The Winter 2012 Anime Preview Guide
Bamboo is the writer of the biweekly streaming column, The Stream. She spends most of her time polishing her bourbon collection and antagonizing people on Twitter.
Bodacious Space Pirates episode 2
Rating: 4.5 (of 5)
Review: You can't underestimate the appeal of a well-written, beautifully animated sci-fi series. Those are the things that anime dreams are made of. Bodacious Space Pirates reminds me of when I first started watching anime. It's fresh and fun, and it opens your eyes in that same wide-eyed way that watching Macross Plus in the back room of a comic book store with your local club did. It's entertaining, and it knows the value of taking its time in slowly unwrapping a story. It could've thrown Marika into the captain's chair right at the start, and thrust viewers into a cliché of stereotypical supporting characters and villains, but it doesn't. It has a story to tell, and it's going to do it the right way.
There's an amazing scene in the second episode where Marika's mother takes her out into the desert and shows her how to shoot a gun. The backdrop is stunning—the swirling stars of a galaxy system are splashed across the night canvas, and the only thing visible is an old ruin, lit by the glare of headlights. It's a really breathtaking sight. Anyone who's ever looked up at the sky away from civilization, from a desert or a mountaintop, knows that nothing can replicate seeing the Milky Way for the first time. It's a humbling sight that few city-dwellers have been privy to see. And just as that itself is humbling, as Marika holds a destructive weapon in her hands, her mother tells her that it'll be her choice as a pirate whether she wants to pull the trigger. When her daughter confesses that she doesn't know if she's ready, her mother reassures her, not pushing her into the role unlike so many other series.
Bodacious Space Pirates is a lot more realistic in that sense. It starts off with the right building blocks—a smart and eager girl who has the natural talent to rise to the role of a ship captain—but it proceeds on her terms. It doesn't rush the story, and it doesn't force situations for the sake of an easy plot point. That kind of pacing lets the character grow naturally, and with that type of change, comes a cast of characters that you naturally want to support. It's an earnest series, and it shows a lot of promise.
The word “Moretsu” means gung-ho and audacious. It describes Marika perfectly. She'll be a great hero, for a great series.
The Knight in the Area episode 2
Rating: 4.5 (of 5)
Review: If the first episode had problems with focus, the second episode fixes them. Through a scrimmage match, we learn a lot about ace player Suguru and his younger brother Kakeru, and the way they interact with each other. We see, just as Suguru does, that Kakeru possesses a lot of natural talent, and just needs a little something to unlock his skills. He's the only one on the team who can receive Suguru's powerful passes, but insecurities about his left kick have left him an inefficient striker.
Of course, if you're wondering just what his hang ups are about his left kick, all of those are answered in his next play session with the mysterious masked player. His nonchalance about it tells a lot about his personality, and subsequently, he quits the team the next day. What makes this episode so powerful, though, are the events that happen in the last few minutes of the episode. Tragedy strikes, but not until the brothers can mend their relationship and Suguru can admit how talented he thinks his brother really is.
This episode is a great emotional kick-off to what I hope the series will be. So much is said about the brothers in the last few minutes of this episode. We see that Suguru isn't the jerk he seems to be. More than anything, we realize that he's a completely unselfish guy, both in his ambitions for his brother, and also in the way that he sets up plays on the pitch. It takes a strong leader to realize his role is to set up assists for the good of the team, and Suguru embraces that. It's no coincidence that that symbolizes much of what will happen next.
A lot of sports shows fall flat because they focus too much on winning. They focus too much on the team going to regionals and moving up to nationals. I'm sure The Knight in the Area will eventually go there, but right now, it's zeroing in on what matters most—the passion for the game. Sure, it spouts a lot of soccer-talk for those who are really into the game, but its focus is clear—Kakeru's passion for the sport. His love-hate relationship with playing makes him an interesting character, and I look forward to the next few episodes.
