Zac Bertschy is the executive editor of Anime News Network. He enjoys vodka, bunny rabbits, and the cruel sense of irony that seems to govern the universe.
5 high school students – 3 girls and 2 boys – are all part of the Student Culture Society, a sort of island-of-misfit-toys outfit assembled by kids who couldn't get in to any other club. There's the smart one, the playboy, the randy one, the shy one, etcetera. Then they all start swapping bodies for some unexplained reason. Things that could barely be described as “hijinks” ensue.
Here's the thing with body-swapping comedies: they've been around forever, had kind of a renaissance in the 80s and have since fallen out of favor, mostly because the formula really can only be stretched so far and the stories write themselves. The chief thing driving the story in any body-swapping comedy is that the personalities that swap are radically different from eachother and usually lead extremely different lives, and that's where the comedy in the situation comes from (see: Trading Places, Vice Versa, and then do not watch The Change-Up). Kokoro Connect asks us: what would happen if five boring-ass one-dimensional anime high school kids started swapping personalities? I can answer that question with a question: who the hell cares?
This show is a car missing a wheel. There's plenty of situational comedy to be derived from the ol’ body-swapping premise if your characters are strong enough to make it interesting, but these characters have been copy-pasted from a hundred other dull slice-of-life shows, so it winds up being intensely boring. What's extra strange is that they don't even play up the comedy that could be there; playboy swaps bodies with horny girl and what do they do? Stammer a lot, he feels up her boobs, and then they get quizzed about stuff “only they would know” to prove to the rest of their boring-ass friends that yes, they did actually swap bodies and no, you wouldn't know unless they told you because nothing about their personalities was unique or interesting in the first place.
There's a bunch of other elements that the opening credits hint at and it's clear this is intended to be a bit of a techno-mystery thing in addition to a comedy, but I can't bring myself to care enough to watch another episode. Swing and a miss.
Sword Art Online
Genius game developer Kayaba Akihiko has finally released his newest MMORPG, Sword Art Online, a completely immersive VR experience that requires the use of a full helmet you strap on in order to play. Only 10,000 copies of the game were made available, triggering a massive rush to be the first to play. Kirito was lucky enough to be in the beta test, and now that the game has launched, he's made a friend: Klein, a transplant from another game, who's about to meet up with some friends. This is when they discover that the game has no “log out” button.
Then Kayaba melts through the ceiling in a giant mage's robe and announces that not only can you not log out, but this is all intentional and if you die in the game, you die in real life thanks to the VR helmet. Any attempt at removing the helmet will trigger a microwave pulse that will roast your brain alive, and the only way to survive is to complete the game's 100-floor challenge tower. He created Sword Art Online just to fulfill his god complex (I half expected a big booming U MAD? to come out of the faceless mage's robe in the sky). Naturally, panic and chaos set in.
So the premise for this show is absurdly implausible (not the least of which being the idea that an MMO developer, literally working on the most expensive type of game anyone can produce, would limit the sales of his game to 10,000, ensuring the loss of hundreds of millions right out of the gate), but it sure is fun. There are a lot of contrivances in order to get this story working, but if you just go with the basic premise – mad genius trolls 10,000 people into killing themselves through an MMO – it's fun. The lead is kind of generic, and so far it isn't much of a character piece, but this is leagues more compelling than the obvious thing to compare it to, the intensely dull .hack//SIGN. At the very least, it's a little refereshing to see "desperate survival situation" that doesn't involve zombies in any way. They announce at the end of this episode that a month passes and the first 2000 people die – which is again, completely ridiculous as this entire operation would've been shut down by the authorities the minute they discovered more than one dude had died of starvation with a VR helmet that makes him immobile strapped to his head – but I have to admit, I'm really interested to see where they go next, and the main character's strategizing on how to survive this particular situation is fun to watch and think about. It's a pretty cool show. Flawed, but cool. I look forward to more.
Kono Naka ni Hitori, Imōto ga Iru!
