The Stream
Summer Lovin'

by Bamboo Dong, Jul 24th 2012

Summer is nigh upon us, which means a whole new bushel of anime to wade through! Luckily, there are some favorites from last season that are still continuing, as well as a couple of hopefuls, so it's shaping up to be an alright time. Although the Summer Preview came out smack in the middle of convention season, I deposited some of my first episode impressions there, should anyone be interested, but most of my thoughts are in this column. Thank you all for reading The Stream up to this point, and I look forward to sharing another season of anime with you all! Also, Aesthetica of a Rogue Hero and Binbogami ga! were left off this column, but will make their first appearance next time, so no complaining in the forums!

By the way, in case I didn't get the chance to thank you in person, thank you to all who came up and introduced yourselves at either Anime Expo or San Diego Comic Con. It's always a true pleasure meeting ANN readers, and I consider myself very lucky to have your support!

Alright, let's dive in.

 

#1 - Natsuyuki Rendezvous [ep. 1-3]

Never underestimate the power of love and its ability to evoke emotions in even the unlikeliest of scenarios. Ryusuke is a young man who has fallen head over heels in love with Rokka, the owner of a nearby flower shop. He's so smitten with her that he takes a job at the store. He discovers, however, that the store (and the upstairs apartment where Rokka lives) is haunted by her deceased husband, and he's the only person who can see and communicate with this ghost.

It sounds hokey, but within minutes, you realize it's not. It's beautiful and sad, and soon there's a love “triangle” between Rokka, Ryusuke, and the ghost. Triangle is in quotes because, for obvious reasons, the ghost can't compete for his wife's love, but he has the unenviable task of watching another man vie for her affections, and slowly move on with her life. Remarkably, Natsuyuki Rendezvous is neither sappy nor cheesy. It relies on very relatable human emotions to move the story along and instantly pull viewers in. You don't have to know the characters to know that no man wants to see another man woo his wife. It helps that the characters are refreshingly mature. The series could've easily misstepped and made Ryusuke an insecure character who hems and haws about his feelings, but it didn't. Ryusuke knows what he wants, and he's upfront about it, saving viewers from having to wring their hands and yell at the screen for characters to get together.

I didn't know much about this series going into it, other than there was a ghost, but I'm so glad I watched it. Every season, there's one drama that sucks you in and grips you by the heart, and this season, Natsuyuki Rendezvous might be it.

Status: If I was a betting gal, I'd put my money on Natsuyuki Rendezvous on being the series to follow for this season.

#2 - Space Brothers [ep. 13-17]

Mutta and the other JAXA applicants are nearing the end of their ten day stint in the closed capsules… but for viewers, it hasn't felt very long at all. You'd think that watching these characters stay in the same three rooms, solving the same puzzles and doing the same tasks, for episodes on end would get stale, but it never does. The writing in this series is so strong and the characterization is so lively that they could spend another several more episodes in these capsules and they'd likely be just as interesting. When the oldest applicant in Mutta's capsule loses use of his glasses, it provides a seamless transition into his strained past. We not only get to see his motivations for taking the astronaut exam at his old age, but also the tribulations that he's faced chasing his dream—all told in a completely organic manner. Folks, this is the way to develop characters right.

Space Brothers makes the right choice by relying heavily on its characters and eschewing action along the way. Instead of typical space shows where the drama lies in shooting enemy battleships or hunting down aliens, the drama in Space Brothers is fed through human interactions. The characters doubt each other, trust each other, love each other, all based on the smallest of stimuli, and that's what makes this show so riveting.

This series was one of the strongest offerings last season, and we're incredibly lucky that it's back for the summer.

Status: Definitely still one of the series I look forward to watching every week the most. If you never got the chance to watch this show last year because of all the choice offerings, now's a good time to catch up.

#3 - Polar Bear Cafe [ep. 13-15]

Rejoice, because Polar Bear Cafe is continuing this summer! If it wasn't, my summer would be a whole lot sadder, and we'd all be the worse off for not having the continuing hijinks of our favorite cafe crew. Right off the bat, there are some incredible episodes. In a gag that had me laughing out loud, Polar Bear and Panda decide to switch roles for the day. Polar Bear paints himself in… panda face and goes to the zoo, while Panda paints himself white and mans the cafe. Things are predictably amusing, until Polar Bear pulls an amazing stunt and continually struts back and forth behind a tree, transforming between the two bears. It's incredibly hard to describe verbally why this is so funny unless you watch it for yourself, but his general demeanor and showmanship makes it one of the funniest things I've seen all series. Plus, once we see what happens when Penguin finally asks Ms. Penko out… well, it's that delicate balance of hilarious and dark that has made the series so amazing thus far.

