The Fall 2010 Anime Preview Guide Hope Chapman
by Jacob Chapman,
The World God Only Knows episode 2
TWGOK's first episode did little more than set up possibilities. Sure it was colorful, well-written, and entertaining, but with a premise so suspiciously conventional, (loser contracted to a potential harem,) its charm relied entirely on how it handled the silly idea it was built on. From this point on, the series could either be surprisingly good, or just terrible.
The second episode, at least, gives us reason to hope it will only get better. Like the first, the jokes here aren't too creative, and most depend on lampooning stereotypes in dating sim harem stories…at this point a confusing move considering TWGOK could end up being just another one of those schlock-trips. However, the liveliness of the animation, sharpness of the timing, and little shifts in expectations make this more reminiscent of Ouran Host Club as both a parody and a celebration of its own genre. After all, despite its understated tongue-clucking at Keima's preference for fantasy over reality, playing life out trope-by-trope like his dating sims got him the girl and then got her back out of his life without a hitch a fact justifiably criticized by Carl and Theron's looks at that pilot.
In the second half of this episode, that itch for twists on clichés and a little humbling of the “god” is scratched as we're introduced to Keima's next target, who he profiles as a spoiled rotten tsundere, right down to her short stature and pigtails. Long story short: he's wrong, and to just what extent is still left hanging. The first half of the episode is much more conventional as the demon Elsee tries to live up to his expectations of what the “sister” character should do…right down to the inability to cook, which she takes to bubonic extremes.
It's a little conventional, a titch satirical, but much like Ouran, it wasn't intended to be analyzed for its qualities: it's just entertainment. Funny, affectionate, and even fanservicey in a cheeky rather than repulsive way, TWGOK is a genuinely good time.
Weird does not automatically equal funny. It does not, it does not, stop trying to convince us it does with awkward dreck like Cromartie High and Pani Poni Dash because it hurts and anime does not need encouragement to be weird. That's why we love it and we don't want it to try so hard.
…Like Squid Girl. This show is weird AND it's funny. Oh, it is hilarious. I certainly didn't think it was going to be. I heard the premise and recoiled in horror as images of K-ON and Sgt. Frog getting some terrible Nabeshin-esque treatment pleading for attention assaulted my brain.* (Nothing against Watanabe, he's very talented, but someone really should have said something when it came to Puni Puni Poemy.)
Squid Girl is the story of a disgruntled cephalopod who takes on human form to conquer the littering shore-goers who have soiled her sea. Her weapons: regenerative tentacle-hair, ink-vomit, and staunch resolve. (Yes, that's all.) Unfortunately she had no idea the world above was so incredibly populated. Lacking the squid-power to take down 6.4 billion humans, she resigns herself to working at the beachside restaurant until she figures out a way to teach those litterbugs a lesson.
There is so much going on in this show, but it still feels lackadaisical, maintaining the gag show atmosphere of Azumanga Daioh or Setokai Yakuindomo but adorably clever rather than simple and dopey. (I can't bear to ruin any of these jokes, but it's laudable how well this stupid idea was handled.) Squid Girl's tentacles are always keeping the animators busy, and Squid Girl's tic of inserting “geso” into everything she says is probably a lot funnier with a language barrier in place. Most importantly, however, all the characters are lovable and diverse, as seen in their hilariously split reactions to discovering Squid Girl spits oodles of ink. Good characters can keep a comedy going on forever. (I'd cite Ranma ½, but whether it SHOULD go on forever is a little different.)
I feel silly being so giggly about this show, but it's true. Few things are as genuinely cute and easy to enjoy as this pilot.
* Endless self-indulgent references cited to give you a vague idea of where my sense of humor lies.
Squid Girl is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Yumeiro Patisserie Professional episode 2
How can you not love Johnny McBeal? He has no respect for personal boundaries, never listens to other people's opinions, specializes in fried sweets, and just in case the impressionable little girls watching didn't QUITE get it completely, he has a thing for throwing Old Glory up behind him when he walks into a room.
What DO Japanese children think of Americans?! This isn't the first gaudy stereotype of the U.S.A. in kids’ anime by a long shot, but it's some of the best unintentional comedy for the western hemisphere I've seen in a while. In this episode we meet Johnny's sweets spirit, Maize, who adores Japanese culture (but doesn't particularly understand it) and is always a hair trigger between polite and demure and deep-frying her loudmouthed partner when he's not being cordial to his new friends.
