Winter 2013: Rebecca Silverman
Rating: 4.5 (out of 5)
Yay! Chihayafuru is back! Okay, I'm over that. For the moment.
The second season opens with the spring of Chihaya's second year in high school. The karuta club is ready to recruit new members from the fresh crop of freshmen, and no one is more excited than Chihaya herself. Taichi is less thrilled, as he'd rather that Chihaya focus on her individual matches. Nikuman-kun wants the team to practice together so that they can win the upcoming high school tournament. Kana just wants everything to go smoothly. Other than that, things are as they were for the club – Taichi is still in love with Chihaya, she's still oblivious, and we barely see Arata.
This episode introduces us to new character Sumire, who I can tell is going to drive me crazy. She's a first year and has just been dumped by her boyfriend. She is determined to land the hottest guy in school, who as we all know is Taichi. She joins the club simply to get closer to him, and when she sees him leaving school, she follows after him. The fact that she feels that she has a chance (or should get the guy) because she is slightly prettier than average just like the heroine of a shoujo manga, is kind of funny, but as a Chihaya/Taichi fan, well, let's just say that my personal feelings are going to get in the way here, at least for this episode.
Basically at this point everything that you loved about the previous season is present, barring Arata. Chihaya's love of the game, Taichi's quiet devotion, Kana's love of poetry, the kimono, and players' individual interpretations of the poems are all present and accounted for, and we even get glimpses of gameplay. If you've been eagerly awaiting this, rest assured that it is a continuation of the wonderful first season. It's not a 5 because it's barely begun, but I (or at least my not-so-inner fangirl) am certain that it will get there.
Chihayafuru 2 is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
The info-dump seems to be the major issue besetting first episodes this season, and unfortunately Problem children are coming from another world, aren't they? falls into this particular trap. The episode opens with three differently problematic teens getting letters a la Harry Potter that propose that they leave their comfortable world behind and go to a new one. Before they really have a chance to think about it, they (and one cat) are whisked away to Little Garden, a magical land where they are given the chance to participate in Gift Games using their special powers. Just why they would want to do this, or what Black Rabbit, the bunny girl who greets them and does the aforementioned info-dumping, is unclear. By the end of the episode Izayoi, the lone boy, has posed this question, but we won't find out the answer until next week. In the meantime, while he's questioning Black Rabbit and challenging a god to a Gift Game all by his lonesome, the girls meet Jin, a small blue-haired boy, and sit at a restaurant. A menacing giant guy who is presumably of the lupine persuasion, postures menacingly.
The issue here is the combination of too much information and not enough action. The visuals, on the other hand, are quite lovely, with Little Garden having a fantasy land beauty and pseudo-Arabian architecture that works very well. Animal people of all species are wandering around, and the way that the three problem children mess with Black Rabbit is amusing. Black Rabbit herself (who is blue) is a bit of an irritation at this point, referring to herself in the third person and being just a little too cute, but it seems possible that that's all an act. In fact, the shine may come off this fantasy world rather quickly once we find out what's really going on, and at this point, that's enough reason to give it another episode to sort itself out.
Problem Children is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
Tamako is the perfect anime girl. She's in high school (or middle school; in any event, she wears a uniform), she's sweet and kind and a little naïve, and she just loves one specific thing to the point where her every thought and accessory proclaims it. In Tamako's case, that thing is mochi. Her father and grandfather run a traditional mochi shop across the street from a fancier, newer one in the adorably named Usagiyama shopping arcade. The son of the other shop, Mochizo, has a major crush on Tamako, but has never been able to bring himself to act on it. And so they blithely carry out their adorable, charming, anime-perfect lives...until the arrival of The Bird.
It's really Dera, the vaguely cockatoo-esque bird who somehow got mixed in with a delivery of flowers to the local florist's shop (run by a beautiful transvestite), who makes this show. Dera is apparently on a mission to find the princess and must cross the ocean, but now that he's with Tamako – who apparently declared her love for him by sneezing – he's reluctant to leave. Plus he ate too many mochi, so now he's fat on top of everything. Dera walks with his legs crossing elegantly before him, speaks like an overwrought historical novel, and freaks out one and all who meet him. Oh, and he might have laser eye projectors. Without him, this would just be another cute girl doing something cute show, albeit a very, very pretty one.
