Carl Kimlinger writes from a bunker in rural Oregon, where he stockpiles weapons and food in preparation for the takeover of America by UN Nazis. His one connection to the outside world is anime, which is how he knows that the UN Nazis are vampires and have evil magical girl sidekicks, which terrifies him to no end.
Rating: 2 ½
Review: The first thing the girls of Joshiraku do is ask why the show should have been made in the first place. Why indeed? It is just one more in a long line of shows about the everyday lives of girls, its one distinguishing feature being that most of what the girls do is sit in place and talk to each other, which makes the question of whether you watch it animated or read the manga kind of moot. That's exactly what the girls themselves point out, which I guess is director Tsutomu Mizushima's way of trying to defuse the issue. Of course, acknowledging the problem doesn't make it go away. Especially if the problem goes way beyond what your self-referential joke acknowledges. This is a decidedly pointless series, not just from a creative redundancy standpoint, but just in general.
Here's the setup: Five girls work at a performance hall, telling stories and jokes to what appears to be a rapidly dwindling audience of old folks. Marii is the center of attention. Tetora is the normal one. Kukuru is the dark one. Kigurumi is the childish one. And Gankyou is the sharp-tongued one. After and before their performances they sit around having long meandering conversations about a variety of meaningless subjects.
That really is all there is to it. Unlike the similarly-themed shows of Kyoto Animation (probably the finest practitioners of this type of anime), the action rarely leaves the confines of their dressing room and nothing particularly active or interesting happens. It doesn't even have the visual verve of Kyoto's shows. It's just girls talking. To be fair, it's pretty cute all told and Mizushima is a skilled comedic director, so occasionally a joke will hit home. And there's a certain wonder to how the girls can maneuver a conversation about cat/dog preferences through so many convolutions that it eventually becomes a conversation about the appropriate phrase to shout at the ocean. Still, the idea of watching an entire season of it is enough to make your head explode.
Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne Season 2
Review: Lagrange returns, if not better than ever, than certainly strengthened by the complications it introduced towards the end of season one. Several months have passed since Madoka, Lan and Muginami put an end to the assault on Komogawa with the world's biggest light show. Lan and Muginami are still in space, helping with opposite factions of a war that still rages in the heavens. Madoka is still in Kamogawa, living as she always has: with strength and conviction and zero thought given to the future. Or so it seems. Those who know her best know that that isn't entirely true. Madoka has never been quite the same since Lan and Muginami left. She's always a little sad, a little subdued; and if you mention their names in front of her she stops functioning for a few minutes. So she's overjoyed when Lan shows up unannounced. But something's off with Lan too. Something to do with Muginami, whose return once again shatters the peace of Kamogawa.
This is one of Lagrange's quiet episodes, where character's feelings and the restful rhythms of its fictional Kamogawa take precedence over mecha action or steamrolling plot advancement. It's intended to ease us back into the show, and it does so with a charm and sweet sadness that has everything to do with its continually awesome lead Madoka and the powerful friendship she built with Lan and Muginami over the course of the previous season. And with the great supporting cast, all of whom—from Madoka's scary cousin to the increasingly silly alien trio of Izo, Kirius, and Array—get their moment in the sun. Being the series it is, the show can't stay quiet for long. And it doesn't. Lan and Muginami are on opposite sides of a galactic war, and by episode's end that fact will come back to haunt Madoka in a most dramatic way. This season may not leap from the starting block the way season one did, and the production values may have softened a little, but the show can still make the wait between episodes seem intolerable.
Lagrange - The Flower of Rin-ne is available streaming at Hulu and Vizanime.com.
Total Eclipse Episode 2
Review: Every promise that the first episode made of coming intensity is paid in full here. The rear-echelon supply base that Yui and her unit were assigned to is overrun in the BETA's inward push. Despite all of their training, the unit proves woefully unprepared for the chaos and carnage of real battle. Their enemy is monstrous and relentless and the most basic mistakes cost lives. As the unit is whittled down, it becomes obvious that reinforcements aren't coming and that the enemy isn't stopping. They retreat but their commander is killed and withering laser fire further decimates them, leaving Yui in charge of the tattered remnants of the original force. Prospects for the unit look grim. And they are grim. Very grim indeed.