I've been gushing for a while now about how wonderful Polar Bear Cafe is, and I look forward to gushing for another season. The humor is top shelf, and there has yet to be an episode where I haven't chuckled out loud. I almost want to be That Guy that sits in the theater and repeats jokes to himself because I want to talk about my favorite scenes so bad. That's how you know this is the real stuff. Seriously, watch it.

Status: Yes! More Polar Bear Cafe! You've got a whole another season to dive into this gem, so you'd best shelve all your excuses to get to it.

#4 - Humanity Has Declined [ep. 1-4]

Within four episodes, I went from having a hesitant fascination in Humanity Has Declined (fueled mostly by the now infamous suicide bread scene) to truly appreciating its quirky, cynical sense of humor. For me, that transformation happened in episodes three and four, when it assuaged my worries that the series would get too preachy and heavy-handed.

In the first couple of episodes, we're introduced to a nameless protagonist who serves as the mediator between human and fairy relations. She's invited to a town with a dwindling food supply and is asked to produce meat… by butchering the chickens. However, the chickens escape, but shortly after, the town marketplace is flooded with mysterious goods stamped with the FairyCo seal. What follows is a bizarre analysis of these products, ranging from preservative-laden food, to beauty products loaded with strange chemicals. A hunt for the missing chickens turns up live, plucked chickens, who are running around headless, their plump and slippery skins helping them evade capture. This eventually leads our protagonists to the FairyCo factory, where Suicide Bread introduces himself.

Despite the many conversations I've had with others regarding this series, I stand by my beliefs that the first two episodes of Humanity Has Declined (the FairyCo arc?) is a little overwrought in its damnation of processed goods. This is especially true in the bread scene, when a talking slice of bread chirps that bread can be made out of anything, including garbage. Compounded with a series name like “Humanity Has Declined,” I couldn't help but worry that the entire show would be scene after scene of, “Isn't this manufactured product weird/disgusting/unholy?” Of course, what kept me going was just how dark and surreal the humor was. Suicide Bread aside, even the fairies themselves are twisted, intoning with their permanent grins how far humanity has fallen. That they must be kept in separate compartments to prevent rampant breeding is wonderful.

However, I'm glad I stuck on, and by the time I finished the manga “arc,” I began to come around to the viewpoint that Humanity Has Declined isn't so much heavy-handed, as it is just deeply cynical and self-damning. The manga storyline, which pokes fun at boys' love stereotypes, reaches an amazing culmination when the main protagonist, her assistant, and one of her coworkers get trapped inside the blank pages of an unwritten manga. They themselves must draw their own panels, pleasing readers in order to climb to the top of the popularity charts. (With each crazy plot twist and contrivance, I couldn't help thinking to myself, “Oh, so that's how Medaka Box managed to keep readers strung along.”) It's an absolutely hilarious episode that not only makes fun of the manga industry, but also reader fickleness, the desperation of editors, and the mangaka themselves, who are described as having no other skill set other than drawing comics.

Had the series remained on the FairyCo arc forever, I might've grown weary, but I'm glad it's jumping around to different subjects and lampooning each one fairly. I must admit that I vastly prefer the “human” parts of the story to the fairy part, which still mostly creeps me out, but I like the dark laughs milked out of those little frozen-faced suckers. Humanity Has Declined is a truly bizarre show, and it's one of the bright spots of the Summer anime season. It certainly catches me off guard, and I'm looking forward to seeing what will come next.

Status: Alright, show, you got me. I had my doubts, but they were cleared fairly quickly, and now I'm excited to see what craziness will happen next.

#5 - Kokoro Connect [ep. 1-3]

Body swapping is not a new thing in shows and movies, but I appreciate that Kokoro Connect is trying to dive deeper than your typical switcheroo slapstick comedy. Five members of the Student Cultural Club find themselves in a strange situation—randomly, they switch bodies with each other, in different combinations, for an unpredictable amount of time, all thanks to some… alien thing(?).

