The Winter 2012 Anime Preview Guide
Carl lives a totally unremarkable existence in a totally ordinary home in a perfectly uninteresting part of the ho-hum state of Oregon. He enjoys watching anime and having his expectations met.
Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne Episode 2
Review: While Bodacious Space Pirates, the other show this season to bear Tatsuo Satō's creative footprint, is showing signs of detouring, Lagrange is charging straight ahead. There's life yet in the mecha genre, and Lagrange just might be the show to find it. As accidental mecha pilots the world over can tell you, there's no way that the job stops after your first victory. Madoka got the better of her first opponent, but she's immediately informed that more are coming. Now that there're more sorties in the Vox Aura in her future, Madoka begins to feel a little pressure. It only increases when she sees how tense and conflicted Lan is. Then the commander tells her that the fate of the world rests on her shoulders. Even if she likes to help people, that's too much. When the next opponent arrives, Vox Aura responds to her inner turmoil and simply shuts down.
Lagrange remains a firmly conventional series, but whatever it lacks in innovation it makes up for in character and momentum. By the end of this episode the series has not only barged through the obligatory crisis of faith, but it's also introduced the final of its major characters and had Madoka brace both of the remaining "invaders." That isn't to say that it's a barreling bundle of thrills. The pace is pretty easy and there's no sense that anything is rushed. Madoka's feelings are given the space they need to breathe, as is her burgeoning friendship with Lan. There's no dead time either though. Something's always on the move, whether it's the commander getting a feel for just how untrustworthy Lan's squinty-eyed alien comrade is, Madoka's protective cousin infiltrating the base, or the orbiting aliens throwing out hints that they aren't simple invaders. The show is far from perfect of course. There are traces of the didactic tone that marred Sato's Stellvia, plus more mysterious alien jargon than you could shake a Memoria at. There's so much to enjoy, though, and to find out, that you're highly unlikely to care.
Bodacious Space Pirates Episode 2
Review: It's episode two and time for Marika to show what she's made of. Unfortunately the episode ends before she can really wow us, but so far the signs are good. Having just escaped from a passel of kidnappers, soldiers, police, and other men of ill repute, Marika is understandably shaken. Her mother takes her for a nice relaxing trip to the countryside where they talk about their secrets, the responsibilities of command, and how to blow away tanks with a beam cannon. Properly impressed with the enormity of her potential new responsibilities, Marika returns to school to find that pirate/teacher Kane has become the faculty advisor of her space yacht club and is proposing a little practice flight in space. The trip may or may not be innocent, but Kane definitely sees it as a chance to scope out the maybe-future captain of his ship. Marika handles herself well, but the real test comes when Kane is away and Marika and erstwhile rescuer Chiaki find the ship under electronic attack.
What we see of the electronic attack reveals Marika as a strong girl with a naturally decisive nature and good head on her shoulders. Both of which are usually hidden behind an equally natural, spacey affability. She's a very easy main character to get behind; it's going to be a blast watching her captainship take shape. In the meantime we're given plenty of time to sit back and appreciate just how well-made the show is. The series is full of little pleasures that stack up into big ones. Some are purely visual, especially the wasteland of hulking wrecks that Marika's mom uses as a shooting range. Some are more character-based – seeing Marika's scary mom act mom-like, for instance. There's the awesome yet strangely believable computer interfaces that the series invents, the cool way it tosses off dry little jokes, and the meticulously detailed depiction of the preparation and execution of space flight. There's actual science in Pirates' science-fiction. Who knew? This episode is rougher around the edges than the last, and Chiaki and Marika's relationship feels less than natural, but it still leaves you raring for more.
Bodacious Space Pirates is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
The Knight in the Area Episode 2
Rating: 2 ½
Review: There's a stinger hiding in this episode's last minutes, but while some will see it as proof of the series dramatic chops, it's far too convenient a tragedy to prove anything except that Knight is convention-bound to its core. Suguru has given Kakeru a chance to prove himself and now it's up to Kakeru to make the most of it. The practice match rages on and Suguru passes relentlessly to Kakeru, but Kakeru flubs it every time. On the sidelines his old teammates start to remember why they called him Mr. No Goal. Even when Kakeru can actually get to one of Suguru's blinding passes, he always misses the goal. Both Suguru and Seven know just how impressive it is that Kakeru can even receive a pass from a world-class player like Suguru, but Suguru is convinced that it isn't enough: Kakeru just lacks the heart it takes to play soccer. That night the two have a particularly bad fight. It's the last fight they'll ever have.
