The Fall 2011 Anime Preview Guide
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
It is the future. It's dystopian, of course – all anime futures seem to be. But in this case the dystopia wasn't brought about by war: a deadly virus swept through Japan ten years ago, ravaging the population and forcing the government to seek outside help. That help never left, and now Tokyo is occupied by foreign soldiers and scientists who claim that Japan can't be trusted to protect its people. It's a strangely timely concept, given that scientists just extracted the DNA of the Black Plague, but it also makes one wonder if there's a WWII metaphor going on. In any event, there are obviously pockets of resistance to the foreign occupation, and we begin by following a girl in an outfit that should belong to Xianghua in a Soul Caliber game. We simultaneously see her sitting in a grave singing and racing through the city, desperately trying to protect something. As the song ends, she plunges from a bridge amidst the flames of an explosion.
Naturally the next course of action is to meet our hero – apathetic Shu, who wishes he were something more. When he goes to his secret fort after school, he encounters the girl. He recognizes her as Inori, the lead singer of a band. Inori is injured, but before Shu can do much to help her, soldiers and a scientist show up and take her into custody as a terrorist. As she is dragged off, Inori begs Shu to take her small, round robot to Gai. Fed up with himself, Shu decides to do it. Unfortunately for him, the science police have decided that since Inori won't cooperate with their investigation, they are going to raze the neighborhood she was bound for to the ground. Shu, who does find Gai and a potential tsundere named Tsugumi, is caught up in the battle. He stumbles upon an escaped Inori, who begs him to use her...and in an Utena-like moment, Shu pulls a sword from her breast and joins the fight.
Guilty Crown is a bit disjointed, but the bones of a solid show are there. Inori is suitably mysterious, Shu is on a journey of self-discovery, and the evil scientists are clearly going to villains viewers can enjoy hating. When Shu reaches into Inori's chest we get some intriguing flashbacks to what looks like the days before the infection, so the more mystical elements are all lined up as well. What stops this from being better is the way the show sort of jumps from scene to scene without a lot of flow and the nagging feeling of familiarity. Not every show needs to break new ground, but this feels a bit like a prequel to last season's No. 6. Where it goes will ultimately determine if it's going to give us something new and/or exciting.
Also, this is the second show this season to open with a girl singing in a graveyard. Are we looking at a new and creepy trend?
Guilty Crown is available streaming at Funimation.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
The trouble with a mystery story is that there must needs be a mystery. That mystery needs to be set up, puzzled over, and solved within the time frame of, in this case, the episode, and that process ought to be satisfactory for the viewers. Un-Go makes the attempt, but despite being based on an actual short story by an author of some (Japanese) renown, it doesn't quite succeed.
The mystery is about a political murder. After an unnamed war, a prominent figure has been accused of financial misconduct. He hosts a grand costume ball to prove his innocence, but just as he is about to make his speech, he falls over dead. The murder occurs during a brief blackout, so no one, including detective Shinjurou and his very creepy sidekick Inga, sees who did the deed. One of the guests, lovely Rie, is the daughter of a respected detective, and her bodyguard contacts Rie's dad. While he tries to solve the crime remotely, Shinjurou manages to figure things out from right there at the party. The end.
The main problems with this show are the details. If this is a costume party, why are only a quarter of the guests in costume? Who gave Shinjurou his invitation in the first place? And how on earth did the murderer kill the victim with what looks like a butter knife? Add to this that very little interest in the characters is generated by these 24 minutes, with too many introduced too quickly, mostly through on-screen text that goes by very rapidly. The issue of who the murderer is isn't particularly difficult to figure out, either, and even the mysteriously challenged should be able to figure it out easily. On the plus side, the characters look sort of nice and the animation is pretty good. But if you're looking for a good mystery, go reread a volume of The Kindaichi Case Files. It'll be a more rewarding experience.
Un-Go is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Chihayafuru Episode 2
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Still in the depths of the flashback, Chihaya, Taichi, and Wataya are about to begin the school's annual karuta tournament. Desperately jealous of Chihaya's friendship with the new boy, Taichi declares that he and Wataya will have a showdown at the match, ostensibly to determine whether or not both Chihaya and Wataya will continue to be ostracized by the class, but really over which boy gets the girl. But after watching Wataya's first match, Taichi gets nervous – and steals the other boy's glasses. Blinded, Wataya doesn't look like he's going to have much success...until Chihaya steps in to save the day.
I'll be perfectly honest – there's a very good chance that I like this show so much because I spent many of my school years in Wataya's shoes, right down to being rendered effectively blind when some kids flushed my glasses down the toilet. But where I didn't have anyone to stick up for me, Wataya does. Chihaya is one of those characters who acts as the light to the other players' moths. You simply cannot help being drawn to her, and the way that she interacts with both boys makes an otherwise goofy premise engrossing.
Also really shining in this second episode are the homelives of Taichi and Chihaya. Taichi's mother is present at the tournament, camcorder in hand. Suddenly Taichi's desperation to win has another level – he doesn't want his mother to see him lose. This isn't just because he wants to impress her. When he does lose, she berates him, telling her son that now she can't show the video to his father and that he ought to stick to activities where he can win. This gives Taichi more depth than he had previously and takes a bit out the sting out of his treatment of Wataya. Clearly Chihaya is his lifeline because everything sure isn't coming up roses at home. The same is true for Chihaya herself – this episode makes it very clear that she is second fiddle to her sister and that her mother really couldn't care less about her younger daughter's successes.
While the karuta aspects of the show still seem like competitive “Memory,” the characters look like they're going to eclipse it. I don't know if it's fair to say that everyone will love this show, it is certainly going emotional places and if that's your bag, I can only say, “watch this.”
Chihayafuru is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Mobile Suit Gundam AGE begins in flames, as a small boy in a bad suit tries to free his mother from the burning wreckage of an alien attack. He fails, but his mother gives him a small cell phone-like device and tells him that it contains something he must do. As she pushes him away, she says, “I'll entrust you to the Gundam.” Seven years later, the boy is living on Nora, a space colony, and despite his youth has been entrusted with the building of the first mobile suit in years. Flit names it “Gundam” after the painting he remembers seeing in his ancestral family home.
