Bamboo Dong is the assistant editor and the writer of the simulcast review column, The Stream. She not-so-secretly loves watching trashy television, and harbors a strange obsession with that weird Papa Johns commercials where Peyton Manning keeps repeating, "Good idea! Two million free pizzas!"
Girls und Panzer
There's not much of about the premise of this show that you can't figure out from the title. This show is about girls… und panzers. More specifically, moe girls… und panzers. I would be lying if my first thought wasn't, “But don't we already have Strike Witches?” and then, “And then didn't we have Upotte!?” In fact, all three shows share the same military history advisor, Takaaki Suzuki, who must be commended for making these types of shows an absolute ball for military and gun nuts.
Admittedly, Girls und Panzer is nothing groundbreaking. In fact, it's pretty trite. The basic gist is this—in some weird universe, tank battle is considered a traditional women's martial art. It bestows upon its students honor and discipline and focus and calm—adjectives typically reserved for such pursuits ranging from karate to, say, flower arranging. But in this world, it's tank battles. One of the girls, Miho, has just transferred to a new high school where she is instantly targeted to join the re-instated tank club. We learn through context and vague references that she comes from a military family, but has personal hang-ups about jumping back into a tank. Drama will perhaps ensue, but most likely, just lots and lots of moe cuteness.
What these types of shows have in common, though, is a definite love for military history (thanks, perhaps, to Mr. Suzuki). The tanks in Girls und Panzer are beautiful, especially for those with a keen eye for such mechanical creatures. Although the rotoscoping feels awkward, especially with the super flat girls superimposed on them, it's sleek and kind of cool. The first person view of the first few minutes feels like it's taken from a video game. Once again, awkward, but cool. It wouldn't be a leap to say that the Panzers are much more interesting to look at than the Girls, who both look and feel like anime cookie-cutter stereotypes. And really, how many times do we have to see the mean-student-council-leader-who-looks-like-a-kid archetype before we say, “Enough!”?
Girls und Panzer is what it is—a moe bait show that combines two things that men love—cute girls and guns. In this specific case, tanks. It's not particularly original, nor is there anything that sticks out, but it's innocuous and cute. Plus, if you like military history, you'll probably get an eyeful and a earful.
Girls und Panzer is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Charming and cute, with a dash of dark humor, Kamisama Kiss will make you smile. Its opening is a little unorthodox—Nanami is in a regular high school girl who's fallen on terrible times. Her father is addicted to gambling and abandons her, leaving her to deal with creditors, who evict her from her home. It's tragic, but the series puts a humorous (albeit morbid) twist on it, cheerfully telling viewers from the get-go that the series isn't a tragedy, but a romantic comedy. Before we even have time to feel sorry for Nanami, she encounters a stranger who offers her a place to stay. Unknowingly, it ends up being a temple, and through a series of unfortunate incidents, Nanami gets saddled with the task of being an Earth God. From there, things somehow get even crazier. Eventually, she finds herself dealing with the ubiquitous bishonen fox demon and seals his fealty with a kiss.
It sounds like a lot, but it's not. The episode is remarkably straight-forward and it's actually a whole lot of fun. When I first read the description for Kamisama Kiss, I rolled my eyes. How many more girls-turn-into-[blank]-and-have-their-own-hot-[demon/butler/god/angel] shows are there? Thanks to its unique sense of humor, though, Kamisama Kiss elevates itself above the rest.
The twisted humor stays throughout the entire episode. It's weird to even think of it as humor, since logic would dictate that a girl getting tossed onto the streets because of a deadbeat dad isn't funny… but that's the charm in Kamisama Kiss. It takes situations like that and presents the absurdity of them, almost like the “FML” meme that was popular a couple years back. And in fact, a lot of the crazy stuff that happens to the protagonist comes about in a very “FML” way. When Nanami finds herself in the underworld, she ends up having to run from all kinds of monsters, including an old hag who wants to eat her. It allowed for plenty of comedic moments in an otherwise panic-worthy situation.
Right now, the jury's still out on if Kamisama Kiss can sustain its moment for the rest of the season, but I have hopes. The first episode was delightfully funny and the “romantic comedy” elements were blessedly subdued. I'm curious to see where they'll take this series.
