The Spring 2013 Anime Preview Guide
Carl Kimlinger lives and writes from the Willamette Valley in Oregon, where he woos wealthy maidens, drives European sports cars, and crashes fancy dances. He cannot count the number of well-bred ladies who have watched him vault into his Aston Martin DB5 convertible, placed one hand over their heaving bodices, and asked: “Who is that masked man, and where did he learn so much about anime?”
Review: Driven by a magical wish gone wrong and built around a main character who is simply too perverted to live, JC Staff's newest romantic comedy is more madcap farce than romance. Which works well for it this episode, but leaves it without a whole lot of future potential. Henneko’s full name is The "Hentai" Prince and the Stony Cat. The Hentai Prince is Yōto Yokodera. He's a healthy young boy with a rather unhealthy devotion to his libido. He loves girls. Everything about them really. Their swimsuits, their gym shorts; flat chests, full busts, it don't matter. But because he puts up a façade of normalcy, he can't devote himself to perversion quite the way he wants. Enter the Stony Cat. It's a statue said to remove unwanted personality traits and gift them to someone else in exchange for a small sacrifice. At the statue Yōto meets Tsukiko Tsutsukakushi, who wants the Stony Cat to take away her tendency to show emotion. Naturally both wishes go horrifically wrong.
Until the wishes go wrong, the show is a pretty lackluster affair. Yōto is an ordinary closeted pervert, Tsukiko is a leaky-eyed moe stereotype, and the opening promises that they'll be mixed up in some kind of moefied love triangle. When they visit the Stony Cat, in a flash Yōto becomes a runaway train wreck of unsuppressed urges and Tsukiko a stone-faced cipher, and in a flash the show becomes a lot more interesting. Yōto's uncontrollable tailspin of perversion gives the show a solid core of humor (of the cringe-and-recoil variety, of course) and neo-Tsukiko offers it a potentially potent predicament: that of a girl whose vibrant inner life is forever trapped behind an impenetrable mask of apathy. Unfortunately, the wish-fuelled improvements come with a Catch-22. After the wishes, Henneko automatically stops being a show about people coming to grips with their inborn flaws and becomes a show about reversing a curse. Which is just an inherently less interesting kind of show. It's hard to see the show going anywhere exciting, especially after this episode makes good on its love-triangle threat.
Henneko is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Valvrave the Liberator
Review: It's a good season for giant robots. Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet already raised the bar for pure spectacle, and now comes this compelling take on Sunrise's tried-and-true mecha formula. Gargantia may have the style and the sci-fi awe, but Valvrave has the dramatic instincts. It hits hard and keeps on hitting, sometimes in weird (but interesting) ways. At some unspecified time in the future—T.C. 71 by the show's fictional calendar—revolutionary advances in space technology have allowed the majority of humanity to live amidst the cosmos. On one such colony, neutral JOIR, lives a conflict-averse boy named Haruto. Haruto has only one worry: he's deep in love with Shoko, one of his best friends, and can't seem to tell her. Elsewhere on the colony, L-elf—an icy agent of the Dorssia Federation, one of humanity's two military superpowers—is preparing to steal a secret weapon being developed at Haruto's school. Eventually their paths cross: with brutal, irrevocable consequences.
Frankly, the show doesn't make a very good first impression. That's probably because the first half of this episode rips off every Gundam show known to man. You have to wonder when Sunrise is going to stop cloning Mobile Suit Gundam’s first episode. Still, this is Sunrise, and Sunrise knows how to do this kind of thing exceedingly well. Haruto embodies unspoiled innocence, Shoko leaks metric tons of charm, L-elf radiates wounded intensity, the mecha and world designs impress, and the tension ratchets expertly upwards. When chaos descends, it's skillful, fluid chaos—full of nerdy details and practiced aerial combat. At which point the show makes its move: a vicious, perhaps even cheap move that nevertheless changes the show from a Gundam redux into something far darker and more involving. A change made all the clearer—though stranger and perhaps more disturbing—by the episode's shocker of a coda. The show puts off all kinds of warning signs (the sacrificial lamb gambit and social media jabbering being the biggest) but it nevertheless demands further watching. Which is more or less the definition of TV success.
Valvrave the Liberator is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Spring 2013 Shorts
Review: Ever wonder what the heck anime people are talking about when they mention that someone's a B-type or an A-type person? How about having anthropomorphized blood types tell you? Seriously. They look like chibi people in tights with letters for faces: O, A, B, AB. The show is made up of educational shorts where these faceless blood type people help explain blood type fortunetelling, where your ABO blood grouping is assigned personality traits. Much the way Leos are charismatic and Capricorns patient, people with A type blood are apparently serious, B types are liberal, and so forth. If you're interested, dive in. If not, you'll mostly be bored. And perhaps a little creeped out. The little guys are kind of freaky.