Those with slim tolerance for starry-eyed heroines like Tamako might find themselves pleasantly surprised by this first episode, which does show some promise. Pastoral with a twist, Tamako Market is something to keep an eye on.
Tamako Market is available streaming at The Anime Network.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Stop me if you've heard this one. There's this guy, right, and he's really very normal. He and a group of girls with zany quirks are all members of this strange club at school that doesn't seem to have much of a purpose, and they all do silly things. There's the genius who can't make instant ramen, the short one who overreacts a lot and won't read shoujo manga because they kiss and that's icky, the refined one who makes tea, and the one with inexplicable cat ears who eats a lot. Over the course of the episode, M.A.O (the short angry one) tries to change a lightbulb many feet above her reach, Shion (the smart one), beats a chess Grand Master on the computer, Megumi (the refined one) punishes Kyouya (the boy one) for breaking a teacup, and Kirara (the cat one) eats a lot.
There's nothing new to see here in terms of school comedies that revolve around clubs that do nothing. The entire action takes place in the clubroom and the characters' designs are so basic that with a recolor they could be from different series. If you enjoy this kind of story – and I'm not going to point fingers, as I will cheerfully rewatch certain plots a million times – then this does nothing to shake up the formula and is decently enjoyable. If you're looking for something new or that mixes up the school club genre, then this is not for you. And who knows? Maybe they'll explain Kirara's ears and meat fixation. That could make it all worth it.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
So about five years ago (according to the end of the episode), there was this big fire. According to the middle of the episode, a village that had some sort of rotting disease was burned to the ground. It seems that two boys, a girl, and a crow survived. The crow, Murasame, lives inside the arm of the younger of two brothers, but it also turns into a sword. And it talks. (The crow, not the sword. So far, anyway.) Anyway, the two brothers live in a church on the edge of a forest that seems to be inhabited by mystical creatures that talk, but it's dangerous. Also some bad (?) people want the survivors of the village, and when they can't get the guys, they take the girl. So the guys go off after her.
There's a lot going on here, and most of it is confusing. What was the disease? Was it supernatural? Who are these guys? What's this about four beasts – are we in Fushigi Yugi? Hopefully we'll know soon, and it looks like more guys are about to be introduced in the second episode, so here's hoping they have some answers. Luckily the show looks good enough, with crisp designs and smooth animation, but the story is very badly paced and jumps all over the place, to say nothing of being a little confusing. This is the biggest issue, as it is clear that there is an interesting story in here, just waiting to be told. If Hakkenden can sort itself out, it could overcome this choppy, confusing muddle of a first episode, but right now, this is not without promise, but also not looking like one of the season's brightest bulbs.
Hakkenden: Eight Dogs of the East is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
If an anime episode could be said to be bi-polar, this would be the one. The first nine minutes of Kotoura-san are utterly depressing. Haruka Kotoura is born to loving parents who give her everything...until she begins manifesting signs of telepathy. This comes out slowly, but soon friends are abandoning her and she's been labeled as a chronic liar at school. Her father withdraws and her mother takes her to doctor after doctor after doctor, none of whom have an answer. Soon her mother is withdrawing from her daughter as well and things culminate with the father leaving and the mother abandoning Haruka at her grandfather's house, shoving the child away and declaring that she should never have been born. Crushed, Haruka flounders through school and eventually decides to transfer. Things don't look any better at the new school. Then she reads the mind of the boy sitting next to her...and he's thinking about purple aliens dancing in the desert. As Haruka realizes that things are not as they have been, the screen shatters, revealing a brighter picture behind. As symbolism goes, it's heavy-handed, but effective.
The second half of the episode is about Manabe trying to break into Haruka's world. She's understandably withdrawn, but he's not going to let that stop him. This could have turned into Every Shoujo Romance Ever, but Manabe's trick to get Haruka to notice him is to think perverted things about her. In fact, that's his biggest issue with her ability – now she'll treat him like he's a pervert. There's something heartwarming about his efforts to get to know her and his acceptance of her skills, and perhaps that's what helps to make this stand out to me. It's a bit of an overdone cliché, I know, but if ever anyone needed a good friend, it's Haruka. If the show can continue to blend humor with Haruka learning that not everyone is awful, then Kotoura-san could be a winner, bland character designs, lackluster animation, and all.