Kamisama Kiss is available streaming on Funimation.
Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo
The half star is for the cats. I like cats. For everything else, Sakurasou no Pet na Kanojo is mind-blowingly offensive. It features a girl so childlike and so dependent that the main male protagonist has to tie her shoes, tell her to put on panties, remind her where she is, and tell her to change her white blouse when she spills water all over herself. Asking her to wash her face without drenching herself would simply be too much. Washing faces is hard. That's grown-up stuff.
Our empty-avatar-for-male-fantasy-fulfillment is Sorata, a normal average boring dude who got banished to live in Sakurasou, a dormitory for problem students because he refused to give up a stray cat he adopted. Aww. He sure does love cats. The problem is, everyone else in Sakurasou is a sex-starved loon—either pervert otaku, or women who think only of marriage and housework. Poor Sorata even has the misfortune of occasionally waking up with girls in his bed, practically begging to be his wife. That doesn't set women back at all! Although, that's positively progressive compared to transfer student Mashiro, the “pet girl” in question.
You see, Mashiro isn't actually dumb. She's actually an incredibly talented artist. She just completely lacks the mental capacity to do anything else in life, so Sorata has to basically be her caretaker. Somewhere, there is the sound of tissue boxes being ripped open, and the tell-tale plip-plops of a Jergens bottle being pumped. Because really, what we really need is more creative ways to degrade women. Smart, artsy women (see, it's not sexist if she's REALLY good at something, right?).
I'm not quite sure where my disbelief in this series maxes out. Try as I might to compile a list of all the things that made me throw up my hands in disgust, I can't quite shake the pet girl. Alright, so there's a house of girls who crave being housewives. So there's an inappropriate teacher who shoves her tits in everyone's faces. That's fine. Whatever. But when you get to the point where you have a high school girl who can't even put on her own shoes, you are about two episodes away from her getting lectured on how to use a spoon. Or maybe he'll have to help change her panties every time she soils herself. The possibilities are endless. I haven't quite figured out yet if she's a pet or an invalid, but both options are horrible.
It's only been an episode, but I'm gonna call this one early as a big fat No.
In case your Japanese is a little rusty, Onii-chan dakedo Ai sae Areba Kankei Nai yo ne! translates roughly to, Awful Thing that Isn't Even Trying Anymore, Also I Want to Bang My Brother. Having watched the first episode of this, I'm now suddenly appreciative of all the previous I Want to F- My Brother shows I've watched in the past. In comparison, those were like classical masterpieces, in the way that even stale bread can be delicious if you've been sucking on a rusty nail for two days. At least those other shows sort of tried to weave in their incest love with a storyline? OniAi doesn't even try. It's all fanservice, all the way, and it's lazy about it, too. Everything is laid bare (no pun intended), so you know exactly that the purpose of this show is to grab a hanky and get going.
The upside is, if you're looking for a fanservice show and don't want to be inconvenienced by plot, OniAi is probably the way to go. It has a smorgasbord of items for discerning fans to pick from—close-ups of girls' thighs (age sixteen), top-down views of voluptuous breasts, constant blushing, weirdly small feet, brother complexes, That One Girl Who Wears An Eyepatch, girls battling over who gets to sit next to Wish Fulfillment Guy, girls cooking for Wish Fulfillment Guy, and that ever-present scenario where a handful of girls all live in a giant house with one guy.
Oh, wait, the set-up. So, basically, after being separated for six years, a girl finally gets reunited with her brother. They are both going to be going to the same school, living in the same house, and serving on the world's most useless Student Council (aka a reason for a bunch of chicks to congregate and plan dinner menus). The Student Council girls all live in the house with the brother and sister (of course), and presumably, all of them want to jump on the guy's bone. And, of course, the sister desperately wants to bang her brother. She's very vocal about this desire, despite her brother and the Student Council girls telling her it's not going to happen.
If you've somehow read through all of the light novels that OniAi is based on, you would learn that, spoiler, he's not actually her blood relative. But honestly, this is completely, 100% inconsequential. As far as the sister knows, they are blood-related, and she's confident that their true, incestuous love will conquer all taboos, and they will live happily ever after.
