The Fall 2010 Anime Preview Guide Bamboo Dong
by Bamboo Dong,
Bamboo Dong is a freelance contributor for Anime News Network. Her go-to karaoke song is "I Want it that Way" by the Backstreet Boys, and will engage in violence with anyone who tries to deter her.
The World God Only Knows
There's something decidedly charming and refreshing about The World God Only Knows. It takes all the shonen romance genre tropes, complete with the headstrong girl who punches the male protagonist every time she's remotely embarrassed, but uses them in a quirky way. It even goes as far as to make fun of itself, pointing out genre clichés and showing audiences just how outlandish they can be.
The male lead is obsessed with dating sims, to the point where he'd much rather hang out with his 2D girlfriends than interact with real girls. He's not a social outcast—he just simply doesn't care about human girls, because he thinks they don't put in as much effort as virtual girls. And to some degree, he's just never tried either. Though to his credit, he's really good at what he does. He's even developed a small fanbase of male nerds who write to him for advice on progressing through various games. Through some minor misunderstanding, he ends up in a contract with the devil, where he's charged with the task of ridding girls of spirits by displacing them from their hearts. How? By making these real girls fall in love with him.
The first target is one of his classmates, a hardworking track athlete who doesn't meet his dating sim standards. For starters, she doesn't wear the bloomers that are so popular in game designs. That, and she's fairly impervious to his advances, which just come off as ridiculous and borderline creepy. Eventually, though, he learns to see past her facade and identify her personal problems. And of course, he manages to make her like him just long enough to kiss the bad spirit out of her.
I like this show on a few levels. Despite his brush-offs about how real girls don't impress him, Keima really strikes me as the type of guy who's just too afraid to try. He can't reduce human girls down to the same set of patterns as a video game, so he simply avoids them. If this is something that slowly changes over the course of the series, it could be really interesting to track his character development. The series is also a tongue-in-cheek indictment of dating sims and shonen romance shows, where all the girls are expected to dress and act a certain way in order to be appealing to a mass market. Instead, the girls he comes in contact with in real life don't dress in fanboy-pandering outfits, and they require more than just a few trivial gestures and sparkly eyes to start fawning over a guy.
At first, I was concerned that Keima's mission might mean that he's inadvertently leading these girls on, only to leave them hanging in subsequent episodes, but if the first episode's any indication, he's just giving these girls the shoulder they need to lean on. The World God Only Knows may sound silly, but I'm willing to give this a few more episodes. It's cute and funny, and despite some of the overused gags, it's a new take on an old genre.
Yosuga no Sora
Every time you hear sad piano music in anime, you know exactly what kind of show it's going to be. It's going to be set in a small town in the country, where somehow there's barely even any paved roads, but there's a massive school filled with cute girls. These girls are so hard up for men that they'll cling onto the first male who moves back into his uncle's/dead grandmother's/childhood home. And of course, there's always some kind of tragedy that initiated his move back. In Yosuga no Sora, the male protagonist moves back to his childhood home with his sickly twin sister after their parents die in an accident.
This town doesn't even have cabs, but somehow it has enough genre stereotypes to fill an entire dating sim—which it does. Tracing its roots to a hentai sim, Yosuga no Sora is filled with a plethora of eligible ladies that you can schtupp along the way, including some rich girl and her maid, who has breasts the size of her face. You can tell exactly how big her breasts are, because somehow she's able to find the only maid uniform in the world that has individual breast socks that envelop each separate tit. There's also a shrine maiden, because there's always a shrine maiden. Also, the childhood friend from next door. And while we're at it, let's mention the goth lolita twin sister, because you can bang her too.
What is it with these small towns that lead all these women to simper over these astonishingly boring young men? Is it the seductive allure of their big city past? The fact that these (presumably) 18-year-old men have the angelic visages of a 14-year-old? Or is it simply that there is nothing quite like the stench of orphaning that gets the lady juices flowing? Even his sister, who is unbearably jealous and mean-tempered, can't seem to keep her paws off him. Not that he's complaining—at the dinner table, he has a vivid fantasy of her nubile tongue slinking out to meet his.
