Bamboo Dong is the managing editor of Anime News Network, and also the writer of The Stream, a biweekly column that follows each season's simulcasts. She dreams of some day playing a truly nail-biting game of karuta.
Wouldn't you know, average, unimpressive Godou is your regular Japanese kid, until he gets sent on an errand to head to Italy to return a stone tablet that was lent to his grandfather. While he's there, he meets a blonde chick named Erica who is shocked that he has a powerful “grimoire” in his possession. The “grimoire” is the tablet, and naturally, it's loaded with some kind of magic. To Godou's surprise, a massive monster starts wreaking havoc nearby, but he learns from Erica that the creature is actually an ancient god. What we perceive as droughts, hurricanes, warfare, and everything else terrible, is actually the work of rogue gods.
Naturally, Godou's tablet is mega powerful, and embodies Prometheus, who stole fire from the gods. Godou ends up stealing some divine sword, which allows him to challenge the gods.
If it weren't for the sudden punch of action in the last few minutes of the first episode, the entire thing would be an absolute snooze fest. The premise for Campione is hardly revolutionary, and even the big gimmick—that bad things are caused by invisible gods—is drowned out by everything else being so completely average. Campione is one of those shows that's so painfully mediocre that one is at a loss for words at the end of the viewing experience.
The last few minutes are pretty fun though. Perhaps because the writers realized that they needed something, anything to convince viewers to check in again, they threw all their effort into the last fight scene. It's grandiose and exciting, and it's the only scene in the entire episode that caused me to sit up in my chair.
I don't have high hopes that the rest of the series will take the cue and follow suit, but it's at least convinced me to keep watching for another episode or two.
Campione is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Sword Art Online
Sword Art Online is a lot of fun… as long as you accept that the premise is utterly ridiculous. Basically some evil mastermind programmer/engineer has invented the world's most hyped up MMORPG—and has turned it into a ludicrous death trap. Literally, players are trapped inside the game until they beat it. This is possible because every player is hooked up to some kind of brainwave-reading helmet that will also shoot out this lethal microwave to kill the player. If their avatar dies, they die. If an external person tries to unplug the helmet, the backup battery inside will issue the kill command. This is the silliest thing in the world.
At the same time, one can't help but want to know what happens next. Obviously the main character isn't going to die, but how will he get out this jam? What kind of crazy nonsense will he encounter along the way? And if this absurd programmer/engineer is already this nuts, what else will he do?
I have to admit, I rolled my eyes at the first episode, but the hook did exactly what it was supposed to do—it hooked me. And now, I'm stuck.
From a gaming perspective, I totally wish this game was real. Minus, of course, the part where you're stuck in an awful maniac's death game. But I love the idea of a game that not only translates your thoughts about physical movement into the game, but also restricts gameplay to warrior classes. Look, I've always been more of a melee player myself. Magic is dumb. If I had an RPG where I could only hack and slash at things, I totally would.
Right now I'm pooh-poohing this series a bit, but I am looking forward to seeing how it pans out.
Sword Art Online is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
In a long tradition of movies where people swap bodies (see: Freaky Friday, 17 Again, and that recent, terrible Ryan Reynolds and Jason Bateman movie), the kids in Kokoro Connect are realizing that they, too, are switching bodies. Except unlike in most movies, they're eerily calm about it. Five high school freshman are tossed together because they're all members of the Student Cultural Club, a club that seems to serve no purpose other than to make sure these five different characters interact with each other on a daily basis. One day, four of them realize that they've experienced some kind of body-swapping phenomena, but it doesn't last very long. Presumably, it'll happen again.
Although the actual “body-swapping” premise is a tried and true comedy routine, I'm willing to give Kokoro Connect a pass on two accounts. For starters, as stilted and groan-inducing as some of the jokes are (a boy who finds himself in the body of a girl will naturally reach straight for his/her breasts), it doesn't really seem like a full-fledged comedy. Due in part to the dissonant music cues and the heavy emphasis that the episode places on family life, one assumes that we'll get a much more dramatic, in-depth look at the consequences of body-switching than the usual slapstick.
