The Spring 2013 Anime Preview Guide
Zac Bertschy is the executive editor of Anime News Network. He enjoys vodka, bunny rabbits, and understands that the party is here on the west side.
Valvrave the Liberator
It's the future, and most of humanity is living in a Dyson Sphere in space. Cut to anime high school where a cutsey-poo almost-romance is blossoming between the brazen Shoko and the kinda-shy Haruto. Then it's sci-fi o'clock when a group of terrorists disguised as transfer students knife up a bunch of dudes and coordinate an attack on the school with a bunch of sci-fi guys in spaceships nearby. They infiltrate a lab where some guys in lab coats are working on a giant robot, but it rises up to the ground level before they can get access to it. The attack gets pretty bad - Shoko gets caught in an explosion, and Haruto, in all his yelling-at-the-sky anguish, naturally climbs in to the giant robot that rises up from the ground (like you do) and starts pressing buttons, determined to get his revenge. The computer screen inside the robot asks him a question: "Do you resign as a human being?"
So Haruto gets turned into an undead space vampire teen and immediately takes the robot on a righteous killing rampage, which the entire school (and seemingly the entire sphere) sees and they cheer him on as a hero, making his twitter follower count just soar through the roof, but even social networking fame can't soothe his tears. Credits!
But wait, there's more - his rival (or at least the dude they set up as his rival in the opening and ending credits) knifes him up but good and then double taps his chest for good measure, but the joke's on him - Haruto is an UNDEAD SPACE VAMPIRE TEEN and gets right back up, chowing down on his rival's neck and presumably turning him into RIVAL UNDEAD SPACE VAMPIRE TEEN.
So this is basically the first episode of any given Gundam series - peaceful space colony has powerful robot in secret place, opposing forces show up, blow the shit out of everything to try and steal it, hapless teenager with girl problems leaps into the cockpit to save the day and then it gets more convoluted from there. In this case, there's the incredibly stupid space vampire gimmick (along with the social networking stuff that's kinda funny, I guess). It's kinda like listening to someone who you suspect doesn't have any good ideas breathlessly describe what they'd do if they had the chance to write a Gundam show, and you nod and roll your eyes knowing that would never happen because it's so stupid, except I guess they actually went ahead and made that guy's show.
The show's very pretty - I really liked the color choices, and the character animation is nice and smooth. The mecha design is convoluted and strange but hey, it's tough to innovate in that field, right? I didn't hate this show - it's just too goofy for that - but it sure isn't "good" in any traditional sense of the word. Can't see myself watching more, but hey, if you want a laugh and some neat animation, check it out.
Valvrave the Liberator is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Flowers of Evil
Takao Kasuga is detached. The world moves around him - almost painfully slowly - but he's turning his head, looking away, getting lost in poetic literature that sends him into the ethereal clouds. He has a crush on Saeki, who occasionally smiles his way, but inside, he's focused on his new book: Baudelaire's Flowers of Evil.
On the way home from school his friends mock both Saeki and his feelings for her, and something inside him blossoms. Something deeply sinister, a half-lidded thistle of menacing potential. Credits!
So this is Flowers of Evil, and the experience of watching it is much closer to the experience of watching a slow-moving live-action Japanese drama than an anime series. It's entirely rotoscoped - meaning reference footage was shot and then the animators trace over their movement, with a limited framerate. The characters are all thin lines and vague faces - it's an animation technique that is divisive, and animation fans have argued its merits for decades (check out the animated work of filmmaker Ralph Bakshi - and then the ensuing arguments over his artistic merits, or lack thereof), and it gives the entire production a dramatically more realistic feel than what you might expect from even the most down-to-earth illustration style (even Kids on the Slope, which is trying for a nostalgic version of reality, feels more traditionally 'anime' than this does in terms of the show's aesthetic). It isn't going to be for everyone, but I very much appreciated the execution and technique on display. Having consumed far more rotoscoped animation than I likely should have (Star Trek Animated, anyone? Maybe a little Fire & Ice?), the technique is familiar enough to where I don't find it jarring - I certainly used to dislike it, but over time I've come to accept it as merely a different way of doing things, and it doesn't always work (check out Bakshi's Lord of the Rings for an example of rotoscoping gone horribly awry). In Flowers of Evil, I think it works really well, and definitely helps the atmosphere of the show. Now, I'm aware this is based on a very popular manga, but coming in to it without any experience with the source material, I had no expectations of what the show "should" look like, so maybe that's crucial to appreciating this version of the story. For me, the tension building here is unbelievably effective, and the intensely creepy ending really knocks it out of the park. It's an almost unbearably slow crawl to the end of the episode, but that kind of tension can't be built quickly - and the idea that this is a shy, distant kid losing himself in literature that might just bring out something deeply unsettling and even dangerous is a potent and powerful one, a suggested premise that this episode builds to with serious expertise. I haven't wanted to see a second episode of something this bad in a while.
I think it's a home run, artistically and otherwise. Can't wait to see more.
Flowers of Evil is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Date A Live
A giant spacequake (spacequake?) strikes Earth, killing 150 million people.
Cut to Shido, harried older brother being woken up by his kawaii pantsu imouto-chan, Kotori, who riles him from slumber using her panties and some Gundam jokes, to which he responds that he's going to tickle her to death. JFA.
