The Spring 2013 Anime Preview Guide
Theron Martin

Apr 3rd 2013
Theron works as an in-school and after-school tutor to pay his bills, but his real job is as one of the staff reviewers for ANN, a role he has held down since early 2005. When not indulging in anime (his most recent non-review marathon was Solty Rei), he enjoys role-play, board, and card games and marveling over the hypocrisy inherent in American politics. He expects to attend Acen this May so he can catch the Kalafina concert.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review: Although a brief explanation of the setting is given early on, the first episode of this sequel series assumes complete familiarity with the first season (knowing how the first season's last arc turns out is essential to knowing why one character is in the hospital and undergoing rehabilitation, for instance), so this is not recommended for any viewer not fully caught up. For those who are, though, this is classic Railgun content and so should be a delight to anyone who is already a fan of the franchise.

Although Mikoto “Railgun” Misaka  is unquestionably the star and gets plenty of opportunities to show off her powers here, the strength of the series has always been as much on the engaging mix of girls that surround her and their more mundane activities, and that is true here as well. After an incident where Saten is getting pestered by a group of guys is resolved, the whole gang assembles for a trip to the hospital to visit Harue's friend Banri, who is still rehabilitating. While Mikoto frets over how to best surprise Banri with something, an incident involving an escape attempt by a hospitalized extremist arises and Harue gets taken hostage. Naturally Mikoto and Misaka come to the rescue and then deal with the perpetrators in a spectacular mid-air pursuit scene. All is not peaceable, however, for Mikoto also has an unpleasant encounter with Tokidawa Middle School's other Level 5 (but lower-ranked) esper, the mind-controlling beauty Misaki Shokuhou, and the bad blood between the two of them is quite evident.

The highlight is, of course, the scenes dealing with the extremist, which only reinforce that Kuroko is a powerful and highly effective complement to Mikoto when not playing up her “pervy lesbian” side. The troublesome rival also looks promising, as do clips in the ending credits which strongly suggest that Accelerator and Mikoto's “sisters” will pop up this time around, too. Touma makes a cameo appearance at the end, as he periodically did in the first season, but the closer suggests that he will have a bigger part this time around. Definitely nothing wrong with that, nor with the good-but-not-spectacular artistry and animation. If there's anything to complain about here, it's that the “girl harassed by overzealous guys” and “friend taken hostage” scenes are a bit on the stale side, but otherwise this episode is loads of fun.

A Certain Scientific Railgun S is currently streaming at Funimation.


Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet episode 2

Rating:
4.5 (of 5)

Review:
The first episode of Gargantia suggested influences from numerous other anime and non-anime sci fi franchises. The second episode adds a new one: this is Waterworld, only much, much prettier to look at and, with mecha added in, and with a bishonen male lead instead of Kevin Costner.

The comparison is apt because Ledo quickly discovers what neither he, his mecha Chamber, nor the viewer could tell in the first episode: that he's actually on a veritable floating community formed from several interlinked ships on an Earth so completely flooded for so long that teenage Amy regards “dry land” as a myth. The tense stand-off that ended the last episode is continuing, although Ledo can somewhat communicate with the Earthers now thanks to Chamber's translations. Both sides are wary of each other as they seek to protect their own interest, but eventually the fleet (named Gargantia, hence the series’ name) send volunteer Amy to make direct contact with Ledo. As they explain their respective situations to each other, Ledo eventually comes to the conclusion that he's going to have to stay with these people for quite a while and so will need to come to an accord with them. He sees his chance to make a favorable impression when pirates (apparently affiliated with a rival fleet?) waylay one of Gargantia's salvage ships, so he flies off in Chamber to deal with the threat – with jaw-droppingly efficient results.

As a series Gargantia is not moving quickly, but that's perfectly fine. Moreso than the first episode, this one takes its time setting up and developing the situation in an intelligent, reasonable fashion, with both sides getting ample opportunity to contemplate and formulate their positions and act accordingly. Few anime series have that kind of patience, but it pays off with wholly credible setting and character development (or as much so a series with mecha like Chamber can be credible) and Ledo's utter annihilation of the pirates at the end serves as both a nice reward for the patience and an eye-opening reminder of the vast disparity in technological levels between the two sides. Nearly all of the details are neatly-handled, from the way the series manages the language disparity to the glider and kite use to especially the interesting way that the fleet relies on fields of electricity-generating “lightbugs” (plankton or algae, perhaps?) for power. It is beautiful to look at, too, with a wealth of fine visual detail, many pretty scenes, and exquisite, well-integrated CG animation, and is complemented by just the right musical touch.

Sure, the series may give the feeling of being derivative of a host of other titles, but so far it is putting its content together so well that it doesn't matter. This is shaping up to be the season's standard-setting series.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

HENNEKOThe "Hentai" Prince and the Stony Cat.

Rating:
3 (of 5)

Review:
Male characters being overestimated for their pervy intent are a dime a dozen in anime, so this offering posits the reverse case: what if a male character was consistently underestimated for his pervy interests? That's the case with Yoto Yokodera, a high school boy who has typical salacious interests but always hides them behind a façade and hates himself for it. (Actually the bigger issue seems to be that he has trouble expressing anything that he really feels, but this is the angle emphasized here.) Upon learning that his best friend rid himself of an addiction to ero content by making an offering of something he doesn't want anymore to a stone cat beneath a hillside tree, Yoto decides to try that method, too. That night he encounters a girl later revealed to be Tsukiko at the tree, who also wants to get rid of something: her childish expressiveness. Both end up getting their wish, only the effect is much stronger than either of them expected: Yoto now talks without any filter whatsoever, which quickly earns him the nickname of “Hentai Prince” when he makes some very public and very perverse remarks to school princess Azusa Azuki and his stern, busty track team senior, and he discovers that Tsukiko is now unable to express any emotions on her face. The problem with returning to normal is that the traits they gave away have been transferred to someone else, and Yoto's façade seems to have gone to Azusa.

HENNEKO
has all sorts of potential problems. The concept is a stretch, the artistry doesn't quite find the balance between sexy and cute that it seems to be aiming for (it comes out much heavier on the cute side), and the flamboyant declarations that Yoto makes after having his façade removed, despite being amusingly outrageous by anime standards, are still too tame to be credible; I hear how teenage boys with no sense of propriety talk to/about girls every day at work, and they are vastly cruder than this. Thus the writers probably drew a line here about how far they would go, as they want to maintain Yoto as a fundamentally decent guy (as that's what's required of harem series leads) while still having him say comparatively off-the-wall stuff. Those expecting a strong fan service element given the title will also likely be disappointed, as what little visual fan service the series has is rather tame.

For all that, though, the first episode was funny and somewhat charming, moreso than it probably has any right to be. The characters are likable enough, the humor succeeds more often than not, and the core of the situations that Yoto, Tsukiko, and apparently Azusa (and what's up with this “same syllable leading given and family name” trend this season?) find themselves in, as much as they're played for fun, are actually no laughing matter. The technical merits are ordinary, but this one might succeed if it can find the right fine line between perversity and sincerity.