The Knight in the Area is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Inu X Boku SS
Rating: 4 (of 5)
Review: Some characters, you just wish you could hug. Such is the main protagonist of Inu X Boku SS, a sweet and lonely girl whose acerbic tongue and harsh manners hide an obvious vulnerability. Born into an old and wealthy family, Ririchou has long struggled with her inability to befriend people, largely fueled by the burden she feels from her family's lineage and power. At the start of the episode, she moves into a private condo for the wealthy, staffed by loyal “secret service,” but before the end of the episode, we realize that this is also a sanctuary for half-human half-demons.
Despite its obvious supernatural bent, Inu X Boku SS is, thus far, a very sweet and tender show. The scenes are littered with the gentle presence of cherry blossoms, and the melodic soundtrack adds to the serenity that permeates the series. It's hard to imagine that a show that packs demons and an armed robbery into the first episode could ever be defined as “serene,” but there's something intangible about the series that brings a smile to one's face. It could have to do with the fact that all the characters are instantly likeable, even though a few stray towards cliché. It's a little awkward to have Ririchou's SS agent Soushi constantly refer to himself as a god, but we see later on that he actually is a dog, and somehow owes his life to her.
Part of the romantic appeal of this series is a general, albeit removed, fascination with class societies. There's something wonderfully escapist about watching the lifestyles of the aristocracy and their ever faithful servants from afar—the same fascination that fuels the popularity of British period pieces. In this case, Ririchou plays the role of the kind-hearted wealthy girl who feels alienated by her status, who wants to eke out a life for herself. It's a staple of class-driven stories, which allows viewers to fantasize about having their own wait staff, while simultaneously feeling like the generous benefactor. In the case of Inu X Boku SS, it works. The relationships between the characters feel natural, and it sets up a good tone for the rest of the series.
Given the human/demon supernatural element of the series, it's not too clear at the moment (for those unacquainted with Cocoa Fujiwara's manga) what direction this series will take, but I feel confident that the show is heading in a good direction. Ririchou is a great protagonist, and her story is one that I'd like to see unfold.
Inu X Boku SS is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Ano Natsu de Matteru
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: I was a big fan of Onegai Teacher and Onegai Twins back in the day. They were just soapy enough to be entertaining, and just cute enough to be endearing. Imagine, then, my excitement at the announcement of Ano Natsu de Matteru, a series that reunited two of the alumni from the Onegai franchise. While the first episode didn't blow me away, it delivered everything I was expecting—cute characters, an innocuous storyline with a twist, and the tantalizing promise of drama-laden love triangles.
The first frame of the series is shown through the viewfinder of an 8mm camera. The videographer is Kaito, a boy who obsessively captures everything on his camera, desperate to leave his footprint in the world in some concrete way. What he sees one night sets up the twist—an alien spacecraft crashes into a nearby body of water, an event he thinks is just a dream. The next day, a beautiful red-head named Ichika appears at his school, trying conspicuously to act human, but failing in its subtleties. In an effort to help Kaito spend more time with her, Kaito's friend Tetsuro convinces everyone to take part in a movie project.
There's only a few ways this story can go. Inevitably, the characters will eventually learn that Ichika is an alien, but will welcome her and her adorable computer/mascot anyway. They'll probably even help her on whatever mission she's on. In the meantime, there'll be some hijinks and jealousies between the girls, but nothing that would disrupt the group dynamic. In short, it'll be frivolous, but fun. It helps that Ichika is really likeable, right off the bat. Her attempts at doing “normal” human things are amusing, and her overreactions towards people's questions even more so. There's a great scene where Kaito finds her sitting on the bank of an irrigation river, fishing line in the water, thinking to herself, “Nobody will ever suspect this is out of the ordinary!” It's charming.
Ano Natsu de Matteru falls into the realm of disposable romance entertainment. As such, it's not high caliber, but it's fun, and I'm eager to see where this goes.