After the heavy hints dropped last episode, it isn't giving away too much to say that something bad happens to Suguru this episode. First, though, it gives us our first real taste of soccer action. It isn't half bad. There's a lot of jargon, but after a few demonstrations even newbies will have a decent grasp of the game and how Kakeru fits into it. A workable sense of on-field space and the occasional cinematic flourish polish off an approach to sports action that is fairly intuitive and occasionally exciting, if not particularly new or flashy. Which could just as easily be a description of the whole show. The latter half of the episode plays to the show's strengths by focusing on Suguru and Kakeru's rocky relationship, but wrecks everything when it uses the aforementioned tragedy in a cheap and transparent attempt to manufacture motivation for Kakeru's soccer career. It packs a punch, yes, but it's also an old, tired trick and a very, very bad idea. Sure it sets up the rest of the series, but at the cost of what made it worth watching in the first place.
The Knight in the Area is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 ½
Review: How do monsters hide among us? In luxury apartment buildings of course. Okay, to be fair, the occupants of Maison de Ayakashi are only part monster, but their digs are most luxurious. The Maison is beautiful, spacious, and locked down like Fort Knox. Outsiders are not welcome, and every tenant has their own Secret Service agent. Ririchiyo Shirakiin came to the Maison to be alone, so she isn't exactly pleased when she finds out that she'll be sharing time with a bodyguard. Soushi the guard is handsome and polite and sticks to her like a limpet mine. She does what she can to get him to leave, but he's devoted beyond all reason. In fact it's more than a little unnatural. But then again, so is everyone at Maison de Ayakashi.
This is, of course, a romantic fantasy of the least believable sort. A lonely girl assigned a powerful, gorgeous, unwaveringly faithful, impeccably considerate protector... It's no wonder real guys never measure up. Whether you can enjoy the interplay the results is going to depend heavily on whether you can get past (or get into) the fantasy. Once you do, what waits is a fun little romance with a pretty perverse edge. Soushi's relationship with Ririchiyo is one of absolute subservience, with more than a hint of masochism. Mmm-mmm, fetishism. Actually, it's a surprisingly complicated and even sweet relationship. Ririchiyo is a pathologically defensive girl, ready to lash out at anyone who might get close enough to hurt her. In Soushi she finds a companion who can take any level of abuse and not only brush it off, but see the intentions underneath. In Ririchiyo Soushi finds...well, we haven't been told yet.
It apparently involves their shared past though (of which Ririchiyo is unaware) – one of several little teasers the series drops. The episode ends with many fruitful avenues open to it: the dangers posed by full-blooded monsters, for instance, and Soushi's past, among others. It's conflicted, loveable little Ririchiyo and twisted Soushi, however, that ensure that we'll stick around to see the avenues explored. Them and the series' penchant for cuter-than-the-dickens SD, that is.
Inu x Boku S.S. is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Ano Natsu de Matteru
Rating: 3 ½
Review: If there was a heaven made personally for me, it would include this exact meeting of creative talents. The writer/creator, character designer, and musical team behind the Onegai franchise teaming up with the director of Toradora! and anohana... It's eerie to see a collaboration so perfectly tailored to one's tastes. And scary too. After all, there's no guarantee that it'll work out. In a gentle, rural part of Japan, Kaito Kirishima is filming the night sky when something large and bright crashes nearby and mortally wounds him. He wakes the next day intact and confused. Something feels off, but he can't remember what. He goes to school and kicks around the idea of directing a film with his friends, unaware that a very odd student is transferring into the grade above. Ichika Takatsuki is beautiful and kind-spoken, but bizarrely self-conscious about her behavior and appearance. When Kaito glimpses her, he's smitten. His best friend notices, and proposes to Ichika that she participate in their non-existent film. To everyone's surprise, she agrees.