Given his past, it is no wonder that Flit is a little paranoid about future alien attacks, and most adults laugh him off, even when he presents detailed mathematical calculations showing how right he is. Childhood friend Emily clearly worries about him (and likes him), and the two are together when the aliens (UE for “unknown enemy”) do in fact launch an attack. Flit and Emily flee to the military base, where Flit takes out Gundam and saves the day.
There aren't a lot of surprises here, but the story is still pretty well told. Flit is suitably serious, Emily steadfast, and there's a clear delineation between useful and useless adults. The character designs are simple, a bit reminiscent of Clockwork Fighters and other shows for the late elementary crowd. The most striking moments are the scenes of war, and AGE doesn't shy away from the horror any more than previous Gundam series have. Burning towns towered over by vicious metallic beasts will remain imprinted on your mind far longer than any of the action scenes or characters so far. That's really this episode's greatest strength – it doesn't skimp on the reality of warfare any more than it has to, making kids feel as though they are being treated seriously. It also gives this show an attractiveness beyond the demographic it is clearly targeting. Gundam AGE isn't going to be for everyone, but it has its definite appeal. I almost wish I was ten years old again, because I would have loved this show if it came on right after “Darkwing Duck.”
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Yukiteru is a latchkey kid and self-styled loner, obsessively writing every event he witnesses in his cell phone diary. He says he only has two real friends – Deus ex Machina, the god of space time, and a strange little devil girl named Murumuru. Yukiteru believes that he made them up – that they exist only within his head. Then one day Deus (voiced by the incomparable Norio Wakamoto) tells Yukiteru that he is about to start a new game, and the next thing Yuki knows, his cell phone diary is predicting the future. Deus tells him that it is his “future diary,” and Yuki incorrectly assumes that he is the only person to have one. He quickly learns that this is not the case when classmate Yuno Gasai steps in to help him avert a “dead end” prediction on his phone. Yuno explains that she has a “Future Diary” that predicts all of his movements, thoroughly creeping Yuki out even as she saves his life. Yuno further demonstrates what Deus has already told him – that destroying someone's Future Diary kills the holder. By the episode's end, Yukitero learns that he is one of 12 diary owners, engaged in a survival game to see who will take Deus' place as the god of space time.
Mirai Nikki is based on the manga of the same name by Sakae Esuno, and most of this adaptation will be familiar to readers. Most notably the show starts out by revealing something that had only just come to light before Tokyopop stopped publishing an English translation – a good tactic for throwing viewers right in to the story, but a bit of a spoiler for others. It's more surprising than anything. Overall this isn't as scary as the book version, but it still has the slowly growing feeling of horror and terror that the manga does so well. Esuno's style translates relatively well into animation, and the ending theme's trick of replaying key scenes from the episode backwards is interesting. While this isn't as good as the source material, this is definitely a show to keep an eye on. It may not be at Higurashi: When They Cry levels of scary yet, but it looks like we're going to get there.
Fate/Zero episode 2
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Was the first episode of Fate/Zero too “talky” for you? That won't be a problem here. With all of those pesky explanations out of the way, things begin to pick up for the Grail War participants, with the first order of business to introduce some of the servants. We begin with Waver Velvet's Rider, a large red-haired man calling himself “Iskandar” and talking about going home to Macedonia. As you may have guessed, that's the Persian version of the name “Alexander” and Rider is none other than Alexander the Great. He and Waver have an interesting relationship, with Alexander taking more of a master's role. Waver isn't sure he should put up with it, but stops himself from foolishly wasting a command seal to make Alexander more subservient. Next we move to the one cute and sweet moment of the episode with Kiritsugu out in the snowy forest playing with daughter Ilya. Aww. We quickly cut to the house where his wife is pouring tea for Saber. Apparently there was a bit of an issue when Kiritsugu discovered that King Arthur was female and Saber is a bit put out. Ilya's mother calms her down, and we move on to our next master.
We haven't met this guy before. A young man is hanging out in a dark room, drawing a design with his toe. It turns out that he is drawing a pentagram in blood – blood that he drained from the couple in whose living room he is. He has their young son tied up on the floor and plans to offer the kid to a summoned demon. The child looks remarkably like Shiro, protagonist of Fate/stay night. Uryu, the young man, notices a strange symbol appearing on the back of his hand, and soon enough someone comes out of the magic circle. It is Caster, a man with truly crazy eyes and a book bound in human skin. Uryu offers him the child to eat, and instead Caster frees him and tells him to leave...only to summon a cthulu to do something unspeakable to him just as the boy is almost out of the house. Terror, he explains, is a dynamic thing, best seen when one is least expecting it. This is a scene to invoke terror in the viewer as well, and those who know their fairy tales will not be surprised to hear the man tell Uryu (who loves this, by the way) to call him Bluebeard.
The episode ends with Assassin (possibly Muslim hero Hasan ibn Ali?) being told to attack the Tohsaka household. This is our first indication of the character that Kotomine will become – Assassin reminds him that they are nominally allied with Tohsaka. Kotomine laughs it off and tells his servant to go and defeat Archer, who we know from F/SN is Mesopotamian king Gilgamesh.
Part of what makes this franchise so interesting is the use of historical figures, and the ending theme makes good use of that with stills of each servant in his original life. Those are the only still shots used this time around, and gone is the pervasive taint of the visual novel that existed in the first episode, as well as any awkward staging. This is good old-fashioned supernatural action with a dash of the horrific thrown in. Give this series another chance. It looks like it may be worth it.
Working'!! Episode 2
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
This second item on Working'!!'s menu is a serving of what we saw last time, as well as last season. Fortunately for those who enjoyed it before, Working'!! continues to deliver humor as it toys with the quirks of Wagnaria's staff.
The main focuses of the episode are Yamada and Popura. Yamada, while pining after Otoo, who initially brought her to the restaurant, decides that as proof of her affection for Soma she will stalk him. She ropes Popura into her scheme, explaining that stalking is so boring that if you do it you clearly love the victim a whole lot. Popura, true to form, is willing to buy into this, even when Soma tells her not to believe Yamada. Yes, Soma is fully aware of Yamada's plans. He stages a couple of evil sounding phone calls to mess with her, but instead ends up convincing the girls that he is a possibly insane criminal. Yamada returns to moping only to be rewarded by Otoo's unexpected return. She firmly attaches herself to his back – even doing dishes from the position – until he effects an escape at the episode's end.
