The Spring 2003 Anime Preview Guideby Zac Bertschy and Rebecca Bundy,
Welcome to the 2003 Anime Preview guide. Once again, we're here to guide you through the never-ending sea of new anime releases. Let's get started, shall we?
Raimuiro Senkitan (Meiji Japanese Girls Senkitan): Umakai Shintarou has been hired by the Amanohara school for girls during the Russo-Japanese war. Upon his arrival, he's quickly introduced to five girls, all with eclectic personalities. As it happens, the Amanohara School for Girls is inside a battleship, fighting evil spirits dispatched by the Russians. The only hope for Japan? The five girls, who can summon armored elemental spirits to beat back the Russian menace.
They aren't even trying anymore, are they? Raimuiro Senkitan is basically just a really awful version of Sakura Taisen (and that's saying a lot, considering that I already think Sakura Taisen is pretty awful itself). This show makes no attempt at being original, clever, exciting or even watchable; it's just five cute girls, one inept guy, and a whole world of pain for the viewer. The main character's past does provide some interesting back story. I would have liked it if the show had taken place before this Urashima Keitaro-wannabe showed up at the Amanohara School for Oversexed Japanese Schoolgirls. Apparently he was involved in the war earlier and had a failed romance, or something like that; it'd certainly be more interesting than watching this cavalcade of forced female personality caricatures prance around on stage and beg the fanboy who's watching to pick his favorite and then bust out the Kleenex. Avoid this show. If you absolutely must watch super-powered girls fighting wars in the Meiji era, watch Sakura Taisen. At least that series doesn't suck quite this bad.
Every season, we get at least one show that features five girls all fawning over one guy. Raimuiro Senkitan is one of these shows. The five girls in question are all different, from their hair colors and ‘civilian’ clothes to their diverse attitudes. There's the shy girl, the traditional girl, the tomboy, the drama queen, and of course, the spunky girl who can't help but ‘innocently’ flash her panties to the main male character about a dozen times in the first episode. The music is generic, from a simple and forgettable opening song to the music emphasizing that when she's on screen, yes, she's a traditional Japanese girl. You know, just in case the audience couldn't figure that out from the layered kimonos she was wearing and the long black hair. The only worthwhile elements in this anime are the sub-plots involving the main male character, Umakai Shintarou. He left Russia and a woman he loved to return to Japan, an obviously painful choice. Momen, the spunky girl, mistakes Umakai for her older brother. Kuki, a woman that has “slept longer than she was supposed to”, is mentioned before the ship is attacked. Unfortunately, not even these vaguely interesting elements could save this otherwise pointless and annoying anime.
Mouse: The legendary name of Mouse has been passed down through generations of high-profile thieves. Chu, the latest incarnation of Mouse, keeps the police on their toes by stealing priceless artifacts. Mouse is accompanied by three beautiful women who are assigned as his servants.
I have a theory that the production staff for Mouse has my picture on a dartboard next to a flowchart that details how to make a show I will absolutely hate. I can't think of any redeeming qualities that Mouse might have, save the fact that each episode is only 10 minutes long. Somehow it still feels like a prison sentence. The main character is cardboard and uninteresting and does uninteresting things, like steal Poorly Drawn Ancient Artifact #28736 from the art museum (or school, or whatever; this show is so poorly written that they didn't quite take the time to tell the audience WHERE Mouse was stealing this thing from) that apparently has no security. The three women that follow him around wear as little clothing as possible, bounce up and down and smash their breasts and rear ends against him as much as possible, begging to be ‘punished’ for their behavior. I weep that the thought that this tripe might actually entertain someone. The only thing Mouse will ever steal is your precious, precious time. Avoid this show.
Mouse follows a very simple formula: The sizes of the female's breasts are inversely proportional to the quality of the plot. Most of the episode revolves around the three female characters, bound to Mouse by birth to protect him, shoving their breasts and butts into his face. The characters themselves are shallow and boring. The three females are supposed to be physical embodiments of brains, beauty, and strength. I'm sorry, but wearing a gym outfit does not make a woman strong, or does wearing glasses make one smart. Supposedly all three are capable at gathering any and all information that Mouse would need, but these characters seem too inept to perform even the simplest of tasks. It is unfortunate that the plot is tacked on hurriedly at the beginning and end of the episode as if the creators forgot they needed one. If they took out the females and focused more on Mouse and his double life as teacher and thief, the anime wouldn't be half bad. Then again, the episode would only last 5 minutes instead of 15 if they did throw the women out. In this case, less would definitely be more.