While the first episode was a little cumbersome—after all, it rolls through the scenes you'd typically expect—a guy has a field day playing with his newfound breasts, a girl gets grossed out when she thinks about having to use a urinal—things rapidly pick up in the subsequent episodes. They realize that they all lead very different lives, and even though they see each other every day, they don't really know anything about each other's pasts and home situations. It leads to some interesting and often sobering revelations, and one can only assume that over the course of the series, this will become more trying.

It's understandable that some viewers may be instantly turned off by the first episode. After all, there are way too many body swap shows out there to count, but Kokoro Connect isn't afraid to get its hands dirty and explore the more dramatic side to the switches. Every now and then, there are some genuinely funny scenes too—I laughed at loud when two of the boys took advantage of being inside girls' bodies and used each other's cell phones to record love confession videos. Some of the writing is still a little stilted, but hopefully as the series get s a couple more episodes under its belt, things will smooth out.

Status: Kokoro Connect was a little iffy at first, but I'm glad I stuck around for the next couple of episodes. I'm really intrigued at where the series is going, and I'm looking forward to seeing what else the characters will learn about each other.

#6 - Moyashimon Returns [ep. 1-3]

The first season of Moyashimon aired around the time when I was first just starting grad school in biochemistry. Since then, I've cultured liters upon liters of E. coli, and have taught hours upon hours of microbiology, all of which have heightened my appreciation for the series. Now that the second season is finally here, I can't help but appreciate the franchise more, which makes learning fun and enjoyable, something that I wish my own academic pursuits would follow more closely. Being able to see giant microbes would be vastly more interesting than forcing students to streak yeast cultures on plates, and brewing sake… well, maybe I chose the wrong major.

The second season of Moyashimon follows the same characters as they continue their education at the agricultural university. This time, they're all tasked with doing some hands-on learning about the fermentation of rice and soy beans. Along the way we get to learn some pretty cool stuff—how miso is made, the fermentation steps of sake, and even the history of alcohol laws in Japan. For those who love their entertainment with the edu- prefix, Moyashimon Returns is as much of a blast as the first season. There's a bit of a silly side story about a secret passage, but that resolves quickly and satisfactorily.

Moyashimon has always had a magical way of pulling in audiences. Even those who don't generally have an interest in microbiology or food science are sucked in, partially with the sheer cuteness of the squeaky-voiced microbes, and the novelty of a character who can communicate with them. People are so busy laughing along with the show that they don't realize they're learning. If more programming was like this, I daresay we'd all be a tad bit smarter. At the very least, we'd be a lot more willing to learn—Moyashimon proves again that science can be totally cool, and I'm glad it's back for another season.

Status: I'm all about learning some of the trade secrets of sake brewing… especially if it's going to be narrated by adorable micro-organisms. Moyashimon was beloved when it first came out, and I'm hoping the same will be true of the second season.

#7 - Sword Art Online [ep. 1-2]

Of all the new series this season, Sword Art Online is definitely near the top of my “Gotta watch now!” list. It's fun and interesting, and I always want to know what happens next. In order to get into it, you have to swallow a fairly big suspension-of-disbelief pill, but once you get past the hokey set-up, it's fairly engaging. For those who have yet to read or hear anything about this series, here's a brief rundown.

Basically, Sword Art Online is the Next Big Thing in MMORPGs. Only 10,000 copies were made available in the first run, and what makes it especially unique is that players put on this brain-monitoring helmet before diving into the game. The helmet picks up their brain waves and translates the signals into movement in the game, then feeds back all the visuals to the player, so it's like they're actually in the game. Everyone is really psyched to play, but then all Hell breaks loose when the players realize they're not able to log out of the game. The psycho guy who engineered the helmets and designed the game descends from the virtual sky and tells them that they're trapped in the world, and the only way out is to beat the game.

Okay, it's a little silly. This is a lot of time and money spent on R&D and programming for a game whose ultimate goal is to kill players. BUT, I have long complained that shows like Accel World don't have enough negative, real-world consequences for in-game deaths, so secretly, I think I was hoping for a show like Sword Art Online all along. Yes, it relies on the presence of an evil genius serial killer, but at least it gives the series a sense of urgency and risk. It makes viewers root even harder for characters, because you know the threat of their eternal disappearance is all too real.

An extra layer is added in the second episode, when stressed out players start singling out beta testers, blaming them for overhunting the easy monsters and hoarding information. It's a classic case of scapegoating, and it gives the series a social complexity that makes it a lot more fun than just watching characters hack ‘n’ slash their way past monsters. I was already hooked after the first episode, but now I'm definitely eager to see how everyone gets out of this crunch.