The group of both old friends and new decide to have a contest to see who will lead the team and decide the format of their new shop. (Johnny wants to make it an enormous amusement park, what a surprise.) At the same time, a greater contest is being held in Marie's Garden that will cut any shop with the lowest sales at the end of the week. Well, yikes! Double trouble! This sounds like a lot of fun, and there are laughs to be had, but the only problem is there hasn't actually been any dessert-making yet in all the ruckus and establishment of the new rules. It's a compliment to Yumeiro Patisserie that it can be charming regardless but it's still better off in the kitchen.
This show is worth a peek for Johnny alone, and it's good that it's so welcoming to those unfamiliar with the first season, but the immersion into the world of baking that its predecessor thrived on is sorely missed too. Professional needs to get on with the dough, er, show.
Yumeiro Patisserie Professional is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Sora no Otoshimono Forte episode 2
First, there was a flock of flying panties, and now with season two, SnO gives us a festival of dancing porno magazines. I guess if only for that novelty I can see why there's a season two at all. (It's a remarkably well-produced fanservice fest at that…kind of depressing how pretty it can be considering there's nothing underneath there.)
Needless to say, the entire episode is focused on something trivial: Tomoki's quest to stave off arousal by the Angeloids. He even goes to a Buddhist temple and meditates under pounding waterfalls…which only make him think of soaking wet girls. Oh well. What about that menacing goddess of pain and misery we saw rocket to earth at the end of episode one, you ask? She's a clutzy dum-dum who seems to have enough trouble standing in heels that her mission to kill Tomoki is left a complete non-starter.
We return to that mystery of Ikaros’ dream at the end once again, but who are we kidding? We've covered no ground in that “story” and we won't until around three episodes from the season's end, with a new Angeloid suddenly added to the panty party. It's sort of like Chobits, except it isn't funny, isn't charming, and whatever plot we're delaying probably won't have any cute, subversive social commentary at the end. Shows like this really do make you appreciate CLAMP more…
Sora no Otoshimono Forte is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
The World God Only Knows
Keima Katsuragi fancies himself a god, no, THE god of a world he knows so well he refuses to spend any time outside of it, giving reality the brush-off at every turn. No matter the character type, no matter the scenario, Keima can conquer any 2-dimensional girl. He's planted his flag in the hearts of every fictional character in nearly every published game, to the point of running out of games to play, so he limits his interactions with the real world to answering e-mails from admirers seeking advice on their own favorite bishoujo games. His classmates hardly think of him as a god, of course, and more like a four-eyed, creepy otaku. That suits Keima just fine. Reality has no time for him, and he feels exactly the same way. He particularly can't stand real girls, which are confusing and poorly-written.
Needless to say, he gets a wakeup call in the form of an unusually cute demon from Hell named Elci who swoops in and flies him away to fulfill a contract he unwittingly signed through e-mail. The netherworld seems to have caught wind of Keima's girl-capturing skills and challenged him through e-mail…a message he figured was just another game. Unbeknownst to him, he agreed to evict rogue spirits from young girls’ hearts by taking up the empty place himself, and making women fall in love with him. It should be an easy task for such an arrogant Don Juan, right? Besides, if Keima refuses, his head will be struck from his shoulders, so he had better hope real girls are a little more like the ones in his video games than he thinks.
So…demons only communicate through the internet? They had no idea Keima was nothing but a pasty nerd with a big ego? Maybe they spend all their time haunting 4chan, I don't know.
It's not really important how we got here because the important thing is that this premise is played out perfectly. I can't bear to spoil any of it, and that has nothing to do with the show having any revolutionary twists or incredible insights, for as of yet, it has none. It's a very simple, uplifting pleasure and if there's some statement to be made about Keima eventually coming to terms with reality or Elci falling for the human she's bound to despite her job, it's yet to be made…the possibilities are still completely open.
The World God Only Knows is funny without trying, taking even the easiest jokes and using just the right timing to make them incredibly funny. (Keima's first meeting with the athletic firecracker he must conquer is a good example.) The animation is not anything special but it's used to its strongest extent, playing with the lines between reality and the game and generally bursting with color and charm without overdoing it. (Unlike another recent show, Samurai Girls, which is all gimmick and no finesse: a pandering mess.) Most impressive, however, is not what the series does, but what it doesn't do. The girls making Keima's reality, well, a living hell, are charming and attractive without having the camera shoot up their skirts or brush their boobs every chance it gets. In fact, I don't know that this episode displayed any blatant fanservice. It just brandishes a charisma all its own, and if the first episode is only a setup to better things? It's sure to conquer many hearts.