There isn't anything clever or complex about Total Eclipse. It's military action, stripped to its gory, unpredictable core: hordes of unstoppable monsters, lots of fresh human meat, and a bloody, hardscrabble battle for survival. It has the hard-hearted ferocity to kill with wanton disregard for how likeable or seemingly important a character is, and the animal intelligence to make the most of it—both in terms of nail-punishing tension and heartsick emotion. It's written with a certain regard for the realities of war—the good guys don't always win, commanders have to make ugly decisions, and even if the right decisions are made, anyone can die at any time, with the survivors determined by nothing more meaningful that pure chance—but doesn't try to weave anything thoughtful or profound from them.
That's not going to be everyone's bloody, grimy cup of tea. Some will be put off by the moral simplicity of it (giant bug-monsters don't lend themselves to sympathy), others by the intentional cruelty. The series makes a point of how random and mind-bogglingly unpleasant death by extraterrestrial can be, to the point that parts of the episode's second half are virtually unwatchable. Thank god for heavy shadows. For many this will be a depressing kill ‘em all bloodbath. For others, though, it'll be a dark, nasty thrill. May it always be this dark and nasty.
Total Eclipse is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna
Review: If aliens were learning about Japanese history from anime, they'd definitely think Japan was a matriarchal society. Here again the heroes and villains of the Warring States era find themselves supplanted by moe female versions of themselves. Oda Nobunaga, terror of medieval Japan, is now a prickly blonde named Nobuna, Mitsuhide a scheming brunette beauty, and so forth and so on. Into this moe-fied version of history drops Yoshiharu Sagara, ordinary schoolboy. He's saved from death by an anonymous soldier who dies in the rescue, but not before revealing that he's the commoner who will one day become Hideyoshi Toyotomi, right-hand man of Oda Nobunaga and unifier of Japan. Not good. When Sagara subsequently saves the female Nobunaga, he decides to take Hideyoshi's place and help her achieve her dream of conquest. He may not have much in the way of martial skills or tactical genius, but he has spent countless hours playing Warring States video games, so he has a thorough knowledge of what is going to happen and when.
Even if its central idea hadn't already been usurped by the marginally more enjoyable likes of Battle Girls, Ambition would still be pretty bad. It's choppy and rushed, with an uninteresting male lead and girls whose moe affectations are gratingly at odds with their roles as tacticians and master combatants. Tokugawa is a little girl with bear ears and glasses, Oda retainer Maeda Toshiie wears a hollowed-out stuffed animal on her head, and Hideoyoshi's ninja sidekick speaks like a magical girl's animal mascot. It's a cutesy mess of a show, with just enough ogling and fan-service baggage to make it kind of unpleasant as well. Thankfully not everyone is turned into a ridiculously-costumed little girl, and it has the advantage of a so-so sense of humor and pretty decent production values, so the series isn't a total wash. It's dangerously close though. If it doesn't take some time out to ponder the human cost of warfare, or maybe delve into the consequences of historical meddling, or do anything remotely intelligent for that matter, the series will collapse completely.
The Ambition of Oda Nobuna is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 ½
Review: Among the series this season, this is the one whose ultimate evaluation may depend most on what comes next. Other than introducing its characters and establishing that body-swapping is involved, this episode really gives no clue as to what the hell kind of show it plans to be. The facts so far are these: Taichi, Iori, Himeko, Aoki and Yui are five high-school friends. They all somehow screwed up the required registration for a club activity and ended up in the Student Cultural Club, a catch-all for the school's oddballs. One day Yui and Aoki announce that they have something to tell everyone and then confuse everyone by claiming that the night before they switched bodies. Pretty much everyone dismisses it. Even Yui decides that it must have been a dream. And then Taichi and Iori switch bodies. After the initial confusion, a series of tests is devised and it's concluded that the body swapping has indeed occurred. Eventually Taichi and Iori return to normal and everyone goes home, but is the incident really finished?
The more important question, though, is: where is this going? The series has a sense of humor, but it obviously isn't a comedy. There's little to no indication of romantic tension, so romance isn't in the immediate offing. The next-episode preview hints that some unpleasantness might be on its way, but psychological thrillerhood seems unlikely given the tone thus far. And action is right out. Of course, it's always possible that the series is just planning a nice, solid school drama with nice, solid characters (and a single supernatural gimmick). And certainly the evidence could be seen to point that way. The characters are fun and energetic, but just nuanced enough to suggest interesting inner lives. The slivers we see of their home lives indicate complicated, potentially fraught family dynamics. Shin Oonuma's direction is deft (check out the jump-cutting opening) and even-handed, and the writing surprisingly strong. But that can't be it. This is an anime about body-swapping teens; it has to be going somewhere more outrageous than good drama. Right?