I don't seem to want to like this show, but I do. I think that might be the highest praise I can give it.
Kotoura-san is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
Well, color me pleasantly surprised. Love Live! School idol project's premise is a bit thin – when genki girl Honoka learns that her high school, Otonakizaka, is going to close when the current crop of first years graduate due to decreasing enrollment, she's distressed. When she learns that her younger sister Yukiho is planning to apply to a popular academy, she goes to see just what makes this place so awesome that students want to go there and not to Otonakizaka. The answer? A-Rise, a trio of singing schoolgirl idols that has skyrocketed the school to popularity. Naturally Honoka thinks that the answer to Otonakizaka's problems is to get its own group of school idols. She convinces her friends Umi and Kotori to join her, but they are shot down by student council president Eli. This won't stop our perky heroine, though!
The comparisons with Idolm (at aster) are inevitable here, but Love Live! reminded me of nothing so much as Uta no Prince-sama - Maji Love 1000%. Clearly we will have a large, disparate group of girls with different ideas and contrasting personalities (and hair colors), and the opening indicates goofily choreographed and costumed dance routines a la UtaPri. The dance scenes are more like last season's Aikatsu!, however, with the characters making a shift from 2D to 3D animation. This looks better than that and is clearly working with a higher budget, but it's still a little jarring. The music is catchy in a perky Jpop way, though, the kind of thing that will get stuck in your head before too many episodes have passed and will presumably sell a lot of CDs. The differing styles of girl seen in the opening also bodes well for merchandising, but also just for everyone being able to have a favorite character, because I'd be willing to bet that all of the moe staples are present and accounted for.
What really makes this show is its cheery, good-natured demeanor. Love Live! is excited to be here, and it wants you to be excited too. Honoka's determination is infectious and her the overall atmosphere of the show mirrors her can do attitude. This may not be high art and it may well fall into some of the traps of other shows involving multitudes of cute girls doing cute things, but as of right now, this is a fun, energetic show lacking in underwear shots and boob jiggles and more concerned with showing us how much those girls want to save their school. (And if they happen to sell a few CDs along the way...)
Love Live! School idol project is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
Sometimes attempts to get the audience into the mindset of the protagonist go too far. Amnesia introduces us to a young lady (in her late teens?) who has no idea who she is or what is going on. She has flashes of memory – crossing a street, for example – before coming to in a fancy cafe where she is apparently a waitress. She collapses, and the next thing she knows, she's lying on a couch in the break room being told that someone is coming for her. Two someones show up, in point of fact: a surly dark-haired fellow in what looks like parti-colored hose and an affable blond. They turn out to be Shin and Toma, respectively, and it looks like they're Mystery Girl's childhood friends. They walk her home, at which point she has a conversation with a little spirit who has been floating around. His name is Orion, he's from another world, and it looks like he may be the reason Mystery Girl has no memories before August 1st. Orion urges her to simply go about her daily life rather than going to a hospital and see if she can get her memories back, because logic apparently is not one of his many talents.
Amnesia's first episode makes it very obvious that it is an adaptation of a game. The whole thing feels like the introduction to a VN in the way that it plays out and you can even guess where there were choices of what to say in some cases. The fact that most of the time the other characters are looking at the heroine adds to the sensation that sooner or later we'll get some conversation options to choose from. This in itself doesn't have to be a problem, but it does make for a bit of an odd sensation. This is part of that forcing the audience to see from the protagonist's point of view thing I mentioned earlier; another is the utter confusion we feel as the episode progresses. Who is this guy? Who's that guy? Why do they all appear to correspond with the suits in a deck of cards? Why are everyone's eyes so weird? On the one hand, this certainly is a reason to keep watching. On the other hand, who are these people?