I'm not offended by the premise of this show so much as I'm offended by just how little the series even tries. It doesn't even bother cobbling together a half-hearted, semi-coherent story. It just plops a bunch of big-tittied gals into an incredibly unprogressive jerk-off fantasy, filled with awful portrayals of women, and animates them for twenty minutes. Why bother telling a story, I guess, when you might as well just cut to the chase.
Damnably, the series is also ugly. The younger sister has that character design where her mouth curves into a small “u”, and everyone's bowlegged from the animators trying to give all the girls tiny feet. The animation quality is (unshockingly) low, although it does spend a great deal of time and energy carefully shading wet towels that need to cling to breasts. It also puts a great deal of effort into making sure everyone has shiny cleavage and a rigorous bounce, so at least it's using its money wisely.
I hate to immediately write off this show, simply because I don't want to goad on the smug, “Of course you wouldn't like this!” comments, or the, “It's just entertainment” wails, but honestly, this show is garbage.
In short, BTOOOM! is a series about some social shut-in who gets thrown into a Battle Royale-type situation, based on his favorite computer game. At this point, your thoughts are either, “Gee, this is great!” or “What a total douchebag,” based on a) how much you like/hate the irritatingly entitled protagonist and b) how sick you are of the “I'm now inside a video game” shtick.
BTOOOM! is named after the computer game that our lead character, Ryota, is obsessed with. Our “hero” isn't much good at anything else—he refuses to get a job (and scoffs at his mother for landing him a part-time job at the grocery store) and doesn't seem to have anything else going for him except for being the ace player on the 10th ranked BTOOOM! team. BTOOOM! is your classic survival, last man standing video game, only your only weapons are bombs. There are a variety of bombs with different characteristics, but I can only imagine this game is an endless cascade of that disappointment that you feel in Modern Warfare where you think you're getting some new ammo, but all you see is a crate full of crappy grenades.
During a seemingly routine trip to the convenience store, Ryota is approached by some strange men. When he wakes up, he's on a semi-deserted tropical island. He's left only with his convenience store purchase and a case of bombs. Before long, he realizes that he's actually woken up in a real life version of the game. Never mind that one's mouse-click aiming skills in a game are very far removed from one's pitching accuracy in real life, Ryota thinks he has a real shot of surviving his new predicament, thanks to being really awesome at BTOOOM!
Based on the first episode alone, BTOOOM! feels derivative. It feels like an amalgam of other series and movies we've seen before. Nothing about this show seems new, aside from maybe the fact that people are actually excited about a combat game in which you can only use bombs. It's lackluster in premise and quite frankly, it's set up isn't thrilling enough that I particularly care why Ryota is on this island, or why someone has decided to whisk these players into a death game. In fact, not much really stands out about this show, including its non-impressive character designs and its just-fine animation.
And yet, it's just a hair's breadth above the dreaded “mediocre” label—just enough to make me interested in seeing more. So, there you have it. A tired premise with a whisper of curiosity. Maybe it'll get better.
BTOOOM! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Blast of Tempest
Loosely inspired by Shakespeare's The Tempest, Blast of Tempest opens with a curious scene—a barrel is spotted on the shores of a deserted island. It's kicked open from the inside to reveal a plainly dressed girl, but we eventually learn that she's the most powerful sorceress in the world. In fact, she comes from a family of magic users, who all live under the protection of the so-called “Tree of Origins.” But, as happens in such stories, her brother seeks a darker power, and in wanting to resurrect the destructive “Tree of World's End” (which, you might guess by the name, brings about the world's end), banishes her to an island, effectively cutting her off from the rest of the world.
Through a slightly mottled episode, we eventually piece together that she's found a way to communicate with a member of the outside world. By forging a connection via a voodoo doll of sorts, she's promised to help a high school boy find his sister's killer in exchange for his services. And there we have it, the setup for a tale of sorcery, destruction, and a family conflict that makes your Thanksgiving dinner fights seem like play time. For much of the episode, I was worried that the series wouldn't gel together in time to make sense, but fortunately, it sets up the premise succinctly before the end credits. There are still a few questions—we've only just been introduced to a strange magic that causes all the inhabitants of a town to turn into iron—but we're at least vaguely aware of what's going on.