The show makes no mystery of the fact that Ichika is the alien that killed and subsequently repaired Kaito, just as it makes no bones about being essentially a remake of Please Teacher!. The plot is the same, the setting the same, and the characters at least conceptually the same – and considerably more in the case of Ichika. It's hard at this point to guess why exactly Nagai and lead creator Yousuke Kuroda chose to retread Teacher's plot. Is it laziness? An attempt to improve on a concept that Kuroda took a pass at once? Is it a sequel of some sort? Are the similarities parallels designed to suggest a later and deeper connection? Given the talent involved, it's pretty safe to rule out the first one, but the others are a crapshoot. All that can be said now is that what changes there are tend to be positive. Ichika is more fun (if less sexy) than Mizuho, Kaito is better balanced and easier to like than Kei, and their group of friends is fun and well-rounded. So far the show is more promise than payoff, but it's an enormous amount of promise, so it'll do to stick with.
Ano Natsu de Matteru is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: This really isn't a very complicated show. The title says most of it. What it doesn't say is how totally freaking hilarious the show is. It is indeed just the lives of boys. Three of them in particular. There's Tadakuni, the relatively normal one; Hidenori, the bespectacled troublemaker; and Yoshitake, an apparent delinquent with a talent for amplifying the trouble Hidenori makes. All three are fast friends, spending most of their off time doing the dumb stuff that guys do together. Like talking about girls, or more specifically how to get one to be your girlfriend. Or talking about the clothes girls wear. Or trying to sabotage one of their number when he's at risk of getting a girlfriend. Or dealing with the girl who actually does intrude into one of their lives – in a most unwelcome manner. And failing that, there're always scary stories to tell.
A list of situations doesn't do justice to the escalating insanity that the show wrings from them. Tadakuni, Hidenori and Yoshitake have a talent for turning normal situations into very abnormal ones. When Tadakuni asks about getting a girlfriend, naturally Hidenori transforms it into an abusive real-life dating sim – with him and Yoshitake as the girls. Hidenori's not-so-casual comment about the strangeness of skirts of course ends with Tadakuni in his little sister's clothes. When Hidenori tells an amusing anecdote, Tadakuni and Yoshitake seize the opportunity to turn it into an exchange of scary stories, which in turn goes far off track, with hilariously gross results. It's easy to see why these guys are friends. Yoshitake and Hidenori are kindred spirits, and while Tadakuni is frequently a victim, he obviously enjoys himself – as his tendency to get carried along attests.
Shinji Takamatsu of School Rumble directs the show with obvious affection and an eye for the absurdities of male friendship, along with predictably excellent comic timing. The pace is bracingly quick, the cast of Sunrise regulars is obviously having a blast, and the whole thing is about as fun as you could possibly hope.
Review: For endemic violence and larger-than-life historical figures the Warring States period is hard to beat, so it isn't a big surprise to find another ninjas 'n samurai action vehicle set in the period. It is perhaps a little more surprising that the show itself is such a throwback, though to a somewhat more recent time: namely the era when some cool guys with cool moves were all it took for a show to succeed. When young priestess Isanami's shrine is destroyed, she alone escapes. Left to face a persistent fleet of ninja assassins on her own, she gloms onto the first fighter who looks strong. Never mind that he was taking a nice snooze in the shade at the time, and never mind that he's a dyspeptic, misanthropic ninja with zero chivalry. Kirigakure Saizou is indeed strong, but he is not pleased to be dragged into a mess that soon includes his arch-rivals, the Koga ninja, and their master, legendary strategist Sanada Yukimura. Not that he's likely to have a choice.
After so many shows about Samurai Girls acting cutesy and shredding each other's clothing, it's refreshing to see a show about guys with swords trying to kill each other. Sometimes you want your violence sans sex. That it's reasonably cool and appropriately testosterone-laden is just icing on the cake. Director Kiyoko Sayama is primarily a shojo specialist, so her action can be a bit underwhelming, but it gets the job done most of the time. Emotion and character are more up her alley, however, so don't be upset if you find yourself more deeply involved than you expected. The end of Isanami's first meeting with Sanada could even have you leaking a manly tear or two. Heaven forbid. Sayama's alley also includes sexy guys and comic relief, both of which she handles with ease. Isanami in particular can be as funny as she is adorable…and she's impossibly adorable. Unfortunately Sayama rushes the episode trying to fit everything in, so none of it feels quite natural, but it still has enough promise to make tuning in a better option than tuning out.
Brave 10 is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Listen to Me, Girls, I'm Your Father!