HENNEKOThe "Hentai" Prince and the Stony Cat. is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Valvrave the Liberator

Rating: 4 (of 5) for mecha fans, 3 for general audiences

Review:
In “True Calendar Year 71” (i.e., a distant future), much of humanity has migrated to Dyson spheres and thus technically lives in space. Non-confrontational Haruto lives a peaceful life in the neutral country of Jior, where he struggles to confess his feelings to pretty, more assertive longtime friend Shoko. Another country has a far less peaceful demeanor, however, and sends fake students to infiltrate Haruto's school while other forces attack from the outside. The infiltrators’ goal is to get a special mecha unit called Valvrave that's being developed in a secret base under the school, but their plan fails for two reasons: one of the infiltrators, disgusted at witnessing Haruto's wishy-washiness, gives him what ultimately ends up being a pep talk, and the infiltrators miss immediately killing a technician who is able to launch Valvrave to the surface before they can claim it. An apparent tragedy on the surface convinces Haruto to climb into Valvrave and fight, with spectacular results – but that's nothing compared to the massive double-twist during the episode's rattling epilogue.

Boy, if a series is going for shock value to jump-start itself for the season then nothing this time around is in the same league as this one, as each of those final two twists are stunning – especially the second one, even though viewers will expect that something has to be coming. This is also not tame content, either, as it gets quite graphic in places, the apparent tragedy (it's one of those ambiguous things that comic books are notorious for finding a way out of) is a gut-punch, and it finds ways to slip in some fan service: at least two adult female characters are shown to have quite substantial bosoms and emphasized bounciness, for instance. A very large cast is thrown out in the first episode, so much so that determining who will ultimately be important long-term beyond Haruto, the pale-haired guy with the attitude, and the computer girl is difficult, but the integration of heavy social media emphasis seems like it will be a novel complement and some sort of quasi-spiritual thing is implied to be going on with Valvrave. Time will tell on that.

The series comes from Sunrise, so naturally the artistry and technical merits are good, and the CG is slick, to the point that Valvrave borders on looking too overdeveloped, too fake. The writing, setting, and characters introduced so far are nothing special, however, with shades of Gundam Seed and other series in the basic premise. The dazzling action scenes will doubtless keep mecha fans enthralled, but anyone not enamored with the flash will find the series ordinary enough that only the final plot twists distinguish it.

Valvrave the Liberator is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Karneval

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
An apparently sheltered albino boy named Nai only seeks to find his absent friend Karoku, but all he has to remember Karoku by is a special bracelet. His search leads him into the clutches of  monster disguised as a noble lady, from whom he is rescued by the dashing thief Gareki, who has arrived on the scene with other intentions. Their escape from the lady's mansion and town lands them on a train, which (unfortunately for them) has already been hijacked workers discontent with having lost their jobs to an elderly businessman on the train. Nai and Gareki almost simultaneously discover the hijackers and encounter a super-powered man and girl who claim to be from a National Defense Agency, which is nicknamed Circus. Despire being outclassed by the Circus agents’ combat prowess, Nai and Gareki nonetheless prove instrumental in saving the businessman, his granddaughter, and everyone else from bombs set on the train. But that and the special bracelet that Nai wears attract a lot of attention.

Super-powered members of a secret government agency battling monsters and protecting the peace? Mysterious characters with mysterious affiliations? Hardly anything makes any degree of sense yet? That's just part for the course with fare like this. What isn't are the production values. This is a nice-looking and nicely-animated effort courtesy of Manglobe, one filled with pretty character designs that seem aimed more at female viewers but throw a significant bone to male viewers, too, and that more than makes up for the somewhat dorky outfit sported by the guy in the screenshot. The pacing is handled pretty well, too, and mysteries established over the course of the episode pose all manner of vaguely interesting questions.

Unfortunately this one has come out in a season already pretty strong in flashy action and visually impressive production values, so it will have to do a bit more than it has so far to stand out. Still, it has at least some potential.

Karneval is currently streaming on Funimation
.com.


Hayate the Combat Butler! Cuties

Rating:
2 (of 5)

Review: Hayate the Combat Butler has been one of the most durable otaku-oriented anime comedy franchises of recent years, with 90 episodes and a movie released in a five year period. This newest installment marks the fourth TV series entry, and after watching the first episode long-time fans may have to wonder if the franchise isn't finally losing its steam. The technical merits that were so much sharper in last fall's Can't Take My Eyes Off You have reverted to a more ordinary level typical of the franchise's earlier installments, it seems to have reverted to a more gag-driven than plot-driven show, and the raucous humor hasn't returned; only one late sequence of events involving Hayate trying to get to a test on time and a couple of earlier moments generate any significant humor value. Is there much more that this franchise can do?

Much of the early part of the episode is about Hayate going through his seemingly endless daily routine while serving as butler for most of the regular girls at an old-seeming apartment building. Tests are coming up for everyone at school, but the day before the test everyone but Hayate comes down with a nasty cold. Many of them are concerned that Hayate taking care of them will result in him getting the same cold on the actual test day, and that does, indeed, happen. Being the heroic butler that he is, though, he must endure through it and solve other calamities while trying to get to a test on time the he cannot afford to miss or fail.

The fan service level tweaks upward on this one a bit, but otherwise this is pretty ordinary fare. And that may not be good enough anymore.

Hayate the Combat Butler! Cuties is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Arata: The Legend
Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:  
This is a tale of two worlds, of two young men who share a common name and thus find their destinies intertwined. In our world, Arata is a high school student who's fleet of foot but also has endured bullying, including one former teammate who seems to have it out for him. He thus seeks to disappear. In the fantasy world, Arata is a young man of the Hime clan who is forced into a difficult situation: he must pretend to be a girl so he can be the successor to Princess Kikuri, who has reigned for 60 years in a role that should have been hers only for 30 because there was no ordained replacement from the Hime clan 30 years ago - and if there isn't one now, the clan gets wiped out. When Arata tries to pull off the deception with helper Kotoha, though, it fails for an utterly unexpected reason: the Twelve Shinso that are supposed to protect the princess choose this opportunity to rebel, strike down the princess, and accuse that Arata of the murder. (It seems that they possess Hayagami – spirits of gods, apparently – that the princess is supposed to keep in check but can apparently no longer do so.) After that Arata runs into a forbidding forest, the transdimensional switcheroo happens. Now the real-world Arata is stuck in the fantasy world-Arata's place (he even looks and sounds like their Arata to them) and thus in a great mess, for one of the Shinsho has come to kill him. Fortunately Arata seems to be a Chosen One with regard to Hayagami and thus is able to manifest one of his own to defend himself.

Role-reversal switcheroos are a much less common version of the standard “nobody in the normal world becomes somebody in the fantasy world” gimmick, which makes this one feel fresher than it probably should. This first episode pulls it off, though, because its set-up here has an unusually involved series of twists and complications, which gives the first episode more juicy meat to work with than it has time to execute; we don't get to see at all how the fantasy-Arata is adjusting to the modern world, for instance. That is absolutely not a Bad Thing, though, as it provides a lot of potential for interesting developments to come. And that does not even include the suggestion by the closer that another character will eventually go world-hopping and some implications of potential homoerotic leanings. (Fear not, fans of straight relationships, as there's also a cute girl who seems especially sweet on the fantasy-Arata!)