Status: Look, all the arguing in the world isn't going to change my mind that the premise is dumb, but I'm having an absolute blast, and I can't wait to see what's going to happen now that the atmosphere is starting to sour on the beta testers.

#8 - Hunter x Hunter [ep. 37-40]

Gon's dad is obviously not going to win the Father of the Year Award any time soon. It's bad enough he bailed on his family when Gon was a kid, but now he's left his son a set of clues to come find him. Amongst them is a cassette tape on which he basically says, “Hey! Even if you find me, I don't want to see you, so I'll do my best to keep hiding from you!” Cool, thanks Dad.

Unfortunately, this also means we get a boring episode (or two) that entirely revolves around Gon and Killua trying to track down an old indie video game. The setup for this hopefully has a big payoff, though—both kids set their sights on Yorknew City, where a large auction will take place. We can expect a big showoff, since Hisoka has promised to show up as well, and Kurapika's got his own agenda for going.

For a second there I was a little worried that this video game quest would slow the series way down, but bringing in Kurapika definitely assuaged my fears. I'm looking forward to getting a break from the Gon/Killua buddy show, and Kurapika's vendetta might just be the ticket.

Status: Still Hunter x Hunter, still good. What else is there to say? This show definitely gets points for consistency.

#9 - Kuroko's Basketball [ep. 13-16]

Just when you thought the end of the last tournament would usher in an era of inactivity in Kuroko's Basketball, the team finds themselves in yet another tournament! This time, the teams are even faster and even taller and even more talented!!! And there's more Generation of Miracle players to play against that our heroes didn't even know about!!!

This time, Seirin's first round opponent is a team whose coach is an intelligence-gathering expert, who has already prepped her own team with every possible move that the Seirin guys could make. This puts our lovable band of heroes at a disadvantage because they're outmatched and outplayed—even before the other team's ringer hits the court! Whatever will they do???

Who knows. But somehow, I feel like they'll be able to pull through. With their teamwork and ingenuity, something will give, because that's the magic of sports anime. That's especially the magic of Kuroko's Basketball, which is like an endless loop of Sports Center highlights week after week.

I'm fully aware that Kuroko's Basketball is a one trick pony, but it's easy to watch, and there's always suspense in every episode. It's a great way to turn off your brain once a week, so I'll keep watching. Plus how else will I ever know if they make it to the next round?

Status: Kuroko's Basketball surprised no one this season by being exactly the same as last season—basketball game after basketball game, with lots of sweat, and even more motion lines. At least it's consistent.

#10 - Utakoi [ep. 1-3]

They say love and romance transcends time and language, and perhaps it's true. At least some of the time. Utakoi takes love poems that are hundreds of years old and brings them to life, illustrating the poems' subjects in thickly outlined artwork reminiscent of wood block paintings. I found myself uncomfortable with the first episode, which I'll explain later, but definitely warmed up with the next two.

Based on the love poems found in the Hyakunin Isshu, this series loosely retells the story behind each poem, helping those of us unversed in the poems to understand them. This is a blessing because, quite frankly, they are pretty difficult to understand without scholarly input, annotations, or a thorough understanding of Japanese history circa 1100-1200. Even though each poem is only a few lines long, they carry rich stories—tales of betrothed women unable to be with their true loves, women who sacrifice love to reach their dreams, and those who sacrifice themselves because they're bound by honor.

Initially, I felt perturbed by the first episode because I didn't feel like an 1100s romance translated that well to modern times. In the very first story, a man sneaks onto a woman's balcony, causing her to start praying for her safety. When he tells her he won't touch her, she questions if she's not desirable enough. In the second half of the episode, a woman stifles her emotions and needs because she realizes her role as a wife is to simply support her husband. These are all scenes that make absolute, complete sense when you recognize the era in which these poems were composed, but watching them now makes it hard to fully empathize with the characters. In a historical context, they're fine, but from a pure entertainment standpoint, my personal feelings intervene.

That having been said, I found the subsequent two episodes to be much better. I enjoyed the diversity of the stories, and it actually did cheer me to see one of the women tell her suitor to budge off in favor of her own career aspirations. These episodes are pretty easy to consume, and they're fairly entertaining, so I'll likely stick around at least for a little while.