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)
Review: The title Brave 10 refers to the quality required in a viewer to sit through more than 10 minutes of this generic Warring States ninja/samurai show. It stars lone wolf wandering samurai Saizou, who runs into a happy-go-lucky priestess who's wacky and hilarious and cute, even though her temple has just been wiped out by a massacre. She also possesses a gem that has massive destructive powers. In order to harness those powers, or something, noble Lord Sanada has to gather ten brave warriors, inspired by the Sanada Ten Braves, who have done their fair amount of time in pop culture.
I think Brave 10 would actually be a much better series if it didn't have the priestess, Isanami. She sticks out like a sore thumb, both in terms of her character design and her mannerisms. The rest of the series is so bleak and serious that her 90s Anime look and her super peppy personality doesn't really jive. Considering the tragedy that's befallen her people, it's also a little jarring. In this case, the comic relief hampers things more than it helps. It's actually really distracting whenever she's on screen, and it feels somewhat as though she's on loan from a completely unrelated series.
From an action standpoint, Brave 10 has enough well-choreographed fight scenes to amuse fans of ninja shows. There's a healthy mix of knife tossing and swashbuckling, and it's nice seeing some good ol' fashioned ninja butt-kicking. That having been said, the series feels really disjointed, and part of that may just be my utter dislike for priestess. She's kind of a buzzkill on the fight scenes, and her cutesy-pootsy presence really throws off the seriousness of the series. If she's an indicator for the overall mood of Brave 10, I don't think I'll enjoy it.
Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne
Rating: 2 (of 5)
Review: Madoka is the kind of plucky heroine that can do anything and everything, because she's got a Can Do attitude and an exhausting supply of energy. She helps out in a million clubs, she's super athletic, and oh, she saved a drowning person before class, because she's also super nice. It's no surprise that when Evil Alien Invasion strikes her idyllic town of Seaside Japanese Villa, she develops an instant shine to piloting a giant transforming robot that she's never seen before. You know what they say. Piloting a robot is kind of like riding a bike, in that once you're in the cockpit, you intuitively know how to deftly control the product of decades of backbreaking, top-secret technological research. Good thing Madoka also goes to kendo club and judo club, because that really comes in handy in a giant robot fight.
For whatever reason, there are a lot of aliens with colorful hair, both good and bad. One of the good aliens introduces Madoka to her robot, but then warns her about the bad aliens, who mostly just seem like some dudes flying around in a spaceship with invisible walls. They have vague, sinister reasons for invading Earth, as most aliens do, though they don't really try to explain it. Maybe they did explain it and I didn't catch it. This show is incredibly boring. It took three sittings to get through one episode, which isn't generally a good sign.
Part of the reason this first episode is so dull is that nothing of consequence really happens. Sure, we learn about a mysterious new robot and there's a fight scene with glowing energy swords, but it may as well have been recycled from some older robot show. There's nothing that sets this show apart from a zillion other shows of its ilk. Even the character designs seem like leftovers from other series. Maybe if this was the first anime that someone had ever seen in their entire lives, it would be really exciting and cool and full of neat explosions, but otherwise, there's no excuse to spend time on such blasé mediocrity.
Lagrange – The Flower of Rin-ne is available streaming on Viz Anime.
Listen to Me, Girls, I'm Your Father!
Rating: 2 (of 5)
Review: I'll explain the rating up front—upon reading up on what the rest of the series may entail, the premise of Listen to Me, Girls, I'm Your Father sounds like it has promise. It's about a college student who's suddenly thrust in charge of three girls, and has to figure out how to juggle parenthood, college, and a potential relationship. But the first episode gives no indication that this series can deliver. In fact, the first episode is fairly terrible and scattered, and a shade too lewd for its premise.
Before we talk further about the story, someone has to point out that the hook of this series results from some grotesquely irresponsible parenting. Yuta, our college freshman protagonist, suddenly receives an invitation from his sister to visit, with no further instruction other than some cryptic winking and nudging. When he gets to her house, he's greeted by three girls—two from the husband's previous marriage, and one from his sister. The parents have suddenly vanished for an extended leave of absence, and Yuta is now in charge of raising the girls.