Rating: 1 ½
Review: Cute meets creepy, and creepy wins. Yuuta is new to college life, but he enjoys it pretty well. He has a best friend, his own apartment, and a girl he really likes. He doesn't think too much about his sister, who lives nearby with her husband and three girls. In part that's because thinking about her upsets him – two of the girls are her husband's from previous marriages – but mostly it's because he's too busy courting bizarre club-mate Raika or just living the college life. That is, until his sister and her husband fly off on an extended trip, leaving him to take care of the girls.
Hollywood has been milking setups like this for inspirational family comedy pretty much since there was a Hollywood, so there's no reason going in to expect anything particularly objectionable. It wasn't six months ago that Bunny Drop took a very similar premise and parlayed it into pure, life-affirming gold. It's obvious from the outset, though, that Listen is no Bunny Drop. Its emotional attack is too crude, for one (what emotional attack it has). Ditto the broad humor and bouncy-boob fan service. Its look is also pretty conventional, and its characters too dependent on pre-established stereotypes (please, no one ever do the "crazy fat otaku pervert" thing ever again).
Still, it seems cute and harmless enough. The girls are adorable, particularly the three-year-old youngest, and Yuuta has an odd but appropriate love interest, so weird incest-ish lolicon romance is totally out of the question. Right? If only it were so. As it turns out, the eldest girl (14) has a serious crush on Yuuta, and the middle child (10) is a precocious blonde with clingy tendencies. In short order the show has smooshed ten-year-old boobs on Yuuta's arm, indulged in a preadolescent panty-flash, and broken out ye olde "barge in on a naked girl" scene – all of it involving girls who are, nominally at least, Yuuta's nieces. That's about fifty different kinds of creepy, which is about forty-nine more than the show's already tenuous charms can support.
Listen to Me, Girls, I'm Your Father! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: If Shoji Kawamori's Aquarion anime have any purpose in life, it's to prove that style can trump substance. EVOL raises the bar for mecha spectacle, but once again drops the bar for storytelling on its own robo-toes. 12,000 years have passed since Apollo died, promising to reunite with Sylvia in the far future. Dark forces are once again on the move and once again ancient technologies and psychic children are being marshaled to battle them. To seal the godlike powers of Aquarion, the government has erected physical and cultural barriers to prevent the mechanical merging of male and female. Living peacefully in this uncertain future is a young projectionist named Amata. At work one day he meets and is smitten with gentle Mikono. He manages to finagle a date but naturally it is interrupted by an alien attack.
Inevitably Amato ends up in one of the ancient machines, breaks the inter-sex merging taboo, and unleashes the true power of Aquarion. Predictability isn't the issue though. The real problem is what jumbled, idiotic mess the whole thing is. Kawamori is apparently trying to fit every character and plot thread in the entire series into his first episode, and even at a meaty forty-five minutes the result is predictably chaotic. Pure-hearted romance is squeezed in next to epic mythology and future warfare, themselves thrown up against hilariously sexualized combining robot nonsense and doom-laden psychic visions. Blink and you'll miss the mysterious know-everything dude with the cool scar and missing eye. Blink all you want and you still can't miss the drill sergeant with the iron-plated chin and detachable fists. The whole thing is random, ill-paced, and overwrought to the point of parody.
All of which is entirely beside the point. The show is a visual marvel from stem to stern, a spectacle in the best sense of the term. It has a score by anime music goddess Yoko Kanno and the kind of animation that demands to be viewed on very large screens. The final battle, a twenty-minute smorgasbord of missile-spewing, asteroid-slamming mayhem, isn't just eye candy; it's Willy Wonka's Chocolate Factory for eyeballs. Turn off that brain, and let the spectacle take you.
Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne
Rating: 3 ½
Review: Aliens in robots are on the prowl again, and again the teenagers of the world must rise up to fight them. Make that teenager, singular. Her name is Madoka Kyono. Madoka has made it her life's calling to help people out. She's the kind of girl who wears a swimsuit beneath her uniform on the off chance that she needs to save someone from drowning. She's also president and sole member of the Jersey Club, a club devoted to helping other clubs. And she's very good at it. From the film club to the student council, her appointment book is filled with folks clambering for her assistance. So what is a helpful girl to do when an alien shows up and asks her to pilot a robot? Why help out, of course. Which is kind of how Madoka finds herself embroiled in an interstellar war.