The World God Only Knows is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Yumeiro Patisserie Professional
Yumeiro Patisserie is a series with 50 episodes under its belt and the second season, Professional, acting as a direct sequel to those events. If you're a fan, you will watch this, and if you're not, you won't. Still, the show is worth covering due its premiere's marked change in tone from all that came before. Our troupe of best friends from Team Ichigo, who won numerous confectionary competitions together and are now the best of friends, have little-by-little returned to Japan. So how do they celebrate all the great times they've had and the start of a new year of studies?
Most of them split up and go their separate ways, leaving Ichigo sad and reminiscing in the courtyard, never wanting things to change…well now, that's a downer! It's no stretch of the imagination to say that Professional will focus on Ichigo's transition from a novice to a “professional,” but also her transition from a little girl into a young woman…after all, love interest Makoto Kashino is one of the few characters who has decided not to go anywhere.
The episode actually begins with Ichigo dreaming of owning her own patisserie shop…nothing new, except a few key components: a husband and child. (She's not very creative, her progeny looks exactly like Vanilla except bigger and de-winged.) The husband's face is never clear to her, but we can naturally assume it's Makoto because of the hairstyle and all that awkward subtext in season one, right?
Well, that's the other thing Professional has added to the mix here: a spunky good-looking American professional named Johnny. As the screenshot may indicate, he's every bit the anime-styled westerner…even initially appearing as a cowboy spouting Engrish. Makoto is exceedingly jealous of this good-natured pretty boy, and it only becomes worse when he learns Ichigo and company will be running a shop adjacent to his on the block. I'm not sure I can recommend this to Yumeiro newbies, but it's not at all confusing and just as benign and charming as before. Professional seems to offer a fresh, however slight, turn on Ichigo's pursuit of her dream.
Yumeiro Patisserie Professional is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
A writer/illustrator team of manga-ka created a story about an aspiring writer/illustrator team of manga-ka? …Well, they do say to write what you know!
Well, after getting its obligatory wink n’ smile cameos of Hikaru no Go and Death Note across the screen a few times, (previous projects by the Ohba/Obata team,) Bakuman proves that, yes, it does have a story to tell, and it's immediately compelling for anyone who's felt the sting of ambitious passion at a too-young age, or the slump of resignation instead. Moritaka Mashiro is a decent student overcome with ennui and embittered by the fate of his beloved uncle. He has an incredible artistic talent for but has long since abandoned his childhood dreams of becoming a manga artist for a cushy, safe desk job instead. Akito Takagi is aghast at this, telling Mashiro that he's an aspiring writer in need of an artist and together they could be legendary mangaka and make something of themselves. (Although we're not sure yet that Akito has any talent.)
It's unfortunately the delivery of this cute idea could use a little animation of its own. Like Mashiro, Bakuman is an unenthusiastic creature, content to play out in as flat and conventional a manner as possible, in striking contrast to the Death Note anime which took a manga entirely composed of long monologues and exploded every frame, relished every line, and applied a shocking amount of cinematic creativity to a shonen series, determined to entertain in every single moment. Bakuman doesn't even conjure the energy and heart of MM! Ouch.
Maybe it doesn't have to, however, because the writing here is solid. The story is great, not revolutionary, but not derivative, either. It has an air of classic “win the dream” tales while not appearing predictable, and that's a breath of fresh air for the shonen pool. The director just needs to step it up and breathe a little more life into this otherwise very nice premiere, because it barely feels like an anime, and more like colored panels with overlaid voices…a cash-in, perhaps?
But yeah, the end of the episode, introducing a bizarre love interest and an even nuttier contract between the leads, is completely ridiculous. It begs for a second or third episode to get its footing and prove itself; it more than deserves a few episodes of attention for what it has to offer.
It's hard to chide Sora no Otoshimono for not trying hard enough with its crazy, silly, pervy premise when you turn around and see a show trying plenty hard to milk its setup and falling on its face just as hard. Can we just learn from these new ecchi titles that a show can't run on one joke alone? Particularly when that one joke is “This guy gets off on hot girls beating him senseless!”
(Psst! That's the one gag running MOST harem shows, folks, they just don't come right out and say it.)
Tarou Sado is a masochist (does Jun Fukuyama ever get to play normal people?) who wants to be cured of his fetish before confessing to the love of his dreams, so he relates his problem to the head of a school volunteer club who appears to be the peanut butter to his jelly, something of a sadist herself. She decides the best way to resolve the issue is to beat Sado so close to the brink of death that his survival instincts will kick in and involuntarily lock away his urges, sort of an inverted-Clockwork Orange thing, I guess, but even then it makes no sense. Her friend, the VP presumably, finds the whole display mortifying and is reduced to tears throughout while Sado desperately tries to control his ravenous—oh god, this is grody. Sado has just put himself in a world of hurt with no escape, and presumably, so have the viewers.