Psychologically, it goes without saying that the twin sister is very damaged. She just lost her parents, and I assume she's only had her brother for companionship all these years, since she's been sickly. But that doesn't really quite excuse her nasty temperament. And naturally, she's very jealous when it seems as though an entire eroge full of young ladies are moving in on her brother. Jealousy is a very powerful emotion. It does crazy things to people. But the way to cope with it is not banging your brother.
Several years ago, Geneon released a series called Koi Kaze that was both thought-provoking and beautiful. In it, two siblings who had never met before accidentally fall in love, only to learn later that they're related. But by then, the grips of love have seized them, and they realize they cannot live without each other. It was a complex love, and one filled with gray areas. Yosuga no Sora is neither complex, nor thought-provoking. It's a dating sim that cares so little about who you eventually hook up with that even your sister is a viable option.
Otome Yokai Zakuro
In some version of 1900s Japan, humans live alongside spirits. As is to be expected, the humans have been trying to push their customs on the spirits, but there's been some resistance along the way. So now, the government has decided that it needs to create a Ministry of Spirit Affairs, staffed by three human soldiers and four half-spirit half-human girls, with cat-ear-looking ears on their heads. The reason there are four girls and not three is because two of the girls are twins, and it makes it easier to draw doujinshi this way.
It seems easy to claim that Otome Yokai Zakuro is really about racial tension and tolerance, but I don't really buy it. I think the show is a lot more simple than that. For starters, if that was really the underlying message of the series, the spirit ambassadors would be spirits, and not these half-spirits who just look like cute girls with Bumpits on their heads. That's like bussing in the whitest kids you could find in the ghetto, and calling it a day. These girls are a stark contrast to the actual spirits, who range from freaky elephant people to these creepy little pumpkin heads with spindly legs. Secondly, the real reason these military guys are now working together with these cute girls is because in order to keep the ratings high amongst females, they're eventually going to couple up and bone. Except it's a shoujo show, so they'll just whisper sweet nothings to each other, and eat tamago together under the trees.
Unfortunately, the show is just not that interesting. Yes, it's very cute, but it seems to just be cute for cuteness's sake. All the characters are easy on the eyes, but they're very generic and follow very well-established archetypes, like the giggly twins, the mean girl with a heart of optimism and gold, the shy one. There's even a bishonen who turns on the charm so well that roses cascade around him and his sparkly hair. I'm sure over the course of the series, they do lots of charming things together, and eventually learn the true value of friendship.
This show will probably attract a lot of female fans who will flock to the premise of sweet shoujo love, but I just can't help but think that there's better stuff out there, with a little more meat on its bones.
Otome Yokai Zakuro is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Psychic Detective Yakumo
Suspense is a delicate thing. If it's done incorrectly, it can ruin a whole production. It's about keeping audiences on the edge of their seats, perpetually making them guess what's going to happen next, and then hitting them when they least expect it. If there's no set up, there's no pay off, and that defeats the entire purpose. Unfortunately, Psychic Detective Yakumo misses the mark.
Part supernatural thriller, part murder mystery, the first episode of Yakumo could've been much better if they'd stretched it out to four episodes. Or at least two or three. I know the writers were anxious to get onto whatever story arc they were hinting at near the end, with the guy who stole people's souls and what not, but the episode really suffered from being resolved that quickly. We learn that Yakumo is your typical introverted weird paranormal aficionado, who just happens to be able to see the souls of the dead and talk to them. He's approached by a girl whose friends have been possessed by the dead, and who are dying one by one. This could've been a really great mystery. Unfortunately, all the cards are revealed within minutes, making it the most anticlimactic mystery ever solved.
It's difficult adapting novels into anime because it always behooves the studios to jump to the main action as soon as possible, and spend most of their time on the greater story arc, but this is entertainment. You can't rush entertainment, or else it loses its impact. As it is, I don't even trust the rest of the series to handle the material thoughtfully because the first episode was so poorly paced. Maybe if they spent less time showing shots of Yakumo brooding on his couch, they could've spent more time queuing up some creepy music or something. Anything, really.
