The Fall 2006 Anime Preview Guide

by The ANN Reviews Team, Oct 22nd 2006

 




Welcome to the Fall 2006 Anime Preview Guide! By now, surely you know the drill; we watch countless new shows on the air right now in Japan and let you know what we think. Pretty simple, right?

A few important disclaimers. These are NOT INTENDED TO BE SERIES REVIEWS. They are simply overviews of the first (or the first few) episodes of a new series, intended to give you a taste of what the show's like, present you with our early take on the show's quality and then let you decide which ones might be worth your time. That's all there is to it; these are not blanket damnations or sweeping statements of praise meant to discuss the show as a whole. Think of it as a wine tasting, minus the pleasant buzzed feeling and free liquor.

Also, bear in mind that there are literally a ton of new shows and we simply don't have the time (or the patience or the sanity) to watch every last one, so what's included here are highlights, lowlights and a few inbetweens.

So, without further ado, on with the show!


BUSOU RENKIN

What's it about?

Kazuki is having a pretty bad day. After a terrifyingly realistic nightmare in which he saves a mysterious girl from certain death only to be impaled by a giant snake demon thing, he's sentenced to detention with the school's creepiest teacher. An encounter with the teacher after school reveals that Kazuki's dream wasn't a dream at all; he died, but the mysterious girl gifted him with a Kakugane, a special kind of alchemic metal that replaces his heart and gives him amazing alchemical battle skills! To make things even more interesting, the creepy teacher is actually a Homunculus, a monster tainted by alchemy that feeds on humans. Mysterious girl shows up and defeats the monster before it can devour Kazuki's adorable sister… and then heads off to the abandoned factory behind the school, which is a base for local homunculi. Determined to help her win the fight, Kazuki joins the battle by activating the Kakugane in his heart, producing a gigantic sword-thing he then uses to take the Homunculus out… but that's only the beginning!

Is it any good?
Watching Busou Renkin is like eating a tub of vanilla ice cream; it's kinda bland, and boring, and safe, but it's totally inoffensive. Straddling the fine line between good and bad (oftentimes referred to as ‘total, utter mediocrity’), Busou Renkin isn't anything special. This first episode moves pretty quick, and the threadbare plot exposition is spat out at a mile a minute; there isn't a whole lot of explanation as to what exactly is going on. You'll be able to keep up – basically the show is just another mishmash of common shonen action clichés – but it's difficult to care about the back story when it seems totally tangential to the action on screen. In the show's defense, it's nice to see an action show that doesn't seem to care enough about its own complicated storyline to spend too much time bogged down with lugubrious exposition; they get right to the action, and that's that. This show has absolutely no pretension about what it is, and there's something refreshing about that. It's hard to believe that a show this excessively generic was created by the same guy who gave us Rurouni Kenshin, though. -Zac Bertschy



TOKIMEKI MEMORIAL ~ONLY LOVE~

What's it about?
Based on perhaps the most famous dating simulation game in Japan, Tokimeki: Only Love centers on one male student, Aoba Riku. The episode opens with Riku being chased down the hall by an enormous gang of boys, most of them wearing various animal ears. The story unfolds through flashback in Riku's moments of peace when he finds a hiding spot.  At the beginning of the day, he is introduced to the school by the principal's rather buxom secretary, who tells him that the theme of the school is freedom.  Riku is curious, and he asks many people over the course of the day what that means, but only gets shifty looks in reply.  The animal ears are also a mystery to him, but it seems they are given as rewards for various activities.  Having a more rare set is an indication of social status, as Riku finds out when he is loaned a pair of special cat ears by the student body president, who is up to no good.  He is effectively made the target of a zany chase, the prize for which is the email address of the most sought-after girl in school, the one who Riku naturally developed a crush on as soon as he entered the classroom.  The episode ends with Riku finding said girl underneath a tree, and earning a kind smile from her. 

