The Summer 2011 Anime Preview Guide Zac Bertschy
Zac Bertschy is the Executive Editor of Anime News Network. He enjoys bunny rabbits, vodka, and the lingering malaise of defeat.
This show is based on a simulator game where you have a bunch of moe girls and you're supposed to raise one of them into stardom as a pop idol. What that means is that the show focuses entirely on its cast of 13 moe girls, each with their own moe traits (and literally no other personality traits thus far), which is kind of an unwieldy number of girls for one show. The first episode is actually pretty clever in how it handles this – it's produced documentary style, meaning we have a silent cameraman who visits the offices of 765 Productions and each girl in the cast introduces themselves to the camera directly, offering up their particular quirk. It's all a gimmick – the setup here is that the firm has a new male producer, and he's posing as a documentary filmmaker on his first day in order to get to know the girls (in the end revealing himself and promising to make stars out of all of them). It's absolutely light as a feather and there is literally nothing going on here but “look at all these girls and their one-dimensional personalities”, but there's a minimal amount of fanservice – dare I say it, I actually found the execution here cute and kinda fun for what it is.
It helps a lot that the production values – specifically the character animation – are top-notch. As I was informed before deciding to check this show out for myself thanks to some enterprising fans, this thing has kind of a “dream team” of Gainax animation talent from megahits like Gurren-Lagann, and it shows. Although the character designs are all very simplistic (to the point that they're often barely shaded), the whole “documentary style” gimmick actually allows the show to highlight just how fluid and technically polished the animation is. A lot of care when in to animating this gaggle of idols – the way they move individually is all very precise and carefully executed - and if you're just looking to gawk at some nice animation, this show is worth a look. In terms of just being a well-produced corporate product with an extremely specific target audience, The Idolm@ster seems to be functioning at a pretty high level.
I don't usually enjoy moe shows - especially ones with a premise this brazenly simplistic and designed-by-committee - and I probably won't watch more of this (I think 20 minutes of it is all I ever need to experience, really), but it's utterly harmless, and I did like how the documentary gimmick was handled. It's a bit like watching a romantic comedy where the story doesn't interest you whatsoever but you can't help but notice how great the cinematography, direction and performances are. Technical competence can sometimes carry material that's otherwise not worth your notice. At the end of the day, it's cute and doesn't feel like it's toxic, and will probably make fans of the franchise very happy. So there you have it.
Taketo is a “genius” porno author who, upon being ostracized from normal high school for being a porno author, winds up at “Inspiration Academy”, a private school for geniuses only. The student body is mostly female and they admit “geniuses” of every stripe – genius investigators, genius mathematicians, artists, karate masters, idol singers, cheerleaders, etcetera. Taketo works for the school newspaper and is tasked by the bureau chief to track down a genius clarinet player, apparently to write a front page story on her (or write erotic fiction about her for the newspaper, it's never made clear). So Taketo goes wandering around the school and runs into a bunch of different women, all of whom trigger erotic fantasies, which he then involuntarily writes erotic stories about, because his writing hand is actually possessed or something.
Now, R-15 is a horrible show, but not because of the premise – last year we had a show about a high school virgin whose goal it was to bang 100 dudes, and earlier this year there was the “10-year old succubus must extract semen from dudes in order to live” show, so let's not pretend that somehow this particular idea is any more or less “shocking” than anything else in its genre. No, this show is awful because it's unbelievably poorly constructed and executed – this is one of the worst first episodes of any anime I've ever seen. The writing is haphazard, sloppy and incompetent – it awkwardly skips from moment to moment with very little reason and zero regard for tone, pacing, character or story. Taketo just kinda wanders around looking for the clarinet girl and along the way runs into (or sometimes just walks past) various “genius” girls who do something indicative of their character. Sometimes he has an erotic fantasy about them, sometimes he doesn't, sometimes his magic (?) porno-writing hand forces him to write a story about the girl he's fantasizing about, sometimes it doesn't. One of the first girls he encounters is a tsundere photographer girl who follows him around and berates him for not being a big enough pervert (the episode culminates with her screaming at him for not raping the clarinet girl, who's sleeping on a bench. Actual dialogue: “Go on and devour her already! Like a hungry pig! Go on, charge! Let out a big old oink, you puberty pig!”). He walks past an idol singer and a cheerleader, gets hit by a rogue missile for some reason, fantasizes about eating the clarinet girl's reed, and on and on. None of it connects. Often it feels like this is just a random assemblage of moments slapped together because these are the scenes where the animation was finished, not because they actually form a coherent narrative. The episode ends with Taketo's magic hand accidentally writing a light novel about the clarinet genius becoming a magical girl, and he's confounded. So was I, but mostly by the fact that I managed to get through the entire episode.