Kokoro Connect is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Humanity Has Declined Episode 2
Rating: 4 ½
Review: This is, without a doubt, the funniest show ever about the slow death of human civilization. After a first episode that balanced its bright, fairy-tale tone with an objectively depressing view of humanity's future, Humanity Has Declined follows up with an episode that is pure, unhinged comedy. Watashi's inspection of the FairyCo factory continues, but something isn't right. Her companions keep disappearing and she's almost chewed to pieces by the device used to dispose of defective products. Is this factory really run by the innocent, fun-loving fairies? And if not, then by who? It certainly isn't the humans. The receptionist is as clueless as she, and the manager—a local official who part-times at the factory—proves no more knowledgeable. Not that she would have believed the truth had someone just told her. A factory being run by chicken carcasses bent on world domination is something you have to see with your own eyes to believe.
If last episode's suicidal loaf of carrot bread didn't convince you that a show about the slow death of human civilization could be thoroughly hilarious, this episode will. Watashi's factory inspection is the most inspired series of comedic set-pieces since…well, I don't know when. There's the long evil-genius speech delivered by a cigar-smoking, skinned, headless chicken (it has to be subtitled because his speech is too “jiggly” to understand). There's the slow-motion gunfight between the chickens and Watashi's assistant, armed only with a camera flash. There's the long slapstick chase through the bowels of the factory, as hapless chickens hide from their pursuers in machines that turn them into various chicken products. There's the post-credits coda in which the chicken CEOs fulfill their divine purpose. Through it all Seiji Kishi demonstrates his usual mastery of comedy (his repeated use of the Ave Maria is murderously funny) and Watashi delights with her wit and wealth of personality. It's as if the Marx brothers teamed with the brothers Grimm to imagine a dystopian future starring a particularly good screwball heroine. God knows where it's going after this, but it'll be a blast finding out.
Humanity Has Declined is available streaming Crunchyroll.
Sword Art Online
Rating: 3 ½
Review: Anime series sure like to wonder what it would be like if role-playing games became real life (or real life became a role-playing-game). Sword Art Online asks the same question. The answer it comes up with is more nightmare than dream. Sword Art Online is the name of a game. It's a state-of-the-art virtual reality MMORPG that links straight into a player's brain to make them feel like they're living the action. Kirito, one of the game's beta-testers, is thrilled to return to SAO's world when the official release hits the streets, and so are the ten thousand other lucky souls who got their hands of the game's first pressing. Their joy is short-lived. SAO is no normal game, as the game's creator, appearing like some in-game god, explains. There's no logging out, no lying about your age, sex or appearance, and no escape except by beating all 100 levels. If someone in the real world removes your virtual-reality helmet, it'll fry your brain. If your hit-points hit zero, your brain gets fried. Quite naturally, all hell breaks loose.
Up to the point that the game's creator reveals SAO's true nature, Sword Art Online seems pretty conventional. Think .hack with more movement. (It even has Yuki Kajiura on board.) The programmer-god's announcement doesn't just upend the game's world, though; it also upends the anime. Suddenly MMORPG events have real, flesh-and-blood consequences. Kirito and his fellow gamers go from happy-go-lucky tourists to prisoners forced by a cyber-terrorist into a deadly quest for escape. All manner of interesting possibilities open themselves up. What kind of social structure will these virtual inmates form? What collective strategies will they devise to defeat the game? What psychological and emotional effects will their new reality have on them? The change isn't complete by the episode's end, but there's reason to hope that the series will do right by its promising premise. The fallout of the creator's pronouncement has the right emotional charge, and the characters so far are solid enough that we care what happens to them. It's easy to see the show becoming less .hack and more Infinite Ryvius. Which is a very good thing.