Okay: it's not that bad. Personal tastes being what they are, if I was held at gunpoint and had to choose between the first three ecchi offerings of the season, MM!, shockingly, is the lesser of the evils…between painfully boring, painfully foul, and painfully stupid, just give me stupid, and as other reviewers have mentioned, there's a genuinely nice little twist in the middle of the episode that gives room for pause. MM! has a laudable amount of energy while still maintaining a comfortable pace that would certainly result in good comedy if the premise itself wasn't (literally) self-flagellant. The idea itself may be too terrible to result in any good material but it's trying, so, like PSG, if what you've read doesn't immediately repulse you, just taste a bit, and it might not make you sick…might.
Sora no Otoshimono Forte
We open on our protagonist having a mysterious, possibly prophetic dream. As the ephemeral vision slides away, he is greeted with a faceful of boobies from his housemate, a quiet girl who has no idea what she's doing to the kid is cruel and unusual. (Why do people envy these guys with harems? They have perpetual blue balls, isn't that a bit hellish?) Another spunkier housemate then bursts in to drag him out of bed and stare dumbfoundedly at…well, he just woke up, I don't have to finish the joke.
How many anime series have I just described? Go ahead and tabulate ‘em, I'll wait.
No, I won't. You all have better things to do, I'm sure. I was trying to describe Sora no Otoshimono's second season, but with that, there's nothing more to be said. This is not a bad show. It's not really funny but it's not an ugly experiment gone awry like that other title I could mention, either. It's like any other gleefully bawdy harem show out there; it knows its audience and plays out exactly the way they expect. Fans of the first series—and the show has enough energy and spunk to merit a good number of fans—will probably enjoy this. It has a healthy range of ladies and goofy perverse jokes and within the first episode, appears to be furthering a nice little mystery plot. Not any good, but not bad. Not boring yet, but probably will be quickly. I'm not sure it will get any love, but at least it can't be hated for just being inoffensively what we all expected it was…even if that meant we thought it'd be offensive. (The OP theme is ¾ close-ups of boners. That'll get your female audience watching, I'm sure.)
The only thing that even stuck out about the series was the lead character's seiyuu: his acting is atrocious. Kept having flashbacks to the Love Hina dub all over again!
Sora no Otoshimono Forte is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Panty and Stocking with Garterbelt
Rating: 2 (of 5)
GREAT VICTORIA'S SECRET, THIS SERIES IS OVERFLOWING WITH POO!
That is not any assessment of quality, mind you, it is full of literal crap. The titular superheroines’ first great challenge is defeating a fecal monster, the ghost of a plumber who died an unfortunate death and must now be put to rest. The girls are “angels” of sorts working under a humorless priest named Garter Belt to turn ghosts into “Heaven Coins” and earn their entrance back into paradise. Not that they care much about that: Panty and Stocking are a vulgar pair more excited about sex and sugar respectively then earning their wings. You know, that combined with the oft-cited Butch Hartman/Rob Renzetti in a blender style gives this some serious promise. After all, it may be crude, stupid and garish, but it doesn't commit that cardinal anime sin of being boring, right?
All the same, I can see that ghostly plumber now, examining this show's underbelly and shaking his head before these bitchy and thoroughly unlikable ladies beat him to death for pointing out the obvious. His final words? “Well there's your problem, girls! This just isn't funny.” Edgy? Nasty? Sure, but like Mitsudomoe, I feel like I'm being entertained by a middle schooler who still thinks a script based entirely around the same dick joke is comedy gold…except Mitsudomoe was trying to be creative and varied. This is gross, repetitive and downright painful.
Director Imaishi should have taken more than visual cues from famous Nickelodeon and Cartoon Network flagships and learned a little comedy writing from them too. Even the most unbearable shows created by Steve Ressel and others are more creative and well-written than this. (I mention Ressel particularly because Invader Zim is the most blatantly parodied show present in P&S.) Every joke in Powerpuff Girls All Grown Up here is poorly timed, base, and dare I say it: angry! It's not a fun raunchy romp, there's an air of desperation, like the show is spiting us for trying to laugh at it and it wants to be too edgy to handle just by virtue of repeating a lot of foul words.
The screenshots elicit more smiles than the show itself. I can't identify it, but there's a poisonous air hanging around this mess that just makes it unpleasant to sit through even if all the gags weren't all just seeing how many times the girls can talk about shit and jizz with no punchline.
Panty & Stocking is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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