The technical merits in this Satelight/JM Animation co-production also deem this one worthy of attention, as it looks quite good in both worlds, but especially the fantasy one. Eye-pleasing character designs – whether bishonen, bishoujo, or biOld Grandma – abound, and the fantasy setting has many an attractive background, too. Even with that, this one could tank if the writers aren't careful about keeping the mix of character and plot developments fresh enough to offset the more common tropes present, but so far it's off to a good start.

Arata: The Legend is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

Spring 2013 Shorts

AIURA – Rating:
3 (of 5)

Ketsuekigata-kun! – Rating:
1.5 (of 5)

Sparrow's Hotel – Rating:
2.5 (of 5)

Review:
This season brings us three series of 2-4 minute shorts that are not sequels. The longest, AIURA, seems to be a light but not overtly comedic story about a girl who is getting ready to begin high school. The only problem is that she is still easily-mistaken for an elementary schooler, and not without reason, as she wonders whether or not her high school uniform is too big for her. The second, Ketsuekigata-kun!, is a roughly two minute episode predicated on the Japanese notion that certain blood types embody certain personality characteristics, much like astrological signs do. The series consist of four bipedal creatures whose heads are balls bearing the letter of their blood type and stumbling through brief comedy skits where they show off their associated personality types. The third, Sparrow's Hotel, is three minutes long and skews towards the oldest crowd, as it features a female hotel worker at the Sparrow's Hotel who is quite busty and something of a ditz but nobody to mess around with if things get physical; she is strongly implied to be very strong and have some kind of ninja training, and she can crush an apple into juice with one hand and little apparent effort. In a series of short skits, she gets into all manner of situations involving ordinary hotel business that she conducts in ways that could easily be misinterpreted as sexy come-ons.

All of these are examples of low-budget efforts, so neither the artistry nor the animation on any of them is anything worth speaking of. AIURA seems to be telling a character-driven story, and focuses on an appealing enough lead that it could have done well with a few more minutes to develop. It also suffers from too much of its run time being wrapped up in the opening and closing themes. Ketsuekigata-kun! is terribly stupid and probably really only of any entertainment value to Japanese or others raised in cultures that use the “blood type affects personality” belief. Sparrow's Hotel is the silliest and most rapid-fire segment, with several chuckle-worthy moments and some light fan service. Enjoyment of that one will probably largely depend on whether the viewer finds the central character amusing or irritating, though it does have some viable-seeming supporting cast members, too.

AIURA
and Sparrow's Hotel are currently streaming on Crunchyroll.



Yuyushiki

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Over the past few years anime seasons have seemed to have a quota of “cute girls being cute while talking inanely about nothing” series that they must meet to keep up with otaku demands. This series based (shockingly!) on a 4-koma manga is merely this season's requisite installment in that subgenre of anime comedies. The name for the series comes in part from the fact that all three of the features girls have names that start with the “yu” syllable: Yui is the tall, even-headed, yellow-haired one; Yuzuko is short, energetic, pink-haired idiot; and Yukari is the airheaded, blue-haired rich girl. They are apparently long-established friends who find themselves all in the same class as they start high school. Their conversations span the gamut of utter randomness as they attend class, wander around the school, and interact with an English teacher that they call Mama, who is a bit of a ditz herself. Eventually the end up in the room of the Data Processing Club, which has gone defunct since it has zero members. They have so much fun goofing around and looking up stuff on the computers that one suspects that they may become the core of that club's new membership.

Like with most of these series, the content of Yuyushiki occasionally hits a genuinely funny note but is, overall, very hit-or-miss in its comedic effectiveness. A lot of it is quite stupid, but there's also something playfully endearing about these girls – which is, of course, a necessary part of the formula that such series must follow. The girls are just enough affectionate towards each other that those who don their “yuri glasses” could probably read some faint lesbian undertones into actions that could also easily be interpreted as completely innocent; that's also part of the formula. The artistry and character designs are on the down side of ordinary, but that hardly hampers series like this. Essentially, fans of Yuruyuri and their ilk (who are clearly the target audience) should find this one to suit their tastes, while those that aren't are unlikely to find much of interest here.

Yuyushiki is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Flowers of Evil

Rating: 4 (of 5)

Review:
Although it has some traditional elements, nothing else produced recently  looks and feels like this very tonally bizarre adaptation of the original manga by Shūzō Oshimi. The name is a reference to a defining, highly innovative, and equally controversial work of poetry by 19th century French literary giant Charles Boudelaire, a Japanese translation of which is being read by lead protagonist Takao Kasuga as he muddles his way through a seemingly ordinary high school life. He has ordinary interactions with his parents, talks with his friends about typical boy stuff, and has a typical crush on pretty, top-scoring classmate Nanako Saeki. He always averts his eyes when she meets his gaze but seems to think that his sophisticated reading tastes might get her attention. His crush is strong enough that when he sees a bag of gym clothes of hers that she left behind at the end of the day, he is tempted to take it, an inclination paralleled by the emergence of an evil-looking flower. There is also a wholly disagreeable girl sitting behind him, who has such a chip on her shoulder that she's willing to take a deliberate 0 on a test and tell off the teacher in front of the classroom in shockingly strong vocabulary while glaring menacingly at him (see the screenshot), who seems likely to figure into this.

The literary reference used here is too educated for it to simply be a casual toss-off, so expecting (or at least hoping) that the content of the series will delve into themes raised by Boudelaire is quite reasonable.  Indeed, the first episode is full of such elements if one looks carefully for them. Boudelaire prominently used sound to create atmosphere, and a very ominous musical score is used here to imply that something at least a bit sinister is brewing amongst these scenes of everyday life. Boudelaire emphasized the use of urban subject matter, which explains the almost obsessive attention to detail in background art dominated by city and school settings. He also rejected the fundamental goodness of man and explored morally complex and ambiguous behavior, especially concerning vices. Given that and certain comments made amongst his friends, the emerging flower is almost certainly meant to be metaphorical for Takao's growing carnal interest despite his apparent outward wish to treat Nanako respectfully. The emphasis on showing the decay and wear of the city could even be interpreted as symbolic of declining moral values.

Is this reading too much into what the series is doing? Perhaps, and many of these elements could also be explained by more typical anime tropes, but for those familiar with Boudelaire's work the parallels are too easy to draw between it and ZEXCS’ production effort, and the tone fits too well with Boudelaire's oft-cynical attitude, for there to be no significant connection. Much more likely to be controversial is the rotoscoped animation, which can be initially jarring to watch because it emulates normal human gestures and movements much more fully and realistically than what anime normally accomplishes. One side effect is that we get a much more realistic representation of typical body forms and hair style than anime normally provides, which isn't necessarily aesthetically pleasing. Another is that characters are often rough-edged and ill-defined, which sometimes results in smiles being very disturbingly creepy. This was apparently done deliberately by director Hiroshi Nagahama, whose goal was to make an impression, whether positive or negative. That this should definitely do, as few will walk away from this without some kind of strong reaction. One of the most weirdly disjointed closers that you'll ever encounter in anime wraps up the episode.