Visually Amnesia is kind of fascinating. It goes from dark, bleak color schemes to moments of psychedelic brightness, most notably in the characters' eyes, which look almost as if the lower halves are mechanical, and hair. People dress more creatively than in most other shows and the maid cafe uniforms are classier than the norm, plus I haven't seen so many rose motifs since Revolutionary Girl Utena. A fair amount of still shots are used – again, hearkening back to the sensation of watching a game intro – and otherwise the animation is fairly unremarkable.
As hooks go, Amnesia's will depend on your tolerance for helpless heroines and handsome young men. I personally am intrigued by just what is going on, but without some answers in the next episode, at least about who people are and maybe Mystery Girl's name, things could get frustrating. This could either be a fascinating mystery or a whole lot of being mysterious for mysteriousness' sake.
Amnesia is available streaming on Crunchyroll.
Da Capo III
Rating: 1.5 (out of 5)
Before you start saying, “Well, Rebecca's a woman, of course she wouldn't like this show,” let me say that my rating stems not from the fact that this is yet another VN-based harem story featuring a nice-but-bland male lead and the usual assortment of girls, but rather from the fact that this episode is really, really dull. Based on the third Da Capo visual novel, and taking place twenty years after the last one, D.C. III is the story of nice guy Kiyotaka and the five girls in the newspaper club with him. They live on Hatsune Island, which previously boasted cherry trees that never stopped blooming, with the centerpiece being the large Everlasting Cherry Tree. Twenty years ago, however, all of the trees abruptly became normal, only flowering in the spring. Ricca, the go-getter club president, wants the focus of the paper's graduation issue to be on magic, something the rest of the club is reluctant to agree to until they pay a visit to the Everlasting Cherry Tree. What transpires there convinces them that this is, in fact, a good way to beat the unofficial school newspaper, whose ratings far surpass their own. Unfortunately their rivals have the same idea, and so a competition is entered into to see who can draw the most readers with their coverage of the Tree's mysteries.
As a starting point for the plot, that isn't so bad. Regretfully it only makes up about ten minutes of the episode, with the rest focusing on the girls' breasts and hair while they're talking about other, more mundane things. Both hair and bosoms seem to have some sentience, as they frequently move around on their own. The fanservice isn't so much omnipresent as it is kind of lame, with Aoi taking off her shirt within the first three minutes and plenty of focus on the girls' different socks. (One wears striped socks in the pattern we usually see fetish underwear in. Do her undergarments match...?) Nothing but the socks is particularly out of the ordinary or interesting, making the fanservice nearly as bland as the hero's personality. Visuals are pretty basic outside of the character designs as well, although showing falling sakura petals reflected in characters' eyes is kind of neat, like they have snow globes in their eye sockets.
There are plenty of harem-style visual novels that have decent plots, so it is entirely possible that D.C. III will develop one. Right now, however, it's too much talking with random hair flutters and boob jiggles, so if it wants to appeal to anyone outside its niche audience (and it may not), it needs to get things moving. Things that aren't body parts, I mean.
D.C. III is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 1 (out of 5)
Oh, Japan, do we have to have this talk again? About how breasts are not filled with air, fluff, or down? About how they do not blow in the breeze or move on their own? About how a woman who had such luxuriant breasts as the girls in Senran Kagura do and were shinobi such as they are would need mega-super sports bras in order to move as they do without putting out their backs? Sigh.
In any event, apart from the continued fascination with the fact that after puberty women grow breasts (and some of them are big!), Senran Kagura is about five female students at the subtly named Hanzou Academy, a reference to famous ninja Hanzou Hatori. The girls are members of the school's secret ninja class, where they train to fight, hide their presences, and unleash all of their chakras at once in order to transform into fetishy “battle” gear. The primary heroine is perky Asuka, granddaughter of a famous ninja herself who is a second year at the school. She's moderately talented and terribly nice, helping stray schoolgirl Homura when she's “lost,” bringing phallic food back for dinner, and allowing annoying blond upperclassman Katsuragi to grope her breasts. Asuka tries her hardest, which seldom has perfect results. She is, however, more skilled than cute little freshman Hibari, whose pupils are nearly eclipsed by big pink sakura blossoms in her eyes. Together with eye-patch sporting Yagyuu (another not-so-subtle ninja reference) and stoic Ikaruga, the girls study under Kiriya-sensei, an older gentleman with a fondness for smoke bombs. But what's this? There's another rival ninja school with a team of five girls in fetishy battlegear, including one with an eye-patch on the opposite eye? Whoa.
