magical Girlfriend/Harem series, the kind that revels in its fan service and clichés and typically ends up being of interest only to those normally enamored of such series and/or fan service in general. Indeed, it does have a sufficient amount of the expected content to partly justify those concerns: there is a sexy alien chick who's ready to party (literally!) and winds up cohabitating with the hero, there are two other potential love interests who are hot on the hero, and there is the expected smorgasbord of fan service, include the requisite “wake up half-naked in the hero's bed” scene, a scene where two of the heroines go into action against a potential threat while in the buff, and a scene where the (all-female) Catian representatives meet with government officials while wearing school swimsuits because Elis's research (involving Kio's porno mags) indicated that this was appropriate attire. The requisite chirpy mascot character is also present, although thankfully not very often.
That is where this series' similarities to others of its ilk end, however. For all that this title firmly establishes itself as a Magical Girlfriend/Harem series, it also just as firmly strives to be something more. Here is the rare case of a fanboy-pandering series which actually dares to push the envelope of what can be done with its genre. Instead of being stupid, it deigns to actually be clever; instead of enslaving itself to clichéd genre conventions, it subverts many of them. Instead of merely relying on slice-of-life stories, it actually has a substantial underlying plot, serious moments of character development, and dedicated action scenes; it even has the hero and lead heroine targeted for death by the end of the first episode. (Granted, the reason for it is a bit ridiculous, but it is also a great example of how the series pokes fun at its genre.) This is no less than an ambitious effort at genre redefinition, and the degree to which the series has succeeded so far makes the first six episodes one of the biggest and most pleasant surprises of 2010.
One does not have to look hard to find evidence about how impressively well-thought-out the series is. The notion of First Contact being with a busty bimbo like Elis has long been a staple of the genre, but the series turns that on its head by postulating that some might be violently opposed to such a gross violation of their image of what First Contact should be like. That Catian technology might be too slick and gimmicky-looking to be convincing as sci fi elements from an Earth perspective, or that Elis might look too much like a cosplayer to be convincing as an alien, also become issues in a later episode. Connecting a female character trying to jump the bones of a male character to a biologically-based mating season is a gimmick that has been used on rare occasions before, but in this series the Catians demonstrate that they actually have brains by realizing that this could be a problem and taking sensible precautions, such as putting limiters on their power suits which kick in during mating season (because mating season is commonly associated with irrational behavior) and making arrangements for when they don't have mates present during such times. The business with the cult may be just plain silly, but even it shows inspiration in its naming conventions (the name of the cult cannot be said or read straight-faced) and the way it toys with anime conventions.
The series also takes the action figure status of both Minami and Aoi seriously, rather than playing it off as a joke or mere bit of color. The opening scene in episode 1, which primarily features Aoi in her powered suit, is a dedicated all-out action piece, and a scene later in the same episode where she threatens to shoot someone is surprisingly chilling. Minami's gun collection, and her handiness with using them, is also an eye-popper, one that further belies the sexy, cutesy portrayals of the girls in the opener and is certainly not treated lightly. A later episode devotes an entire scene to Aoi meticulously showing Minami how to quickly and efficiently load a revolver, including explaining why a fast-loader isn't always the best option, and the girls get at least some chance in most episodes to show off their action chops; even in the aforementioned nude scene, the fan service does not detract from the fact that these girls know what they're doing in a crisis and don't hesitate to act. They are nearly as much co-leads as Elis is; in fact, that the series does not just obsess on Elis so far is another big plus. Kio even gets in on the action at one point, too (and via an amusing means), although this is not a regular occurrence.
Even in its cute aspects the series shows unusual inspiration. While Elis's ship's AI is rather ordinary, the Assistaroids introduced by the Catians, and later distributed amongst the major series characters, may be the most adorable pint-sized characters to come along in many a season. Their customizable costuming, communication via printed signs, and hints of individual personalities already make them endearing, but the way they handle their inability to carry out an order might win over even the most cynical of souls. A Dogisian character who looks and behaves distinctly like Muttley from old Hanna-Barbera cartoons adds charm of a different kind.
The series doesn't forget its commitment to fan service, either. While nudity and near-nudity in the streaming version is censored, it still pops up regularly, as do sexy outfits and plenty of breast-jiggling. Another kind of fan service come up in episodes 3 and 4, where characters from Kampfer, Zero no Tsukaima, and The Sacred Blacksmith (among possibly others) make random cameos, and episode 1 references several actual movie titles in one conversation between Kio and Aoi. The prologue scenes of episodes 3 and 4 parody and/or pay homage to the opening of Star Trek, while later episodes do the same for Mission: Impossible and Charlie's Angels. Too many references to the American fast food chain A&W pop up prominently for there to not be some kind of sponsorship arrangement involved.
Another big plus is the near-top-of-the-line visual production by AIC PLUS+, an apparent offshoot of AIC which has an impressive debut in TV series animation with this effort. The artistry is consistently clean, well-drawn, and attractively-rendered, including appealing character designs, great attention to detail in weaponry, and vibrant and varied coloring choices. CG effects are used sparingly but are well-integrated when present and the animation, while not quite up to the same level as the artistry, still does the job sufficiently.
The quality of the musical score is more erratic. In some places – usually the more tense or action-oriented scenes – the backing music does a good job of enhancing the scenes, while in other places its impact is more mundane. Lovey-dovey opener “Now loading...SKY!!” by Sphere is a thoroughly unremarkable piece, while the closer in this run of episodes rotates through at least three different numbers while featuring different visuals focusing on a different female character keyed to each song.
Still in the middle of its initial release, this series is only currently available in subtitled streaming form on Crunchyroll.
The image that Asobi ni Ikuyo projects, and its refusal to entirely abandon certain noxious genre clichés, may make this a hard sell to those who are not already fans of Magical Girlfriend/Harem series. Veteran anime fans who give this one more than a cursory glance should soon notice how far beyond the norm this series stands, however, and how much fun it is. It will likely never get the respect it deserves for what it accomplishes beneath its veneer of fan service and catgirl fetishes, which makes this one of 2010's hidden gems.
Overall (sub) : A-
Story : A-
Animation : B
Art : A-
Music : B
+ Clever, good-looking, well thought-out, plentiful cameos and homages/parodies, lots of fun.
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