Wealthy heir Shogo has a vague memory of a little sister who wants to marry him but a childhood accident means he can't remember who it is, and so a bunch of girls with one-note personality gimmicks enter his life all at the same time and any one of them might be the little sister he's been dreaming of marrying, presumably so he can pump out a bunch of malformed incest kids and maybe get arrested for statutory rape, given that all of these girls look like they're 12.
This is just a dumb generic harem show and not a whole lot more than that – it isn't particularly more or less offensive than any other entry in this ridiculously played-out genre, unless you count going hog wild on the incest stuff to be particularly hair-raising (I do, but there's far more offensive incest stuff out there than this, so I can't really get too up in arms about it). They stole the whole “childhood romance you can't remember but here's a bunch of merchandise-ready girls who might be the one” thing from Love Hina, which wasn't a good show but at least Keitaro wasn't blood-related to any of the women in that series.
Not that there isn't plenty of stuff to make you hate yourself and everyone around you in this one. At one point there's a particularly zealous girl who really wants to bone Shogo, and she's taking a naked-because-it's-pay-cable bath while delivering the following monologue: “When I wiped off the cream Shogo-san got on his mouth this morning, he looked at my breasts. So soft and with lots of cream, they're almost like cream puffs. Shogo-san, you can eat my cream puffs anytime.” Who knew Beard Papa was such a goddamn pervert?
Anyway you already know if you're going to watch this show or not, but if you're a thrill-seeker looking for the latest “oh no they didn't!” fetish-pandering anime from Japan, this one is kind of a letdown in the shock department. In a landscape where basically anything goes, who'da thunk a harem show built entirely on an incest fetish could seem so tame and forgettable?
Koi to Senkyou to Chocolate
This episode opens with a cute girl eating pocky who seems to be on the verge of uncovering some massive conspiracy or something between different factions, right before she gets hit by a car and the driver (also a cute girl) destroys the evidence pocky-eating girl was collecting. What intrigue! How thrilling!
Cut to an opening sequence chock-a-block with dating sim girls and a peppy opening theme where pink-haired girl tries to wake up her hapless doofus friend by dry-humping him in bed (she sees his morning wood and freaks out! OH THE HILARITY) and it's pretty clear that whatever that was that was happening before the credits is a long way off, story-wise, and we're stuck in yet another show chiefly concerned with the intensely mundane everyday activities of moe girls in high school. This time it's a bevy of select-an-imaginary-girlfriend ladies in a candy-eating club, each with a different hairstyle/hair color/one-note personality gimmick/stupid outfit, and they do the same exact shit every moe anime high school girl does, which is do unfunny things while the soundtrack insists that we laugh at their zany antics.
Anyway it turns out the snack club is in danger of being disbanded thanks to some school bureaucracy stuff and they need to figure out a way to keep it all together, and it isn't interesting or really even watchable. This is supposed to be a comedy, but it isn't funny, which as with all unfunny comedies means it's about as useful and worthwhile as a broken glass or, say, a Carlos Mencia standup special. Obviously there's a larger story here if the material before the credits is anything to go on but I'm sure as hell not going to sit through it to find out.
Godou's grandfather traveled the world collecting strange artifacts and passed along an ancient stone tablet to him, which he inexplicably decides to travel to Italy to return it to the original owner. Cue Erica, a girl with giant breasts in a ridiculous outfit who shows up and demands ‘the grimoire’ back. Turns out “rogue gods” (mostly from Roman and Persian religions) are causing natural disasters, and this chick needs to stop them. At one point Erica gets drunk and asks Godou to help her undress, which is just hilarious, let me tell you. The episode ends with Godou encountering two gods goin’ at it and winds up stealing a magic sword that gives him the ability to kill gods. This gives him some confidence, which Erica finds hot. Anyway, you can see where this is going.