All sarcasm and my own personal beef with ludicrously moving breasts aside, Senran Kagura knows precisely who it wants for its audience. I would offer that they could have done a bit more for that core group of fans by making the plot less cookie-cutter and the girls more interesting than they seem to be at this point, but they certainly don't slack on fight scenes that really move. The opening scene between Asuka and some unnamed foes is fast paced and exciting, and if there are more of these in store, that's a mark in the show's favor. Unfortunately that's the only one I can come up with right now, and if you aren't a fan of busty girls in costumes fighting other busty girls in costumes, you can safely leave this one alone.
Ishida & Asakura
Rating: .5 (out of 5)
Apparently Ishida and Asakura are seniors in high school. Everyone likes Asakura for reasons that aren't clear (is it the fro?) and wants to open some sort of shop with him or marry him. And Asakura? He likes boobs. He wants to be a teacher at an all-girls school for the boobs. He is incensed that when a girl says that her life goal is to marry her beloved (him), the class suggests that she be a porn star because she's buxom – not because that's a horrible thing to say that offends me on several levels, but because they're insulting her breasts. Ai Mai Mi was better than this.
But hey, at least the theme song isn't terrible.
Ishida & Asakura is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 4 (out of 5)
Lo, and a hole did open up in the world, and through it streamed untold numbers of demons. The King, wise and good as he was, sent forth a hero descended of a mighty warrior to destroy them, and his name was Alba...and he was number 45 of a huge amount of potential heroes who might possibly be descendants of that first guy, because hey, a thousand years makes it pretty hard to track descendants. Anyway, Alba and his knight companion Ros are out to fight the demons, but Ros isn't all that helpful and he thinks Alba might be a pervert with a thing for slimes, you know, because Alba was panting awfully hard after killing one...
Despite looking like a show for the kiddies, Senyū is actually a funny little send-up of heroic fantasy. It goes through at least three art styles in its four minutes, has a narrator who has trouble typing the titles that appear beneath the characters and doesn't quite seem to be getting things right, and pokes not a little fun at RPGs in the bargain. It's silly, a little dumb, and overall very enjoyable. If you like Ixion Saga DT, give this a try – it doesn't have Erec, but it's a good way to get a dose of the same kind of fantasy parody.
Senyū is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
Robin Hood, it seems safe to say, will never die. In his latest incarnation (more or less), he is called Roman and with his sister Koharu and my neighbor's dog whom they have renamed Sakura he steals from the corrupt rich and gives back to the poor. We open with him raiding the warehouse of a corrupt auditor, loading the coins into an anachronistic rocket, and raining them down upon the townsfolk. Koharu also manages to return a stolen hairpin to its much relieved owner, suggesting a more specific mission was involved. By day, we learn, Roman is a helper for hire, willing to aid just about anyone do just about anything, although he draws the line at being bitten by a mad doctor's zombies. Koharu makes decorative chopsticks, and Sakura walks around like the adorable wall-eyed shitzhu she is, occasionally harassing a policeman who is afraid of dogs and uttering unconvincing barks. Later it turns out that Roman, Koharu, and Sakura are merely part of a larger network comprising several town leaders and will accept jobs prayed for at the local shrine with an offering of five coins.
For a show based on a pachinko game, Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman is surprisingly good. This first episode bounces around a bit too much for total coherence, throwing a shady shipper and malicious minions into the mix along with a buxom blond and some scheming foreigners, not to mention the lovely courtesan Taiyu. Overall this is harmless, silly, and has overtones of the Lupin III series (unsurprising given the character designer), and it doesn't need to be more than that to make for a little slice of action-based fun in your day.