Sword Art Online is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Review: Like many an anime hero, Godo Kusanagi, Campione’s leading man, has a kooky granddad who's always sending him strange artifacts and a knack for attracting pretty girls but not a whole lot else. At first. While in Italy to return one of his granddads doodads, Godo is mugged by a beautiful girl in a red dress. But before she can get the artifact—a tablet portraying Prometheus—a rogue god attacks. Godo and would-be mugger (and genuine witch) Erika get through the attack by the skin of their teeth and even get the tablet to its rightful owner, but that's hardly the end of things. The powerful witch who owned the tablet gives it to Godo, and faster than you can say “sh**storm” both he and Erika are hip deep in an apocalyptic confrontation between two gods, one of whom Godo met on the street the day before. In that battle something comes over Godo, something that'll soon earn him the title of “Campione,” the God-Killer.
The show gets off to a rocky start as Godo knocks around an idealized Italy, bickers with prickly but pretty Erika, and explains in unnecessary voice-over about his grandpa's artifact-collecting ways. The series seems very much like a bland boy-gets-special-powers action vehicle. The uninspiring god attack does nothing to correct the impression, and neither does Godo and Erika's interlude at the witch's house. Erika gets drunk and makes of fool of herself, the witch speaks of Godo's potential (as a womanizer amusingly enough), and the whole mess ends with the inevitable nude misunderstanding. It's when the gods start fighting that things change. Not because the fight is awesome. It isn't overly so, though its final scenes do pack some heat. Rather things change because our impression of Godo changes. The Godo of that last divine battle is no peacenik milquetoast; he's a trickster warrior, a fierce young man with quick courage and an instinctive taste for battle. He's a boy who fully earns the title God-Killer. In short, and against all odds, he's cool. Episode two will be the real test, but that's not bad for a bland boy. Not bad at all.
Campione is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imōto ga Iru!
Rating: 1 ½
Review: Between this and Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate there can't be many bad romantic clichés left unused this season. Nakaimo shares Chocolate's charmless lack of imagination, but covers a slightly different range of awful clichés. If you need an exhaustive survey of everything that's wrong with anime romances—say, for an academic paper on why anime reviewers are so grumpy—then by all means suffer through this limp comedy. Otherwise avoid it like the plague. Shougo Mikadono is the only son of a recently deceased business magnate. At the funeral a mysterious girl who claims to be his sister tells him that soon she'll be his bride. Hop forward a year. Shougo is ready to assume leadership of his father's company, but lacks one vital thing: a wife. His father's will stipulates that Shougo can't take over the company unless he meets and marries his soulmate while in high school. So Shougo goes bride-hunting at Myruuin Academy, home of many a suitable mate. The only problem? His sister might be one of them.
They may have differing trope profiles, but any accusation leveled at Chocolate more or less applies to Nakaimo as well: Uninteresting art, bland lead, factory-sealed character types, rows and rows of all-too-familiar situations—the whole lot. They're hardly the same show though. Nakaimo has a far more involved plot—though that just means it has to defy logic more often in order to get its wish-fulfillment parade of pain to work—and infinitely worse dialogue (“go ahead and eat my cream puffs” says one girl). Rather than a fated collision it has a fated rescue from an oncoming truck, and rather than childhood friends it has amnesia that causes Shougo to forget his childhood friends. It also has the wonderful advantage of revolving around a creepy sister-wife stalker. Shougo's “sister” sends presents and old photos and calls using a voice scrambler—so cute! The show at least has the decency to be worried about Shougo accidentally marrying his sister (as opposed to excited), but that is very slight praise indeed.
Koi to Senkyo to Chocolate
Rating: 1 ½
Review: What fresh hell is this? Actually, it isn't. If it was fresh hell, it would at least offer something novel. This is old, stale, been-there-done-that hell—the same hell we've been experiencing for decades now, and all the worse for it. Begin with a fancy-pants school. At this fancy-pants school is a sweets club. In this sweets club is Yuuki, an ordinary guy. He's the only guy, naturally. Okay, one of two guys. But the other guy is gay (and fixated on Yuuki) so he's no threat to Yuuki's harem. In the har…, er, club are a diminutive sweets-scientist, two childhood friends, a pair of sweets-loving not-quite-twins, the aforementioned gay sweets magnate, and a near-mute antisocial girl. They all love their club, so when news gets to them that the student council might be shutting them down, what is there to do but run their own candidate for president? But who to run? Why Yuuki of course!