So is this anime adaptation a work of interpretive art in progress or merely an attempt to make an ordinary story seem less ordinary via stylistic gimmicks? That remains to be seen, but at this point, both interpretations are wide open and finding out should be interesting indeed.

Flowers of Evil is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Mushibugyō

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
Early 18th century Edo is beset by monstrous, man-eating insects in this newest shonen manga-based series, so the Shogun, on requests from commoners, has established the Insect Magistrate's Office to deal with that problem. Junbei Tsukishima is the son of a samurai who was summoned to work at that office. Since his father cannot travel (due to an injury that Junbei regards as his fault), Junbei goes in his stead with the intent of proving that he is the kind of “shining star” samurai who can protect his charges from fear as well as harm. He doesn't really know what he's getting into, but he soon finds out that his foes include giant spiders, and rather puissant ones at that. When the busty, friendly Oharu, who helped him find his way in Edo on his arrival, is beset and taken by one such spider, he pursues. Though he is somewhat able to prove his mettle, he is outmatched by sheer numbers. He had already encountered the leader of the IMO, though, and its highly capable professionals come to his aid.

“A period shonen action series about samurai, bomb-throwing female ninja, and shikigami-using onmyouji battling giant bugs” is just about all you really need to know to decide if this monster-battling story is up your alley, as the approach taken and kinds of characters it uses are all almost exactly what one would expect: Junbei is the promising young hothead, the good guys run around with outlandish hairdos, and so forth. The other important detail for some – whether for better or for worse – is that the first episode does distinctly emphasize Oharu's bounciness. It is also on the graphic side as shonen tales go, as one person is shown getting eaten by a spider and desiccated corpses appear in other scenes. It does not disappoint on the action front and, has sufficiently intimidating-looking monsters, and juices up its story elements with a rock music-dominated musical score, but the character designs are typical for the period and genre, the storytelling to this point is hardly sophisticated, and the animation is only a bit better than ordinary. Still, if a monster-killing actioner with a touch of fan service is what you're looking for then this one should work well enough.

Mushibugyō is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Pretty Rhythm Rainbow Live

Rating:
2.5 (of 5)

Review:
The Pretty Rhythm franchise, which was originally based on an arcade game, has been running continuously since the Spring 2011 season in the form of two year-long series, so naturally this spring season is time for a new installment in the franchise. The Rainbow Lite series looks to be focusing on an entirely new set of girls, and the basic concept is thoroughly (older viewers might say painstakingly) explained in this first episode, so this is a good jumping-on point; one really only needs to understand that this is all a weird, cutesy blending of magical girl elements and idol performance art.

The episode begins with a mysterious girl named Rinne and her little familiar flying through some kind of Prism space seeking a world that needs the sparkle of the Prism. She falls through cracks that develop in that space, and next we are introduced to Naru Ayase, a spunky but also very short middle schooler who likes Japanes and hates Math. (Shades of a Barbi scandal, anyone?) While contemplating options for her school's work-study program she sees an advertisement for a “middle school manager,” which has requirements curiously similar to becoming a Prism Show idol performer. Like some of her predecessors in the franchise, she's not really qualified, but she has recently gained a little familiar who can turn into a Prism Stone (necessary for doing things in Prism Space, the quasi-dimensional space where the costume changes happen), and when it comes time to put on her show she is helped both by the fact that she can see the “colors” in music and by apparently becoming possessed of the spirit of Rinne. (What exactly is going on there is not clear. That's just my best guess.) Oh, and she was also one of only three girls who could see a special rainbow pattern in the sky, too, which doubtless will become important later.

One could probably justly accuse this episode of being trite and formulaic, but for a series like this that really doesn't matter. This is supposed to be a cute affair that allows girls to indulge in fantasies of magical clothes changes and spectacular ice dancing/singing performances, and to that end the material works very well. Naru has just the right likeably spunky edge, a potential rival is introduced, a weird producer guy who wears a kilt over pants (leggings?) and mostly just says “Cool!” is equal parts vaguely amusing and annoying, and cloying, sugary songs sometimes set to CG-animated dance numbers play out. The closer is more of a live-action video, with some of the names being suspiciously similar to heroines from the earlier series.

If you need a clean, lightly enjoyable dose of pure, sweet cute in your diet, this one might fit your appetite.
The Severing Crime Edge

Rating:
3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Kiri Haimura, a high school student who currently lives with his grandfather, has always been obsessed with cutting hair, to the point that it's practically a fetish for him. One cold day while out investigating a rumor about a supposed ghost with long hair, he discovers that the rumors is at least partly true: there really is a girl named Iwai living alone in a house on a hill who has hair longer than she is tall. She tells Kiri that her hair has never been cut because it is cursed so that it can't be. Telling that to Kiri is about like telling a starving man that he cannot partake of a buffet laid out before him, but Kiri quickly discovers that she was not exaggerating, and soon two creepy girls bearing items Iwai calls Killing Goods chase him off, claiming that they are keeping an eye on her on behalf of a “certain organization.” Undeterred, Kiri soon after discovers that he may be in possession of his own Killing Goods – a pair of heirloom scissors – and that it might be the solution to Kiri's problem.

Boy, anime (or in this case, its source manga) sure comes up with some strange concepts, doesn't it? As stupid as this concept sounds, it actually works in execution. Somewhat surprisingly, that happens largely because the first episode plays the concept completely straight and aims for a combination of sensuality and darkly-shaded ambiance rather than dumb jokes. Although cute, tragic Iwai is unquestionably designed to be a fan-pandering moe character, wanting to sympathize with the way her hair has effectively become a prison for her is hardly a stretch, and the dynamic between her and Kiri is convincing. The Next Episode preview suggests that things will soon get violent, as there is a secret organization and individuals who are supposedly “descendants of murderers” involved, but for the moment it is still a peaceable (if rather ominous) show.

The solid writings is a Good Thing because the artistic effort by Studio Gokumi (A-Channel, the Saki series) is only a step above mediocre, with some good scenery and shot selections making up for unimpressive character design and rendering. The fully orchestrated musical score also compensates.

Where this series may go next is a concern, but at least it gets off to a good start.

Severing Crime Edge is available streaming at Crunchyroll.

Haiyore! Nyarko-san W

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Mahiro and his bevy of cohabitating, love-crazed Cthulhu mythos deities in cute girl/boy form are back for another round of madcap adventures. After starting with a parody of the American ‘60s sitcom Bewitched (which was apparently well-known in Japan) and moving on to vainly trying to convince Mahiro that sequels should feature either a pregnant heroine or the child of the heroine from the previous series, Nyarko moves on to ordering an interdimensional room for her, Kuuko, and Hasuta from an interdimensional web site at Mahiro's request. Further antics at school and a store – and blissfully missing a warning about an illegal alien on Earth that they are supposed to investigate – leads to Mahiro's discovery at a store that he's become the subject of an intergalactic BL manga, much to his chagrin. A later visit to a cosplay café also ends in a disastrous rock-paper-scissors battle which also apparently annihilates the illegal alien, who was the manga-ka of the Mahiro manga and was seeking to get an interview and autograph. The episode ends with an ominous phone call.