Bakumatsu Gijinden Roman is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
A silver-haired young man floats merrily from tall building to tall building, snapping and pointing his fingers, smiling as chaos and destruction ensue. This is Hyobu Kyosuke, ESPer of massive power and unclear motivation, and he is about to be taken to prison. Inside that compound is Andy Hinomiya, a heterochromatic young man who is somewhat bizarrely nicknamed “loser,” since he seems to win every organized prison brawl. When Hyobu is introduced into the prison, Andy stands up for him. This begins a sort-of friendship with Hyobu, who, as it turns out, is high up in the rankings for an illegal psychic organization known as P.A.N.D.R.A. He arranges for Andy's escape on the basis that Andy will join the group, and the two set out to rescue a mysterious little girl from where she is being experimented on.
A spin-off of the series Psychic Squad, THE UNLIMITED can be watched without having seen that much perkier show, although you'll be lacking in some background about the world. The story is pretty intriguing right off the bat, however, although Hyobu is way too powerful, even before he activates his super mode. His crazy amounts of power are awe-inspiring, yes, but they don't do much for any urgency – by the time he's rescuing the girl, we've already seen him blow up multiple helicopters, so there's really no doubt that he'll succeed. Add to that the fact that Kan, the prison warden, sports a Hitler mustache and you can see that subtlety is not really THE UNLIMITED's thing. Fortunately Andy is an interesting character, becoming more so by the very end of the episode, so this show looks to have some promise. If it can tone down the WWII references – or at least make them work as the plot gets going – and keep Hyobu from being too ludicrously awesome so that battles can have an element of suspense, this should be a fun action show about people with distinctive hair and their psychic powers.
The Unlimited - Hyōbu Kyōsuke is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3.5 (out of 5)
Eita Kidou, or as he likes to call himself, Burning Fighting Fighter, has no time, need, or inclination for love. He's top of his class and he likes it that way, as it's all part of his goal to get a scholarship in three years time to university so he can study medicine. The fact that last year his parents found lovers and ran off, leaving him in the care of mostly-absent relative Saeko-san may have something to do with this. In any event, Eita's life is spent cooking, eating with his childhood friend Chiwa, and studying. This would make for a pretty dull show, so naturally there's a bump in the road: Masuzu Natsukawa, the beautiful transfer student. Eita has the misfortune of being seated next to her in class, which makes him the focus of all jealous eyes, but also puts him on her radar. It seems that the guys just won't leave Masuzu alone and she's sick of it. So since Eita has zero interest in romance, she asks him to be her fake boyfriend. Since she's blackmailing him, he agrees.
Oreshura's first episode makes it look like it will be a well-done harem show. So far no girls are throwing themselves at Eita – Chiwa seems to respect his desire to study although she clearly doesn't understand it – and he himself appears to have a definite personality. He's not indifferent to girls (Masuzu can fluster him with her good looks), but he's determined to follow the course he has set for himself. Chiwa can be a little grating if you don't like the perky type and Masuzu's blackmailing was a strike against her in my book, but both girls look like they have potential to be more fleshed out characters than some of their harem brethren. And it certainly doesn't hurt that the show looks nice, with smooth animation, soft character designs, and gentle colors. The opening theme thus far has the most fanservice of the whole thing, so at this point people who don't like that sort of thing can still enjoy this without any worries. All in all, Oreshura's first episode was a pleasant viewing experience – nice to look at with decent characters and a good romance set up. Harem isn't always my favorite, but I'll stick with this for a bit to see where it's going.
Oreshura is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Cuticle Detective Inaba
Rating: 1 (out of 5)
Hiroshi Inaba is a werewolf with a hair fetish who worked as a police dog until his brother's disappearance two years ago. Now he has his own detective agency staffed by sensible Kei and psycho cross-dresser Yuuta. He uses his amazing powers of hypertrichophilia to take on different properties based on the color of hair he ingests when he transforms – which is triggered by Yuuta poking him in the back really fast. Inaba's former partner/master Ogina comes to him for help when an infamous Italian counterfeiter shows up in Japan, producing bills that are perfect except for the picture of a goat where the dignitary used to be. This rapidly becomes less surprising when Don Valentino turns out to be a goat himself. A goat in a cape. Who talks like Yoda. Oh, and he was apparently traumatized by living out the lesser-known fairy tale “The Wolf and the Seven Kids,” a Red Riding Hood-esque story about a wolf eating most of a family of goats. Distressed by the presence of Inaba, he hires hitwoman Gabriella to kill him, but she's not sure she wants to because he may not fit her height requirements for a victim.