Stratos4: Four girls join an Earth Defense force in the near future. They aren't quite ready and none of them are sure of themselves, but it's up to them to save the earth from a rogue comet headed straight for it. This series follows the four girls as they deal with their careers and emotional development.
While I couldn't find anything wrong with Stratos4, I couldn't really find anything to like, either. It's paced a lot like Bandai's Sci-fi actioner Infinite Ryvius, but doesn't contain any of what made that show interesting to watch. There's no mystery or anything; you watch four relatively uninteresting girls overcome the basic obstacles anyone in the military has to overcome. The girls aren't sexualized too much, which I suppose is a blessing, given the trend towards extreme fanservice that so many of this season's shows seem to have, but frankly, Stratos4 put me right to sleep. If you like a lot of really, really slow character development and fairly hardcore sci-fi elements, you might like it. I can tell they put a lot of thought into the science behind the show. Other than that, this series is pretty mediocre. Watch Infinite Ryvius instead.
Stratos 4 is a simple little anime about four girls who are training to become full members of an organization that destroys meteors that threaten to hit earth. The first episode focuses on introducing not only the four girls, but also their families and a number of other pilots and officials. Though they begin to develop the desires and motives of the characters, there is no real story. People destroy meteors in space and those on land prepare themselves in case they must destroy the meteor fragments. If every episode is going to revolve around this single idea, then no amount of character development is going to keep the story interesting. This anime is mediocre and while it isn't bad, it also isn't good. The characters balance out the lack of story while the basic animation quality and bland music make this anime utterly forgettable.
.hack//Legend of the Twilight Bracelet: Five years after the events in the .hack video game series, The World invites twin siblings Shugo and Rena to play “limited character players”. These limited characters turn out to look exactly like Kite and Black Rose, the hero characters from the .hack video games, who were legendary .hackers that solved the riddle at the center of The World and made the game safe to play for everyone. Unfortunately, things start going sour as soon as Shugo and Rena show up; overpowered monsters killing low-level characters and sending their players into comas. It's up to Shugo, gifted with the Twilight Bracelet and the power of Data Drain, to solve the mystery and defeat whatever evil has taken over The World this time.
I really enjoyed .hack//SIGN and the subsequent video game series. It's no surprise, then, that I liked .hack//Legend of the Twilight Bracelet quite a bit. The animation quality is as good if not better than what we saw in .hack//SIGN and the music, albeit much cutsier, is still pretty good. The series is based on the .hack//DUSK manga, which is set to be released here this year sometime. They've taken the premise of the original show and basically extended it a bit, while adding a much lighter tone to the proceedings. Where .hack//SIGN was somber and angsty, this series has much more humor to it. The characters are substantially younger looking and The World itself seems far less menacing. For .hack fans, this show will be a real treat, but since it builds so much on what the first show and the videogames have already established, I can't reasonably recommend it to anyone who isn't already intimately familiar with the .hack world. I have to question Bandai's release schedule for this series in America, however. .hack//DUSK, if it's anything like this show, won't make an ounce of sense to anyone who hasn't seen the entire first series and at least played the first volume of the video game. I'd imagine that you'd really need to play through all four chapters of the game and watch the 4-part OVA series to really get everything you can out of it. I suppose we'll just have to be patient and watch everything in order.
What happens when you take already established characters and bring them back in cute chibi forms? You get .hack//Legend of the Twilight Bracelet. This series dives headfirst into the story from the moment the anime begins, making it clear that something is very wrong (yet again) in the World. Many characters are introduced, some in the chibi-ish forms while others in adult forms, and the animation quality is clean and beautiful to watch. The character's costumes are impressive and creative while the personalities themselves avoid the moodiness that Tsukasa had in .hack//Sign. The music is nice, though not as impressive as it could've been. For those who have already seen, read, or played .hack in any of its forms, then .hack//Bracelet is a similar and yet interesting addition to the .hack products. Being familiar with the basic plot of the World is helpful, but not necessary to enjoy this anime.