Status: Utakoi is charming enough. If you like love stories with quick payoffs, this may be your thing. I'm not clawing at the screen to see more, but I'm curious to see if this can maintain my interest.

#11 - Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse [ep. 1-3]

If you've ever wanted to see teenage girls eaten by giant weird monsters with toothy jaws in their chests, then Muv-Luv is the way to go! Part mech show, part monsters vs. humans, the series pits poorly CG-animated beasts against girls in breast-hugging plugsuits and hot-headed pilots in an action epic that is mostly all flash, and little substance.

Based on one of two parts of an adult game, Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse takes place in an alternate version of Earth where much of the human population has been wiped out by BETA, an acronym that stands for “Being of ExtraTerrestrial origin which is an Adversary to the human race.” Unfortunately, BETOAHR was already taken at the time. A bunch of the chicks you get to bang in the game are pilots in this world, and they have to help save the world against these terrible looking monsters.

Most notable is the horrible CG that's applied liberally throughout the episodes. It doesn't look so bad when it's just used for the mechs, but it sticks out like a bruised thumb when it's used for the boob suits and the aliens. Both the boob suits and the aliens are rendered in this textureless, shiny style that look laughably unnatural. The suits caress each and every lady breast like tight, latex gloves, and even when the girls are in the midst of action sequences, all you can really think about are the perfectly globular tits that get squished around on the screen. Because of the coloring technique the animators use, each breast is also really shiny, so there's no possible way to miss or ignore them. Even worse are the monsters, especially the ones in episode four, which are both flesh-colored and dick-shaped.

Still, I'm a sucker for action sequences, and part of me can't tear my eyes away from anything that involves giant robots flying through the sky. So, as derivative as this Giant Robots Fight Aliens story is, I'm finding myself captivated enough at least to sit through a few more episodes. Really, I'm just in it for the dick monsters.

Status: It's nothing ground-breaking, but it's not the worst thing in the world either. If you look robots and boobs and terrible CG… well, then I've got a recommendation for you.

#12 - Tari Tari [ep. 1-3]

I wanted to like Tari Tari because it was beautiful and idyllic, and it had that kind of dreamy pacing that so many slice-of-life shows have. The backgrounds are beautifully drawn, the characters all look like they've hardly had a bad day in their lives, and there are even horses that whicker into their oats in the dewy morning. Unfortunately, the series sags under the weight of its uninteresting characters, and their lack of chemistry with each other.

Tari Tari is about a group of friends who want to start their own choir club, but are being blocked at every step by the vice principal, who is this horrible, awful bitch. Unfortunately, there is no other way to describe this character, which seems to carry out her actions only to smack down innocent girls because of something prickly in her own past. She not only denies one of the girls from participating in the pre-existing music club, but constantly tries to prevent their new choral club from being approved, and also tries to dictate which songs the new club can and can't sing. When medical emergencies prevent the choir club's advisors from accompanying them to the local recital, this terrible woman tries to stop the choir from performing. What is this woman's problem? Obviously she has some weird hang-up from her own high school days, but it is brutally hard to watch a series in which a “villain” is so blatantly awful for no reason.

It's also a little hard to care about any of the characters, because they're all such wet noodles. Every human has their own pains and hardships that they must endure, but the pains and hardships of the girls in Tari Tari can barely justify carrying an entire series. One of the girls desperately wants to sing, but why this aspiration revolves around the creation of a school club seems melodramatic—especially given the even more melodramatic objections of the vice principal. Even when she's asked by her brother, who actually wants to be a professional badminton player, why she wants to sing, she can only stammer her way through a non-answer. It feels like a flabby excuse to shoehorn music into a show about featureless girls. (Edit: Someone pointed out that the badminton guy isn't the singing girl's brother, and that's correct. I got him confused with her younger brother, whom she does convince to help out with the singing club in the first episode, but since the characters are devoid of personality, I didn't remember them for longer than an episode, other than This Guy Plays Badminton.)

Because I'm curious to see if Tari Tari will expound a little more on why the vice principal is so darned mean, I might watch another episode or two, but I'm finding it a struggle already to get through the girls' choir adventures.

Status: Shows can't just float by on being “cute,” but that certainly seems like what Tari Tari is doing. I'm already having a hard time trudging through this one, but I'm willing to give the show the benefit of the doubt that it has more planned than just Cute Girls Sing Songs.