Meanwhile, Popura feels badly for Inami, who is clearly crushing on Takanashi. Well, clear to everyone except the man himself, that is. She tries to hint to Takanashi that Inami likes him, even trying to train him with a small rag doll, with the result that he totally freaks Inami out. So Popura turns her attention to Sato, the Sanji look-alike cook (that has to be on purpose, right?) who has a tendency to play with her hair. When Soma tells her to trick him by doing something that she wouldn't like to have done to her, Popura decides to rib him about his height. He returns fire, so she climbs up on a ladder and calls him short. Let's just say that this does in fact get to Sato, and Popura learns her lesson. There is really no new ground covered for either comedy or the show itself (there's even the obligatory boob joke at the end), but Working'!!'s strength is not in breaking new ground, but in covering old territory well. Episode two does just that, making it a fun, easy watch when you just need a giggle.
Working'!! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
Lunch is a battlefield. That statement is taken literally at You Satou's new school. On his first day he goes into a local grocery store to buy a Ben-To (boxed meal) for dinner only to end up dying on the floor, unable to remember what happened. A mysterious blue-haired girl whispers something to him, his life flashes before his eyes, and then it's lights out. Luckily for viewers of the show, Satou isn't dead – he's merely stricken with amnesia. On his way to school from the hospital the next day, he bumps into a petite girl with glasses. She claims to have met him the day before, but he can't remember. Later he learns from the oddly named Ume Shiraume (which can be read as “bye-bye”) that her name is Hana. Ume tells him to stay away from her before slapping him with only the slimmest provocation. Naturally Satou doesn't avoid her, or the mysterious girl from before, and winds up back at the grocery...where he and Hana are knocked unconscious in a heated battle for half-price Ben-To.
You see, the school requires students to live in dorms but only provides one meal a day. Students not keen on cooking for themselves buy boxed meals, and being students they are short on funds. So the evening's mark-down of bentos is cause for an all out battle every night. The store, an overproud clerk tells Satou, is within the Ice Witch's territory. If he wants to eat, he'll have to shape up. Of course the Ice Witch is the blue-haired girl, Sen, and naturally she takes Satou under her wing at the episode's end, but this episode is novel enough to make the cliches bearable. And there are cliches – Satou seems to see all girls at groin level (ostensibly because all he saw of the witch were her upper thighs in their initial encounter), there are more girls than boys in the opening theme, and the school fight is hardly a novel concept. What saves this show is its premise and a few small details, like Satou not instantly healing from his beatings and just what it is he so badly wants to remember about the witch. (Hint: It's not her face.) Scene transitions done by breaking apart the cheap chopsticks that come with store bought meals add a nice touch, although the eye catch of Sen in a Ben-To box is a bit odd. Small moments of humor are spread throughout, which nicely contrasts with the action.
So why do I like this potentially haremesque crazy fighting show when I didn't like the others? For the simple fact that it doesn't take itself seriously in the slightest. Ben-To aspires to be nothing more than a lot of fun with a silly premise, and it succeeds quite well in doing just that.
Hunter x Hunter episode 2
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
The second installment of Hunter x Hunter's remake could be subtitled “Kurapika is the Smart One.” This episode establishes the roles the three main characters will play in the series, and for the most part it does it in an enjoyable fashion. After arriving in port, the old captain gives Gon some advice – head for the big tree on the hill. He says its a shortcut. Leorio is skeptical and almost breaks with the group, but he quickly overhears that the bus that purports to take people to the test site is a trick, and he rushes after the younger guys. He's not the only one – a fellow with a potato-like nose also follows Gon, having overheard his conversation with the captain.
After some trekking, the group arrives at an empty town where an old woman challenges them to a two answer quiz. This is where the characters are firmly established – Leorio freaks out and calls the old woman a fraud, ranting and raving the whole time. Kurapika takes the time to analyze the situation and assess the facts. And Gon? He ponders the seemingly meaningless question, focusing on the potential relevance that it may pose to his future as a hunter. These traits combine to pass them on the test – okay, Gon's and Kurapika's do – and they are set on the correct path. (As for the other guy? Think Monty Python and the Holy Grail.) Once the trio finally arrives at the tree, they are met with what looks like a monster attacking a married couple, and once again the combined strengths of the three (apparently Leorio's is kindness) work together to get them through.
Sadly another subtitle for this show could be “Leorio Doesn't Shut Up.” He's a grating character, grumbling and grousing about nearly everything that the group has to do. I suspect that he is meant to be funny and that he simply misses the mark with me. Kurapika's calm rationality and Gon's sweet simplicity are much more interesting in terms of what they do and why they do it; Leorio's the guy they put up with. There's still no sign of the fourth kid seen in the opening theme, but presumably they'll meet him at the exam site. The animation and music maintain the standards set last time and I regret to inform you that the hard rock ending theme does not improve upon a second hearing. But overall this is still a fun, exciting show for the inner twelve-year-old we all still harbor. So grab the cookies and milk and settle in for a grand old adventure.
Hunter x Hunter is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 1 (out of 5)
Perhaps I am too harsh. After all, Majikoi Oh! Samurai Girls does not contain gratuitous fanservice. It doesn't debase women or emasculate men for entertainment. It even looks pretty good. But unfortunately this first episode doesn't have a plot or even a coherent story to it. The entire episode is made up of a battle between two classes at Kawakami Academy, classes 2-S and 2-F. Apparently, according to the suitably old-fashioned looking gentleman who is the headmaster, disputes at this school are settled by staging Sengoku period style battles. Students must use the weapons provided by the school which are not lethal but “hurt like hell.” The two classes appear to be divided up into different squadrons, but frankly the whole thing is a bit confusing. Even moreso is the fact that one group is made up entirely of girls in maid costumes (with chain mail on underneath) and the two random military women skulking about on the edges of things. They seem to be looking for four specific people. At first those four seem clear – Yukie with her Japanese sword, Chrisitane with her rapier, Miyako the archer, and Kazuko and her naginata. But then Momoyo comes in. And the blonde with the scar on her forehead. And that other girl who fights with her fists. And that Yamato guy. And Cap. And the loli girl. And the dude who takes his clothes off. You get the picture – there are a lot of characters here. It is hard to keep them straight, and some readers may recall my prejudice against stories that break the “name only important characters” rule. You're going to need a list for this one to keep them all straight.