The one thing I truly enjoyed was the way the series drew the ghosts. I don't know what it is about the anime industry, but every time someone draws a ghost, they are able to plumb the depths of Hell to find the creepiest character designs imaginable. The ghosts in Psychic Detective Yakumo are all colored in shades of reds and blacks, with crazy eyes and gaping mouths. If I was cursed with the ability to see them everywhere, I'd perpetually be on psychiatric pills, because they are terrifying. Of course, that only makes it all the more disappointing that the series didn't try to drag out the suspense just a bit more. With the kind of haphazard pacing they used, I'm wondering if they're even trying.
In some strange alternate universe Japan, the Tokugawa Shogunate is still alive and well. Served by their loyal samurai minions, they have fended off every evil aggressor that's tried to soil their country, including those pesky Americans. Their samurai class is so powerful and strong, the country has apparently never felt the need to develop modern firearms and artillery, even though they have Internet and digital cameras. Luckily, they are forever served by the perpetual reincarnations of dead warriors, like Yagyu Jubei, who shows up at the end of the episode in the form of a cute girl.
Our protagonist is Yagyu Muneakira, a samurai in a long, noble line of warriors who have served the shogunate for centuries. He's transferred to a new private school, but when he heads to the dojo, he's confronted with two naked girls. They're naked because that's what fanservice dictates, and because it has to launch a whole series of jokes about one girl's lack of breasts. From then on, all the stereotypes just pile up like bricks. There's a feisty girl who's self-conscious about her flat chest, her busty attendant who prefers the breezy feel of a fundoshi to pants, and some angry little glasses-wearing maid who has a serious lesbian crush on her boss.
And of course, there is copious amounts of fanservice. Except in Samurai Girls, they try so hard it's almost awkward. There's no reason for half the fanservice to exist, other than to milk in as much bare flesh as possible, lest the ravenous masses disapprove. But unlike your typical hot springs scenes or your accidental shower scenes, the nudity in this series doesn't happen organically. It's like someone went into the script and forced in naughty bits, like the part where the maid gives implied cunnilingus to the princess. Did it have to be there? No. Is it even titillating? Hardly. It's just awkward.
The visuals in Samurai Girls are gorgeous enough that it doesn't need fanservice to be appealing. The backgrounds are beautiful, occasionally resembling Chinese brush paintings or pencil sketches. The characters are outlined with heavy brushstrokes, creating a contrast that really makes them pop out of the flat surface. With that kind of artwork, it almost seems a waste to have a breast dripping into the corner of the screen, because it takes viewers out of the scene. Though to their credit, every time they want to hide a nipple or a crotch, they censor it with an ink splat. It's a cute touch for something that's otherwise unnecessary.
Whether or not this series will end up being worth the time and energy may require a few more episodes to figure out. The premise of powerful warrior incarnates is a fun one, albeit not entirely original, and if they can chop up planes like in the opening sequences, it could provide some delightful action scenes. Now it's just a question of whether the show can move past these ridiculously trite stereotypes and focus more on the story.
Samurai Girls is available streaming on The Anime Network.
Super Robot Wars OG: The Inspector
Super Robot Wars OG is basically robot porn for mecha otaku. The first six minutes is a giant orgy of robot limbs smashing against each other, intertwined with glowing power sources, massive laser cannons, and organic self-regenerating limbs that could only be possible in an anime. The series then tries to slow things down for a minute with some convoluted babbling about which organization is trying to kill who and ambush what… but then it goes back to fighting again. There was something in there about an alien invasion or other, but honestly, who cares? People watch this show for the robot fights.
A sequel of the last Super Robot Wars shows from a few years back, the OG writers don't even bother giving audiences a recap of what happened. Presumably because they either don't think it matters, or barely remember themselves. And really, who can blame them? There are a couple dozen different pilots and military figures with snappy names like Bullet and Lemon, a few more dozen robots and tanks and mobile suits, and even more locations and famous battles that we're all supposed to be remember. Some of them are on teams, some of them fight for organizations, and some of them are probably just there to fill up dead space where there isn't a script. If there was a real-world military contractor that was making this many unique armored weapons, they'd bankrupt the entire country.
Let's face it—shows like Super Robots Wars OG are just one big toy commercial. It's not a secret to anyone, except for maybe naive diehard collectors and kids. The more battles they can cram into a half-hour episode, the more snap kits they can sell, with dozens of color variants and interchangeable hands. And if the robot transforms into something else, then they can make even more versions. In four sizes.