Is it any good?
Well, it is a television series based on a dating simulation game, a very popular one at that.  There are going to be hordes of pre-existing fans watching this, and if you are one of those, you will probably think it is good, or at least better than the short OVA produced in 1999.  The series has an all-new cast of characters, unlike the OVA, but it does seem to feature the special tree from the original TokiMeki game. The music has a classical sound to it, which is apparently standard for “Tokimemo.” It is very shiny and pretty, and the animation and production look very much like a dating game, so it is very authentic.  That said, it is very much like a dating game.  I can guarantee there will be plenty of fan-service, extreme use of stock characters and generic designs, as well as familiar sequences involving homemade lunches, excruciatingly cute date outfits and of course the standard waiting-for-the-girl-who's-late-for-the-date-in-the-rain sequence.  It will undoubtedly be a cute and harmless way to pass the time, but you may lose a few brain cells while watching, so be advised. - Melissa Harper


PUMPKIN SCISSORS

What's it about?
A long and bitter war between the Empire and the Republic has finally come to a cease-fire, leaving devastation in its wake. Over the next three years a new Empire military unit, called Pumpkin Scissors, is formed for war relief efforts, a duty which often involves scouting out and dealing with soldiers-turned-bandits who plague the local citizenry. Alice, a petite blonde 2nd Lieutenant in charge of a Pumpkin Scissors squad, is fiercely and righteously committed to her duty, but she also possesses a kind of “spider sense” which tingles when she first meets Orland, a gentle, morose giant of a man who, it turns out, was once an Anti-Tank Trooper. He proves to be a handy guy to have around when Alice's squad is confronted with a tank-using bandit gang, one that was formerly a military unit that never officially existed.

Is It Any Good?
One of the oddest-named series of the new season, it's not at all clear from the first episode what, if anything, “Pumpkin Scissors” is supposed to mean; one gets the impression that the creators at Gonzo just thought it sounded like a cool nickname for a military unit. What is clear is the series’ intent: a focus on military forces that go around cleaning up the messes still lingering years after a major war rather than fighting said war. This kind of “troubleshooters” approach is a staple of both live-action and animated TV series on both sides of the Pacific, so it's too early to tell if this one is going to take a more episodic approach or have a larger overarching plot beyond a probable eventual romantic connection between Alice and Orland. (The hints have already been dropped.) It's also too early to tell if this one is going to stand out. The first episode is well-paced, well-executed, and looks good (especially Alice's design and the handling of the tank), but the only things original about it are the way the message-delivery dog is used and the emphasis on playing up the creepy side of Orland and his combat abilities. Alice is distinctive as the gung-ho female lead, but her attitude and bearing will remind viewers an awful lot of Haruhi Suzimiya, and Orland is just a typical sad-sack big guy when not in Termination Mode. More noteworthy are the opener and closer, the former of which is a solid but very atypically-styled number for anime series and the latter of which plays up the series’ occasional lighter notes.

Too early to tell if Gonzo has a winner here, but the series does have potential as long as its plotting gives it a chance to distinguish itself. - Theron Martin



KANON 2006

What's it about?
Yuichi Aizawa has just transferred to a new school and a new town, moving into his aunt's house. Although he used to visit this place often as a child, his memories have since faded away. Yuichi's teenage cousin Nayuki has quickly taken a liking to him, and she hopes to jog his memory about their childhood. One day while out on a shopping trip, Yuichi runs into another girl, Ayu, who apparently has some connection with him too. It seems that everyone he meets remembers him, but why can't he remember anything about this town?

Is it any good?
For those who missed Kanon on the first go-round (which includes me), this is where that "sad girls in snow" meme comes from. Cultural context aside, however, it's not nearly as great or important as the hype would have you believe; Kyoto Animation is only as good as their source material, and anyone expecting the next Haruhi Suzumiya will be disappointed. There may have been a time when the idea of a nondescript young male having heartwarming encounters with mildly attractive girls would have seemed somewhat fresh. This is no longer that time.
 
Middling pacing and a sickly-sweet tone detract from the show; there's only so much sentimentality and "uguu" the human mind can take before dissolving in a rotting pile of moe. The story at this point still doesn't have much to build on, with everyone mostly being cute and polite to each other. The gradual plot movement suggests that it will depend heavily on the "it gets better later on" factor, but that itself is a gamble on how many episodes people are willing to wait for the story to pick up.

