The Fall 2009 Anime Preview Guide
Bamboo Dong

by Bamboo Dong,
Bamboo Dong is the managing editor of ANN, and the writer of Shelf Life. She also contributes to and oversees the roundtable discussion column Chicks on Anime. During the day, Bamboo is a graduate student who is currently trying to get her doctorate in molecular biology. She reacts to the question, "How many years do you have left?" with extreme hostility.

Miracle Train

Rating: 2 (of 5)

What's really miraculous about Miracle Train is that in a mere 30 minutes, it's given fangirls across the world enough slash fodder to last them until the end of time.  Who knew there could be this many hot men on one train? And not just any men—they're wispy, bishonen personifications of train stations on the Oedo line.

Whenever a girl is experiencing some kind of problem, she magically boards the “Miracle Train,” whereupon she's aided by seven hot train stations that look like men.  Not only do they help round up lost puppies, but they also helpfully explain esoteric train rules, like what kind of animals are allowed onboard. They also impart out-of-place trivia about the line, in case you were desperately wondering how far underground the tracks were.  Only in an anime could this transcend into half an hour of quaint dialogue, forlorn stares, and blushing sighs of relief.  In real life, she'd likely be raped, killed, or both.  Of course, if they really were magical train stations, you'd think they could just tap into every station's surveillance cameras to find the dog, but that would be too sensible. 

However, the purpose of this show is very clear.  Hot men.  Hot, helpful men, who not only dress fashionably, but probably always call when they say they will.  And really, who am I to begrudge female viewers of their eye-candy?  This is the ultimate female fantasy.  These are men who will also sit with her, ask her what's wrong, and realize immediately that she's upset about more things than just her dog.  Basically, these are perfect men.  It's emotional pornography for women.

It helps that the visuals for Miracle Train are very easy on the eyes.  Ravishing character designs aside, each train station is drawn with great detail.  Even from the few hours that I've spent on the Oedo line, I can tell that the backgrounds are spot-on.  Not that anyone is actually looking at the backgrounds.

Miracle Train has gone through a checklist and made a show that pleases as many women as possible.  Every possible stereotype is used in the characters, all of whom would probably be open to the idea of sleeping with each other, and they all love talking about feelings.  And God knows women get horny listening to trivia about trains.  

That last part was a joke.  I have no damned clue why these ludicrously hot men won't shut up about trains. 

Shugo Chara! Party
Rating: 2 (of 5)
Watching Shugo Chara! Party is like pouring molten sugar into your eyes, then drowning in a vat of molasses.  It's saturated in cute.  Even the opening sequence is too cute to handle, with its herd of idols dancing around in a pink playhouse.  True to its name, Shugo Chara! Party is a collection of high-energy, cutesy vignettes, with a more traditional anime series nestled in the middle.  Before the show even starts, three bubbly girls dressed up as the Guardians (in Amulet form, obviously) inform us "what Shugo Chara Party's going to be like, 'kay?"  They serve as the transition between each animated segment, and presumably, male viewer fantasy fulfillment.

One of the recurring animated segments is Shugo Chara Pucchi Puchi, a mini show starring the various charas as they find flowers, sit on clouds, and anything else the creators think is adorable.  Drawn like paper cut-outs, layered over crayon backgrounds, this segment appears multiple times during each episode and mainly…tries to be cute.  Also in each episode is the Shugo Chara Encyclopedia, a recap feature that re-introduces all the characters from the first series.  Done in the style of a PV, it splices together scenes from Shugo Chara to the sugary pop tunes of idol music.

Halfway through the episode is where the actual anime sequel comes in, and it's much more reminiscent of the first series.  There's a new transfer student at the school, and although she doesn't have an Egg of her own, she can see the Guardians’ charas.  Then it's business as usual, as the girls try to save X Eggs with the help of their charas, who give them the ability to transform them into magical girls.  X Eggs are borne from pessimism and negativity, so for anyone who hasn't seen the series before, that's an indication of how peppy and upbeat it is.

As a whole, Shugo Chara! Party sways between terrifying and entertaining.  While the actual sequel and Pucchi Puchi are fun and enjoyable, the live-action transitions and the Encyclopedia are a bit of a drag to get through.  Recaps are nothing but a waste of time, and the forced enthusiasm in the live-action bits is tiresome.  That's one perk we have over Japanese TV viewers—we can skip to whatever segment we want.  Then again, I have a hunch that most of the viewers really do like the real girls the best.

Book of Bantorra

Rating: 3.5

Review: Either The Book of Bantorra is this season's next big thing, or it's just stringing us along, in a desperate attempt to get us to watch the second episode.

Based on a fairly popular light novel series of the same name, the first episode of this 13-episode series has thrown out as many tantalizingly vague hooks as possible. The central premise is that when people die, their souls fossilize and turn into books. These books are managed and protected by the Armed Librarians, who are so called because they have super powers.  Some can throw deadly spinning discs, some have super strength, while others can send out tendrils of light that can eavesdrop on any conversation.

However, when I say “people,” I'm not entirely sure what that means.  The Librarians aren't actually human, nor are the members of a powerful church that is trying to destroy their leader.  The only humans we see are hostages in a ship, who are dirty and desolate, and are being used as bombs.  And yet, it's revealed in the intro that humans are meant to be protected and loved, because they are the only creatures who have the ability to obtain everything they desire.  So what does that make the Librarians?  Angels?  I'm not sure.

I'm hoping for a delicately crafted metaphor of human survival and religion, but I'm not getting my hopes up.  Especially since the show has already cheapened itself by throwing in an extremely busty female character, a standard characteristic of a show that doesn't have confidence in its own storytelling abilities. Maybe the series just wanted an excuse to animate fight scenes between people with superpowers.

Visually, The Book of Bantorra is somewhat of a mixed bag, too.  It's certainly striking—clean lines, bright colors, and ample doses of CG to complement the outsourced animation, but the CG looks terrible, especially in the first half of the episode.  The special effects look shoddy, and the cheap rendering jobs look like they were done by kids with an old bootlegged copy of Bryce.  The ocean would barely be recognizable for what it is, were it not for the poorly rendered boats floating in it.  Yet, in the latter half of the series, I had to do a double-take, because some of the architectural elements in the backgrounds were absolutely gorgeous.  Whereas the animators couldn't draw a boat to save their lives, all the buildings (especially the exteriors) were painstakingly drawn, and they looked luxurious in comparison.  Why there's such a disparity in the art quality in just one episode is beyond my comprehension.

Overall, I think The Book of Bantorra has potential, but I'm not sold on it just yet.  With free streaming anime, it's easier nowadays to wait around and see if things “get better,” but time is precious.  I'll give it a couple more episodes.

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