Review: If you're going to be a three-minute show, this is the way to go about it: rapid-fire silliness with a minimum of plot and only as much character as is needed to keep things fun. Sayuri Satou works front desk at the titular Sparrow's Hotel. She's busty, beautiful, and capable, but something's definitely a little off about her. Her monster strength, for instance. And her affection for throwing knives and hand-to-hand combat. The joke, of course, is that she's clearly a ninja part-timing as a hospitality worker. The gags come fast, the characters are likeable (surprisingly so given that each has like 45 seconds of screen-time), and the episode fosters a staccato rhythm that is fast and funny without seeming rushed.
Sparrow's Hotel is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: Short and pointedly uneventful, Aiura is a show about three high-school friends, who meet only in passing this episode. Specifically when two of them bump into the other and spill her ice cream on the ground. Which is about the most important thing that happens here. The episode focuses on Ayuko, who is the short and level-headed member of the group. About all we can say of the other two is that one is a goof and the other likes odd food. The episode itself is lovely, with a lyrical feel reminiscent of parts of K-On! and a frightening aptitude for heart-melting cuteness. Chain enough episodes together and it could be pretty formidable.
Aiura is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2 ½
Review: This kind of show always makes me feel like a bully. Really, it's a very nice show. Sweet and innocent and harmless. Taking it to task is like slapping a baby seal. But to task we must take it. Because it's a pointless, pointless, pointless series; a meandering kinda-comedy about three high-school girls that does nothing substantial to distinguish itself from all of the other meandering kinda-comedies about high-school girls. The three girls in question are sensible Yui, goofball Yuzuko, and natural-born airhead Yukari. They're good friends just now entering high school. They go everywhere together: class, lunch, the book store. They talk about whatever, ending usually when Yuzuko and Yukari go off the deep end and Yui has to step in and bring them back. At school they notice that the Data Processing club has no members, and when their homeroom teacher lends them the club's key they spend the afternoon looking up random stuff on the internet.
A thrill ride this is not. To be fair though, random cuteness is the point in shows like Yuyushiki. Which is to say, that it's their purpose to be pointless. And in terms of being cute, the show is pretty adept. Single-named director Kaori takes an interesting tack, keeping the art simple but animating it with impressively subtle fluidity. Which makes the trio's antics fun to look at, and puts the onus of their cuteness on their behavior. Which is as goofy and cuddly and cutesy as you could want, and can be pretty funny too when the mood takes it (there's a bit with an S&M test that may actually get an audible laugh out of you). The gaps between the funny bits are very large however. Mostly the show just follows the girls as they chat and walk and do nothing much of anything, which gets dull fast if you're not into needlessly cute girly-girl capering. The show needs to grow a personality stat: beef up the humor, maybe cultivate its mild yuri undertone. Anything will do really; anything but more meaningless whimsy.
Yuyushiki is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Devil Survivor 2 the Animation Episode 2
Rating: 1 ½
Review: Having wrecked Tokyo like any good monster show and gotten its premise established in a rush of action, Devil Survivor calms down and takes its time to demonstrate just how terrible it really is. The first episode was merely uninteresting; this one is genuinely awful. After killing the evil spinny-top-thing and proving just how powerful and special he is, Hibiki is seized, along with Io and Daichi, by well-dressed government types. The government types separate Hibiki and explain to him that they are JP's, an organization established to deal with the very demonic disaster that Japan is now facing. JP's wants HIbiki. They've never seen a summoned demon as powerful as his Byakko, and they want him to go demon-bashing with them. Hibiki isn't sure, even when JP's frosty leader tells him that the world faces potential annihilation. He only agrees when he's forced to protect an emergency shelter from skull-headed vultures.
“Looking away now,” he says, leaking righteous earnestness when asked why he must fight, “will lead to regret!” All of the sequences intended to be intense or emotional have dialogue like that. The script is one giant Frankensteinian patchwork of long-deceased clichés. Every time someone opens their yap, something comes out that makes you want to stick an awl through your eardrums. It doesn't take long before you have a pavlovian cringe response whenever someone prepares to speak. Which they do a lot. The first half of the episode is devoted to the JP's people explaining everything that we'd already figured out last episode. And somehow hearing it said out aloud—that there are nearby dimensions where things we'd call demons or ghosts live and that somehow they're getting into ours and blah, blah, blah—brings home just what a horrible toilet-load of tripe the plot is. Having that plot acted out by shadow-puppet characters, who mostly weep and whine and beg us ineffectually to feel for them, makes it just that much worse.
Devil Survivor 2 the Animation is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Arata the Legend
Rating: 3 ½
Review: Mangaka Yuu Watase has twice seen her work adapted into anime. Each effort yielded one of anime's great guilty pleasures: first Fushigi Yugi and then Ceres, Celestial Legend—the former being perhaps the guiltiest (and maybe most pleasurable) of all time. Her series combine action and intrigue with operatic romanticism and rank wish-fulfillment, creating lurid, addictive melodramas with strong fantasy overtones. Arata is a bit different from Watase's stock-in-trade—for reasons that will soon be obvious—but it retains enough of her melodramatic flair to keep her guilty-pleasure winning streak going strong.
