The Summer 2010 Anime Preview Guide
by Jacob Chapman,
Rating: 5+++ (for fans of the 1st series) 4 (for everyone else)
Fans of Black Butler have had a very nasty trick played on them.
When the 2nd season of the series was announced, (and for those who have seen the 1st, a 2nd season even being produced was eyebrow-raising,) a new cast of characters was introduced to us. There's a new butler, Claude Faustus, (yeah, subtle,) his new master, Alois Trancy, and a houseful of new servants to shake things up.
Fans were neither pleased nor interested.
However, the opening scene, with Alois crawling out of bed naked and covered in bruises, being assuaged by a friendly spider, and then baring a pentagram on his tongue, assures us that yes, this is absolutely Black Butler, albeit with a new face. The previous damned hero, Ciel, was a boy of conscience and ambition, chosen by his demon servant because of his good soul, which is much tastier than a wicked one. His thirst for vengeance and ominous fate were all the more tragic for such a likable character. This new young master revels in gouging out his maid's eye when she looks him in the face, and proceeds to call her a whore and make ridiculous, childish demands of his butler, who seems weaker than Sebastian, and gravely serious rather than coy and playful. It's hard to decide if we want to see Faustus devour Trancy's soul or not. Yes, we want the little munchkin to die horribly, but stuffy old Faustus probably won't make his death very fun. What a nasty trick on the fans!
The nasty trick, however, is not the advent of this new setup, but a sumptuous treat in the form of the episode's second half. It has to be watched to be believed, but this is hands-down the best premiere to a second season in recent memory, launching a sequence of new twists that feels like a quick zoom out from a cup of coffee to a surrounding feast of new possibilities, nearly shouting to the fans “Yeah, we got you pretty good, didn't we? This is what we're really doing with the new story.”
Due to the all-new cast, newcomers will be able to understand this episode fairly well, and the sumptuous gothic atmosphere and creepy blend of gallows humor and tragedy are still engaging, but all fans of the previous series should attend. This series is for you and knows exactly what it's doing.
Kuroshitsuji II is available streaming at Funimation.com.
Moyashimon (Live Action)
The only thing setting this slapstick-happy J-drama apart from many others of its ilk are the adorable floating microbes. Yes, Japan can even make smelly germs into squeezable bubbles of cuteness.
Sawaki has moved to the country to avoid the griminess of the city that pesters him day in and day out. Grime literally pesters him because he can see microbes with the naked eye, and they look like marshmallows in a cereal with a bad prize inside. Upon arriving at the Agricultural Institute of his choice, he's assaulted by dozens of goons trying to rope him into their respective clubs, none stranger than two goofballs dressed as mold for the school's science lab. After making their acquaintance, he gets drafted by Professor Itsuki, a family friend, to help him with his microbe research, unintentionally jilting his leather-clad lady assistant who despises Sawaki for upstaging her…and innocently pointing out she's picked up a minor case of athlete's foot. (I sense romance~!)
Yes, it's silly, grossly overacted like most J-dramas, and the CG mold segments are cuddly, but this is simply the kind of thing you'll watch if you're a fan of the manga or anime, or a fanatic of J-drama in general. Outside of that, I can't imagine this holding appeal for more than two episodes or so. It's a decent little waste of time.
Moyashimon live-action is available streaming at Funimation.com.
In a boring farming village in the mountains where the heat is sweltering at its peak and cicadas fill the air with their deafening chatter, we begin Shiki with a scene of gruesome death at night.
Mm-hm. It's what it sounds like, cicadas crying and all. But those familiar with the hyper-moe gorefest Shiki hearkens to know this isn't a bad thing. Other elements like wraithlike wolves sucking the lives from villagers and leaving their bodies to rot recall more mellow horror anime of the past year, and its this balance that makes Shiki incredibly intriguing so far.
An opening showing all our lead characters being reduced to dribbly corpses doesn't hurt either.