#13 - La Storia della Arcana Famiglia [ep. 1-4]

Truthfully, if everyone in La storia della Arcana Famiglia wasn't so impossibly stylish, I may have already abandoned this series. I admit, however, to having an incredible weakness for hot men in designer suits, and it helps gloss over how hackneyed this show is. The Arcana Famiglia is a mafia-type organization somewhere in Italy, with one notable exception—all of the Famiglia members have some sort of pact with a specific tarot card. This pact gives each person a special power, be it immense strength, invisibility, or in the case of our beloved heroine Felicita, the power to see inside people's hearts. However, “Papa” is set to retire soon, and he's promising not only the title of Papa to the Famiglia member who wins the special Arcana Duella, but also the hand in marriage of Felicita, his daughter.

If you were concerned that perhaps there were too many characters and you'd never be able to figure out who drew their powers from which tarot—no worries. They'll tell you. In detail. In fact, they're so exhaustively thorough about giving exposition on each character that others start interfering. Lines like, “You don't need to explain all of this right now” and “That's enough” are uttered a few times, as if the series was trying to strangle itself for sweet release.

Rather than jumping straight into the Arcana Duella, though, the series takes some time to putz around a bit. The main love triangle—Felicita, surly Nova, and wide-eyed Liberta return a cat to its owner in one episode, and entertain some of the town's children in the next. Both are fluff, but things get a little more interesting when the show delves into Liberta's back story. Sadly, there's only so much that one can reveal about uninteresting characters before reaching a dead end. La storia della Arcana Famiglia just doesn't have enough meat on its bones to begin with. Its tarot hook is flimsy, and most of the characters seem to embody tried and true archetypes meant to easily ensnare fans.

But, fluffy fillers and boring characters aside, I am not impervious to fan service, and I am willing to let my desire to see dudes in suits convince me to stick around for another couple of episodes to see if we'll be stuck in Filler Land forever. It's great that Liberta's learning to unlock his past, or whatever, but I was promised some magic duels, and the show better pay up.

Status: The first episode made it seem like we were in for some shonen tournament-style fighting, but all we've got so far is endless character introductions and filler. Maybe things will get more interesting later?

#14 - So I Can't Play H! [ep. 1-2]

Master pervert Ryosuke has a very special talent—he has an insatiable lust for female body parts, so much so that his very life force is powered by boobs, butts, and everything above and below. He meets a hot grim reaper one day who forms a temporary contract with him, zapping away his perv energy every time she needs it to go fight off some other grim reaper or two. Luckily for him, he can recharge his energy in seconds, just by squeezing breasts between his hands, or catching a glorious eyeful of panty.

I feel guilty admitting this, but I'm finding myself entertained by So, I Can't Play H!. It's outrageous and silly, but it's completely self-aware of just how goofy it is, which makes it more palatable. The series is filled with blatant fanservice, from wet blouses clinging on gratuitously large breasts, to outright nudity. Considering the show is about a pervert, though, this is totally within the confines of what's expected, so who can blame them for the buoyant breasts at every turn?

That having been said, there's not much else this series has to offer. The characters (as of two episodes) are hardly three-dimensional, unless one is counting the women's chests, and even the story is a little threadbare at the moment. We know the grim reaper Lissara is after someone special to contract with to use that person's energy, but we're not really sure what she's looking for and why it even matters. We know that she's had to deal with a couple fights already, but even that seems like just more reason for her clothes to disintegrate, and Ryosuke to grab a tit or two so he can recharge his perv powers.

Even so, I'm finding that I'm just boggled enough by the experience that I'm willing to stick around for at least one more episode, just to see if this show will actually go anywhere. I'm not holding my breath, though.

Status: Truthfully, So, I Can't Play H! is pretty dumb, but it isn't trying to be anything other than a horn fest. Maybe… it'll get better..?

#15 - Nakaimo - My Sister Is Among Them [ep. 1-3]

No, no, no, no, no. Oh God, no. Can we not do this “little sister” thing, please, because it's weird and creepy, and even the main character agrees with me. Our bewildered lead is a high school boy named Shogo, whose father's recent passing means that he will take over the family business, a mega-million company that makes products of something or other. In order to ascend to the presidency, though, he has to get married before he graduates high school, so of course all the ladies are interested. Including… his secret sister.