The alarm bells start going off the minute Chisato, the first of Yuuki's childhood friends, wakes Yuuki up by jumping on him in bed. They only get louder as the series moves through the inevitable morning wood joke, introduces Mifuyu (the mild, kind childhood friend; Chisato is the brash, energetic one), and then runs us past the club's roster of moe cardboard cutouts. By the time the pigtailed scholarship student with the nice rack runs into Yuuki and then rushes off, leaving behind her house key, there's nothing the series can do to save itself. Perhaps if its character designs weren't so bland, or if Yuuki wasn't another dull variation on the Generic Eroge Guy, or if any of the girls had a morsel of original personality, the series might have had a chance. But there is no hope to be found here. Not even the framing story, in which an unknown but intrepid high-school reporter is run over for seeing something she shouldn't, can help. When it introduces an interesting twist toward the end of the episode it is far too little, far too late.
Rating: 3 ½
Review: It isn't strictly necessary to have an interest in fermentation, microbiology or food science to enjoy Moyashimon, but it surely helps. Especially when an episode focuses on the educational rather than the personal or comedic side of the series, as this one does. One thing that is strictly necessary though, is a familiarity with the series' first season. This season kicks off with nary an introduction right where season one left off some five years ago: Sawaki, our hapless, microbe-seeing hero, is enrolled in a certain Tokyo agriculture college where he studies under fermentation expert and resident oddball professor Itsuki. Itsuki's Fermentation Cellar, a special lab for fermentation research, has finally been completed and Sawaki and his fellow Itsuki seminar students are about to begin manufacturing fermented products such as sake and miso.
Which is more or less it for episode one. At this point the series seems far more interested in the wonder of Japanese fermented foods and the science behind them than in advancing any sort of plot. There are involved discussions of yeast and bean preparation and the purpose of washing rice before fermentation and the history of sake taxation and its connection to the watering down of alcohol. Among other subjects. If you have no interest in such things, large portions of this episode will strike you as quite dull.
Which is nothing compared to how dull this will be if you aren't fully versed in the series' characters. Moyashimon's charm is almost wholly tied up in its characters; in the relations between easygoing Sawaki and S-and-M grad student Hasegawa, in his best friend Yuuki's cross-dressing quest to find his path in life (don't ask), in the effortless rapport of the frequently funny cast. None of which will make a lick of sense to the uninitiated, who will mostly find themselves wondering why a show about an agriculture college features a boy in goth-loli garb and a woman whipping a pair of blobbish goobers (Sawaki's priceless dorm-mates Misato and Kawahama). For fans, on the other hand, this will be a blissful return to one of the most enjoyable ensemble casts in recent years. Brew on little buddies.
Review: As the Fab Four said, all you need is love. Or more accurately, all you need is a good romance. Or even more accurately, you need all kinds of stuff including food and sleep and gut-crunching action but good romances are rare enough that when one comes along all the other stuff can go take a hike for a while. This is why no one likes accuracy. At any rate, Natsuyuki Rendezvous is that rare romance. At its heart it's a love triangle. In one corner is Ryousuke Hazuki, a mean-eyed, tart-tongued, terminally shy young man with an enormous crush on the triangle's second corner: pretty florist Rokka Shimao. Every day he buys flowers from her that he has no space for in his tiny apartment and eventually he goes so far as to take a part-time job at her store. While helping out one day he gains access to her apartment where he meets corner number three: Rokka's naked, possessive, and very dead husband Atsushi.
It's a strange triangle to be sure, with all manner of interesting possibilities built in. Rokka's pain at being widowed at her young age, Atsushi's feelings about being nearby but unable to touch or help the woman he loves, Hazuki's conflict about wooing a woman who is not only still grieving but whose husband is nearly always floating nearby like an externalization of her grief…there's an embarrassment of complex, bittersweet emotions buried within the series' whimsical premise. It doesn't immediately set about mining them, but it does brush up against enough of them to show that it's aware of its own potential. The show will be having some fun with Atsushi's shameless clinginess or be reveling in a sweet confession when Hazuki will betray a twinge of self-loathing (for enjoying the fact that Rokka can't see Atsushi) or Rokka will reveal a little of the abyss of sadness behind her smile. This is romance for grown-ups, with the grown-up characters and grown-up feelings to prove it. Its staid execution is a bit worrying, as is Hazuki's slight dickishness, but the show is worth watching if only for adorable Rokka. Or Atsushi's totally awesome older sister.