Perhaps the biggest strike against this episode, however, is that almost nothing happens. They fight. Period. At the end Yamato confesses his love to Momoyo and gets shot down, but that's thrown in almost as an afterthought. Mightn't it have been better to explain the school's system in more depth? Or to fully explain the reason behind the battle? Instead there is only a drawn out fight scene and a romantic caveat at the end. And even that isn't great – after Momoyo refuses Yamato's suit, all four of the specifically-weaponed girls reveal that they have crushes on him. Harem schlock, anyone? Because along with the unexplained battles, it looks like that is what we're going to get.
Majikoi - Oh! Samurai Girls is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
“You are unique,” reads the bumper sticker, “just like everyone else.” That marketable phrase seems to suit this latest visual novel adaptation in that, while it does have some unique qualities, it is, ultimately, very familiar. The story centers on Shingo, a nice guy who goes to find his (younger? twin?) sister Sakuno when she gets lost on her way home. Apparently the town they live in is labyrinthine and Sakuno has a terrible sense of direction. While she is waiting for her brother, Sakuno's phone runs out of battery. She then proceeds to violate the first rule of being lost by not waiting for her brother where she said she would and following some sort of cat/slime hybrid. And then it begins to rain. Luckily for both Shingo and Sakuno, a lovely girl with a distinct hairstyle named AiRI comes to the rescue. She calls Shingo on her phone and everyone meets up and gets home safely. AiRI and Sakuno form a fast friendship and Shingo is, naturally, struck by AiRI's beauty.
Flash forward past an awkward bathing scene to the next day. Shingo and Sakuno are off to school in their vaguely tuxedo style uniforms. They meet up with buddy Hayato and Shingo's voice over explains that their school is conducting an experiment with the local girls' school by having a select group of coed students attend the bastion of femininity. Naturally when they arrive at the school it is ludicrously opulent and has a wandering maid sweeping the courtyard. She fawns over Shingo before ushering them into a ballroom with the other experimental students. Here we are quickly introduced to the androphobic teacher and the lackadaisical principal...who is forced into the room by none other than AiRI. Shingo and Sakuno are pleased to see her, but she doesn't return the favor, telling them forcefully that the students are not at all glad to have interlopers in their midst. The stage is set for a very familiar love/hate relationship, with peripheral girls throwing themselves around as well, of course.
Mashiro-Iro Symphony isn't especially bad. It just isn't particularly good either. The animation and colors are nice enough, the background music is pleasant without being intrusive, and the characters are pretty much stock. If you've enjoyed this flavor of show in the past, there's no reason (except that cat thing) not to like this one as well. But if you're tired of the formula, you may as well skip this. There are no special snowflakes here.
Boku ha Tomodachi ga Sukanai
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
It would seem that the animators of the opening theme for this season's series with the longest name didn't actually watch the show. From the theme song, Boku ha Tomodachi ga Sukanai looks to be a fanservice show. The actual episode is very far from it. The story opens with transfer student Kodaka reading a fantasy novel in the library. It becomes quickly evident that the other students are afraid of him, and as viewers we are forced to conclude that it's because of his blond hair. As he slouches along the hallways, girls leap out of his way, apologizing profusely as he sighs in resignation. Approaching his classroom door, he hears a girl talking to herself. At first he assumes that she is on the phone, but when he opens the door he finds normally quiet girl Yozora gabbing animatedly away...to no one. When he confronts her about it – after an entertaining moment where he thinks he might have revealed her fantastical secret and will have to be her knight in shining armor – Yozora tells him that she most certainly was not talking to no one. She was talking to Tomo-chan, her “air” friend, thank you very much.
And thus begins a tale of friendship. Sort of. Kodaka is aghast that a high school second year would still be reliant on an imaginary friend and tells Yozora to make some real ones. She protests that it's too difficult – after all, how do you know when you're friends with someone? It's an interesting question, and one that suddenly makes sense of all of the pairs of students we've seen in the background. We take for granted that these duos are friends, but why? Most people would conclude that by the end of the episode Yozora and Kodaka are friends, but would they? This small philosophical debate makes what could be a pretty basic wacky school club story into something more interesting. The club comes into being after the (oddly fanservicey) eye catch: Yozora has started a “neighbors” club to find friends. She's even included a code on the recruitment poster to attract just the right element. Kodaka, forced to join, thinks she's nuts, but within moments Sena, the busty popular girl shows up. Yozora wants nothing to do with her, claiming that she has no need of a friendship club. But Sena counters with the fact that no girls will talk to her and boys just want to fawn over her. Kodaka's for it, but Yozora is a harder sell, and that's where the episode ends.
There are some nice touches to this show, such as the tears in Sena's eyes when she doesn't understand why Yozora won't even let her in the room and the backstory about how Kodaka ended up mislabeled as a bad boy. Yozora's faith in her imaginary friend is touching in its way – I think all of us who were ostracized in high school can sympathize with her need to create someone who would always be there. Unfortunately BokuTomo takes some wrong turns too, with the misleading opening sequence, a strange tendency to focus on characters' laps, and what looks to be the inclusion of a pint-sized nun. Some viewers will also take exception to the bizarre ending theme with its heavy religious overtones. But overall, this looks to be a kind-hearted, potentially sweet show about lonely people finding out that they too can have friends.
Rating: .5 (out of 5)
In the tragic world of Maken-Ki!, a terrible fabric shortage has mandated that all skirts end just below the hips and a dread disease has ravaged the women of the land, swelling their breasts to grotesque proportions. One school, formerly catering only to those unfortunate girls struck by both the breast-growing disease and fabric rationing, has developed a method of fighting using “maken” and “ki” to create body armor and weaponry. Now that they have opened their doors to males, one seemingly ordinary bespectacled boy named Takeru will enroll and do his best to assuage the cruel fate that has befallen the females of the academy.
