The Winter 2011 Anime Preview Guide
Carl Kimlinger

by Carl Kimlinger, Jan 4th 2011

Carl writes from the backwaters of Oregon, where he lives in bucolic splendor amongst talking bunnies and the occasional unicorn. He loves nothing more than having his heart stomped on by an anime series. When not slamming bad anime, he can be found singing in the forest as woodland creatures frolic about and songbirds alight in his outstretched hands.


Gosick Episode 2

Rating: 3 ½

Review: Gosick gives its mystery chops a workout, and if they don't dazzle, neither do they disappoint. Though the latter is at least partly thanks to properly adjusted expectations. Victorique and Kazuya use Roxanne's invitation to get on the Queen Berry, where they are drugged and locked in a room with a variety of obviously doomed adults. When people start dying, the truth comes out: the Queen Berry was once the site of an evil game that forced children to murder each other, and the doomed adults now aboard were all responsible in one way or another for the tragedy. Someone, it seems, wants revenge on the debauched sadists who perpetrated the slaughter, but who?

No one really expects a Ten Little Indians set-up like this to be anything but contrived, so the patently artificial plot isn't such a problem. More irksome is the ease with which one can whittle the suspects down to two. A choice between two suspects is still a mystery though, even if not a terribly good one, and the finality with which Victorique kills any supernatural speculation is further reason for optimism. Disdain for magic is always a healthy sign in a mystery series.

While increasing the opportunities for vicarious sleuthing, the series doesn't forget to maintain its less intellectual pleasures. Victorique and Kazuya made a good team before, and they only get better as Kazuya's competence and courage become obvious and Victorique's quirks grow into worrisome personality flaws. Victorique also injects some odd humor into the decidedly nasty goings-on with her adorable little Holmes pipe and heartily fake laugh (used to mock the superstitions of panicky potential victims). The next episode promises further development for both, and perhaps even a boost in action, so with luck the show's diversionary properties will continue to improve, even if its mysteries don't.


Fractale

Rating: 4 ½

Review: After being kicked off of Lucky Star and wasting obvious talent on the puff o' fluff Kannagi, director Yutaka Yamamoto finally gets a project that he can sink his teeth into. The future: the Fractale System, a mega-network of computers, controls life for humanity. Everyone is guaranteed a comfortable living, the only requirement being that at a specific time they offer up a single prayer. Contact between people is minimal, most humans preferring to stay where they are and send digital doppelgangers to do their work for them. Young engineer Clain is one of a few who go out regularly, usually to junk bazaars where he digs up old data. On one such trip he meets Phryne, a real-live girl, who is being pursued by real-live bad guys in a real-live airship with real-live machine guns. Things aren't the same after that.

Fractale is actual science fiction. Not a prefab action tale with fantastical future trappings, or a space opera that uses its setting for purposes of exoticism, but a story built around an idea of the future that reflects back on the modern world. The series treats it quite matter-of-factly, even lightly, but the idea of a world in which social lives are lived solely via digital avatars has something mighty discomfiting to say about the direction our social-media inundated world is going. Clain's family even goes so far as to raise him by doppelganger, with predictably alienating results.

That said, it's the series’ almost old-fashioned sense of adventure does the real seducing. Its blend of charming banter, blithely spunky youngsters, likeably inept villains, and retro aerial combat is reminiscent of nothing so much as early Hayao Miyazaki (and, not coincidentally, Nadia), though with enough Yokohama Kaidashi Kikou thrown in to let you know that it's Yamakan's baby. A beguiling mixture, and with a working brain to boot. Sign me up for episode two.

Fractale is available streaming on Funimation.com.


Wandering Son

Rating: 5

Review: After Aoi Hana tanked, you'd think that animators would balk at another Takako Shimura adaptation. They didn't, and we got Wandering Son. If I knew who to kiss, I'd pucker up right now. It's spring and Shuichi Nitori is entering middle school. Many of his classmates from elementary school are attending as well, but so too are a variety of students from a variety of different grade schools. Among his continuing classmates are protective firebrand Chiba and bespectacled best friend Makoto, but most important is boyish Yoshino Takatsuki, a girl with whom Shuichi has a long and complicated history. In grade school they discovered that they shared dissatisfaction with their assigned genders: Yoshino liked being seen as a boy, and Shuichi wanted to be a girl. Shuichi wrecked their comfortable relationship with an ill-timed confession of love, but as they enter junior high an unpleasant incident gives them the chance to reconcile.