To their credit, though, KyoAni always applies a very high level of polish to anything they do. Character designs are consistent throughout, despite the generic big-eyed bishoujo look (so, this Neo-Kyon moves into a town where all the girls are Neo-Mikuru...), and the color palette absolutely glistens. The winter backgrounds are particularly evocative; you can almost feel the cold air over the snow-filled streets. There's also an inspired snippet of animation in Episode 1 where Ayu spins round and round looking for the decorative wings on her backpack. Little flourishes like this show the studio at it most technically accomplished, trying to have some fun with a rather ordinary story. On the audio end, the background music is forgettable, but the voice acting is as confident as they come, really bringing out the characters' personalities (two-dimensional as they might seem).

Ultimately, having a fan-favorite studio remake a so-so anime series is like asking famous classical pianist Emanuel Ax to play an arrangement of a Barry Manilow song. It's going to be gorgeous as all get out, but you never forget the banality of the content. - Carlo Santos



LOVEDOL ~LOVELY IDOL~

What's it about?
The Lovedols are a popular group of idol singers with two "generations" of performers already well established. A third generation of Lovedols is ready to make its debut, but right before they're cued to go onstage, manager Tomohiro learns that the debut has been delayed by order of the company president. Unsure about the reasons behind this, Tomohiro starts to wonder what the third generation is lacking. Maybe they need another singer—and when he spots a street musician with a guitar, he may very well have found the answer. Recruiting her, however, could turn out to be harder than expected.

Is it any good?
I wish this were a riotous send-up of Japan's idol-pop business. I wish this were about poking MorningBerryzTeam48 with the parody fork. It's not. It's a straight-up recitation of how teenage girls-next-door rise to C-list celebrity status, except with the real-time uncertainty and excitement of the actual idol world sucked out of it. Other things that have been sucked out of this production include: storyline, personalities, animation, and any music that might have been decently catchy. We're already dealing with low standards in the first place—the series is basically all about flashy bubblegum-pop pageantry—but when the first episode opens with six minutes of song-and-dance and I cannot remember a single note, that is unforgivable. The whole point of bubblegum pop is to get stuck in people's heads!

And then the actual plot kicks in, and you suddenly wish you were back to being musically bludgeoned with more karaoke-ready fluff.

Even by harem anime standards, even by dating/ero-game adaptation standards, this is as low as they come. They dish out too many girls to start with (the first and second generation Lovedols add up to 12 in total), but even when the focus shifts to the central four in the third generation, their personalities are too poorly-defined to tell them apart. One of them is a sister of the second-generation twins, or something, but does anyone care? Do they give us anything worth caring about? If it's this hard creating a distinct image for a set of fictional characters, it's no wonder people feel intimidated trying to figure out real-life idol singers.

The animation itself is similarly forgettable. The show's attempts at eye-candy indulgence are nothing more than a jumble of faded colors, lookalike character designs, poorly designed outfits and staging, and enough slow pans to qualify as a slideshow. Even Tomohiro's encounter with the street musician—a fairly ordinary scene, far from the visual demands of an idol performance and pretty basic on an animator's difficulty scale—manages to fall flat. Funny how a series that's supposed to be about attractive girls has absolutely nothing attractive about it.

I have to give credit for the street musician's last line in the episode, though, which is strangely amusing in its bluntness. But still, even the kiddie-popstar series Kirarin Revolution is better than this. Better yet, go watch the best idol-singer anime ever made, Perfect Blue.- Carlo Santos



LE CHEVALIER D'EON

What's It About?
In France of the 1750s, d'Eon de Beaumont works for the secret police of Louix XV, investigating and dealing with potential threats to the Crown away from the limelight. Though dedicated to his job, d'Eon also has a second purpose: to investigate the death of his sister Lia, herself an accomplished agent and swordswoman. Faint clues about the cause of her death lead d'Eon into a dark world of intrigue, secret organizations, and supernatural monsters. Unbeknownst to d'Eon, though, he has a secret weapon: Lia's spirit is never far from him, and may step in to help him in times of great need.