I wish. That would have made Maken-Ki!, this season's busty-fighting-girls show, a better experience. Instead it is fairly typical harem dreck that appeals to an audience who enjoys looking at detailed underwear shots. Well, sort of – while some of the female crotches are clearly visible, others fall prey to the insidious lightbar of the censors, and it isn't always clear why. It feels as if a few circles of light were included to throw off any censoring types who may have been hanging around. Most of the show is filmed at groin level, and often from behind, even when characters are talking. Naturally the large breasts also get plenty of screen time. When our hero first reunites with childhood friend 47B (possessive type), it is by having her walk in on him pulling up his pants so that he can fall on top of her and have a hand land on her bosom. He then displays some lovely x-ray vision by seeing through her school uniform top. Welcome to the show.
Takeru, we quickly learn, has only just transferred to Childhood Friend's school. He did so largely based on the fact that it has recently gone coed and he's tired of being in an all-boys' school. Needless to say, he has not done his research and is totally unaware of the fact that the school teaches a specialized form of fighting utilizing “elements.” These appear to be either glowing chibi men or manifestations of a person's ki (better known as “chi”) that serve as armor. When he immediately walks in on a battle in progress, a girl hanging from a tree falls on him, accidentally kisses him, and notices a mysterious symbol on his shoulder. She declares him her enemy and flounces off. Really confused, Takeru goes to the first year assembly where the girl from before challenges him to a demonstration duel. Her reasoning? “He saw my panties and kissed me!” Sweetie, EVERYONE saw your panties. There were two shots dedicated to that fact twenty seconds ago as you jumped onstage.
In any event, Takeru is clearly losing the fight. Childhood Friend (her name is actually Haruko) jumps in to help, but is beaten to the punch by a mysterious girl with a cat mouth who throws herself at “Takeru-sama” and says that she's his fiancee. Haruko is incensed, more so when she learns that Inaho has gotten permission to live with Takeru. Oh, and so has Himegami, the girl who fought him. She won't tell why, and in a fit of pique, Haruko also moves in to his apartment. We end there and the preview is almost exclusively breast, butt, and crotch shots.
If Maken-Ki! showed even the slightest bit of inclination to break new ground, I might be less harsh. But this is all of the elements of any harem fighting show barfed onto the screen for another go round. Yes, the colors are nice and bright, yes, some of the animation is very good (like the slight jiggle of a buxom woman walking), but that's about it. Maken-Ki! isn't quite a disaster, but it feels pretty close.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Let me preface this by saying that I have never played the game, though the music is familiar from my sister playing it.
Our story begins with a glimpse into luxury. A strangely misshapen man named Igor sits in a posh limo, accompanied by an unnamed woman. They speak cryptically while Igor lays out a tarot spread. Two cards – The Moon, representing “excitement of the unconscious” and The Tower, a complex card which can indicate a flash of enlightenment. (Source: Seventy-Eight Degrees of Wisdom by Rachel Pollack.) These cards, along with the mystic nature of the scene, indicate that there are things brewing beneath the surface of our hero's life. That hero is Yu, a high school student sent from Tokyo to a rural town to live with his detective uncle and small cousin. Yu seems pretty apathetic, not really responding to his uncle's overtures or those made by perky female classmate Chie. When the school announces that all students must leave campus because of an “accident” (a dead woman draped over a TV antenna), he is nonplussed. In fact, the first burst of emotion we see from him comes at midnight, when a strange, yellow-tinted image of a blurry figure appears on his television and nearly pulls him through the screen.
Television is nearly as symbolic as the tarot in this show. When Yu tells Chie and goofy guy pal Yosuke about his experiences, they bring him to Junes, a local department store, to try and fit through one of the larger TVs there. Not only does it work, Yu accidentally brings Chie and Yosuke to the other side of the viewing glass with him. This certainly begs an Alice comparison – after all, the world on the other side of the television screen is strangely familiar while being totally foreign, and what are televisions but mirrors of the world? Once on the other side, Yu and friends are surprised to find a room with ruined posters and a noose, like the final scene from Agatha Christie's And Then There Were None. With Yosuke whining about his full bladder, Chie steps out into the hall and bumps into what looks like a walking toy. The thing claims to be a bear (and ends all his sentences with the word) and hands Yu a pair of glasses. He tells Yu that the shadows are coming. And boy, are they ever. “The shadows” are striped balls with huge, dripping tongues that chase the teenagers. Everyone is having a freak-out when Yu suddenly has the urge to speak the word “persona.” When he does, another tarot card is revealed – The Fool, symbol of beginnings and of the lack of difference between “possible” and “real.” Armed with this card and all it symbolizes, Yu summons a fighter and wins the day.
Clearly a lot of thought went into this, whether it was the game or the anime. While Yu at first seems like a dull choice of protagonist, the three tarot cards revealed thus far indicate that there are big changes in store for him. The animation looks good, with the simple character designs adding to the ordinary feel of the real world. An interesting calender effect is employed to show the passage of time and the weather, which seems directly related to the ability to go through the TV screen. But what really sells this show is the concept and symbolism. What personas would we choose to don in another world? Is there a mystical force driving us? And if I draw a card from the deck, what will it say about me? Good move licensing this one, Sentai. It looks like an interesting ride.
Persona 4 is available streaming at The Anime Network.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Can a show about a very traditional Japanese card game be appealing to viewers outside of that country? It would seem that the answer is yes. Based on the josei manga of the same name, Chihayafuru (translated as the slightly archaic “impassionate”) follows Chihaya, the obligatory high school girl with an usual hobby. Chihaya has just begun her first year and is lobbying to start a karuta club. Karuta is a card game where players have to rush to identify the end verse of a tanka poem by simply hearing the first verse. It is challenging and generally the kids at Chihaya's school think she's kind of weird for being so obsessed with it. They refer to her as a waste of beauty – Chihaya's older sister is a famous model, and while Chihaya resembles her, she has a tendency to do things like wear sweatpants under her skirt and lie around listening to old poems on her ipod. It is while she is doing just that that her childhood friend Taichi reenters her life. Apparently she hasn't seen him since elementary school and had no idea that they would be attending the same high school.