Wandering Son treats its sensational subject matter with a becoming quietude, a simple realism that is gentle and understated almost to a fault. In that way it is quite similar to Aoi Hana; it approaches alternate gender identities with the same frankness, seriousness, and refusal to sensationalize with which Aoi Hana approached homosexuality. For that alone the series deserves hearty praise. It's more than just praiseworthy, though. It's also a superb story, written with unassuming yet daunting skill and populated with fine, ineffably human characters. It quietly evades the didacticism that could so easily have afflicted it and never, ever talks down or underestimates your intelligence. It can be a bit confusing at first since the cast eschews easy identifying markers and the script leaves it to you to straighten out the convoluted histories of its protagonists. The rewards are worth the work, however. By the by, the skill with which the series brings to life the washed-out minimalist beauty of Shimura's art is positively startling. Not a series for all tastes, but nearly perfect for those whose taste it is.

Wandering Son is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Kimi ni Todoke 2nd Season

Rating: 4 ½

Review: Production I.G's gorgeous valentine to first love resumes, appropriately enough, with the onset of Valentine's Day. For the first time in her life Sawako has a great many people to give Valentine's chocolate to. To her friends Chizu and Ayane, to her teacher, to her classmates who have at last begun to understand her. But the most important chocolates are the hardest for her to give: the ones she made for Kazehaya, the boy she loves.

And that's it. Episode one of Kimi ni Todoke's second season is literally just Sawako giving chocolates to people. As ever there's beauty and honesty in that simplicity. Like its heroine the series always attacks head on, always moves straight forward, and always does so gently, with grace and a deep but often unseen strength. Fancy plotting has no more a place in Kimi ni Todoke than gimmicks, emotional trickery, or cheap thrills. The show's only desire is to capture that first, glorious blossoming of love in all its mundane wonder, in its infinitesimal everyday detail and silly, universal anxiety. Pulsing beneath this episode's perfectly common plot is wealth of honest feeling: subtle, nuanced and quietly potent. The bittersweet ending, so sad and sweet and thoughtful, is a gem unto itself, worth a dozen views just to appreciate its every facet.

If this episode has a weakness it's the lack of contact between Sawako and Kazehaya. Yes, the distance between them is the episode's very reason for existence, and is responsible for its lingering ache, but the series is always at its best when exploring the attraction between the two, when demonstrating that a relationship based on kindness, mutual respect, and everything else that is wholesome and good can be as vibrant and compelling as anything the school of unpleasantly real romance has to offer. No matter, though. This remains the finest series of its type since Lovely Complex, and the most beautiful since...well, I don't know when.


Kore wa Zombie Desu ka?

Rating: 3 ½

Review: Zombie's female designs give off a very specific and particularly malodorous stench; namely the stench of eroge. It wafts in waves off of their frilly yet revealing costumes and generic faces with their big eyes and weak little moe mouths. Include the show's gimmicky premise (zombie guy lives with magical girl and lady necromancer) and pathetic "the world is full of mysteries" opening narration and you'd be excused for thinking that you're in for some sort of harem retread hell. You'd also be wrong. The first time Ayumu Aikawa, the titular zombie, is hit by a semi that becomes pretty obvious. He drags himself home to Eucliwood Hellscythe, his necromancer master, but finds no solace there. He seeks it out in the only place zombies feel at home, the graveyard, but is interrupted by a magical girl. Who is battling a giant bear-monster with a chainsaw. In short order Ayumu is impaled, sawed in half, and accidentally imbued with magical-girl energy. All told, a bad day. But not as bad as the next one.

No mistake about it, Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? is completely and utterly insane. There is no other word for a series that combines magical girls with chainsaws and massive gouts of blood, or that knowingly mires you in visual-novel drear before smacking you, along its lead, with a semi-truck full of grotesque slapstick. And there is most certainly no other way to describe its climax, about which no more can be said without spoiling one unspeakably messed-up plot twist. It isn't much to look at, and hasn't enough brains to tempt even the hungriest of the undead, but it is absolutely and totally hysterical. It takes a particular kind of viewer to enjoy something like the graveyard sequence, during which Ayumu argues with magical girl Haruna while skewered on bear claws and bisected by a chainsaw, but if you're that kind of viewer, you're unlikely to find a funnier series this season. F'd-up, but in its own way, brilliant.