So it turns out that first spacequake (bisquick?) was 25 years ago and now we're in the middle of a spacequake (nesquik?) renaissance where Japan is terrorized by big black balls that destroy cities and people. So naturally, brother and sister head to the local family restaurant, and out on the street we're quickly introduced to a whole bunch of characters - three girls in distinct schoolgirl costumes, a dude who is introduced as being bisexual, and then Tobiichi Origami, smartest and hottest girl in school who for some reason knows who Shido is. Then it's spacequake (goof troop?) time, and stupid-ass Kotori, who made a promise to Shido that she'd stay at the Denny's, does so in spite of the fact that the entire city is evacuating, so Shido - who hasn't yet had the chance to bang his little sister - naturally goes chasing after her and gets embroiled in a giant magical fight featuring a mysterious girl in an overdesigned costume who seems strong but also emotionally wounded, which means Shido (or perhaps you, the viewer) could eventually bang her too thanks to that vulnerability. Origami shows up in magical armor, because of course, and she's fighting I'm-strong-but-wounded-let's-have-sex girl for some reason.
So anyway, the two girls hit eachother so hard we fade to white, and then Shido wakes up on a giant spaceship where his previously stupid-ass sister - who he hasn't had sex with yet, remember - is the no-nonsense, ball-busting captain who informs him that they're a special force designed to fight Spirits, which is what that girl who's strong but emotionally wounded so you could totally get with her if you wanted is. Turns out the Spirits are the cause of the spacequakes and they desperately need Shido's help, because their task force of moe ladies in impractical armor isn't cutting it, and they need Shido to date the Spirits and make them fall in love with him. They're going to train him using a dating simulator.
So that's how stupid Date A Live is. This feels like it was written by taking all the dumbest, most desperate plot elements of lame otaku-bait shows, stuffing them into a bag, shaking it really hard, microwaving it for far too long and then yanking out the result, expecting the audience to immediately surrender their wallets for character goods, overpriced blurays and budget PSP games. I have no idea if it's going to work out for the production company that spat this thing out, but hey, everyone's gotta try and make money. It's rough out there.
The fact is, the only thing you need to do with a show like this is describe the plot and everyone who's even potentially interested in it will know whether or not they plan on either ignoring it, watching it ironically, or furiously beating off to it. It's the kind of thing that's sort of opinion-proof, since it's so overwhelmingly confident in being one of the worst kinds of otaku bait (being 'really dumb sci-fi premise larded up with fetishes'). If I had to give an opinion on it, I guess I'd say "Date A Live is really, really, really, really stupid, doesn't seem to be aware of that, and thus doesn't deserve your time or attention". But you probably knew that already.
Rating: 2, I guess?
Takuro (Tak-kun) goes fishing and catches a zany, spunky, totally obnoxious mermaid chick named Muromi who won't leave Takuro alone. They dick around on the pier making dumb jokes for a while before the seagulls come, craving Muromi's fish parts, along with a small army of hungry cats who attack her until the eyecatch and then we learn that Muromi gets off on being stung by jellyfish, which as you can imagine is both hilarious and sexy. Anyway, it turns out Muromi-san is a climate change denier, which presumably means that later we learn she's being paid by the coal industry. The two decide to hang out and that's pretty much it. This all wraps up with a joke about Takkun fertilizing Muromi's eggs, which as you can imagine is both hilarious and sexy.
So this is a pure comedy - a meandering, mostly unfunny comedy that doesn't really go much of anywhere in this first (12-minute) episode, but the intro shows a whole bunch of other mermaids and wacky characters saving the earth from an incoming asteroid, so who knows what this thing has in store. I kind of liked the show's borderline-ugly character design and super-squash-and-stretch animation style; it certainly doesn't look much like anything else out there, even if most of the jokes are pretty predictable and fall flat. The humor is mostly mean-spirited and a little abusive, but it kinda works, tone-wise, on a really base level. You may wring a couple chuckles out of it, but don't expect anything more than that.
Muromi-san is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Zettai Boei Leviathan
The planet Aquafall, a magical place where all necklines plunge, is under threat of having all life eradicated by an incoming meteor attack, so the fairy Sysop (get it? SYSOP?!) has to start collecting a defense team. Cut to the peaceful town of Haruna, where Leviathan, a super-moe mage-in-training, is busy being cute and low-key. She has some cute and low-key friends, wears a dress with a boob window, and wonders where her brother went (presumably he set off for parts less adorable and low-key, which understandably would get old after a while). Sysop shows up (she's tiny but eats a lot! A-hyuk!), tries to recruit the reluctant Leviathan, winds up in a bar fight with some local knife-lickin' crum bums, destroys the bar, and then they meet two other moe girls to fill out the cast. There's Bahamut (GET IT) who uses fire magic to protect innocent girls, and Jörmungand, blessed with mega-strength and providing the show with the legally-required dose of norse mythology references. Together they lament all the delicious food they could've eaten and then don't bother to get to the point, which is that they're going to eventually team up and save the world. Maybe that'll happen in the next episode, once they're done naming their favorite desserts while mugging for the camera.
So this is a Gonzo show, a studio which you may recall as being a pretty big deal back in the mid-2000s during the anime boom. Back then they had a couple shows nearly every season and the next big Gonzo title was generally highly anticipated until it became really clear to everyone that they'd dump all their resources into making the first episode of a show look totally awesome and then the quality would drop like a stone in a lake afterward. We haven't heard much from them lately, aside from that Last Exile sequel nobody seemed to ask for, and now here we have moe magical girls named after mythical beasts teaming up to save the world. This is basically cute girls doing cute things with some fantasy trappings clumsily pasted on, and it's largely inoffensive (and competently animated... for now), but that doesn't mean it isn't a cutsey-poo samey waste of time with nothing to offer anyone who hasn't seen a cute girls doing cute things joint before. Unless you're jonesing for generic anime fantasy so bad that you'll take anything that'll give you that fix, that sweet release of endorphins that help you forget your pain, doubtlessly there are better uses of your time than this.
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