Still, as much potential as this series could have, it's still the beginning, and for all we know, it could tank in the next episode. But for now, I'm intrigued at what this group of friends might learn about each other, and while I have to roll my eyes at their awkward, forced interactions with each other, the latter will hopefully be smoothed out as the series production team irons out their writing.
Kokoro Connect is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
As far as classic Japanese literature goes, the Hundred Poems are as well-thumbed as Shakespeare's sonnets, but many Western anime fans may very well only know them in reference from other anime and manga. Take, for example, the karuta anime from a few seasons back, Chihayafuru, which uses the poems as the game cards. Of the 100 poems, almost half of them are love poems, and these are the basis for Utakoi.
Each episode of Utakoi takes two of the poems and tells the story behind them. For literature nuts and those of us unfamiliar with the poems, this is a blessing, since each waka is difficult to understand without annotations from scholars. A poem about a red river, for instance, would seemingly be about autumn leaves, or a clay-hued river, but scholars (and Utakoi) tell us it refers to the crimson robes of someone's ex-lover.
So, from an educational standpoint, Utakoi is interesting. From an entertainment standpoint, it's cute. It's one love story after another, for those who like romances, but there was something about the first episode that rubbed me the wrong way. Unfortunately, when one is telling love stories from the 12th Century, much of those stories call back to a much more stifled and patriarchal era. As perhaps romantic as it was back then for a male suitor to sneak into a woman's home, then to soothe her fears of molestation, it's a little weird now. As romantic as it was back then to uphold your duty to be a good wife, against your own wishes, well, that's a little weird now too.
If Utakoi was couched entirely in educational terms, maybe this would be easier to enjoy. As it is, it's still trying to be romantic and charming now, and some of those values simply don't translate throughout the centuries.
From an aesthetic point of view, though, Utakoi is beautiful. The characters are lined in thick, black lines that give them the effect almost of wood block paintings. Sadly, and this may be personal preference, only the females really benefit from this art treatment. They just look much better than the men. They have more detail, with their luxurious clothes and makeup, but the character designer has also made most of the men kind of goofy looking.
Utakoi may not be enrapturing in the long run, but for a stray episode here and there, it may be entertaining enough.
Utakoi is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Tari Tari is everything you would expect from a slice of life show about four girls who want to start their own choral ensemble, and nothing you wouldn't. By that, I mean that it's acceptably idyllic, the girls are acceptably sweet, the music is acceptably charming, and everything is generically delightful. The story follows a collection of girls who all presumably have nothing in common—one of them wants to sing, but the choir director won't let her; one of them rides her horse before school; one of them has a kind of weird relationship with her pregnant teacher, in that the teacher is way too into her. There are probably a few more girls that I've missed, but as you can mostly only tell them apart by their hairstyle, it might take a while before we start to really get to know them.
Visually, the series is beautiful. Its glossy backgrounds are extremely detailed, and each backdrop looks almost like a photograph. Shows like this make you feel like there's nothing wrong in the world, and indeed, with towns and schoolyards this pristine, what could possibly be wrong? But by the same token, this lack of discord and grime makes series like Tari Tari almost too shiny and perfect. The characters' lives all seem incredibly mundane (there's a boy who can't find anyone to play badminton with, so he spends most of practice hitting a shuttlecock against a wall), and one wonders if they've ever even had the negative experience of having their milk go bad.
It's only been one episode, but Tari Tari is… pleasant. It's as unremarkable as it is charming, but that can only get you so far before boredom sets in. There's an awkward scene at the end, by the way, where one of the girls is singing to herself outside of a subway station. Everyone stops to smile and stare and coo in appreciation. Because that's what people in this damnably pristine town do.