Kore wa Zombie Desu ka? is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Dragon Crisis!

Rating: 3

Review: Whether fleshing out familiar tales (Toradora!, Asobi ni Iku yo!), inventing something new (Spice and Wolf), or simply going batsh*t insane (Kyōran Kazoku Nikki), in recent times light novels have given us some of our finest romantic comedies. They've also given us plenty of mediocrity. One day at school, regular guy Ryuji Kisaragi is abducted by his long-absent cousin Eriko. He isn't terribly flustered; Eriko, a hunter of supernatural artifacts, is basically a D-cup Indiana Jones, so an abduction or two is nothing unusual. She drags him to a dock where a black market exchange of supernatural goods is planned, and quite naturally proceeds to rob the robbers. In the ensuing shootout the artifact's case is opened and, also quite naturally, a girl pops out. All she can say is "Ryuji," and she can incinerate a fleet of cars with the flick of wrist, so Eriko and Ryuji figure she isn't normal, but they don't figure on her being a real-live dragon. Or being pathologically over-attached to Ryuji.

Between its tried-and-true premise and dispiriting dearth of male characters, Dragon Crisis! doesn't exactly bleed promise. Ryuji is nice, but bland; the girls are pretty, but prefabricated; the plot is fast, fun, and refreshingly action-minded, but clichéd as all hell. The series is pleasant, but also completely undistinguished. It's a good-looking show, with nice rounded character designs and some surprisingly slick animation, particularly during the car-incinerating and magical-butterfly-swarming parts of the action scenes. There's plenty of harmless fan-service and even a bit of cute puppy-love thrown in for good measure. But you'll be hard put to remember any of it when the episode has run its course, except possibly for the irresistible way that Rie Kugiyama, as the dragon girl, says "Ryuji." And all that does is make you want to watch Toradora! again. Give it another episode to separate itself from the crowd, then dump it.

Dragon Crisis! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Level E

Rating: 4

Review: Here's a strange tidbit for you: Before helming this adaptation of famed mangaka Yoshihiro Togashi's short 1995 manga, director Toshiyuki Kato helmed both CODE-E and Mission-E. Neither of which has the least connection to this series. Coincidence? Design? Proof of a weird fondness for the letter "E?" Speaking of weird… Native Tokyo-ite Yukitaka Tsutsui has been scouted for the baseball team of a rural high-school. He knows full well that he only received the offer because he played for the middle-school champions of Japan, or more accurately warmed bench for them, but he's happy for the excuse to leave home anyway. Unfortunately his wonderful new life takes a turn for the odd when he discovers a long-haired man in his new apartment, blithely wearing his clothes and drinking his coffee. Shape-shifting aliens, Men in Black, and exploding UFOs naturally follow.

From the moment Yukitaka walks in on Prince, sipping hot coffee from a mug as he reclines restfully in Yukitaka's bedroom, it's obvious that the alien interloper is destined to own the series. His casual effrontery, from his hijacking of Yukitaka's apartment to his cheerfully hypocritical assessment of Yukitaka's morality ("you'd make a fine criminal"), is absolutely priceless. Yukitaka for his part makes a fine foil, battling Prince's po-faced clowning with a quick temper and a sharp tongue. The tone of the series, with its intimations of ugly human conspiracies and hints of horror, can actually be fairly dark, but the pair's bickering ensures that it's never overly so. At this point the series could go basically anywhere: silly UFO comedy, X-Files action, even high-school drama. Or it could maintain a pleasant balance of all three, as it does here. The only thing certain is that, wherever it goes, it'll look great getting there. The sight of Prince recuperating beneath a tree ablaze with out-of-season cherry blossoms is amongst the most beautiful this season.