Uh, what? Not only do the parents have no discernible reason for leaving their kids in the charge of this guy, but he was never asked whether or not he'd be able to look after them, if he had the time, or given any instruction whatsoever as to the needs of the children. This seems like a huge “WTF” to plop at the beginning of a series just to set up a wacky scenario. Never mind that the camera is weirdly creepy in its panty shots and close-ups of boob-on-arm action. It's understandable that Yuta is bewildered by his sudden predicament, but there's no reason for the camera to deliver awkward hyuks.
Visually, all the characters look like they're made of pudding, because they're all shiny and nubby. I guess it's kind of cute, if you're into that sort of thing. It's hard to watch the events unfold, though, without thinking how implausible the whole thing seems. The children seem fairly nonplussed about their parents abandoning them with a near stranger. It makes the whole premise of the show seem a little hacky, but maybe it'll improve. As far as first episodes go, though, I'm not impressed.
Listen to Me, Girls, I'm Your Father is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Review: It's a good thing Another is visually stunning, because everything else about it is fairly mediocre. Kouichi moves to a small countryside village to stay with his grandparents after his dad moves to India for work. Upon his arrival, he falls ill, but is visited in the hospital by an awkward trio of classmates who are polite, but cagey. We instantly sense that something is amiss, but it's confirmed when Kouichi meets a girl in the elevator with an eyepatch. The viewers instantly realize that she's a girl who died years ago, but our hero is unaware, and is intrigued by her aloofness and otherwise dullness.
So there you have it. The plot of every Big City Boy Moves to Creepy Village horror anime. It's dotted with vague, sinister comments, and violates my biggest pet peeve, which is when one character asks, “You mean you don't know about whatever horrible thing is going on?” and when the protagonist says “no,” replies, “You'll see.” Imagine all the trouble that could be avoided if people just used their words and communicated with each other. It's a lazy hook, and at this point, it's been used so often that my general response is, “No, I don't want to wait and see. I no longer care.” Perhaps if the dead girl was remotely interesting. But she, like every single other character in this show, is devoid of emotions or facial expressions. All the students live in Blank Stare County, and it's hard to see why Kouichi even bothers to talk to her.
Luckily, what Another lacks in storytelling and interesting characters, it makes up for in visuals. This show is gorgeous, especially splashed across a big screen in HD. Everything is stark, but beautiful, and the slow pace of the series adds to the atmosphere. Derivative story aside, Another feels scary. Every time the camera was pointed down a dark hallway, I expected a hundred demons to leap out at me. It's the kind of scary that relies on tension to make viewers uneasy. The only time that tension is really broken up is during the scene transitions, which for some reason, uses stills of dolls, some with horns, other with roses piled into their hollowed out craniums. It's jarring, but it works well with the otherwise deliberate pace of the series.
I'd be lying if I said I wanted to know what happens next. I don't really care. But I don't mind sticking around for another few episodes just to soak in the atmosphere.
Another is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Bodacious Space Pirates
Rating: 4 (of 5)
Review: Don't let the silly name and the school uniforms fool you, Bodacious Space Pirates looks like it's stacking up to be one hell of a show. A hundred years prior to the start of the series, a space colony successfully fought for its independence with the help of space pirates. Our sweet protagonist Marika had always assumed pirates were a figment of history, but she's approached by two strangers, who ask her to be the next captain of the ship Bentenmaru. Little does she realize that even her own mother had captained the ship at one point, and now the role has been passed down to her.
It's unclear why Marika is only now being prepped for the captain role, and why there are bad guys trying to kill her, but whatever the reason may be, it looks like we're in for a fun ride. Part of what makes Bodacious Space Pirates so entertaining is its setting; there's plenty of fun, but realistic technology to gawk at, like fashion magazines on tablets that let you spin a 3D holographic projection of a model. It's the kind of faux-technology that's just realistic enough to make the setting seem believable, without treading into ridiculous throwaway sci-fi fantasy territory. Plus the way that Marika is introduced to space travel is fun, too—she's a member of her school yacht club, which takes ships into the lower orbit and mans them much like a present-day sailing club.
