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The Fall 2011 Anime Preview Guide
Zac Bertschy

Zac Bertschy is the Executive Editor of Anime News Network. He enjoys vodka, bunny rabbits, and the sliver of hope that one day, this will surely all mean something.

Gundam AGE

Rating: 4 (if you're still in short pants) 2 (if you can buy your own cigarettes)

Plucky young Flit's mom gets killed in a UE attack on a Federation colony, but before she croaks, she hands him a memory unit with plans inside for building a Mobile Suit. Cut to a couple years later and plucky slightly older and apparently brilliant Flit is working on creating the Legendary Savior Gundam, convinced a UE attack on his new home is imminent. Of course he's right, and a bunch of robot dragons show up and start laying waste to everything. Flit naturally races over to the Gundamwhich isn't ready for combat yet!! And he's just a kid, he's no pilot!! – bravely announces that he's going to go kick some ass in his Mobile Suit, which he then does, shanking a robot dragon with his laser sword. The other robot dragons retreat, but then missiles start attacking the colony in retaliation! Will Flit save the day?!

Of course he will. He also keeps talking about how the UE “aliens” are heartless killing machines with no humanity, which of course will be proven wrong at some point and we'll learn about how there are heroes and villains on both sides of the conflict or whatever. This time, however, it'll be all candy-colored and kid-friendly, which is of course the entire point of this latest Gundam reboot – rake in those kiddies and try to broaden the demographic base for Sunrise's legendary cash cow. They've certainly made no bones about what exactly it is they're trying to do here – all this first episode needs are a couple of Nickelodeon bumpers and maybe a Gogurt commercial and it'd be right at home at 3 in the afternoon on basic cable. The cast – including the aforementioned unflappably brave and dangerously plucky Flit, his lil’ girlfriend/sidekick, a zany engineer with a huge beard and of course, everyone's favorite merchandise generator Haro – are all pretty perfectly engineered for maximum kid appeal.

That's not necessarily a bad thing – the production values are basic Sunrise-with-a-decent-budget, and as an action show for kids it works just fine. There just isn't really anything here for older Gundam fans (which here in the US is also “every Gundam fan”) or really anyone else who doesn't still have to ask mom for a ride to the movies. With that in mind, maybe Bandai could've avoided letting down the hardcore fans by just calling the show Gundam AGEs 6-12.

Boku ha Tomodachi wa Sukunai

Rating: yawn

Kodaka made a big mistake on his first day at a religious private school – he showed up late and made a bad impression, and thus is shunned by the student body and has no real friends. He catches fellow sullen loner Yozora in the act of talking to an imaginary friend, and the two quickly realize that they're both lonely and want meaningful friendships. Yozora decides to start the “Neighbors Club”, where ostensibly their goal is to help the community but it's all just a smokescreen so they can meet new people and forge new friendships. The first applicant to the club is Sena, a popular blonde girl with a giant rack who doesn't have any real friendships because the girls are all jealous and the boys are nothing but drooling sycophants. Barbie needs friends too!

So this is a harem show – all the promotional art and the opening sequence suggest that eventually around 7 “lonely” girls, each one naturally designed to appeal to a particular character design fetish (12-year old nun, maid with one red eye and one blue eye, glasses girl, shy maid) will join the club and they'll all fall in love or have sexy misunderstandings with half-lidded Kodaka, who will get upset that he fell into someone's vagina or something. The show seems particularly taken with the rivalry between Sena and Yozora, who immediately start insulting eachothers’ breast sizes (women, am I right guys?!). This episode is fairly tame – outside of the opening theme (where the ladies press their breasts against ice and pose in revealing clothing while bound up in ribbons), the closing theme and the eyecatch there isn't that much fanservice or oh-so-zany boob-grabbing hijinks; it's mostly just these wholly unremarkable boilerplate harem show characters yapping at eachother.

There isn't anything interesting or particularly upsetting about this show – it's the usual “hey dudes pick which girl you're gonna beat off to more than the others” thing, designed to move character merchandise and not much else. The animation's pretty nice but the premise is simple so they're not really doing much heavy lifting; it's competent, consistent character animation and that's about it. Obviously, people who like this sort of thing will be able to tell whether or not this is the one for them based on the opening credits, but this is cookie-cutter, bland, predictable and extremely disposable stuff that's exactly like hundreds of shows that have come before, and I have to wonder - eventually the audience for this is going to get tired of the formula, right? They're going to get sick of being given the same exact thing over and over and over and over again? Maybe not.

So long as it makes money for someone, it's all water under the bridge, I suppose.