This is Tatsuo Satō's second series this season after Bodacious Space Pirates. Like Pirates it is a bright, optimistic sci-fi adventure with an exceptionally well-balanced tone. It's fun and funny without being fluffy, complex and interesting without being crowded or Byzantine. Unlike Pirates, however, it is highly conventional. Sato has spent much of his career in an apparent conversation with Evangelion, and Lagrange follows the template devotedly: special teen, destructive invaders, untrustworthy government agencies, possibly-sentient mecha – the whole package. Even its tweaks on the formula – the outgoing lead, the faith in humanity, the humanized enemies – are all replies that Sato had already trotted out in series like Nadesico, Shingu and Stellvia.
That said, Sato's variation on mecha tropes remains a refreshing one, and vastly more entertaining than the dreary likes of, say, Fafner. It helps that Madoka is a fantastically likeable lead, blessedly free of moe weakness, and that the folks around her are as likely to crack a weird joke or maintain comic sangfroid as freak out or wallow in angst. Oh, and for those who were disappointed by Bodacious Space Pirates' lack of bodaciousness: yes, there is some fine fan-service here.
Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne is available streaming at Vizanime.com.
Review: P.A. Works and Tsutomu Mizushima's adaptation of Yukito Ayatsuji's horror novel has creepy ambience and malignant mysteries to spare, but lacks one important ingredient: interest. Yomiyama is a small city in rural Japan. It isn't the most interesting place to move to, but middle-school student Kouichi Sakakibara doesn't seem to mind. He's a pretty blasé kid in general, so he doesn't seem to mind much of anything. He is less than thrilled, however, when one of his lungs collapses and sends him to the hospital, forcing him to miss the first part of school. Though perhaps it was for the best. When some of his classmates come to visit him in the hospital, their behavior feels weirdly off. And when he finally does get to school, the weirdness only gets worse. There's the class in general, which is unnaturally subdued and overseen by an automaton of a teacher. And then there's Misaki, the one-eyed outcast who sits in the corner and is treated as totally invisible. And who might actually be just that.
Character is often underrated in horror. The very best horror films understand that uninvolved viewers are unfrightened viewers, and that a good character is a good way to get someone involved. That's exactly where Another fails. Kouichi isn't involving. In fact he's not even really a character: more a passive viewfinder through which to observe an eerie situation. The situation itself is great. Mizushima and his collaborators do a top-notch job of making Kouichi's new world feel sinister and unreal without showing anything truly out of the ordinary. The mysteries are built of tiny but significant oddities in behavior and Misaki's supernatural aura owes more to lighting – and her ugly, scarred school desk – than to anything she does or that happens around her. It's fairly easy to see the mounting mysteries (why do the kids in Kouichi's class want to know if he ever lived in town?) and slow-building terror hooking hard and deep...if only we gave a rat's ass about those caught up in it. But we don't, and that makes the show's slow boil hard to stick with.
Another is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 ½
Review: The "F" in the title is for "four." At least, one assumes it is since this is Zero's fourth season. After three whole (okay, half) seasons, one knows pretty much what to expect: lots of tried-and-true romantic comedy, a good dose of fantasy-world politicking, and a surprising streak of genuine feeling. And that's exactly what this episode delivers. It won't be winning any new fans, but it won't be losing any either. The season picks up where the last left off: Through their service to the crown, Louise and Saito have become trusted royal operatives and are back to living together after regaining their master/familiar bond. Peace never lasts long, though, and soon the two are on a mission to Romalia, the holy land of Louise's faith. There Queen Henrietta introduces them to Pope Vittorio, leaving Louise star-struck and Saito jealous. The pope has a mission for Saito and Louise: to bring to their side the fourth (and final?) Void Mage.
Of course, it's not going to be as simple as that. For one, the mage is the thoroughly evil father of their badly-abused friend Tabitha, plus there's a team of magic-savvy thieves in Romalia, doing some dirty work that Louise and Saito naturally end up hip-deep in. The episode doesn't do the best job of juggling storylines – it feels more than a little overstuffed – but that too is tradition. Much like everything else in this episode, from Saito and Louise's traditional spat to the mysterious summons and (mostly) good-natured boob jokes. Epic fantasy plotting and strong harem overtones have become more important as the franchise has worn on, but comfort and familiarity are still its watchwords. That can make the series a little stale, particularly the whole Louise-and-Saito-fight-and-make-up cycle, but it also means that the series' main charms keep on strong. Louise and Saito are among anime's most open and honest couples (Louise's tsundere issues notwithstanding), and no matter how clunky or periodically annoying it gets, the series is still worth watching just to see them do their thing.