Yes, this is the same kind of screwball wackiness which predominated in the first series, back for another round. Nyarko is just as uber-hyper and uber-sexually-aggressive as ever, with barely a moment spared for breath as she engages in all manner of zany wackiness. The anime and cultural references flow freely, too, with clear references to Ghost in the Shell, Men in Black, Gundam, and doubtless others that I am forgetting, and the running gag about how otaku-oriented Earth entertainment is prized across the galaxy continues. Characters also spend quite a bit of time breaking the fourth wall, and the notion that one of Mahiro's “harem” is a girlish boy and another seems to be as much after Nyarko as him continues to be amusing. The very ordinary visual quality and sometimes-limited animation of the original series also, unfortunately, continues, as does the escalation of the Nyarko-Kuuko-Hasuta squabbling to occasionally annoying levels. Notably, though, for pushy as Nyarko gets, the fan service is actually very light – and that happens despite some golden opportunities. (When was the last time you saw a girl's locker room scene in anime that did not involve girls shown at least in undergarments, for instance?)

Essentially, if you liked the first season of Nyarko-san then the first episode of the second season should not do anything to harm your enjoyment of the franchise, as (for better or worse) it's just more of the same.

Haiyore! Nyarko-san is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet

Rating:
4 (of 5)

Review:
In a far-flung future where Earth is only a place “suggested by records,” humanity has established a great space city named Avalon and seeks to spread out further, though the alien space creatures known as Hideauze stand in the way – or so the official state propaganda says, anyway. Machine Caliber (i.e., mecha) pilot Ledo has logged enough military services hours to earn the full rights of citizenship, including the rights to procreate and visit Avalon, once his current mission to bomb an enemy base is complete, but he's not sure he cares. When the mission turns sour and the Galactic Alliance of Humankind forces must retreat through a wormhole, fending off a final attacker separates Ledo from the main force and he gets randomly thrown across space. Months later he wakes up in a worn-down facility to discover an unfamiliar group of humans attempting in vain to disassemble his Machine Caliber for salvage. The language isn't the same and their tools are primitive, so during the night he creeps out to investigate and figure out where he is. Being discovered leads to him kidnapping Amy, a messenger girl, and discovering a shocking truth about where he might be.

Given that it is animated by Production I.G and scripted by Gen Urobochi, Gargantia is doubtless one of the season's most anticipated titles, and like with Attack on Titan, it lives up to the hype. The visuals and animation on it are nearly top-rate, whether it be the complex space battles at the beginning, the distinctive mecha design, the aged hangar setting in the latter half, or the vivid coloring throughout. Even the character designs are sharp, consistently on-model, and appealing, especially Amy. The plot so far is looking like a fairly typical “warrior/astronaut stranded on a strange world” sci fi tale, though given who is writing this, one has to expect that greater complications are coming. (The distress beacon casually mentioned at one point will doubtless lead to trouble, for instance.) Still, what is covered here is nicely-executed and has a wealth of attention to minor details (such as how the lack of an initial common language is handled) that is a hallmark of the best anime series.

How original Gargantia is remains to be seen, as it clearly borrows elements from Gunbustter and especially the Crest of the Stars franchise and has its roots buried deeply in classic science fiction. (Allusions can be drawn to the American Battlestar Galactica franchise, for instance.) What little has been shown of Amy so far also has parallels in other anime series. Even so, this has all the foundation laid to potentially be one of the season's top series.

Gargantia on the Verdurous Planet is currently streaming on Crunchyroll
.

Attack on Titan

Rating: 4.5 (of 5)

Review:
For apparently hundreds of years mankind has lived being a trio of concentric-ringed massive (we're talking 50m high) walls spaced scores of kilometers apart because of marauding titans in the outside world. Humans have been kept safe by these walls for a century, but young Eren is greatly concerned that the walls aren't enough. He feels like livestock living inside the walls and seeks to join the Reconnaissance Corps, which attempts to deal proactively with titans, and not his friend Mikasa nor his mother nor even seeing a badly beaten up and largely failed Reconnaissence Corps mission return home absent several members can deter him. He's about to have even strong reason, because a new super-giant titan, one several times larger than the others, has appeared who can breach the massive wall, and the subsequent invasion of his town by titans turns into a very personally ugly and traumatic affair.

Prior to this season, Attack on Titan’s source manga was the second-best-selling manga of 2012 to not yet have an anime adaptation. (The only one above it, Silver Spoon, has an adaptation due in the Summer 2013 season.) That doubtless makes it one of the most hotly-anticipated new series of the season, and the first episode goes balls-to-the-wall to live up to that hype. Director Tetsuro Araki has well-proven with past titles like Death Note, Guilty Crown, and Highschool of the Dead that he understands exactly how to craft an intense, impactful first episode, and that experience shines through here with a grisly, grimly dazzling exercise in character and premise establishment, one amped up by a spectacular opener and an ominous musical score which regularly flirts with being overblown without going over the edge. As dorky as the lesser titans might look at first, they are terrifying creatures in action, and the devastating admission that even the lauded Reconnaissance Corps can't really make even a dent in the titan's numbers despite numerous losses helps set a bleak tone somewhat comparable to Claymore; in fact, the whole first episode gives a somewhat similar vibe and visual aesthetic to Claymore.

The one big problem with the first episode is its comparatively limited animation. Save for a few key dramatic scenes, the animation depends unusually heavily on still shots and other shortcuts. The quality of its character rendering is also uneven, although background artistry always impresses, and be forewarned that this is by a fair margin the most graphic title so far this season. Aside from a few flaws, though, this is a thoroughly impressive start to what could be one of the season's hallmark series.


Oreimo 2

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
First, a general heads-up: If you have not seen the ONAs typically referred to as episodes 12-15 as well as the first TV season of Oreimo then many of the issues and scenes referred to in this episode will not make much sense. This episode is only recommended for those who are fully caught up.

For those that are, though, the adaptation of the story beyond Kirino's return to Japan (at Kyosuke's urging) is a welcome continuation of the light novel series; by all accounts the intent is to animate the rest of the novel series. Given the amount of material that needs to get covered, though, the first episode gets off to a surprisingly slow start. In the days after Kirino's return, she concentrates on reconnecting with those she left behind when she suddenly left for America months earlier. Much to Kyosuke's chagrin, that also involves a return to her former sour attitude towards him. A flashback dream shows that their falling out as siblings may trace back to a bathing incident when they were kids, but Kyosuke also has other girl issues on the brain, as Ruri (aka Kuroneko) acting like nothing had happened despite her affectionate behavior toward him a few days earlier (as detailed in the ONAs) has left him in a quandary about where they stand, and they get interrupted when it seems like Ruri is finally willing to broach the subject. For Kirino, a return to normalcy involves dragging her brother along on a shopping trip to Akihabra, which eventually results in what for her is her first sign of conciliation towards Kyosuke.