Don't get me wrong. I love giant robot shows. I grew up worshipping Gundam, but OG is really exhausting to watch. There are too many characters, too many sides, and even being familiar with the first series, I still can't remember who's on what side. So the only sane course of action is to just turn off your brain, get some Cheetos, and just watch the different mechs pummel each other. Trying to sort anything out will just hurt you.
Oh, and how's this for a twist? At the end of the episode, some secret robot shows up and kicks everyone's ass, except it has robot nipples and metallic wings that somehow shed real bird feathers the size of a door. Also, note to the future—capes are not practical in aerial combat. Come on Bandai, think how much money you'd save by not having to include capes in your plastic kits.
Super Robot Wars OG is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Without a doubt, Bakuman is going to be this fall's best show. It's another offering in the line of otaku-centric shows like Genshiken and Comic Party, but with a whip-smart dose of reality and self-loathing. Blending the traditional go-get-‘em sentiment of other shows about characters chasing their dreams, and a refreshing blend of hesitation and cynicism, this is a show that everyone can relate to.
Moritaka is a ninth grader who's always had a love for manga and illustration, but he's long since given up his hopes of pursuing a career as a mangaka. Instead, he's relegated himself to simply trudging through life, doing just well enough to fly under the radar, and landing a steady corporate job that simply pays the bills. The only thing keeping him from becoming a shut-in and playing video games all day is the societal pressure to be normal and always reaching for the next short-term goal.
Everything changes one day when one of his classmates approaches him about teaming up and creating a manga. Refusing to chase this pipe dream, Moritaka shoots him down, saying that wanting to create manga is nothing but a gamble in an industry where only a miniscule percentage becomes successful enough to have their works serialized. It's not until a set-up later in the episode that he changes his mind, when he learns that the girl of his dreams harbors ambitions of someday becoming a voice actor.
On the surface, Bakuman has all the trappings of a fan pandering show that will appeal to manga and anime nerds around the world, with references to works like Dragonball and One Piece. That, and the simple fact that the protagonist is working towards being a mangaka. But underneath all that, Bakuman is the desperate fight against the doubt and listlessness that everyone feels inside and tries so hard to push against. It raises questions that almost everyone has asked themselves at some point, like, “what's the point?” and “why bother?” It's especially timely in an era where the normative education level in countries like Japan and the US is continuing to increase, with the primary reason being, “because you have to.” In that respect, Bakuman is more of a coming-of-age story than all the legions of shonen manga that have come before it. Pushing yourself to become stronger and more powerful is one thing. Pushing yourself to find a reason to try is on an entirely different plane, and it's a struggle that resonates with adolescents and young adults around the world.
Bakuman is the show to follow this season. It's smart, it's witty, and it has a sense of humor so dry that it's hard to discern if some of the lines are supposed to be funny… or just funny because they're too depressingly true. Whether you want to watch this show for the manga references, or if you're hoping to find answers in a bleak world, this is the series for you.
Yumeiro Patisserie Professional
There should be a rule somewhere that says that if an anime is going to draw mouth-wateringly delicious pastries, they have to provide everybody with a free cake. Because having to sit through 23 minutes of shimmery tarts and glazed donuts is pure torture. Whoever the studio has drawing up all the oversized food stills in Yumiere Patisserie Professional is an artistic genius, because no one else would remember to color strawberries with white tops and differently shaped seeds, or crème brulees with caramelized shells.
After two years spent abroad in Paris, Ichigo and her friends head back to their pastry academy in Japan. When she gets there, she learns that her teammates for the past two years are moving on—two of them are pursuing their dreams and entering their family pastry businesses, while her love interest has moved up a grade. No matter, though—this season quickly establishes another quirky character to take their place—the loud and obnoxious American, Johnny McBeal. With rolled up t-shirt sleeves, permanently askew suspenders, and tight acid-washed jeans, he looks more like a cast member from a failed Off Broadway musical than anyone living in modern-day America. He yelps, talks in slang, and on far too many occasions, strikes a flamboyant pose against a blue and white background. It's going to be a good season.
