The Spring 2011 Anime Preview Guide
by Jacob Chapman,
Hope Chapman is a fairly new critic to ANN and the net at large, but is once again looking forward to diving into the Spring season. How new is she? In a month, she too will (legally) join the proud ranks of critics who drown their disgust for the bottom of the barrel in hard liquor. Until such glory days arrive, she spends her time reviewing anime on ANN, at D2brigade.net and at TGWTG.com. She is also developing a large-scale radio drama this summer that may be the death of her, but at least she got to enjoy Tiger & Bunny before she went.
Steins;Gate is a series awash in hype and hubbub, and has been weeks since before the season began. Some have compared it to Higurashi, what with the gruesome deaths and ever-present cicadas. Some have pointed to its predecessor, Chaos;HEAd, as a source of influence. (Well, they share the dumb semicolon-in-title thing.) For my part, I saw a lot of heavy Serial Experiments Lain influence throughout it, particularly in the constant buzzing static that plays under every sound you hear in the show.
It's probably not a good sign that despite these favorable comparisons, I spent most of this first episode thinking about Battlefield Earth.
Steins;Gate seems to be under the false assumption that canted angles (off-kilter shots) look cool and mysterious. They do not. Flicking the camera over a few degrees has its place, but not all the time and for no reason. That's the only thing (I hope!) this series has in common with that terrible movie, but my mind wandered simply because Steins;Gate makes no effort to hold its audience's attention. It is almost insultingly obtuse and bland to look at.
The story supposedly revolves around the aspiring mad scientist Rintaro Okabe and his ragtag group of friends who are interested in developing a time machine but, much to their surprise, may have already created one. That's about as much setup as the first episode ever presents us with, spending the rest of its time on bizarre conversations that go nowhere, awkward scene changes from one gray, boring building to another, and goofy characters that act strangely because…whimsy! Intrigue! Why should we care?
Steins;Gate may have a complex story, unique characters, and an engrossing take on time-travel horror to offer. Heck, time-travel horror itself is a pretty terrific idea not yet explored enough. This first episode has just done a pretty poor job at trying to prove its merits. Is it worth a second episode? Sure. There may be a terrific mystery hiding here. Baccano! and Durarara!! are two excellent series known for having alienating beginnings. But Steins;Gate has already spun around three episodes worth of frustration trying to offer up a tablespoon of intrigue, so it will have to backpedal at warp speed to change that.
Steins;Gate is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Ohana Matsumae has never had the kind of life she wished for, but then again, she's not the kind of person she wishes she was either. At only 16, she tells her good friend Koichi that she will get married in ten years, live in a small apartment, and inevitably do nothing of merit with her life. She hasn't had the greatest role model in her mother, who neglects her job as a writer to hook up with various men week by week while Ohana looks after the house. Eventually, her mother throws up her hands and moves out of their apartment with another man, sending Ohana away to live with her grandmother…just as Koichi confesses his love for Ohana and runs away crying. In short, it hasn't been a good day for her, but it hasn't been a good life in general.
Still, this may be a great opportunity! Ohana learns that her grandmother runs an inn near a hot spring getaway, and realizes her fairytale dreams may be coming true: escaping to a peaceful place with a kind old woman who gives her candy and treats her like a princess.
…or it may not. Her grandmother tells her she has no obligation to the child of a daughter she disowned and immediately puts her into hard labor with little compensation. The other denizens of the hotel aren't much better: the first girl Ohana meets tells her to die, multiple times. Ohana's Cinderella fantasy is shattered and only left her sleeping on someone else's hearth. She decides she'll simply have to make the best of it, whether the other residents of the summer house like her or not.
The character animation in Hana-Saku Iroha is absolutely lovely. From Ohana's shiftless mother to her flustered childhood friend, every beaming face is brimming with emotion and subtlety, and this tenderness carries over into the breathtaking scenery as well. The endearing visuals lay the groundwork for what promises to be a story full of potential. Ohana has many relatives and friends at her grandmother's place, all of them unique and all of them somewhat cruel to her. At the same time, they're not unlikable people, and we get the feeling that Ohana, flawed and depressed as she is, will have a positive effect on them despite her indentured servitude. It's hard to describe what's so captivating about this first episode, but it already has a soft hand planted firmly over the viewers’ hearts.
The plot summary may not stand out initially, but give this one a chance, absolutely. By episode's end, it's clear that this is going somewhere memorable.
Hana-Saku Iroha is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
I have to come clean here: I lost respect for this show from the moment I heard the title. “My Ordinary Life,” “Nichijō,” or “Everyday Life,” no matter how you decide to say it, is an incredibly boring name for an anime, much less a 4-koma comic strip. We already know that's what those comics are. Spelling it out like that does the audience no favors in giving two shakes about the thing. You might as well rename Dilbert “Cubicles Suck” or Peanuts “Depressed Children.” Even making comparisons about it isn't funny: we have reached the lowest point of lazy now.