The problems don't end there; production-wise, this thing is a wreck. The animation is terrible – characters are constantly going off-model, and it's as if the director didn't quite know where to put the camera – most scenes are very awkwardly constructed. Rare is the animated show where they manage to get the blocking wrong, but somehow they pulled it off here. The score is a loud, shrill assemblage of honks and beeps; whenever something “funny” is supposed to be happening, a “THIS IS FUNNY” honk-beep cacophony starts blaring, nearly at the same volume as the dialogue. Even if you're only watching this for the fanservice - of which there is plenty, although it's all quite poorly-drawn - the broadcast version of this show on NicoNico is censored by giant light bars covering panty shots that would've gotten a pass in a Shonen Jump series.
Even if you're a big fan of anime sex comedies, stay away from R-15. This is not what you want. It isn't what anyone wants.
R-15 is streaming at NicoNico.com.
Story-wise, Sacred Seven is kind of a mess. Here's what I think is going on:
So there are a bunch of powerful gemstones that give people superpowers; some of them are dark, some light, and the dark ones try and consume the light ones for more power or something like that. There's an angsty broody kid named Alma who has super powers that are sort of in remission, until a girl in a silly maid costume and a dude in a butler outfit from a super secret organization show up, trying to get him to help them with an escaped dark stone guy who's threatening the city. He's all angsty about it but eventually uses his dark crystal powers, which results in an Evangelion-style brutal angsty beatdown, and the girl in the silly maid costume has to stop him. Then she, uh, gives him her light gemstone power and he proceeds to beat the tar out of the dark stone monster thing. I think.
There's a lot of strange elements tossed in to this show – most notably this weird stone head backpack thing that ends all of his sentences with “-oni”, and the shadow organization's crack squad of girls in silly maid outfits who do everything from emergency disaster response to sniper combat. It's kind of difficult to keep the story straight – there's a metric ton of unfamiliar jargon being tossed around and to be honest, I didn't really care about what was happening at all, and the plot is likely only going to get more complicated as it goes on. It's sort of like the show was written in one sitting by a breathless 10-year old excitedly telling you his idea for an anime, and he keeps going "AND THEN THIS HAPPENS AND THERE'S A MAGIC STONE OH AND A TEAM OF MAIDS WITH GUNS AND THEN BOOM THIS STATUE WHO IS A BAD GUY SHOWS UP AND THEN...". This isn't a bad show, it's just not compelling, haphazardly written and makes very little effort to draw you in.
But there is one thing Sacred Seven has going for it: a pretty decent budget. Bandai and Sunrise obviously think there's a ton of potential here because they spent enough money on this first episode to make it look just about OVA-quality in terms of animation. Say what you will about how nearly everything in it is overdesigned within an inch of its life, but at least all those silly complicated designs move with liquid fluidity, and in HD the show is pretty gorgeous. It's probably not worth sitting through the whole thing, but if you skip to about the 22 minute mark, there's a really sweet bit of animation there. Watch that part and move along.
Sacred Seven is streaming at Crunchyroll.
Inside “No. 6”, a futuristic and seemingly idyllic city, elite student Shion is going about his day-to-day life, working hard to ace the “Special Course” and become a blue-blooded member of society. This all changes when a self-proclaimed “rat”, an escaped prisoner from the “Lost City”, shows up in his room on the stormy afternoon of Shion's 12th birthday. Rather than turn the “rat” in, Shion gives him food, clothes and secret shelter – and is unendingly curious about where he came from, fearless even in the face of the rat's violent outbursts.
Based on a long-running light novel series of the same name, No. 6 is a beautiful – if somewhat inscrutable at this point – noitaminA show that has a ton of promise but gives us only a tiny little serving of story in this pilot episode. The whole thing is absolutely dripping with Phillip K. Dick inspiration; even the look of it all feels as though it were somewhat lifted from the aesthetic choices in Spielberg's adaptation of Minority Report (and to a lesser extent, A.I.: Artificial Intelligence) and the story itself, a futuristic city with what appears to be a cruel caste system in place that has created a society of pampered elites, sounds excerpted from a book of Dick's short stories. It'd have been nice if this episode were an hour long, if only to give us a better handle on exactly what's going on; the show isn't confusing, it just isn't giving us much plot to go on so far. The fact that the whole thing is intriguing enough to make me want to see more is a solid mark in its favor, but I can't help but think they could've given us just a little more of the story in the first episode.