Is It Any Good?
Period-piece anime series set outside of Japan are quite rare but usually quite memorable, and this take on mid-18th century France, which began regular broadcast in mid-August but was previewed as far back as July, is likely to also make a lasting impression. Based on the first two episodes of a scheduled 24, Production I.G has a real winner on their hands here. Vampires, ghostly possessions, and mysterious secret organizations are the order of the day, but what makes this one special is that it is all rigidly set within the context of actual people, places, and events. The more a viewer researches on the characters involved, the greater the appreciation will be for how clever the series is at adapting real people, stories, and rumors into a supernatural reinterpretation of what actually happened. (Count Saint-Germain, for instance, really was a reputed alchemist who claimed to be hundreds of years old and was later cast as a vampire in a series of fiction novels, while the historical d'Eon de Beaumont was a reputed cross-dresser.)

Although both of the first two episodes have a fair dose of action, it's the intrigue and complex plotting which are most likely to draw and capture attention. Production I.G has also turned in an impressive technical effort, as great pains have been taken to model actual historical figures off of surviving portraits of them and recreate the sumptuous costuming of the time. The artistry isn't flawless, but the gorgeous interior shots of Versailles more than compensate for other minor artistic shortcomings. A strong musical score also helps. The only significant flaw is a set of Japanese voices that, in general, doesn't sound right on these very distinctly European characters.

If the early quality of this adult-oriented drama holds throughout then Le Chevalier D'Eon has the potential to be one of the season's best new series. -Theron Martin



NEGIMA?!

What's it about?
A plucky youngster named Negima!? who also happens to be a wizard-in-training is tasked with teaching a class chock full of jailbait middle school girls. If you don't already know what Negima!? is about, color me shocked.

Is it any good?
Well, it's better, anyway. This is basically a remake; the first Negima!? Anime series was widely considered a massive disappointment, due to low animation quality, questionable storytelling and bizarre character design problems. This time around, they've toned down the fanservice to basically nonexistent levels (which is nice, considering the ages of the characters involved in the show), the animation quality is much better and the show seems more focused on telling a decent story. The design focuses almost completely on being “cute”, with no attempt at sexualizing any of the characters. This time around, we're dumped basically right into the Evangeline storyline, and if the press releases they've put out about this series are to be believed, this new show will tell an entirely new version of the story and won't follow the manga page by page. It's all well and good, and to be frank, this version of Negima!? is vastly more tolerable than either the manga or the original anime. It's tough to recommend this show if you're not already predisposed toward Ken Akamatsu's storytelling, but if you are, this'll be a real treat. -Zac Bertschy



CRESCENT LOVE
What's it about?
Years ago, an attempt to colonize the moon ended in a disastrous war, killing more humans than any other war in history.  As a result, the moon colony shut itself off from earth, creating its own kingdom. Now the moon kingdom and earth are attempting to patch things up, so the princess of the moon is sent to Earth for a home stay where she will learn about Earth to improve diplomacy between the two countries.  It seems she has visited the earth once before, as a little girl. The show centers on a young man, Tatsuya Asagiri, who seems to be a normal guy.  After the opening explanation of the moon war, the first half of the show follow Tatsuya around his very ordinary life of school, where he illustrates a bit of popularity and a propensity to pinch noses, and part-time work at a restaurant where he fits in like family. Upon coming home, he learns that his sister, the President's press secretary, has been appointed to host Princess Feena's home stay.  So, the princess and her maid join the Asagiri household. They enjoy a nice dinner at the restaurant where Tatsuya works, and the rest of the characters are introduced, including a pervy photographer.  Princess Feena seems particularly interested in Tatsuya's habit of pinching people's noses; could it be she met him on Earth when she visited before?

Is it any good?
It actually pained me to write that last sentence, but such is the nature of the show.   The point of the story is obviously some sort of romance between Feena and Tatsuya.  I'm sure within a couple of episodes we will discover that they actually made some sort of childhood pledge to reunite and be happy forever, or something cliché and nauseating like that.  Tatsuya's nose thing is just bizarre; the only purpose seems to be to give Feena something to remember about him.  The strange thing is that he doesn't seem to remember her.  Wouldn't you remember meeting the princess of the moon? 