Megumi is the only stylish lolita in a wee town of cow-trotting fashionless bumpkins. (She's introduced in a shot snatched right out of Kamikaze Girls, but it's still funny.) When a mysterious family of high style and grace moves into a mansion looming over the village, she's dying to meet them and be whisked away from her boring town if only for a few minutes. It may have behooved little Miss Pink Parasol to keep her distance from these big bad wolves, as what befalls her at the mansion is hardly glamorous.
All of the characters here, apart from the ones that die, but seeing as this supernatural horror, I wouldn't count them out just yet, are interesting both visually and in character. From the chain-smoking doctor to the little sister with starburst pigtails, everyone is already looking into the mystery that has ensnared Megumi, and it will be interesting to see where the story takes each character's search.
Can it keep up the intrigue? Given that the episode was equal parts psychedelic spookiness and authorities just standing around talking, it's hard to say. It might build to be the best horrific thrill since Higurashi, or it may be a more tempered, Ghost Hound-like pleasure. Either way, it may have the strongest start of the season thus far in its balance of both narrative quality and cheap thrills.
Shiki is available streaming at Funimation.com.
Strike Witches 2
Rating: 3 (familiarity with 1st season required)
You know…this really isn't all that bad.
I'm not familiar with Strike Witches, haven't seen so much as a frame of the first season, well…I saw the trailer. That was enough to assure me I never wanted to see this show, ever. So I braced myself for the absolute worst when presented with its second season.
Yes, there are panties everywhere. Yes, the girls are estimated to be 16-year olds but look…twelve at the most. However, there's also a story here. It's entirely contingent on an understanding of the first season however. The episode begins with a brief flashback for context, but even that only makes sense to those who know who the Neuroi are and how much of them was or wasn't defeated to merit this new threat that our puppy-eared lead, Yoshika, feels compelled to combat. This is a fans-only affair, and as such, maybe I'm not the best judge and maybe a preview is redundant seeing as fans of the first season are going to watch the second regardless.
That aside, though, this is a well-animated series, the girls are varied in appearance and personality, and Yoshika seems genuinely likable, even if the camera seems to favor her bottom over her face in entirely too many shots. Unlike Mitsuodome, I can't rage and point fingers at this series for being sick, perverted, and the cancer that is killing anime, etc etc. I can see why people might like this beyond all that cameltoe, and its continuation seems to be off to a nice strong start, but it isn't strong enough to reel in new viewers and is still overstuffed with squickish fanservice. Regardless, this moe-fest has a real heart in its gooey chest, and this isn't a bad series to waste your time on if the plot really picks up and sparks start flying.
Digimon Xros Wars
Digimon fans, rejoice! After the season that shall not be named, the franchise has been given a second chance and returned to its roots with a likable young cast, rambunctious new digimon designs, and a new war brewing in the Digital World. Following the pattern since season three, season six takes place in a canon completely separate from all its predecessors, with shadowy cameos from past lead characters the only tie between them. (Actually, seeing Agumon and Agunimon in the same frame is a little disturbing and paradoxical, but if it's new canon, I guess it works.)
What do you mean we're too old to be watching Digimon? Well, okay, most of us are, but that won't stop die-hard fans. I also have to question what's more childish between actual kids’ shows like Digimon and the painfully unfunny fetishfests lobbied at otaku. I at least know which one I prefer.
Our newest goggle-head Taiki, (yes the goggles are back,) finds himself called into the Digital World with two friends when the barrier between the digital plane and the biological one begins to break down, resulting in a rent-open sky, cars being wedged through buildings at the fifth floor, other common apocalyptic signs in Japanese cities. Apparently the Digital World is in a state of all-out war, different from past seasons where an evil overlord already reins supreme. (Except in Tamers which, let's face it, was just plain different.) Taiki's new partner, Shoutmon, will combat the evil forces using Taiki's power to combine with his other friends, bunco blox-style, and become stronger. What happened to digivolving? Not sure, as this season is taking a decidedly more Gurren Lagann-meets-sentai approach to shake things up, but the kids and digimon are already bursting with personality, so it's a nice healthy start to a season both familiar and clearly trying to be different.