So this is “doofus finds himself wrapped up in magical, sexy hijinks” and it's pretty generic. None of the lead characters are interesting in the slightest, and the clothing the female cast members are wearing is all overdesigned within an inch of its life, so everyone looks really silly and impractical (although I will concede Erica's fighting costume to be at least somewhat battle-ready). The story is mostly overblown fantasy claptrap with some vague roots in dead religions (this show really loves namedropping mythological gods, as though that imbues it with something intelligent or interesting), but nothing about it is particularly captivating. The animation isn't bad, however; looks like they had a decent budget to get this thing moving, although who knows how long that'll last. I can't bring myself to care about where Godou's story is going next, so this one's a pass.
Campione! is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Utakoi is a pretty interesting and visually unique attempt at using a couple poems from the Hyakunin Isshu (a hundred poems used to play the Karuta game seen in last year's Chihayafuru) to tell a simple story, narrated by the guy who compiled the poems together. In this episode, we're introduced to poems 17 and 16, which are used to tell the tale of the beautiful but reluctant Takaiko and her handsome suitor, Narihira, who basically swoops in ‘like the wind’ and convinces her that they should be together. It's a pretty basic story, but it does do a good job telling you what exactly it is this show is trying to do: bring a little humanity, character and story to these often-repeated poems that must seem like purely abstract concepts, exercises in tone and feeling with little narrative strength. It helps that in spite of how simple the story is, these are pretty well-written, relatable characters; they're garbed in the elegant royal costumes of the period, but they're far from archetypes. The second half of the episode is a bit weaker; there's no real conflict, as it deals primarily with the seemingly perfectly functional relationship between Narihira's brother and his wife, but something tells me that expecting high drama from every set of selected poems is probably foolish.
The real star of this show is the art direction, and it's fairly unique. Everything has a half-inch thick black line around it, and the character designs are all pleasantly simple and rounded. Fabric is treated in the same manner as it was in Gankutsuou; static textures beneath moving shapes, although here it's far less gaudy than it was in that earlier series. I particularly like the way they're rendering clouds here; textured versions of the rounded-corner rectangles you see in classic Japanese prints. It's very pleasant to look at, even if it isn't really doing serious aesthetic backflips. The character animation is utilitarian, but the art style covers for that a little.
It's a simple thing and won't light anyone's hair on fire but this is a sweet little show, worth checking out if the premise engages you, and might be a pretty decent companion series to Chihayafuru, if you're still getting through that.
Utakoi is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
A bunch of cute girls with identical heads and different hairstyles and eye colors go to school. There's one with orange hair who can't get a spot in the choir, mostly because the instructor is being a huge bitch about it, so she quits and decides to try and start a singing club of her own. Along the way she tries to befriend this ice queen girl who's too serious about everything and harangues her pops about stuff. There are a couple of dudes, too, one of which plays badminton by himself in the gym and the other has some stuff going on. I didn't catch any of their names, because nothing of interest was happening and I have no intention of watching more of this.
So here we have yet another one of these, where they introduce a cadre of girls and some love interests (although the implied love interest is between orange-haired girl and ice queen girl, presumably to boost bluray sales) and they all seem like maybe interesting things will happen to them later in life but for some reason we're watching a TV show set during an uninteresting, totally mundane segment in their lives. I kinda liked the fact that the show isn't about a bunch of cute girls who are BFFs and how they do cute things while being BFFs, and instead we're supposed to be watching a friendship grow between two opposite personalities. That seems like it's something, although it's not like there's a ton of mystery as to how this will all play out. There's a boatload of padding in here, and I expect the story will move at a glacial pace (unless this is all based on some visual novel or light novel or something and in the next episode orange-haired girl gets eaten by a giant crow and the rest of the show is about ice queen girl trying to move on with her life or something like that).
That stuff aside, though, this is a pretty gorgeous show. I really loved the use of color and the background work; the character animation was absolutely top-notch stuff. Lots of care went in to animating movement and there are some genuinely beautiful shots. It's all very pretty, and I enjoyed looking at it much more than I enjoyed actually watching it. The character designs really need to be much more distinct from one another, but the way they move is just phenomenal. Other than that, whatever, man. Boring high schoolers doing boring high school things.