For all the hype over its showy name, Bodacious Space Pirates is surprisingly down to earth. The characters are subdued and relatable, and it's nice to see a geopolitical reason for the existence of space pirates. It seems like the series has put a lot of thought into this story, and I'm eager to see how it pans out.
Senki Zesshou Symphogear
Rating: 2 (of 5)
Review: If the world ever comes to a fiery end courtesy of an alien invasion, I hope with every fiber of my being that our only line of defense is not a pop group. When our noble military is rendered useless in comparison to girls in song-activated armor, I will peacefully embrace my death.
At some point in the not-too-distant future, mankind is on the verge of ruin from neon-colored humanoid blocks called “Noise.” These hostile invaders range in looks from round blob creatures, to giant Gumbys that must have been sketched by a four-year-old. They don't seem to have a motive beyond “Senselessly kill all humans,” and they're impervious to all attacks except armored girl bands. For whatever reason, buried somewhere beneath a stage at some secret facility is an entity that holds some kind of mystic energy. Whether directly or by association, it gives powers to the member(s) of Zweiwing, a pop duo that moonlights as alien slayers by chanting songs that somehow kill the neon men. Lo, we're introduced to Hibiki, a plucky girl whose life was saved at a concert by one of the members of Zweiwig. Naturally, she also wants to become a singer because of the incident, but wouldn't you know it, she somehow gets super powers too when she starts singing on a roof.
It should come as no surprise that the series was partially envisioned by Elements Garden composer Noriyasu Agematsu. He may have talent for composing music, but writing scripts is not his forte. Instead, Symphogear plays like an uncomfortably long music video, interrupted with dialogue. In the first episode alone, there is something like three or four songs, which if you added up the run time, might clock in at over a quarter of the episode length. Don't get me wrong—the music is great. But the tired storyline seems extraneous in comparison. The premise is hackneyed and forced, the characters are generic, and seriously, the aliens look really dumb. If it weren't for the fact that they blow up entire neighborhoods, I don't think I could ever take them seriously as a threat.
Senki Zesshou Symphogear's greatest sin is that it's just not interesting. The songs are fun, but that's about it. Good music can add to a show, but it can't sustain one.
High School DxD
Rating: 2.5 (of 5)
Review: I don't fault High School DxD for its fanservice. If it wants to sell Blu-Rays by animating giant breasts that make waterbed noises when they slosh around, that's fine. At least the artwork is pretty. I mostly fault it for being derivative and messy. When an all-female school opens its doors to male students, Issei and the rest of his pervert buddies transfer in, fantasizing of a high school experience chock full of breast groping. Sadly, their dreams haven't quite materialized yet, but they have managed to find a way to spy on the girls' changing room.
One day, out of the blue, a cute girl approaches Issei and asks him out on a date. Naturally, he obliges, and after a sunny weekend jaunt, all hell breaks loose when she transforms into a bat-winged, scantily-clad demon woman and tries to kill him. Folks, if there's something we've learned by now, it's that Japan is full of demons, but luckily for teenage males, 99% of them are hot and underdressed. There are worse ways to die than being chased by a giant-breasted devil with nipples threatening to burst from their leather scraps. But alas, Mystery Hot Girl from School saves the day, but wouldn't you know it, she's a demon too, and she's made Issei her underling.
I hate to use such a throwaway line, but High School DxD is what it is. It's an action explosion of hot, deadly ladies, punctuated with boobs. That's fine. The story is (already) clichéd and all over the place, but no one's expecting Hemingway. It's a throwaway series designed to mindlessly entertain and titillate, and if that's your thing, then this is your show. Reviewing shows like High School DxD is like the anime version of a restaurant critic sampling the new Carl's Jr. concoction. It's not sterling, but it's greasy and yummy so people eat it anyway.