Long story short: this is no Tamers, and it's highly likely it's no Adventure either. Those salad days have passed, but at least it's true to form, better than Savers already, and possibly Frontier. Possibly. It's familiar, entertaining, energetic, and looks to be trying a few new things. A must-try for nostalgic Digimon fans. We know the rest of you don't care, it's okay.
Does it ever bother female anime fans that anime all-girl high schools are too flattering of us in their misrepresentation? Azumanga Daioh is cute and all, and has its familiar moments, but were any of us that simple and innocent in high school? Sometimes, but not in large groups. The anime Girls’ High was closer to the mark in that regard, and so is Seitokai Yakuindomo.
Specifics aside, one male student has entered an all-female school that is in the process of transitioning to co-ed status, and promptly gets hijacked into the student council. Heard it before? Expecting a perverted nobody and three stereotypes that probably end in “dere” that blush and bitchslap him into their fold? Well, remove your expectations and try to imagine what really happens when you invite one guy over to a gathering of girls with no interest in jumping his bones. They're friendly, welcoming, and completely successful at making him uncomfortable as they devolve into girl-talk like he's not even there. Expect a lot of fan disservice from this anime in the girls’ behavior. It doesn't make them despicable or unattractive, but it's far from the stereotypes we've come to expect.
Is there a slight overabundance of dirty humor? Maybe, but at the very least it isn't one-note or unoriginal. The girls’ tendency to lapse into “time of the month” banter while the guy squicks into a corner pleading under his breath for a change of subject is probably only funny because it's true, while Shino's sudden inclination to make the comment box more “interesting” by drawing a…well, she draws something censorable around the “slot” in the box…is only funny because it's completely ridiculous. Either way, it's a nice blend.
Because the humor ranges all over from sight gags to word puns, cute jokes to raunchy ones, and so far seems to rely entirely on quickfire four-panel style jokes, it's hard to formulate much of an opinion this early in the game. It could vastly improve or wear out its welcome within two more episodes, but at the very least, this is just barely unique enough to be a rewarding waste of twenty minutes. Not a revolutionary comedy, but it works.
Maya hates the occult. Hates it, hates it, hates it. So why is she stuck at Waldstein Academy, the leading school for supernatural studies and practice? Because it's funny, that's why. In all seriousness, it really is.
Maya is there to pay her respects to her deceased father, who abandoned her as a child to sink himself in his studies, and it seems a little of the ethereal has followed him to his grave as she spends the entirety of the funeral trying to lay him back to rest, a feat made difficult as he rises from his coffin, possesses innocent students and spits green goo everywhere. Unfortunately, if the episode's strange ending and closing preview are any indication, things are only going to get weirder, a la all magic schools of adventure and mystery.
This is undoubtedly the best looking series of the summer season. The models and animation are attractive, the comedic timing is perfect, and Maya is the most interesting protagonist of the season as well. (Not that she has much competition, but she's still a spunky independent sort without being grossly over the top, and that's always welcome.) The writing is also strong, not in an overbearing or ambitious sense, but in how downplayed it is. Little moments like Maya's reaction to a mourner taking her bag right after showily wiping her drippy nose are more memorable than the demonic activity.
The premise isn't the most creative thing in the world, but neither is High School of the Dead’s. It's still incredibly entertaining in a pure, enchanting way, a little reminiscent of the most humorous bits in Mamoru Hosoda's films. Actually, that feeling you get from his movies is exactly the same kind of charm beaming off of this otherwise unassuming Pottersome pilot. There's a heap of potential here, and it's well worth a peek.
I don't think it matters if this is your sort of thing or not: the moment the OP begins for this anime, your first instinct should be to lean back REAL fast and squint a little. Little kids with chipmunk-cheeks squealing and attacking the camera should elicit a kneejerk reaction from anyone who's mass-babysat before, and that has nothing to do with what these kids are really like.