In a strange twist that could only happen in an anime, four of the characters (Ichigo and Johnny included, of course) are introduced to the career opportunity of a lifetime when they're approached to run the main street pastry shops in a new planned community. Such is the life of a savant patisserie, even one that's high-school aged. It's difficult to suspend disbelief long enough to quash concerns of business experience and child labor laws, but one must. In the sugary world of Yumiere Patisserie Professional, anything is possible.
What's so delightful about this series is that it takes on a very dreamlike quality. Partly due to the soft pastels and delightful watercolors that it uses, most of the transitions and backgrounds look like they're shot through a soft focus lens. Compounded with the fact that the series takes place in a strange alternate reality of Japan where sugar fairies exist, the show is like a cake lover's fantasy, where the most diffuclt life decision is whether to use butter cream or ganache.
It's the kind of show you put on after a hard day's work, when all you want to do is kick up your feet and relax. I'm sure in the real world, the pastry industry is cut-throat and stressful, but I can't imagine anything arising in Yumiere Patisserie Professional that couldn't be resolved with the perfect garnish.
Yumeiro Pâtissière Professional is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Tegami Bachi Reverse
Tegami Bachi REVERSE picks up directly where the first season left off, as Lag Seeing steadfastly continues on his mission to deliver letters and find his long-lost rescuer, Gauche. As a Letter Bee, his job is to make sure that letters reach their destination, despite being constantly under attack by giant insects and Marauders, who are commissioned to steal the letters. The value? Each of the letters contain “heart,” a charming concept that manages to work in the context of the series, especially in a day and age when communication has been simmered down to rapid-fire emails and instant messages.
Within minutes of this new season, we see that Lag has already run into Gauche, but it's hardly a joyous reunion. Gauche no longer remembers his past, and is now working as a Marauder for a shadowy anti-government organization that will no doubt play a very big role in this season. In the meantime, Lag's plucky bodyguard is off dealing with another confrontation, foreshadowing yet more enemies that will be faced throughout the series.
Tegami Bachi is a pleasant series to watch. Animated by Studio Pierrot, its subdued characters and dark color palette lend well to the atmosphere of the show. The first season got a little formulaic at times, and largely piddled around for the first half, but with the Gauche and Lag's encounter, this may well be the start of a much more plot- and character-driven season. In fact, it wouldn't be difficult for new viewers to pick up right at season two, as the first episode does a fairly good job of reintroducing the characters and bringing fans back up to speed. With the deft way that this episode handled flashbacks, it could easily serve as a starting point for those unwilling to invest the time in catching up.
Tegami Bachi deserves a fair amount of kudos for its concept. It manages to have all the elements that any good Shonen Jump-type series would have—scrappy heroes, action-sequences, physics-defying attacks, freakishly long hair—but it also puts a lot of effort in examining intangibles like memory and nostalgia. It's not going to change anyone's life, but it's nice watching a show where the main conflict doesn't just involve being faster or stronger.
Tegami Bachi Reverse is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
There's an entire genre of anime dedicated to one thing—men getting beat up by gorgeous women. Sometimes if they're lucky, they get a glimpse of panty right before they pass out. At least in MM!, the guy actually admits he's a masochist.
It's actually the central plot point of the show. Sado, a generically handsome high school boy, is desperate to cure his masochism. He ends up seeking therapy from the Second Volunteering Club, an after-school club that aims to give students whatever service they desire. As luck would have it, the president is a foul-mouthed, hot-tempered blonde, who decides the best way to cure his problem is to beat him within inches of his life, in the hopes that his survival instinct will eventually kick in.
It doesn't. He just gets a boner, though thankfully the show doesn't feel the need to show it.
He's not the only one with a complex, though. His sister wants to jump him, his mom likes him way too much, and his friend's got a secret, too. Apparently this whole show is just one big Freudapalooza, and the audience is along for the ride! Though in this nest of psychological malaise, one thing does rub the wrong way. It's the implication that anything outside of the cookie-cutter norm is wrong, and should be cured. Like lumping in his friend's secret with the rest of the zoo, as though to say there is something inherently deviant about questioning one's gender identity. Perhaps in the next episode, there will be a twist where one of the other characters reveals that they have an eating disorder, and it will be cured by forcing them to eat an entire buffet. Or maybe there will be a gay friend who requires electroshock therapy as he thumbs through magazines.