Tamayura - Hitotose

Rating: 2

Graduating from middle school, Fuu is moving to the little seaside town of Takehara to start her freshman year of high school. She has to leave behind her best friend, Chihiro, whose primary personality traits include crying a lot and making up dumb little kid names and voices for stuffed animals, and her grieving mother. Fuu's father passed away (recently? It's never made clear but it's implied that the grief is still pretty near), and as a coping mechanism, Fuu asks for her father's camera – he was a shutterbug, and after coming to grips with her own sadness, she's decided that her father's photo albums make her smile, and she wants to take up the hobby.

So this is ostensibly yet another slow-moving “cute girls doing cute things” show, except instead of the “Hah, these cute girls sure are doing cute and funny things!” it's been totally drowned in a thick, thick gravy of bittersweet smiling-through-the-tears grief-processing emotional pornography. This series – or this episode, at least – is trying so hard to tug at your heartstrings and evoke a very specific sort of emotional response from you (think “grandma discovers photo of fondly-remembered loved one, reminisces, cries a little”) that it gets a little ridiculous. Even the score, an endlessly building series of tinkly, melodic piano tunes and rising strings, makes the whole thing feel like the climax of a Lifetime dramedy about a damaged family (again, smiling through the tears!) and coming together after the loss of a beloved patriarch, or some treacle like that.

And this is treacle, make no mistake – but frankly, as blatant and over-the-top as the emotional hook is, it does kinda work and feels like it has some basic legitimacy to it. The show isn't bad; the character animation is solid, the backgrounds are pretty, and it isn't larded up with a bunch of awful fanservice. The character designs (and voices) are all right out of the Academy of Moe Character Design Handbook, and all that cutesiness blended in with the almost unbelievable amount of blatant emotional manipulation makes the whole thing a bit difficult to swallow, but this thing isn't any more or less offensive than your average American emotional porn like, say, The Blind Side or Marley & Me.

The top of the episode features Fuu taking photos of what I assume are all her new highly-marketable moe friends and takes place after this episode, and the next episode preview suggests that it's going to be all about the nostalgic, carefree wonders of small town life, so I assume this is only going to become more and more sickeningly sentimental, which makes my stomach churn. There is a market and an audience for this sort of thing though, and by all indications this is a pretty well-done example of the genre, so if you're the sort that likes this kind of thing, bust out the tissue box.

…for crying. I meant for crying, sicko.

Kimi to Boku (You and Me.)

Rating: 1.5

Four boys, friends since preschool, are starting their second year of high school. There's cranky Kaname, feminine and gentle Shin, and twin brothers Yuki and Yuta. Yuta's half-lidded apathy has gotten a little out of hand, so the boys try and convince him to join a club to find what's “missing from his high school experience”. He tries all the sports clubs but is too naturally good at sports, so those aren't a good fit, for some reason. Then he mentions off-handedly that he likes manga and anime, so he joins the manga club. The end!

Here's the big question – why is there a show about these guys? This is clearly an attempt at a “cute boys doing cute things” sort of thing, but Kimi to Boku is executed as “unremarkable, uninteresting boys doing boring things of no consequence”. At least the girls in K-ON! – the flagship “cute x doing cute x” series – were starting a band, and that's something, right? We watch these guys tease eachother a little and reminisce about the dull conversations they had as children, which I suppose is intended to show us that they were never interesting, just in case we were curious. The apathetic guy joins the manga club in the end, but we never meet any of the manga club members and the story goes nowhere from there. The feminine one keeps wistfully staring into the sky and saying “some things might change… and others might not!” as if to tease us at the potential of something happening later on, but there's nothing in this episode to suggest that whatever that something is will be of any interest to anyone. Maybe they'll go see a movie! Or one of them will need to fix his bike! Perhaps the cranky one will forget his umbrella on a rainy day and need to borrow one from his friends! OH, THE POSSIBILITIES!

I'm fully aware that stuff like this is probably intended to be fujoshi bait, so maybe the whole point of this show is just to give ‘em a small cast of mop-headed highschoolers who vaguely non-flirt amongst themselves just enough in every episode to fuel a zillion doujinshi where they're all violently boning eachother, but the execution here is so languid and willfully uninteresting that I can't imagine even the most dedicated fujoshi being turned on by this. The production values are pretty rotten, too – animation mistakes abound (that is, when the show actually features moving characters which isn't very often) and a lot of bizarre camera placement choices, resulting in a number of scenes where whoever's talking is either not on screen or has their face partially obscured, so you're just staring at a three-shot for a couple minutes and it isn't clear who's speaking. The show has a kitty mascot, who's kinda cute and looks a little like Maru, and the show is constantly cutting away to a quick shot of the kitty yawning or sleeping or rolling over lazily or something. Now that I think about it, maybe that's supposed to be the audience identification character. It certainly was for me.