This is where the classic romantic tension rushes in. It is clear that Taichi has a crush on Chihaya, and when she expresses shock that he has a girlfriend, it seems that she might like him too. But then she mentions a boy named Arata. Taichi gets upset, telling her that he doesn't play karuta anymore, implying that Arata probably doesn't either. This triggers a flashback that takes up roughly three-quarters of the episode. After a very artfully done transition, Chihaya is a carefree elementary school student. Taichi and the other kids in her class have ganged up to bully the new kid, an evidently poor boy with glasses who has a funny accent. Chihaya stands up for him, even when Taichi, in a fit of jealousy, declares that if she chooses the new kid over him, he will see to it that she is ostracized. True to her morals, Chihaya tells him that she doesn't care and befriends who we quickly figure out is Arata. She goes over to his house where he teaches her, not how to play karuta, but how to enjoy it. Arata, it turns out, is a karuta prodigy, and Chihaya is inspired to improve her game.
While this is not the most thrilling plot ever to hit the airwaves, Chihaya herself is a likeable heroine. She does her own thing without too much angst over what others may think, and she clearly cares about other people. (Initially her dream is to see her sister become a top model, but Arata points out that your dream should be something you want for yourself.) Taichi seems like an interesting character, particularly as we get to know how he went from elementary school bully to collected high schooler. The animation is low-key but fluid, and some very interesting uses of the Japanese alphabet as spinning designs make for neat visuals. In this vein the ending credits scroll sideways across the screen, reminding us of the traditional roots of the show.
All in all, I think it is the characters that really make Chihayafuru. If you have strong enough, individual enough people, it doesn't matter quite so much just what story they are telling. Chihaya fits that bill, and while at this point Arata and Taichi aren't as developed, the promise is definitely there. It looks like their relationship will be as central to the plot as karuta, and those looking for romance this season should find it here.
(And on the off chance that Chihayafuru does get you interested in Japanese poetry, check out The Ink Dark Moon.)
Chihayafuru is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: (1 out of 5)
They tried. I feel very secure in stating that the creators of Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere tried to create an interesting and creative world where humans had left the earth only to return after some spectacular interstellar wars and took it upon themselves to separate the world into “Divine Kingdoms” while restarting history. Some effort was made to have a quirky, laissez faire hero and a variety of different races engage in classroom battles across the rooftops of the town.
Sadly, it didn't quite work.
Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere isn't really a checklist show, but it also doesn't feature anything very remarkable. It opens with some inexplicable imagery (some of which returns on the box of the erogame our hero skipped school to purchase) and moves right into a girl singing an elegy at a grave. Tori, the vaguely dippy looking hero, watches her and comments that it's time to end it. (The song? People visiting graves? Who knows?) Jump to a young teacher in a skintight suit informing her large class that their first lesson will be to try and attack her as she leads them on a merry chase across town to get revenge on the gangsters who forced her out of her home. This introduces several ludicrously buxom females, over-enthusiastic ninja dudes, and an inexplicably naked guy with horns and no penis. Oh, and let us not forget the most offensive Indian stereotype in recent memory: Hassan is dark-skinned, pink-lipped, dressed in a ragged turban, and carries a large bowl of curry at all times. Sensitive this is not.
Most of the episode is taken up by the chase scene, during which we learn that some students use magic, some command tiny little Shinto deities, and others have either white or black feathered wings. Strangely most of the well endowed girls have equally large hair. Does this reduce back strain by balancing them? If so, I am not giving the character designers enough credit, as that is a pretty creative solution to not having your female leads fall over due to excess boobage. The action is fluidly animated, and the colors are bright and pretty, so all else aside, these scenes are fun to watch. Unfortunately they are interrupted by an old man and his apparently robotic maid (hopefully ending sentences with “over” will not catch on), who serve as narrators to the action.
Finally the teacher reaches her goal without any of her students touching her. She beats down the gangster (a four-armed devil) while explaining to the kids just how to most effectively concuss a monster, clearly a technique more teachers should use. Then just as the lesson is wrapping up, Tori returns with his erogame and proceeds to grope the teacher's breasts, declaring that he thought she wanted him to. This is offensive on two levels – one is the casual way this sexual harassment is presented, and the other is the return of the infamous light bar from last season, thus making the scene unwatchable to those who are not offended by it. Naturally the teacher responds by throwing him through several buildings, but this is old hat by now.
One can only hope that Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere improves in its next episode, because this is a strange mix of action, heavy-handed world building handled almost entirely in an ending info-dump, and fanservice. There have been worse shows, but there have also certainly been better.
Horizon in the Middle of Nowhere is available streaming at The Anime Network.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
‘Tis the season of slow and simple shows. Following hard on the heels of Kimi to Boku., Tamayura - Hitotose follows the movements of Fuu, a new minted high schooler who has just moved back to her father's hometown. He dad died an unspecified number of years ago, and Fuu has been unable to bring herself to look at the photos he took or touch his camera. Her crybaby friend Chihiro goes out of her way to avoid mentioning the deceased, but ultimately convinces Fuu to give photography a try, as an homage to her father. Fuu goes home to find her younger sister Kou looking at an old photo album. Doubly inspired, she asks her mother for her father's old camera and commences her life as a dedicated photographer.
There is a definite sweet sadness to Fuu's story. It is clear that she is still grieving her father's loss and that her mother's decision to move back to his hometown comes from a need to feel closer to her dead husband. Much of the episode is made up of stills (what is that, four shows now?) of Fuu and Kou when they were younger, as if we are flipping through a family album. Some of the scenes are animated as if the viewer is looking through a camera, which is a nice touch. Like Kimi to Boku, the colors and music are both soft and muted, and it seems clear that the show is going for an air of nostalgia.
Regretfully listening to someone else's reminisces can be a bit dull. Tamayura - Hitotose is not particularly interesting in terms of visuals or story, with the exception of the creepy stuffed animals Chihiro makes. Photography has been done successfully in other shows, so Fuu's quest for “tamayura,” which seems to be a sense of peace and happiness, in her photos is not the issue here. More it is that in these 24 minutes not a whole lot happens. Maybe the next episode, which will likely take place in Fuu's new home, will be more interesting, but for now this is a lovely little slice of not much.
Kimi to Boku (You and Me.)