But something tells me that the target audience for a show like MM! isn't going to analyze this show beyond its super-deformed chase scenes and its knee-jerk humor. After all, boners are funny, and so is violence. So in that one-joke-a-second respect, this show succeeds. It's entertainment for entertainment's sake—especially if the only thing you're looking for is hot chicks, slapstick, and a juvenile appreciation for people getting kicked in the nuts.
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt
It's really hard to hate on a show as pretty as Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt. Filled with sharp angles, bright neons, and grossly over-exaggerated body proportions, this show looks like an amalgam of every Cartoon Network show that aired in the late 90s. Throw in a thudding soundtrack and some lightning-fast editing, and you've got an energetic show that would be impossible to stop watching if only it weren't so damned stupid.
As the title would suggest, Gainax's new offering is far from classy. It follows two angels named Panty and Stocking (and their boss Garterbelt) as they help defend their city against evil spirits. Their reward is coins that are dropped whenever one of the evil spirits moves on. Our reward… presumably the awkward titillation that comes from watching cartoons grinding on stripper poles.
Like any good sister duo, Panty and Stocking are like day and night. Stocking is a loli-goth with an obsession for sweets. By far, she is the most normal character in the show. Panty, on the other hand, is a horny blonde who has to jump every man she lays eyes on. In one 23-minute episode, she has sex with at least four men. And, if my tally is correct, she orgasms at least five times.
Together, they vanquish a variety of demons, including a giant poop monster, and a speed freak. I don't want to be presumptuous, but I don't think the show will get more complex than this.
Here is exactly what the writer meetings look like. They blindfold each other, spin around a couple of times, and point to an object (toilet, car). Then they say, “Hey, wouldn't it be funny if a demon possessed it?” Then they high-five each other, drink an Asahi, and call it a day.
The writing doesn't detract from the visuals, though. The animation is very stylized, almost harkening back to Gainax's FLCL days, except with harsher angles and stubbier legs. The two notable exceptions are the transformation scenes and the victory scenes—the former draws the girls in a more recognizable, non-deformed Gainax style, and the latter is almost always a clay mock-up of the demon getting blown up against a canvas backdrop.
Can really good-looking pop visuals sustain a brainless show like this? Let's put it this way. Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt would look really great on 42” plasma screens plastered all over a downtown LA nightclub, but that's about it.
Panty & Stocking with Garterbelt is available streaming at Crunchyroll
Sora no Otoshimono Forte
I was worried that the first episode of Sora no Otoshimono: Forte wouldn't have any fanservice. But then I read the episode title, “Get Naked! The Naked King Has Returned,” and
I breathed a sigh of relief. I don't like change.
Picking up where the first season left off, Forte tries to establish a darker story arc, but has a hard time committing to a more serious tone. After all, it's only the first episode, and no one wants a downer right off the bat. Sakurai, the lovable perv protagonist, has once again started dreaming that he's being visited by an angel. In order to examine this more closely, he and a few of his buddies find a way to enter each other's dreams. Of course, one of those is loaded to the brim with fanservice, with bountiful breasts and naughty scenarios. Forte is still a harem show, and it would be a travesty if they didn't spend at least 40% of the episode showing breasts, and 20% of it showing girls beating guys up for wanting to look.
The last dream, though, is something none of the characters have seen before. It's a barren landscape with a mysterious stone sculpture and a dead tree. Judging from the sinister music, this is the start of something serious, so it's no surprise when a new angeloid arrives at the end of the episode. This one's got huge breasts too, but her sword signifies that she means business.
But just like the first season, Forte is allergic to dramatic scenes. So within minutes, the scene shifts to another shot of one of the girls writhing in bed, squirming in delight as her breasts heave at the camera.
Gratuitous fanservice is a time-honored tradition, but at some point, it saturates and just becomes boring. That's what Forte is. It's boring. If the show can't be bothered to care about the dramatic twists, why should the audience? It's all set-up and no follow-through.
Sora no Otoshimono Forte is available streaming at Crunchyroll
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