Noticeably, it helps that Blast of Tempest is beautiful to look at. Animated by BONES and directed by Masahiro Ando (Sword of the Stranger), the series tastefully blends CG into its action scenes in such a way that things look impeccably clean. The end scene, in which a mysterious chained ball/monster/thing rises from the sea, is eerily beautiful in its clean lines and sterile movements. Even the bare character designs contribute to this feeling, although whomever decided to let sorcerer apprentice Fuwa keep those lace-up Converse-style boots should be slapped on the wrists. It's kind of hard to take a guy seriously when he's wearing boots that I've only ever seen on teenage girls at rock concerts.
To be honest, I'm not entirely certain I remember The Tempest from my high school required reading days. I know there was a magician on an island, which is fulfilled, but beyond that, I don't remember. But, regardless of its origin of inspiration, the first episode of Blast of Tempest is interesting enough that I'm willing to keep watching the series. It's a little on the dark side, which I enjoy, and after seeing that big ol' eyeball at the end, I need to know what happens next.
Blast of Tempest is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
From the New World
The series opens with an unforgettable scene—people seemingly drop dead spontaneously. Adults and children alike are at the mercy of some kind of mysterious power or person, their bodies ripping open in a shower of blood. It's a little hard to tell what's going on, but it's memorable.
We flash forward a thousand years to a small town in Japan. Everything seems quiet and idyllic, and on first blush, you wouldn't realize that it has anything to do with the opening scene. We're introduced to Saki, a young girl who's woken up in the middle of the night when the objects in her room start flying around. Her parents rush in to comfort her, obviously relieved. And, as the episode unfolds, we learn a few things—upon receiving a sign, the kids in town graduate from elementary school and go to what is basically magic school. We also learn that not all the kids graduate… but what happens to them is a closely guarded secret.
Because of the mystery shrouding the series, the first episode of From the New World definitely makes you want to see more. Nothing's explained, everything's vague, but it's all presented in a way that makes viewers feel confident that everything will be revealed in due time. I'm intrigued by the mystery of the un-matriculated students, and I want to know the truth behind the creepy cat monster that's alluded to.
Weirdly enough, even though the first episode is packed with a lot of fascinating stuff, it feels really slow. I think part of this is due to the visual style—it has that same sleepy vibe that one associates with slice-of-life shows typically set in picturesque Japanese towns. Even the character designs seem to invoke that type of show, minus the blood-letting in the intro, and the lurking cat creature. Contrasted with the supernatural and the dark undercurrents of the show, though, it makes for surprising television, and I'm looking forward to seeing where this series will go.
From the New World is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
My Little Monster
Right off the bat, My Little Monster is a whirlwind of emotions. So much happens in the first episode to set up the relationship between the two main protagonists that I had to keep checking the clock to see if the runtime had magically stretched to an hour. Miraculously, even though so much happens (and yes, the episodes feels very long), it doesn't feel hectic at all. Events still have time to unfold at a natural pace, and we still get the sense that full character arcs are being developed.
The lead star of My Little Monster is Shizuku, a quiet girl who has no friends and prefers to spend all of her time studying. She's inexplicably thrust into chaos when she's asked to deliver a class handout to a delinquent named Haru, who was originally suspended from beating up a bunch of students. He, too, isn't so great with people, though he desperately wants to make friends. Inevitably, the two end up in a (begrudging, on Shizuku's part) friendship, and we see that both characters are terribly different after all. Haru is violent and impulsive, whereas Shizuku is cold and aloof, but both care more about people than either would let on, and it's endearing to see both start to open up to each other. Of course, neither character is instantly likeable—especially Haru, who despite his honorable intentions, comes off as a weirdo and a bit of a creep in his puppy dog-like interactions with Shizuku, but both demand your attention, and you can't help but want both to be happy.
Although it's only been one episode, I feel like I'm already starting to get to know both of the characters. From the introduction, we can see that there's a much larger cast of characters waiting for us, but I can't fathom yet how they'll be involved in the story. If the rest of the series takes after the first episode, though, then I'm already looking forward to it. I really enjoyed the first episode, and this is already on my list of Must Watches for the season.
My Little Monster is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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