I like goats. I like dogs and wolves. I like detective stories and humor. Sadly this show, made up of things I enjoy, just isn't hitting the mark.
The one thing I can positively say about Cuticle Detective Inaba is that it is trying. It desperately wants to be funny. It tosses ridiculous moments and lines as if it were a small child feeding birds, it tries for some metafictional comedy, and it even throws in a few stock characters who usually get laughs, like the cross-dresser and the overly doting father. It's got a werewolf – those always sell, right? And look, a busty lady with a gun! Pretty much the only things missing are a little sister and a vampire, and maybe an oversexed school nurse. Unfortunately, despite all of this, Cuticle Detective Inaba falls pretty flat. It tries too hard to be wacky, resulting in a hodgepodge of jokes that just don't cut it, and a repeated disappearance of backgrounds and use of barely-animated chibis really doesn't help. Maybe once it gets its feet under it it will cut back a little, which would frankly do it a world of good. In trying so hard, this first episode fails to get anything particularly right.
Cuticle Detective Inaba is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 3 (out of 5)
It has been fifteen years since the wars between the demons and the humans began, and one young hero is determined to put an end to it. Abandoning his party, he infiltrates the castle of the demon king...and finds a buxom young lady there. She tells the flustered Hero that she is, in fact, the Demon King (the 43rd, to be precise) and that she would very much like to join forces with him. Utterly flummoxed, naïve Hero then listens as she explains the economic import of the war, how it has saved at least on economy, and why his attempts to end it would not necessarily be a good thing. Hero still doesn't seem entirely sure about this, but by the end of the episode he finds himself agreeing to join up with Demon King to see the world beyond their experiences.
As a first episode, MAOYU shows promise while still feeling very much like a prologue. We get flashes of other characters – merchants, a prince, distressed children, and the party members Hero left behind – which implies that there will be more to the story than the relationship between Hero, Demon King, and The Economics of War, but that's pretty much all this introductory episode is. We don't even really get a firm grasp on Hero's character or really why he decides to agree to the plan at all. (It seems possible that Demon King's generous bosom, which quivers in a way to put Santa's belly to shame, might have something to do with it.) Demon King, on the other hand, comes out of the episode with a more fully sketched out personality, which leads one to believe that Hero's will be explored in later episodes.
The art here gives a solid feeling of a faux Renaissance world with lavish costumes and beautiful backgrounds. There's not a lot of moving around going on, but Demon King's magic lantern implies that the animation should be pretty nice once things get going. The illuminated manuscript look of the ending theme is a treat (at least for bibliophiles) and the gentle background music works quite well.
To put it simply, MAOYU has the potential to be an involved fantasy piece once it really gets off the ground. This first episode is like reading the blurb on the back of a book or the “what comes before” paragraph in a series novel. Now that it's been established what the story is going to be about, things look hopeful for this show to really take off.
MAOYU is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Winter 2013 Shorts
Boku-no-Imouto wa Osaka-chan
Rating: 1 (out of 5)
Here's a premise for you – in Osaka and Tokyo, there are different names for the same thing! What a wacky concept! This lesson, learned by anyone with a relative from away, is the baseline for all of the jokes in this three-minute series, which given that it is based on guides to Osaka does make a certain amount of sense. What it doesn't make for is a particularly entertaining viewing experience for those will little-to-no interest in the topic. The show uses Tokyoite Kyousuke and his recent reunion with his younger sister Namika as the vehicle for its explanations. Kyousuke is your basic blank-slate male lead while Namika attempts to appeal to the viewers with her blue pigtails, fangs, and bath scene.
In all honesty, my rating should be taken with the proverbial grain of salt. If you have interest in learning the linguistic differences between Tokyo and Osaka, then you will doubtless find this show more appealing than I did. But with its decidedly lackluster animation and typical characters, you need that interest first in order to really enjoy the show – otherwise it's just some blue-haired girl annoying her brother.