Level E is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Freezing

Rating: 1 ½

Review: Freezing wants to be gritty military sci-fi. It also wants to grab the male demographic by their collective gonads. Lewd and sadistic. Fantastic! It's the near future (again). Interdimensional nasties threaten humanity (again). A technology that can defeat them has been devised (again), but (again) it can only be used by women of appropriate genetic heritage, this time called Pandoras. In order to resist the force-field thingies put out by the interdimensional beast thingies, the girls must resonate with a male who has some sort of resonating, force-field-negating power thingy in his brain. Top Pandora Bridgette L. Satellizer meets her prospective partner when, after slaughtering the competition in what amounts to a gory mid-term test, she is jumped by Kazuya Aoi, who has mistaken her for his deceased sister. Breast-nuzzling ensues.

Infinite Stratos redux? Not quite. Despite strong similarities in plot, Freezing is more of an Ikki Tousen than a Stratos. A dreary, colorless Ikki Tousen. If it was a little more self-aware, if it pushed itself a little further over the edge or packaged its sex and gore with a bit more wink, or at the very least committed itself whole-heartedly to being trash, Freezing might have achieved a modicum of Ikki Tousen's bright, shamelessly vulgar charm. Naturally it does none of that. The future warfare is grim and deadly, the training fights are gruesome tragedies, the military's use of the girls is cruelly exploitative. The series screams "serious" at every turn. And then breaks out the crotch-cams and ICBM mammaries. The mixture is uncomfortable at best; disturbing at worst. Dismemberment and lascivious camerawork make poor bedfellows, and attempting some kind of statement about the exploitation of young girls while baldly exploiting them...that's plain ugly. The series' creative bankruptcy, interminable explication, lazy characterization, and steaming heaps of pretentious terminology are almost moot in comparison. Almost.


Beelzebub

Rating: 4

Review: There's life in the high-concept anime yet. Questioned by his friend as to why he has a green-haired baby clamped to his back, Tatsumi Oga tells the tale of how he stumbled upon the tot one day while subjugating local punks. As the punks were bowing down in supplication before Oga, a large man came floating down a nearby river. Curious, Oga pulled the man out and split him in half. Out popped the baby, and presto! he had an infant hanger-on. A problematic one. When the baby cries, he electrocutes all bystanders, including Oga. And he's soon followed by his maid, who explains that his name is Beelzebub, that he's been sent to destroy humanity, and that he has chosen Oga as his surrogate father. Oga is displeased. Unfortunately, the meaner Oga is, the better little Beelzebub likes him.

Delinquent raises baby demon. Four words, and every one pregnant with awesome comic potential. Maybe Beelzebub doesn't have the greatest comedic premise of all time, but word-for-word it comes close. Think of it as a comedy about the world's most screwed-up family. The father is a juvenile delinquent who meets his son while dunking punks in a river. The son is a mayhem-loving, clothing-spurning toddler capable of turning a school cafeteria into a sea of blood using only a yakisoba bun. And the mother is a demonic maid perfectly willing to spit papa like a roast pig if he abandons junior. Even at its breakneck pace, this episode hardly scratches the surface of the comic complications inherent in that setup. And that mere scratch unleashes a storm of chaos and tongue-in-cheek evil so fun that it's a little scary. Who knows what might happen if the show digs deep? And if the preview is to be believed (Beelzebub meets Oga's parents?) the digging is to commence immediately. I can't wait.

Beelzebub is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Oniichan no Koto Nanka Zenzen Suki Janain Dakara ne—!!

Rating: 2

Review: Random science fact: Growing up in close proximity with someone fixes them in your mind as a sibling and makes them subject to an internal incest taboo. That is to say that, psychologically speaking, a sexual attraction to a non-relative who you were raised with is just as deviant as a sexual attraction to a blood sibling. Nao Takanashi would be happy to know that that makes her a bon-a-fide deviant. Not that anyone would ever mistake her for anything else. She tempts her brother Shusuke with deliberate panty-flashes, sleeps in his bed in hopes of getting some accidental nookie, keeps detailed records of his masturbation habits, uses his dirty laundry in ways dirty laundry was never intended, and sneaks into his room when he's not in to dispose of his non-incest porn. It's on one such run that she finds a carefully hidden family album; a family album without a single picture of her. Nao, as fate would have it, isn't related to her beloved brother. Score!