Kimi to Boku is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

Phi-Brain - Puzzle of God

Rating: 4

Daimon Kaito is a world-class puzzle solver at Root Gakuen High School, and fancies himself too good for the school's popular Puzzle Club. He's given a strange contraption that gives him tough puzzles, one after the other, to solve, with a message from “The Minotaur” eventually popping up and challenging him to solve the treacherous “Sage Puzzle”, a seemingly-unsolvable labyrinth hidden in the dangerous underground ruins behind the school.

So Daimon and his plucky female buddy head on down to solve the labyrinth, which of course they do, and at the end it turns out the “treasure” is actually a gold bracelet thing that attaches itself to Daimon's arm, which gives him the “ability to use his brain at its full capacity!” and is referred to as Orpheus’ Contract. Now he's gotta use his new super-brain to solve his way out of this nutty place!

This show is pretty straightforward and simple – though there's plenty going on, story-wise, in this first manically-paced episode. At one point the school's principal discusses with the leader of Puzzle Club that Daimon's brain is so puzzle-solvin’ special that he might be the one who could eventually use the “Phi-Brain”, which could eventually bring about the “Divine Puzzle”! Whatever that is, right?

is one thing above all others – overwhelmingly goofy both in premise and execution. It takes itself deadly seriously (insofar as the characters aren't winking into the camera and it isn't structured as a parody of anything in particular), but everyone in this world is completely obsessed with puzzles, and as a result the dialogue is hilarious. Daimon's character is basically a super badass lone wolf because he's really good at Sudoku (one might suggest that someone with a brain like Daimon's could do better things with it than solve slider puzzles really fast, but hey, maybe this is a Rain Man-kinda situation). At one point he flashes back to why he's so compelled to solve puzzles and we see two characters in silhouette who tell him in ethereal voices “You're so great when you're solving puzzles, Daimon!” and “Solve those puzzles, Daimon! Solve all of them! SET THE PUZZLES FREE!” and you can't help but just burst into laughter. This is silly, silly shit.

However, it is also really entertaining, fast-paced and fun silly shit with top-notch Sunrise animation and a plot that isn't already threatening to collapse due to being over-plotted. You can tell whoever's writing this is having a lot of fun doing so and as a result, the show is fun for the audience too. Don't take it seriously for even a second (which would be virtually impossible anyway), sit back, bust out the popcorn and enjoy yourself. Phi-Brain is a pretty decent little thrill ride of goofiness.

Hunter x Hunter

Rating: 4

Plucky, hyper-competent young Gon wants to take the “Hunter exam” and see the world searching for adventure and treasure, but given that his father, who abandoned him to become a Hunter himself, disappeared and never came back, his mom is skeptical. But when he does the impossible and captures the “Lord of the Lake”, a giant fish-thing, on a bet, his mom relents and lets him go. He boards a ship headed for the first Hunter Exam, where he meets the revenge-minded, stoic Kurapika and the brazen, money-hungry Leorio, and they all quickly learn that this sea voyage itself is the first leg of their exam.

Naturally, the big elephant in the room here is that Hunter x Hunter has already been extensively animated – way back in 1998, where it ran for a really long time and also had a bunch of OVAs. So this is effectively a reboot, and the good news is, it works. Gon's story isn't exactly a bastion of creativity – in fact, the entire setup screams “this is going to be an endless series of tournament fights and/or races” – but they leave enough intriguing story elements on the table to leave you wanting to know more about the world and the characters we're introduced to in this first episode. There is an unintentionally hilarious moment where Gon's mom points out that his father abandoned him to become a Hunter and his response is “Yeah, isn't he awesome?!”. Oh Gon, your therapy bills are going to be monstrous.  

The character designs are still pretty dated – they're all very late 90s, but the way they've handled that is surprisingly elegant. The show has the same glossy sheen as Toriko (which has to deal with a similar character design issue) and the animation is nice and smooth for the most part, with the original show's bright neon color palette softened down to pastels and earthtones without looking muddy or dull. The score really shines – Hunter x Hunter has been gifted with a rousing orchestral One Piece-style soundtrack, every heroic moment punctuated with bombastic string arrangements that really heighten the sense of old-school adventure. Sure, there's nothing new under the sun here – anyone even remotely familiar with this story is going to know the beginning by heart at this point and they aren't trying anything particularly unique, but for a reboot of a relatively old shonen series that never really blew up in the States, this is a good second try at hooking the shonen audience. It doesn't feel old, it doesn't feel particularly worn out or tired – it feels "classic", a welcome return to tried-and-true Shonen Jump storytelling with some sweet Madhouse production value as a nice little bonus. Worth checking out if you're a fan of the original or a neophyte looking for some fresh shonen to digest.

Hunter x Hunter is available streaming on Crunchyroll.

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