The gentle-natured Satoshi Yabe has always wanted to be a grade-school teacher, but if the blaring of “Dies Irae” from his assigned classroom is any indication, maybe he should find another school to start out with. The unexpected musical interlude is pretty gut-busting, but depending on your taste in humor, it arguably turns pretty sharply downhill from there. Three terrifying triplets, one a sadist, one a reserved bookworm who seems to prefer Playboy to Hank the Cowdog or whatever. The first ten minutes of the children trying and failing to play a game of Fruits Basket Turnover are loud, base, and expository, but not honestly very funny. After that it's five minutes of the rugrats trying to hit their teacher in the balls so he can see the nurse and hook up with her…and five minutes of plays on words, er, “word,” after naming the class hamster Nipples…some of which are REALLY clearly forced to keep the dirtiness of the joke intact. Pinching a hamster doesn't make him “sensitive,” but it's awfully funny if his name is Nipples, right?
Hardly. It's just painful, as if a group of middle-schoolers, not grade-schoolers, who had just learned about the facts of life are desperately trying to make me laugh by making jokes about injured scrotums. The animation is kind of cute and the comedic timing is decent, subject matter aside, but…if this show is trying to be an anime-styled South Park, they're going to have to graduate from Rob Schneiderville first.
Yes, this is going to be hilarious to some people. Yes, it is an acquired taste, and regardless of the somewhat revolting content, it isn't garbage. Check out at least three or five minutes to be sure, but even if you DO enjoy it, it might be best to forever keep it on the down-low outside the internet. There's just something far too gauche about a sixth grader that sleeps on one of those breast pillows they sell in Akihabara. That we spend the entire ED watching little girls sleep at all, regardless of what they're napping on, is unsettling food for thought. I'm not too sure this is just innocent gross-out humor yet.
Highschool of the Dead
After a full episode of HOTD, this is all that can be garnered about the plot: the zombie apocalypse has totally happened, and some kids in a high school are kinda sorta surviving it. What are these kids like? How did the undead bug break out? No idea.
It. Was. Awesome. In a base, Hollywood, explicit kind of way, it was just plain awesome. This is a horror vignette crafted with love, at the very least.
Our hero is a stoic, mopey guy stuck with the screechy, useless girl who rejected him for his best friend, who has recently been removed from the love triangle by zombification himself. The other girls are…well, they have boobs and aren't undead yet, and there's…there's one other guy, maybe, who is a stereotypical otaku. Nothing really interesting, although the character models are distinct and the backgrounds are very nice on the show. It looks good at least.
There's always something to look at too. The camera is always swirling and dropping as screams echo across empty hallways, lens flares flash across scenes of heads being bludgeoned into concrete and girls bounce and scream as they're beset by legions of flesh eating monsters…and then the camera doesn't cut away from their fully animated demises.
This is stupid. This is the kind of exploitative setup that produces terrible movies and great videogames. It doesn't matter, though, because the creators seem to know that and are pulling out every trick in their arsenal to pay tribute to schlocky horror and high-gloss over-the-top animelodrama and do it well. On paper, it's the most basic, shrug-worthy anime of the season. In execution, however, and execution is everything, it's the most shameless, explosive, colorful bit of sputz I've seen in a while and, provided you have the stomach for it and a sick sense of humor, entirely too much fun to ignore. The energy the production team has put into the gleefully gory show is infectious, and it will have to improve in narrative to maintain this energy, but it clearly deserves the chance to do so. For now I'll get off my high horse and lend them my brains for this self-indulgent pilot.
Junichi Tachibana can't help but be a little bitter about romance. Two years ago, a girl he was head-over-heels stood him up on a Christmas Eve date and he stopped seeing her after that. He's primarily a loner now: he locks himself in the tiny planetarium in his room to pretend he's a naked, drifting star, gets drafted to buy bread for his few friends at school, and generally prefers a low-key life. However, on one such bread run he stumbles into the most beautiful girl he's ever seen. He instantly falls in love, and she seems to really enjoy being around him, too. He musters all his courage to confess to her that very day and do something daring for the first time in a long time.
Bless his heart, he's trying but this is all terribly boring. That's it.