While it doesn't exactly bog the episode down, the first episode's emphasis on reintroducing and reinforcing the characters and elements established in the first season is chiefly responsible for the feeling that little actually gets accomplished. Almost every significant character from the first season and ONAs makes at least a brief appearance, as do many of the familiar situations: Kirino secretly trying to overhear otaku comments while talking to friends, her going ga-ga over games and other otaku fare, her being uncomfortably enthusiastic about playing her games in a way that Kyosuke can hear through the wall, Sena going into Ultra-Fujoshi Mode, and more savage magical girl parodies in the form of Meruru-chan 3. (Magical girls blowing up planets, you see.) Still, those who enjoyed the previous content will probably find this content's enjoyably familiar nature to balance out the lack of fresh developments. And yes, Kuroneko is still the scene-grabber even though she does not get to do much here.

Technical and musical merits are in line with the first season, so established fans should find nothing to turn them off here. All others should watch the previous content first.

Oreimo 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Muromi-san

Rating:3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Takerou likes to fish. One day while out casting line from the concrete pier that is his favorite fishing spot, he hooks something rather unusual: a green-haired mermaid who goes by the name Muromi, who speaks in a Hakata dialect and seems to love the ringworms that he uses as bait. Takeru soon discovers that Muromi is none too bright (though she can occasionally pull a fast one on him) and regards sea gulls and cats as feared mortal enemies. But the real questions are whether or not Muromi will grant Takeru a favor for saving her from the dreadful sea gulls and how long Takeru is willing to put up with her.

Half-episode-length series have been rare in recent years, especially amongst series that make it stateside, with 3-5 minute shorts more being the norm for those under a full episode in length. This manga adaptation by Tatsunoko Production clocks in at a mere 12 minutes, though, which feels about right for the slapstick nature of its content. The production values of the show are very basic – one might even call the artistry crude – but that is not what will draw viewers in and keep them coming back. No, the jokes (typically a mix of slapstick and stupid fun) densely-packed into the content serve that purpose quite nicely. This kind of fare is supposed to be madcap-funny, and so far the series fulfills that design very, very well. The energetic J-rock opener suggests that more mermaids will eventually appear, too, to keep things lively.

Muromi-san is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Zettai Bōei Leviathan

Rating:
2 (of 5)

Review:
The world of Aquafall has been struck by a meteorite, out of which vile creatures have poured. The fairy Sysop, who has an unfathomably huge appetite for her size, goes around trying to gather an Aquafall Defense team to prevent all life on the planet from being wiped out, but only the faintest hint of something dangerous being afoot has reached the peaceful town of Haruna. There Leviathan, a water mage in training,  laments about her missing brother, the fire mage trainee Bahamut stands as an “ally to girls” by dissuading ruffians who are getting a bit aggressive in their interest in a girl, and the super-strong Jörmungandr goes about delivering coal for her boss/father(?). All of them briefly get brought together by their encounters with – and combined defeat of – a strange flying critter, and then come together again later in the wake of a bar fight which involves all of them, the fairy, and the aforementioned ruffians.

This apparently original production by Gonzo is advertised as a “moe fantasy” series, and boy, does that aspect come out in the first episode. Everything is cutesy and low-key; even the bar fight, the tiff with the ruffians which sets it up, and Leviathan's concerns about her brother are played in a light-hearted fashion, and being cute and endearing seem to be overriding priorities. It also has an elaborate, magical girl-like transformation scene for Leviathan for those enamored of such things and the girls even had the standard blue-red-yellow color theme going on. The artistry and animation are nothing special, though (certainly not up to the standards of Gonzo's better efforts, anyway), and nothing of much immediate actually happens in the first episode. Ultimately, the most interesting aspect of the series so far is its odd naming convention, as the three delicate leading ladies are all ironically named after immense sea creatures from various mythologies.

The prologue and the actions of Syrop point to where this series is probably going next: the girls will form a fantasy version of a sentai team to combat the eventual onslaught of alien invaders. While that could be interesting, the first episode does not have  strong drawing power if the cute factor does not suck one in.

Zettai Bōei Leviathan is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Date A Live

Rating:
1 (of 5)

Review:
Shido Itsuki is a seemingly ordinary 16-year-old who loves to tease his 14-year-old sister Kotori. As they watch the news, they see reports of a spacequake, a disruption of space which has devastatingly destructive potential (the first such explosion 30 years ago killed 150 million people) and which has been occurring relatively frequently over the past five years after not happening for quite some time. Kotori excises a promise from Shido to meet her for lunch at a particular restaurant, no matter what – not even if a spacequake happens. So, of course, one does, Shido assumes that his sis was serious, and goes out to find her, only to get caught in the midst of a battle between a strange but extremely powerful young woman wielding a sword and another very familiar-looking girl wielding missile packs. Upon waking on a flying warship he learns that the girl he encountered was a spirit, that their entry into this word is responsible for the spacequakes, and they must either be defeated or convinced of the merits of this world – in other words, dated. And that's where Shido comes in.

Oh, and the commander turns out to be Kotori. And yes, it's that stupid.

Ever watched an anime series so bad that you feel like you die a little inside while watching it? The first episode of this light novel-based series is very nearly that bad. It wastes too much time at the beginning with boring antics between Shido and Kotori and never really gets better. Yeah, there's a fierce battle sequence, but that isn't enough to even come close to balancing out the nonsensical brainlessness of Kotori showing up as the commander. If this whole thing is supposed to play as a farce – and the “date the girl to stop a catastrophe” angle that it seems to be setting up certainly works in that direction – then the approach here would be understandable, but the first episode takes itself a little too seriously at a couple of points for that to be the case. The art, animation, and especially musical score are decent enough, but that's not enough, either.

Somewhere in here there may be an interesting and/or amusing concept to be executed, but so far this one falls utterly flat.


Samurai Brides

Rating: 1.5 (of 5)

Review:
“This is the story of the love, courage, and kisses of the Samurai Girls!”

So declares the narrator at the beginning of the episode, but what follows is a train wreck which takes a conceptually silly but decently-executed super-powered harem concept and turns it into a total joke – and that probably wasn't what was intended. All of the girls and Muneakira are back from the original Samurai Girls, but this time around Muneakira returns from a training trip to discover that his precious, holy dojo has been converted into a maid café; apparently a crash in financial markets has left the girls nearly broke, so since maid cafés are known to be popular, this seemed liked a good way to make money. Their first customers, however, prove to be real trouble: a quartet of Dark Samurai who claim to be resurrected Master Samurai and have come looking for Jubei Yagyu. The spirit of Jubei has apparently departed, however, so even the Master Samurai Girls get their clocks cleaned and Muneakira gets a seal placed on him which make it nearly impossible for him to wield his sword and will cost him his status as a Master if Jubei does not appear within one month.