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Some viewers may walk away from this episode with the nagging feeling that they have seen it before, specifically last season. Only then it was called Yuruyuri and was about a bouncy group of middle school girls, whereas You and Me. is about a sedate group of high school boys. Like the aforementioned show, Kimi to Boku is a slice-of-life tale of a group of friends who do stuff in a group because they are friends.
The four current protagonists (a fifth seems to be forthcoming) are sweet and sensitive Shun, vaguely apathetic twins Yuki and Yuto, and rigid Kaname. Shun's narration tells us that they have been buddies since preschool, and parts of the episode flashback to those days. In these scenes we learn that they were somewhat precocious children who worried about superstitions and impressing the teacher Kaname was crushing on. Back in the present, Kaname is determined that Yuki join a club as they go into their second year of high school. Just why he feels this is so important is unclear, but the other boys drag Yuki to the basketball, judo, and tea clubs. (Yuto forbids a trip to the cooking club based on an incident from middle school involving a knife, a pile of potatoes, and a lack of skill in returning the knife to some girls.) Finally Kaname gets Yuki to join the manga club, which turns out to be a bunch of people who just go home after school like Yuki does anyway. And that, my friends, is the sum total of the action.
The animation, which has a few obvious computer assists, is low-key. A lot of love is given to scenes of sakura petals falling like pink snow and everything is done, if not in pastels, then at least in soft, soothing colors, like a baby's bedroom. Apart from a couple of sports scenes, most of the movement is simply walking. Like at least three other shows this season, certain moments are shown in softer hued stills. Still watercolors make up the ending theme.
One strange theme that Kimi to Boku uses is seemingly random shots of cats doing cat things. After a bit it becomes apparent that these cats are meant to be metaphors for Yuki, but why they think he is so feline is unclear. Perhaps the cats are an attempt to hook viewers with promises of cuteness? If so, it doesn't quite work. And maybe that's the best way to describe You and Me.'s first episode as a whole – despite the success of other single-gender friend shows, with its relaxed pace, gentle colors, and tight-knit group, You and Me. doesn't quite succeed in holding the viewer's attention.
Kimi to Boku is currently available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
Phi-Brain is all the fun of watching someone else play a puzzle game. If you regularly enjoy such activities, you will probably enjoy this series. However, if you are the sort of person who prefers to actually, you know, PLAY the game, you may find yourself underwhelmed.
Phi-Brain is the story of Daimon Kaito, a high school boy with amazing puzzle solving abilities. Jumbles, sudoku, those annoying ones where you have to unscramble the pictures – you name it, Kaito can do it. The episode opens with him using his skills to save the life of the self-proclaimed Puzzle King, who has gotten himself into trouble trying to solve a labyrinth. The world of Phi-Brain is full of real-life puzzles seemingly plucked from a game or newspaper and thrown down haphazardly. (Episode two promises one involving moving parked cars on sliders.) It seems that there are puzzle competitions and that treasures are strewn about the land, guarded, of course, by puzzles. Kaito has a special puzzle simulator that looks like a large, flat Nintendo DS, given to him by the president of the school's puzzle club, and this guides him to the same vicious labyrinth at the behest of “Minotaur.” Most of the episode is Kaito and Nanoha (the obligatory slightly violent female friend) making their way to and through the maze, where Kaito wins the Orpheus armband, a most-likely sentient gold band that helps him to fully utilize his brain to solve puzzles.
Minotaur probably has the most interesting design in the show, looking like a hybrid of Ancient Greek and Native American myths. Other than that, the characters are pretty basic anime high schoolers, lanky and a bit pointy. Some of the backgrounds are quite lovely, particularly landscapes and one scene of a wall of gears.
The largest problem is simply that this is a TV show rather than a video game. What might be a lot of fun to play quite simply makes for a pretty lackluster viewing experience. Any urgency viewers might have felt when solving the puzzles themselves is lost in the fact that few clues are provided so that we might solve them with or before Kaito. Like watching someone put together a two-piece jigsaw puzzle, Phi-Brain just doesn't quite cut it as entertainment.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Jumping right in to Working'!! without having seen the first season is doable, but probably not the best way to appreciate the show. Without any introduction or recap, it's business as usual at the Wagnaria restaurant. This season's continuation of the slice of life/comedy about the waitstaff at a family restaurant assumes familiarity with the previous season and jumps right back in to the cast's daily shenanigans. Popura is still unhappy with her height, Takanashi is a little too happy with her height, and Inami is trying to overcome her androphobia. Those three foibles are at the center of this episode, and it is a tribute to the show that it isn't deadly dull with such a plot.
The story this time mostly focuses on Popura. She is determined to grow, and honestly thinks she might be making progress – she proudly tells Soma and Sato that she has grown three whole millimeters. To that end, she is aghast that Takanashi still pats her on the head and treats her like one of the small, cute things he so adores. Doesn't he realize that she's a year older than him? Things come to a head when Kyoko squashes a small bug and sends Takanashi into hysterics. He demands that she apologize to Popura, who is just like that poor, cute bug. Popura tries not to be bothered by the comparison, as Sato has advised her to act like an adult if she wants to be treated like one. Then when Inami, who has counseled Takanashi not to treat Popura like an object, tries to calm him down, he tells her she compares unfavorably with a bug. This causes Inami to destroy the office in a mad, adrophobic rage and spend the rest of the episode sulking. Popura regains her determination to grow, which enables Sato and Soma to play a trick on her. And that's pretty much it.
What makes Working'!! watchable is not its plot. It is the way the characters interact and deliver their lines that makes it worth it. That the animation also looks pretty good is another plus, and this season delivers another peppy, perky piece of pop music for one of the theme songs. So long story short – if you liked the first season, you'll probably like this one as well.
Working'!! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 1 (out of 5)
Hmm, should I have lox or whitefish on my bagel this morning? Oh, wait, I'm supposed to be reviewing the first episode of C3. So why is my bagel more exciting? Because despite its pedigree, C3 is a checklist show. Nice and bland hero? Check. Tiny tsundere girl? Got it. Striped underwear? Buxom bespectacled friend? Heroine unable to do housework? Check, check, and check. Now, overused as all of those things are, they do not necessarily make for a bad show. The problem here is that they are all that is present.