The opening of the show is this massive battle sequence, narrated by a serious, deep-voiced man, so at first you think your watching some epic space war story, but when the scene changes to Feena's shuttle with the cute sigils on it, and her cute maid is making cute excited noises, it clashes so horribly that you can't help but laugh.  That's pretty much what this show is good for.  Watch it to laugh at the ridiculousness of it all, or don't watch it at all. -Melissa Harper



BLACK BLOOD BROTHERS

What's it about?
In a modern world where vampires have a sizable an openly-known presence, warfare occasionally erupts between the Black Bloods (vampires) and Red Bloods (humans). In the middle of this conflict is Jirou, aka Silver Blade, a powerful Old Blood who suffers deeply from a lost loved one, who discovers that another former female friend now stands against him. Years later, while traveling back to Japan with his young brother Kotaro, the ship that the two of them are stowing away on becomes a battlefield between vampire refugees seeking a protected place called the Special Zone and a private army of troops seeking to eliminate them. Again caught in the middle, he is looked at as a potential ally by one side and enemy by another, though his actual concern is only Kotaro.

Early in the morning Mimiko Katsuragi receives an urgent call to action. But what kind, and who she works for, remains to be seen. . .

Is it any good?
Black Blood Brothers badly wants to be a cool, action-oriented vampire series, so much so that the appearance and dress of its male lead is heavily patterned off of Alucard from Hellsing. There's little in the first episode which indicates that it will be able to achieve that goal, however, and indeed, it has some factors working against it. The biggest is the ridiculous, almost clownish, outfit Jirou wears, especially that awful red stove-pipe hat with the buckle. (What were the clothing and character designers thinking when they made that atrocity?) Yeah, Jirou can slash multiple vampires at once with his silver sword, manipulate people with telekinesis, or stop bullet and flick them back into the barrels of the guns that fire them, but that outfit just destroys his character credibility. The series also struggles to decide where its balance between serious and more light-hearted content lies, and some of its attempts at humor just don't work. The female lead featured prominently in the opener doesn't appear until the very end of the episode, although the Next Episode preview implies that she's some kind of interracial mediator. Time will tell on her.

Although the artistry and animation look pretty good, they're nowhere near top-of-the-line, and most of the character designs look like they're borrowed from other series. The action scenes might be enough to catch the attention of some viewers, but so far this one doesn't impress. -Theron Martin


ASATTE NO HOUKOU

What's it about?
Shouko Nakami has just returned to the quiet Japanese countryside after a stint in America. On a bike ride one day, she comes across a little girl named Karada who's praying at a roadside shrine; along comes her big brother, Hiro, who as it turns out is Shouko's ex! The next day, on a trip to the beach, Shouko and Hiro wind up in a fight that reveals Hiro left America (and, subsequently, Shouko) to fly back to Japan and care for his little sister after their parents died. Upset, Shouko runs off to find Karada praying again at the roadside shrine… a breeze picks up, the trees rustle, and suddenly, Karada and Shouko have exchanged ages!

Is it any good?
If you're a big fan of shows like Aria or Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou, Asatte no Houkou is going to be right up your pastel-colored alley. Paced slowly and deliberately and doused in the kind of nostalgic sentimentality that makes shows like this so popular with a certain type of fan, Asatte no Houkou is a very specific kind of show that's aimed at a very specific type of person. It's entertaining enough; the animation's well-done and the character designs are distinctive and unique. For most of the first episode you might find yourself wondering why you're supposed to care about these characters, but then the fantasy twist at the end shakes it all up and it's clear what we're in for.