Production-wise, this is Bones firing on all cylinders. Beautiful character animation, gorgeous, understated backdrops and a score that harkens to the best of Phillip Glass (hello again Minority Report) make this show one of the most handsome offerings so far this season, even if the character designs are utilitarian; they're more gorgeous in motion than still. It's difficult to tell exactly where this is going and it feels like we haven't even scratched the surface as to what this story is actually about, but if you're looking for mature sci-fi, you should check this one out.
No.6 is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Okay, so in this one we have a super-wealthy cutest-girl-in-school, Suzutsuki, who brings her male butler Konoe to school, who is actually a girl (and at no point even kinda resembles a boy, but that's beside the point). Hapless “look at boobs, scream in terror, get punched” guy Sakamachi discovers her girl-peeing in the men's bathroom and she starts kicking his ass for discovering her secret, which has little effect because his sister beats him up every morning and he's immune to pain. In the middle of the fight a frog in a formaldehyde jar falls from a high cabinet and he rushes in to push her out of the way, and of course they stumble and fall to the ground, and somehow this results in her shirt being ripped completely open and his hand lands on her boob. It's not only plausible, it's hilarious.
So Sakamachi gets captured by Suzutsuki, who chains him to a bed in the nurse's office. She also ties up Konoe for some reason and fits her with a ball gag (which gets pulled out with lovingly-animated spit strings for those of you who really dig that sort of thing) and then spends roughly the entire rest of the episode setting up the dumb gimmick that fuels this whole thing: Konoe is the last in a line of butlers destined to serve Suzutsuki's rich family, but she's a girl so she can't be a butler, so the head of the family tells her that if she can go for three years masquerading as a boy and nobody notices her, she can continue her service as a butler and persons unable to show that one of the forbidden classifications applies to them may try to argue that they are members of a group defined by a law in a way that violates the general guarantee of equality and equal protection. To succeed, they must establish that the classification used in the law fails the rational nexus test, which is a three-stage test formulated by the courts. The first stage of the test involves an examination as to whether the law differentiates amongst classes of individuals
Wait sorry that's an excerpt from the Wikipedia article on the 12th amendment of the constitution of Singapore.
Anyway so in order for Konoe to become a true butler she has to remain undetected, but Sakamachi knows, so Suzutsuki proposes that she'll help Sakamachi with his “nervous reaction” to being touched by girls (he gets nosebleeds, which is a truly inspired choice) in exchange for his silence on Konoe's actual gender. If he doesn't agree to this, she'll have him killed. If you're wondering why she doesn't just say “if you tell anyone I'll kill you”, it's because this is a dumb sex comedy and they assume nobody will ask questions like that.
At any rate the whole thing wraps up with Sakamachi discovering Konoe showering in his house and he sees her naked and she punches him, which is super funny. Oh, and at one point he falls down at school and sees a really big pair of boobs that belong to a girl who has cat ears or dog ears or fox ears or whatever they are. She's in the credits so I assume she's in here for a reason, but I'm not going to find out because I'm never going to watch another episode of this show. But now you know it exists.
So at some point some executive somewhere was struggling to come up with something to fill up the summer season and noticed a copy of Blood: The Last Vampire sitting on his desk and said “Hey, what if Clamp made that?”
And so now we have Blood-C, which is basically a typical Clamp teenage-heroine series awkwardly duct taped on to the premise of Blood. Saya is now a super-genki highschool shrine maiden who sings songs about how tasty her breakfast was and what a great day it's going to be on her way to school, which is populated by the usual cast of zany lovable classmates and one Mysterious Guy Who Will Later Drive The Plot Somehow (notably their high school uniforms are super gothic red ‘n black Hot Topic numbers, since this is still a Blood show). Then there's a commercial break and Saya fights a Buddha statue with giant Mantis-like pincers in a lake, apropos of nothing. She kills it, her dad (who is the priest at the temple Saya lives at) pats her on the head, says “Good job, Saya! Now go take a bath.” The end!