All of the quirks that made the first series distinctive are back: the unusual artistic style, the use of ink blotches for censoring and scene transitions, the coruscating colored energy patterns around those in Master Samurai mode, and the naming conventions, as each of the four Dark Samurai is named after a prominent samurai or monk from the same time period as the original characters (Musashi Miyamoto, Kojiro Sasaki, Mataemon Araki, and INEI Houzin ). The fan service is certainly there, too. When the plot isn't wallowing in the ridiculous maid café business, though, it executes a very tired “the next power level up appears and smacks around the good guys” scenario. In other words, it sacrifices what little innovation that the original series had in favor of fully retread elements, and it's just not funny enough or sexy enough to make up for that.

Oh, there are a couple of laughs to be had; the included screenshot features what's probably the episode's funniest moment. And there is some fan service. Even fan service enthusiasts may drift away if Studio Arms and returning director KOBUN do not come up with something more, however.

Samurai Bride is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


The Devil is a Part-Timer!

Rating: 3.5 (of 5)

Review:
In what may be one of the silliest concepts of the season, this story follows the path of a one-great leader who falls so far from grace that he fails to appreciate the full ignominy of the situation he finds himself in. Satan is the lord of devils in an alternate fantasy realm, but he is stopped just short of conquering the world by a hero with a sacred sword. The hero eventually turns the tides completely against Satan, forcing him to flee with one of his chief subordinates through a dimensional gate, which deposits them in modern-day Tokyo. After an encounter with police and struggling to make sense of the new world, they eventually decide that magic is so limited here that they have to blend in until they can figure out how to muster enough magic to return. For Satan, that means getting a job at MgRonald's, which he takes to with great gusto while his underling Alciel researches for a means to rejuvenate their magic. The hero has also been transported to this world, however, and is closer at hand than Satan surmises.

The artistic effort on this one may not be the sharpest beyond the initial battle scenes (which can get pretty graphic), but this one succeeds plenty well enough on the strength of its off-beat fun factor. The very notion that a former king of devils would look like an ordinary young man when devoid of his magic, and that he could get so enthusiastically caught up in helping his store achieve its sales goals, is amusingly perverse, and that's not the only aspect of this premise which could tickle a viewer's afunny bone, either. If, as they say, “the devil is in the details” (which is literally true in this case), then the first episode succeeds on that front, too, as the episode does not skip a quick run-through bouts of culture shock and enculturation by Satan and Alciel, although Satan, at least, is quick to adapt. The hero's identity in the modern world is only just revealed at the end of the episode, so we do not yet know where that person stands, but finding out should be fun.

The one concern here is whether or not the show can keep up the momentum that it establishes with its first episode, as it blows through many big gimmicks early. As a comedy, though, it shows a lot of promise.

The Devil is a Part-Timer! is currently streaming at Funimation.


My youth romantic comedy is wrong as I expected.

Rating:
2.5 (of 5)

Review:
Partly because he's had some awkward experiences talking with girls, high school student Hachiman Hikigiya has sworn off the supposed fun and excitement of this thing called “youth.” Unfortunately he let his academic adviser know his view on life, so she sentenced him to participate in the Public Service Club, whose only other member is Yukino Yukinoshita, one of the school's greatest and most talented beauties but also a blunt-talking girl with her own attitude problem. Her stated goal for the club is to solve people's problems, and the first person in need of such help (other than, in her opinion, Hachiman) is Yui Yuigahama, a chipper girl who's having problems baking cookies for someone. Both Yukiino and Hachiman try to give her philosophical as well as cooking advice.

Yes, we're stuck with this unwieldy, bad-Engrish translation of its name because it is actually printed like that on a book cover that appears in the closing credits. The story is based on a light novel series sometimes mercifully abbreviated OreGairu, one which gives both the distinct narrative and visual impression that it is trying to emulate Toradora!: its sharp-chinned character designs are very reminiscent of Toradora!’s, its central duo is a pair of social misfits, the second girl who comes into the picture is a boisterous type with stand-out hair that's much shorter than the first girl's, the second girl has a much more prominent bust than the first girl, and t efirst episode takes a somewhat similar philosophical approach. It also seems to be attempting to base its strength mostly on clever dialogue, but so far it has yet to manage anything particularly entertaining on that front and the spark in the character interaction necessary for a story about disaffected youths interacting with each other simply isn't there. The meddlesome teacher shows some promise, but that is not enough, and the technical merits of this Brains Base-produced series are not strong enough to carry it.

Overall, the first episode is hardly bad, but it just fails to impress. Granted, Toradora! did not show its full strength as a potentially great series until its second episode, but it at least showed signs that it could be good in its first episode. This one has yet to do so.


Photo Kano

Rating:
3.5 (of 5)

Review:
Guys, are you looking for a chance to interact with all manner of pretty girls? According to Photo Kano, one only needs to bring a proper digital camera with him to school. Such is the experience of Kazuya Maeda, a personable guy who had Haruka Niimi, one of his school's idols, as a childhood friend but feels that they have been growing apart recently. He's never been able to maintain a hobby for very long, but he seems to have come upon a new one when gets a hand-me-down digital camera from his father, and decides to take it to school with him when summer break ends. He soon finds himself taking pictures of a rhythmic gymnast and star softball player (as well as his little sister the night before), and his ease with dealing with the ladies attracts the attention of Hiromichi Kido, president of the Photography Club. Kazuya soon finds himself caught between the competing recruitment of that club, a mostly-guy group which focuses on borderline erotic shots of girls, and the Photo Club, an all-girl group which focuses on scenery pictures and taking official school photos.

From its earliest scenes this one has the look and feel of a dating sim adaptation, so it's no surprise that this is, indeed, based on a PSP game that is considered a spiritual successor of Amagami SS and Kimikiss. Indeed, this one has so much of a similar feel to those two that whether or not you liked them is a good measuring stick for whether or not you will like this first episode, though arguably this first episode is more interesting than the first episode of either of those two. That Kazuya seems perfectly comfortable interacting with the girls he meets (there will be seven in all, based on the OP and ED) is a big plus, and the concept of “interacting with pretty girls through a camera lens” is an enticing (if hardly original) one. The array of girls introduced so far is fairly typical for this kind of fare, ranging from the spunky athlete to the standoffish, mysterious type to the affable school idol, and the Photography Club looks like it will serve as the requisite goofy comic relief squad, so all of the pieces are in place. The artistry may be nothing special, but like its predecessors it features some mild fan service and has solid OP and ED numbers.

The episode ends with the first apparent girl-specific crisis arising, so the series is pretty much sticking to formula so far. Its beginning lays a solid enough foundation for the series to work even if it doesn't stray much from the norm for this style.

Devil Survivor 2 The Animation

Rating: 3 (of 5)

Review:
The animated version of Devil Survivor 2 is based on a Nintendo DS tactical RPG of the same name, which is a sequel to a critically acclaimed RPG that didn't get its own animation. Thus it has the odd distinction of having the name of a sequel without actually being a sequel. The game focused around the player's avatar, who in this anime version is represented by Hibiki Kuze. He and friend Daichi, while returning from a mock exam, check out a web site called Nicaea, a creepy site hosted by a bunny girl where one can upload a picture of his friend and later see a video depicting how that friend will die. This, of course, actually comes to pass, but just as Hibiki is about to die in a subway accident he gets a “live/die” option from Nicaea. In the wake of the disaster, Hibiki and Daichi find another girl, Io Nitta, whom they discover is also in the same boat. When monsters feeding on the dead attack, all three discover that they can use their phones to manifest demons to fight for and/or protect them, an ability which proves useful when they are again confronted by a demonic creature on the ruined surface. Oh, and a secretive government organization called the Japanese Meteorological Society is also involved, and they seem to know something about all of this.