None of the characters have any distinguishing characteristics, the color palette consists of black, grey, and the occasional brown in its “pretty sunset confession” scene, and the protagonist is entirely too fascinated by the sound of his own inner monologues. Is there potential for a good, mature romance here? Yes, it certainly has the low-key part down, and it's undeniably preferable to the loud and excruciating high school “atmosphere” of Ookami-san, but I doubt it. Fans of romance and slice-of-life may need to stick around for a few more episodes to see if there's anything here, but it hasn't done a good job of making anyone want to.
Besides all that, Junichi's sister is clearly one of the love interests and if you can't make a clear incestual sideplot interesting and controversial and rage-worthy, there's something wrong.
Ookami-san to Shichinin no Nakama-tachi
Rating: 2 of 5
This mess gives me flashbacks to this past spring's offering: Mayoi Neko Overrun! It defies much in the way of plot summary, witty banter…human understanding, really. It's a fabulous, colorful, incredibly ear-piercing conglomeration of fetishes and ideas that are probably funny to whoever played the visual novel, should it exist. If it doesn't yet, someone will probably make a doujin game. With Overrun, I simply clocked a stream-of-consciousness parroting of what had assaulted my vision, but I don't feel like punishing myself that way this time, so let's just translate the title, shall we? “Headmastress (or…deity, maybe…?) and her seven friends.” Okay, good, it's about a tsundere who makes seven friends and goes on wacky adventures. Fantastic. I certainly hope someone enjoys it, because outside of that, it doesn't make any sense. This is yet another moe-centric school anime where students run around defying physics and doing whatever they bloody well please.
What truly separates Ookami-san from all others in its category is its WORST idea in a pile of terrible tricks. The entire episode is narrated by a little old woman with the most annoying crackly voice I have ever had abrade my ears. Aren't sweet little grandmas supposed to be gentle and nice to listen to? Her presence is unbearable and her commentary, introducing all the characters, narrating every action, and EXPLAINING the already terrible jokes in detail, makes it obvious this anime thinks its viewers are morons.
Outside of that, it does seem to have a slightly unique gimmick. Most of its characters and plot threads seem to be based on famous fairytales like Cinderella and Little Red Riding Hood in this first episode, and presumably more fairytales in the future. This might also explain the constant presence of the aforementioned obnoxious senior citizen. Who she's actually reading this pervy fairytale to is still anybody's guess. The fact that it takes an entire episode and the ED theme to make this apparent only proves it doesn't do that very well, however. There's a bonus scene just before the episode's conclusion that probably does it best. It's a genuinely humorous little twist on the slipper-search in Cinderella, and I wonder why the rest of the show wasn't the same way. It might actually have been watchable.
Shukufuku no Campanella
“Why hello, Carina, most excellent (important title) of (specific branch of magical arts,) of (town in fantasy world we are apparently in,) how are you doing today?”
“I'm doing fantastic! After all, today is (important fantasy festival!) You know, the occasion that celebrates (important event that took place a specific but unimportant number of years ago.)”
“Of course! Let's go down to the square with (long list of character names, with added emphasis on the one male in the group followed by a sliver of drool.) I hear there's an exhibition of (key multi-purpose item that was probably the central mechanic of the videogame this was clearly based on.) They even have (most super special awesome variant of said item.)”
“That sounds lovely! Let's talk about more aspects of the trite ero-game universe that birthed us as we go: all the history of the world, all the shiny characters…not the plot, of course, because it's still anybody's guess as to WHAT THE HELL IT IS!”
What am I watching? This is a show where nothing happens? Really?
At this point, being a fast reader, I started playing the episode at 2x normal speed. It was still unbearably slow. I ramped it up to 3, and then 4 times. I could barely read it all at 4 so I couldn't go any higher, but it was still sluggish, talky, and going nowhere fast. Something DOES happen to conclude this pilot, they do attempt a hook, but looking back to the vague two minute prologue at episode's start…we all knew it was going to happen anyway, and it's just being revisited. This isn't even a good advertisement for the video game, this is at best a waste of paper and ink…I don't even care if it was digital ink. It's still twenty minutes with no purpose and probably not even worth a second episode.
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