The Familiar of Zero F is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Bodacious Space Pirates
Review: Don't let the awful name fool you; for pure entertainment value, this is the series to beat this season. When the small frontier planet Sea of Morningstar decided to rebel against its interplanetary overlords, it found that it didn't have the resources to maintain a large space fleet. So the planet's leaders enlisted the help of space pirates, legitimizing them with a kind of privateering license. Though she doesn't know it, Marika Kato is the direct descendent of one such pirate. It's been hundreds of years since the war ended, and like most people, Marika assumes the pirates disappeared with it. She's dead wrong. The captain of the privateer vessel Bentenmaru has just died, leaving the captainship of his ship to his only descendent: Marika. She doesn't know quite what to do when a couple of crew members show up to recruit her, but the intervention of decidedly less friendly forces may soon leave her no choice.
This is the kind of show that you reserve words like "joy" and "delight" for. It isn't great in the sense that Evangelion or, perhaps more appropriately, Legend of the Galactic Heroes is, but it knows what it wants to do and does it exceedingly well. And what it wants to do is entertain. To that end it gives us Marika, a well-balanced girl with a winning personality, and promptly tosses her into a situation that is both perilous and amusing, with just the right dash of mysteriousness to spice things up. The series never takes itself too seriously (the cafe sequence at the end is a killer), and yet is never frivolous. It's blessed with an instantly memorable and equally likeable cast. It's vibrant and fun to look at. It's refreshingly optimistic about the future, though not mushy or utopian. One could go on like this forever. Director Tatsuo Satō is an old hand and he makes few mistakes. The show's real achievement, though, is simply how seamless the whole business is. Judging from how many series fail at it, this kind of bright entertainment is devilishly hard, and yet tatsuo and his crew make it look effortless.
Bodacious Space Pirates is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: Whatever happened to trusting your story? Have we all grown so depraved that we can't be trusted to like a show just because it's interesting? Somewhere beneath DxD's double-Ds lurks a pretty decent idea for a story, but the show tries so hard to pander to our baser instincts that it basically smothers it. Issei is your average high-school pervert with bad hair. His goal in life is to fondle some honest-to-goodness boobs. Getting a girlfriend seems like a good place to start, but even though he's transferred to a school with a huge ratio of girls to boys, he can't seem to manage. Inexplicable, that. When he finally does get one, she turns out to be an evil angel who guts him in a public park. Luckily he's saved by Rias, a beautiful schoolmate who also happens to be a demon. Unluckily the rescue comes with some strings attached. But hey, losing your freedom and humanity is a small price to pay for getting close to a pretty girl.
Sure, the guy resurrected to be the servant of his resurrector isn't the freshest idea out there, but it has potential, especially when the resurrector is less than entirely benevolent. There's even reason to believe that DxD could make use of that potential. At least one scene – Issei's first death scene – betrays a willingness to wax serious, and the involvement of director Tetsuya Yanagisawa, whose spotty record includes the excellent melodrama Kannazuki no Miko, is heartening. That's a pretty slender thread to grasp, however, when you're under constant assault by nipples and crotches. It'd be more likely to hold your weight if Issei wasn't such a loathsome little creature or if Rias was a bit more interesting, but neither seems likely to happen. If nipples and crotches happen to be your thing, the quantity and quality are both pretty high, so knock yourself out. Everyone else: check out Is This a Zombie?? to see the same premise taken in some truly unhinged directions.
Senki Zesshō Symphogear
Review: Idol singers are out to save the world with song in this odd attempt to combine singing and action. We begin in a devastated future, at the rubble-strewn grave of a girl who her mourning friend claims died singing. Flash back two years. The world is glossy and new and the girl in question, Hibiki, is alive and well. She's attending a concert by an idol duo named Zwei Wing, of whom she is immediately enamored. Unbeknownst to her, the duo are actually sonic warriors for an organization devoted to battling Noise, an apparently mindless alien force bent on World Destruction. When the Noise attack the concert hall, Hibiki is mortally wounded. Kanade, the more outgoing member, saves her but dies in the process. Years later Hibiki is still alive and well, but is soon attacked again. When cornered, she sings, manifesting the deceased Kanade's powers.