Tari Tari is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
In case you wanted to be shamed for your consumer spending and eating habits while you watched cartoons, Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita was made just for you! It'll remind you that processed foods are made with chemicals, factory chicken is slimy and weird, bureaucracy is cluttered with inaction, and if you haven't done so yet, you should probably replace all the bulbs in your house with CFLs. If you dare buy your bread from a capitalist hate machine, it will probably commit suicide in front of you.
Wow. I can't tell if this show is pure genius, or absolute lunacy. I'm all for eating natural, sustainable food, and buying free-range or whatever, but I don't know if I want to be slapped in the face with someone else's heavy-handed morals. At the same time, this show is absolutely barking mad, and I desperately want to see the second episode, which is a desire I haven't felt since eating a bag of MSG-laced Tapatio-flavored Doritos. Where else can you watch pudgy little fairies bemoan the fall of humanity and decry the evils of materialism, all while their faces are frozen in permanent grins? Where else can you watch your food rip its own head open? It's either the funniest thing I've ever seen, or the most eye-rollingly obvious, but whatever it is, I want more.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita has created some kind of sensation, in which it's able to thump its message into every viewer, but it does it in such an absurdist way that you can't help but want to talk about it. Which, I guess if the intention of the show is to spread its gospel, then it's succeeded. But nobody likes being told what to do, and if you're not already rolling your eyes at its message of not slaughtering livestock, then you might lose your mind when all the girls in town start running after an artificially plumped chicken. We get it. Processed food is bad for you.
With its relentless barrage of messages, it barely lets viewers stop to enjoy anything else about the series. For instance, the artwork is beautiful, like a moving canvas of paint-by-numbers. The character designs are simplistic and elegant, which makes it all the more jarring when characters are covered in murder sauce. I'm incredibly torn on how I feel about this show. I do know for sure that I will not stop watching it.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
La storia della Arcana Famiglia
There are two truths in this world that will never be broken: sword fights are always cool, and men always look better in suits. La storia della Arcana Famiglia just combines both by making a show about hot, suit-wearing dudes who fight each other with swords. It has the peacocking and (eventual?) tournament setup of a traditional Shonen Jump-esque show, except it's also dripping with fanservice for the ladies. As we speak, thousands of keyboards are clicking to life with slash fiction.
On the beautiful and bustling trade island of Regalo, order is kept by a vigilante organization called the Arcana Famiglia. Basically, it's a mafia with super powers. Each member of the Famiglia has entered some kind of pact to receive powers from each Arcanum—various tarot cards with such names like, “The Fool” and “The Lovers.” The lone female character Felicite is bound to The Lovers, and thus she can see what's in people's hearts. Some other guy pulled “The Hermit,” so he can turn invisible. It's all a little contrived, but it makes it easy to write characters, I suppose. During his birthday party, the leader of the mafia announces that he's ready to retire, but before he can choose a new “Papa,” everyone with Arcana powers needs to duel each other to determine the victor. The winner not only gets to be the new Papa, but also gets to marry Felicite. Naturally, she's unhappy with this, and decides that she's going to try and win so that she can choose her own fate.
By far, my biggest complaint is how bogged down the first episode feels in its attempts to awkwardly introduce every main character's Arcana. This basically involves dialogue in which characters randomly announce things like, “Well, so-and-so is the Blah Arcana, and therefore his power is this!” Considering these characters have likely known each other for years, we can assume that this is told for our benefit only. Hilariously, after the second such introduction, one of the guys says, “You don't have to explain this all right now.” Oh, but we do.
To La storia della Arcana Famiglia's credit, it's very fun to look at. It's hard not to notice how damnably stylish everyone is. Everyone, even Felicite, rocks a suit of some kind, and even though they're all styled differently, they all look like they stepped out of an Esquire spread. The finished effect is something that simultaneously looks both posh and also bad-ass. It's probably no accident that several scenes end in still shots where the characters are alluringly frozen in action.
The first episode doesn't give viewers much to go on except to set the premise of Hot Dudes Fighting Each Other, but since I like both Hot Dudes, and Fighting, I'm willing to stick around.
La storia della Arcana Famiglia is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
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