That said, My Ordinary Life is pretty funny. With Kyo-Ani's impeccable animation to support it, the show elicits some hearty chuckles throughout, even if it's mostly, shall we say, “YouTube humor,” whereby random is funny just because…it makes no sense and strikes when you least expect it. You may not know why a robot with a sentient, ballistics-enabled big toe is funny, it just is, and skits like these are enough to hold attention for twenty minutes with no trouble. Needless to say, though, that's all this is. My Ordinary Life is a series of skits about cute girls doing cute things and chances are high that's all it will ever try to be.
Thankfully, it's funny for everyone with a slightly absurd sense of humor, rather than pandering to the otaku-base to an unsettling degree like Lucky Star or Zettai Karen Children, so it can be recommended to most anyone… just don't expect the novelty to last past a few episodes. This Pop Rocks entertainment has been done before and come episode 20, you can skip from the pilot to the latest episode and not have missed a thing. Whether that's a good or bad thing is up to you.
My Ordinary Life is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Izumi Shinku is a spunky, fun-loving kid from England who recently moved to Japan and spends his days smiling, exercising, and loving life. Suddenly, he is pulled from the world he knows into a mysterious fantasy kingdom full of magical human-animal hybrids with ears and tails, who tell him he must become their chosen hero. The cat-people and dog-people are at war, but through the power of faith and friendship, our chosen hero Izumi can surely bring peace to the warring kingdoms and—ooooooh I'm getting diabetes.
You've seen this story a thousand times, and furthermore, you've seen it better-animated and better-written. This is as generic and middle-of-the-road as it gets. None of the characters have any…well, character, and the fantasy universe is less a plausible otherworld and more a dweebish Mad Libs world of Warner Bros. silliness and “nekomimi moe-moe-kawaii-desu” over every candy-coated mountaintop. It's such a scrawled outline of a full story that they didn't even bother to differentiate the soldier's designs at all. Every footsoldier looks the same, down to their silly hats. It would be one thing if they were a distant, blurry throng in a few shots, but no, the wild n’ wooly troops are front and center throughout the episode, staring you down with their Wal-Mart smiley faces plastered on identical bodies. IT'S A LITTLE CREEPY.
For all the knocks that can be made against it however…there is nothing inherently unpleasant about the show. It is what it is, and what it is seems to be aimed at children, preteen girls, or anyone with an affinity for cute, because it does cute exceptionally well. Dog Days isn't a foray into high adventure and thrills, but it doesn't try to be, either. It seems to be more obsessed with giving the viewer a big fuzzy hug and saying “Come ride the carousel with me! I brought cotton candy!” The war itself isn't even a war so much a game of Ninja Warrior or Wipeout where troops fly through obstacles, get bashed around, turn into fluffy hopping heads and are hoisted away by cute fuzzy nurses.
There really isn't a dull moment here, and it's hard not to laugh at how infectiously bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Dog Days is as it paints its tracks. Its optimism and simplicity may make you want to gag, but if you just want a little candy in your diet, this is an equally enjoyable experience to the slightly smarter but less ambitious My Ordinary Life. It's certainly worth a brief glimpse.
Tiger & Bunny
In the booming metropolis of Stern Bild (hurr hurr) superheroes are known to the public not as champions of justice, but superstars and idols. Sponsored by corporations like Pepsi and Ustream, mutant humans known as NEXT perform their great feats of crimefighting on national television to screaming fans and call-in voters, selling trading cards and magazines by day as they bag baddies by night.
That's right. It's an entire city full of Booster Golds.
Well, almost an entire city. Washed-up hero Wild Tiger doesn't see things the same way his compatriots do and longs for the glory days where heroes never revealed their identities and fought solely for the good of the people. (This is curious because we're never told if these glory days actually existed or if Wild Tiger is only lost in comics himself and the NEXT have always been commercialized.) He even refuses to wear the branded mech suits, preferring a classic spandex costume…until his sponsors drop out of the program and the wildcat is forced to work for a new company alongside a partner: a cold, pretty-boy upstart who embraces the fame of being a public hero.
The world Tiger and Bunny presents is a less-than-subtle reflection of consumerist culture, certainly, but also an entirely affectionate homage to classic superhero tropes, similar to The Incredibles. (Wild Tiger is eerily similar to Bob Parr, actually.) In that way, it doesn't get too heady or metafictional to throw off the casual viewers. This is still easily accessible entertainment, smart, snappy and fun. The animation is excellent, (even the constant CG-battle suits and vehicles aren't that jarring,) and perhaps *most* importantly…it's just impossible not to love Kotetsu, the Wild Tiger. While the other characters haven't been explored past garish stereotypes, Kotetsu has already proven he can carry the show on his own for long stretches. He's naïve and foolhardy, not a perfect character, but he's an underdog to root for, and amidst all the explosions, quick references, and shameless product placement, there's more than enough here to hold your attention.
The only downside to this premise is the distinct possibility that the show could devolve into shenanigans very quickly, ending up in a Heat Guy J-style ennui where the odd couple of Tiger and Bunny rub each other the wrong way, jokes are cracked, things explode, and very little gets done. If a solid conflict and some deeper elements are introduced soon, however, this could easily be a modern classic and a runaway hit.
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