Boku-no-Imouto wa Osaka-chan is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
Hana and Aki have just gotten approved to start up a new monthly manga magazine, and with new staffers Tsugumi (tricked into it) and Ringo (volunteered), they are ready to go! But first there are all the nitpicky details, little things like projected budget, profits, and, oh yes, getting the fifteen series required for a 500 page magazine. Small issues like artists getting snapped up by other magazines, mangaka reluctant to publish in a new magazine that may not last past one issue, and a lack of big-name talent are all touched on before the magazine is magically ready to go to press.
As a three and a half minute show, this is awfully busy. We barely have time to grasp one concept before moving on to the next, and everything just sort of flies by in a blur of bright colors. Mangirl! would have benefited from at least seven extra minutes per episode, because there's some interesting stuff going on here and not enough time to properly explore it. Some fun visuals are employed, like the progression of manga pages in the beginning, and the characters' enthusiasm radiates off the screen, but really, this first episode moves too fast to really get a handle on any of it. If it slows down its pace, this could be a fun show, but right now it's simply too much too quickly.
Mangirl! is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2.5 (out of 5)
As a little girl, newly-minted high schooler Aoi used to love mountains and dreamed of climbing them. Today she's afraid of heights and perfectly content to bake, do crafts, and go to the library. Her peaceful school life is shattered, however, by the return of her elementary school friend Hinata, who wants Aoi to fulfill a childhood promise of seeing the sunrise from a mountaintop. Aoi is less than enthused, but as she remembers, Hinata doesn't really listen to other people all that well...
Like Mangirl!, Encouragement of Climb has some potential. Watching Aoi recover from the trauma that made her dislike heights could be heartwarming and the art already shows some promise in terms of mountain landscapes and vistas. Hinata threatens to stomp all over that right now, but if she tones down, this could be a very pretty way to spend three and a half minutes once a week. Mixing full animation with more limited fare, this looks pretty nice and once the story gets going could be worth keeping an eye on.
Encouragement of Climb is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Ai Mai Mi!
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
Maybe I just don't like shows that throw a lot at you in a very short amount of time. Ai Mai Mi certainly fits that pattern. Clearly based on a four-panel manga, this is the story of Ai, Mai, and Mi, who are all members of their school's manga club. Whether or not they actual draw manga is unclear, but Ai certainly has all sorts of plot ideas for a dark fantasy, which for some reason embarrass her horribly. Mai and Mi, meanwhile, don't appear to know what “swinging” means, and then they all transform into computer sprites for the ending theme. The frantic style that seems to plague at least two of this season's three-minute shows is fully present here, making it feel like several strips have been crammed into these three minutes (as opposed to a show like Morita-san wa Mukuchi, which takes its whole three minutes to do a single strip). Not that Ai Mai Mi is utterly devoid of potential – the opening scene of Mai throwing a cucumber to a kappa and accidentally killing it is pretty funny. If it could slow down, Ai Mai Mi could be a combination of cute and funny, but right now it falls into the trap of “too much too fast” and comes out as overwhelming.
Ai Mai Mi is available streaming at Crunchyroll.
Rating: 2 (out of 5)
In the latest incarnation of The [email protected] franchise, twins Ami and Mami come bursting into the office carrying little blobby chibi versions of two of their fellow idols. Apparently they found the little cuties on the street and want to give them a home in the office. P-san (here drawn as a man with a backwards “P” for a head) is not proof against the twins' pleading, and so the two stray blobs are afforded a home. Ritsuko doesn't approve, but by this point the little gals are here to stay. Presumably they will be joined by pudgy versions of the rest of the series' heroines, and no doubt all of them will have adorable quirks.
If you are already a fan of The [email protected] franchise, you'll probably enjoy this. It's cute and amusing enough, and the puchimas themselves are awfully huggable. Plot looks to be a little thin with this first episode, however if it manages to be sufficiently cute, that may not matter in the long run. Unlike some of the other shorts this season, this show doesn't try to cram too much in at once, so this could just be the plushy-selling sugar fix that fans of either cute or the franchise can use as a brain break over the winter.
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