Wolf's Rain: In the post apocalyptic future, all the forests have been burned to the ground. According to the remaining human populace, wolves have been extinct for 200 years. They are, of course, wrong; wolves live among them, hidden in human form. There's a legend floating around that at the end of the world, paradise will appear; but only the wolves will be able to sniff it out. Henceforth, the humans have started devising ways to find this paradise themselves; and the wolves continue to struggle with life among the humans, also racing for the dream of paradise.
Far and away the best thing of the season, Wolf's Rain is exactly the kind of quality we'd expect from Bones, the studio responsible for Cowboy Bebop. This show maintains all of the aforementioned phenomenon's style and injects it with a much more thrilling and involving plotline. This is a finely crafted story with intricate characters; a lot of work was put in to developing the world of Wolf's Rain, and the result is a very deep and fascinating show. The animation is basically as good as you can get on television right now, and with shows like Ghost in the Shell: Stand Alone Complex and .hack//Legend of the Twilight Bracelet, that's saying a lot. I don't have to tell you that Yoko Kanno once again does a fantastic job with the musical score, and her work with the SeatBelts is catchy and very much appreciated amidst a sea of horribly synthesized J-pop trash. All they'll have to do to sell this show in America is slap “From the creators of Cowboy Bebop!” on it and people will buy it in droves. Fortunately, the series is worth a purchase. Don't miss Wolf's Rain, for any reason.
Wolf's Rain is an incredible anime that will likely gain the popularity it deserves. The animation quality is smooth in motion and sharp in design, especially with the wolves in their animal form. The backgrounds are realistic and the music fits the mood of each scene perfectly, yet neither draws attention away from the action and characters. The small ‘slips’ that happen when the wolves are in human form, such as their shadows being that of wolves and not humans, adds depth to the race of wolves, and hints at what they might be capable of. The story itself is simple but creative, focusing on the ‘extinct’ race of wolves, thought to be the only creatures that can find the promised “paradise” when the world ends. The wolves themselves are not extinct, but instead have learned to blend in to survive in the present world, taking the concept of natural adaptation a few steps into the future. They're exotic in nature, and yet these wolves want nothing more than to survive and live as they wish. Between Yoko Kano's wonderful music, a fascinating plot, and interesting characters, Wolf's Rain is definitely a series that should be seen by anyone who loves anime.
Nanaka 6/17: Gifted with a wand that magically turns her from having the mental capacity of a 17 year old girl to that of a 6 year old girl, Nanaka certainly has a strange life cut out for her. How this strange transforming power affecs her life and the people around her is a big question; one Nanakaa will certainly have to answer. Provide she isn't spending all her time at the playground.
Following in the footsteps of Bandai's charming series Fancy Lala, Nanaka 6/17 continues the trend of non-traditional magical girl shows. Where the powers gifted to the lead females don't necessarily help them fight evil. Unfortunately, Nanaka 6/17 misses where Lala hit; it plays pretty much everything for laughs. The 6-year old version of Nanaka takes most of the stage time and it sees like they're wasting a very good premise (albeit done better and to a much more entertaining and intelligent effect in Fancy Lala). The character designs strike me as particularly unappealing, specifically Renji, the male lead. He looks like he didn't quite make the final casting call for Shaman King. The characters are constantly breaking down into waterfall-tears-sweatdrops-swirly-glasses etcetera and so on. Essentially every anime humor cliché you can think of is in this show, and it's magnified to the tenth power whenever the 6 year old Nanaka is on screen. Basically, if for some strange reason you can't get a hold of Fancy Lala, opt for Nanaka 6/17 instead. Chances are that won't be the case.
Audiences might be fooled into believing that 6/17 represents Nanaka's mental age before and after she looses her memories. It's really a warning from the creators of the anime. If you're under 6 or over 17 years old, you should ignore this anime and watch something else. There are numerous points in the episode that are sweet and innocent, while the music fits the anime perfectly. It's also hard to enjoy this anime since the show tries to beat you over the head with how cute it can be. The characters have little depth to them and instead stick with the overused hyper-little-girl, bad-boy-who's-really-nice, and kind-father stereotypes. Nanaka 6/17's concept would've been better for a movie or OVA, but there's not enough substance to the characters or plot to last a season.
Licensed by Royal: Jack Hefner and Row Rikenbirker are two special agents working to uphold the integrity of the Royal Family of Ishutal. In this episode, a professor is smuggling fakes of artifacts, falsely declaring them rare, attaching the Royal Family's clout to the declaration and selling them off to the highest bidder. It's up to Jack and Rowe to set up a trap for him to fall in to; fortunately, these two agents are the best in the business.