For the time being, it appears that the show will focus primarily on interpersonal drama, without careening into comedy territory; in spite of the show's somewhat jokey premise, I sincerely doubt they're going to get much comedy out of it, which might seem odd to American audiences since this exact premise has been done countless times in comedy movies (if only this series starred Judge Reinhold and Fred Savage!), but I doubt that'll be much of an obstacle for anyone. In short, you already know if you're the kind of person who'll dig this show. It's competent, somewhat interesting, and dripping with the same kind of atmosphere that shows like the aforementioned Aria are famous for. -Zac Bertschy



CODE GEASS - LELOUCH OF THE REBELLION

What's it about?
In the far future, Western Civilization has coalesced into a tyrannical global empire known as Britannia. Their iron grip has even reached the nation of Japan—now renamed Area 11—where its inhabitants reduced to second-class citizens. Most "Elevens" have given up their liberty for the sake of safety, but others have a more radical outlook. Young student Lelouch still believes in Japanese pride, but a confrontation with Britannic military forces shakes his confidence when he sees that his childhood friend has become a soldier of the empire. Just as Britannia's goons are about to finish him off, however, a hallucinatory vision suddenly gives him the power to fight back.

Is it any good?
Is this what CLAMP has been reduced to? Doing character designs for convoluted pseudo-political mecha shows? Surely they should be long past the work-for-hire phase these days.

Also, Gundam Seed called, and they want their premise back.

You know you're in trouble when an anime character says "Nippon banzai!" without the slightest trace of comic irony. No, our hero is not rooting for the Olympic team; he's asserting his national pride because he's being held at gunpoint by Evil Foreign Invaders. Clearly, Code Geass is trying its darnedest to be a deep, dramatic action series, but those nationalistic elements keep getting in the way. So blatant is the flag-waving that it might as well be the theme anime of Shinzo Abe. And how about that Britannia? It doesn't get much more overt than an opening graphic where a big scary arrow points from the Americas towards Japan. The message is clear: "This is what will happen if George W. Bush takes over the world." See, there are some shows that strive for relevance by using political subtext; this one does it with in-your-face supertext.

Away from the cultural aspects, the characters and settings fail to hold much interest. Political dealings involve too many references to people and places that haven't been explained yet. Lelouch's childhood friendship is the only thing that makes sense—everything else is foreign-policy hand-wringing and dense military talk. Like many stories based on a complex alternate world, this one makes the rookie mistake of trying to introduce too much about that world. The result is an overloaded blur of ravaged urban areas, fancy-dress imperialists, rollerblading mechas, terrorist hunts, and oh yeah, "Nippon banzai!" Also adding to the awkward heavy-handedness is dramatic music that seems to be playing all the time.

On the plus side is a slick visual presentation, with bright colors and sci-fi imagery that belie the dour subject matter. There's some good design and detail on the mechanical end: military uniforms and vehicles look convincing, and the mechas, although a bit conservative, certainly have enough of a striking presence. The trouble begins when different visual styles collide—the Four First Ladies of Manga may not have been the best choice for concept art, as their swishy characters and European-influenced costuming fail to blend with the linear, futuristic designs that Sunrise does best. Maybe CLAMP should stick to finishing up the manga series that they've left hanging. -Carlo Santos



DEATH NOTE

What's it about?
Light Yagami sure is bored. He's a genius, and he's trapped in high school classes that are far beneath what his intellect is capable of. That all changes when he comes across the Death Note, an unassuming notebook that also happens to control the actions of a Death God named Ryuk, a perpetually grinning spectre of death that ends the lives of whoever's name is written in the Note. Light immediately enacts a plan to take down the world's criminals, but once they start dropping like flies, the police send enigmatic detective L after him…

Is it any good?
Although there have been a few atmospheric changes, Death Note basically follows the manga exactly. What does that mean? Well, if you've already read the manga, then there isn't going to be a lot here that's going to surprise you. There's a slight change in tone – this version of the story feels darker, and the character designs and animation seem more harsh than the tone suggested by the comic, but otherwise it's the same story. The animation is absolutely gorgeous, and if you haven't read this story yet, then this show will doubtlessly captivate you – Death Note is, after all, one of the more compelling and well-executed manga of the past few years. The show is no different.