There are two Aratas in Arata. One is Arata Hinohara, a bullied high-school student in Japan; the other is just plain Arata, a carefree boy from the magical land of Amawakuni. As Hinohara's life falls into bullying hell, Arata is being browbeaten by his grandmother into impersonating a girl. With good reason, though. Only a girl from Arata's clan can replace the aging princess of Amawakuni, and unfortunately all the clan has is Arata. If they don't present a successor, they'll be exterminated. Thus the cross-dressing. Things go bad at the succession ceremony, but not because of Arata. The princess's retainers stage a coup and mortally wound her, quickly placing the blame on Arata. Arata flees to a forbidden forest, where forces beyond his ken force him and Hinohara to swap places. Not good for poor Hinohara.
The change in genre—Arata is a shonen adventure, not a shojo romance—means that Watase's usual formula has to adjust some. Romance doesn't seem likely to play a major role, and the show's wish-fulfillment is more about escaping one's humdrum reality than acquiring a pile of man-flesh. Her knack for satisfying relationships, her love of betrayal and cruel twists of fate, of passions dark and emotions large, continues on however. Arata and Hinohara's story has an epic, overwrought feel that is as familiar and welcome as Watase's pretty guys and elaborate costumes. It'll probably be messy, and possibly ridiculous, but the path forward should be quite involving. Especially once aggressive Arata gets a bellyful of Hinohara's miserable life.
Arata the Legend is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Hayate the Combat Butler! Cuties
Rating: 2 ½
Review: The staff behind the standalone series Hayate the Combat Butler: Can't Take My Eyes Off You return for another Hayate oddity, this one a series that promises a new story each episode for one of Hayate’s girls. Though perhaps “threatens” is more appropriate than “promises.” As always, Hayate Ayasaki is the butler of Nagi Sanzenin. But this time, instead of a splendid mansion, Hayate and Nagi live in a traditional Japanese apartment building. Also living there are an assortment of girls from other Hayate incarnations: perfect beauty Hinagiku, pro maid Maria, uber-normal girl Ayumu, mysterious little girl A-tan… Hayate serves all of them like the good butler he is: cleaning, setting up meals, generally making sure life runs smooth. His life remains one of unending misfortune though, which is brought home to him when he catches a nasty cold on the day of his finals and is sidetracked, delayed, and beat up on his way to take the test.
If you haven't at least seen all the previous anime seasons, this is not a series you should jump into. It could have “For Fans Only” stamped on it for how accessible it is to the non-initiated. Hell, even if you have seen all the anime, there'll still be characters here you've probably forgotten, and a few who apparently only show up in the manga. Certainly Hayate's new situation—holed up in an apartment building with Nagi and a crew of female renters—only makes sense if you've read the manga. Aside from that, this is a pleasant enough take on the franchise: milder, less comedy-focused, and perhaps even slighter than ever before. A fluffy, slice-of-life version of the hyperactive gag anime that the show used to be. The humor will be badly missed, but the show does have its moments, as when sick, tired, bruised Hayate has to deal with the worst proctor ever. More problematic is the girl-per-episode structure, which makes the show sound like a bad dating-sim adaptation.
Hayate the Combat Butler! Cuties is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: My question? Where's the circus? It's called Karneval, dammit. There should be a circus. Okay, to be fair there's a government agency called Circus. Which means that probably there's a circus somewhere in the future, probably when Nai and Garecki—the main characters—join Circus. As they surely will. But still, this is not a show about the circus. It's a show about shadowy conspiracies, superpowered government agents, evil monsters, and god knows what else. Mostly though, it's about a mysterious, innocent boy who falls in with a cynical sneak thief. The boy, Nai, meets Garecki when Garecki is thieving from a wealthy woman who's holding Nai prisoner. Garecki frees Nai in exchange for a bracelet Nai is wearing, but they both have to flee for their lives when the woman turns into a man-eating monster. Elsewhere Hirato and Tsukumo, two members of Circus, try to foil a kidnapping on a train. Naturally Nai and Garecki end up on that train. And in their brush with Circus both Nai and Garecki reveal special talents.
It's a pretty standard action-anime setup all told… just a level of magnitude or two more complicated than normal. The episode bangs around between characters and scenarios, characters missing each other as they flee and seek, subplots moving away from each other and then combining as the characters meet and part and meet again. The episode evokes a kind of pleasant confusion as it throws characters at us, hints at big mysteries, and drops unexpectedly into ongoing events. You can tell it's the kind of series that will either draw together beautifully or else self-destruct into a bunch of disjointed mumbo-jumbo. Frankly, my money is on the mumbo-jumbo. The effort the show puts into its characters—none—doesn't bode well for the quality of its writing. Nai is basically a human puppy and Garecki exists only to be warmed and softened by Nai's glowing innocence. The Circus folk show promise though, and the show looks fabulous, so it'll do to stick with for an episode or three.