You see, his father had an illicit relationship with another woman, leaving behind a half-sister unbeknownst to the public and to the family. This sister, however, is pretty keen on marrying Shogo, and is actually stalking him at school and trying to hide her lineage from him, in the hopes that she can do a bait-and-switch and nab him at the altar.

Okay, let's talk about this. Shogo wants absolutely nothing to do with this. Not only would it cause a massive scandal to marry his sister (obviously), but also, it would be super inappropriate. But what's a guy to do when he's being propositioned by a half dozen women, a few of whom have no qualms disrobing in front of him in an effort to “retrain” his homosexuality (a complete misunderstanding). Episode three is the biggest kick in the teeth because two of the girls actually start role-playing as his younger sister, and say creepy things like, “I slept in your underwear last night and it was warm” and “I'm supposed to help you dress; I'm your sister!” Stop!!! This is not necessary! Even if Shogo is shaking his head vehemently, isn't the audience ultimately the one gawking at all of this, willing it to continue? Just because the main character is not buying into this creepy little sister fetish, doesn't absolve the series from peddling it.

And what is with the tone of this series? It's sort of trying to be a light-hearted harem comedy, but the “But what if one of these is my sister???” threat makes NAKAIMO completely sinister. We get the indication at the end of the third episode that perhaps he's discovered her identity, but would that really solve things? I bet not.

Look, I am absolutely creeped out by this show. I can talk until I'm blue in the face about trivialities like how cute the character designs are, or how charming the dance sequences are (you read that correctly), but I cannot dissociate myself from the repulsion that I feel mirrored in Shogo as he wades through this crazy sister stalker problem. And I still can't help but feel like the show is ignoring his pleas and complaints by winking and nudging at an audience that it assumes wants to see this crap.

Call me a sucker, but after that bomb they dropped at the end of episode three, I have to see the fourth episode, just to see if that sister reveal was a red herring or not. I will resent every minute of it.

Status: Hey, welcome to Creep Town! Next stop, your sister's boobs.

#16 - The Ambition of Oda Nobuna [ep. 1-3]

Admittedly, The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is not as terrible as I thought it was going to be. Sadly, it wasn't that great, either. Maybe if it had come out five years ago, it would've been received with more gusto. Back then, it wouldn't have been just one in a string of what feels like dozens of Sengoku Era dramadies, in which famous warlords are replaced with ___________. In the case of Oda Nobuna, as has been the case with a handful of shows just in the past few years, all the notable Sengoku Era figures are replaced by busty women.

The only thing that's slightly different is the execution, in which a hapless Japanese teenager realizes he can tweak the events of history by utilizing the knowledge he's attained from playing a video game called the Ambition of Oda Nobunaga. For reasons unexplained, he's magically whisked into the past, where he soon because the shoe carrier for Oda Nobuna—the bodacious, blonde version of Nobunaga. He gives her some advice here and there, thus paving a smoother way to eventual victory.

While the “video game fan alters history” hook is kind of new, the series still suffers from a major case of the doldrums. Because it assumes that everyone by now is thoroughly familiar with the events of the Warring States era (if not through history class than through all the video games and movies and anime set in that time period), it just tosses out name after name, battle after battle, in rapid fire succession. The effect is a series that comes off more like a Who's Who of Sengoku Era Japan than an actual story with real, three-dimensional characters. Because each character is modeled after a historical figure, the writers seem to use that as an excuse to not develop them at all. After the first episode, I was already wary. By the time the fourth rolled around, I was searching desperately around my apartment for anything that would distract me from the mundane events happening on the screen.

Oda Nobuna doesn't scream “terrible!” but it's incredibly mediocre. I don't feel like there's much to be gained by sitting through the series, especially since it's following historical events (sort of?) in such a linear manner. Maybe if you stick around, you'll get to see Nobuna eat an incredible bowl of rice or something, or hilariously whack the protagonist over the head with a blunt object. Either way, I'm done with this.

Status: Thanks, but no thanks. Even if I wasn't already sick to death of Character Gets Transported Back to Sengoku Era Japan Ruled By Hot Chicks series, Oda Nobuna just doesn't have what it takes to hold my interest.

#17 - Kingdom [ep. 1-6]

Regrettably, I can't seem to find nor maintain interest in this series. This disappoints me, because not only is the Kingdom manga outrageously popular, but also because the series is chock full of action scenes and epic horse battles. Yet somehow, even though things are always happening on the screen, the series feels like slow molasses, and the characters are about as interesting as soggy cardboard.