If it sounds like there isn't a lot to say about this show, frankly, there isn't; it's already extremely popular both in the US and Japan and odds are anyone remotely interested in the story has read the manga. It's the big blockbuster title of the season, for sure, but odds are, most people will check this one out regardless. -Zac Bertschy


SHONEN ONMYOUJI

What's it about?
Abeno Masahiro is the grandson of the world's greatest Onmyouji (otherwise known as a “spirit hunter”, Abe no Seimei. The only problem is, Masahiro is a royal screw up at what he does, and in spite of his amazing legacy, he can't seem to seal evil spirits with anything approaching competence. That all changes when a fanged rabbit thing named Mokkun shows up and decides to take little Masahiro under his wing and teach him how to not suck so badly. Mokkun brings out the best in Masahiro and the lad manages to bust out his real power in a dangerous encounter with an evil spirit, which also triggers a response in Mokkun that turns him into a really suave dude who lends Masahiro a helping hand when the going gets a little too rough.

Is it any good?
Kind of a cross between shonen ai mainstay Loveless and your average generic shonen action series, Shonen Onmyouji starts out somewhat promising and winds up being exactly what you thought it would be; so far the only surprise is the shonen ai subtext introduced at the end of this first episode when the standard cute sidekick transforms into a standard hot bishonen dude who's obviously here to provide the fangirls with just enough romantic subtext to fuel a million X-rated doujinshi.

As a run-of-the-mill “I'm gonna be the best [INSERT PROFESSION HERE] ever!” anime, Shonen Onmyouji is pretty inoffensive; it isn't really good or bad enough to recommend one way or the other. This show has the potential to be better than it is, given the subject matter; the opening credits hint at a huge cast of interesting-looking characters, so here's hoping it improves down the road without getting too caught up with its own homosexual subtext. Hopefully it'll wind up being either a straight-up action show or a shonen ai romance, not some wishy-washy mashup of the two. -Zac Bertschy


AYAKASHI AYASHI

What's it about?
Ryuudo Yukiatsu is a ronin in Edo period Japan.  Unable to stay in one place for any period of time, he has been wandering for years, pursued by a mysterious vision.  Recently escaped from the ghetto where rootless immigrants to Edo (called “floaters”) are forced to live, Yuki (as the locals call him) is working at a local bathhouse when he encounters a young boy who can see the very same visions that have plagued him since childhood.  While attempting to help the boy and his mother, Yuki comes face-to-face with a youi, a demon thought to be “pestilence personified.”  The youi is attacked by a mysterious group of warriors who have their own plans to use Yuki for his tremendous powers as the last “Ayashi.”

Is it any good?
Every year has its monster bustin’ anime, and Ayakashi Ayashi is shaping up to fall squarely into that category.  Fortunately it has plenty to distinguish it from its lesser brethren.  The production values are top-notch (what else would you expect from studio Bones?), from the spectacular manifestation of the Brontosaurus-meets-not-so-little-green-man youi to the inevitable unveiling of Yuki's latent powers, the animation is excellent. The Edo setting is meticulously realized, with attention duly paid to the social and political, as well as physical, settings.  The political trappings make for slightly dull viewing, but are undoubtedly important in the long run, and the idea of floaters and ghettos is interesting. Kudos to the production team for making the grimy underside of the city so believable; it's nice to see a hard-luck young widow who actually looks hard-up, and lower-class denizens who look, well, low-class. The show also demonstrates a firm grasp of when to dwell on characters and when to ramp up the action, and Yuki is shaping up to be a more mature, moral hero than is common for this type of show.  Unfortunately he's also a titch boring, and the first episode is already showing discomforting signs of contracting group-of-misfits-fights-monsters-itis. The warriors who fight the youi consist of a burly barbarian, an effeminate, cross-dressing man, and an ambiguously-sexed young boy.  Add in straight-arrow Yuki and it's sentai time!  Another warning sign is the obligatory menacing-man-in-the-shadows (Hmm, I wonder if he's plotting something); and the fact that Yuki will discover his super-powers in the nick of time is such an inevitability that it borders on boring.  Ayakashi Ayashi has the potential to be a well-executed jidai-geki styled anime with some romping monster-stomping action, but it simultaneously teeters on the edge of an abyss of team oriented fighting show clichés.  Whether it treads the line or falls in, it'll undoubtedly look fabulous while doing so, so if eye-candy's your thing, tune in regardless.-Carl Kimlinger


BARTENDER

What's it about?
Sasakura Ryuu is a bartender at the bar Eden's Hall and is known as the creator of the Glass of God. Chief Kamishima is a bar-hating hotel employee who has been commissioned to design a new bar for his hotel.  He abuses his bartender hopefuls and fails to create a suitable bar design.  That is, until he ends up at Eden's Hall where Ryuu makes him a drink and solves all his problems on the spot.  The end.