The animation effort on this one comes courtesy of Bridge, a studio whose only other lead production efforts have been on the Mitsudomoe series, but under the guidance of director Seiji Kishi (Angel Beats!, Galaxy Angel Rune, Humanity Has Declined)it produces a generally good-looking and exciting opening episode which takes just enough time to introduce its (presumably) central cast before pushing into the dramatics and supernatural action. The retread concept is currently a big drawback, although the demons seemingly being summoned through quasi-technological rather than magical means is a somewhat interesting angle and seemingly being able to summon a variety of critters (an ogre, a tiger-like avatar, a fairy, and some ghost-like creature which can hurl ice attacks all make appearances) spices things up a bit.

The series will have to show that it's going to do something different with this set-up to succeed long-term, but for now it's off to a decent start.

Devil Survivor 2 The Animation is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Majestic Prince

Rating: 2.5 (of 5)

Review:
At some indeterminate point in the future aliens are, for some as-yet-unclear reason, attacking space based Undina. A decision is made to abandon the base, but the GDF (Galactic Defense Force?) is going to need help to do so. That's where Team Rabbits, a squad of mecha pilot trainees, comes in. They are nicknamed the “Fail Five” by their comrades because their individual talents cannot overcome the facts that they don't work well together and some of them are goofballs by nature. Even so, they are called upon for this dangerous mission, given state-of-the-art front-line mecha, and sent out to fight. Their nominal leader has aspirations to be a hero, and when he discovers that civilians are left even after Undina Base has supposedly been evacuated – well, there's only one thing that a hero wannabe can do in that situation, right?

So this is the standard, improbable “team of misfits must come together to be mecha heroes and fight off the baddie aliens” set-up, and its initial episode feels like it is skewing towards younger audiences. It doesn't bother to explain why this lot which fails miserably in team training exercises is the one called to duty or shown such respect in the hangar; presumably this will be elaborated on later, because this episode is entirely concerned with briefly introducing the cast and then getting them into a flashy battle scenario. And the score given here is almost entirely for the visual feast that is that climactic battle, as the entire main cast is annoying and too little else here makes sense. It does also earn points for a flashy scene where a support vehicle shoots an extra weapon to one of the front-line units; that may be the coolest shot in the whole episode.

The technical merits are dramatically uneven. The mecha designs are nothing special but the animation in the CG-heavy battle sequences (both the one with them and the one without them) is dazzling. The character designs for the main cast are unappealing, though, and the fact that the series uses the same character designer as Gundam Seed (which is painfully obvious) is not solely responsible for that. The musical score also tries too hard. Still, if all you care about is flashy mecha battles then this one has promise.

Majestic Prince is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


Red Data Girl

Rating:
4 (of 5)

Review:
15-year-old Izumiko has been raised all her life at the Tamakura Shrine (which in real life is part of a World Heritage Site). She is a timid, ill-coordinated girl for whom merely cutting her bangs shorter is a momentous step – and apparently in ways that she didn't anticipate – and who is commonly treated poorly by most of her fellow students beyond her close friends. She also has a rather peculiar trait: any electronic device she comes into contact with tends to break. She even shorts out an entire computer lab, although before that happens she somehow manages to videoconference with her overseas father in a way that videoconferencing shouldn't be possible to do. She soon learns that she is supposed to be always sheltered and protected, that she is supposed to be something called a Himegami, and that Miyuki, the son of a friend of her father whom she knew as a child, is transferring into her school to effectively be her manservant, and he's none too happy about it.

Not enough happens in the first episode of this light novel adaptation to really get a feel for where this story is going, but one thing is clear: Izumiko has some kind of spiritual powers to such a degree (and/or to such a level of importance) that she needs to be protected, sheltered, and controlled; in fact, the series’ name is a reference to a book which contains information about endangered species. The opener suggests that Miyuki will not be the only person assembled as a helper/protector, either. While this is a very common basic premise for anime, the tone of this first episode sets it apart from others of its ilk. Rarely does the heroine in these kind of scenarios come across as so painfully awkward as Izumiko does (her interactions with Miyuki are especially uncomfortable), and rarely are such stories so devoid of a spirit of adventure. This has the makings of a somber, serious story, but the strange scene where she is able to videoconference with her father also suggests an enticing level of weirdness, too. Something much more than what we have been clued in on so far is going on here and the first episode has just enough of a hook to get viewers intrigued.

Of course, it also doesn't hurt that the series looks great. P.A. Works delivers such an enticing-looking setting that the series could practically double as a travelogue; no doubt it was thoroughly visually researched. The striking red glasses that Izumiko wears are also an eye-catching touch and no doubt are meant to be suggestive of the title. A subdued, carefully measured score and a delicate acting performance by Saori Haymi (Eden of the East’s Saki) in the title role also speak well for the series. The slow start may throw some off, but this one has a different enough feel to it to have a lot of potential.


Uta no Prince Sama 2

Rating:
3 (of 5)

Review:
The first Uta no Prince Sama series (tagged Maji Love 1000%), which debuted in the Summer 2011 season, was probably most noteworthy for being the first title streamed by niconico specifically for non-Japanese audience. Its sequel (tagged Maji Love 2000%) is not being so streamed, but that doesn't change what the franchise is: a music-centered reverse harem story based on an otome game. As such fare goes, the second series actually gets off to a pretty good start.

To briefly recap, in the original series lead heroine Haruka came to a prestigious music-focused school in order to become a composer and wound up falling in with a sextet of bishonen singers, who ultimately formed the boy band St˜rish and ultimately wound up singing one of her songs for their debut. This episode repeats that debut performance for its opener before continuing the story by showing what happens after the whole lot of them graduate and move on with their careers. Their agency has assigned them all to a Master Course, which is essentially a mentoring process for new talent and involves them all living in the same dorm with members from another dashing boy band as their mentors. Before the episode is out the new boy band has given a flashy musical performance, much friction arises between the new guys and the established ones, and Haruka provides each of the St˜rish members with a new, individualized song. Oh, and Cecil (the guy whom Haruka also knows as the cat Kuppuru) shows up again, too and the restriction about explicitly dating is still in place since they are all, of course, idols.

The first episode is so wrapped up in introducing and re-introducing everyone that it does not have time for significant plot or character development, but the content is cute and engaging enough – and the guys pretty enough – that it shouldn't matter, and the newcomers offer the promise of some entertaining new character dynamics. The songs are nothing to sneeze at, either, and the artistic effort by A-1 Pictures is quite respectable beyond Haruka's freakily-colored eyes. Fans of reverse-harem titles could do a whole lot worse than this one.

Uta no Prince Sama 2 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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