Natsuyuki Rendezvous is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Chōyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi
Review: Kenichi Kasai's lovely rumination on the many forms of love in ancient Japan is so beautiful and well-intentioned that it seems kind of crass to point out that it also isn't terribly interesting. But it isn't. Ultimately it'll be of more interest to Japanese history and culture buffs than to fans of romantic drama. It begins with the Hyakunin Isshu, an anthology of one hundred poems by one hundred authors, compiled by one Fujiwara no Teika. As Teika tells us in the opening, he loves love, so most of the poems are about romance. From there we go to the subjects of the poems, first among them Narihara. Narihara is an inveterate womanizer until he meets Takaiko, the emperor's betrothed. Overcoming her reluctance, he seduces her and develops feelings strong enough that he attempts to elope. Elsewhere (and elsewhen) his elder brother and polar opposite Yukihara is preparing to leave his devoted wife Hiroko for an important post in a distant province. After reaffirming their bond, the two part ways with the promise that if anything happens, Yukihara will come running.
Kasai is a talented director with a knack for gentle emotion, and there are times during this episode where you're reminded of that: the aching reunion of Narihara and Takaiko after their paths have departed; the quietly powerful scene in which Yukihara and Hiroko prove the strength of their marriage while she dresses him for his trip. But they're small twinges of feeling in a show that's basically one big shrug. The time allotted for each story—a half-episode—reduces the stories to little snapshots of love that, while sweet and sad, can't summon the power to move that a more involved tale, even one just a single episode long, would be able to. That the first pair is pretty unsympathetic, and somewhat tainted by anime conventions (tsunderes have no place in an historical account, dammit), doesn't help. Hiroko and Yukihara, with their evocation of the quiet joys of matrimony, fare much better, and Kasai's deliberately storybook-ish approach is a treat, but the end result is still curiously underwhelming.
Chōyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: 1967: humanity makes contact with a hostile alien race on the surface of the moon. The aliens are indestructible monsters bent on total destruction and within the decade they're on Earth and by 1997 they've made it to Japan. Foolish aliens. Apparently they don't know that Japan is home to the most powerful weapon in the universe: scantily-clad schoolgirls in giant robots. At an elite school for robo-pilots, Yui Takagawa, daughter of an illustrious military family, is training to do battle with the BETA, as the aliens are known. She has a circle of friends and a fierce rival (Yamashiro, from a rival clan) and a relatively normal life, but she's dead serious about becoming a soldier. She gets her chance when the BETA make landfall in Japan and the army is forced to field even its green cadets. Safely behind the lines, but still in the field. Where anything can happen, especially when faced with the overwhelming might of the alien horde.
Admittedly, it's a terrible set-up for a show. The idea of girls in robots fending off an alien menace is so old that its mold has moss. Yui and her friends aren't exactly arresting leads either. In the early stages of the episode the series is in serious danger of losing us forever. Sure the mecha are pretty fantastic, yeah the girls are pretty, and the way the opening minutes hopscotch forward in time is interesting—particularly since the series' promotional art hints that it'll continue to do so in later episodes—but it's hardly enough. As the episode wears on, though, the intriguing tweaks start to add up. It quickly becomes obvious that, despite the extreme pervertedness of the girls' pilot suits, the series isn't terribly interested in fan-service. The hopscotching fast-forwards the usual high-school drama clutter, and the sci-fi setting—in which Japan's feudal system has apparently survived to modern times—starts to take shape. By the time the series' intent to become a hard-hitting military action vehicle is made clear we're darned near sold on the whole project. If the next episode is as intense as the end of this one makes it out to be, this'll be a show to keep an eye on.
Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 ½
Review: Music and high-school life meet again in Masakazu Hashimoto and P.A. Works' quiet drama about five students trying to create a new choir club. It hasn't the moe factor or the musical chops (as of yet) of K-on!, nor its humor or sense of style, but does have a good cast, a pleasant pace, and a sense of dramatic purpose. Enough that we'll be back to see where it's going, which is all a show really needs. The new choir club is born when short, music-loving genki girl Konatsu is banned from singing in the existing choir by the club's draconian advisor. Outraged, she plans to circumvent the ban by forming her own club. She ropes best friend and all-around perfect girl Sawa into her plan and approaches unsociable music student Wakana, but is shot down in short order. In the meantime Tanaka, the only guy in the badminton club, is showing Ween, a transfer student just back from Vienna, around the school.