Karneval is available streaming at Funimation.com
Flowers of Evil
Review: It's the rarest of rare events. A feeling a fan gets but a few times in their life, more rarely the older and more jaded they grow. It could betray you. Sometimes it does. It's only been one episode, so anything could still happen. Self-destruction. Degradation of quality. Novelty wearing off, narrative overreaching… anything. But the feeling is unmistakable, undeniable. It was there as Berserk raged, as NANA broke hearts, as Kare Kano rekindled the magic of young love. And it's here too, in the first beautiful, unsettling episode of Hiroshi Nagahama's Flowers of Evil: the realization that you're watching a masterpiece unfold.
The feeling is all the more noteworthy for coming from an episode where so little happens. It's basically a day, perhaps two, in the life of unremarkable high school student Takao Kasuga. He goes to school and meets with his not-so-good friends. He gets a 52 on a test and reads Baudelaire's Les fleurs du mal. Nakamura, an antisocial girl in his class, intimidates their teacher. He surreptitiously observes Nanako Saeki, the perfect girl on whom he clearly has a crush. He quarrels with his friends and he returns to school. Where something bad blooms deep inside.
The first thing to strike you about Flowers of Evil is its look. It's like nothing in anime: richly detailed settings and deliberately flat characters, drawn with simple lines whose complex movement provides shape and detail. Think of the rotoscoped films of Richard Linklater, but simpler, more subdued. It gives the characters and their world a wonderful, disturbing realism, yet retains an elusive surreal flavor. Nagahama weaves those visuals, arranges and suggests, such that the episode drowns slowly in dread. It thrums through the opening shots, knots up in your stomach as Kasuga looks at Saeki, and spikes when we see Nakamura's eyes. When Saeki's gym bag softly drops and the discordant ending theme leaks in as Kasuga stares at it lying there, it's like Norman Bates pulling back the shower curtain. A brilliant portrait of an unwholesome urge blossoming into a bud of evil. And it's only the first episode.
Flowers of Evil is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Review: Welcome back to the reassuring embrace of the shonen action cliché bin. Mushibugyō has nothing new to add to the heap of shows already out there about boys striving to be strongest, but it follows the blueprint well enough that it works as mindless comfort food. If you've nothing better to do, there are worse ways to kill a half hour than this. Our spunky hero this time is Jinbei Tsukishima, the son of a provincial samurai. Jinbei is headed to Edo to join the Insect Magistrate in his father's stead. Upon arriving, he learns that the Magistrate was established at the request of the citizenry to protect the common people from monstrous creepy-crawlies. He gets up close and personal with one of the creepy-crawlies, whereupon he meets Kotori, the head of the Magistrate. Kotori wanted to recruit Jinbei's father, a renowned warrior, not his wet-behind-the-ears son, so he's not particularly happy. But when a grotesque spider kidnaps a girl who was kind to Jinbei, Jinbei gets a chance to prove his mettle.
Of course, you know how it goes from there: Jinbei impresses Kotori with his grit and nascent strength, he meets his coldly powerful rival/guiding star, and is accepted into the Magistrate. Where he will inevitably bond with the oddballs there and grow in strength while pursuing his goal of one day surpassing his father. The oddballs are all familiar types—the hostile girl, the frosty master warrior, the runs-on-instinct wild man, the timid but powerful little boy—as is Junbei, with his heartfelt goal and his hidden potential and his love of big boobs. But familiarity is what makes the show the security blanket it is. You'll never be surprised or upset by anything it does. And it does enough things right that comfort doesn't cross the line into outright boredom. The medieval setting is nice, Junbei's forthright earnestness is actually kind of endearing (though his enthusiasm can also be grating), and director Takayuki Hamana gives the boy's adventures a properly unique look and his fights a properly feral energy. A light diversion, nothing more or less.
Mushibugyō is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet
Rating: 4 ½
Review: Sometimes all you can tell from a first episode is how a show looks. That's not exactly true of Gargantia; this episode establishes a promising premise and some real potential for interesting character interaction. But even if it was, it'd be enough. Gargantia is stunningly beautiful: elaborate, imaginative, steeped in sci-fi wonder.
It opens in a flurry of futuristic spectacle, sailing past a deep-space utopia, its glass-enclosed verdure connected by delicate spirals of light and arranged like jeweled petals in the dark. A voice intones the history of mankind and of their paradise, Avalon, warning of the Hideauze, a monstrous alien race that would see mankind and their artificial homeland destroyed. The vision is interrupted by an alarm, revealing itself as a propaganda dream piped into the head of Ledo, a young pilot ensconced in his humanoid machine, preparing to sortie against the Hideauze. What follows is a space battle of terrible beauty: enemies like spacefaring carnivorous flowers; beam weapons that branch through space like lethal root structures; mecha formations that create DNA spirals of laser-spitting soldiers.