That Oniichan is a little-sister incest anime isn't the issue, really. If you wanted to stretch the definition a bit, Koi Kaze could be thrown into the same bin. The issue is the series' raunchy, un-nuanced take on the subject. In Oniichan incest isn't a path to discomfiting conclusions about the subjectivity of morality, or a source of deep and disturbing ambivalence; it's a way to add perverted spice to a standard-issue ecchi comedy. Frankly that's a pretty cavalier way to treat mankind's deepest and most universal taboo. The series does have its strengths: unconventional designs, amusing parental chemistry, even a fairly decent sense of humor. Nao's reaction to being deprived of her forbidden relationship is particularly priceless. But the relentless fan-service, rampant perversion, and unexamined heebie-jeebie factor overpower everything. Even ecchi addicts may want to give this one a pass.


Mitsudomoe Zōryōchū!

Rating: 3 ½

Review: Mitsudomoe enters its second season in typically odd fashion, eschewing a normal reintroduction in favor of a full episode of the show-within-a-show Gachi Rangers. The emperor of the evil Gedol Empire is displeased with the failure of his underlings to put a stop to the Gachi Rangers. To avoid his wrath, his three generals propose a plan to steepen the decline of Japan's birth rate by destroying the nation's children. To this end they create a crab monster and go knocking on nursery doors. In the meantime the Gachi Rangers botch every attempt to stop them. Will the Gachi Rangers pull their heads from their rears long enough to defeat the crab monster? Will they survive the public outrage at their incompetence? Will Hitoha survive the horror of seeing her favorite show butchered?

Truth be told, a Gachi Rangers episode wasn't the smartest way to open a new season. For one it's a huge in-joke that will completely alienate newcomers. And for another, it prevents the series from exploiting many of its major strengths. The Marui sisters, whose quirks and bonds are the series' heart (what there is of it), hardly make an appearance at all. And the episodes' spot-on mimicry of sentai-show shoddiness allows no room for the comic invention that marks the best of the series. That said, as always the series remembers Comedy Rule #1: namely, bring the funny. What begins as a light, though perverse, parody soon escalates into a full-on mauling as the Gachi Rangers inadvertently kill every child they attempt to save--via bomb, bus crash, or simple laziness--and then blithely blame the carnage on their enemies, eventually causing the town's grannies and fishmongers to turn viciously on them. The scene where a granny attacks their leader with a picture of her dead grandson only to have her eyes poked and her dentures kicked out is pure Mistudomoe: crude, transgressive, and funny as hell. Here's to another season of good, dirty fun.

Mitsudomoe Zōryōchū! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Cardfight!! Vanguard

Rating: 1 ½

Review: Most animation is created with profits in mind, but none stink quite so pungently of crass commercialism as those with card-game tie-ins. The title alone tells you that Vanguard is among them, even before its characters start rapturously plugging the joys of trading cards, particularly those of the titular game. The plot deals with Aichi Sendou, a shy student who dreams of being a Vanguard Fighter. When part-time bully and full-time Vanguard enthusiast Morikawa steals Aichi's treasured rare card and loses it to a stone-cold Vanguard pro, Aichi braces the pro, Kai, to get it back.

In the ensuing fight it is revealed that Kai and Aichi have a connection that no one suspects, but by that point anyone over the age of, say, eight who is in possession of a functioning brain will have completely tuned out. The bulk of the episode is devoted to a tedious demonstration of the Vanguard card game that will leave even the most patient viewers with glazed eyes and an itch to beat up eight-year-olds. The remainder of the episode is consumed by character development that makes Pokémon's look positively ingenious, with a smattering of card-fightin' action. The action might remove the glaze from your eyes, but only because it gets wiped off when you roll them. The awful hair and humdrum designs do no one any favors.

Of course quality and even entertainment value aren't really the point. The point is to sell lots of cards to impressionable kids. On its success at that I cannot comment, not being an eight-year-old. I know it's bad form in this crappy economy, and spiteful even in a good one, but I'm praying it flops. Anything to impede the flow of animated infomercials.