Someone let me know if orange-haired girl gets eaten by a giant crow in the next episode, though. Maybe I'll tune in for another one.
Tari Tari is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita
Mankind is in twilight, and a woman referred to only as “mediator” (she's from the UN, after all) has come to help a small village deal with their dwindling food supplies. The chickens aren't laying any eggs, so they must become meat, but they're hip to this scam and go clucking off into the forest before a single feather can be plucked. The Mediator now has a crisis on her hands, so cue the magical fairies who need sweets. Mm-hm.
Turns out the Mediator liaises between the fairies, who have come to some manner of prominence in the dwindling of mankind, and the humans, who are in desperate need of supplies. The fairies are adorable pint-sized tykes with mega-cutsey voices who nevertheless speak in blunt practicalities about the nature of the world (witness, for example, their discussion about how without food humans will die of starvation, and how dying of hunger might become the next big fad). Without humans, there are no sweets for the fairies, so they set out to solve the food crisis on their own and thus be delivered the sweets they so dearly need.
This is an incredibly interesting and wildly creative premise for an apocalypse show, juxtaposing a bunch of really cool concepts against eachother and creating a kind of lovable dissonance I'm not sure I've seen before. The storybook aesthetic works pretty well (although you ain't fooling anyone with those ‘photograph run through the oil paint photoshop filter’ backgrounds, guys) and heightens the show's already strange tone. They clearly have a lot of stuff they want to get in here – at one point we're taken on a tour of a fully-automated synthetic food factory and are introduced to Loaf, the adorable robot bread whose job it is to explain that the factory they're in can make bread out of pretty much anything now (hence why it doesn't taste very good). This sequence takes a hilariously dark turn; there's a really sharp, nasty sense of humor to all of this that really knocks it out of the park. So far this seems like a clearinghouse of ideas, but it all comes together pretty well and I'm fascinated to see more. Cool stuff.
Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
La storia della Arcana Famiglia
The nearly-superpowered family of Italian bishonen known as the Arcana Famiglia protects the trade island of Regalo using any means necessary, and those means usually include high-powered weaponry and acrobatics. At the center of this highly talented crew of one-dimensional pretty boys is red-haired ingénue Felicita who is special because she's the only lady in an organization filled with dudes and it's my understanding that fujoshi really like this particular setup.
All of these dudes, as is clumsily explained by the show's exceptionally poorly-delivered exposition (this is of the “well, speaking as your mother, you and your father have never really gotten along very well” variety where people stand around telling eachother things they already know for the audience's sake), they all have powers they earned by making a deal with the “Tarocco” (the tarot deck, yippee!). So in addition to these one-note broheims wearing what counts as a “personality” in otome harem stuff like this literally on their sleeve (The smooth one! The hapless one! The violent one! And my favorite, the one who really likes to eat!!), we can also define their inch-deep characters by the tarot card assigned to them. This also determines what ‘Arcana’ power they have. Naturally, Felicita's power is to “see into the hearts of others”, meaning she can tell which of these dudes is crushing on her at any given moment (right now it appears “all of them” is the answer to that mystery).
Anyway, it turns out the head of the family (introduced as the head of the family and then one guy yells “THE HEAD OF THE FAMILY!” in excitement as everyone is cheering for his appearance in exactly the way nobody ever would) is preparing for retirement. He announces that he's stepping down and in 2 months they're gonna have a tournament to decide who'll take his place, and whoever wins the tournament will marry Felicita, because of course that's what happens in a show like this.
This show is hilariously badly animated – I don't know why these bishonen-fests always seem to draw the short stick when they're handing out budgets, but there are moments of limited animation here that are strikingly amateurish. There isn't anything particularly offensive about this, it's just predictable fujoshi bait with awful production values and a script that feels like an exceptionally lazy first draft. Even mildly discerning bishonen addicts might find a better fix elsewhere.
Note: normally I don't use subtitles in my screencaps but that line sums up the issues with the script here so well I couldn't help myself.
La storia della Arcana Famiglia is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
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