It's a jaw-dropping display of pure animation prowess that, unfortunately, rather outpaces the actual story in terms of imagination. When the battle ends, a transportation snafu sends Ledo hurtling through space-time. His machine ends up on a raggedy scavenger ship, where the scrappy crew tries to disassemble it with shockingly primitive tools. (Drills? Saws? No!). Ledo comes out of hibernation and immediately starts wreaking havoc. It's basically a shipwreck tale, with the twist that the desert island is Earth and the local primitives Earthlings. It's written by Gen Urobuchi, though—the master of the gut-wrenching plot twist—so don't expect it to stay simple for long. Andwritten with a warmth unusual for him too, born mostly of Amy, a local girl who could be a Hayao Miyazaki heroine she's so spunky and adorable. The effect that she and cool, soldierly Ledo have on each other should be a highlight going forward.
Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Attack on Titan
Review: Given how often they ate folks in Grimm's fairy tales, you have to assume that people were scared of giants at one time. These days, though, they tend to be more goofy than scary. (That is, when you see them at all; they haven't seen a resurgence the way vampires and witches and such have.) So you have to give Attack on Titan its due for making giants freaky again. Titan’s titans are truly, sickeningly nasty. Bringing back the terror of the fee-fi-fo-fum set, however, does not a good show make.
The far future. Humans live in isolated enclosures, surrounded by enormous fifty-meter walls. Outside the walls roam the Titans, enormous humanoids who kill and eat any little people they find. Within the enclosures the remainder of humanity grows lazy, lured into complacency by a century of uninterrupted security. Young Eren is not complacent. Fiery and driven, he plans to join the forces who roam outside the walls, trying to take the open spaces back. His family, including physically gifted adoptive sister Mikasa, are violently opposed. But those oppositions come to naught when their wall is breached and the Titans come in, giving Eren a very personal reason to hate them.
It's hard to say what kind of show Titan would be without the operatic over-direction of Tetsuro Araki, but with him in charge, it's a clenched fist of a series: always tensed up to strike and prone to bludgeoning us when it does. Everyone walks around with their emotions stuck on “high:” screaming their anger, weeping their anguish, shouting out their contempt. Araki can't resist the extra spurt of slo-mo blood, the gratuitous shot of weeping grannies trying to pry a boulder off of mangled remains. The episode's final tragedy goes on seemingly forever, leaving nothing to the imagination. There's no subtlety , no skill, no art to Araki's horror show. It's brute force filmmaking, shoved in our faces. He clearly intends it to be powerful and unsettling, but it's just crude and unpleasant.
Rating: 2 ½
Review: Sailors of old thought of mermaids as mysterious sea beauties or supernatural temptresses. In tales they're harbingers of disaster, supernatural lovers, figures of tragedy. In Muromi-san they're really annoying sea-girls. More specifically, a really annoying sea-girl named Muromi, whom boy fisherman Takuro accidentally hooks one day. Muromi's no one's idea of an ideal mermaid. She's got a raggedy tail, messy hair, and a serious case of ADD. She eats all of poor Takuro's bait, abuses the local wildlife, and just generally makes a nuisance of herself when Takuro comes to the jetty to fish.
And that's basically the episode in a nutshell: Muromi and Takuro, on the jetty doing a human/mermaid tsukkomi-boke routine. Muromi does or reveals something nutty or weird, Takuro reacts; swap in new mermaid quirks and new retorts, and repeat at maximum speed. We learn that mermaids—or at least Muromi—like the same things fish do, specifically worms; that she has a Pavlovian reaction to lures, is below both seagulls and cats on the food chain, and gets an ecstatic high from jellyfish stings. She can talk to starfish, and apparently fertilizes her eggs externally.
All of which is vaguely amusing, but never really rises to the comic heights necessary to justify the show's hyperactive assault on the senses. It's a big, colorful, painfully energetic annoyance of a show, starring a mermaid who shares more or less the same flaws. Sure it's kind of cute, and yeah it has its moments (the mermaid revisionism is fun, as is some of the physical humor), but it keeps hammering and hammering until all you really want is for the clamor to stop. At twelve minutes, it's tolerable enough, but you wouldn't want to line up more than an episode or two at a time.
Muromi-san is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Zettai Bōei Leviathan
Rating: 2 ½
Review: How to know if Zettai Bōei Leviathan is your show: 1. You like cute girls. 2. You like cute friendships. 3. You like cute adventures. 4. You dislike intensity, danger, and any strong emotions that could possibly cause stress. If that's you, then chances are you'll find this pastel puff of fantasy nothingness quite pleasant. If it isn't you, then it'll punch a twenty-minute hole in your day that perhaps won't hurt you but certainly won't benefit you either. The story, what there is of it, centers on three girls. Four if you count the fairy. We'll get to her later. The three are Leviathan, Yormugandr, and Bahamut. All have magical powers and live in a magical world where a recent meteor strike has introduced threatening new life forms. Enter Syrup, the fairy. She's looking for people to join her in defending against those life-forms. And she thinks she's found her girls in Leviathan and the rest.