Cardfight!! Vanguard is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Gosick

Rating: 3.5

Review: How do you feed a mystery series to otaku? Dress it in loli-goth clothes of course. The tiny country of Saubure is known mainly for its prestigious school, St. Margeurite's Academy, the destination of choice for the sons and daughters of Europe's elite. Kazuya Kujo attends St. Margeurite's at the behest of his parents, but he's having trouble fitting in. His black hair and eyes have prompted the supernatural-loving students to dub him the Dark Reaper, and he's pretty roundly avoided. While looking into Dark Reaper lore at the school library he meets a pretty but very strange blonde girl. Victorique proves just how strange when a flashy police inspector bursts in with a hairy little murder mystery, which she solves in seconds. Victorique, you see, is something of a sleuth. And Kazuya is about to become her man Friday.

As a pretty diversion, you can recommend Gosick without hesitation. In addition to being cute as a button, Victorique also has an immediate and adorable rapport with the hapless, though not helpless, Kazuya, who in turn provides a light counterpoint to the often grim events surrounding them. The period European setting is convincingly evoked, with oodles of majestic scenery and worn stone architecture. The library, a marvelously improbable maze of spiral staircases and walkways built in what appears to be the remnants of a medieval tower, is a particular treat.

It's early days, however, to be recommending Gosick as a mystery series. Victorique clears up the series' first murder so quickly that she leaves no time to fairly evaluate its merits. The murder's unresolved motive does open the door to what promises to be an ill-fated cruise on an ill-fated ocean liner, but we'll have to wait for episode two to see how that fares mystery-wise. Until then we must content ourselves with looking at the pretty pictures and enjoying the cast's company. Not a bad deal, in truth.

Gosick is available streaming on Crunchyroll.


Puella Magi Madoka Magica

Rating: 4

Review: Madoka Kaname had a dream. In it she saw a girl battling magical forces in a land of shattered skyscrapers. Battling, and losing. You can change this future, a talking animal of indeterminate lineage tells her. If you want to change it, enter into a contract with me. Become a magical girl. And then she wakes up; wakes up to her very happy normal existence, where she's just a middle-school girl with a cool working mom, a kind stay-at-home dad, and a cutie pie toddler brother. She goes to her normal—though spectacular—school, hangs out with her normal friends, and has her normal life irrevocably shattered when the girl from her dream transfers into her normal class. The shattering is completed when, at the mall, she meets the dream-animal and receives the same invitation: Become a magical girl.

A collaboration between SHAFT big shot Akiyuki Shinbo and Nitroplus scribe Gen Urobuchi, Madoka Magica also reunites Shinbo with his Petit Cossette composer Yuki Kajiura while adding the end-of-the-world vocals of Kalafina and straightforward designs of mangaka Ume Aoki. That's a frightening concentration of talent. The show that results may or may not be the Second Coming of the magical girl genre (that's for future episodes to decide), but it certainly intends to be. The production stinks of ambition, of the desire to fashion something grand and serious from the sugary bones of its ailing genre. And it has the raw skill to do it. Witness the black-and-white M.C. Escher dreamscapes; the stop-motion and live-action chaos of its nightmarish magic; the glass prisons that pass for school rooms; the Faustian undertones of the animal mascot's bargain. All of the ingredients for an unsettling revisionist take on magical-girl fare are in place. Whether it will successfully use them is another matter. Shinbo has been known to botch his shows in the past. That Madoka appears poised to skip past the usual item-gathering nonsense to head straight into internecine magical girl warfare is a good sign, though.



Yumekui Merry

Rating: 3

Review: Having a special power is always, 100% of the time, a curse. Even more so when it's as useless as a fourth buttock. Yumeji can see auras that tell him about people's dreams. Other than party favors for his school buds, there's little use for it. And lately it has been attracting some unsavory types to his dreams; namely an army of bloodthirsty bipedal kitties. After a particularly grueling kitty dream he meets a strange girl in the street. Actually, she falls on him in the street. They end up separated, but he keeps her lost hat. When the badass boss of the kitties hijacks Yumeji's waking reality, the girl, Merry, intervenes. She was just looking for her hat, but when the boss kitty lets slip that he's from the world of dreams, a place she badly wants to return to, she decides the beat him until he agrees to show her the way back.