The Knight in the Area
Rating: 3 (of 5)
Review: It's hard enough playing second fiddle to a more talented sibling, but insecurities and a traumatic event have driven soccer enthusiast Kakeru off the field. Now he stands in the shadow of his brother Suguru, a member of Japan's U-15 national team and the ace of the school team. Happy with being just the manager, Kakeru still finds time to kick the ball around the park at night, but he's plagued by his inability to kick with is left foot. For better or worse, he's about to confront his problems when his brother forces him to rejoin the squad.
Although The Knight in the Area seems like it's going to be more of a character drama than a true sports anime, it's obvious it was written by someone who loves soccer. It's in all the little details, from the Jabulani ball used in the U-15 international match, to the designation of Suguru's jersey number 10 as the squad's creative playmaker. Even the footwork used by the players is purposely animated, which could have just as easily been glossed over or drawn from the knees up. It's a nice addition for soccer fans, even though the animation does get lazy near the end of the episode. Granted, it's not quite as lazy as the next episode hook, in which Kakeru ominously says that it'll be his last day playing on the same team as his brother.
Those who have read the manga, or even plot summaries online, already know that what's about to happen next is no big spoiler, but given the knowledge that something life-changing is about to happen, the first episode feels very rushed. Within the span of 22 minutes, the series already establishes that a) Kakeru used to play soccer b) but quit because of an incident and c) his brother is suddenly bizarrely upset by it. Oh, and d) Kakeru's childhood friend transfers to his school just in time to e) coincide with a masked stranger playing soccer in the park at night with Suguru. And f) something tragic is going to happen, but not before g) Suguru forces Kakeru back on the squad.
It is too much to handle for one episode. It's a little half-assed, to be honest. I know the writers want to shove all of this out there as fast as possible so that we can get on with the story and watch Kakeru redeem his sad little life, but it doesn't leave much time for viewers to get to know the characters or see Suguru as anything but a jerk. Even so, as a soccer fan, I do feel compelled to keep watching. I just hope that the pacing evens out and that Kakeru becomes a little more confident and likeable.
Baby, Please Kill Me!
Rating: 3.5 (of 5)
Review: Baby, Please Kill Me might be the perfect cure for those who are craving a show with cute girls, without a single drop of the saccharine that such shows are generally plagued with. Directed by Yoshiki Yamakawa, noted for his character designs for the notoriously adorable Di Gi Charat franchise, this new series offers a dark comedy about school girls who also know a thing or two about killing people. Or at least they can slice off the tops of soda bottles.
The series follows the trivial daily adventures of three girls—the sullen Sonya, who works as an assassin by night, but is secretly terrified of cockroaches and dogs; her chipper best friend Yasuna, a glutton for punishment who can't help but goad her friend into violent reactions; and the ninja Agiri, who might like the idea of being a ninja more than possessing any actual talent. The chemistry between these girls drives the show. They're all just weird and offbeat enough to be hilarious, and the mix of airheadedness and deadpan humor strikes a good balance. Luckily, each episode is divided into little vignettes, so no situation ever becomes stale.
It's also great for people with really short attention spans. Each vignette lasts maybe a few minutes, and they're all wildly different from each other. In one scene, an impossibly cute dog wanders into the classroom, and the girls are tasked with the deadly task of driving away this (not really) killer beast. In another, Yasuna tries her hand at learning ninja techniques, only to realize that she's been sucked into a marketing scam. It's fairly obvious that the series was adapted from a four-panel comic, but it works really well for this style of humor. For being fairly one-dimensional, the characters are really entertaining, too. They're the kind of ugly cute that people normally associate with pugs, Lady Gaga, or little kids that tell crude jokes.
Everything is always fresh at the start, and right now, Baby, Please Kill Me is new and unique. Only time can really tell if this show will be able to sustain the laughs over multiple episodes, but for the time being, it's an unexpected delight. It's not exactly poetic genius, but it's a great way to kill some time.
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