The episode opens with hero Haruaki, who naturally lives alone, receiving a mysterious glowing box. He fondles it for a bit in a sensuously animated sequence and then dumps it in the basement. The next thing he knows, there's a naked girl in his kitchen eating rice crackers and calling him a pervert. It turns out that the girl and the box are one and the same. Fear, the girl's unlikely name, was sent by Haruaki's father because she has been cursed and can now curse others due to, presumably, an accumulation of negative energy. Haruaki explains that he is unable to be cursed and that with enough positive experiences, Fear can be cured. Then before we can get any further explanations, busty friend Konoha shows up with a pot of beef stew for breakfast. Naturally Konoha and Fear take an instant dislike to each other and snipe back and forth until Konoha and Haruaki leave for school. Fear, left by herself, learns about cleaning from a children's show and proceeds to destroy the house in the name of cleanliness.
And that's about it. There are some hints that Konoha is not as human as she seems and Haruaki tries to soothe Fear by telling her that with practice she'll be able to be a proper human, but at this point there is nothing to set this apart from anything else and very little to keep your attention focused on the screen. On the bright side, it doesn't do anything blatantly offensive and the colors used are bright and eye-catching. Downsides there are strange still shots (or limited animation shots, in some cases) where the filter is changed and characters look as though they were colored with crayons. Also Fear's shiny skin, a trend that's been around for a while now, sometimes looks more like she has pimples on her knees and face rather than the healthy glow of youth. But her hair looks nice. It flows beautifully. That's something.
At this point the major question is where Fear got the clothes she wears later. Haruaki hasn't had time to go buy any, so where did her outfit (and more importantly her underwear) come from? If this is a question you would like to answer, or you are a fan of awkward dancing as seen in the ending theme, this show may be for you. Otherwise, I can only recommend it as a sedative. Take as needed.
Hunter x Hunter
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Meet Gon. He's a twelve-year-old boy from Whale Island with a bad case of Dragon Ball hair and a burning desire to become a hunter like his father. Gon's guardian Mito says he can do it, but only if he catches the biggest fish/lobster hybrid in local waters, a feat Gon's father Ging accomplished when he was twelve. Since this is a Shonen Jump series, no one should be surprised when Gon mimics his dad's feat and sets out to take the hunter test before the commercial.
While this series is unlikely to hold any huge surprises – apart from disclosing Kurapika's gender, because I can't quite figure it out – it is still gearing up to be an awful lot of fun. Gon's first step on his journey is by sea, and naturally comes complete with a massive storm. Gon proves himself as more than just dumb muscle when he listens to the seagulls' cries and smells the air to predict the rough weather, a skill any mariner would envy. He also shows that he is a stand up guy when he subtly steps in to stop the bullying of a new sailor by the rest of the ship's crew. He quickly earns the man's loyalty, further proving him a Shonen Jump Hero Extraordinaire. He also impresses the heck out of the ship's captain, a grizzled old salt with the amusing habit of smoking a pipe with a cigarette stuck in the bowl. Less impressive to Captain are the other two potential hunters on board – androgynous blond Kurapika who has a serious reason for wanting to take the exams and Leorio, a skinny guy in a suit who just wants to be rich. Kurapika and Leorio get off on the wrong foot, but it's easy to see that the three will form some sort of hunter team as the show progresses, probably including the fourth character present in both the opening and ending themes.
Speaking of themes, while the opener is pretty standard anime music fare, the ending theme has more in common with Nordic hard rock. It doesn't quite work with the images, but that's a problem that seems endemic to the show. Don't get me wrong – the background music is quite nice. It just seems out of place here. One song sounds ripped from a “Pirates of the Caribbean” soundtrack and others would be more at home backing ballet dancers.
It seems that this iteration of the original Hunter X Hunter manga is somewhat condensed from its previous anime incarnation, and the first half of the episode does feel rushed. But whether you've seen the old or are new to the series, how much you like it will depend on how fond you are of shonen adventure stories. It's no One Piece, but it still has real potential.
Hunter x Hunter is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
On the off chance that you are watching this without having seen/read/played Fate/stay night, you may want to go back and consume that story first. While knowledge of Type-Moon's first iteration of the tale of Servants summoned by mages to fight a war for the wish-granting Holy Grail (which, the show points out, is not Christ's grail) isn't strictly necessary to understanding this one, it is likely that Fate/Zero will mean more to those already familiar with the world and characters.
The story of Fate/Zero takes place ten years before the action of Fate/stay night. Franchise followers will recognize this as the time of the Holy Grail War that orphaned later protagonist Shiro. The tale begins several years previous to the war, establishing the roots and loyalties of most of the mages who are chosen to fight. Some will be familiar, others less so, and at least one major surprise is in store for those of us who thought we knew the past relationships of the characters. A lot of information is thrown at you in this extra-long episode (47 minutes), though it must be said that it rarely feels like an expository info-dump. The show shifts between characters smoothly, taking care that each group explains a different aspect of the story's world and the war so that very little is repeated. The personalities of the different masters are, if not fully developed, hinted at, with young mage Waver and the buglike grandfather of the Matou clan standing out the most. Nice guy Kariya Matou has a distinctly tragic air, and may in fact be the emotional heart of this episode. He will be particularly meaningful to viewers familiar with Sakura.
Animation-wise, the show has lush backgrounds and slightly stiff characters, giving it the appearance of a visual novel. (It in fact began life as a light novel.) While the character designs are overall attractive, many of the older men have similar appearances and may be difficult to tell apart. Characters from the previous series are immediately recognizable, in part due to the anime trait of people wearing a single hairstyle for their entire lives. Hopefully the stiffness will go away in subsequent episodes once action enters into the picture. Staging is consistently interesting, with characters circling each other, posing to subtly emphasize the important players, and allowing background details to show to their best advantages. In some respects it looks like an animated stage production.
To be perfectly honest, as a fan of the Fate/stay night world, I am tempted to rate this higher. However, since this is not technically a show that demands prior knowledge, the new viewer must be considered. So take this thought with you – as an introduction to Type-Moon's Grail Wars, this is slightly better than middle of the road. But if you're already a fan, it is worth watching.
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