Another strike against its favor is that Kingdom is cluttered with a bad mix of CG character animation. Much of it is cel-shaded CG, with some regular ol' CG thrown in, for an effect that is jarring, to say the least. The characters clunk around like a bad video game, and the camera angles swoop with the delicacy of a carnival ride. Throw in lumpy character designs that are pulled from a Sunday morning cartoon, and you've got a visual product that distracts far more than it enhances the series.

Taking place during the Era of warring States in China, the story follows a war orphan named Xin, and Ying Zheng, the young king of Qin who eventually becomes the historical Qin Shi Huang, the first emperor of a unified China. However, he is of no interest to Xin, who resents Zheng for using his best friend as a body double during an uprising. Xin vows to become a great general, which makes it convenient that he's freakishly good at fighting.

As a good Han, I feel guilty to my forefathers for not taking more interest in this story. It's not that I don't find the Warring Era interesting, but that the Kingdom anime tells things in such a slow and sluggish manner. It may be that the manga is vastly more riveting, but the anime feels like it just talks and talks, but nothing of importance is ever said. Each plot point is reiterated to death, and despite how simple the story is up until this point, it feels like there's a dozen too many characters already. It's the kind of show where you can watch an entire episode, but feel like the words have just passed through your ears without sticking.

In any case, I'm kind of over it. Maybe when Funimation inevitably releases this in a boxset, I'll marathon it one weekend and get my history fix. For now, I've no interest in continuing this journey. Spoiler alert, the young king unifies China.

Status: Calling this one after six episodes. I just can't get into this series. It's like bland oatmeal for the brain.

#18 - Campione! [ep. 1-3]

I applaud Campione! for trying to give its harem nonsense a little more pizzazz. You see, not only does Regular Ordinary Japanese High Schooler Godou have a bevy of ladies he gets to grind up on (right now the count is only at two, sorry, but the opening credits promise more, MORE, MOOOOORE!!!!), but he is also the GODSLAYER. He has grabbed the power of Prometheus with his lithe little paws, thanks to an ancient tablet left by his granddad, and now he has snatched the very powers from the gods! Now all he needs to do next is figure out why all the ancient gods trying to kill him are moe little girls, and who to sleep with next!!!

Life is hard for guys like Godou. He is constantly being chased after by the beautiful and self-confident Erica, an Italian girl who has sworn to fight by his side and cuddle up next to him, but he must also contend with the sweet shrine maiden from down the street, and who knows who else. He also somehow gets pulled into bizarre travel situations like when Erica asks him to spend the day with her, and he blinks later, “I didn't think you'd mean in Italy!!!!!!” Because as we all know from world geography, it is a quick hop, skip, and a jump from Japan to the lush streets of Milan, or wherever it is that ancient destructive gods like to hang out.

There are two aspects to Campione!—there is the Seventh King Who Fights Gods aspect, and the Harem aspect. Unfortunately, neither of them are done well, nor are actually interesting. The godslaying story is an absolute mess, which is a letdown because the premise itself has promise—rogue gods who roam the earth that cause natural disasters and war? Sure, that's kind of neat. But rather than really get into it and talk about how magic users must try to fight them to protect humanity, or whatever, the show ends up just being a bunch of poorly cobbled-together fight scenes. Godou and Erica take turns whipping out unexplained special attacks and weapons against gods/goddesses that are barely introduced, and we're supposed to find this riveting.

At one point, Godou runs into the goddess Athena, who poisons him by sticking her tongue in his mouth. Later, Erica says that in order to tell him everything he needs to know about Athena, she too needs to mouth-link with him, or else it would take her 100 days to tell the full story. This doesn't make any sense, because while she's cramming her saliva down his throat, her story about Athena is still being narrated in real time, so it seems to me she could've just used her words rather than her sloppy, sloppy mouth. This whole spit thing has gotta stop.

I am done with this nonsensical show. I don't really care which lady Godou ends up with, and I don't really care who else he has to fight, or whatever else little stone trinket he has to protect. I also don't really care if he slays another god ever, because it seems to have very little consequence other than to get more ladies to join his harem. If you're still watching Campione!, good luck to you, and please let me know later how things turn out.

Status: Dropped. Campione! is a giant, giant mess. Look, if you want to show hot ladies fighting, just do it. You don't have to pretend like it's some massive epic, especially if you aren't going to put in the effort to make sure there's a coherent storyline.


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