Which actually makes the show sound a lot more exciting than it is. The stuff about mysterious organisms and worldwide crises takes a firm back seat to the girls going about their everyday business, narrowly missing one another before making each other's acquaintance during the world's cutesiest, most harmless bar brawl. It's all very mild and light, with a deliberate effort made to take the sting out of anything that might darken its tone. The thugs who chase Syrup through town and eventually start the bar brawl are good-hearted lummoxes, angry only because Syrup made light of their chances with the opposite sex. When one of the meteor-organisms shows, it's basically just a big annoying bug that gets swatted. The show's idea of gravitas is to have Leviathan pine cutely for her missing brother or Bahamut get cutely miffed when the lummoxes dismiss her as no threat. The show's sweetness, helped by a rather deadpan sense of humor, isn't heavy-handed, so the series isn't syrupy; just sweetly dull.
Zettai Bōei Leviathan is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2 ½
Review: Adapted from a photography-themed dating sim, this essentially harmless harem romance hasn't the potential for total awfulness that this season's Date a Live has, but it doesn't the potential for good either (which, to be fair to it, Date a Live does have). In fact, Photo Kano hasn't any potential at all. It's basically guaranteed to be a reasonably agreeable, lightly fan-servicey waste of space. Teenaged Joe Schmoe Kazuya is a good guy, but kind of directionless. He's tried various hobbies over the years, but nothing's stuck. Over the summer his father gave him a used camera and Kazuya is thinking of taking up photography next. He takes the camera to school and snaps pictures of a few girls, which unfortunately brings him to the attention of the Photography Club. Led by shameless perv Kudou, the Photography Club is a team of photography specialists devoted to “borderline eroticism.” And they want Kazuya, if only for his connections to pretty girls.
If you happen to be into shows about guys befriending a barnful of romantic interests, then you could probably do worse than this. It's a pretty innocuous example of the genre, favoring strong, active girls and mild fan-service. Maybe the idea of having a voyeur as the main character is kind of creepy, but the show goes out of its way to make Kazuya's activities seem innocent. The fan service is variable, but it has its moments, focusing on the kind of incidental titillation that we guys get in real life (a glimpse of undergarments here, a flash of bare skin there). What kills the show is its future. There's just no path forward where I see this yielding anything remotely interesting. Kazuya is dull, his quest for a hobby is limp motivation, and there's not a spark of drama to be seen in any direction. All we have to look forward to is more of Kazuya getting to know girls and taking their pictures. Watching this episode may be painless enough, but having to watch another twelve like it would be contrary to the Geneva Convention.
The Devil is a Part-Timer
Rating: 3 ½
Review: The title tells you everything you really need to know: Satan, working at McDonalds. Sure it's a one-joke premise, but it's one damned good joke. The show is an ingenious fish-out-of-water comedy, milking its main gag for a dozen different, unpredictable kinds of laughs. We begin in an alternate dimension, where we witness Demon King Satan's last stand against the Hero, the human warrior who single-handedly thwarted his plan for world domination. Just before the Hero strikes the killing blow, Satan and his trusted general Alciel open a portal and leap to another world. Earth. Where Satan and Alciel find themselves cut off from their magic, unable to speak the language or understand the culture. Being a resourceful devil, Satan quickly grasps the situation and secures new identities and lodgings for them, but what to do about money? Well, there is this restaurant down the street…
Oh, the fun the show has with Satan's predicament. From the demonic interlopers’ first human contact, where the police stand bemusedly by as Alciel fails to cast a spell on them, the episode is one unexpected giggle after another. It practically gallops by, cutting away the expected job-hunting fat and breezing past the comic otherworlder confusion to plunge right into the heart of the joke: Satan living like a college dropout. The laughs come fast, but often from directions you don't expect. The humor of Satan's part-time job isn't that it's below him; it's that he's ridiculously good at it, and a ridiculously good sport about it. There are silly asides (Satan referring to his one-room pad as his “Devil's Castle”), some out-and-out weirdness (Satan and Alciel's landlady), and more than a couple truly inspired sight gags (you never realize how silly anime spell-casting is until someone goes through the motions and nothing happens). Eventually, of course, the show's one joke will wear thin, but if the verve and invention on display here are any indicator, it'll have no trouble finding new ways to entertain. Heck, it's already started, bringing the Hero to Earth as a faux love-interest.
The Devil is a Part-Timer is available streaming at Funimation.com
My youth romantic comedy is wrong as I expected.
Review: Nothing wrong with this romantic comedy. Like its warped characters, My Youth is a show whose sweet heart is dipped in acid; a romantic comedy that tempers its core belief in romance with a surprisingly clear-eyed view of the ways that people can get twisted up inside because of it. One of the twisted is Hachiman Hikigaya. Hikigaya is a bitter cynic with eyes as dead as his rotten soul. Love, friendship, joy—be believes in none of it. When he writes as much in an essay about “youth,” his teacher decides he needs his personality straightened out. So she forces him to join the Public Service Club. The only other member is beautiful and cruelly honest Yukino Yukinoshita, whom Hikigaya almost immediately gets to hate him. They spend most of their time verbally shredding each other, but when someone does come to them for help—ordinary girly-girl Yui Yuigahama—by some miracle they actually do their job.