Is it any good?
Is it possible that Bartender was designed to drive its viewers to drink?  This has to be one of the most abysmally boring shows in years.  Luckily the scrumptious portrayal of various cocktails and the recipes at the end of the episode provide the viewer with one method of improving their viewing experience: getting knock-down soggy drunk.  Indeed it's probably the only way to enjoy a show as devoid of interest as this one.  If the first episode (and the opening) are any indication, Bartender will be 11 episodes of Ryuu solving people's problems with the magic of alcohol and a little conversation.  And if the writing in future episodes is as insipid, silly, and downright awful as that on display in the first, then it will be perhaps the longest 11 episodes anyone has had to watch.  Kamishima has nothing more to him than his hatred of bars, just as Ryuu is nothing more than his role as bartender.  The Glass of God bit is embarrassingly overwrought (is it supposed to be a play on the Divine Move from Hikaru no Go?), and Kamishima's conversion is predicated on cringe-inducing monologue by Ryuu that hinges on a interpretation of the word bartender that is either a very bad pun or a humiliating misinterpretation of what the “tender” in “bartender” means.  Either way, English-speaking viewers will be left either blushing in embarrassment or laughing like hyenas, neither of which was the intended reaction.  Bartender makes a valiant attempt at covering up its fundamental emptiness with new-wave cinematic trickery such as fifth wall breaches, stagy narration, odd transitions, and use of stage conventions such as monologues and spotlights (complete with sound effects).  The effort is wasted.  The whole business is so monumentally uninspired that no stylistic elaboration on earth can save it from boring its audience to tears.  That said, the animation is very good (as much animation as there is in a show whose action highlight is making ice-cubes), and the woman who does some of the narration is cute as a button.  That's small consolation for those who waste their time on this tripe.-Carl Kimlinger


D. GRAY-MAN

What's it about?
Akuma are killer machines created by the Millennium Count that possess human souls, and destroy other humans in an attempt to evolve into more powerful forms.  The Exorcists are a group of people who, aided by weapons known as Innocence, fight Akuma and try to gather together all of the Innocence in the world.  Allen Walker is an apprentice Exorcist fresh from India, on his way to England to visit the Headquarters of the Exorcists in order to become a full-fledged member.  Upon arrival he must learn to integrate himself into the community and work alongside other Exorcists, all the while fighting the Akuma.

Is it any good?
If the premise sounds a little familiar, it's only because D.Gray-man is derivative to its very core.  There is absolutely nothing original in this show.  Nothing.  Kind-hearted yet powerful hero? Check.  Animal-like sidekick thingy? Check.  Evil enemy bent on world domination? Check.  Powerful enemies with tragic origins? Check. Strong rival with bad attitude? Check.  Weird superiors? Check.  Dark mysterious organization with ambiguous goals? Check.  You could go on checking the shounen genre tropes in this show until carpal tunnel set in and you could write no more, and you still wouldn't get them all.  Still, it's a tried-and-true formula, and saying that it's boring would be a lie.  There's plenty here to keep the entertainment rolling; the fights are well staged, the conflicts between Walker and his primary rival-in-the-making Kanda are good for a bit of tension, there's a few dashes of humor (largely thanks to the aforementioned superiors), and there's even a cute girl Exorcist!  The technical merits are all on the high end of average, and the crucial little details (special powers and enemy designs, including the Penguin look-alike Millennium Count) that help distinguish it from the swamp of similar material are in place (if not as distinctive as they could be).  It's a well-worn recipe, but it's repeated so often only because it works so well; and similarly formulaic outings have yielded surprisingly good results (think Chrono Crusade).  That said, shows like D.Gray-man are the fast-food burgers of anime. They all taste the same, but they're good enough (and require so little effort) that people keep coming back for more, and if you feel a little empty afterwards, well, no one eats fast food for the nutrition, so you only have yourself to blame.-Carl Kimlinger


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