Licensed by Royal is another bright spot in the anime landscape this spring. Special mention should be made of the opening theme, sung by Billy Preston, a famous rock and soul singer who worked with The Beatles on The White Album. The opening sequence itself is great fun; it features the characters singing along with the theme and having a great time, which really adds a laid-back and breezy tone to the entire show. The two main characters are charming and enigmatic, the animation is above average, and the storylines will keep you guessing until the end. The music throughout the show is fairly unique; I've never heard so many vocal songs used as background music before, with lyrics sung in both Japanese and English. It can be a little distracting at times, but I feel it quickens the pace of the show and really adds to the stylish, jazzy atmosphere. All in all, it's a pretty breezy affair. There isn't a lot of dark or heavy material here. It's certainly an adult show, but it doesn't stoop to bathroom or ecchi humor to get laughs. Interaction between the two main characters provides enough light chuckles to make the proceedings a little less serious than they would be otherwise. Comparisons are bound to come up between this and the countless others in the “stylish thief/bounty hunter/pirate/special agent” anime category, but this one has enough unique elements to make it stand out. A spiritual successor to shows like Lupin III and Cowboy Bebop rather than a rip-off, Licensed by Royal is destined to become a new fan favorite.
Licensed by Royal is somewhat disappointing, though this is due to my own lack of interest in this type of anime. The plot focuses mostly on the episode's case of retrieving a stolen painting, explaining why the painting must be returned, and catching the criminals. All the loose ends are wrapped up in a rushed explanation right before the final fight. A brief phone conversation between two unknown characters establishes the beginning of the story. It seems that with all the focus put on the plot, they forgot about the characters. Jack is intelligent and smooth, while his partner Row is the fighter and actor. It's obvious that they work well together, but the characters are flat without motivation. There is no reason to like these characters or care about what will happen to them as the series continues. Then there's the small problem about the music. Lively battle music should not be used during serious scenes of conversation. During the battle at the end of episode, it fits, but earlier it's very awkward and distracting. Though I didn't care for Licensed by Royal, I suspect I'm not quite the target audience for this series.
Someday's Dreamers: Yume is a
fledgling magician in Tokyo, where magic users are fairly common but still not
completely accepted by the public. You have to have a license to perform magic
and all magical acts are relegated by the city. It's Yume's first
day on the job at the Magical Labor Bureau, where she meets an entire cast of
eclectic and strange characters, including Masami Oyamada, a handsome second
rank magic-user who takes Yume in under his wing.
Yet another entertaining and watchable series, Someday's Dreamers is certainly a unique show. We've seen a lot of magic in anime, but never quite like this; not even the jokey and insipid fan favorite Mahou Tsukai Tai was done quite this well. The magic system in this series is very well thought out and solid. Clearly the creators were going for a believable world. In some respects, the show's character designs remind me a little of Fruits Basket, minus the heavy bishounen factor. The main character is a little bland, but the supporting characters are certainly an interesting group to watch interact. The animation is decent and serviceable, and the plotline zips right along, moving quickly from concept to concept. There's a good balance between humor and seriousness, something many shows can't quite find. The music is also above par for this kind of show. Many Japanese musicians seem to be taking cues from Yoko Kanno, crafting unique scores for every new series. Overall, Someday's Dreamers is a show nearly any anime fan could reasonably appreciate, and that's saying a lot.
If you're tired of the traditional 'magic girl' series, but still enjoy a story involving magic, then Someday's Dreamers will be the perfect anime for you. The characters are lifelike and have diverse and enjoyable personalities. Yume is a lovable character, yet she still has her flaws and makes mistakes while trying to help people. Oyamada jokes around with friends, flirts lightly with females, and behaves professionally when discussing important issues with people. The character designs lack the bouncing breasts and bulging muscles, opting instead for realistic proportions. The music is relaxing and fits the mood of the scene, while the background art is stunning without detracting from the characters and dialogue. The story, along with the characters, has room to grow throughout the season. It could remain a lighter show, or it could easily take a darker turn depending on how things develop. Hopefully the first episode is only a taste of what the series has to offer.
anime series, please tell us by answering our poll:
Which one of those titles are you most interested in seeing?