My Youth’s great strength is its cast. Like any romantic comedy, the show is escapist entertainment at heart but, unlike some, at the center of each of its characters is a bitter little kernel of truth. Hikigaya is the embodiment of defensive cynicism, a boy who has killed his heart to avoid hurt. Yukino uses honesty in much the same way, keeping others at a cool distance with her cutting insight. Yui has no bitter kernel at her core, but her sunniness is unforced, and throws perhaps unflattering light on the damage that Hikigaya and Yukino's defenses are doing. Their three-way dynamic is interesting, and potentially very complicated given the hints of romance Yui sends one way and the hints of friendship she sends the other. And lest we forget the comedy side of the equation, it bears mentioning that there is no more fruitful source of hard laughs than a bitter kernel of truth. The fun the show has with the events that contributed to Hikigaya's current state is downright unseemly. The plot will need strong purpose (no slice-of-life meandering please) but there's real potential here.
Review: Where would humanity be without teenagers? No Twilight Saga, no emo rock… Plus we would have long ago succumbed to alien invaders. Apparently adults just aren't qualified to thwart alien menaces. The year is 2110. Mankind has made it to space, where they are set upon by a brutal and technologically advanced alien race known as the Wulgaru. As the human forces fall before the advancing Wulgaru army, they decide to abandon their base at Undina. The problem: they need three hours to get out, and the Wulgaru will be knocking on their door in two and a half. The brass call in Simon, the masked leader of the secret service, who naturally assigns the crucial mission to Team Rabbits, a group of student pilots known colloquially as The Failed Five. Simon hands them five beautiful, state-of-the-art robots, assigns their goofiest member—artist and wannabe hero Izuru—as leader, and sends them into the heart of the enemy. That's strategy for you.
Majestic Prince hits all the right notes for a big, dumb mecha-fest. The action flies fast and thick, blowing up large sections of space every five minutes or so. The nicely varied robots are a little boy's dream, and the other technology—including a wondrously, preposterously elaborate command ship—sufficiently spectacular. The whole thing is about as slick and effective as you could ask, right down to the alternately big and beautiful score. The problem is that it doesn't have any distinguishing characteristics. The squabbling teen pilots, the stern lady commander, the mysterious masked leader, the incompetent military muckety-mucks, the faceless enemy hordes ready to be mowed down like glowing green space cattle… there's nothing here that can't be found in countless other mecha clones. Its one glimmer of inspiration is its goofy central quintet, who resemble nothing so much as a rom-com ensemble let loose in a serious mecha actioner. The result can be pretty amusing, helped by some surprising comic support from character designer Hisashi Hirai. It may be a B-list diversion, but divert it does—which is more than can be said for some.
Majestic Prince is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Date a Live
Review: The quest to find new approaches to harem comedy continues. This time: building a harem to save humanity. In the future something called a spacequake devastates Asia, killing millions. Flash forward thirty years. Small spacequakes still plague the world and Shido Itsuka, ordinary high-schooler, is living his ordinary high school life. Until, that is, he goes out during a spacequake and sees the truth: a girl, materializing in the middle of the quake. As his little sister Kotori explains, the girl is a Spirit, a powerful being whose arrival on Earth caused the spacequake. Kotori, as fate would have it, is secretly in charge of the special forces sent to deal with the Spirits. And by deal, she means kill. Shido's a good guy, so killing makes him uncomfortable. Luckily, Kotori tells him, there's a gentler way to deal with Spirits: get them to fall in love with him.
It's hard to tell whether Date a Live is clever or awful. Depending on how you view it and how the show treats it, its premise could break either way. It could be a humorous manipulation of harem tropes, or just another excuse to cover an ordinary Joe in adoring girls. The show doesn't take itself too seriously, which is a good sign. On the other hand, its humor is rarely very funny (the “training video” at the end being an exception). Shido doesn't take himself too seriously either, which is nice. Other than that, though, he's dreadfully generic. There's nothing particularly vile or exploitative in the episode, but then again it kicks off with a loathsomely cutesy “little sister wakes big brother up” scene. Which it later undercuts by transforming Kotori into a military dominatrix. You see how this could get tiring. All told the evidence of this episode probably tips towards “awful,” but the cleverish premise and a few pretty decent moments (Shido worrying about Kotori during a spacequake; the training video bit) keep the spark of hope alive. If you're a harem kind of guy, give it another episode or two. If not… what are you doing here?
Devil Survivor 2 The Animation
Rating: 2 ½
Review: Adapted from the Nintendo DS RPG of the same name, this apocalyptic action series may not be soul-sucking bad—the way some of its game-to-anime peers are—but it isn't very interesting either. What it is, is a messy, periodically cheesy, and ultimately forgettable tribute to what one assumes was a far superior gaming experience. The setup is the same as the game: Three friends sign up for a service called Nicaea that tells you when someone you know is about to die. The service warns them that they'll be snuffed in a catastrophic subway accident, which happens in due course. They are saved by Nicaea and given the power to summon demons, which comes in handy when they discover that the city above has become a demon-infested ruin.