This is all pretty much exactly as terrible as it sounds. The setup is pure boilerplate: inexplicable alien foe, mysterious anti-alien task force, dumb foreign-language names for everything. Its main distinguishing characteristics are a penchant for bad tragedy and, of course, the show's miserable premise. The scenes of Zwei Wing belting out songs while mowing down faceless beasties with their magical power-suits are just plain embarrassing. That they're spectacular hardly helps, though one has to admire the show's use of color and texture in making the Noise otherworldly, as well the sheer skill of its animation. Any points it earns for technical prowess, however, it promptly loses for haphazard pacing and structure. With its stuttering leaps in time and place, abrupt shifts in tempo, and jarring changes in tone, this episode is a lumpy, unfocused monstrosity from beginning to end. Well, almost to the end. The very last scene is actually darned good, stacked with enough potential complications and pure visual muscle that you almost have hope for future episodes. Almost.
The Knight in the Area
Review: Like any sports show, Knight has its share of technical jargon and starry-eyed sports worship, but underneath that is the kernel of a story that anyone, sports fan or no, can enjoy. Knight's sport of choice is soccer. It's also young Kakeru Aizawa's sport of choice. As he says many (many, many) times, he just plain loves it. His brother Suguru is the country's great soccer hope and he himself is the manager for his brother's team. He used to play the game himself, but he gave it up to support his brother as manager and trainer. Why he gave it up is a sticky issue involving his inability to match his brother, a weak left body, and perhaps other, deeper issues as well. He still practices though, if only in private and only at night. Suguru is not pleased with Kakeru's choice, and decides to force the issue by making Kakeru one of the team's starters.
This is hardly a gripping or even an especially well-made first episode. Too much of it is over-processed sports-anime tripe: the skilled but under-motivated lead with an athlete he idolizes, the team of goofball allies and elitist antagonists, the inevitable match where the lead must prove himself...the list goes on. There's also the tomboy next door who returns from overseas with a dynamite new body and even a masked soccer whiz who motivates our under-motivated lead. The humor feels obligatory, the romance tacked-on, and the attempts to sell soccer as the coolest, wonderfulest, most exciting sport in the history of mankind smell strongly of corn. Not a good showing. What saves the series is Suguru and Kakeru's relationship. It's a thorny, complicated thing, made of equal parts envy, respect, and frustration. There's more nuance and intensity in Kakeru and Suguru's one brief fight than in the rest of the episode combined. It's their rivalry, not the upcoming game, that'll have us tuning in for future episodes.
The Knight in the Area is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Baby, Please Kill Me!
Review: What happens when an assassin attends high school? Apparently comedy. Baby, Please Kill Me! isn't the first show to put a killer in school for laughs – Full Metal Panic! got there long ago – but it is hands-down the cutest one. If that seems odd, it's supposed to be. Our heroine is Yasuna Oribe. She is not the assassin in question. That would be Sonya, her best friend. Yasuna is fearless, mainly because her brain is too small to grasp the concept, which probably explains why she's best friends with an admitted killer. Sonya, on the other hand, is afraid of everything. Roaches, ghosts, dogs – you name it, she's afraid of it. Together they live a remarkably ordinary school life. As long as you ignore Sonya's ninja colleague and the occasional UFO sighting, that is.
In truth, Please Kill Me isn't all that different from any other slice-of-life school comedy. Like its peers, it's slight, silly and terminally easygoing. It compiles a series of lightly comedic happenings into a fluffy, sugary mass that goes down easy but provides zero sustenance. It's funnier than the norm though, thanks mainly to its rather macabre premise. The show gets a lot of mileage out of the gap between Sonya's Golgo reflexes and girly fearfulness, and even more out of her cute friendship with blithely accepting Yasuna. The running joke about Yasuna using Sonya as a human bottle opener is pretty great, as are Sonya's athletic reactions to the various un-scary things that she's scared of. A touch of humorous gore gives all that silliness some bite (not too much, mind you) while Agiri the ninja and her ninjutsu scams are on hand to add a little variety later on. A good eye for sight gags (be sure to stay for the ending sequence) and a knack for turning budgetary limitations into comedic advantages also help to keep things amusing. All in all, surprisingly good fun...in small doses.
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