Will Ween, Tanaka and Wakana end up joining Konatsu and Sawa in the choir club? Will they end up competing with the official choir club at that recital everyone keeps mentioning? Will Wakana deal with whatever personal problems are turning her away from music? Will we find out that the dragon lady who runs the choir has some possibly heartbreaking reason for her draconian ways? But of course. Tari Tari is not going to win any awards for originality. But then again, we don't watch shows like this to be surprised; we watch them to enjoy the company—and maybe feel for the company too. Konatsu is a likeable little firebrand, Sawa has a surprising amount of personality for a perfect-girl, and even the boys are loveable cusses. Wakana is gloomy and the choir teacher is a witch, but they're supposed to be. The handsome designs and superb background artistry keep the eyes engaged, and Hashimoto directs with a carefree looseness that is quite becoming, but it's those characters that'll keep us coming back. Well, them and their hugely pregnant homeroom teacher. The lady steals nearly the whole show. All told, pretty promising.
Tari Tari is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
Review: The apocalypse is upon us, humanity is in decline, and the world is plagued by…adorable fairies who love sweets? In Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita (literally: “Mankind has Declined”) the end of humanity comes not with a bang or the gobbling of human flesh by undead monstrosities, but with a quiet, matter-of-fact fading into oblivion. And adorable fairies. Our unnamed protagonist—we'll call her Watashi, as the credits do—is a smart girl in a world slowly sliding towards extinction. She's a mediator from the UN, which is a fancy way of saying that liaises between the villagers of her hometown and the fairies that are the final remnants of the godlike civilization that humanity had onetime achieved. The village is strapped for food, so when Watashi accidentally loses their stock of chickens, the impact is dire. Everyone has to cut back, which means she can no longer get the ingredients needed to make sweets for the local fairies. The fairies want sweets, so they set in motion their own plan to solve the food crisis.
It's a rare delight when something takes one as off-guard as this quietly but deeply odd marriage of post-apocalyptic drama and magical realist fable does. Its brilliance lies in letting its premise soak in slowly, subtly coloring its bright, sweet surface with the dark knowledge of Watashi's situation. From there it finds a surprisingly stable balance between its rather bleak premise and its fun, fluffy tone—the premise ensuring that Watashi's adventures never devolve into pure whimsy, and the whimsical humor preventing the premise from dragging the show into depressing drama. It makes for delightful yet surprisingly substantial confection, with smart, preternaturally even-keeled Watashi making it all the more delightful. She's a great anchor for a series that could at any time float away into sugary oblivion or sink into dank darkness, peppering her slice-of-life adventures with dry wit and facing down the end times with oft-funny sangfroid. It helps too that the series' humor can take some unhinged turns, as when Watashi's tour of a fairy factory goes horribly awry.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
La storia della Arcana Famiglia
Rating: 1 ½
Review: One girl, a vigilante organization of pretty guys, and a tournament to decide who gets her hand. Sounds like…well, like a really terrible show. And it is. The Arcana Famiglia is a vigilante organization that protects the port city of Regalo Island. It's manned by a slew of men with fetishized personality types and powers based off of Tarot cards. The head of the family is Papa, possessor of the World card. At his fifty-ninth birthday party he announces he will be stepping down as the organization's leader and that a tournament some time hence will determine who will take over as Papa, as well as who will marry his daughter. This does not sit well with his daughter Felicita, who would rather live her own life than spend eternity shackled to some randomly selected meathead. Nor does it sit well with Liberta, the free-spirited possessor of the Fool card, or Nova, the uptight possessor of the Death Card, both of whom are sweet on her.
There's nothing grotesquely offensive or particularly nasty about Arcana Famiglia; it's just plain, old-fashioned bad. The characters are flatter than steamrolled pancakes, the plot is a cliché that can trace its origins back at least a couple of millennia, and its dialogue was apparently spit out by an anime-inflected computer algorithm. The card-based super-power system is moldy and dull, the reverse-harem intent blindingly obvious, and the whole thing so artificially arranged that you don't need to see the credits to guess that it's based off of a video game. In a way the straightforward awfulness of it all is kind of refreshing. No one guzzles girl's spit, no nine-year-olds go traipsing around in Victoria's Secret lingerie, and nothing happens to make you question the mental health of its creators. The closest it gets to being truly offensive is the way its dialogue—which explains the history of the Famiglia and goes over the nature of everyone's super-powers in the most unnatural way possible—insults our intelligence. Still, it is bad, and bad is bad, even if it doesn't make you feel ill.
La storia della Arcana Famiglia is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
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