The dreamscapes that dominate Yumeji's sleep are pretty unique. The main one involves a decaying dockside town with variable laws of physics and a sky swarming with outsized fossil fish skeletons. Add an army of Disneyesque cat-thugs and you've got yourself a nifty bit of imagination. Unfortunately that's as far as Merry's imagination goes. The rest of the episode is a hodge-podge of school-comedy and fighting clichés. How the series will shape up depends largely on which clichés eventually gain the upper hand. Since Shigeyasu Yamauchi, director of Casshern Sins and numerous DBZ movies, knows his way around an action scene, one hopes it's the fighting clichés. Merry's fight this episode is a slick piece of work, and more like it would keep us from asking pesky questions like: Why do personality-challenged protagonists always live in the same house as their smitten childhood friends? Why hasn't someone taken Yumeji's poetry-spouting friend's poetry-writing brush away and stabbed him in the brain with it? And what's up with Merry's dorky coat? A side note: the boss kitty is played with sepulchral seriousness Jouji Nakata. Hilarious. More gags like that would also help.


Infinite Stratos

Rating: 2 ½

Review: So it's the future, you see. There's these powerful robotic suits, you see. And only girls can wear them, you see. Except for one guy, you see. And he wants to go to a school for robotic-suit pilots, you see. Yes, we see. We see a cheap attempt to justify yet another story about a lone schmuck surrounded by an infinite bounty of female flesh. The guy is Ichika Orimura, and as you'd expect at a school essentially reserved for the fairer sex, he stands out like a sore thumb. Not only is he the only guy, and thus the center of undue amorous attention, but he's also the only person in his class who hasn't read the robotic-suit (called Infinite Stratos, or IS for short) manual and is the kid brother of famous IS pilot and school instructor Chifuyu. Within days he's gotten the student body's hormones a-roiling, pissed off his roommate (and childhood friend) Houki, and gotten roped into a duel with a spoiled English princess. So much for blending in.

The surprise here is that it isn't Infinite Stratos's transparent premise that sinks it. Rather it's the thinly-veiled world-building info-dumps and reams of unnatural explanatory dialogue. For all its promises of juicy school drama (or comedy), the episode feels dry, and more than a bit clunky. That doesn't bode well for the future quality of the script. As for the potentially prurient premise, it's actually pretty decently handled. While the girls are definitely interested in Ichika, they don't throw themselves on him, preferring to gawk and stalk. Fan-service is surprisingly light—limited to a bit of cleavage here and an "eek! I just got out of the shower!" moment there—and, so far at least, the moe stereotypes aren't oozing out of the woodwork. That Ichika has a personality and a spine certainly helps, as does his obvious displeasure with being the center of feminine attention. As such things go you could do worse, and certainly uglier; 8-Bit's animation is quite nice.



Rio - Rainbow Gate!

Rating: 2

Review: What can you expect from a series based on a slot machine? Apparently not much. Howard's Resort is a state-of-the-art casino city known for its flashy shows and, of course, its games of chance. Mint's grandfather has brought her to many such resorts and frankly she's unimpressed. She hears a rumor, though, that interests her, of a card dealer known as the Goddess of Victory. Like Alice following the White Rabbit, she follows a white animal in the ferret family straight to the Goddess, who proves to be a buxom young dealer named Rio. Rio is the resort's rising star, a dealer whose mere presence calms the unlucky and whose touch is rumored to bring infallible good luck. Mint is immediately smitten. And only just in time, for a ruthless stuffed-animal collector is after her beloved teddy bear CHOCO, and figures a game of poker is the perfect way to win it. Who better to have on your side at such a time than the Goddess of Victory?

There's only one word for Rio: ridiculous. Nothing it does makes a lick of sense. Why, for instance, would a casino—a ruthlessly profit-driven entity—employ a dealer who imparts good luck, thus costing the casino big every time she hits the floor? And who was the genius who decided that gambling was a good basis for heart-warming schlock? The scenes of Rio healing indecisive boyfriends and heart-broken divorcees with roulette and poker (and, not incidentally, lots of money) are plain icky. Ditto the scenes that try to stamp a smiley face on the desperation and greed of gamblers. And the big gambling showdown at the end, with its preposterous fantasy sequences and intimation that somehow will and intent guide luck? Ridiculous. The fan-service is excellent, mind you, and it is nice to find a series starring real-live adults, but it's hard to see this going anywhere worthwhile.

Rio - Rainbow Gate! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.



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