The production values are all just fine, the animation is pretty solid (save for a couple minutes of cash-saving standoff shots between Saya and the insect statue thing), and really there isn't anything to complain about aside from the fact that there is no compelling reason to continue watching this whatsoever. They make zero attempt to set up any kind of overarching story; hell, we don't even know why Saya is fighting a monster in the woods in the first place, aside from daddy telling her it's her duty. “She goes to school then kills a monster” is literally all that happens in this episode. The preview shows a couple seconds of a fight scene and then a couple seconds of some lovingly-rendered cake on a doily, which probably sums up what Blood-C is better than anything.
Blood-C is streaming at NicoNico.com.
WARNING: The following preview for Usagi Drop will at least make you curious enough to look up spoilers for the conclusion of the manga. If you don't want to even be a teensy bit spoiled, move along.
Rating: BUT WHAT ABOUT THE ENDING
Daikichi is a shiftless salaryman who, upon attending his grandfather's funeral, learns that the dearly departed left something behind – namely Rin, a quiet, thoughtful 6-year old girl who's currently being scorned by the family. Perturbed by the way they're treating her, Daikichi volunteers to take Rin in and raise her himself.
This show is gorgeous and subtle – the artistry on display here is really outstanding, with muted pastel colors and simple but effective animation by Production I.G that really complements the spare, sketchy art style. The pacing is languid, but it's a pleasant sort of languid, and the score is beautiful as well. In terms of production value and storytelling quality, this is really something special.
Unfortunately I wasn't able to enjoy even a minute of this thing because I've been spoiled about what happens at the end of the now-concluded manga, where apparently all this pleasant quietness pulls the parking brake and takes a hard-right turn straight into Downtown Creepyville. If you know what happens in the manga – and at this point the spoiler has been tossed around so much it's hard to believe anyone interested in this title hasn't been spoiled – all your brain can do during the perfectly-executed bit of subdued artistry that is the first episode of Usagi Drop is scream “OKAY BUT ARE THEY GOING TO CHANGE THE ENDING BOY I HOPE THEY CHANGE THE ENDING I REALLY CAN'T THINK ABOUT ANYTHING OTHER THAN WHETHER OR NOT THEY'RE GOING TO CHANGE THE ENDING BECAUSE MAN THAT ENDING IS CREEPY AS HELL WHY WOULD THEY DO THAT”
Watching this show is like petting an adorable fluffy warm little kitten that's purring and falling asleep on your lap who you know is going to grow up into one of those cats that vomits all over everything and pees in the bed. Personally I'm going to wait until this adaptation concludes, get spoiled on how they end it, and then decide whether or not I'm going to watch it.
Usagi Drop is streaming at Crunchyroll.
Twin Angel Twinkle Paradise
Alright, here's what this is: two little girls, a redhead and a blue-haired one with a giant, carefully-animated rack (go ahead, try and guess their personality traits!) are secretly a crime-fighting magical girl duo known as Twin Angel. They have screechy high-pitched voices – moreso than you'd expect from something like this - and big chunky plastic celphone accessories that produce a cutesy mascot character who helps them strip naked and transform. They fight the “Ohohoho” blonde princess villain (nobody's tired of that yet, right?) who is trying to steal pieces of the “Holy Grail”, which are just a bunch of famous works of art that will inevitably serve as macguffins for a monster-of-the-week thing combined with a fetch-quest structure that allows for plenty of filler episodes. There's a boatload of really leaden pandering and lazy fanservice – the villain's tank at one point produces a giant cat head, which spews out a gas that gives the two girls cat ears and tails and distracts them with scratch pads and feather dusters, which sounds like it could be funny but isn't. They get saved by the world's least clever Tuxedo Mask homage character. The whole thing has this strange retro look and feel to it – as though it assumes everyone is really nostalgic for the grotesque look of late 90's forgettable, uninteresting neon magical girl junk like Hyperdoll or Saber Marionette J, but wishes those shows were as craven in their fetish pandering as we are in 2011.
When there's a scene transition, this vomitous spew of spinning rainbow-colored stars comes rocketing in from the bottom right corner of the screen, as though there's a seriously intoxicated unicorn sitting down there who's watching the show along with you.
I don't really know who this thing is supposed to be for and I don't think you should watch it. If I had to visually describe how I felt while watching Twin Angel Rainbow Sparkle Whatever, this would be it:
Twin Angel Twinkle Paradise is streaming at NicoNico.com.
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