There are a lot of reasons why Devil Survivor ends up so flat. There's the pace, which rushes us through the show's introduction and opening catastrophe too fast for anything to affect us. We don't get attached to the characters, don't particularly care about the ill-explained tragedy that befalls the city, and never get properly invested in the demon battles. There're also the cheesy clichés, which dictate that there be a girl to rescue, at least one spiffily-costumed secret society, and plenty of knowledgeable onlookers to speak wonderingly of the legendary demon whom main character Hibiki summons. And then there're the characters. Hibiki has no personality at all. His best bud Daichi is cheerful and well meaning, but nothing else. And about the most you can say of Io, their girl friend, is that she's female and kind of cute.
The show does look pretty decent: bright and cleanly attractive before bad stuff happens; dark and appropriately menacing afterwards. The action is fine, the character designs not unpleasant, and the monsters reasonably threatening—once their lethal capabilities betray their silly appearance (the main one this episode is a murderous balloon/top). Man cannot live on eye-candy alone though (not unless it's really fantastic eye candy) and Devil Survivor offers little else, so move on to something more nourishing.
Devil Survivor 2 The Animation is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
The Severing Crime Edge
Rating: 3 ½
Review: Hair fetishism? Serial killers? Cursed murder weapons? Sounds like a romantic comedy! Kiri loves hair. Specifically he loves cutting hair. A lot. Way too much in fact. It's an obsession that drives him nuts and drives others far, far away. After hearing about a long-haired ghost, he accidentally finds himself in the ghost's rumored neighborhood and decides to visit. He finds, not a ghost, but Iwai Mushinokoji; a sweet, isolated girl who has been cursed with hair that cannot be cut. Kiri is instantly smitten. Unfortunately, like Rapunzel of old, she's guarded closely. In her case by two girls who she insists are the descendants of murderers, armed with their ancestors’ murder weapons. But being smitten, Kiri cannot stay away. Iwai's long locks call to him, and to his scissors—eerie family heirlooms whose history, he learns, may tie him closer to Iwai, and her keepers, than he imagines.
Okay, this is a weird one. By all rights the show's mix of romance and creepy sexual fetishism, with its undercurrent of serial-killer violence, should be deeply unpleasant. And yet somehow Crime Edge manages to be sweet and funny as well as perverse and discomfiting. You can probably put that down to Kiri and Iwai, whose bonding over hair issues pulls off the tricky feat of being both impossibly cute and totally creepy, simultaneously chaste and profoundly perverted. It can also be strangely, darkly funny; especially when Kiri's fetish bumps up against his feelings for Iwai. Add in a (possible) organization of serial killer descendants, the psychological and physical abuse heaped on Iwai by her handlers, and a disturbing streak of violence, and you get a show that, like its spit-fetish cousin Mysterious Girlfriend X, has the potential to sharply divide its viewers. The scene where Kiri and Iwai lose themselves as he runs his fingers through her hair is probably where the fans and the non-fans will part ways. This time, I count myself on the fan side. A very odd addition to the romance genre, but a promising one.
Red Data Girl
Review: From the opening sequence, you'd think RDG was adapted from a reverse-harem dating sim. The sensitive girl, the Shinto trappings, the parade of mysterious pretty-boys floating by… it could be the opening sequence from a previously undiscovered season of Hiiro no Kakera. But RDG is interested in a less pubescent kind of fantasy; the kind that can tap into the wonder and terror of magic, without sacrificing its grip on reality or character. What's that they say about books and their covers?
Though frankly, you shouldn't judge it by its story either. Or at least by a brief description of it, which would sound something like this: A shy, naïve girl named Izumiko Suzuhara lives at shrine deep in the forest, surrounded by servants who wait on and protect her. In her last year of middle school one of her more suspect companions assigns his hostile teenage son to protect her. On a trip to Tokyo the two learn that she's some sort of chosen vessel for the higher powers and grow closer in the meantime. Which doesn't sit well with Wamiya, a boy in Izumiko's class who seems attached to her.
It all sounds pretty wish-fulfillment-y, and at its core it is. It's a show about a normal, introverted girl who discovers she's special and magical and subsequently starts attracting the attention of some handsome boys. But it's also an intriguing modern fantasy: restrained and believably dark, attentive to character and careful when cultivating its air of danger and mystery. Its characters seem pretty simple at first blush, but consistently reveal interesting new facets—some reassuring, some disquieting, some downright scary. It takes the show some time to really show its quality, but it's worth the wait. Izumiko and Miyuki (her teen protector) develop in exactly the right directions, and director Toshiya Shinohara interweaves their evolution with subtly mounting menace and the frightening, sometimes wondrous beauty of the show's nature-based magic to create a highly satisfying (and generally gorgeous) third-episode climax that leaves the series on the cusp of a promising new chapter.
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